2 Timothy 4:1–2 (NKJV)
1 I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: 2 Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.
For the last few weeks, we have been meditating on Paul’s charge to Timothy to “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season.” A couple weeks ago, we began looking at the series of imperatives that Paul gives to explain his charge. Paul writes, “Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.” Since you were not all at Family Camp last weekend, I would like to repeat a few things that I said last week about what it means to “rebuke.”
The Greek word behind “rebuke” is epitimao. To rebuke is to deliver a sharp warning that one’s attitude or action is in clear opposition to God’s will and word. In the Greek OT, epitimao is typically reserved for God’s word of power, command, and control. God’s “rebuke” shakes the heavens, splits the Red Sea, stills the storm, overthrows the wicked, and judges apostates. In the NT, the word is used in similar contexts. Jesus “rebuked” the wind and waves and they became still. Peter “rebuked” Jesus saying that He would by no means die. Jesus, in turn, “rebuked” Peter, saying, “Get behind Me, Satan!” (Mk 8:33) Jesus “rebuked” James and John, the sons of thunder, when they asked to call fire down on a Samaritan village, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of” (Lk 9:55). A rebuke, therefore, is a short, verbal thrashing. It is a divine wake-up call. Job “rebukes” his wife, “Shall we receive good from the Lord and not evil?”
What this means, therefore, is that the minister of the Gospel – and, by extension, every Christian – must be prepared to speak bluntly about attitudes and actions that are opposed to the Word of God and the Gospel of Christ. In gardening, there are times when the ground is soft and the weeds can be pulled by hand; there are other times when the ground is like iron and the weeds are so strong that pulling them up by hand isn’t possible and you have to grab the spade and the hoe. Likewise, in life. The Word of God has been given to address the whole gamut of life situations – times when we need comfort, times when we need counsel, times when we need exhortation, times when we need instruction, times when we need rebuke. There are times when we need someone to speak bluntly to us, “Stop that! Wake up! Get to work! Cease your despair!” We need a verbal kick in the pants.
It is imperative, therefore, that we ground ourselves in the Word of God so that we know when a rebuke is needed. I have been reading various biographies of John Calvin this summer. In one of them, Calvin had this to say about the Word of God:
By it [God’s ministers] confidently dare all things, compel all the strength, glory, and sublimity of the world to submit to its majesty and to obey it, rule over all things from the highest to the lowest, build up the house of Christ, overturn the kingdom of Satan, feed the sheep, destroy the wolves, exhort and instruct the teachable, rebuke, reprove, and refute the rebellious and stubborn, loose, bind, and finally, hurl thunderbolts – but doing all things in the Word of God.
So reminded that there are times when we need to give or receive a word of rebuke, let us acknowledge that we are often too timid to give it and too stubborn to receive it. And as we confess, let us kneel together as we are able. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.