Admonition in the Church
Introduction : Years ago, I took a class in seminary entitled, Biblical Counseling with Dr Tim Seal. I took it because during my ministry as a Student Pastor at Ellendale Baptist, I felt ill-equipped with the biblical counseling cases that I faced among teens and their parents. I heard from fellow student pastors/ pastors who were constantly referring their counseling cases to physiologists in the area instead of dealing with the issues inside the church. Pastors at that time, including myself felt ill-equipped and scared to handle big counseling cases out of fear of legal ramifications. I knew this was wrong to send people elsewhere but I was convinced by those older ministers that these issues needed professional attention.
This outside referral saddened me because I believed that the Lord Jesus was the greatest authority to speak on these matters. During my study in seminary, with the help of one particular author, I learned a great truth that has carried on through my pastoral ministry....the Bible is sufficient to counsel the souls and lives of people. At the time, this author that I was referencing opened my eyes to Biblical counseling, or more specifically, Nouthetic Counseling. His name was Jay Adams. Dr. Adams revived the biblical counseling movement in ministry in the last 50 years. We read some of his works in my class in seminary and I was hooked. His main thesis of his ministry is two-fold:
1. God’s word is sufficient to handle the problems of people in this world.
-Dr Adams does not discount medical issues that occur in people that need medical attention but he is careful, even more today, if he was still alive, to consider
2. Anyone trained in the Scriptures can counsel others to look to Christ.
“Not every problem is essentially a biblical problem.” This is the argument that is given by those who oppose Biblical counseling. In other words, they would say for example, that counseling can include the sciences as long as you mix in Christian values and teachings. But this integrationist style of counseling often promotes psychological therapies as alternatives to the prioritized word of God that biblical counseling offers. In other words, there is biblical counseling and there is Christian counseling. Christian counseling is a person claiming to be a Christian, using psychological principles and the Bible to counsel the human heart.
In his book, A Theology of Biblical Counseling, Heath Lambert makes this statement,
“Counseling is a theological discipline. If you have continued to read beyond that first sentence, you have already completed the most controversial part of this book…Most people do not assume the theological nature of counseling...Most believe that theology is to ministers what psychology is to counselors and the two really do not have much to do with each other.”
-Heath Lambert, A Theology of Biblical Counseling, Pg 12-14
Biblical Counseling or Nouthetic counseling is the practice of realizing that all human problems can be addressed by the Bible in some way and therefore the Word of God and the Holy Spirit is central to that counseling. The foundation of Nouthetic or Biblical Counseling is rooted in the word of God. Its foundation centers around the command in Scripture to Admonish. Its the GK word NOUTHETEO. This is the central theme of this book of Corinthians and really all of Paul’s letters. He is admonishing the saints in Corinth, Ephesus, Thessalonica, Galatia, Philippi, and Rome. Look with me briefly at a few passages by Paul to the churches that reveal that admonition is a spiritual practice of the Christian life.
Colossians 1:28 (NASB95)
28 We proclaim Him, admonishing (“warning” ESV) every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.
In Colossians, Paul states that as he proclaimed Christ to the church, he was also admonishing or warning people to turn towards Christlikeness and teaching them the Word as to light the darkened roadway with a light. They needed a course correction and Paul’s admonishment was the loving correction and proper instruction to warn and instruct them to head towards what God commanded. This admonishment which includes teaching God’s word, is the effort all Christians need to be complete in Christ. This verse is pivotal as we consider the role of admonishment in the life of every believer.
Admonition in the church then is not for those rare cases when problems arise and formal counseling is needed. Admonishment is needed for all of us as believers if we are to grow in Christ. Paul uses the same GK term NOUTHETEO for earthly fathers to raise their children up in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord.” The admonition is necessary for the growth of children into maturity and admonition in the church is just as necessary beyond our adolescent years.
Look at another verse with me,
Romans 15:14 (NASB95)
14 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 (“instruct” ESV) one another.
Now notice Paul uses the same GK word here to the Romans that reveal that as Christians, we are called to admonish one another. That means that as Christians, it is our duty to participate in the spiritual development of one another by admonishing each other with the word of God. Notice Paul commends the Romans for being filled with knowledge and able to admonish each other. This requires God’s church to be equipped to know and apply God’s word to life situations and struggles. There is great training out there like the training by ACBC that Adam just completed, that is not just for pastors for the church to be equipped to admonish one another.
It is our duty to play that role in the life of church. What are the components of admonishment in the life of the believer? This is what Paul shows us in our passage today. This is a helpful case study that Paul gives us to see how each of us, not just pastors, but all believers can faithfully admonish one another.
First notice with me Paul’s summart statement which really wraps up his argument for 4 chapters now about the division and factions in Corinth,
14 I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children.
Here in v 14, you have the same term, NOUTHETEO as Paul’s main pastoral work toward the Corinthians. He is not giving up on their spiritual work. He is not walking away from them because they cannot be helped. He is admonishing them in Christ because he trusts the work of the Word of God and the Holy Spirit is key to radical change in a persons life.
Personally, before we look at the components, biblical counseling in the church all comes down to your believe in the sufficiency of Scripture. Is the Bible sufficient to handle the situations of a persons life and well-being?
Again quoting from Heath Lambert,
Understanding that counseling requires some vision of life is crucial to understanding the theological nature of counseling. The reason is that such a vision of reality is always theological. God defines what it is to be a human being, and he describes that in his Word. God knows what is the solution to our problems-faith in Christ- and reveals him to us in the Scriptures.
God authorizes a process of transformation and shows us what it looks like in the pages in the Old and New Testaments....We are who God says we are. What is wrong with us is what God says is wrong with us. There is no solution to our problem and no process of change other than the one God has provided.”
Let’s look at what Paul teaches in God’s word about the process of admonishment in the church.
1. Addressing Sin
1. Addressing Sin
If the church is be holy, it must address sin and not ignore it. This will be the theme of every subject that Paul writes about in this letter to Corinth. Paul summarizes his argument in chapter 4 about the divisions in the church. He said the overarching sin that needs to be addressed is PRIDE. Pride and arrogance in man’s ability and man’s knowledge and wisdom has been the subject of our study for many weeks now. Paul summarizes the sin that is being addressed in the verses of our study today. He mentions arrogance and pride as the root of sin. Its not the tip of the iceberg. The tip of the iceberg in Corinth was the division and disunity. But the danger floating under the surface was much larger.
Look with me in v 6-11
6 I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. 7 For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? 8 Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you! 9 For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. 10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. 11 To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless,
Paul transitions from his explanation of being ministers of the gospel in v 1-5 to how he demonstrated those components among the people of Corinth. He urged them to consider their own lust for going beyond “what was written” which means that they were moving towards the direction of Christian living that moved beyond what was written in the Scriptures. Paul warns them of this as the reason that they are guilty of pride and arrogance. When we move beyond what God’s word states and move into a confidence in our own wisdom and our own work, we have fallen into the same sin of Adam and Eve.
Paul is faithful then to expose the darkness within them and he identifies that dark sin as pride in v 6, 8, 18-19.
vs 6,18, 19 Paul calls them inflated or puffed up because that is the visual explanation of what arrogance does to us in our sin. Our arrogance leads us to be inflated in our own confidence in self while humility is the deflated self that is resting upon Christ as a solid foundation.
Paul asks pointed and yet rhetorical questions in 7 which really highlight the problem of their hearts. These questions serve as great examples of a pastor getting to the “heart of the matter” with those who are being admonished. He asks:
7 For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?
Notice the 3 questions, one in relationship to their superiority, one related to their entitlement, and one related to their self-worship.
The Corinthians had fallen into a pride of superiority. In some way their arrogance had led them to think that whatever knowledge they had, they attained such wisdom in their strength and that made them better than others. Instead, a true Christian sees the blindness of man without the transformation of the person by the HS. That is why Paul stated that the “natural man does not understand the spiritual things of God.”
Also, that pride led them to a sense of entitlement. Not only did they think they attained such great wisdom but that they were entitled to such things. Paul asks, “what do you have that you did not receive?” God has blessed all believers with spiritual wisdom and insight. He has provided all that is necessary for us to be saved through the death and resurrection of his Son. Who are we to think we deserve or are entitled to anything?
Paul further highlights their pride of entitlement in v 8
8 Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you!
This Paul speaking with sarcasm about the so called greatness that the Corinthians had thought they attained in themselves. Its their pride overflowing!
The final question, draws attention to the great snowball of human pride, a failure to give credit and thankfulness and worship to whom it belongs. Paul states, why do you boast as if you didn’t receive it? The pride that Paul is admonishing the Corinthians about led them to a failure to give thanks for what God has done for them and in them. It’s the rind of the rotten fruit of self-worship.
17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
Paul admonishes the sin of pride that has led the Corinthians to worship themselves and thank themselves for gifts that were given to them by God alone. That is misplaced worship. That is idolatry of the human heart!
When we consider them Paul’s ministry to the Corinthians as someone to loves and cares for them, the greatest gift that he can give them is ....TRUTH. He starts withe exposing the truth of their sin because when we love and care for someone, that is what they need. The body of Christ needs sin exposed as it leads us to confront that which is unholy in us and therefore move towards repentance in Christ.
2. Loving Correction
2. Loving Correction
Paul does not just expose what is wrong in his beloved people, but in his own way, he points them to truth. He continues with some sarcasm to communicate that but notice the instruction that He gives them in v 9-13. By comparison, he compares the state of true servants of Christ with the arrogance of sinful people.
True servants of Christ are not superior in this world. Instead, in v 9 Paul states that the apostles, placed on the “theatre of the world (spectacle comes THEATRON where we get ENG theatre). On this stage for the world to see, servants of Christ like the apostles are men condemned to death. He thens makes the comparisons in 10-13
True Servants for Christ: Fools for Christ’s sake, weak, without honor, hungry and thirsty, poorly clothed, roughly treated, homeless, reviled, laboring hard, persecuted, slandered, scum of the world, dregs of all things.
Arrogant Corinthians: Prudent in Christ, strong, distinguished
Paul is informing them of the true nature of the Christian living in this world of evil and sin. Christ has gained the victory in his death and resurrection, but all believers can boast in is Christ and all that we are promised is blessings in the life to come and confidence that Christ will sustain us until the end and into eternity.
This instruction is the true reflection of Christ who first suffered and then entered into glory. Why should a believer in Jesus think his life and his future on this earth will be any different than that of which their Lord endured? Instead, Paul admonished them to turn from arrogance and pride and turn to a state of humble dependence and thankfulness in all that Christ has done and what He has accomplished for us.
This second step of admonition is the “teaching with all knowledge” that we all need as people come alongside us to lovingly bring us back to see Christ in all his glory. This is Paul’s plea and the foundation of the work of admonishment in the church. Love fuels our work of admonishment with one another. Loving correction involves truth and gentleness built on the foundation of a relationship which unites us in Christ. We are a family first because Christ united us in Him. That family has experienced love in Jesus when he shows grace to undeserving sinners and dies for them on the cross. He gives of himself sacrificially unto death so we can be free.
As we are united to him in death and resurrection, so we then are transformed to live in sacrificial love towards others. That love is the foundation for our admonition with others. I love you enough to confront sin and lead you in loving Biblical correction. Paul stated,
14 I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. 15 For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
Admonition is not about shame, its about change for the glory of Christ. Sin causes shame and left alone, shame will build a grow like a virus. But admonition in the church is the vehicle to bring glory to God and reconciliation between God and man. Love fuels that change as Paul states. He was their spiritual father and they were his children. This familial language is similar to our brother and sister language. We admonish one another because we are family and we love one another.
Moving toward Christlikeness
16 I urge you, then, be imitators of me. 17 That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church.
Paul concludes his exhortation with a command to be imitator of him. Taken by itself, this statement could appear as arrogant but in its context, he is stating that Christlikeness is the goal of all believers. Imitating Paul as he has conducted himself in Corinth is an example of how one should live their life. He shared Christ, lived humbly, started the church, helped and them grow in Christ in their sanctification. Imitating Paul in this way is simply imitating what Jesus demonstrated in his earthly ministry. This is why Paul sent timothy to carry on the ministry of teaching and preaching so that the Corinthians would reflect Christ in their life. Timothy also would demonstrate Christlikeness to Corinth just as Paul demonstrated it to them.
Therefore, the final step in admonition is to urge our fellow brothers and sisters to not just understand their sinful state, but to instruct them in the Scripture and urge them towards a repentance towards their sin and faithfulness in moving towards Christlikeness.
In the end of our lives on this earth, whether when Christ returns or we are called home in death, we will be able to look back and see how the people of God played a vital role in our spiritual growth. Jesus calls his church to faithful admonition of one another so we all grow in maturity in Christ. Each one of us are sinful and need to grow. Each one of us, when equipped with the word of God can admonish our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Be faithful church to admonish one another as Paul admonished the corinthians for the glory of Christ. Our vision as elders, is to see many of our people trained in biblical counseling, admonishing one another to grow in spiritual maturity. Let me invite you to take up the cause so you may give biblical admonition as Christ purposed the church to do.