Tuesday, August 09, 2011


A statement made by the Apostle Paul in a wonderful passage written to the Ephesians says, "Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear" (Ephesians 4:29, NASB). From this passage we might conclude that our ultimate goal, when it comes to the power of the spoken word, is to edify. To edify means to build up and/or move toward the highest possible good. A mistake that is often made is to assume that edifying words are always and only positive words. However, building up and moving toward the highest good is not accomplished with positive words alone. In fact, in a fallen world that has been greatly impacted by sin, breaking up the fallow ground that has resulted from our departure from God’s design requires a great amount of words that will not fit into the category of positive words.

If the above statement is true, why does Paul say “let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth?” Unwholesome words are words that tear down or destroy as an end, in and of itself. I am not suggesting that we become negative as opposed to positive. I am suggesting that we know what it means to edify which involves both negative and positive words balanced in the right place and right proportion to accomplish this challenging goal.

Timothy remained in Ephesus to prevent certain men from teaching certain unedifying things (Ep.1:3). Paul wrote to instruct Timothy in this pastoral responsibility. Notice the speech oriented words in the following passages as we consider what is involved in real edification. "…preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction" (2 Timothy 4:2, NASB).

The first command given is to “preach” the word. To preach is to proclaim or herald before and audience. The following words are descriptive of preaching. As we work through this list, it is important to emphasize that the goal of preaching in this manner is ultimately to edify, move people away from their current departure from moral reality and from displaying God’s character toward honoring God’s design for all of life.

Preaching involves reproof. To “reprove” means to convict or convince (generally with a suggestion of shame of the person convicted), refute, expose, reprehend severely, chide and/or admonish. This is not generally place under the category of “positive” words. As a side note, I have often heard individuals (many of whom I greatly respect) say that only the Holy Spirit can convict people. Here, Paul uses the same word found in John 16:8, to command Timothy to reprove (convict people of their departures).

Next, he says to rebuke. This is an interesting word which has to do with placing value or honor on someone. A rebuke involves pointing out where we have departed from our real value or honor as those created in the image of God.

He then uses the word “exhort.” This means to encourage people to recapture their real value and honor from which they have departed. It is important to emphasize that this is, in great measure based upon the recognition that we have departed from God’s intentions for us and that redemption/reconciliation/salvation refers to the process of returning to God’s original design for man. Consequently, reproof, rebuke and exhortation are very important to this process. In a commentary on this passage, Thomas C. Oden states, “Good counsel involves simultaneously convincing the intellect, rebuking the disordered passions, and encouraging the will. Each phase of counsel needs the other. An ungentle rebuke may hurt too much to hear. A rebuke that lacks convincing evidence is implausible. An encouragement that lacks realism will not help.”

Finally, Paul uses the term “instruction.” Instruction involves a detailed explanation about how something is designed to fit together or to work. Having convinced someone that their (our, in the corporate areas of life) current approach is contrary to God’s design, they need to be informed and instructed about the proper approach. This, again, is intended to edify, build up.

I close with the following reference and brief commentary: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, NASB).

To recognize someone’s highest good and therefore verbally encourage edification requires that we understand God’s design for human life as revealed in Scripture. We must be cautious of simply instructing people to line up with our own personal preference or opinion. If people are departing from God’s design for individual character and responsibility or relational spheres such as family, church, etc. we are to call them back by teaching, reproving, correcting and training. This takes patience and wisdom. The trend to simply provide people with “self-affirmation” without addressing the issue of departure will not edify. Reproof and rebuke without instruction and patience will not edify. Resistance toward this process will not edify.

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel.” (Proverbs 12:15, NASB)

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