A Discipling Church Is a Reproving Church
May 22, 2019
Way of Life Literature, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061
The following material is excerpted from THE DISCIPLING CHURCH: THE CHURCH THAT WILL STAND UNTIL JESUS COMES. Available in print or as a free eBook from www.wayoflife.org.

Christ’s Reproof
Paul’s Reproof
The Ministry of Reproof in Scripture
The Blessing of Godly Reproof
Effectual Reproof
Public and Private Reproof
The Ministry of the Body

A ministry of exhortation, reproof, rebuke, warning, and correction toward sin and error are necessary for making true disciples of Jesus Christ.

The ministry of loving reproof and correction is necessary for the type of atmosphere that produces disciples.

The Bible clearly emphasizes the necessity of this ministry.

“Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears” (Ac. 20:31).

“And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove
them” (Eph. 5:11).

“Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus” (Col. 1:28).

“Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly...” (1 Th. 5:14).

“Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear” (1 Ti. 5:20).

“Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Ti. 4:2).

This witness is true. Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith” (Tit. 1:13).

“These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee” (Tit. 2:15).

“As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent” (Re. 3:19).

But a biblical ministry of reproof is a neglected and grossly misunderstood ministry today.

A ministry of reproof is even thought to be strange and hurtful. A preacher told me recently, “You have a strange ministry,” referring to my reproof of erring pastors. Actually a ministry of reproof is strange only to those who have turned from Scripture.

To love righteousness is to hate sin, and to love truth is to hate error.

“Therefore I esteem all thy precepts concerning all things to be right; and I hate every false way” (Ps. 119:128).

Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good” (Ro. 12:9).

Christ said, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten” (Re. 3:19).

John, the “apostle of love,” defined love as obedience. He said, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous” (1 John 5:3).

Proverbs teaches us that the parent who does not chasten his child does not love him (Pr. 13:24). The same is true for a church leader. Those who do not reprove and correct the sheep do not love them. It would be like a shepherd who sees the sheep going astray but does nothing about it.

Further, a ministry of godly reproof is a ministry of spiritual growth and protection.

“Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus” (Col. 1:28).

“For the commandment
is a lamp; and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life” (Pr. 6:23).

Far from being harmful, a godly ministry of reproof and correction has the potential for great blessing.

The Necessity of Reproof

Reproof, warning, and correction are necessary because God’s people are still sinners in this present world. The “old man” is still present (Eph. 4:22). “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 Jo. 1:8). We are easily beset by sin (Heb. 12:1).

Therefore, every man is to be warned and taught (Col. 1:28), and note that warning is put first. In practice, teaching comes before warning, but here warning comes first. This is by way of emphasis. Every saint in Christ needs warning!

Without a ministry of reproof, warning, and correction, the saints do not grow spiritually as they should. They backslide. They become lukewarm. They become settled upon the lees (Zep. 1:12). They tend to go out of the way.

An environment of godly reproof, and warning is the atmosphere in which the Spirit of God convicts and challenges and keeps God’s people growing in holiness and separation from the fallen world system.

The Ministry of Reproof in Scripture

Reproof and correction is one of the purposes for which God gave the Bible (2 Ti. 3:16). To avoid reproof and correction is to cut a lot of truth out of Scripture. Some years back a man published The Positive Bible. He had the audacity to “remove the negative things from the Bible.” The result was a very small “Bible”!

The terms “reprove,” “rebuke,” “warn,” “admonish,” “chasten,” “convince,” “blame,” and “correct” are used more than 30 times in Acts and the Epistles.

These words have similar but different meanings.

Admonish” means to put in mind; to caution; to charge; to reprove gently; to notify of a fault; to counsel against wrong practices; to advise; to instruct. The Greek word translated “admonish” in Romans 15:14 is “neotheteo,” which is elsewhere translated “warn” (Ac. 20:31; Col. 1:28). The word “admonish” is used for Jeremiah’s warning to the Jewish remnant about not going to Egypt (Jer. 42:19), Paul’s warning to the ship’s captain (Ac. 27:9), the admonition toward an erring brother (2 Th. 3:15), and God’s admonition to Moses to build the Tabernacle exactly according to the divine pattern (Heb. 8:5).

Reprove” means to charge with a fault, to convict, to blame. An example is John reproving Herod for marrying his brother’s wife (Lu. 3:19) and Paul reproving Peter for his hypocrisy (Ga. 2:11). To reprove also means to persuade, to give evidence, to convince. The word “reproof” in 2 Timothy 3:16 is the Greek word “elegchos,” which is elsewhere translated “evidence” (Heb. 11:1). To reprove is to convince someone of his sin or error (1 Co. 14:24; Tit. 1:9). To reprove means to shine the light of God’s Word on the deeds of darkness (Eph. 5:11-13). The Spirit of God has come to reprove the world of sin (John 16:8).

Rebuke” means to reproach, correct, chide, scold, reprimand. Nehemiah rebuked the elders (Ne. 5:7). The judges of Israel were to rebuke sin (Amos 5:10). Christ will rebuke the nations when He returns (Is. 2:4). Jesus rebuked Peter (Mr. 8:33). The Christian is to rebuke his brother when he trespasses against him (Lu. 17:3). Sinning elders are to be rebuked (1 Ti. 5:20). The Word of God is to be preached with rebuke (2 Ti. 4:2; Tit. 2:15). Some are to be rebuked sharply (Tit. 1:13). Christ rebukes those He loves (Re. 3:19). One’s attitude toward rebuke reveals his spiritual condition (Pr. 9:7-8; 13:1).

Admonish, warn, reprove, and rebuke are similar in meaning. All of these terms refer to correction. Rebuke is the strongest. Reprove and admonish are usually a little milder, a little less forceful. Admonition and reproof ignored or rejected leads to rebuke.

Christ as Reprover

Christlikeness is compassion and gentleness and patience, but it is also firmness, even toughness, in regard to God’s holy laws. The Lord said, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent” (Revelation 3:19).

Consider how forceful Christ can be in reproof to His own people (not to speak of His millennial rod of iron and the issue of eternal judgment for the unbeliever):

“But when he had turned about and looked on his disciples, he rebuked Peter, saying, GET THEE BEHIND ME, SATAN: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men” (Mark 8:33).

“Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and
UPBRAIDED THEM with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him” (Mark 16:14).

“But he turned, and
REBUKED THEM, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of” (Luke 9:55).

“Then he said unto them,
O FOOLS and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken” (Luke 24:25).
“Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else
I WILL COME UNTO THEE QUICKLY, AND WILL REMOVE THY CANDLESTICK out of his place, except thou repent” (Revelation 2:5).

“But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans,
WHICH I ALSO HATE” (Revelation 2:6).

“So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and

“Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds. And
I WILL KILL HER CHILDREN WITH DEATH; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works” (Revelation 2:22-23).

“Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch,
I WILL COME ON THEE AS A THIEF, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee” (Revelation 3:3).

“I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot,
I WILL SPUE THEE OUT OF MY MOUTH” (Revelation 3:15-16).

Five times in the Gospels, Christ expressed disappointment and reproof by saying that the disciples were of little faith (Mt. 6:30; 8:26; 14:31; 16:8; Lu. 12:28).

Christ “looked round about on them with anger” (Mark 3:5); called Israel a “generation of vipers” (Ma. 12:34) and a “faithless and perverse generation” (Mt. 17:17); called the Jewish leaders “hypocrites ... blind guides ... fools and blind ... serpents” (Mt. 23:13-33); sharply upbraided the cities in which He did mighty works (Mt. 11:20-24). He called Herod a fox (Lu. 13:32). He twice made a whip and drove the moneychangers and sellers out of the temple (Joh. 2:15-17; Mr. 11:15-17). He commanded that holy things not be given to dogs and pigs (Mt. 7:6).

Christ is the example that church leaders are to follow. To see compromise, sin, and error in the church and not deal with it effectively is not the Christ-like way.

The apostle Paul exemplifies the right “balance” in ministry. He said, “Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample” (Php. 3:17). See also 1 Corinthians 4:16; 11:1. On the one hand he was as gentle as a nurse with the believers (1 Th. 2:7). On the other hand, he was firm and unyielding about discipline (1 Co. 5; 2 Th. 3:6-14). He was a strong reprover (e.g., 1 Co. 6:5; 15:33-36; Ga. 3:1), and he taught the preachers under his watchcare to be the same (2 Ti. 4:2; Tit. 1:13; 2:15).

We see the ministry of reproof in Paul’s attitude toward the sin and error in the church at Corinth. He was kind and patient, but he did not overlook sin, error, and carnality. He dealt with it head on. He exhorted, reproved, and rebuked. He did whatever was necessary to effect repentance and change.

“Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you” (1 Co. 1:10-11).

“And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal,
even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” (1 Co r.3:1-3).

“If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which
temple ye are. Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise” (1 Co. 3:17-18).

“But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord will, and will know, not the speech of them which are puffed up, but the power. For the kingdom of God
is not in word, but in power. What will ye? shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of meekness?” (1 Co. 4:19-21).

“It is reported commonly
that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father's wife. And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you. For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed, In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?” (1 Co. 5:1-6).

“I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? no, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren? But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers. Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather
suffer yourselves to be defrauded?” (1 Co. 6:5-7).

“Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body. What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost
which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?” (1 Co. 6:18-19).

“Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord's table, and of the table of devils. Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? are we stronger than he?” (1 Co. 10:21-22).

“For in eating every one taketh before
other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken. What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not” (1 Co. 11:21-22).

“Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men” (1 Co. 14:20).

“If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in
those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad?” (1 Co. 14:23).

“Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners. Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak
this to your shame. But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come? Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die” (1 Co. 15:33-36).

Paul’s ministry of reproof to the carnal church at Corinth worked repentance and change (2 Co. 7:8-11). A sound ministry of reproof and discipline has the same power today.

We see a ministry of reproof in James’ epistle.

“Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy? But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up” (Jas. 4:4-10).

James did not countenance worldliness and carnality. He dealt with it in the most direct manner. He called the worldly saints adulterers and adulteresses. He called them the enemies of God. He called them sinners and double minded. He called them proud.

There is no beating around the bush here. There is no speaking in vague generalities. James’ audience knew exactly what he meant and whom he was talking about.

This is the example for every church leader. Yet today it is common for preachers to accept worldliness as the status quo and to allow it to spread throughout the congregation. Instead of reproving the worldly members after the fashion of James, church leaders put worldly people into positions of ministry and allow them to influence the entire church body. Within a generation the spiritual character of the church is destroyed because of church leaders who won’t exercise the biblical ministry of reproof.

We see a ministry of reproof described in Paul’s instruction to Titus.

“One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, The Cretians are alway liars, evil beasts, slow bellies. This witness is true. Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith” (Tit. 1:12-13).

Titus was ministering on the island of Crete. He was establishing churches and training and ordaining elders.

But the national character of the Cretians was affecting the churches. Paul taught Titus what to do, and he was to exercise a sharp ministry of reproof.

Discipline must fit the character of the individual or church. It’s like chastening a child. Each child is different and must be dealt with differently. If a child obeys, he is not spanked, but the stubborn, self-willed child must be dealt with more forcefully.

This is true in the church. If there is a Cretian character, the chastening must be firmer and sharper. The Cretians tended to be liars (deceitful, dissembling), evil beasts (backbiters, gossips, hurtful), slow bellies (lazy, idle, living for their physical appetites). Because of their exceedingly poor character and slowness to obey God, the churches on Crete needed to be dealt with more sharply than churches in other places.

Sharp rebuke is contrary to the teaching of humanistic psychology, but God knows human nature and His Word instructs us how to deal wisely with stubborn insubordination.

We see the ministry of reproof in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15.

“Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us. For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you; Neither did we eat any man's bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you: Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us. For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies. Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread. But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing. And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.”

This is a description of a strong reproving ministry of God’s Word exercised in the New Testament church.

Paul is giving a commandment, not a suggestion (2 Th. 3:6). This type of ministry is required of God in every congregation.

The passage deals with church members who are disorderly and do not work, but rather are busybodies (2 Th. 3:11). But it would apply to any type of disorderly conduct that is unlawful for God’s people to engage in.

The church is not to overlook this type of thing. It must be dealt with plainly and as severely as necessary to bring it to a stop.

Disorderly conduct is to be dealt with in a variety of ways. First, there must be
teaching. The saints must be patiently instructed about the importance of good labor (2 Th. 3:7-9). Compare Pr. 6:6-11; 13:4; 14:23; Acts 20:34-35; Eph. 4:28; 1 Th. 4:11-12. Next, there is to be exhortation (2 Th. 3:12). The church is to be exhorted to do what God commands. Then there is to be reproof and rebuke of those who disobey (2 Th. 3:11). Finally, there is to be discipline if the reproof is not taken to heart and there is no repentance (2 Th. 3: 6, 14). We, see, too that brotherly love is to permeate a ministry of reproof and correction (2 Th. 3:15), which is one of the things that sharply distinguishes godly reproof with a cultic, Diotrephes type of reproof.

Paul is describing the ministry of reproof and correction that must characterize every New Testament church. The church is not to overlook disorderly conduct. It is to deal with it with every spiritual tool that God has provided.

The Blessing of Godly Reproof

As an earring of gold, and an ornament of fine gold, so is a wise reprover upon an obedient ear” (Pr. 25:12).

Wise reproof that is received well is a great blessing. I have personally witnessed this many times over the years.

Following are a few examples:

In one of my classes in Bible School, a student frequently harassed the teacher from his (the student’s) Ruckmanite thinking. Finally one day as we were leaving class I reproved him about disturbing the class and showing dishonor to the teacher. I reminded him that he had not been given authority to teach that class, and the rest of the students were not there to hear his opinions. He was a large, gruff man, and I approached him in some fear, but he was humble and apologetic.

On another occasion I confronted a young relative about dating a worldly man who was contributing to her backsliding. We were sitting in our living room, and initially she ran out of the room crying. But she repented and today is married to a godly man.

I reproved one of our church men who consistently absented himself from our men’s discipleship meetings. We had exhorted him previously about faithfulness, but he had not changed. Now I said, “It appears to me that you are either unsaved, lazy, or you don’t like me and therefore don’t want to attend my classes.” I also said that if I had missed something, please let me know. After saying nothing for some time, he replied, “I am lazy.” I then exhorted him about his need to be zealous in his service for Christ and a good example to the church and to his own family. He has been faithful ever since.

I once reproved a young mother in our church about letting her daughter disobey her instructions and commands. I said, “If you are disciplining her properly, the evidence will be obedience. If she doesn’t obey, she isn’t disciplined. It’s that simple.” The mother took this to heart, and today her child obeys her and obeys other adults.

My wife and I discipline our grandkids when they stay with us, if necessary, which has been extremely rare. We never let them get away with disobedience or disrespect, and they know that we mean business. One of our grandsons was acting a bit rebellious one day, and my wife reminded him that she had her spanking stick handy. She was referring to a short rod, but it so happened that a seven-foot stick was standing in a corner of the room for some project she was doing, and the grandson thought she was talking about that. He was just a little guy and he was standing near that corner of the room, and after looking that huge stick over from the floor to the ceiling he was immediately in a better mood!

Of course, it doesn’t always turn out this way. When the ear is not obedient, the reproof won’t be fruitful in that individual’s life and might even result in trouble for the reprover, but God is glorified either way, because the reprover has obeyed God and honored His Word (Pr. 15:23).

This is true for every aspect of discipline. It doesn’t always result in blessing in an individual’s life, but it always results in glory to a holy God and the purification of the church (1 Co. 5:7-8).

The same is true for preaching the gospel (2 Co. 2:14-16). The preaching of the gospel is a sweet savour unto God, whether the person believes or does not believe. In the case of the unbeliever, God is glorified because His Word is preached and the offer of salvation is made and His goodness is evident even in the offer.

The preacher of the gospel and the reprover of sin and error obeys God’s Word, and leaves the result to Him.

Effectual Reproof

There are many things that are necessary for effectual reproof. To engage disobedience and error is no simple matter, and it must be done by those who are properly qualified and prepared.

1. The reprover must be filled with goodness.

“And I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another” (Ro. 15:14).

He must have a respectable Christian testimony. He must not be a hypocrite. If the people to whom I minister see me doing things that are wrong, they will lose respect for me and my reproof will lose effectiveness. I’ve not always done right in this, but I know that a good testimony is necessary for a fruitful ministry of preaching God’s Word. And I am thankful that in spite of my failings, the Lord has given me a good testimony in the eyes of those who know me.

I once challenged a church member about her dress and asked her if she would read my book
Dressing for the Lord. She replied, “I will read the book because of my respect for you.” A national preacher once said, “Brother Cloud can reprove us because we know he loves us and we know how long and faithfully he has ministered among us.”

If there are glaring sins and failings in an individual’s life, he is incapable of reproving those things. For example, if a pastor’s children do not know and serve the Lord, no one will pay much attention to him when he tries to teach them about how to raise children. And if he is divorced, they probably won’t listen very well to his warnings about divorce.

Being filled with goodness includes mercy and care. The one being reproved must know that the reprover cares for him.

This is why we can effectually reprove the young people in our church. They respect our Christian lives and they know that we care for them. Even when I have had to “rebuke them sharply” at times because of their sin and stubbornness, they have received it, or at least most of them have. Otherwise, the reproof could frustrate them and drive them away.

2. The reprover must be filled with knowledge.

“And I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another” (Ro. 15:14).

The reprover must know God’s Word and know how to properly use God’s Word; the better you know God’s Word, the more fruitful you can be in helping others. Many saints remain ignorant year after year; therefore, they are ineffectual and unfruitful.

The necessity of being filled with goodness and knowledge reminds us that the young believer or even the young preacher should be extra careful about reproving. He doesn’t have the maturity to be as highly respected as an older saint; therefore, his reproof will not be received as well as that of an older saint.

I think of a little church in Tennessee where I taught Sunday School. One of the members was a rough old “hillbilly” with several children that he was not training properly. I decided to teach about child training, though I wasn’t even married yet. After the first class, he said, “You don’t know what you are talking about,” and if I remember correctly he stopped attending the classes. He was right that I didn’t know what I was talking about experientially. I was only about two years old in the Lord. I was still “wet behind the ears!” At the same time, he should have been more respectful toward God’s Word. He lost most of his children to the world. In fact, some of his children went to prison.

3. The reprover must be wise.

As an earring of gold, and an ornament of fine gold, so is a wise reprover upon an obedient ear” (Pr. 25:12).

Consider some characteristics of wise reproof:

There is a right time and situation to reprove.

“He that passeth by, and meddleth with strife belonging not to him, is like one that taketh a dog by the ears” (Pr. 26:17).

Reproof should be given when it is your business to reprove.

Since the pastor is responsible for his flock, it is his business to reprove them when necessary. He can’t say it is not his business. How can a shepherd say that the sheep are not his business? And how can the sheep say the shepherd has no business meddling in their lives?

The Lord has given the God-called preacher the authority to reprove in season and out of season (2 Ti. 4:2), but this doesn’t mean it is wise to get involved in every situation that comes to his attention.

Some situations will work themselves out without the input of a pastor, and he must have the wisdom to know these things.

When at all possible, the reproof should be made face to face rather than by email or text.

Reproof shouldn’t be given when the individual is severely distracted, such as during a tragedy.

Reproof shouldn’t be given early in the morning or some other very inconvenient time. One time a friend started reproving me about something he felt I was doing wrong, but he did it first thing in the morning before I even had my cup of coffee. Not wise! To reprove someone when he or she is preparing for something and is therefore distracted and under pressure is usually not wise. For example, if you want to try to correct something the preacher has said, don’t do it just before he is scheduled to preach. Be wise.

And the reprover must decide whether the reproof should be private or public. Paul reproved Peter publicly (Ga. 2:11-14), but there is also a time for private reproof. In general, public error should be dealt with publicly, and private error should be dealt with privately. Paul reproved Peter publicly because Peter’s hypocrisy was public and he was influencing others (Ga. 2:13). I am often criticized for reproving preachers publicly about their ministries, but I only do this when the ministry in question is public and that preacher is influencing people outside of his own congregations.

There is a right person to reprove.

The Bible teaches us to consider the character of the individual that is to be reproved.

In a nutshell, we should reprove when we are dealing with a receptive heart.

“He that reproveth a scorner getteth to himself shame: and he that rebuketh a wicked man getteth himself a blot. Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate thee: rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee” (Pr. 9:7-8).

There are levels of reproof. I will give a certain type of reproof to the insubordinate and another type of reproof to the subordinate. When I am pretty confident that a person isn’t going to respond positively, I will still sometimes give a reproof because God tells me to (Eph. 5:11; 2 Ti. 4:2). But I won’t dwell on it or pursue it.

Consider Proverbs 26:4-5.

“Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.”

Verse 4 means not to answer a fool in like manner to his folly. Don’t respond to anger with anger, to mocking with mocking, to berating with berating, etc. But verse 5 says we should answer a fool according to his folly in the sense of what his folly deserves and requires. To give no answer can make him wise in his conceit, because he takes no answer to mean there is no answer to his folly. I sometimes follow this method in regard to email communications from obstinate people. Sometimes I ignore them totally; sometimes I reply briefly. But I aim not to get carried away with their foolishness by getting into name calling and mudslinging and character attacks. I’m not always successful, but this is my aim, because I know that to answer a fool in like manner to his folly is unwise and accomplishes nothing and takes me down to the level of the fool.

Consider Titus 3:9-11.

“But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain. A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject; Knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself.”

Here we see how to deal with the heretic, who is a person that has made a choice to cleave to error. He is “subverted.” There is something wrong with him. God’s Word instructs us to admonish such a person once or twice, and then reject him. The heart of the heretic is not receptive to the truth, and it is therefore a waste of time to pursue him.

For example, one night I accompanied some relatives to distribute gospel tracts and to witness to people in a park in my home town where a lot of people congregate on weekends. Some of my relatives played musical instruments and sang to attract a crowd, and the rest of us witnessed to them. A Church of Christ man accosted me with one objective, and that was to debate about baptism. I showed him from Scripture how that it is the gospel that saves (Ro. 1:16) and that baptism is not the gospel (1 Co. 15:3-4), but he didn’t hear a word I was saying. He focused on his false interpretation of Acts 2:38. In a short while, I said, “You are wasting my time. I am here to preach the gospel to needy sinners, and you are of the devil, because you are hindering me from doing that. If you believe baptism is the gospel, go to the other side of the park and preach your gospel. Goodbye.” I turned away from him and ignored any further attempts to harangue me with his heresy. I was careful not to say, “The Lord bless you,” because we are not to bless false teachers (2 John 10-11).

A ministry of reproof deals wisely with people according to their character.

There is also a right way to reprove.

The reprover must have “the spirit of meekness” (Ga. 6:1). He must put himself in the place of the person he is reproving and exercise the “royal law” to do unto others as he would have them do unto him (Jas. 2:8). He must reprove with the attitude that he, too, is a sinner who is susceptive to backsliding.

The reprover must seek God’s help and wisdom to know how to deal with every situation, because each situation is different. Consider Christ’s dealing with Peter in Matthew 16:21-23 versus His dealing with Peter in John 21:15-18. We see the difference between sharp rebuke and gentle but persistent exhortation. After Christ’s denial, the Lord knew that Peter was already deeply reproved by his own conscience and that he had wept bitterly (Mt. 26:75), so the Lord focused on questioning Peter about love. Christ got to the heart of the matter, which was Peter’s self-love and lack of love for Christ. This is why Peter, rather than John, was sifted by the devil. Christ’s persistence in asking Peter three times if he loved him pressed the issue into Peter’s conscience. It was extremely effectual and fruitful. Peter spent the rest of his life loving Christ and feeding the sheep. His epistles are extremely powerful and searching. He had indeed been converted (Lu. 22:32).

The reprover should know the difference between
attitude and action. Both my attitude and my action must be right. Sometimes we are so careful to keep a right attitude that we don’t do the right action, or we do the right action with the wrong attitude. For example, consider a young woman who wants to serve in some ministry in the church, but her hair is too short. On one hand, hair length is a relatively small thing, but that doesn’t mean that it is of no consequence. Paul addressed it and taught that hair length is an issue of authority. The woman’s long hair is her God-given glory and is a sign of her submission to the man’s authority, whereas the man’s short hair is the sign of his submission to God (1 Co. 11:3-5). Paul said that even angels are affected by this issue (1 Co. 11:10). The right attitude in this context is to deal with the young woman kindly and patiently and to keep this issue in the right perspective in my own heart. I must remember that hair length is not necessarily a spiritual thermometer. A woman with short hair might love the Lord much more passionately than a woman with long hair, and a man with longer hair might love the Lord more passionately than a man with short hair, and love for the Lord is the most important issue. But keeping my attitude right does not mean that there is no action to take. In the previous case, the young woman needs to be instructed and guided in this matter so that she will come to understand the issue and not want to be an offense and stumbling block by her appearance. And the action includes enforcing the church’s standards for workers, even in external appearances and even in matters that are considered by many of “small” consequence.

We must exercise special wisdom in reproving an elder, referring to an elder in age as well as to a leader. An elder is not to be rebuked, but to be entreated as a father (1 Ti. 5:1). Paul is talking particularly about the fact that younger people are not to rebuke elders but rather must deal with them in an entreating manner. (In contrast, an elder, referring to a pastor, is to be rebuked if he sins, 1 Ti. 5:19-20.)

The reproof must be repetitious (Phi. 3:1; 2 Pe. 1:12).

The wise repetition of reproof is a major part of the process of discipleship.

Human nature demands repetition in instruction and reproof. We don’t learn all at once, but a little at a time. We forget and have to be reminded of what we have already learned. Thus biblical reproof must permeate the church’s ministry and must incorporate repetition.

We see the principle of teaching by repetition throughout the Bible. But effectual repetition does not mean saying exactly the same thing repeatedly. It is dealing with the same subject in different ways, coming at it from different directions, presenting it in different contexts, emphasizing different aspects.

For example, consider Bible study. The leaders produce good Bible students by repetition. It isn’t enough to preach this once a year or mention it in a sermon once in awhile. It isn’t even enough to offer a course on Bible study. Bible study and every other major aspect of discipleship must be constant themes that are woven throughout the church’s ministry. The leaders must explain the reasons why the people need to study the Bible. They must exhort the people to study the Bible. They must teach the people
how to study the Bible. They must rebuke those who do not study the Bible. They must do all of these things all of the time.

The same is true for teaching prayer, holiness, faithfulness, separation, modesty, etc.

Public and Private Reproof

Both public and private reproof are necessary for an effectual ministry of reproof. Here we are talking about reproof in the congregation.

There must be

A preaching ministry that includes clear and practical reproof and rebuke is a very essential part of a disciplined church. It is a necessary part of the atmosphere that produces true disciples.

Not everyone will respond properly to such preaching, but those who have a heart for God will grow in this atmosphere.

Public reproof is necessary for spiritual protection.

Public reproof is a major part of keeping the church disciplined, a major part of producing disciples.

Yet preaching with reproof and rebuke is becoming a neglected ministry. In many churches, the preaching is getting softer, and the result is a weakening of the spiritual climate of the church and the inevitable breaking down of the walls of separation from the world.

Once I interviewed a father about his grown children who were serving the Lord and asked him if he had any suggestions for other parents. The first thing he said was that after he was saved, the Lord had led him to a good Bible preaching church, and he determined as a young father that he was going to obey what the pastor preached. He tried to do whatever the preacher preached from God’s Word, and this resulted in good fruit in his family. Of course, we don’t blindly follow a preacher, but when the preacher is preaching God’s Word, it is right and wise to obey (Heb. 13:17). This church is a church where the preaching is given with plenty of reproof, rebuke, and exhortation, as well as sound doctrine, and those who submit to such a ministry are sanctified thereby.

An example of something that requires the ministry of reproof is the believers’ responsibilities before God such as being faithful to services and being faithful to prayer meetings. It is God who requires faithfulness, and the preacher must uphold God’s requirements (e.g., Acts 2:42; 1 Co. 4:2; Heb. 10:25).

Consider the prayer meetings. The members of the first church “continued in prayers” (Acts 2:42). But today it is typical that only a small percentage of church members attend prayer meetings, and this should be a matter of teaching, exhortation, rebuke, and even discipline, but many pastors are content with small participation in the sense that they do little or nothing to change the status quo.

I think of a large church in Florida that announced a women’s prayer meeting before the service, but my wife was the only one in attendance!

I think of two fairly large churches, but the special prayer meetings before the services are ill attended.

In fact, as I travel in my Bible conference ministry, I am almost always shocked by the pitiful number of men who attend such meetings compared to the number who attend the service itself. Typically, the prayer meeting is only about 15 minutes, so it is not a major sacrifice for the men to attend. Some are unable to attend, of course, but many simply don’t make the effort.

If a man can’t get off work and is therefore unable to attend, though he wants to, that is one thing, and we are patient with that type of thing. But in many cases, it is a matter of rank disobedience and lack of spiritual zeal.

I always rebuke men for this sin. I think of a church in North Carolina where I preached a Bible conference. There were just a few men in the prayer meeting, but there were probably 30 men in the services.

I don’t believe that a preacher has a right to ignore this type of blatant disobedience to Scripture.

I think of a church where I preached a Bible conference that ran from Wednesday to Sunday. The attendance on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings was about 50, if I remember correctly. I was therefore shocked on Sunday morning to see something like a couple hundred people in attendance. I began my message that morning by reproving those who had neglected the services. I said, “Where were you the last three nights? Didn’t you know that the church was having a Bible conference?” I was preaching a series on Revelation 2-3, and these people had demonstrated a powerful example of Laodicean lukewarmness! I thought that would be the last time I was invited to preach there, but in fact I have been invited back two or three times.

I think of another church where I preached a Bible conference. This church had not had a Bible conference in something like 25-30 years. The services were well attended and the response seemed to be good, but I noticed after a couple of nights that there weren’t many teens and young single people in attendance, and when I inquired about the matter I was told that the young people were at a softball league tournament. I couldn’t believe it. The first Bible conference in decades and the adults let the young people skip out for a softball game! The next evening, I rebuked the church for this great compromise. The day before this reproof, the pastor had been excited about the meeting and had even asked me if I could come back
every year for a conference. But after the reproof about putting sports before Christ, I was never invited back.

But we refuse to accept this type of thing, and we have learned how to deal with it in our own church work. Ninety-five percent of our people are faithful.

We don’t want to rebuke our people. We get no joy out of that. The last thing we want to do is hurt them. We no more want to hurt our church members than to hurt our own children and grandchildren, but reproof and correction are matters of obedience to God and blessing for those who need it.

Our desire is that our people be true disciples of Christ, and we are willing to do whatever is necessary from our side to see that happen.

If God requires a steward to be faithful and if He has given us the example of faithfulness in the members of the first church, who am I as a church leader to require less?

The public process of perfecting disciples requires teaching, exhortation, reproof, rebuke, and discipline, in that order.

As with child training, chastening must precede rebuke and scourging or spanking (Heb. 12:5-6). The word “chasten” is from the Greek “paideuo,” which is elsewhere translated “learn” (1 Ti. 1:20), “instruct” (2 Ti. 2:25), and “teach” (Tit. 2:12). This is the foundation of proper discipline. The parent patiently teaches the child the difference between right and wrong and makes him to understand what is required of him.

Likewise, discipleship begins with teaching. You don’t reprove and rebuke and correct and discipline until first you have carefully instructed the church member as to what he is supposed to do. The same is true for child discipline. To reprove before proper teaching will produce confusion rather than good fruit.

So, in regard to producing faithful church members, we begin by patiently and persistently teaching our people about faithfulness and why they should be faithful and the blessings of faithfulness. This instruction includes the ministry of our
One Year Discipleship Course which has a lot of teaching on this subject.

Together with teaching and instruction is
exhortation. We exhort our people to be faithful. We weave this teaching and exhortation into the preaching and teaching ministry.

Only after teaching and exhortation is there
reproof and rebuke. Those who do not obey and persist in unfaithfulness must be reproved.

Ultimately, there is
discipline. If an individual persists in disobedience in the face of teaching, exhortation, reproof and rebuke, we do not allow him to be a member of our church.

Of course, there are many other elements necessary for producing faithfulness to Christ, including much prayer, compassion and patience.

Take another issue, that of loving God’s Word. According to Scripture, the believer is to have an intimate relationship with God’s Word from the time he is a babe in Christ (1 Pe. 2:2). He is to delight in it and meditate therein day and night (Ps. 1:2). He is to study it diligently and rightly divide it (1 Ti. 2:15). He is to become skillful in the use of it (Heb. 5:12-14).

God requires this of His people; therefore, the church leaders must require it.

Again, the process of requiring a right relationship with God’s Word begins with teaching.

We teach our church members about every aspect of Bible study. We teach them how to have a daily Bible study time. We teach them how to use Bible study tools and how to interpret the Bible for themselves. Our teaching on this subject is extensive and includes two courses, a basic one entitled
The Effectual Bible Student and a deeper one entitled How to Study the Bible.

Then we exhort them to read the Bible and study the Bible and love the Bible. We weave this theme into the messages.

Finally, we reprove and rebuke those who refuse to obey God in this matter.

Other examples of things that commonly need to be reproved are husbands not being the spiritual leaders of their homes, husbands not loving their wives, husbands neglecting their children, wives not honoring and obeying their husbands, wives not being keepers at home, parents not disciplining their children, young people not honoring and obeying their parents, employees not being good workers, lying and dishonesty, laziness, not paying one’s debts, putting one’s work and business before God, putting education above seeking God’s will, and neglecting the duty of being an ambassador for Christ.

There must also be PRIVATE REPROOF.

“Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus” (Col. 1:28).

Note that this is a ministry to “every man.” Public reproof is not enough. There must also be individual, private reproof.

This is very necessary, and it can be very effectual.

I often talk briefly to individuals when they are late or miss services or other things in order to exhort them. I inquire as to their situation (such as where they were during the service) and then exhort them according to their situation and need.

We sometimes meet privately with members after church services to exhort them.

We also visit homes to encourage and exhort the people. Last year we used one evening every week to visit the homes of the church members. The church leaders visited each home together, and after we talked with the family and inquired as to their situation and needs, each of the preachers delivered a word of exhortation.

As with dealing with children, you don’t rebuke church members until it is necessary, and you don’t rebuke them more than necessary.

Usually the public teaching and exhortation and reproof and the private exhortation is enough.

But if the individual persists in disobedience, the leaders must get increasingly firm.

The Ministry of the Body

Another essential part of the ministry of reproof that produces a church of disciples is the ministry of the body itself.

The following are some of the Bible’s teaching about the “one another” ministry of the New Testament church. Note that admonishing is one of the ministries that the members are to exercise toward one another.

“And I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to ADMONISH ONE ANOTHER” (Ro. 15:14).

“BEAR YE ONE ANOTHER’S BURDENS, and so fulfil the law of Christ” (Ga. 6:2).

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; TEACHING AND ADMONISHING ONE ANOTHER in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Col. 3:16).

“But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to LOVE ONE ANOTHER” (1 Th. 4:9).

“Wherefore COMFORT ONE ANOTHER with these words” (1 Th. 4:18).

“Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and EDIFY ONE ANOTHER, even as also ye do” (1 Th. 5:11).

“But EXHORT ONE ANOTHER daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:13).

“Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some
is; but EXHORTING ONE ANOTHER: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Heb. 10:25).

Our goal is to build the congregation up in Christ so the members are able to minister effectively to one another. This does not replace the ministry of the leaders and preachers and teachers; it works together with that ministry and is under the direction of that ministry.

Note that the Bible doesn’t say that the members are to rebuke one another. They are to teach, encourage, comfort, exhort, and admonish. The rebuking should be done by the preachers and leaders.

Exhort means to encourage; to challenge; to cheer. The word translated “exhort” is from the Greek “parakaleo,” which means “to call near.” This Greek word is also translated intreat” (Lu. 15:25), “desire” (Ac. 8:31), “beseech” (Ac. 13:42), “comfort” (Ac. 16:40), “call for” (Ac. 28:20), and “pray” (Ac. 16:9).

Admonish means to put in mind; to caution; to reprove gently; to warn or notify of a fault; to counsel against wrong practices; to advise; to instruct. The Greek word translated “admonish” in Romans 15:14 (“neotheteo”) is elsewhere translated “warn” (Acts 20:31). It is used for Jeremiah’s warning to the Jewish remnant about not going to Egypt (Jer. 42:19), Paul’s warning to the ship’s captain (Acts 27:9), the admonition of God’s Word about sin (1 Co. 10:11), admonishing an erring brother (2 Th. 3:15), God’s admonition of Moses (Heb. 8:5).

I often hear of the operation of this ministry in our church. I hear of one brother or sister encouraging another, teaching another, exhorting another, comforting and helping another, and it is a great blessing to the church family.

Our more spiritual young people exercise this ministry toward the weaker ones.

We give instruction about this ministry, and we encourage it.

The previous material is excerpted from THE DISCIPLING CHURCH: THE CHURCH THAT WILL STAND UNTIL JESUS COMES. Available in print or as a free eBook from www.wayoflife.org.

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