How to rebuke a wicked man – a lesson from Paul
Imagine this: a pastor’s wife telephones an elder in her church to inform him that her husband (the senior pastor) has been psychologically, sexually, financially, socially and spiritually abusing her for years and she has just fled to a shelter. He listens to her story at length, letting her talk out as much as she wants, only interrupting her when he wants to clarify something she’s said and make sure he’s understanding it all correctly.
When she’s poured it all out, and he’s responded with empathy and full belief in her report, assuring her that he’s outraged by what her husband has done, she gives the elder permission to confront the pastor with the allegations, because she feels safe in the refuge and has no intention of returning to her husband.
The elder gets together with the other elder in the church, a man he trusts and who is totally switched on about domestic abuse. … These two elders have been listening to Jeff Crippen’s sermons on DV, because they’ve been trying to help one of their own granddaughters (who lives in another state) deal with the fact that she’s married to an abuser. They had invited the pastor to join them in their study of this topic, because they thought he might have liked to learn about it for his own professional development, but he’d never shown much interest.
The two elders go and confront the senior pastor with his problem, telling him that they have heard serious and completely believable allegations that he’s been seriously abusing his wife, and they will be calling a congregational meeting to announce that they are going to stand down the pastor from his position while the matter is pursued through all the proper channels. The pastor responds with verbal aggression, using the predictable tactics of unjust criticism, self-justification, blame-shifting and scripture-twisting that abusers use when they are cornered. One of the elders replies: “You son of the devil you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?”
How shocking! How can an elder use such harsh words? To call a pastor a son of the devil, an enemy of all righteousness, a liar and a villain!
Well he can, and he should. He’s only using same the language that Paul used:
When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they came upon a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus. He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. But Elymas the magician (for that is the meaning of his name) opposed them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. But Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and unable to see the sun for a time.” Immediately mist and darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand. (Acts 13:6-11 ESV)