2 Timothy 4:2
2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, withgreat patience and instruction.
I know, I know, I slowed down to one verse a day. I’m sure it will pick up again. As I read this verse today, however, I felt it prudent to examine it because the list that Paul gives us is often translated (in my mind anyway) as “use the Word of God to get in people’s faces about how wrong they are.” I mentioned this tendency yesterday and I think it is important to make sure we don’t get the wrong idea and in fact use the Scriptures for “teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” as Paul instructed just a few sentences ago. It is easy to slip into a habit of self-righteousness and use cut and paste theology to prove how wrong others are about one thing or another. Let’s look at the seemingly negative words first.
Earlier in Paul’s letter, he talked about an elder being “beyond reproof”. For myself, I see this meaning that when you are reproved, that it is a negative thing. The original Greek word used here, Elegcho, is translated to mean: “to convict, refute, confute, by conviction to bring to the light, to expose, to find fault with, correct”. For us, this is generally a negative connotation. However, I’d like to remind us what we discovered in reference to conviction, that it means to bring to light, not necessarily to condemn. When we reference the use of the word in the court system, a conviction can be either guilty or not guilty. It simply refers to the truth which is brought to light (let’s not get sidetracked by the truthfulness of our court system).
To reprove is to expose the truth (or lack thereof) in someone’s life. It is to tell someone what you observe and how it contradicts the truth. I think this is most applicable to someone who is saying one thing but doing another. In other words, someone says they are a follower of Christ but their actions prove otherwise. Or someone says they believe in Christ as their Savior but acts as though they are burdened with sin.
This word seems a bit stronger to us. Maybe it is just the pronunciation of it (it sounds like a strong word) or maybe it is because of what our tradition dictates in its application. Ironically the original Greek word Epitimao, is meant to convey “to show honour to, to honour, to raise the price of, to adjudge, award, in the sense of merited penalty”. I had to read this multiple times because I truly could not believe what it means. To rebuke is not to cut down, but to raise up; it means to improve! Similar to reprove, rebuking someone means to make them a better person in terms of correcting them and exposing their wrongs! In our individualistic society, too often we look at correction as a negative thing. We cut down our children when we correct them. We don’t do it lovingly with “great patience and instruction” but we tell them how wrong they are “because we say so” and force them to do it our way. I cannot believe how much we have distorted the meaning of this word.
Exhortation I feel is a “churchy” word that people use but don’t really know what it means. I’m still discovering myself how to use it correctly. We get exhortation from the Greek Parakaleo (ever hear the word paraclete?), which refers to “to strive to appease by entreaty, to console, to encourage and strengthen by consolation, to comfort”. Exhortation is a loving way to emphasize the importance of something for one’s own good. A good synonym is to implore someone. Exhortation is a way to lift someone up in a way that consoles and comforts them while simultaneously making them a better person because it increases their intrinsic worth.
So now that we have these words defined, what do we do with them? I think that by understanding better the definitions of the words Paul is using here, we can see how much importance he is placing on doing these things lovingly. We learned that the connotation of the words is not negative, but in fact positive. Additionally, he adds to do these things with “great patience and instruction”. In other words, don’t be a jerk about it, but rather do it lovingly, with more patience than you even think you have and with the goal of instructing others, not cutting them down or proving you are better than them. That’s a pretty big charge, isn’t it?
This is how Paul is describing how we should preach the word/ teach the Scriptures/ relate to others the Word of God. Why? Because it is EXACTLY how God gave us His Word, with love. It is important when we relate to others the message of God, that we do it in the same way that He related it to us. If I tell you to relate a message to someone, it is possible you can do it in a tone and connotation that is not only different than mine, but that distorts the original intent of the message.
How do you relate the message of God? Do you get in people’s faces and tell them how much they are going to hell? Yes, God’s Word says that if we do not believe in Christ as our Savior and propitiation for our sins that we will spend eternity without experiencing the presence of God. But, I implore (exhort) you to remember that God doesn’t give us this message angrily or with condemnation; He does it with love because He doesn’t want us to spend eternity without Him. He wants to enjoy eternity with us, just like any loving parent wants to enjoy as much time as possible with their children.
God loves us more than we can ever understand. It is important not only that we grasp that concept, but that we make sure that when we relay God’s message, that it is the same message we received from Him.