This week in our Bible reading, we run into one of our core verses as a Christian motorcycle club:
Proverbs 27:17 As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.
This is just one verse buried in the middle of the 27th Proverb, but it has a ton of good meaning for a life that longs to honor God. It is our sin that causes us to want to do life alone and not to want others in our business. This was an immediate and potent consequence of Adam and Eve’s sin in the garden as they hid themselves and covered themselves. Since then, mankind has longed to do life on our own terms and without the influence of others speaking into our lives. God did not design us to avoid each other and do it our own way, but to be blessed by each other and to help each other grow and mature.
One of the massive blessings of our new life in Christ is that He is restoring in our lives what is broken about the fall. One of these things is adopting us into the family of God, whereby we get to walk together and help along the road of life, and we value each other’s input. True love for one another means we don’t keep to ourselves something a brother or a sister needs to hear. We share with them in love and point them back to Christ. We speak the words of the holy Bible to each other and say things we would never have dared to say when ruled by our sin. This is how iron sharpens iron. This is how we sharpen one another.
The Lord gave us many “one anothers” in the New Testament to help guide our life together in the body of Christ. One of these is “admonish one another.” This is something the world says we are not to do. The world says, “Keep to yourself and mind your own business,” but in the unity of the body of Christ I am my brother’s keeper, and his struggle is my struggle. We are instructed to speak into each other’s lives, especially when our brother is struggling in sin. It is in love that we point out the sin we see and draw our brother or sister’s heart back to the Lord, His good word, and His commandments on our lives. This is how iron sharpens iron.
Let’s look to the New Testament and see how this applies for us in the body of Christ today.
In Colossians 3, God speaks to us through the Apostle Paul about the importance of living a life of faith. We are told, “Put to death what is earthly in you” (Col 3:5). We are told to “put on love” (Col 3:14). We are told to “let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts” (Col 3:15) and, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Col 3:16). And we are told to be “teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom” (Col 3:16).
While biblical teaching is typically preventative, biblical admonition is corrective.
The point we must not miss is that both are focused on the TRUTH of God. We are not just giving our own opinion but lifting up and pointing out what God has given us that is good for us.
If we love God and hold Him high, we will not be indifferent to sin, and we will love each other enough to hold each other accountable and point each other to the truths of God--not occasionally, but regularly. For those who say, “You should just mind your own business.” they are simply not understanding the consistent instruction of God’s word on how we are to admonish and sharpen each other regularly as Christians.
The simple definition of admonish: to warn or reprimand firmly.
One of the best examples we are given of this in Scripture is found in
Galatians 6:1: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, …”
Let’s stop there. So we have a brother or sister in Christ in sin.
Notice something here: We are not to confront non-Christians about sinful behavior because they don’t need accountability to change. They need the power to change, which only comes in Christ. They need Jesus--not reprimand.
A non-believer cannot understand the ways of godly living. Their entire solar system is out of whack.
To become a Christian is to gain a completely new center to your solar system.
It is only through Christ that godly living is understandable and doable.
Admonishment and exhortation is for the family of God. We are the ones who sharpen each other.
Accountability is for a “brother or sister” in Christ who is caught in any transgression or sin.
“Caught” means the person is in a state of blindness somehow in believing they are not out of step with the gospel. They need to be woken from their drunken stupor.
Who should do this restoring?
“… you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness …” (Galatians 6:1).
“You who are spiritual.” Who is that?
This is not saying the spiritual elite, the robe wearers, those who have “tenure” in their faith.
No, you who are spiritual is anyone who is walking in the Holy Spirit that can and should do this.
Why? Because the Spirit will lead and not your pride!
It is someone who is "led by the Spirit" (Gal 5:18), "walk[ing] by the Spirit" (Gal 5:16, 25), and bearing “the fruit of the Spirit" (5:22, 23).
Paul is saying, “If you are walking by the Spirit and, as a result, the fruit of the Spirit is coming out of you, there is work to be done. An assignment that has been given. There are brothers and sisters in Christ who will need your humble, kind, patient service to come alongside them.” This is how God has set the table for us to be able to thrive in the midst of a bloody and hard battle.
What is Paul saying “the spiritual” should do?
The ministry of truth. “… you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness …” (Galatians 6:1).
Restore (in Greek: ka-tart-izo): to return to former condition, to set a dislocated bone back into place.
The goal is to bring the brother or sister back in line with the gospel.
Turn with me to Galatians 2:
Galatians 2:11-14 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, "If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?"
Paul rebuked and admonished Peter (AKA Cephas) for his conduct that was out of step with the gospel. Paul was loving him enough to set the bone straight--to return him to truth. But some of you are thinking, “That is just not me. I just am not comfortable telling someone else they are out of place or out of line.” This is very common! But the Scriptures are clear that declining to act because you are uncomfortable is not an option.
1. Because we are commanded to do so
Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom
Luke 17:3-4 “Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him”
2 Thessalonians 3:13-15 As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good. If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.
Whether it’s a formal process in response to some egregious error or misstep, or the informal, everyday exhortations that are to happen in the life of Christian community, all biblical correction aims at repentance of sin and restoration unto God-honoring righteousness! Let me give a big example of each:
Formal Admonishment, Rebuke, Reproof
Matthew 18:15-20 "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them."
Daily Admonishment, Rebuke, Reproof
Hebrews 3:12-13 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "today," that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
This is no different in my home.
If one of my kids gets too rough with his/her sibling, I admonish or correct that child.
I don’t wait. I don’t ignore it. I need to love them enough to not be lazy or fearful, but to engage them with correction.
If one of my children shows a pattern of sin and no sign of repentance, I bring forth a more formal sit down with that child. If that doesn’t go well, Jennifer and I begin a process of correction. If that doesn’t go well, we go so far as to invite a wider counsel of Christian brothers or sisters, pastors, etc.
Now, many of you are sitting here thinking, “But doing this with my kids or my family is different. I don’t feel that I am in a position or that it is any of my business what my brothers and sisters do in my church.” Let me ask you: Are you hearing yourself?
Your brothers and sisters in your church ARE YOUR FAMILY! Biblically, you can make the argument they are more your family than your unbelieving blood family!
This is what you must see today. The Bible calls us and God commands us to be family: to live out the mutuality, the oneness, the unity of “ONE ANOTHER” that Jesus died for us to have.
It is your business! It is your place. You might ask, “Says who?” Says GOD.
Reason #2 We Should Admonish One Another:
2. Because it is loving and kind to do so!
Any righteous rebuke is a kindness.
Look at Psalm 141:5: “Let a righteous man strike me — it is a kindness; let him rebuke me — it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it.”
David is saying, “It is kindness to be admonished.”
WHY? Because it is not loving to leave people in their sin and in their mess.
One of the most loving things you can do for someone is to tell them when they’re wrong before God.
Proverbs 27 speaks to this as well in verse 6:
Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.
Solomon is saying it is truly more loving to have a friend be faithful and speak truth, even if it hurts, than to be given the kisses (false truths made to look like love) of someone who, in the end, is acting like our enemy. If you love me, you will tell me what I need to hear. If you love yourself, you will lie to me in order to keep our fake friendship.
The truth is it is hard to receive rebuke or admonishment, but many times it is even harder to lovingly give it.
So, the big question that remains is how? How do we sharpen each other and speak truth to each other for the sake of honoring God and maturing in Christ?
1. First, we must tend to ourselves in the word and in prayer.
Jesus gives us instruction on how when He says to first address yourself:
Matthew 7:5 “… first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
Also, Paul gives clear instruction on how one must do this, and it, too, involves addressing oneself:
When helping to restore a brother, “… Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Galatians 6:1).
How do we best address our own heart or the log in our own eye (our sin that could be wrongly driving our desire to rebuke another), lest we, too, be tempted?
We should be studying God’s word and active in prayer.
Jesus says this of the Holy Spirit in John 16:7-8: “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment”
The author of Hebrews says this of the word of God:
Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
God’s word and the work of the Holy Spirit will bring conviction and insight into our sin so we can confess and repent of it. Only then are we in a position to come to our brother/sister with humility, empathy, and integrity; as a fellow combatant of that sin, we can be sure we are not the “pot calling the kettle black” in that particular area.
2. Approach your brother with gospel-centered sympathy/humility.
Whether you’ve “been there” and can empathize with your brother’s/sister’s specific sin or not, you must remember that you needed the cross just as much as he/she did. Both of you at one time stood at the Cross utterly helpless to bring anything good to God. All of your best deeds were like fifthly rags.
This will help you with your posture and demeanor as you approach the brother/sister in “loving humility.”
As much as you’re able, put yourself in their shoes, and consider how to remind them of foundational gospel truths as you seek to open their eyes to some further reality relating to their remaining sin.
Consider the manner in which you’d want to be approached with such an observation. “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them …” (Matthew 7:12).
Be sure you come across with a word of brotherly correction, not condemnation. “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).
3. Pray for their repentance and restoration.
Ephesians 6:18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints
Do not just pray for yourself, but also for them. Never forget that the goal in rebuke is not about being right, but helping others to repent and be restored back to righteous living.
Pray about the moment you confront them or come alongside them: that you would give it sufficient gospel preface, that they would receive your loving correction/counsel, and that, if they resist in the moment, God would soon soften their hearts to hear and receive the truth in your admonishment.
4. Do not wait.
Hebrews 3:12-13 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
Providing a corrective word in loving humility is not only for words and actions that are dead wrong or borderline blasphemous, but when we become aware of some seeming trajectory of evil or falsity.
“The ideal is that we live in such honest and regular community— and speak without delay and receive it with gospel-conditioned thick skin— that mild, gentle words of rebuke and correction are commonplace, that sin is regularly nipped in the bud, rather than given time and encouragement to grow into the tall nasty weed it will become.”- David Mathis
5. Be gentle.
Galatians 6:1: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness”
Warning: As we approach our brothers and sisters in Christ to correct and admonish and restore, our flesh can wrongfully motivate us to do this with pride. Paul warns of this:
Galatians 6:3-5 For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.
Now, don’t miss this!
This is not a warning against correcting and admonishing and restoring a person; it is a warning against doing it arrogantly. He says, "Since we all struggle with pride, make every effort to humble yourself when you point out someone else's sin."
6. Be clear and specific.
When we’ve checked our log, prayed for restoration, and have been quick and kind in addressing the sin, we now should be empowered to not tiptoe around what’s really caught our attention; instead, we should be frank and direct.
Before approaching someone with a corrective word, get it clear in your own mind what you’re observing and how it may be harmful. Bring Scripture that brings clarity. You may want to write a few key words, phrases, or sentences on paper to make sure it’s objective enough to communicate. Have specific examples ready.
Paul’s prayer in Colossians 4:4 is about transparency in speaking the gospel, but it relates as well to correcting our brother:
Colossians 4:4 that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.
7. Follow up.
Finally, plan some way to follow up. If they receive it well, follow up with an email or call or text, and commend that evidence of grace in their life.
If they don’t respond well, follow up with some further expression of love for them; perhaps a reminder that you have nothing to gain but their good, that you’re very happy to be wrong if the correction is pretty subjective, and that you’re praying for them as they consider your observation.
Providing regular, gracious words of correction can seem like such a small thing in the life of the body of Christ, but it is huge. It is how we fight for each other.
It’s so easy just to let little sins go and mind your own business, but the long-term effect of admonishing/sharpening one another in active grace when administered in loving humility can have eternal implications.
As it is said in James 5:19–20, “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”
I pray we truly practice sharpening each other and not just as a good idea or a great logo or theme in our lives, but that we are truly maturing and being sharpened; that we are truly fighting sin and growing in Christ, as we look to make much of His name. May it be so for His glory and each other’s good.