Reprove, Rebuke and Exhort
2 Timothy 4:1-2: I 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, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
Paul’s second letter to Timothy is interesting, partly because it was a letter from a Jew - to a Jew - and written in Greek. But we’re lucky that it was written in Greek, because the language has such a depth of meaning in its words.
We see that depth of meaning in Paul’s instruction to Timothy to “reprove, rebuke, and exhort.” For a long time I assumed that Paul was telling Timothy to “preach, preach, and preach.” But a study of the words used in 1 Timothy 4:1-2 gave me a richer understanding of Paul’s instructions.
The word translated “reprove” carries the idea of convincing someone of their guilt. Reproving exposes sin and leads the sinner to feel convicted of their guilt. When we reprove our brother, we expose their sin and demand an explanation of it. This is the word used by Jude, when he speaks of the Lord sitting in judgment and convicting man of sin.
Jude 14,15: Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way…
We see this word also in Matthew 18, where we’re instructed to tell our brothers when they’re in sin. Matthew 18:15: If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.
When we think of preaching, the word translated “reprove” is what we most often think about.
The word translated “rebuke” carries the idea, that you’ll show disapproval with something, but unlike reproof, there’s no actual guilt involved.
This word is used in Matthew 8:26: And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.
The storm wasn’t guilty of anything, but Jesus told it how to act.
We see this word again in Matthew 16:21-22: From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”
Peter wasn’t telling Jesus that he was guilty of anything, but was telling Jesus that He was wrong.
So in the context of preaching the Word, how is rebuke different than reproof? Reproof is exposing sin that you’re aware of. Rebuking would be a warning to change your mind about something or to change the way you’re living, even if there isn’t sin involved yet.
The word translated “rebuke” is essentially telling someone, “Hey, you need to live like this.”
The last part of Paul’s instruction is to “exhort.” To exhort is to implore, to entreat, to call someone to your side. It means to beg. An excellent example of this word is in Mark 1:40-42: And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.
The leper was kneeling in front of Jesus and begging to be cleansed of his disease.
So we see that at the end of his life, when he wanted to tell Timothy not only TO preach, but HOW TO preach, Paul told Timothy to convict sinners when they’re in the wrong. But Paul also told Timothy to give instruction in how to live and warn the world of the dangers of sin. And Paul told Timothy to beg.
That last part seems a little odd, because as Paul sat in prison, beaten, battered and bruised, waiting for another trial that he knew would only lead to his death, he could very easily have become self-righteous and demanded that everyone appreciate all that he had sacrificed. But he didn’t. Paul told Timothy that sometimes what a Christian needs to do is to beg.
In telling Timothy to “exhort,” to plead with sinners, to beg them to repent, he gives us a great example of just how high the stakes are and just how little we should think of ourselves.