My littlest one, Edmund, is beginning to get around quite a bit. As with many of our children, I know that he will soon become interested in electrical cords. The other day he was grabbing onto them and I immediately yelled at him for it from across the room. It reminded me of when I used to take care of my niece when she was a baby. She had just begun to crawl, and I, being inexperienced about how fast a baby can move from one place to another, turned around to make some scrambled eggs. I then turned back around, after being what appeared to me as only seconds, to see her reaching up for some wires that went into the wall. Fear gripped me immediately as my voice rang out like a boom of thunder, "NO!" I said it not only loud but in an angry and harsh tone. She shook in the same way that one shakes when you jump out of a dark hallway to scare them. After being shocked for a second, she immediately began to cry from being so scared. I quickly ran over and comforted her and took her away from what I thought may have killed her had she been successful in reaching it.
I use this as an example because many people in our day are content with being nice rather than being loving. If I was nice to my niece, she may be dead today. Love for her caused me to be concerned and that genuine concern caused me to fear for her safety and that fear for her safety caused me to be mean, not nice. In other words, love caused me to be mean. Love and nice are not the same thing.
Now, I don't know if it's just the area I live in, or if it's a sign of our times, but I have seen far more nice than love in the way that people handle other people's spiritual electrical cords. Instead of a love the drives concern that drives one to deal directly with that person in the matter, what I see everywhere is people smiling and speaking nicely to the person, saying nothing about the danger he is in, and then going off to talk about that person and the danger he is in amongst themselves. What has happened here is that nice has replaced love, and so likewise gossip has replaced rebuke.
Could we have imagined a scenario where someone was drowning, and everyone smiles from the bank at that person, affirming what a good swimmer they are and how great it is to see them, but then turning to everyone else in the bank and whispering, "That guy's drowning. What a shame he went in." No help is offered. No instruction so that the man can be saved. He is left to drown in a sea full of a million lifeboats that were never sent. That's the way many in my circles these days choose to handle false doctrine and sin. It's arrogant to try to save someone, as it supposes that they need saving. It's mean to speak to someone about what they believe or do as being wrong. That is, it's mean to do it in front of them. Rather than rebuke, correct, and exhort as the Bible commands, we simply talk about that person behind their backs. This is done because of high that one gets from talking about the evils of others in order to uplift him or her to another person or group; but it is far from anything that could be possibly construed as love. In fact, it's the true definition of Scriptural hate: apathy. It is completely apathetic toward the fate of the person who has now placed themselves in harm's way. Love for the other causes one to rebuke the person directly rather than to talk about the person behind his or her back. What causes gossip is self-love.
We now have a church that is filled with self-loving people, people who all want to be nice, so they do not rebuke one another, they do not practice church discipline, they do not disciple. Instead, they spread the word that the person's beliefs or behaviors have gone awry, because they enjoy the fall of others. It gives them something juicy to talk about. Of course, the great irony is when this is done to someone who is neither in sin nor has doctrinal error, as the one's who truly need correction in their thinking are the gossipers who have huddled around a bad behavior or false doctrine themselves, and now move to slander everyone who does not hold to those false ideas or evil practices.
But what does the Scripture say? "He who rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with the tongue" (Prov 28:23). "Faithful are the wounds of a friend , But deceitful are the kisses of an enemy" (Prov 27:6). "Preach the word; be ready in season [and] out of season; correct, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction" (2 Tim 4:2).
But what does the cult of the nice say? Smile and be friendly. Hold your comments about sin and false doctrine until you have people who will agree with you, make you feel good about yourself, and use the wayward person as an object of self-stimulation rather than love him and try to save his life. In other words, rebuke him when he can't hear you. Wound him when he can't heal. Flatter with the tongue and do not rebuke.
In this situation, love and nice cannot live in the same world. They are enemies of one another. I, of course, am not saying that one should not be nice, but that he should not be nice to the exclusion of being loving, and in this circumstances, one often has to go.
The relativism of evangelicalism, of course, feeds into our gossip. We know something is wrong, but who's to say what? We'll still feel that it's wrong, but we don't want to inject ourselves into the lives of others, for then we'll feel arrogant or mean, you know, we'll feel bad about ourselves, and after all, this is all about us.
But love speaks dogmatically. Love rebukes softly when needed, and harshly when needed, but either way, it's concern first and foremost is to rebuke, because it is through rebuke that one can repent and be saved. Salvation is what love seeks, not to feel good about itself. Hence, love causes one to break through cultural barriers and limitations. It causes one to break free from the cult of the nice and seek deliverance from death through correction. There may be proper ways to go about it that are nicer than others, or there may not be, but holding the tongue to release it later, where it cannot help the person who has been duped, isn't one of them.
Here's my question for you then: Will you be the one to throw the lifeline to the drowning man, even though the gossipers on the bank think that you've overstepped your boundaries and are being mean? Perhaps, you'll become their next target (indeed, you will). But herein lies what is a perceived meaness versus a real one, for I can think of nothing more mean than letting a man drown while others ignore it to discuss his drowning amongst themselves.
I leave you with words from the Book of James. Note that the phrase "he will save his soul from death" is ambiguous, as it could apply to both the one rebuked and the one rebuking. Perhaps, the one who rebukes not only saves his brother, but his own soul from a selfish death as well:
My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth, and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death, and will cover a multitude of sins. (5:19-20)