Teaching series from 1 Thessalonians

Admonition

1 Thessalonians 5:14

Teaching t08689

Introduction

Brief review of setting. One of Paul's main concerns for these new Christians is that they learn to love one another. He praises them for their “labor of love” (1:3); he prays that God will cause them to increase and abound in their love for one another (3:12); he both praises and exhorts them on this (4:9,10). And in 5:14, he gives them some very practical instruction on how to do this (read).

Last time, we explored the meaning of encouragement—what it is, why it is important, and how to express it. Tonight, I want to do the same thing with admonition.

What is admonition?

The Greek word usually translated “admonish” is noutheteo, which means literally “to place on one's mind.” It is also translated “counsel,” “warn,” and “instruct.” It is part of a group of words (see 2 Timothy 4:2b) that range from correcting the ignorant to rebuking the obstinate. Here's my shot at a working definition: Biblical admonition is moral correction through verbal confrontation motivated by genuine love.

Like encouragement, admonition seeks to express God's love by communicating his truth to meet an important need. But unlike encouragement, which seeks to strengthen those under pressure through no fault of their own (“the fainthearted”), admonition seeks to correct those who are damaging themselves and others by their wrong moral choices (“the unruly”).

There are a whole spectrum of ways one might admonish, ranging from a gently raised question to a very forceful rebuke. Later, we will consider some of the variables that go into how to deliver an admonition, but first let's consider another question.

Why is admonition so unpopular in our culture?

I don't think admonition has ever been popular in any culture, because no one likes being corrected. But it is virtually taboo in our culture in a way that may be unprecedented. Why is this? There are several factors.

Partly because many dysfunctional families and religious groups have abused it. If you have been humiliated or excessively punished, the chances are you have a knee-jerk reaction against admonition because you relate it to these abuses.

But all cultures have always had abuse of admonition—yet they aren't as antagonistic toward admonition as our culture is. This is because our culture is imbued with two other values that are especially inimical to admonition.

Radical individualism: We emphasize individual freedom and rights over community and individual responsibilities. In this context, most admonition is seen as intrusive and confining.

Moral relativism: Most Americans now reject the idea of universal, absolute moral standards. Because of this, there simply is no basis for moral correction. Except in the most extreme cases of criminal activity, to admonish someone else is to judge him, to be intolerant, etc.

The great irony in all this is that even as Americans insist on these two values, we complain about loneliness and failure in close relationships. But don't you see the connection? You simply can't have closeness without trust, and trust is rooted in knowing that we are both under a higher moral standard to which we both willingly submit. You will have only intimidation, or manipulation, or alienation.

This is precisely why Christians have a basis for real community and successful close relationships (Colossians 3:16). We stand under God's moral law rather than being a law unto ourselves. And we know that his moral law is an expression of his goodness, so we can call each other to account out of loving concern. If we have God's Word to inform us and God's love to motivate us, we have the resources to effectively admonish one another.

And so here is an excellent index of your involvement with other Christians: Are you involved enough with some Christian friends that they have admonished you over the past several months? Are you involved enough with them that you have admonished them over the past several months? I don't want to imply that this should characterize the tone of your relationships. There should usually be lots more encouragement than admonition. But in healthy Christian community, there is admonition as needed. Do you have this in your relationships with other Christians? If not, you are missing a crucial component for your own spiritual development, and you are betraying your friends (PUSH HOME GROUPS).

This is a crucial element in the healthy community (and consequent spiritual fruit) that we enjoy here in Xenos. I for one am zealous to maintain this ethic, rather than being conformed to our culture like so many other western churches . . . 

Getting the most out of admonition

For the rest of our time, let's talk about how to put admonition into practice. Let's start with how to get the most out of admonition . . . 

Consciously filter admonition through God's grace instead of interpreting it as personal rejection. None of us really enjoys being corrected. Even in the best scenario, it is a little embarrassing and painful. But for some of us more than others, it feels like personal rejection that threatens our very identity. This happens if we are unable to distinguish between our behavior and who we are as persons. Those who have had abusive authority figures have special difficulty making this distinction. Such people hear correction through this grid and feel they have to reject it in order to survive. This is unfortunate, since they will only experience more pain by rejecting valid reproof.

Here is where the person who lives under God's grace has a real advantage. If you know the most important Person will never reject you, you can receive correction without being devastated. If you know that God's discipline is an expression of his love (Hebrews 12:5-6), you need not fear it and you can profit from it. Have you received God's grace by receiving Christ? . . . 

On this basis, we need to look for the truth in the admonition rather than looking for excuses to reject it. This, of course, runs directly counter to our natural reaction. Instantly and creatively, I create all kinds of reasons to discredit and reject rebuke: “How dare he say that to me when he has all kinds of sins!” “Since he was wrong about this small related matter, I am justified in rejecting everything he said!” “I can't believe how insensitively she said that!" Maturing Christians still have these reactions, but they have learned to mistrust them and not act on them. Instead, they go to God and prayerfully, humbly consider the validity of the admonition (in light of God's Word)—because they want to mature more than they want to preserve their own egos.

If you insist on receiving admonition only directly from God, or only from perfect people (or from people who deliver it perfectly), you will remain a fool for the rest of your life (read Proverbs 12:1; 15:32; 17:10)! We have to get to the point where we can profit from correction from imperfect people, and where we value admonition as the sacrifice of love that it is.

And this is why we need to thank friends who love you enough to admonish you rather than making them pay. I'm not talking about thanking people for abusing you. I'm talking about friends who love you enough to tell you the truth even when it is painful to hear. Solomon says that wise people realize how valuable this resource is (read Proverbs 9:8; 27:5,6).

When your friends think about admonishing you, do they see a RED LIGHT (“Stop right there!”)? a YELLOW LIGHT (“Proceed at your own risk & with extreme caution!”)? or a GREEN LIGHT (“Come on ahead—I trust your love & value your input.”)? You can teach people not to do this because they will have to pay too great of a price. But the one who really loses is you as you distance yourself from God's help and healthy closeness with people who really care.

Many marriages are up on blocks because of this. This is especially important in marriage, which is why a key index for couples considering marriage is this: Are you both able to give and receive admonition to and from each other?

Principles of effective admonition

Admonishing others is sacrificial love, because it costs you emotional energy and because (especially today) you are often risking your relationship with the other person in order to help him. You do it because you are committed to the other person's welfare more than you are to their treatment of you. There is no formula for effective admonition because it involves persons and has so many variables: the seriousness of the issue, the history of your relationship, their level of spiritual maturity, the history of your discussion about this issue, etc. But there are biblical principles that will help us to become increasingly effective in this area. Here are a few of the most important principles.

Prayerfully prepare beforehand instead of reacting impulsively. Spontaneous admonition is rarely effective because we are usually reacting in anger. James warns us that “the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (James 1:20). Correcting in unrighteous anger forfeits moral authority and calls for a prompt apology. Take the time to pray for the right attitude, perspective and wisdom, God's empowering and conviction, etc. You may even want to get advice . . . 

Admonition is usually most effective in private and face-to-face. Jesus says, “If your brother sins, reprove him in private (Matthew 18:15).” Privacy is important because it makes it easier for the other person to not react defensively than if you correct in front of other people. Face-to-face is important because you can read and ensure accurate communication. For this reason, email is usually a poor medium for admonition. It makes it easier for you to be harsh (because you don't have to face the person), and it makes it more difficult to ensure accurate communication (because it can't include non-verbals and you have to wait for a reply).

Be direct and specific rather than vague, sarcastic, judging motives, etc. Don't say, “I want to talk to you about something serious next week.” If I say to my wife, “Boy, you've sure been compassionate lately!” I'm not off to a good start. My content was vague and my tone was cutting and sarcastic. At best, she will not know what I'm getting at. At worst, she will react defensively in the same way. But if she says to me, “I'd like to talk to you about your harshness with the kids lately,” the conversation is focused and we can probably get somewhere. If I say, “I know you said that to hurt Bill,” I have arrogantly judged her motives and needlessly aggravated the situation. If instead I say, “Could we talk about what you said to Bill?” I'll probably get a lot farther.

Ground your correction in God's Word. Paul says "All scripture is inspired by God, and profitable for . . . reproof, for correction . . ." (2 Timothy 3:16). This is important for several reasons. The goal is not simply to terminate poor behavior, but to help the person form proper convictions before God—and this requires understanding his Word. Also, God's Word has power to penetrate and convict that our personality and intelligence will never have. Finally, when we appeal to scripture, we are making it clear that we are not arrogating a position of superiority because we also are under God's authority.

Be as strong as necessary—but also be empathetic and constructive. Depending on many factors (the seriousness of the issue; how many times you have talked about it; etc.), you may need to express yourself with enough emotional volume to make your point (NATHAN WITH DAVID). But if you do this, find a way to express empathy so you can't be easily dismissed as self-righteous. And whenever possible, be ready with some practical suggestions for help as soon as the other person expresses a willingness to change. This is what Paul emphasizes in Galatians 6:1 (read).

Except for very severe situations, don't insist on immediate compliance—give time for reflection, God's conviction, etc. Sometimes, because I have screwed up the courage to correct someone, I want to “go for the pin” in that conversation so I can be done with the situation. When this is the case, I am focused on my own relief rather than on doing what it takes to help the other person to grow. This is why Paul reminds us to exercise patience when we admonish (2 Timothy 4:2). It usually takes us some time to get past the initial bristling of our egos to hear God's voice. In most cases, if we're getting a lot of resistance and argument, it's better to say something like “Why don't you take some time to think and pray about this—and we then we can finish our conversation?”

Is it worth it?

Is it worth it to receive admonition with humility—even when everything within you cries to reject it? Is it worth it to admonish others with as much prayer and wisdom and patience effectively as possible—even when everything within you would rather write them off or make them pay? It depends on what you value most. If your highest priority is your own comfort or autonomy, it is definitely not worth it. But if you value spiritual integrity before God and genuinely healthy relationships with others, it's worth every sacrifice you make!

Let's end by listening to the testimony of someone who experienced just how valuable this kind of admonition really is—BRUE HOYT VIDEO.