Before we go too much further into the subject of the ministry of rebukes, it is important to know what is meant in the Bible by rebuke and correction. The classic verse justifying this is 2 Timothy 3:16-17, which reads: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” This would appear to be a straightforward call for people to use the Bible in order to correct and reprove others. But it is important, before we go about doing this, that we understand what is meant in the Greek by these words reproof and correction. The word reproof, also translated as conviction, in Greek is ἐλεγμόν, transliterated as elegmon, and it appears two times in the Bible, here and in Hebrews 11:1, where it speaks of the conviction of belief in things not yet seen that forms faith. In fact, far from being a negative thing, reproof is a persuasion of the truth of the Bible, far from being a negative thing at all as we tend to use the word reproof, as an “expression of blame or disapproval.”
Similarly, the word correction in the Greek is ἐπανόρθωσιν, transliterated epanorthōsin, and this is a word that appears in the Bible only here, and is a compound word of epi and anorthoo, and it refers to striaghtening up again, the way that one would correct a misshapen jaw or leg through the use of braces. Again, as is the case with the previous word for reproof, it is not a negative thing. And, it should be noted, the rest of the sentence included in this brief passage explains the purposes of whatever persuasion and instruction and correction takes place, namely that the man (or woman) of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. The purpose of any biblical instruction is to serve for the benefit of the person being instructed. The purpose of instruction is not to bring glory and credit to the person instructing, but rather to impart knowledge and wisdom–often gained through painful personal experience and suffering–to other people so that they may profit from it. The purpose of correction is not that we might feel good for having clubbed people over the head with unpleasant truth, but rather that someone’s ways are corrected to be in conformance with God’s own ways. We will discuss this more later, as there are a lot of implications of this. For the moment, though, it ought to be clear that the use of persuasion and efforts at correction and instruction are meant to serve the interests and the well-being of the person being corrected and instructed.
It should be noted as well that while the Greek terms are rather exact, that there are Hebrew terms that have the same kind of connotation. For example, a relatively common word for reproof in the Hebrew is מוּסָר, transliterated musar, and meaning discipline, chastisement, and correction, especially from God (as in Job 5:17: “Do not despise the discipline/chastisement/correction of the Eternal.” This word is related to the Hebrew word yasar, which has a similar range of meaning involving correcting and disciplining and giving instruction. It should be noted that 2 Timothy 3:16-17 does not view the correction or reproof as coming from us personally, but rather from the scriptures, and therefore from God Himself. At best, we are merely the messengers of the correction of the scriptures, by bringing this correction to the attention of someone. The persuasion comes from an understanding of what the Bible says and how it applies to a given situation, and at best we serve this goal through patient explanation. The glory and the credit belong to God, and often our efforts at correction and reproof are not crowned with glory because we fancy ourselves to be more important in this process than we indeed are.
Indeed, if we look at 2 Timothy 3:16-17, it would appear as if Paul is breaking down the meaning of these Hebrew words by using several Greek words that each express a different sense of what is involved. The process of becoming a mature believer is an educational process, requiring us to practice God’s ways and discipline ourselves and let God’s laws and commandments shape our conduct. To be sure, the educational process of learning does involve correction and discipline and persuasion and instruction, but these are cheerfully undertaken by many people because they seek to learn and grow. To the extent that we have a hunger and a longing for knowledge and wisdom, we will put up with the process of having our flabby thinking improved through instruction and practice and be able to deal with the hard work that is required to move from ignorance to knowledge, and from folly to wisdom. The wise teacher understands that education proceeds best when people can be encouraged and inspired to seek after learning and improvement themselves rather than have to be beaten and clubbed into understanding. The knowledge of God’s ways is not power that is hoarded by a chosen few, but it is generously given to those who are called by God and who seek to obey Him. It is those who are chosen and called who are instructed and guided by the Scriptures, and this process is far from the common picture that we have of reproof and correction in our heads, or the way that these verses are often applied by those who believe themselves to have been appointed to a ministry of rebukes.