2 Timothy 4:2 NASB

What does it mean to “reprove, rebuke, and exhort”? These words are spoken of in the context of dealing with false teachers and future attacks against the Church. The words are similar in that all three attempt to effect a change in the one[s] being confronted. Each of these three words describe a manner in dealing with someone who is in an error. But they are different in their approach, and wisdom must dictate when and with who each should be employed.

Reprove. Strong’s says “reprove” (elegkho) is “of uncertain affinity; to confute, admonish: – convict, convince, tell a fault, rebuke, reprove.” The word is used in Matthew 18:15, where it says to “go and show him his ‘fault’ in private, if he listens to you, you have won your brother.” In this example of Church discipline, there are further steps that can be taken if the confronted brother does not repent when reproved. With the reproof, the idea seems to be to “expose” or “convict” the person of sin, sometimes “severely” (Titus 1:13), without reference to further action (see John 3:20; 1 Cor. 14:24; for usage). If there is an admission of wrong by the Christian, and a promise to change, then no further discipline is required. In 1 Timothy 5:20, the word is translated “rebuke”, but it means to expose or convict in the presence of the whole Church. This could be necessary because the sin has become public, and even though the person is sorrowful, the sin warrants an especially severe admonishment for the act. But what if the sin is committed by someone over whom you have no authority? Herod, who had his brother’s wife, was reproved (shown his fault) by John the Baptist (Lk.3:19). The New American Standard says he was “reprimanded.” In this case, John had no ability to do more than give the reprimand and expose the sin, and he was powerless to escalate the matter beyond that. Generally speaking, the person who is reproved is confronted with their sin, and it is left at that because no further steps are necessary if the person is penitent; or further escalation is not possible as when the person is not in the Church. To reprove might be thought of as the first step of Church discipline. When a brother sins, the minimum that should be done is to call attention to the sin instead of hiding or ignoring it. The Christian who is looking to have his ears tickled needs to be reproved before the sin completely overtakes him or others in the Church.

Rebuke. Strong’s says “rebuke” (epitimao) means to “censure or admonish”, and “by implication forbid.” Webster’s defines “censure” as “1: a judgment involving condemnation; 2 archaic: OPINION, JUDGMENT; 3: the act of blaming or condemning sternly; 4: an official reprimand.” This word describes a stronger and escalated approach to the sin so that someone is “sternly warned” to stop sinning. The word is used in Matthew 8:26, where it says Jesus “rebuked the winds and the sea, and it became perfectly calm.” This is different from “reproof” in that He did not merely convict or expose the wind, but He forbad it from continuing. In Matthew 16:22, when Peter “rebuked” Jesus, he was forbidding that Christ be crucified. Peter was willing to thwart the plan of God. The force of the word seems to suggests that the person is willing to use his power or authority to force a change. This is why Jesus said to Peter, “Get behind me Satan.” And a form of the word, epitimia, is found in 2 Corinthians 2:6 and refers to “the punishment” that the Church exercised against a sinning brother. If reproving a sinning brother is the first step of Church discipline, the rebuke seems to be the next step before final removal of an unrepentant brother from the Church. The Christian who is guilty of doctrinal error, who for example may be drawing disciples off to himself, needs to be exposed and forbidden from continuing in the error.

Exhort. Strong’s says “exhort” (parakaleo) means “to call near, that is, invite, invoke (by imploration, hortation or consolation): – beseech, call for, (be of good) comfort, desire, (give) exhort (-ation), intreat, pray.” Paul used the word four times in 1st Timothy to “urge”, “encourage”, or “appeal” to the brethren. The word is translated a number of ways in the New Testament, including to plead, urge, comfort, appeal to, or beg. The centurian came to Jesus, “imploring Him”, and the demons began to “entreat Him” (Mt. 8:5,31). Of the three words in our discussion, this one is the least confrontational and is the most appropriate in dealing with faithful Christians. But the gentle and tactful nature of an exhortation might be least respected by those who are in sin, who need instead to be reproved or rebuked. Faithful Christians respond to an exhortation to stay faithful to Jesus Christ and to His Word.

The preacher Timothy has to work with all sorts of people. And no single approach is right for every situation. Sometimes it takes comforting words and sometimes it takes stern words, but there ought always to be love and concern for the person’s soul and for the Church. This study reminds me of something I heard years ago, while doing a phone survey on the manner in which denominations approach erring members, where one preacher said they don’t practice “church discipline”; instead, their method is to “love the person back into the group.” This individual showed a lack of understanding of God’s word because love should be the motive behind “reproving, rebuking, and exhorting.”

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Categories: church discipline, rebuke, reprove

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