“And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able also to admonish one another” (Romans 15:14, NASB).
Some of the most significant relationships I’ve developed over the years have resulted from experiences in which I’ve had to confront another Christian about his sin It has never been an easy task (I dread it every time). Yet in the end it usually (not always) has been a very emotionally and spiritually rewarding task. Furthermore, it always provides me an opportunity for personal, psychological and spiritual growth. I inevitably end up evaluating my own Christian life-style and frequently discover I need to make some changes too.
There is no greater sign of love than to be willing to risk rejection and broken relationships with others. And if admonishment is done in the right spirit, with the right motive, using an appropriate method, the person who is not living a life worthy of the Gospel of Christ usually senses the risk you’re taking. Though that person may have difficulty acknowledging it at that moment, down deep he really knows. Some day he will probably thank you for your love.
Admonishment-What Is It?
Translators use various words to describe Paul’s injunction to the Roman Christians. As we’ve seen, the New American Standard Bible reads “admonish one another.” Williams uses the phrase “counsel one another.” Beck, the word “correct.” And the New international Version reads: “I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are. . . competent to instruct one another.”
Actually, the word ‘noutheteo’ doesn’t refer to casual communication or normal-type teaching. It implies a definite exhortation, correction, and warning. In the Thessalonian letter, the translators of the New international Version use the word “warn” to describe Paul’s admonishment to Christians who were idle and lazy (1 Thessalonians 5:14; they use the same word in Acts 20:3 1 and 1 Corinthians 4:14).
The exhortation in Paul’s Roman letter (as recorded at the beginning of article) certainly constitutes an appropriate follow-through to his rather intensive instructions to these Christians to “stop passing judgment on one another” (Romans 14:13). Like so many injunctions in Scripture, here is another divine balance unique in religious literature. This should not surprise us because it appears as just another evidence that the Scriptures are truly inspired by God and profitable for doctrine (2 Timothy 3:16).
On the surface, Paul’s instruction to the Roman Christians to “admonish” or to “warn” one another may appear as a contradiction to what he has just emphasized. How can Christians carry out this injunction without “judging”? The answer is inherent in the text-and even more obvious from the total context of Scripture.
The Basis for Being Competent to Admonish
Paul complimented these Christians by letting them know he was thoroughly convinced that they were “competent to instruct [or admonish] one another.” He spelled out why he felt this way:
1> They were “full of goodness.” You are “competent,” Paul said, because you “are full of goodness.” Through this tribute Paul expressed his confidence in their basic spirituality, in their progress in Christian development, and in their righteous and upright lives. In other words, these Christians were able to “admonish one another” because they were, generally speaking, living holy, Christ-like lives. In the words of Jesus Christ Himself, they were mature enough to make sure they removed the “plank” from their own eyes before they tried to remove the “speck of sawdust” from their brother’s eye (Matthew 7:3-5).
Christians who are sensitive about their own walk with God are capable-and responsible-to admonish other Christians. They have earned the right to warn those who display characteristics that violate the direct teaching of Scripture. It is one of the most difficult exhortations to obey, but it is necessary for the body of Christ to mature and grow.
Admonishment, when done according to biblical guidelines, is not “judging others.” One of the first guidelines was spelled out by Paul: make sure you are “full of goodness” yourself. Putting it another way, we must make sure we “clean up our own act” before we try to help someone else “clean up” his.
2> They were “complete in knowledge.” The second requirement for being able to admonish others is an adequate knowledge of God’s Word. Paul commended the Roman Christians for their maturity in this area.
Admonishment must be based upon God’s specific will and ways-not on what we think other Christians should or should not be doing. We must be careful at this point. Many Christians tend to confuse absolutes and non-absolutes. If we exhort Christians in areas that are extra-biblical–areas that are not specifically spelled out in Scripture or specific things that involve cultural standards and practices-then we are in danger of imposing standards contrary to Scripture.
The difference sometimes represents a very fine line. For while engaging in an activity that is not specifically forbidden in Scripture, a Christian may also be doing something that is definitely forbidden in Scripture. For example, the Bible does not specifically forbid reading modern literature, but it certainly warns against exposing our minds to impure and unrighteous things (Philippians 4:8)
Most of us have been through periods in our lives when we attended churches which had rather rigid lists of do’s and don’ts. These had developed over the past 40 to 50 years as responses to cultural and doctrinal changes. Some had definite scriptural basing. Others were simply activities which were rejected by church leaders, especially pastors. Eventually we had to learn for ourselves which were right and which were wrong. Only then could we rightfully admonish others.
Our basis for admonishment, then, must be definitely supported by Scripture. It requires a good knowledge of the Word of God to appropriately admonish. In fact, if we are not learning the Scriptures as we should, we ourselves are in need of admonishment (2 Timothy 2:15).
The Proper Process
Other scriptural examples and exhortations treating the concept of admonishment give us some helpful guidelines for actually carrying out this process.
1> Admonishment must be done with deep concern and love. Paul himself appears in Scripture as an unusual example. When he met with the Ephesian elders on his way to Jerusalem, he exhorted them to be on guard against false teachers. Then he reminded them of their previous relationship. “Remember,” he said, “that for three years I never stopped warning [admonishing] each of you night and day with tears” (Acts 20:31). There was no doubt in these men’s minds that Paul loved them. Paul’s tears were a reflection of his deep concern for these brothers in Christ. In no way could they interpret this process as judging.
2> Admonishment, to be effective, must frequently be personal. This does not mean that there should never be general admonishment. This Paul did himself when writing his letters to various bodies of believers. But note that he reminded the Ephesian elders that he had warned each of them (see also 1 Thessalonians 2:11).
When a particular Christian has a particular problem, some pastors exhort the whole church, hoping the person who is in need of the exhortation is listening. This can be a “cop-out”- a way to avoid personal confrontation. Furthermore, the person on the listening end knows what is happening and resents it. Far better to make such exhortation a private matter. The results will be more rewarding.
Note: The Bible does speak about “public rebuke,” but only after personal confrontation and sufficient evidence of continual sin is given by two or three witnesses (Matthew 18:15-17; 1 Timothy 5:19).
3> Admonishment must be persistent if it is to be effective. Note again that Paul’s admonishment to the Ephesians was “night and day” and for a period of “three years.” Mutual exhortation must be continual. It cannot stop after a brief encounter. The Word of God is filled with a multitude of exhortations, warnings, and instructions. It takes a lot of time to communicate them all-and a lifetime to apply them.
4> Admonishment must be done with pure motives. Again Paul emerges as a supreme example. To the Corinthians he wrote: “I am not writing this to shame you, but to warn [admonish] you, as my dear children” (1 Corinthians 4:14). We must do all we can to avoid embarrassing people-even those who are guilty. This is why personal confrontation should precede public confrontation. If an erring brother or sister is admonished privately and in Christian love, the need for public admonishment is often eliminated.
5> Admonishment must be done with a proper goal. There should be only one basic objective when we admonish others: to help them become more mature in Jesus Christ. Thus Paul wrote to the Colossians: “We proclaim Him, counseling [admonishing] and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all the energy He so powerfully works in me” (Colossians 1:28-29).
6> Admonishment must be a natural outgrowth of proper body function. There are two types of admonishment- preventive and corrective. The Scriptures teach us we are to warn each other to “stay away from sin” (preventive counseling). Thus far we have emphasized primarily the corrective type. But preventive counseling should be consistent in the church as the body of Christ functions as a group. This is what Paul was referring to when he wrote to the Colossians: “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and counsel [admonish] one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16).
Practical Steps for Helping Christians to Properly Admonish Each Other
Step 1 – Every Christian must evaluate his own life before trying to admonish others. The following questions will serve as personal criteria:
A> Can I say my own life is “full of goodness”? That is, am I living a holy and righteous life before God? If I am deliberately violating Scripture, I am not in a position to admonish others. I must first of all deal with sin, in my own life before I am ready to try to deal with sin in someone else’s life.
B> Do I really know what the Bible teaches about godly and righteous living? If I don’t, I have incomplete knowledge. Again, I am not in a position to admonish others.
Note: This does not mean I must know everything there is to know about the Scriptures before I admonish others. However, I must make sure that I really know what the Bible teaches in a particular area before I proceed.
C> When I exhort or admonish another Christian (or Christians), do I do so, reflecting deep love and concern? Or do I come across with a harsh manner and appear to others as if I’m angry? Remember, a Christian who is “able to teach” others is “kind” and “not resentful.” And “those who oppose him he must gently instruct” (2 Timothy 2:24-25).
D> When a Christian needs admonishment regarding specific sins, do I seek that person out in a private setting, rather than use a “pulpit tactic” that makes it appear I’m speaking to everyone? Do I use the crowd to cover up my speaking to only one person?
E> Am I persistent in my admonishment without being obnoxious and overbearing?
F> Do I admonish others-not to tear them down and embarrass them-but to build them up?
G> Do I admonish others for one basic purpose-to help them become complete and mature in Christ?
H> Does our church structure make it natural and easy for all members of Christ’s body to be involved in “mutual exhortation”? Or is the church structured so that only “the preacher” is involved?
Note: Many meetings in churches are not designed for proper body function. There is no opportunity for corporate sharing and “body life.” Everything is so tightly programmed and structured that spontaneous instruction and counseling by members of the body cannot take place. If this is true in your church, you need to carefully evaluate your structure and make appropriate changes.
These questions apply in a specific way to Christian parents who are responsible to admonish their children regarding a proper Christian life-style. If you are a parent (or are planing to be one), re-read the above questions from the perspective of a parent. How do you measure up? Are you indeed qualified to admonish your children? If not, remember you cannot suddenly become a “non-parent.” Your only choice is to become qualified.
The same applies to every member of Christ’s body. Because we are not qualified to admonish others does not exempt us from the responsibility. Rather, we are responsible before God to become mature in Christ so we in turn can help others become mature in Christ.
A Word of Encouragement: Remember that the Roman Christians were not perfect, and there were problems in the church. Some people were weak, others were strong. Both the weak and the strong were judging one another. Otherwise, Paul would not have had to “admonish” them about this matter. But even with these weaknesses, Paul said: “And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able also to admonish one another” (Romans 15:14, NASB).