Difficult Debatable Issues

 

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There is debate among Bible teachers about a number of questions in relation to rebuking, correction, admonishment, church discipline and judging. These questions are:

 

The question about who should rebuke, correct and admonish:

 

“Do only ascension gifted ministries – apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers – have God-given authority to rebuke, correct and admonish God’s people. Or has God given authority to lay leaders to do this as well? Also, does the Lord approve of lay members who are not leaders rebuking, correcting or admonishing God’s people as a local group or other individual lay members or even ascension ministries sometimes?”

In the New Testament, most of the verses which relate to rebuking, correction and admonishment within the church community are in context referring to ascension gifted ministries doing these things (see Luke 3:19, Acts 8:18-23, 13:9-12, 1 Corinthians 5:3, Galatians 2:11-21, Colossians 1:28, 1 Thessalonians 5:12, 1 Timothy 5:19-21, 2 Timothy 4:2, Titus 1:9, 1:13-14, 2:15 and 3:10).

1 Corinthians 5:6-8 and 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 refer to local church communities as a whole group led by various leaders disciplining seriously unrepentant believers. In context, Matthew 18:15 may to refer either to the disciples in the sense of the twelve Apostles or to Jesus’ disciples in general. Some can argue 2 Timothy 3:16-17 means any believer can use the Scriptures for rebuking and correction. Others may insist that in context, this passage is written to Timothy – an ascension gifted ministry and is referring only to how such leaders as himself would use the Scriptures.

In the matter of admonishment or milder rebukes, Romans 15:14, Colossians 3:16 and Thessalonians 5:14 refer to all believers doing this at times. Romans 15:14 states: “Now I myself am confident concerning you, my brethren, that you also are …able also to admonish one another.” Colossians 3:16 instructs: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs…”

Galatians 6:1 refers to spiritual believers restoring someone who is trapped in a sin: “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.” The problem with the above verse is how do we define spiritual people? Are spiritual people classified as only all ascension gifted ministries or all leaders including lay leaders or all relatively mature believers including those who are not leaders?

In the context of Matthew 7:1-5 and Luke 6:41-42, Jesus was speaking not just to Christian leaders. In Luke 6:41-42, He said: “And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the plank that is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck that is in your brother’s eye.”

In the Old Testament, most rebuking and correcting was done by God’s prophets. For example, 2 Samuel 12:1-14 records the prophet Nathan rebuked David. For criminal and civil legal cases, God commanded that judges be appointed to judge according to His standards (see Deuteronomy 16:18-20, 17:8-13, 19:17-21 and 25:1-4).

There are some Old Testament verses or passages which refer to believers who were not prophets or leaders rebuking or correcting. 1 Samuel 25:14-35 records that Abigail corrected King David. Proverbs 9:7-8, 10:17, 12:1, 15:12, 15:31-32, 25:12 and 28:23 refer to rebuking or correction but do not specify whether the person doing this was a prophet, leader or non-leader.

Psalm 141:5 speaks of any righteous person rebuking: “Let the righteous strike me; it shall be a kindness. And let him reprove me; it shall be as excellent oil; let my head not refuse it…” Ecclesiastes 7:5 refers to the rebuke of the wise: “It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise than for a man to hear the song of fools.” The Old Testament does not limit the expression “the wise” just to prophets or leaders.

 

The question about church discipline:

 

“Do 1 Corinthians 5:2, 5:9-13, 1 Thessalonians 3:14-15 and Titus 3:10-11 refer:

 

(a) only to suspending someone from partaking in the Lord’s Supper until he repents of the sins which caused the suspension. The person can still attend all church meetings and visit other believers in their homes. Also the person still remains a member of the church.

(b) to suspending or even cancelling the membership of someone from the local church but allowing him to still attend meetings as a visitor or non-member. Such suspension or cancellation stays in place until the person repents.

(c) to informing someone that he has had his membership in the local church cancelled and he is not welcome at any of the church meetings until he repents.

(d) to a combination of all of (c) above plus not being allowed to eat meals or fellowship at the homes of any of the members of the local church until he repents. Those churches who agree with this alternative often have their church leaders continue to visit the expelled member in order to encourage him to repent and return to fellowship with the local church.” [1]

Much of the debate about church discipline relates to the meanings of the expressions “he who had done this deed might be taken away from among you” (N.K.J.V.) or “the one who had done this deed might be removed from your midst” (N.A.S.B.) in 1 Corinthians 5:2, “not to keep company” (N.K.J.V.) or “not to associate” (N.A.S.B.) in 1 Corinthians 5:9 and 5:11, “not to even eat with such a person” (N.K.J.V.) or “not even to eat with such a one” (N.A.S.B.) in 1 Corinthians 5:11, “put away from yourselves the evil person” (N.K.J.V.) or “remove the wicked man from among yourselves” (N.A.S.B.) in 1 Corinthians 5:13, “withdraw yourself from every brother who” (N.K.J.V.) or “keep yourself aloof from every brother who” (N.A.S.B.) in 2 Thessalonians 3:6, “do not keep company with him” (N.K.J.V.) or “do not associate with him” (N.A.S.B.) in 2 Thessalonians 3:14, “And from such people, turn away!” (N.K.J.V.) in 2 Timothy 3:5, “do not count him as an enemy” (N.K.J.V.) or “do not regard him as an enemy” (N.A.S.B.) in 2 Corinthians 3:15 and “reject” (N.K.J.V. and N.A.S.B.) in Titus 3:10.

Here are some definitions of a few of the relevant Greek words.

In Greek, the expression “put away” (N.K.J.V.) or “remove” (N.A.S.B.) is a form of the word “exairo”. “Exairo” means “remove, drive away, drive out” [2] or “to remove, eject”. [3]

In Greek, the expression “might be taken away” (N.K.J.V.) or “might be removed” (N.A.S.B.) in 1 Corinthians 5:2 is a form of the word “airo” meaning “remove, expel” [4] or “to take up, remove”. [5]

In Greek, the expression “to keep company” (N.K.J.V.) or “to associate” in 1 Corinthians 5:9, 5:11 and 2 Thessalonians 3:14 are forms of the word “sunanamignumi” which means “mix up together, mingle or associate with” [6] or “to mingle one’s self with, to associate with, have familiar intercourse with”. [7]

In the original Greek, the word “reject” in Titus 3:10 is a form of the word “paraiteomai” which means “to decline receiving, refuse, reject” [8] or “purposely to avoid association with someone”. [9]

The New Testament teaches believers to love all people (see Matthew 22:39) and to try to help restore to God those believers who have fallen away.

Galatians 6:1-2 commands: “ Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.”

2 Corinthians 2:7-8 instructs us to forgive, comfort and reaffirm our love for believers who have previously been strongly disciplined by the church for their serious unrepented of continual known sins but who have now sincerely repented: “so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow. Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him.”

But the New Testament also commands believers to turn away from believers who are living as continual blatant religious hypocrites. 2 Timothy 3:1-5 instructs: “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!”

In Greek, the words “turn away from” in verse 5 above is a form of the word “apotrepo” which means “avoid” [10] or “avoid, shun”. [11]

2 Thessalonians 3:6 states: “But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us.”

In Greek, the word “withdraw” is a form of the word “stello” which means “keep away, stand aloof from someone” [12] or “to withdraw from, avoid or shun.” [13]

The difficult question is to determine whether the removing or ejecting, expelling, not associating with or not mingling together with and so on spoken of above relate only to membership or to all church meetings or to all church meetings and personal fellowshipping at the homes of other believers from the local church. But personally I believe that the meanings of the above verses do not equate with just suspending someone from partaking in the Lord’s Supper.

 

The question about the differences between two types of speech:

 

“If the Bible teaches God is pleased when believers (His leaders and possibly others) sometimes rebuke, correct and admonish others, why does the Bible condemn reviling, slander, backbiting, gossip and speaking evil about others?”

One of the difficult tasks is to distinguish between the Greek words for rebuking, correcting and admonishing – “elencho”, “epitimao”, “elegmos”, “epanorthosis”, “nouthesia” and “noutheteo” – and the Greek words for reviling, slandering, backbiting, gossiping and speaking evil of others – “loidoreo”, “loidoros”, “loidoria”, “blasphemia”, “diabolos”, “katalalos”, “katalalia”, “katalaleo”, “psithuristes”, “psithurismos” and “pluaros”. There must be differences between these two lists of words because the New Testament contains numerous verses showing God is pleased when believers sometimes rebuke, correct or admonish others but He is exceptionally displeased when believers revile, slander, backbite against, gossip about or speak evil of others.

 

Examples of the practical difficulties in trying to distinguish them

Here are some examples of the practical difficulties in trying to distinguish between the first and second lists above:

 

·           At a local church’s leaders’ meeting, is prayerful discussion about the future correction and rebuking of someone who keeps stealing money out of the offering bags a form of the sins of revelling, gossiping and speaking evil of the person?

·           Are the secret discussions of a jury about the possible guilt of a rapist a form of the sins of gossiping and speaking evil of others.

·           When a schoolteacher reprimands a child for hitting another child in class, is the teacher reviling or speaking evil of the child?

·           If my wife and I discuss privately the bad behaviour of my child with the intention of correcting and disciplining him, are we committing the sins of reviling, gossiping and speaking evil about him?

·           If a senior minister has begun to regularly commit adultery or is attempting to transfer all of the local church’s assets into his name without the approval of the other ministers and rest of the local church, are the other ministers and church members committing the sin of reviling or slander if they discuss the senior minister’s actions?

God often approves of rebukes, corrections and admonishments

Earlier in this chapter, I have listed many verses which show God approves of certain people rebuking and correcting others. Also, in 1 Timothy 5:19-20, Paul says: “Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses. Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear.” In Greek, the word “accusation” here is a form of the word “kategoria”. “Kategoria” means “the content of the accusation or charge made against someone”. [14] 1 Timothy 5:19-20 shows God approves of accusations being made against church leaders as long as these are agreed to by two or three witnesses. [15]

In Romans 3:9, Paul stated: “…For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin.” In Greek, the expression “we have previously charged” is a form of the word “proaitiaomai” which means “to bring charges previously on the basis of presumed blame and guilt” [16] or “accuse beforehand”. [17]

In Romans 3:9, Paul states that he and his Christian associates or Christians in general have previously accused all Jews and Greeks of being under the rule of the tyrant sin. Paul is using the word “Greeks” here to signify the pagan nations. Some today say it is wrong to tell unbelievers they are sinners or under the rule of sin, in case it offends their dignity or self-esteem. Paul and the early Christians did not agree with this modern humanistic nonsense.

Much of the recorded preaching and teaching of the Old Testament prophets and John the Baptist and of Jesus in Matthew 5:21-30, 7:13-14, 7:21-23, 10:34-39, 11:21-24, 12:33-45, 13:13-15, 13:37-43, 13:47-50, 15:1-20, 16:1-4, 18:6-9, 19:4-9, 19:23-24, 22:11-14, 23:1-36, 24:1-31, 25:24-30, 25:31-46, in many other parts of the Books of Mark, Luke and John and in Revelation 2:1-7, 2:12-3:6 and 3:14-22 contain frequent rebukes, corrections and admonishments.

Tragically, too many churchgoers today are like the compromising worldly Israelites mentioned in Amos 5:10: “They hate the one who rebukes in the gate, and they abhor the one who speaks uprightly.” Such people today do not understand God often inspires people to rebuke and correct wrong attitudes and behaviour.

 

But God hates reviling, slander, gossiping and verbal abuse

But note the New Testament contains many verses which warn God totally disapproves of reviling, slander, backbiting, gossiping, abusing others and calling them “fools” There must be a clear distinction between these things and God-approved rebuking, correcting and admonishing. This is because the Greek New Testament words for these various things are all different.

Reviling other people is such a serious matter that in 1 Corinthians 6:10, Paul warns that those people who continually revile others will not inherit God’s kingdom. In Greek, the word “revilers” in this verse is a form of the word “loidoros”. “Loidoros” means “reviler, abusive person” [18] or “one who engages in slandering” [19] and is also used in 1 Corinthians 5:11 in the list of the type of churchgoers Paul said need church discipline: “But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a extortioner – not even to eat with such a person.”

The noun form of the word “loidoros” is “loidoria”. “Loidoria” means “ “verbal abuse, reproach, reviling”. [20] A form of “loidoria” is used in 1 Peter 3:9: “Not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling…”

Note Jesus Christ rebukes others about their sins, wrong attitudes and behaviour (see Revelation 3:19). But note 1 Peter 2:23 reveals Christ did not commit the sin of reviling: “who when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously.”

In Greek, the expression “did not revile in return” in 1 Peter 2:23 is a form of the word “antiloidoreo”. It is related to the word “loidoreo” which means “revile, abuse someone” [21] or “to speak in a highly insulting manner”. [22]

There must be a fine distinction between God-approved rebuking and God-condemned reviling. This is because after Paul said to the Jewish high priest Ananias, “God will strike you, you white-washed wall! For you sit to judge me according to the law, and do you command me to be struck contrary to the law?” those who stood by accused Paul of the sin of reviling (see Acts 23:1-4). But note Acts 23:5 records Paul did not accept the charge that he had reviled the High Priest. [23]

 

Speaking evil of and verbally abusing others

Matthew 15:4 refers to children reviling their mother or father: “For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’, and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.” In Greek, the word “curses” or “speaks evil” (N.A.S.B.) is a form of the word “kakologeo”. “Kakologeo” [24] means “to insult in a particularly strong and unjustified manner” [25] or “speak evil of, revile, insult”. [26]

In Greek, the word “slanderer” is “diabolos” which means “slanderous, accusing falsely”. [27] The word “diabolos” or forms of it are used many times through the New Testament to mean “the devil”. [28] 1 Timothy 3:3 uses a form of “diabolos” when it says in the last days people will be slanderers.

Backbiting is another sin we must avoid. In Greek, the word “backbiting” is “katalalia” and “backbiter” is “katalalos”. “Katalalia” [29] means “evil speech, slander, defamation”. [30] 1 Peter 2:1 instructs: “Therefore, laying aside…all evil speaking.” “Katalalos” means “speaking evil of others, slanderer”. [31] A form of the word “katalalos” is used in Romans 1:30 when it says in context that backbiting is one of the sins for which we deserve death.

An associated Greek word “katalaleo” means “speak against, speak evil of, defame, slander” [32] Forms of the word “katalaleo” are used three times in James 4:11. James 4:11-12 says: “Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another.”

In Greek, the word “blasphemia” means “slander, defamation…all abusive speech” [33] and is used in 1 Timothy 6:4 to refer to what men of corrupt minds, who do not possess God’s truth, do.

 

Gossip

The New Testament also reveals that gossipping is a sin. 1 Timothy 5:13 says: “And besides they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house, and not only idle but also gossips and busybodies, saying things which they ought not.” In Greek, the word “gossips” is a form of the word “phluaros” which is defined as “gossipy, foolish” [34].

Two other Greek words related to the sin of gossipping or telling evil tales are “psithuristes” and “psithurismos”. “Psithuristes” means “whisperer, tale bearer” [35] or “one who habitually engages in gossip”. [36] A form of this word is listed in Romans 1:29 as one of the sins which deserve a punishment of death.

“Psithurismos” [37] means “in a bad sense whispering, (secret) gossip, tale-bearing” [38] or “secret slander” [39] or “providing harmful information about a person, often spoken in whispers or in a low voice, with the implication that such information is not widely known and therefore should presumably be kept secret”. [40]

 

Labelling someone a “fool” versus calling their actions or attitudes “foolish”

In Matthew 5:22, Jesus gave a stern warning: “…And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.” The word “Raca” means “fool, empty-head, numbskull”. [41] In Greek, the word “fool” in this verse here is a form of the word “moros”. This adjective “moros” means “foolish, stupid” [42] or “a fool in senseless wickedness”. [43] Christ said it is wrong for us to call others by these names. But note in Matthew 23:17, Jesus called others by a form of the word “moros”. So it is right for Him as Judge to call people “fools”, but it is wrong for any other human to call another “a fool”. Also, it is right for us to call things or attitudes foolish. 1 Corinthians 1:27, 2 Timothy 2:23 and Titus 3:9 use forms of the word “moros” when referring to foolish things or attitudes.

In Ephesians 5:4, Paul refers to unnamed people who used foolish talk. In Greek, the phrase “foolish talk” in this verse means “talk which is both foolish and stupid” [44] or “foolish silly talk”. [45] In Romans 1:22, Paul mentions many unnamed humans who became foolish. So it is right to say certain types of talking are foolish or stupid or silly and the attitudes and behaviour of people are foolish. But to identify the specific name of a person and give them the permanent title “fool” is against God’s will.

In 3 John 10, John refers to a man named Diotrephes prating against John himself. In Greek, the expression “prating against” is a form of the word “phluareo”. “Phluareo” means “talk nonsense (about), bring unjustified charges against”. So John here named a man and said the fellow was speaking nonsense. John did not sin doing this.

 

The main difference is real love

So the question is: “What are the differences between God-approved rebuking, correcting and admonishing on the one hand and reviling, slander, backbiting, gossipping and calling specifically named individuals ‘fools’ on the other hand?” I do not know the full answer to this at present. But I believe the main difference between these two groups of speech is the motivation of real love.

In Revelation 3:20, Jesus said those whom he loved, He rebuked and disciplined. In 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, Paul stresses that without love, even seemingly good things achieve nothing worthwhile in God’s eyes. 1 Corinthians 10:24 says: “Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being.” If our attempts to rebuke, correct and/or admonish others are not based on real love, I believe our comments will come under one or more of the following: reviling, slander, backbiting, gossiping or abusing others.

 

The Old Testament teaches the same balanced view

The Old Testament also teaches that God approves of believers sometimes rebuking and correcting sin. [46] But the Old Testament also reveals God regards slander, backbiting with one’s tongue and gossiping – also known as whispering – as evil. [47]

Proverbs 10:8 says that if we rebuke a wise person, he will love us. Proverbs 12:1 says: “…But he who hates reproof is stupid.” Proverbs 15:31-32 states: “The ear that hears the reproof of life will abide among the wise. He who distains instruction despises his own soul, but he who heeds reproof gets understanding.” Proverbs 25:12 declares: “Like an earring of gold and an ornament of fine gold is a wise reprover to an obedient ear.” Proverbs 28:23 states: “He who rebukes a man will find more favor afterward than he who flatters with the tongue.” Psalm 101:5 says: “Whoever secretly slanders his neighbour, him I will destroy…” Proverbs 16:28 states: “…And a whisperer separates the best of friends.”

Some churchgoers have the humanistic attitude that true love always keeps quiet and never openly rebukes wrong or sin. But Proverbs 27:5 declares: “Open rebuke is better than love carefully concealed.”

Leviticus 19:15-18 says: “You shall do no injustice in judgement. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. But in righteousness you shall judge your neighbor. You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people; nor shall you take a stand against the life of your neighbor: I am the Lord. You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” Here God shows He approves of judging others as long it agrees with His perfect righteousness and is associated with real love. These verses also reveal God approves of rebukes but disapproves of people telling tales and hating others.

 

Bible Study Questions

 

1.         Who has God given authority in the Church to rebuke, correct and admonish?

2.         What do 1 Corinthians 5:2, 5:9-13, 1 Thessalonians 3:14-15 and Titus 3:10-11 teach about church discipline?

3.         What is the difference between God-approved rebuking, correcting and admonishing on one hand and reviling, slander, backbiting, gossip and speaking evil about others on the other hand?

 


 

[1] Because today many born-again Christians attend specific local churches for years but do not become members, this has resulted in a number of variations on the above being suggested as to how church discipline would apply to them.

[2] Bauer, page 272.

[3] Perschbacher, page 147.

[4] Bauer, page 24.

[5] Vine, page 500.

[6] Bauer, page 784.

[7] Perschbacher, page 389.

[8] Ibid, page 307.

[9] Louw and Nida, page 451.

[10] Bauer, page 101.

[11] Perschbacher, page 49.

[12] Bauer, page 766.

[13] Perschbacher, page 377.

[14] Louw and Nida, page 437.

[15] But note God regards it as wicked when humans make false accusations against others (see Exodus 20:16, 23:1-2, Deuteronomy 5:20, 19:16-20 and Proverbs 6:16-19).

[16] Louw and Nida, page 437.

[17] Bauer, page 702.

[18] Bauer, page 479.

[19] Louw and Nida, page 434.

[20] Bauer, page 479.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Louw and Nida, page 433.

[23] In Greek, the word “revile” in Acts 23:4 is a form of the word “loidoreo”.

[24] Louw and Nida, page 434.

[25] Bauer, page 397.

[26] A form of “kakologeo” is also used in Mark 7:10.

[27] Vine, page 580.

[28] For example, see Acts 10:38, Ephesians 4:27 and 1 John 3:8.

[29] Forms of “katalalia” are used in 2 Corinthians 12:20 and 1 Peter 2:1.

[30] Bauer, page 412.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ibid, page 143.

[34] Ibid, page 862.

[35] Ibid, page 893.

[36] Louw and Nida, page 435.

[37] A form of this word is used in 2 Corinthians 12:20 in relation to one of the possible sins of many of the Corinthian churchgoers.

[38] Bauer, page 892.

[39] Vine, page 674.

[40] Louw and Nida, page 435.

[41] Bauer, page 733.

[42] Ibid, page 531 and Vine, page 246.

[43] Perschbacher, page 281.

[44] Louw and Nida, page 432.

[45] Bauer, page 531.

[46] See Psalm 141:5, Proverbs 9:7-8, 10:17, 12:1, 15:12, 15:31-32, 25:12, 27:5, 28:23, Ecclesiastes 7:5 and Nehemiah 5:7.

[47] See Psalm 15:3, 50:20, 101:5, 140:11, Proverbs 10:18, 16:28 and Jeremiah 6:28.


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