By David Faust
Doesn’t the word prefix sound like it means to fix something ahead of time—before it’s broken beyond repair? “Mr. Mechanic, please prefix my car so it won’t break down.” “Mrs. Chef, could you prefix our dinner so it’s ready at 6:30?”
Of course, a prefix actually means a few letters attached to the beginning of a word that changes its meaning. Happy becomes unhappy, American becomes anti-American, ordinary stores become supermarkets.
Some prefixes are puzzling. Re means “again,” so why would aging workers want to retire? Aren’t they already tired enough in the first place? If you occasionally feel overwhelmed, then when things aren’t so bad are you merely whelmed? If your church contains a few disgruntled members, are the rest of them gruntled? How can you rebuke someone unless you’ve already buked them in the past?
Bring to Light
Who dares to give and receive rebukes anyway? Disagree with just about anything these days and you will be labeled a hater. In the name of tolerance, such behavior won’t be tolerated. You’ll be condemned for condemning. And yet Paul gave Titus the following instructions: “Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you” (Titus 2:15).
“Rebuke” is a translation of the Greek elegcho, which meant bringing something to light. In ancient courts the term described how an attorney refuted opposing arguments. The word appears in Matthew 18:15, where Jesus said to confront offending brothers privately so you can “point out their fault.” Paul employed the same word in Ephesians 5:11 when he said to “expose” the deeds of darkness.
The English word rebuke is related to an old French word for log (bushce), and originally meant to cut down wood. How can we chop away at falsehood without tearing down people? Paul’s exhortation to Titus provides some helpful guidance.
Encourage and Rebuke
“Encourage and rebuke,” Paul said—and the order is significant. We must balance rebukes with positive encouragement. Mere scolding and finger-wagging help no one. We wrongly assume that a rebuke means venting our hostility and shaming others with harsh accusations. Instead we should emulate the attitude of Christ, who said, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent” (Revelation 3:19). A rebuke is more effective when the person delivering it truly cares about the well-being of others and isn’t just out to win an argument.
Both positive affirmation and negative correction should be delivered “with all authority,” Paul told Titus. “Do not let anyone despise you.” Because we have seen power abused and trust betrayed, we’re tempted to despise all leadership; but that’s like refusing to trust any doctor because a few physicians are quacks.
When godly leaders challenge us in the right spirit, we should heed their counsel. “Whoever heeds life-giving correction [rebuke] will be at home among the wise” (Proverbs 15:31). Parents do their children a disservice if they never correct them. At work, veteran employees should humbly but forthrightly help colleagues learn from their mistakes. Elders shouldn’t shrug off individuals caught in false teaching. “Rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith” (Titus 1:13).
A loving rebuke is a relational prefix. It mends relationships before they are irreparably broken, builds trust before it disintegrates, and fixes spiritual problems before they lead to doctrinal error and moral failure. Journalist Sydney J. Harris wrote, “A winner rebukes and forgives; a loser is too timid to rebuke and too petty to forgive.”
1. When have you benefited from someone’s loving correction?
2. When was the last time you offered someone a necessary rebuke?
David Faust serves as the Associate Minister at East 91st Street Christian Church, Indianapolis, Indiana.
The Lookout’s Bible Reading Plan for August 24, 2014
Use this guide to read through the Bible in 12 months. Follow David Faust’s comments on the highlighted text in every issue of The Lookout.
2 Timothy 4
Esther 3, 4