Good Pastors Correct God’s People

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Along with feeding God’s people, the pastor must correct us when we stray into error. This is where the exhortation to preach the whole counsel of God is so critical. Remember that Paul writes that “all Scripture is … profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” [2 Tim. 3:16] The package of “reproof plus correction” is critical to our understanding of how the pastor contends for God’s people. To offer reproof means to confront error, declaring in no uncertain terms that some particular idea, attitude, or action is wrong. But reproof is insufficient in itself. Reproof identifies the problem but doesn’t clarify the solution. The “Don’t do that” must be followed by, “Instead, do this, and here’s why.”

Indeed, when Paul addressed the Corinthians in the face of their rampant failures to practice self-control, he didn’t stop at “Quit it!” or even merely “Now try this” and so promote mere morality. He began with reproof but then moved on to Christ-centered correction, calling them back to a holy and self-controlled life and pleading with them to recall the grace of Christ. Paul emphatically reminded the Corinthians that they were a people purchased by Christ, that God was at work among them, and that they were to live in light of that truth. He reproved them for their error, but then he also corrected it for the sake of Christ. Faithful pastoring and preaching must do likewise.

Error will certainly try to seep into every congregation, for the world and the flesh and the devil are permanently opposed to the progress of the gospel. The pastor who cannot discern actual error, or who is unwilling both to reprove and correct it when necessary, badly misses the mark. As Paul warned both the Corinthians and the Galatians, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump.” [1 Cor. 5:6; Gal. 5:9] Uncorrected error only leads to greater error among the flock.

Adapted from Contend: Defending the Faith in a Fallen World, pp. 45-46

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