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  • Paul Reich

The Life-Changing Power of God’s Word (Part 3)

Updated: Mar 6, 2022

God's Word reproves us, pointing out wrongs in our thinking, attitudes, or behavior, motivating us to change, and protecting us from the perilous consequences of sin.

 
 

Illustration by Jim Lamb. From Discussion Manual for Student Discipleship, written by Dawson McAllister and Dan Webster, pg. 71.

 

A few weeks back, I received a timely and valuable word of reproof from someone who sincerely loves me and prays for me daily. This person has a solid track record of hearing from God and has gained my trust over many years of demonstrated godliness and love. Furthermore, I am fully confident that my well-being is foremost in this person’s heart. While in prayer, this individual was impressed by the Lord to share a prophetic word that lovingly rebuked me regarding an emotional state of mind that has been hindering me from walking in victory amidst challenging circumstances that are currently affecting my life. This admonishing word also came with words of comfort and assurance, enabling me to trust God at a deeper level and to cast my cares on Him.


Through this loving reproof, the Lord got my attention and gave me the grace and inner resolve to make a change in this area. Since that time, I can honestly say that I have made significant progress in maintaining a God-focused perspective, releasing the weight of my burden to God, managing emotional pain so that it does not lead me down the path of self-pity, and obediently moving forward in the priorities that are before me. Though my circumstances have not changed, and I am still a work in progress, I am experiencing a greater peace and productivity despite the current challenges.


This recent experience highlights the heart-impacting value of godly reproof. Words of reproof are meant for pointing out wrongs in thinking, attitudes, or behavior. Their intent is to help us see the error of our ways, humbly reflect on the truths presented, and lead us to repentance (making a change in our thinking and behavior). Frequently, words of reproof are accompanied by words of correction (steps to rectify our wrongs and move forward). This will be discussed in my next blog.


Sadly, in our “politically correct” and “tolerant” world, we are taught never to say anything, even if it’s true, that in anyway causes another to be emotionally “hurt” or “offended.” The “woke” filter that defines what is “acceptable” and what is “offensive” has become a stronghold in society, denying any alternative perspective. To offer an opinion or evidence that contradicts mainstream thought is viewed as “false information” and is censored. To challenge current standards of morality is viewed as “intolerant.” Because the Bible promotes truths and moral standards contrary to societal “norms,” it is considered “hate speech” and deemed offensive.


This same thinking has infiltrated the church, and many believers today have embraced a compromised set of beliefs, values, and morals. Furthermore, when errors in their thinking or conduct are pointed out, they justify themselves with a skewed understanding of Scriptures and respond with words like, “Don’t judge!” or “You’re supposed to love me” (“love” to them meaning “approve or at least accept my behavior, and never point out again where it is wrong”). They do not understand that Jesus’ statement regarding not judging is a warning against hypocritical judgment and the Bible actually calls us to judge fruit, doctrine, prophecy, and morality (a blog for another time). Furthermore, they do not understand that true love “does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:6 NASB).


THE PLUMBLINE OF GOD’S WORD


The very purpose of the inspired plumbline of God’s Word is to point out where things are misaligned with truth and righteousness. It hangs true regardless of our opinions, feelings, and conduct. When our thinking and behavior are out of alignment with the Word, it exposes our wrongs and calls us to come into alignment. Yet, many today are seeking to adjust the plumbline rather than adjusting their lives.



Imagine a picture hanging crooked on the wall. You can see that it is crooked by comparing it to one of horizontal or vertical sight lines that are nearby: the ceiling, a corner in the room, a window, a nearby doorway, a table below. Yet the person who hung the picture insists that it is hanging straight. So, you place a plumbline near the top of the frame’s left vertical edge, and you show them that the picture does not line up with the plumbline.


In response, while you are still holding the string of the plumbline, the person grabs the plumb bob hanging at the end of the line and moves it to the bottom of the frame’s left vertical edge. Holding it in place, he says, “Your plumbline is wrong, by holding it here, the plumbline is now parallel to the picture’s edge. There is nothing wrong with the way this picture is hanging.” So, you then hold a bubble level next to one of the horizontal edges of the frame and show him that the bubble level also shows that his picture is hanging crooked. He replies, “There is no objective standard for level or plumb. Everyone decides for himself what is true and morally right.”



This is exactly where our world is today. The prevalent worldview is moral relativism. To those holding this view, there is no moral standard of right and wrong. This worldview is often held in conjunction with materialistic naturalism, a view that eliminates God and posits that the world and all living creatures exist as the result of naturalistic evolutionary processes over billions of years. Consequently, morality is a societal construct and there is no divine or objective moral standard. Standards will change as society changes. Yet even societal norms are being challenged by others who tout that the individual determines right and wrong, saying such things as, “What I do is not wrong for me; it's my genetic orientation. I have just as much right to my orientation as you do to yours.” This perspective does not understand that all humanity has been damaged by sin.


GOD’S WORD IS PROFITABLE FOR REPROOF

Illustration by Jim Lamb. From Discussion Manual for Student Discipleship, written by Dawson McAllister and Dan Webster, pg. 71.


Amidst all of this craziness, the plumbline of God’s Word hangs true. In addition to teaching us (covered in my previous blog), God’s written Word also serves the vital function of reproving us when we are out of plumb and straying from God’s standard of truth and righteousness.


2 Timothy 3:16–17 (NET)

16 Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,

17 that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work.


The Greek word (elegmos) commonly translated “reproof” or “rebuke” in our English translations refers to a verbal reprimand for wrongdoing. It is an admonishment or verbal chastisement. Other English synonyms might include “chiding, scolding, upbraiding.”


The Bible has much to say about the value of reproving or rebuking by the godly. In Psalm 141, David prayed that the Lord would help him to “set a guard … over my mouth” and “not incline my heart to any evil thing; to practice deeds of wickedness” (141:3-4a). Because David wants to keep his speech, his passions, and his moral behavior upright before the Lord, He prays that God would protect him from going astray into a life of sin. In this context he prays . . .


Psalm 141:5a (NASB)

5 Let the righteous smite me in kindness and reprove me; It is oil upon the head; Do not let my head refuse it,


David understood the value of righteous reproof given in kindness.[1] He describes it as oil on his head. In David’s day, oil was poured on the head for two primary purposes. First, it was commonly used for soothing, hygienic, and medicinal purposes. Second, it was used ceremonially for anointing priests and kings, setting them apart for service – symbolizing the power of the Holy Spirit on their lives to carry out God’s purposes. David knows that reproof by the righteous may hurt, but its purpose is to bring healing, much like a surgeon will excise a cancer to heal. Moreover, their words of reproof will safeguard David’s life, ensuring he remains morally fit to function in God’s call as king of Israel, unlike his predecessor Saul whose sin led to him being rejected by God.


Because David asked God to help him guard his mouth, his heart, and his ways, he knows that God may use people as agents of His discipline, so he prays that God will not let his head refuse the reproving words of discipline that may come through the lips of the righteous. David had already experienced God’s reproof in this way when Nathan the prophet confronted him over his adultery with Bathsheba and his murder of her husband, Uriah. When David’s sin was exposed, he did not attempt to justify it, but rather he humbled himself before God, confessing his sin and submitting to God’s discipline (2 Samuel 12: 1-23; Psalm 51). From this experience, David learned the value of being chastened by the Lord through the rebuke of the righteous.


Nathan rebukes David for his sin


THE LORD REPROVES THOSE HE LOVES


The Bible tells us that God loves His children and that we should expect His discipline and reproof.


Proverbs 3:12 (NASB)

12 For whom the Lord loves He reproves, Even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights.


Hebrews 12:5 (NASB)

5 . . . “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, Nor faint when you are reproved by Him;


Revelation 3:19 (NASB)

19 ‘Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.


We learn from these passages that the Lord disciplines us because He loves us like a Father. We also learn that we are not to regard His discipline lightly, nor faint under it, but rather we are to respond with zeal and repentance. The purpose of God’s reproving discipline is for our good, to motivate us to grow in maturity and train us in righteousness, which ultimately brings peace to our hearts and relationships (Hebrews 12:4-13).


The Lord uses a variety of ways to discipline His children including allowing us to reap the natural consequences of our sinful choices (Galatians 6:7-8); experiencing loss of privilege, difficult circumstances or suffering (Numbers 20:12; 2 Samuel 12:10, 21:1; 2 Chronicles 20:37; Hebrews 5:8); being afflicted with some forms of sickness (Numbers 12:1-15; 2 Chronicles 26:16-21; 1 Corinthians 11:27-32; James 5:14-16), and even death (Acts 5:1-11; 1 Corinthians 11).[2] Yet two of the primary methods of God discipline are rebuke by godly people and the reproving words of Scripture. Understanding the value of faithful reproof by godly people will better help us to understand the value of God’s reproof through Scripture. Proverbs has much to say about the value of loving reproof.


Proverbs 27:5–6 (NASB)

5 Better is open rebuke Than love that is concealed.

6 Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.


The value of words cannot always be weighed by their tone or the way they make us feel. Open rebuke and wounds by a friend that warn us of sinful or destructive thinking and behavior can save us from untold consequences, while flattery from an enemy may result in defeat or death.


One of the primary ways that God rebuked His people in the Old Testament was through the mouth of His prophets. As representatives sent by God, they were called to point out the sins of God’s people and call them to turn back to God and His ways. In contrast, the false prophets and priests who were greedy for selfish gain, flattered God’s people with deceptive promises, giving them a false sense of assurance “saying, ‘Peace, Peace,’ but there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:13-14, 8:11; Ezekiel 13:10). True prophets held the plumbline of God’s law before the people calling them to repentance – i.e., to turn from their sin and come into alignment with God’s standard. False prophets compromised God’s moral plumbline for financial gain and popularity. In contrast, the true prophets of God were often persecuted and put to death (2 Chronicles 36:16; Matthew 5:10-12, 23:37).


RESPONDING CORRECTLY TO REPROOF


How do we respond? When God reproves us, do we want to kill the messenger or do we respond in humble repentance, seeking to obediently align our lives with God’s truth? A recurring contrast in the book of Proverbs is between the response of the wise and the foolish to words of reproof.


Proverbs 9:8 (NET)

8 Do not reprove a mocker or he will hate you; reprove a wise person and he will love you.


Proverbs 10:17 (NET)

17 The one who heeds instruction is on the way to life, but the one who rejects rebuke goes astray.


Proverbs 12:1 (NET)

1 The one who loves discipline loves knowledge, but the one who hates reproof is stupid.


Proverbs 13:18 (NET)

18 The one who neglects discipline ends up in poverty and shame, but the one who accepts reproof is honored.


Proverbs 15:31–32 (NET)

31 The person who hears the reproof that leads to life is at home among the wise.

32 The one who refuses correction despises himself, but whoever hears reproof acquires understanding.


Our response to being reprimanded by others reveals a lot about us. Embracing reproof, even when it hurts, shows our love for truth and righteousness. It shows we love true knowledge and want to stay on the pathway to life. Those who reject reproof, demonstrate their foolishness and their desire to remain in sin. They love the darkness rather than the light because their deeds are evil (John 3:19-21).


Lest we think that the value of reproving words is highlighted only in the Old Testament, we need to remember the apostle Paul’s charge to Timothy, a young pastor.


2 Timothy 4:1–2 (NASB)

1 I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom:

2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove [elenchō – “expose, reprove, convict”], rebuke [epitimaō – “rebuke, reprove, denounce”], exhort [parakaleō – encourage, urge, implore, solemnly exhort”], with great patience and instruction.


1 Timothy 5:20 (NASB)

20 Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning.


Christian leaders have been given a divine charge, knowing that one day they and their listeners will stand before the judge of the living and dead to give an account. Along with faithfully preaching God’s Word, Christian leaders are called to publicly reprove and denounce sinful behavior and refute false teaching (see previous blog).[3] Pastors are to solemnly implore believers to faithfulness in true doctrine and godly living. Much like a father is to treat his own children, this is to be done with “great patience and instruction.” In addition to the deterring value of publicly rebuking sin, Paul forewarns Timothy of another reason that his solemn charge to preach the Word and reprove is so important.


2 Timothy 4:3–4 (NASB)

3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires,

4 and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.


One only needs to look at the numerous cults, the liberal churches, and the more recent progressive Christian movement, to see the truthfulness of Paul’s warning. Denying many core Christian doctrines and endorsing society’s current moral norms – in contradiction to the clear doctrinal and moral teaching of Scripture – false teachers in these movements are leading many astray. Rather than calling people to align themselves with the plumbline of God’s Word, they are reinterpreting God’s Word to align with the immorality of this fallen world.


It is not our place to change God’s Word to suit our lives, but to change our lives to align with God’s Word. When the light of God’s Word shines on our hearts, we are not to continue in darkness, but to walk in the light and confess our sins (1 John 1:5-9). When God’s Word like a mirror exposes our true condition, we are not to turn away and do nothing, being forgetful hearers; but rather we are to diligently obey, being effectual doers (James 1:22-25). When reproved by God’s Word, we are not to reject or reinterpret it; but rather we are to humbly repent of our shortcomings and cooperate with God’s empowering Spirit to bring our thinking and behavior into alignment with its teaching and moral standards.


God’s Word will plumb the depths of our hearts. As a living, energized, and sharp two-edged sword, it will judge the thoughts and intentions of our hearts (Hebrews 4:12). It will expose attitudes, words, and actions that are out of alignment with truth and righteousness. The Holy Spirit will use God’s Word to convict us of sin in any area of our lives where we miss the mark of God’s moral standard.


A WORTHY EXAMPLE


We can learn much from King Josiah’s tender heart in responding to God’s Word. When King Josiah was 26 years old, Hilkiah the high priest discovered the lost book of God’s law while the temple was under renovations. When Shaphan the scribe read it to King Josiah, he tore his clothes in sorrow and repentance because of what he heard. Knowing that they were deserving of God’s wrath “because our fathers have not listened to the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us,” he commanded a delegation to inquire of the Lord (2 Kings 22:3-13).


King Josiah tears his garments in contrite sorrow upon hearing God's law


The delegation inquired of the Lord through a prophetess named Huldah. She confirmed that God would judge the people for their sin in forsaking God and turning to idols, but she had a special message from the Lord for King Josiah: “Because your heart was tender and you humbled yourself before the LORD when you heard what I spoke against this place and against its inhabitants that they should become a desolation and a curse, and you have torn your clothes and wept before Me, I truly have heard you” (2 Kings 22:19 NASB).


Because of Josiah’s tender-hearted response, God would delay His judgement until after Josiah’s death. However, Josiah wasn’t content to simply be spared from judgement; he brought great reform to the nation. Calling all the elders together, he read to them from the newly recovered book of the law and he “made a covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord, and to keep His commandments and His testimonies and His statutes with all his heart and all his soul, to carry out the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people entered into the covenant” (2 Kings 23:3 NASB).


Josiah then purged the nation of idolatry, tearing down their places of worship, destroying idols, and killing the idolatrous priests. Moreover, in obedience to God’s law he reinstated the Passover and he removed mediums, spiritists, and abominations from throughout the land of Judah (2 Kings 23:4-24).


As a consequence, the Bible describes King Josiah with these honoring words:


2 Kings 23:25 (NASB95)

25 Before him there was no king like him who turned to the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; nor did any like him arise after him.


May we respond like King Josiah when the inspired Scriptures reprove us, exposing both our sins of commission and sins of omission. May we have tender repentant hearts that inspire wholehearted obedience, bringing our lives into alignment with God’s plumbline. May we purge our lives of things that are an abomination to God and instate thinking and behavior that are pleasing to Him. May our heads not refuse it when the Lord smites us with kindness through His Word, through others, or through the circumstances of life. Though it may be painful at the time, it is oil upon our heads and will bring healing to our lives, our families, our communities, and our nations.


LOOKING AHEAD


In my next post, I will continue to unfold the verses of 2 Timothy 3:16-17 by looking at the Bible’s role in bringing correction. Until then, may you daily experience the life-changing power of God’s Word every time you hear it, read it, study it, memorize it, meditate on it, and apply it to your life.



REFERENCES

[1] I find it interesting that the reproving words of the righteous that bring healing in Psalm 141 stand in bold contrast to Psalm 140, which describes the poisonous words of the wicked that kill (Psalm 140:1-3). This shows us that we need to filter the words that come our way, because some will kill us and some will heal us. The words of the wicked are more easily discerned as wrong than the well-intentioned but harmful words of believers in our lives. Not all rebukes by believers are from God (Matthew 16:21-23), but all rebukes give us occasion to examine our hearts and lives before God. We then filter out what may not be of God and hold fast to that which is good (1 Thessalonians 5: 19-22).

[2] Not all difficult circumstances, sickness, or death are the result of personal sin. We also suffer because we live in a fallen world that is subject to futility and we can suffer as a result of others' sins. Often God first tries to get our attention through the convicting work of the Holy Spirit, the reproofs of His Word, and rebuke by godly people. If we don’t respond to these softer reproofs in our lives, He may intensify with other forms of discipline. All discipline by the Lord is done for our good because He loves us and wants us to share His holiness (Hebrews 12:10). It is important that we distinguish between the diverse trials we experience that God uses for our growth and His discipline that He uses to correct sinful behavior. Finally, we need to distinguish between God’s discipline of those He loves and God’s judgement that comes upon those who continue to resist His warnings and reproofs.

[3] It is not my intent in this post to discuss a biblical process for bringing private or public rebuke. Certainly, sinful behavior and false teaching need to be identified and denounced publicly when appropriate or when preaching on relevant Biblical passages, but individual names need not be mentioned. To rebuke publicly “those who continue in sin” implies that other corrective processes have been disregarded. Passages such as Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 5:1-13; 2 Corinthians 2:6-11; Galatians 6:1; James 5:19-20; 1 John 5:16-17; and others must be considered for developing a wholistic approach to rebuking and discipline. All discipline is to be motivated by love and with the intent of restoring an erring Christian brother or sister.

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