31 May 2013

The duty to "Reprove, Rebuke, Exhort"

Every Friday, to commemorate the stellar contributions to internet apologetics and punditry made by our founder and benefactor, Phil Johnson, the unpaid and overworked staff at TeamPyro presents a "Best of Phil" post to give your weekend that necessary kick.

This excerpt is from blog back in February 2012. Phil draws out some of the implications and proper applications of 2 Timothy 4:2.

As usual, the comments are closed.

Paul's instructions to Timothy (in 2 Timothy 4) include these imperatives: "reprove, rebuke . . . exhort" (2 Timothy 4:2)...I am frankly amazed and appalled at how many pastors today deliberately shirk this duty. "It's not for me to criticize what other people are teaching. I just want to be always positive, and we'll let truth and error sort themselves out." But if you try to do that, you are not fulfilling the responsibility Paul positively assigns to every faithful minister, both here, and in Titus 1:9, where he emphatically makes this same duty the responsibility of every elder in the church: "He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it."

Titus 1:13 says some people need to be rebuked "sharply, [so] that they may be sound in the faith." In fact, when Paul gives this same charge to Titus, he words it as strongly as possible: "Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you."

That jars every postmodern sensibility, doesn't it? But it is a crucial aspect of the pastoral calling. No one is a faithful shepherd who refuses to deal decisively with dangers that threaten the flock.


Lest anyone think this is a prescription for angry-sounding hyper-fundamentalists, notice that there's an important qualification attached to this command: "exhort, with complete patience and teaching." The verb (exhort) is parakaleo; the same word translated "preaching" in the King James Version of 1 Timothy 4:13. It's a sweet word, closely related to parakletos, the name Jesus used to speak of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. It's used 29 times in the New Testament, and the first time it appears is in reference to Jesus, in Luke 2:25, where Christ is referred to as "the consolation [parakaleo], of Israel."


Preaching is not a cudgel with which to beat the sheep. So it must always be done "with complete patience and teaching." That echoes what Paul said two chapters earlier, 2 Timothy 2:25: "The Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth."

Paul is calling for every possible demonstration of patience, kindness, magnanimity, and longsuffering. People will not be won to the truth by relentless scolding. If your rebukes and corrections are flavored with exasperation rather than true concern for the flock; if you deal out reproach after reproach and upbraiding after upbraiding without a true spirit of gentleness, you're not being a true shepherd.

However: in these postmodern times, it is commonly thought that "gentleness" excludes every kind of rebuke or correction—especially the sharp rebuke. But it's clear that Paul saw no necessary contradiction between gentleness and firm rebuke. That has to be our perspective as well, or we will never be up to the simple yet far-reaching task Paul lays on our shoulders here.