We aren’t proclaiming a message in a vacuum. We are preaching the gospel to specific congregations, to people with names and faces. In these words—“reprove, rebuke, and exhort”—these people are in view. Each Sunday you preach to a group of hearers with varying perspectives, temptations, and levels of maturity. And pastoral discernment is required so you don’t rebuke someone you should exhort, or exhort someone you should reprove.
To reprove is to confront or to expose. As Timothy was to confront false teaching, we are to confront false ideas. To rebuke is to humbly and boldly address those who are not listening or responding to God’s Word, who have hard, proud hearts. To exhort is to encourage those who are teachable, attentive, and responsive, to explain to them how to live in light of the gospel. And any of these people could be in your church every Sunday.