“I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine,” 2 Timothy 4:1-2.
It was once said to me that ‘you cannot scold people into revival!’ That remark was prompted by my seeking to obey the sentiments of the text above!
‘Rebuking sin’ and those who engage in it, both privately and sometimes publicly if necessary, is an essential and integral part of preaching God’s Word.
Again I refer to the text above.
Many ministers in modern evangelicalism, seeks to provide a ‘feel good factor’ for those attending their services. Without doubt, where such a course and objective is sought, numbers will increase. I believe in these, the last days, consisting of ‘perilous times’, ( 2 Timothy 3:1) faithful preaching may well fail to fill pews where the ‘gospel of feeling good’ may succeed!
Such ‘comfort zones’ are but the product of those evangelical preachers who see their mission as that of filling the church and being popular. I believe a survey of churches where it is seen that numbers are increasing, will invariably show that such an approach has been adopted by the minister.
I am not referring to places of worship where there is outright Bible-denying sermons. No, I am referring to places which fit well within the evangelical and orthodox camp!
Such places avoid controversy like the plague! There is, to a very large degree, an avoidance of any outright, downright and unmistakable denouncing of the evils and failures of today’s professing evangelical Christians.
Were the preacher to speak out, as I believe he should, there would be an exodus from the pew and a seeking of a more ‘comfortable’ place to worship. Faithfulness to the Bible has no attraction to such people. For them ‘Bible’ preaching which has neither teeth nor bite is what they desire. Preach about the Saviour, going to heaven, joy, peace BUT no mentioning of those other elements of God’s Word where carelessness, conformity to the world, yoking up with unbelievers and where a showing a toleration of evil, is thoroughly denounced. There are but few ‘fundamentalists’ who contend earnestly for the faith against those who promote modern, error-ridden new versions of the Scriptures and deride the God-honoured Authorised Version of 1611, condone and excuse women who abandon the wearing of a head covering, who would teach that the believer is no longer under the constraints of the moral law set forth in the ten commandments, who say that Sabbath observance and the keeping holy the Lord’s Day is sinful legalism.
These, and many other wicked perversions abound within the ranks of today’s evangelicalism and should be opposed by God’s servants but all too many are silent! Such ‘popular’ preaching, bereft of those rebukes required by the Lord, is enervated and an emaciated, defective and flawed representation of the message of God.
If ever there was a need of a bold and faithful response to the command: “Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins,” (Isaiah 58:1) it is today. Such preaching is truly ‘Holy Ghost’ preaching. “But truly I am full of power by the spirit of the LORD, and of judgment, and of might, to declare unto Jacob his transgression, and to Israel his sin,” Micah 3:8.
The dismal and ineffective witness of the ‘Church’ today and lack of impact upon the nation stems from the absence of such preaching and the fear of ‘bearing his (Christ’s) reproach’ (Hebrews 13:13) outside the camp of what the worldly believes to be a ‘good Christian witness’!
I still recall with vividness, Dr Paisley, in the old Ravenhill church building, setting forth an answer to those who charged him with ‘unbiblical preaching’ when he denounced the ecumenical shenanigans of the church leaders back in 1964. I was but four months converted. He quoted Paul’s Words to Timothy. “If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, (departures from the faith, heeding doctrines of devils etc, verses 1-3) thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained,” 1 Timothy 4:6.
Those words were burned into my soul that evening!
I. PLEASE CONSIDER THE PLACE GIVEN TO ‘REUKES’ IN THE MESSAGE OF GOD
I need only refer to the text at the head of this article to give evidence of the authority that ‘rebukes’ have in God’s message. But I will seek to add to that evidence.
1. The divine practice of rebuking sin. If we turn to the beginning of the Bible we find the Lord rebuking sin.
“Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee. And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return,” Genesis 3:16-19.
Where there is sin, there must be the divinely authorised rebuking of it.
Were we to search the Scriptures from Genesis chapter three onward, how many times would we not find the Lord rebuking His people? Was not David forced to cry out: “O LORD, rebuke me not in thine anger, neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure,” Psalm 6:1.
Yes, rebukes have ever featured large in God’s vocabulary!
2. But what of the ministry of the Saviour? He rebuked the winds and the sea, Matthew 8:26. He rebuked the devil, Matthew 17:18, Mark 1:24-25. He rebuked sickness, Mark 4:39. But He also rebuked His disciples when they needed it.
“But when he had turned about and looked on his disciples, he rebuked Peter, saying, Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men,” Mark 8:33. That was a very strong rebuke indeed!
Were they not words of rebuke He spoke to the two on the road to Emmaus? “Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself,” Luke 24:25-27.
Even as He sent the disciples out on the great commission it was with words of rebuke. “Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen,” Mark 16:14. In the last book of the Bible, the Saviour underscores a vital aspect of His love toward His people. “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent,” Revelation 3:19. This facet of truth in is emphasised by Paul. “And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him,” Hebrews 12:5. The rebuking of sin is a manifestation of love toward the erring one.
If rebukes featured in the Saviour’s preaching and words to His disciples, with what care we should seek to follow in His steps.
3. The disciples did indeed follow the Saviour’s example. Here is Paul directing Timothy. “Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear,” 1 Timothy 5:20. This is a call to a very public rebuking of sin. It was part of the apostolic ministry! This command is repeated in words directed to Titus. “One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, The Cretians are alway liars, evil beasts, slow bellies. This witness is true. Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith,” Titus 1:12-13.
4. Even the angels engaged in rebuking sin. “Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee,” Jude 1:9.
With that we move to another consideration.
II. IN WHAT MANNER OUGHT REBUKES TO BE DELIVERED BY GOD’S SERVANTS?
This is very important.
1. They must be spoken in love for the souls of those rebuked. “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ,” Ephesians 4:14-15.
The ‘truth’ is a very hurtful implement at times. It is a two-edged sword. “And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges,” Revelation 2:12. It cannot be faithfully applied without pain to the pride, the heart, the conscience of men. “Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost,” Acts 2:37-38. The imagery of the wandering and disobedient believer wounded by the ministry of the Word of God is given us in the Song of Solomon. “I opened to my beloved; but my beloved had withdrawn himself, and was gone: my soul failed when he spake: I sought him, but I could not find him; I called him, but he gave me no answer. The watchmen that went about the city found me, they smote me, they wounded me; the keepers of the walls took away my veil from me,” 5:6-7.
David puts the consequences of God’s rebukes very plainly. “When thou with rebukes dost correct man for iniquity, thou makest his beauty to consume away like a moth,” Psalm 39:11. The faithful ‘watchman’ will wound by his words of rebuke and exhortation. But it is, as the wounds of a surgeon, done out of kindness and with a view to healing.
2. They are issued often with tears. Contrary to what many believe, the faithful preacher issues rebukes, oftentimes it is with secret tears and distress of heart. The man after God’s own heart will not take delight in uttering rebukes. The diligent parent must surely understand this! The Saviour is our supreme example.
“And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, Saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, And shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation. And he went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold therein, and them that bought; Saying unto them, It is written, My house is the house of prayer: but ye have made it a den of thieves,” Luke 19:41-46.
I need say no more on this point.
3. I might add that rebukes must be delivered fearlessly and faithfully. There must be no ‘editing’, no holding back in order to avoid offence. That is what our cowardly flesh would suggest! But it is not the way of fearless faithfulness. No better example may be given than faithful Jeremiah.
“Then said I, Ah, Lord GOD! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child. But the LORD said unto me, Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak. Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the LORD. Then the LORD put forth his hand, and touched my mouth. And the LORD said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth. See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant,” Jeremiah 1:6-10.
The words that Jeremiah had to utter were strong words indeed and his courage was greatly tried. However, he was assured of divine help in his duty. “Thou therefore gird up thy loins, and arise, and speak unto them all that I command thee: be not dismayed at their faces, lest I confound thee before them. For, behold, I have made thee this day a defenced city, and an iron pillar, and brasen walls against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, against the princes thereof, against the priests thereof, and against the people of the land. And they shall fight against thee; but they shall not prevail against thee; for I am with thee, saith the LORD, to deliver thee,” Jeremiah 1:17-19. He was required to ‘rebuke’ kings and princes and religious dignitaries and the general public. This was no easy task but the ‘King of kings’ was there to help and protect him. What need he fear?
III. LET US BEAR IN MIND THE MERCIFUL OUTCOME OF GOD’S REBUKES.
An illustration of the outcome of the Lord’s rebukes may be seen in Psalm 106:9. “He rebuked the Red sea also, and it was dried up: so he led them through the depths, as through the wilderness.” The rebuke of the Lord saved the people from destruction, opened up a way by which they could go forward and resulted in their joyful singing. Exodus chapter 15, and the song of Israel, shows the fruit of God’s rebuking of the Red Sea. It illustrates the purpose and outcome of God’s rebukes.
“Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the LORD, and spake, saying, I will sing unto the LORD, for he hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea. The LORD is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation: he is my God, and I will prepare him an habitation; my father’s God, and I will exalt him. The LORD is a man of war: the LORD is his name. Pharaoh’s chariots and his host hath he cast into the sea: his chosen captains also are drowned in the Red sea. The depths have covered them: they sank into the bottom as a stone. Thy right hand, O LORD, is become glorious in power: thy right hand, O LORD, hath dashed in pieces the enemy. And in the greatness of thine excellency thou hast overthrown them that rose up against thee: thou sentest forth thy wrath, which consumed them as stubble,” verses 1-7.
That is only part of the song but it illustrates the bountiful blessing which stems from the rebuke of the Lord.
The writer of the Psalm 119 understood the merciful benefits of God’s chastening. “Teach me good judgment and knowledge: for I have believed thy commandments. Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word. Thou art good, and doest good; teach me thy statutes,” verses 66-68.
David, of all men understood the mercy which lay behind rebukes. Notes these words from a Psalm already referred to. “And now, Lord, what wait I for? my hope is in thee. Deliver me from all my transgressions: make me not the reproach of the foolish. I was dumb, I opened not my mouth; because thou didst it. Remove thy stroke away from me: I am consumed by the blow of thine hand. When thou with rebukes dost correct man for iniquity, thou makest his beauty to consume away like a moth: surely every man is vanity. Selah. Hear my prayer, O LORD, and give ear unto my cry; hold not thy peace at my tears: for I am a stranger with thee, and a sojourner, as all my fathers were. O spare me, that I may recover strength, before I go hence, and be no more,” Psalm 39:7-13.
Where would the people of God be if the ‘rod and staff’ of God were not applied to them when they went astray? Lost indeed is all we can say in answer to that question.
This is a day for faithful, fearless men issuing forth the Lord’s rebuke against the careless ways that have invaded the Church of God, resulting in slumbering and sleeping, Matthew 25:5. In a day when the return of the Saviour is overlooked, forgotten, ignored and counted as an unimportant truth which may be set aside, the result is what we generally see today within the ranks of the ‘Church’!
“But and if that servant say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to beat the menservants and maidens, and to eat and drink, and to be drunken,” Luke 12:45.
Oh! what a need there is to day for those obedient to Paul’s inspired exhortation.
“Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.”
Rev Ivan Foster (Retired)
21st June 2022