It’s Sunday morning and Leroy doesn't want to get out of bed.
Leroy whines to his mama, “Mama, give me three good reasons why I should go to church!” Mama replies, “Boy, I’ll give you three good reasons…”
1. It's good for your soul.
2. You're 54.
3. You're the pastor!
Yes, that big boy needed some admonishment. And yes, pastors need it just as much as anyone else. Problem is, what we do need is too often what we don’t want. And isn’t that how we view admonishment?
Admonishment sounds heavy-duty, or even heavy-handed, but it’s really not. Our reticence to give or receive admonishment is vastly amplified in a culture bent on coddling — never judging, never wanting to offend. Yet we take offense so easily. One observer of culture writes:
“We end up held hostage by taking offense. It's rarely asked whether such offense is warranted or whether it even matters. No, if there is offense, there must be an offender. And offenders are always wrong. We live in an emotionally fragile culture. We are in touch with every hurt — past, present, and perceived. We are the walking wounded and we want everyone to know. Which is too bad, because when people are genuine victims — profoundly, egregiously wronged — they deserve not to be lumped in the same category with those who got picked last for kickball or turned down for their church's ‘special music.’ As Christians, we worship a victimized Lord. We should expect to suffer and should have particular compassion on those who hurt emotionally and physically. But we do not resemble the Suffering Servant when we take pains to show off our suffering. In general, we are tempted to gain the culture's approval by playing the culture's offense-taking game. If a law is broken or a legitimate right taken away, let us protest with passion. We have no reason to be anxious, every reason to be joyful, and fewer reasons than we think to be offended” (Why are We So Offended All the Time? Pastor Kevin DeYoung).
We need God’s Word on the matter. What, then, is biblical admonishment?
With excellent translations and study tools available, knowledge of the original languages is not essential for our understanding of biblical words. But a little Greek and Hebrew doesn’t hurt as we explore the meaning of…
Hebrew: duplicate or repeat
(by implication) give warning
The idea here is that if you need to repeat something it carries the weight of a much-needed warning or correction.
Greek: put in mind
(by implication) to caution or reprove gently; warn, exhort
Here we find that repetition or strong counsel serves to plant the idea in the brain for future right response.
Now we discover the origin of our English word admonition, with the idea of giving a warning to someone who needs it.
1. Expressing disapproval or criticism.
2. To tell or urge (someone) to do something.
At last, we reach our common usage, and perception, of what it means to admonish someone — and we don’t like it.
Considering definition #1 above, who wants someone else’s disapproval and criticism? Not me, I’ll guarantee you. It’s like scowling, shaking your head, and saying, “Bad boy!” to your child that needs correction.
But definition #2 is an improvement. It reaches further back to the original meaning as we might have need to urge others to action, or be urged to action by another. It’s more like pausing, smiling, and saying, “Son, I know you can do better.”
Now, you’ve probably had a bad experience trying to admonish someone — it makes you gun shy, doesn’t it? You’ve concluded it doesn’t work and have drifted to talking about rather than talking to someone needing correction.
I had trouble with that as an associate pastor. My boss the senior pastor was a great guy and a gifted Bible teacher who, over several painful life circumstances, lost his vision to lead. I scrambled to fill the leadership gaps, but increasingly, church folk complained to me about his shortcomings. I pointed them to him, but none were willing to go. Some grew angry and left the church. When I tried to admonish my friend and senior colleague to buck up and step up to his calling, he felt that I had turned against him. Very sadly, he left the ministry.
Sound familiar? This scenario, or something like it, is all too common in our broken society, and far too common in the Body of Christ. You know the sound of our relational brokenness.
“It won't do any good to talk to her/him.”
“It would only make things worse.”
“Oh no, I've had that backfire on me too many times.”
“It's not my place to interfere.”
Again — and take this to heart this time — instead of talking to the person about the problem, we talk about them to others, carry unforgiveness, distance in friendship, distance in fellowship, and wind up critically weakening the Body.
Oh my, is there any good news for us? Indeed, there is always good news because of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the truth of God’s Word, and the convicting power of the Holy Spirit. Consider Paul’s letter to the Romans:
“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Now I myself am confident concerning you, my brethren, that you also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another” (Romans 15:13-14, NKJV).
What? They were "able” to admonish one another?
You mean to say the Roman church was good at this? Considering all the ways Paul needed to censure the first-century congregations, here was something they were actually getting right!
Ask yourself: Could Paul write this about me; my congregation; my circle of friends? If not, it’s time for corrective action, and the place to start is by learning to receive admonishment.
Instead of learning how to dish out corrections, I need to learn to take it. This requires humility, and our Lord Jesus is pleased to help us get to that place.
In my role as Chaplain, I have the privilege of caring for and speaking into the lives of our amazing employees at Christian Care Ministry. I recently reached out to one of our senior executives to see how I could pray for him. His prayer request concerned carrying the heavy burden of leadership responsibility with its negative impact on his family life.
Next thing you know, I found myself admonishing him. Not by definition #1, disapproving, criticizing, but by number 2, urging him to make a correction.
What do you suppose enabled me (as someone who tends to clam up around high-level authority) to bring a correction to my highly respected superior? Simple…
I could only deliver an admonishment because he was in a place to receive it. And that’s the only way this thing works. We humble ourselves — He lifts us up, even though a strong word of correction is humbly received.
Having this example, let me admonish us straight from Scripture…
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another… in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Colossians 3:16).
We have the word of Christ — so read your Bible, often.
Let it dwell in you richly — abundantly, overflowing, coming out of you for others’ sake.
In all wisdom — God’s gift from above for every circumstance. Wait until you get it, and then…
Teach and admonish others — teaching is explaining to your little girl what a street it is; admonishing is exhorting her not to play in that street.
Singing with grace in your heart — worshippers glorify God and build up others.
Let me also admonish us to receive the loving correction we need from those having spiritual authority in our lives
“And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. Be at peace among yourselves”(1 Thessalonians 5:12).
Let’s remember, that it takes authentic humility to receive admonishment. You may not have it when the correction first comes, but you can get it later; the admonishment will wait for you.
It’s the same when you admonish someone else. Leave it with them, pray for them, love them; you don’t need to fix them.
And finally — I have to share this, and I hope this does not offend:
“He who hates correction is stupid” (Proverbs 12:1b).
As a Chaplain on the CCM Spiritual Development team, Bill Adams helps to strengthen employees in their faith through rich Biblical teaching and compassionate care. Bill is also known as a bridge-builder within the Jewish community and an advocate for Israel among the church. He and his wife, Lizzie have 7 grown children and soon-to-be 15 grandchildren.