Grab your Bible, and let’s go deeper into 2 Thessalonians.
Today, I want to talk about the biblical command to admonish one another. The simple definition of admonish is to warn or reprimand firmly.
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.
Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom …
Luke 17:3 Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him
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 or 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 might be 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 in Christ do.” Let me ask you, “Are you hearing yourself?” Your brothers and sisters in Christ are your family! Biblically, you can make the argument that your Christian brothers and sisters are more your family than your unbelieving, blood family! This is what you must see today. The Bible calls us—God commands us to be family and to live out the mutuality, the oneness, and the unity of “one another” that Jesus died for us to have.
It is your business to admonish. It is your place to admonish. You might ask, “Says who?” Says, God!
For those who say, “But these things don’t feel good,” or “They don’t seem loving.” Does the Bible sit under the authority of your feelings, or should your feelings sit on the authority of the Bible? Our feelings are not our God—God is!
Any righteous rebuke is a kindness.
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 …
He is saying it is kindness to be admonished. Why? Because it is not loving to leave people in their mess. One of the most loving things you can do for someone is tell him when he is wrong.
There were Christian brothers God had put in my life in my late teens when I was tempted into sin. I was in an unhealthy relationship; my flesh was leading and not God. They fought for me, even if it cost them our relationship. They loved me enough to stand for truth instead of letting me swim in sin.
The truth is it is hard to receive rebuke or admonishment, but many times it is even harder to lovingly give it. However difficult it may be, if we really believe that we all are sinners, and that unchecked sin leads to pain, misery, and eternal destruction, then love will compel us to give the gift of loving reproof.
It is sad when family members do not understand the biblical foundation on which this practice is built. Unfortunately, some will roll it up when faced with biblical admonishment. There will be some who decide to walk when it gets uncomfortable. This is not a reason to be disobedient to this command. Even if they walk, you must see that it is unloving to not admonish a brother’s sin. There is no reason to avoid it or justify not doing it. We are commanded to do it. The big question is how?
Just because we are commanded to fight for truth and hold each other accountable to the word doesn’t mean we always do it right or well. This is surely an area in which we all can grow. Let me give us seven practical ways to admonish one another.
1. Admonish yourself first in the word and in prayer
Jesus gives us instruction how to do this 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 how one must do this, and it, too, involves addressing oneself. In Galatians 6:1, it says when helping to restore a brother, “… Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.”
How do we best address our own heart lest we be tempted or hindered by the log in our own eye (our sin that could wrongly be driving our desire to rebuke another)? By studying God’s word and being 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 and empathy, as a fellow combatant of that sin, and with integrity that we are not “the pot calling the kettle black” in that particular area.
2. Come with gospel-centered sympathy and humility
Whether you’ve “been there” and can empathize with his/her 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. “… 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 the goal in your rebuke is not about being right but about helping them to repent and be restored back to righteous living.
Pray about the moment you confront them, that you would give it sufficient gospel preface, that they would receive your loving correction, and that if they resist in the moment, God would soon soften their heart 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 also 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 Matthis
Wisdom tells us that if it is a Matthew 18 formal reproof, then you plan for the right time. If it is a daily, out of step, then don’t wait. Love them enough to call them out.
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 …
A 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 in a prideful manner. Paul warns the Galatians 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 not to tiptoe around what has 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, “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, 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.
I bring this to you today because our faithful practice of these things is what God has called us to in His word. It’s so easy just to let little sins go and mind your own business. But the long-term effect of admonishing 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.”