By Larry Ray Hafley
From Maryland: “In your ‘That’s A Good Question’ column, would you give an exposition of 2 Tim. 2:25, Gal. 6:1, Col. 4:6 in relation to rebuking sin? When one is accused of being ‘harsh’ and ‘too strong’ these passages readily come to mind. How do they fit in with 2 Tim. 4:2, Tilus 1:13; 2:15?”
The passages in question are:
“In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves” (2 Tim. 2:25). “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted” (Gal. 6:1).
“Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man” (Col. 4:6).
“Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:2). “Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith” (Titus 1:13). “These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee” (Titus 2:15).
A part of our querist’s difficulty is that he imagines reproof and rebuke are out of harmony with meekness. Meekness is not weakness. Christ was meek and gentle (2 Cor. 10:1), and his reproof and rebuke was performed sharply (Matt. 23). This is not a contradiction. Nine verses before Paul said to instruct “in meekness,” he scathingly denounced Hymanaeus and Philetus as purveyors of “profane and vain babblings” (Cf. 2 Tim. 2:16-18; and 2:24,25). In the Colossian letter there is subtle sarcasm directed at a form of Judeo-Gnosticism (Col. 1:28; 2:2, 3); yet, in this letter Paul says speech should be with grace “seasoned with salt.” Some foods require more or less salt than others. Salt has different reactions on different foods. Salt makes bland foods sharp and softens pungent tastes.
Jude says, “And of some have compassion, making a difference: And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh” (Vss. 22, 23). Pulling one out of the fire requires quick and decisive action that may upset the one that is being snatched, but it is the spirit of compassion that impels one to pull another out. Why snatch something from the fire you care nothing about? Similarly, Paul says, “that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.” This indirectly implies that not every man is to be answered in the same way. Some require a different approach than others. The hearer’s attitude and posture should determine the measure of our words. Jesus is a classic example of this. To some he was short and curt; to others he was more patient and deliberate. A child requires discipline of varying measures. This is determined by the seriousness of the offence and the child’s attitude. Our discipline of our children does not show lack of love if the situation demands strong punishment.
Though I am not giving an exposition of each particular text in question, one suggested by our querist has the difficulty within it. Look again at 2 Tim. 4:2–“reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.” Some would say that it is not possible to reprove and rebuke with longsuffering. The idea is to continue in reproof, rebuke, and exhortation and to do so with patience, longsuffering. Paul would not urge us to do the impossible.
Our attitude is to be one of meekness. “The spirit of meekness” is the attitude of meekness. “It is the quality of the man whose anger is so mastered and so controlled that be is always angry at the right time and never at the wrong time. It describes the man who is never angry at any personal wrong or insult or injury he may receive, but who is capable of righteous anger when he sees others hurt and injured” (Barclay).
To be “soft” when sharpness is needed is as big a sin as being harsh when gentleness is needed. I am not an infallible judge of temperance in word and speech. Let every man speak the truth with a pure heart. Be motivated by love for God, for truth, and for all men. The nature of your speech should then take care of itself.
Truth Magazine XX: 28, p. 434
July 15, 1976