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2 Timothy 4:1-2 • Reprove, Rebuke, Exhort

"I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction."
    —2 Timothy 4:1-2 (NASB)

Once again we find that the way the world defines things is at odds with the precise way they are defined by God's Word. I would respectfully submit that if you actually engage in a dialog which escalates to the level of something that actually reproves, rebukes, and/or exhorts, that most often these days you will be accused of being at the least "unloving" and perhaps even "divisive". What the world means by "preach the word" falls quite short of the Bible's definition.

A more direct translation of the word "reprove" is "correct". It involves actually measuring someone's behavior or doctrine against biblical standards and, if found to be incorrect, action undertaken to make them accountable for the error. We never "judge" in terms of whether someone is going to heaven or hell — only God knows that for sure — but we're certainly admonished to "judge" behavior and doctrine according to the degree to which it conforms to the Word of God and speak out when there's a deviation.

When others are unresponsive to reproof or exhortation, there may be no choice but to "rebuke", which is to criticize sharply, to actually reprimand someone. Jesus most often did this to Satan and his agents whether they were demons or false teachers such as the Pharisees. When someone has done something greatly harmful to others, especially if it propagates rebellion against God's Word and ways, a direct and pointed confrontation of the facts is often the only recourse.

I think we'd all prefer that we're never required to go beyond having to "exhort". That is, to urge strongly by giving warnings or advice. Whereas the previous two conditions of "reprove" and "rebuke" imply the potential need for discipline, "exhort" implies a greater, mutual depth in the relationship so that discipline is unnecessary to accept exhortation.

I agree that we don't have license to scream and yell at people and claim it's proper reproof, rebuke, or exhortation. Paul qualifies that each of these must be pursued "with great patience and instruction". But I will say that often it's been my experience that those who don't want to hear such things will accuse you of being "unloving" or "divisive" no matter how politely and non-threateningly you make your case. Just mentioning a weakness makes them think you're targeting them. But we have to understand the common denominator of all these aspects of what it means to biblically "preach the word" is that behavior must change. It's not about merely getting information about the Gospel, but putting it into practice and speaking up when it isn't.