At ordination ministers are given the charge "before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ" to "reprove, rebuke," and "exhort with all longsuffering" (see 2 Tim. 4:1, 2). How faithful are we in carrying out this part of the charge?
"Rebuke" and "reprove"! What a disagreeable duty is involved in these two pregnant words! But here is a duty often neglected at the risk of eternal destinies!
It is well for a minister to ask himself the question: "Have I been like my Master, 'a faithful reprover?'" (Education, p. 79). Have I neglected this part of my ministry? Do I know how to administer loving reproof both publicly and privately? These are pertinent questions that require a candid reply from the minister today.
First, it must be emphasized that we are not debating whether it is the minister's duty to "reprove" and even to "rebuke." This duty we accepted at our ordination and "God, and the Lord Jesus Christ" were witnesses. We are merely considering our faithfulness to an oath that we have already taken.
God did not leave His ministers, who are dear to His own heart, without recording for their benefit and for the benefit of all others, examples of faithful reprovers. Foremost among these examples is Christ Himself. Listen to Him speaking to Nicodemus: "Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?" (John 3:10). And to Peter, "Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men" (Matt. 16:23). And to Simon, "I entered into thine house, thou gayest me no water for my feet. . . . Thou gayest me no kiss My head with oil thou didst not anoint" (Luke 7:44-46). Again ponder this cutting reproof to the scribes and Pharisees: "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men. . . . Ye fools and blind. . . . Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel" (Matt. 23:13-24).
"Christ was a faithful reprover. Never lived there another who so hated evil; never another whose denunciation of it was so fearless. To all things untrue and base His very presence was a rebuke. In the light of His purity, men saw themselves unclean, their life's aims mean and false. Yet He drew them."—Education, p. 79.
Here we ask the question: "Why is it that Christ was fearless and unflinching in His denunciation of sin?" Three reasons can be deduced from the above quotation: (1) Christ hated sin; (2) Christ lived righteously; in fact, He was the embodiment of righteousness; and (3) Christ loved the sinner. It was Christ's holiness, His hatred of sin, and His matchless love for sinners that made Him the world's most faithful reprover during His earthly ministry. It was His ardent desire to save mankind that made Him send the Holy Spirit to "reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment" (John 16:8). What a task the Holy Spirit has today in His divine ministry of reproof! Often you and I as ministers may be called upon by the Spirit to administer this reproof. Do we fail Him?
We can fail in our ministry of reproof if our own lives are not in perfect tune with Heaven. Sin in our lives weakens our spiritual perceptions. Our ability to detect sin and reprove it is proportionate to our righteous living. None can do any real good by reproving others who has not himself accepted the reproofs of the Spirit of God. Jeremiah, Haggai, Samuel, Nathan, John the Baptist. Paul, Peter, and the host of God's faithful reprovers were men whose own sins were reproved. "Peter often erred, and often received reproof. . . . Jesus reproved His disciples, He warned and cautioned them; but John and Peter and their brethren did not leave Him. Notwithstanding the reproofs, they chose to be with Jesus."—Education, pp. 88-91.
Inward righteousness brought about by accepting the reproofs of the Spirit is a prerequisite to being a reprover. Here is seed for thought! The duties of the minister ever call him to higher, clearer, holier living. The "very presence" of Christ was "a rebuke" to the sinner. No minister is given the right to rebuke another if his own life is amiss. "Be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the Lord" (Isa. 52:11), is the divine admonition. A minister who is not Christlike can be indignant and zealous in rebuking sin, but his indignation is far from righteous and his rebukes can never carry the signature of Heaven. A rebuke that is not kneaded in love and baked in kindness, a rebuke that comes from an unloving and an unlovable minister, is uncalled for. Such a rebuke originates with self and never with Christ. "All who would advocate the principles of truth need to receive the heavenly oil of love. Under all circumstances reproof should be spoken in love. Then our words will reform, but not exasperate. Christ by His Holy Spirit will supply the force and the power. This is His work."—Gospel Workers, p. 120.
A minister cannot have a deep, ardent love for souls and neglect reproof. Such neglect is an evidence of hatred, not love, in the sight of God, who commanded: "Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart: thou shalt surely rebuke thy neighbor, and not bear sin because of him" (Lev. 19:17, A.R.V.). As a watchman the minister must be ever ready to rebuke in love those that need rebuke. Overlooking this responsibility is painful to the heart of God because it has painful consequence to the erring one. Sin hurts the sinner both here and in the hereafter. For this reason a minister cannot keep silent. If he does he will incur the displeasure of God.
"Eli was a good man, pure in morals; but he was too indulgent. He incurred the displeasure of God because he did not strengthen the weak points in his character. He did not want to hurt the feelings of anyone and had not the moral courage to rebuke and reprove sin."—Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 516. It is weakness of character that makes God's watchmen afraid of hurting the feelings of the erring. It is weakness to be devoid of "the moral courage to rebuke and reprove sin." Christ rebuked the sinners. "Yet He drew them."—Education, p. 79.
What would have happened if the prophet Nathan had not possessed divine courage? What if he had shrunk from rebuking the monarch? Would that have resulted in the destruction of David?
"Nathan the prophet was bidden to bear a message of reproof to David. It was a message terrible in its severity. To few sovereigns could such a reproof be given but at the price of certain death to the reprover. Nathan delivered the divine sentence unflinchingly, yet with such heaven-born wisdom as to engage the sympathies of the king, to arouse his conscience, and to call from his lips the sentence of death upon himself."—Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 720, 721.
O for the courage of Nathan to be in us today! Nathan possessed both the courage and the art of rebuking. He rebuked to save. "Of the rebuke that is love, of the blow that wounds to heal, of the warning that speaks hope, the ministry needs to learn."—Education, p. 90. Let us "bear in mind that the success of reproof depends greatly upon the spirit in which it is given." —Testimonies, vol. 2, p. 53. It depends also on how it is given.
Perhaps nothing calls for more courage from a minister than when he is called upon to rebuke a person publicly. Ellen G. White was often bidden to do this. A unique incident of her public rebukes is recorded in Testimonies, volume 2, pages 15, 16, an incident every minister should carefully study.
Public wrongs that threaten the prosperity of the church require public reproofs. A person who errs publicly against the church may have to be rebuked publicly before the church. The apostle gives this instruction to ministers: "Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear" (1 Tim. 5:20). This kind of reproof, rebuking one before many, requires holy boldness. It requires more than that; it requires divine wisdom and inward righteousness on the part of the minister. It does not by any means require preaching denunciation to the whole church when one person is intended. This kind of preaching requires no courage and results in no good. "It is worse, far worse, to give expression to the feelings in a large gathering, firing at anyone and everyone, than to go to the individuals who may have done wrong and personally reprove them. . . . It is ever easier to give expression to the feelings before a congregation, because there are many present, than to go to the erring and, face to face with them, openly, frankly, plainly state their wrong course."—Testimonies, vol. 3, pp. 507, 508. A minister dare not choose the easy course when eternal destinies are at stake.
God calls for a courageous clean ministry, a ministry that can call sin by its right name, a ministry that has mastered the art of reproof and rebuke to check sin and reclaim the lost, a ministry that abhors sin but loves the sinner, a ministry that is characterized by holy boldness and tender sympathy.
May the words of the ordination charge resound in the ears of the ministers with their full import: "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" (2 Tim. 4:1, 2). But let us do it with "longsuffering and doctrine" (2 Tim. 4:2).