He that rebuketh a man afterwards shall find more favour than he that flattereth with the tongue.
True friendship and esteem depend on your contribution to others’ lives. Those who flatter others may have some superficial friends or foolish companions, who enjoy the empty praise. But those who correct and teach others the way of God more perfectly will have devoted and thankful friends for the profit they obtain for their souls and lives.
What does it mean to rebuke? It means to reprove or reprimand another person for some action or trait that is not acceptable. It is telling another person they are wrong and they need to change. It means to point out their errors and express strong dislike of them.
What does it mean to flatter? It means to praise or compliment unduly or insincerely. It is telling another person positive things merely to make them happy and desirous of your friendship. It means to play on a person’s vanity and cheer them without a good basis.
The proverb does not compare two good things and suggest one is better than the other. Rebuke is a very good and holy thing, for it stops sin in others’ lives and directs them to righteousness. Flattery is an evil thing, for it comforts and encourages men to continue in a course of sin merely for a superficial relationship (Pr 20:19; 29:5; Job 17:5; Ps 12:2-3).
True love will rebuke sin in friends. In fact, loving your neighbor requires you to rebuke them for sin. If you do not rebuke them, you hate them (Lev 19:17). If you love someone, you want to help perfect him by pointing out the things that are wrong in his life (Pr 27:5-6; Rom 15:14; I Thes 5:14). You will risk the relationship in order to hopefully help him.
The rebuke under consideration here is the reproof or reprimand of sin, as measured by the word of God. This proverb has nothing to do with matters of liberty, because neither God nor good men care what you think in matters of liberty. No man has any right to judge in matters that God has not judged in the Bible. Personal opinion is just that!
Consider the value of rebuke. There can be no progress without change, and there can be no change without correction, and correction means rebuke for doing something the wrong way. Disciplinarian fathers will be loved more in the long run than pampering fathers; and athletes generally appreciate severe coaches for getting the most out of them.
Flattery, no matter how cheery, positive, or vain, does no one any good. It merely wastes the earth’s oxygen and creates noise pollution. You leave such a person worse for the experience, no matter how pleasant the flattery sounded at the moment. Eventually a righteous person will avoid flatterers, for they truly prefer rebuke (Pr 27:9; Ps 141:5).
Great men and women are trees of life – they nourish others with wisdom (Pr 10:21; 11:30). But most people are quite worthless, because they never contribute to the profit or perfection of others. They are too fearful to help. They are too ignorant to help. They are too selfish to help. Instead of being trees of life, they are merely rotting fence posts!
The value and vitality of a church depends on the practice of this proverb. There are two great benefits. If church members fulfilled their roles of rebuking one another for sin, a church would grow in grace and holiness (Rom 15:14; Eph 4:16; I Thess 5:14; Heb 3:12-13; 10:24-25). And, look again at the proverb. The church would grow in love and true esteem for one another by the benefit gained from the wise and godly rebukes. Glory!
Most churches are little more than superficial social clubs. After a short session of a form of godliness, which they call a worship service, they engage in idle chitchat and inane bantering. Then they go home backbiting and slandering one another. God forbid! They ought to be soberly confessing their faults to one another, exhorting one another to greater godliness, and rebuking any known sins (Gal 6:1; Eph 4:29; Jas 5:16,19-20).
Why do most Christians never correct or rebuke anyone in matters of godliness? Because they reject the truth of this wisdom! They assume the way to obtaining and maintaining friends is flattery, comfortable chitchat, and foolish talking. They fear losing friends and their favour – the very opposite of God’s wisdom – so they never reprove others for sin.
What is the reward for rebuking others? God is pleased you have fulfilled your role and kept His instruction, and the man you rebuked will love you for it (Pr 9:7-9). However, he may not love you at the moment of your rebuke! And for this you must be prepared. Remember the proverb. It says he will love you “afterwards.” Children will obey strict training when they are old, though maybe not that week (Pr 22:15; Heb 12:11)!
The Lord Jesus Christ, the preeminent example, was always correcting, rebuking, and instructing those He met in life, whether disciples or enemies. And Paul did the same thing, spending his life to correct and reprove the sin he found in lives. Righteous men and women loved them both, for they appreciated the holy efforts to perfect their lives.
If a person were properly convicted about the coming Day of Judgment, there would be little time for anything else but perfecting others by wise rebukes and instruction. For once you stand before the King of kings, you will very strongly wish others had rebuked you more, and others will very strongly wish you had rebuked them more. Why make it the great Day of Regret? Gently and wisely rebuke sin where you see it today.