I was recently speaking with a friend who posed an intriguing question.
“Is it God’s will, or for that matter appropriate for Christians to criticize or scold harshly Non-Believers or those who do differently than the bible says?”
I told this friend that my opinion on the matter was no I personally did not believe it to be appropriate. I continued to explain that I was not going to answer based on my opinion alone. I needed to look deeper into the “Is It God’s Will” portion of the question deeper. My friend, of course, knowing that they triggered my deep thought encouraged me to look into it. Later that week, during my mediations and reading of God’s Word, I began to dig into my Bible on this very topic.
I opened this search with my little prayer I raise during these moments, I pray
“Amazing Lord, guide me in your word, show me your will and course you wish me to follow, Amen.”
I read through several stories and singular scriptures, I boiled down my readings to the word “rebuke.” I consulted the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, which defines “rebuke“ as:
“to criticize sharply, an expression of strong disapproval or to reprimand.”
I know “Rebuke[ing]“ was very heavy in the Old Testament and before the Crucifixion of Jesus. I wanted my inquiry to focus on where does “Rebuke[ing]“ come into focus after Jesus’s sacrifice on the Cross. This set my search into the usage of “Rebuke” in the New Testament.
An interesting discovery to share. The word “Rebuke” appears extensively in the King James Translation – Old Testament about 32 times, but this high number is caused mostly by the old English writing style. It appears only 12 times in the New Living Translation – Old Testament.
Counting the instances the word “Rebuke” it appears 6 times in the New Testament – New Living Translation. In the King James Translation, “Rebuke” appears 12 times (because of the Old English writing style).
On the advice of a colleague in ministry, I was cautioned to look deeper into the word â€œrebuke.â€ The reason being is that words defined today do not always match up with the intended usage and definition of the time they were written. I proceeded to explore the origin of the word “rebuke” as used in the New Testament. The transliterated origin of “Rebuke” is the Greek word “Epitimao”.
In comparison, now with the Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition, there are other aspects we need to consider with this word. â€œRebukeâ€ may have more profound significance than just “to criticize sharply.”
Now that I’ve explained the origin of this blog article, and explored the origin and definitions we need, let’s look into the 6 New Testament scriptures where instances of “rebuke” appear, and relate these definitions to clarify our overall understanding.
Rebuke is transliterated to the Greek Word â€œEpitimaoâ€ (ep-ee-tee-mah’-o). A verb which according to the New American Standard Greek Lexicon is defined as:
- to show honour to, to honour [honor]
- to raise the price of
- to adjudge, award, in the sense of merited penalty
- to tax with fault, rate, chide, rebuke, reprove, censure severely
- to admonish or charge sharply
Thayer and Smith. “Greek Lexicon entry for Epitimao.” “The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon.” 1999.
Teachings about Forgiveness and Faith
– Luke 17:1 – 4 (NLT)
â€‹1 One day Jesus said to his disciples, “There will always be temptations to sin, but what sorrow awaits the person who does the tempting! 2 It would be better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone hung around your neck than to cause one of these little ones to fall into sin. 3 So watch yourselves!
“If another believer sins, rebuke that person; then if there is repentance, forgive. 4 Even if that person wrongs you seven times a day and each time turns again and asks forgiveness, you must forgive.”
As we see here in Luke 17:3 – 4 (NLT), it clearly reads that Yes, we are to “Rebuke,” but in that, we are to offer forgiveness if there is repentance.
Let’s take a look at this now considering the new knowledge we have from the Greek word â€œepitimaoâ€. Now some may believe I am stretching this a bit, and that is ok by me, but I feel it works well to the intention of these scriptures spoken by Jesus. Let’s apply â€œepitimaoâ€ to Verse 3.
To confront “another believer[s] sins,” are we not “honouring” [Honoring] them with our concern as a fellow believer for their spiritual well-being. The first definition in the Greek Transliteration of Rebuke (Epitimao) is “to show honour to, to honour” as we have identified.
Having shown our fellow believers the “Honour” of our concern, we “raise the price of” their sin by reminding them of the need to repent “Tax[ing] them with fault.” (You can fit anyone of the word of the fourth definition of Epitimao in this part.) By pointing out the need for “repentance,” we “adjudge,” “in a sense of merited penalty.” the “merited penalty” being not receiving forgiveness from the fellow believer(s) and of Jesus Christ. This leaves the “award,” which is the “forgiveness.”
If the person corrects their ways, we are to be accepting of their corrections. As we all know, as it tends to be with sin, what was corrected today could be tomorrow’s stumble again. If the person is still trying to be repentant, working to overcome the sin, we should always offer our forgiveness and support. Regardless of how many times they may get tripped up. We will explore this further later on in the scriptures in this article. Let’s look at an example of Jesus being addressed in rebuke.
As we see in Luke 19:38-40 (NLT), the word “Rebuke” is being used by the Pharisees speaking to Jesus about his followers referring to him as “The King.” Jesus’s stern but calm response was to exclaim essentially, If they didn’t say it, it would come from somewhere else. He didn’t become indignant that the Pharisees were disturbed or even become offended that they did not see him as “A King.” Jesus asserted his position by pointing out that stones along the road inanimate objects without voice, would begin to sing praises to the King if his followers were silenced. Could the King of Kings have raised a scene or called those stones to arms in his defense, sure he could have, could he demanded his followers to rise up, absolutely! But no, Jesus asserted his authority of being referred to as “a King” with gentle but stern â€œrebukeâ€ in return.
Luke 19:38-40 (NLT)
38 “Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven, and glory in highest heaven!”
39 But some of the Pharisees among the crowd said, “Teacher, rebuke your followers for saying things like that!”
40 He replied, “If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!”
2 Corinthians 1:23-24 (NLT)
23 Now I call upon God as my witness that I am telling the truth. The reason I didn’t return to Corinth was to spare you from a severe rebuke. 24 But that does not mean we want to dominate you by telling you how to put your faith into practice. We want to work together with you so you will be full of joy, for it is by your own faith that you stand firm.
In 2 Corinthians 1:23-24 (NLT), we read that Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, lets them know they were facing a forceful Chewing Out.” a severe rebuke.” Instead of doing so in haste, Paul would not return until things calmed down. Instead, Paul says, he will return when things can be corrected gently and joyfully. Bolstering their faith so that they can use it to increase their strength to overcome their sinful ways. Returning when things calm that way, the rebuke we clarified with the Greek Transliteration of Epitimao applied to the word rebuke describes.
What we learn here is that Paul could have come storming into Corinth with haste, shaking his finger at the people with angered disappointment raving and screaming. Instead, Paul informs them that they deserved a severe expression of strong disapproval. (Notice the application of the Dictionary definition) but will return when things can be addressed when they can work together on a solution, which is the “Epitimao” understanding. So the lesson we receive here is that to “Rebuke” does not have to be harsh or judgemental. It can be approached firmly but with love, compassion, and joy.
2 Timothy 4:1-5 (NLT) is one of my favorites, and I like to think of it as the backbone of my personal ministry.
There is a lot to absorb in this scripture on this topic, so let’s break it down into sections so we can look at it a little closer.
Verse 2 – Part 1 – Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not.
A quote that comes to my mind is the saying :
“Meaningful Ministry Musters Among The Mess”Author Unknown
The need to share God and the Gospel the most arises when we least expect it. The most profound ministry happens when we don’t have a prepared sermon or list of scriptures to recite. Be ready to share God’s Word always. We don’t always have to quote scripture correctly to share God’s Word.
2 Timothy 4:1-5 (NLT)
â€‹1 I solemnly urge you in the presence of God and Christ Jesus, who will someday judge the living and the dead when he comes to set up his Kingdom: 2 Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching.
3 For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will reject the truth and chase after myths.
5 But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you.
Verse 2 – Part 2 – Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching.
Here we are instructed not to expect changes to happen instantly but gently correct when needed to help them back on track. Remember, as we read earlier in Luke 17: 1-10. Jesus Said, “Even if that person wrongs you seven times a day and each time turns again and asks forgiveness, we must forgive.”
Jumping back to the English and Greek Transliteration from earlier,
When we consider that in 2 Corinthians 1:23-24, Paul held off from returning to Corinth to spare them from a “severe rebuke.” Instead, he offered to “work together with you so you will be full of joy,” and now just above, we are told to “Patiently Correct.”
We as Christians are not meant to scream from the street, yell and condemn people telling them they are going to burn in hell. Of course, depending on the situation, there may be a case or two where someone may just need to hear that it is not the default response according to these scriptures.
We are not the Judge, Jesus Christ will be the Judge. We also are not the Jury; that too is Jesus’s position. If we sit in authority anywhere, it is as helpers and teachers. Paul was known for just that, leading by teaching and rebuking through example and teaching. Paul knew from experience how to condemn people for their beliefs. It was his occupation until Jesus appeared to him in Acts 9. which brings us to the next part.
Encourage with good teaching.
Support and empower our fellow [Man], teach them well, teach them properly. This portion of the scripture says it all. Don’t just correct them, show them why they are being corrected by teaching them God’s Word.
Verses 3-4 – 3 For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will reject the truth and chase after myths.
We sure are seeing this in today’s world, are we not? There is so much going on today that can be related to this verse. The list is so immense that itself could be developed into its own sermon. This is a warning that Paul shares that it will not be an easy task correcting and teaching. Sometimes we may have to teach to the wind so that those who need to hear it and want to listen to it can follow the sound.
Verse 5 – 5 But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you.
Verse 5 has to be some of the most precise and direct instructions any Christian could ever receive.
Keep a clear mind in every situation.
Don’t allow your mind to become overwhelmed. We shouldn’t allow ourselves to make predetermined assumptions on people or a situation. Not everything we encounter will be as it seems. We shouldn’t let those who disagree with us or speak against us sway us from what we believe as Christians or from sharing God’s Word and Love. Keep your mind clear, don’t allow yourself to become baited into arguments or becoming bitter with people.
Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord.
Many have suffered in the name of Jesus Christ, suffering does not necessarily mean endangered. Suffering could be standing in the cold to help someone in need. It could be giving up a creature comfort so that someone else may benefit. It could be as simple as sacrificing our time to share God’s Word or spread his love. Suffering is a broad word that can mean many things. Anything outside of our usual level of comfort, stepping outside our personal shelter, giving ourselves outside of our own needs. Not everyone will be joyful to receive the message, but never be afraid to send the signal.
Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you.
Share the Good News of Jesus Christ everywhere and in every way we can. Express His Love to those who need to see it, and even those who don’t. Whatever our call to ministry may be, do it and do it well, even when the mission is hard follow-through to the best of our ability.
We have extensively dissected this, so let’s pull it all back together with what we have learned here about 2 Timothy 4:1-5 (NLT). Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is an excellent example that we are not to be harsh or judgemental in the task of rebuke. We are to correct through teaching, forgiveness, and support. Dedicated to the ministry to which we have been charged as Christians even when those we reach out to may not be receptive to the message. Now that we have identified that we are in the right to rebuke. That rebuke does not constitute harsh judgment or mean spirited accusation, where do we seek the guidance and wisdom to express this correct teaching?
James 1:5-6 (NLT)
5 If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. 6 But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind.
“Ask, and you shall receive.” That certainly takes on a different ring after reading James 1:5-6 (NLT). We should maintain our faith in God and Jesus Christ, and ask for the guidance and wisdom we need, and God will not criticize the honesty of our questions. As Christians, we don’t have all the answers. We are Christians not because we are better than everyone else or know everything, but that we admit our flaws and sins to the need for salvation through Jesus Christ. We are to look to God through Jesus Christ in prayer for guidance and receive that guidance through the word of God, which is the Bible. We are to use the knowledge learned in our own lessons and our own learning to guide others.
Jude 1:8-10 (NLT)
In the same way, these peopleâ€”who claim authority from their dreamsâ€”live immoral lives, defy authority, and scoff at supernatural beings. 9 But even Michael, one of the mightiest of the angels, did not dare accuse the devil of blasphemy, but simply said, “The Lord rebuke you!” (This took place when Michael was arguing with the devil about Moses’ body.) 10 But these people scoff at things they do not understand. Like unthinking animals, they do whatever their instincts tell them, and so they bring about their own destruction.
Verse 9 – But even Michael, one of the mightiest of the angels, did not dare accuse the devil of blasphemy, but simply said, “The Lord rebuke you!”
And we come to the last instance of the word rebuke. Even when facing the devil in [him]self, the mightiest of angels withheld accusing the devil of blasphemy. He then instead said, “The Lord Rebuke You.”
Not I Rebuke
Not We Rebuke
The Lord rebuke you! Sternly.
In conclusion, if one of God’s Highest and mightiest angels does not come down in his own judgment against Satan himself, then where we ask, do we have the right to do so. It is Jesus Christ who will bring the judgment.
Brothers and Sisters, we should then correct ourselves and others who sin or sin against us with patience, love, and encouragement. It is not our job to dispense judgment; it is our job as Christians and Christian leaders to help those who need to see the way and help point them in the right direction. It is not our job to pass judgment on the choices they make but show them the alternative. You don’t have to agree with their choices or lifestyles or compromise your own morals. We are called to love our neighbors and, in that, show them the Word and Love of God. Not all will accept what we share, not everyone will be receptive to the love we bestow through our ministry as Christians, but we are still charged with doing the job.