Preach with reproof and rebuke (2 Ti. 4:2).
- “Reproof” is the Greek elegcho, which means confute, admonish, refute, expose. It is elsewhere translated “convict” (Jn. 8:9), “convince” (Jn. 8:46), “tell a fault” (Mat. 18:15). It means to show people their wrong ways and to convince them of the right way of God’s Word.
- This is a difficult task, because human nature does not like to be told that it is wrong. The natural response to reproof is to become offended and to attack the reprover.
Preach with rebuke (2 Ti. 4:2).
- “Rebuke” is from epitimao, which is from epi (upon) and timao (to evaluate), meaning to bring a charge, to censure, to forbid. It is also translated “charge” (“many charged him that he should hold his peace,” Mr. 10:48).
- Reproving and rebuking are nearly the same. It is correcting, warning, censuring, exposing sin and error. The repetition is for emphasis.
- Rebuke implies a responsibility on the part of the preacher to make judgments based on God’s Word about the condition of the people to whom he is preaching. Today the popular cry is “judge not,” but those words in Matthew 7:1 are taken out of context and made to mean that it is not God’s will to judge sin and doctrine, which is a false teaching. In Matthew 7:1-5, Christ is warning against hypocrisy; He is not saying that the believer can judge nothing. Elsewhere in the New Testament we are told that the believer is to judge sin and doctrine (e.g., Joh. 7:24; 1 Co. 6:2-3; 14:29; 2 Co. 11:3-4; Eph. 4:14; 5:11; Col. 2:8; 1 Jo. 4:1). In 2 Ti. 4:2, the preacher is commanded to judge things that are wrong and to reprove and rebuke them. In so doing, he is not exercising his own judgment, he is exercising God’s judgment.
- Biblical preaching requires confrontation. The preacher must confront people with God’s claims on their lives. Biblical preaching has an element of “attack.”
- It requires telling people that that they are wrong and rebuking them for being wrong.
- It requires calling people to repentance.
- Observe that God begins with the “negative” aspect of preaching (reprove, rebuke). Actually teaching and exhorting must come before reproof and rebuke, but God puts reproof and rebuke first here. They are put first as a way of emphasizing the necessity of reproof and rebuke. And they are put first, perhaps, because these are the first things to go out of preaching. They are the most difficult aspects. Preaching tends to get softer and softer. Very few preachers rebuke in a plain way. Southern Baptist preacher Ed Stetzer represents the typical, but unbiblical, thinking when he says, “I’ve always believed that you get better results by finding and praising the positive aspects of something than by harping on the negative aspects” (“5 Positive Trends in Today’s Worship Music,” Christianity Today, Jan. 9, 2019).
- Rebuke is a difficult ministry that requires courage that can only come from God. The fear of God must outweigh the fear of man. The love of God and man must outweigh the love of self.
- Rebuke is Christ-like. He rebuked the unbelieving Jews (Mt. 12:34; Lu. 11:29), the Pharisees (Mt. 23:13-35), Peter (Mr. 8:33), the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Lu. 24:25), and the seven churches (Re. 2:4-5, 14-16, 20-23; 3:2-3, 16-19).
- Rebuke is an act of Christian love. Christ said, “As many as I love, I rebuke” (Re. 3:19). The Bible says that parents that don’t discipline their children don’t love them (Pr. 13:24), and the same is true for church leaders.
- When a preacher seeks to fulfill this obligation, he is often labeled unloving and Pharisaical, but that is a slander. It is to misunderstand the nature of biblical preaching and the importance of correction. For a preacher to reprove and rebuke in love is God-like rather than Satan-like.
- Reproof and rebuke means the preacher refuses to back down from correcting sin and error. He is not going to ignore it; he is not going to countenance it; he is not going to reprove it once or twice to salve his conscience and then back down and allow the people to live as they please. This is what Eli did with his wicked sons. He reproved them, but he didn’t follow through with the necessary discipline (1 Sa. 2:22-25). He allowed them to remain in the priesthood and to continue to corrupt God’s work.
- To be effective, rebuke has to be plain and forthright. The reproof cannot be vague. All of the preachers in the Bible were plain spoken. They condemned sin plainly; they rebuked error unhesitatingly. Consider Jesus’ message to the Pharisees in Matthew 23:13-33. Consider Paul’s description of false teachers. In 1 and 2 Timothy alone, he named the names of false teachers and compromisers 10 times (1 Ti. 1:20; 2 Ti. 1:15; 2:17; 3:8; 4:10, 14). Consider Peter’s severe description of false teachers (2 Pe. 2). Consider James’s rebuke of worldliness (Jam. 4:4). Consider Enoch’s sermon in Jude 14-16, in which he used the word “ungodly” four times in a 47-word sermon.
- A biblical reprover will not turn a blind eye to sin, unfaithfulness, and lukewarmness (e.g., members not faithful to services, the people not attending prayer meetings, not helping with church set up, teens loving the world, biblical ignorance as a product of laziness in Bible study, neglecting one’s family obligations).
- The rebuke will take different forms depending on the character and condition of the people. At times it will be mild; at other times it must be sharp (Tit. 1:13). The same is true for child discipline. The discipline has to fit the character and actions of the child, and the message has to fit the character and actions of the church.
- Rebuke is contrary to the prevailing philosophy of the hour, which is that we should focus on the positive. It is contrary to the relativistic, judge not principle that predominates in church and society. Rebuke is contrary to humanistic psychology, which seeks to build self-esteem. Robert Schuller said that Christianity “must cease to be a negative religion and must become positive” (Self-Esteem: The New Reformation, p. 104). He said that it is damaging to call people sinners. He said, “I have no right to ever preach a sermon or write an article that would offend the self-respect and violate the self-dignity of a listener or reader.” Rebuke is contrary to New Evangelicalism, which avoids “dealing with personalities.”
- Preachers are toning down the message to fit the growing mood of compromise and worldliness. Oftentimes the church members are being influenced by New Evangelicals via the radio, literature, and the internet and have become accustomed to soft preaching. They have unconsciously adopted the “don’t be so negative” philosophy. They don’t want to hear preaching against rock music and television and wicked video games and unwholesome social media. They don’t like it when the preacher warns about popular Christian leaders. So instead of educating and warning about such things, many preachers have backed off.
- Rebuke is to follow the example of Bible preachers: Enoch (Jude 14); the prophets (Jer. 23:1-2; Eze. 23:2-4); John the Baptist (“O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance” Mt. 3:7-8); the Lord Jesus (“get thee behind me Satan” Mt. 16:23, “woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites ... ye fools and blind ... blind guides ... ye serpents, ye generation of vipers” Mt. 23:13-33, “O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken” Lu. 24:25, “O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you how long shall I suffer you?” Mt. 17:17); Paul (“For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts” 2 Ti. 3:6, “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel” 1 Ti. 5:8, “And withal they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not” 1 Ti. 5:13); James (“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” Jas. 4:4); Peter (“But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall being in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not” 2 Pe. 2:1-3); Jude (“For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ” Jude 4).
- Rebuke is to follow the example of preachers of old. Martin Luther took on Rome and called the pope the antichrist and the pope’s bull “all impiety, blasphemy, ignorance, impudence, hypocrisy, lying.” John Knox took on Queen Mary of Scotland. He published The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, arguing that rule by a female is contrary to the Bible. Charles Spurgeon took on the Baptist Union and railed against “soft manners and squeamish words” in the pulpit. Gilbert Tennent took on the Presbyterians of his day, lifting his voice in 1740 in the midst of a synod to warn that many preachers were unregenerate and calling them “rotten-hearted hypocrites, and utter strangers to the saving knowledge of God and of their own hearts” (Joseph Tracy, The Great Awakening, 1842). All of these men got into plenty of trouble for their ministry of rebuke.
- Reproof and rebuke are necessary for spiritual conviction. Soft preaching encourages sin. Compromising, soft-peddling preachers are responsible for the downgrade in the level of holiness in the churches. In the days of Jeremiah, the soft preachers had corrupted the nation because they did not turn the people away from their sin. See Jer. 23:15, 21-22.
- This type of boldness is entirely unknown among convention or denominational Baptists, and it is exceedingly rare among fundamental Baptists. The protest has long gone out of most Protestants, and the “fundamentalism” has largely gone out of “fundamentalists.” Preaching in “Bible-believing churches” is getting softer with each passing decade in the typical fundamental Baptist church. Many people have written to me to describe the downgrade in preaching. Consider a couple of examples: “Another issue that I see is the church letting up on preaching and teaching about hell and the consequences of living without a close relationship with the Lord. In the fifties, when I was a preteen, the airwaves were filled with hellfire sermons. These taught me a right fear and reverence for a Holy God that was not only loving and merciful but also righteous and would one day judge me. It seems to me that we have accepted a lot more worldly philosophy into the pulpit than we would like to admit.” “Churches need to preach harder against moderation in the home with respect to media, fashion, associations and language. Stand firm on the Bible’s standard and stop apologizing for the Truth.”
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