“I did not cease to admonish each one with tears”

When Paul uses this word admonishment, he’s not talking about an angry confrontation because you’re his enemy. This is not what he spent three years doing in the church at Ephesus. They would not be encouraged and he would not bring it up as a reminder if he was constantly losing his temper with them: “I thought I told you…!” This is not admonishment the way that Paul is speaking of it. Not that he spent three years railing on them, treating them as an enemy, but he knew that their experience of his admonishment was filled with his love for them. He’s talking about a love-filled, care-filled warning.

The following is a transcript of a sermon preached June 30, 2013 at ClearNote Church Indianapolis by Pastor Joseph Bayly.

Outline

What admonishment is
To put in mind so that you will be warned
Regarding as an enemy or admonishing as a brother
So that we may present every man complete in Christ
Kinds of admonishment
Public and general
Individual and personal
The heart of admonishment
A sweet, tender, loving desire to see others in right relationship with God
Not to shame, but to admonish as beloved children
With tears
Fathers in the faith who with tears call us to obedience


In our passage this morning Paul uses some hyperbole. Now hyperbole is pretty easy to understand—even you little kids can understand this. Hyperbole is when you say something that’s an exaggeration, just to make a point. So when your mom says to you, “If I’ve told you once I’ve told you a thousand times, don’t jump on the couch!”—that’s hyperbole, because actually she hasn’t told you a thousand times. Eventually, if she repeats that enough times, it will no longer be hyperbole, because it will be literally true that she has told you more than a thousand times.

We all understand hyperbole when it’s used. If I said to you, “I didn’t get any sleep last night,” you would all understand me to mean not that my eyes literally didn’t close in any sleep, but that I didn’t get enough—not nearly enough. I could even be speaking literally, that I did not at all fall asleep last night; but most of the time if I said I didn’t get any sleep last night I would be speaking in hyperbole.

Or maybe you have said or thought or heard somebody say, “I am so hungry I could eat a horse!” So, could you actually eat a horse? No, you’re speaking in hyperbole when you say that. Each of those statements is an example of using hyperbole. We know what they mean, and we know that they didn’t literally mean exactly what they said, but that what they said was true. When your mom says, “If I’ve told you once I’ve told you a thousand times…” she’s speaking the truth: she has told you over and over not to do that, or to do that. And when we say, “I’m so hungry I could eat an elephant!” we’re telling the truth: “I’m really, really hungry!” That’s what we mean.

So Paul says, “Night and day for a period of three years, I did not cease to…” Now, is Paul telling the truth? Night and day for three years he didn’t stop doing something? Yes, he’s telling the truth. But he does not literally mean that for three years he didn’t sleep because he was constantly doing this thing—he’s speaking hyperbolically. We understand what Paul means when he says, “Night and day for a period of three years, I did not cease,” and it’s not that he went without sleep, that he went without food, that he went without water, because he was just constantly doing this one thing. He would be dead. He’s just describing how consistent he was in that one thing. Consistently, constantly, he was about this work, and that work is what we’re going to be focusing on this morning. That work, that one thing that he said that he was giving himself to constantly over the course of the three years that he was with them, was admonishing.

So, let’s read the passage and then we’ll talk about what that means.

What admonishment is

From Acts 20:25-32,

“And now, behold, I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will no longer see my face. Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. “For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God. Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.”

This is the Word of the Lord.

So we’re focusing on the work of admonishment that Paul was doing, that he’s exhorting—admonishing, if you will—the elders in Ephesus to continue on in. And so the first thing I want to do is to go to the Greek for a second. And the Greek for admonish here is nouthetic. Now have any of you heard of nouthetic counseling before? I was flabbergasted when I discovered that the word admonish was the word nouthetic in Greek. Now if you’ve never heard of nouthetic counseling, that’s all right—biblical counseling is probably a better word for it. In fact, a lot of people who are involved in it right now are trying to change the terminology to simply call it biblical counseling. But what’s interesting is that, in my experience with nouthetic counseling and its proponents and how it goes on, no one would be very comfortable with calling it admonishment counseling, and yet that’s the English that we use for the word nouthetic. Nouthetic is just a Greek word, so to call it nouthetic counseling doesn’t communicate very much, so we’ve filled the word nouthetic with some of our own ideas. Now generally speaking, nouthetic counseling is good. But the word nouthetic means admonish.

To put in mind so that you will be warned

So. What does admonish mean? Well again I want to actually go back to the Greek for a second: the word nouthetic literally means to put in mind—to remind you. And along with it is the idea that it’s for a purpose, so that you will be warned. So there’s a very clear connection to making sure that you know and understand—admonishment has a lot to do with your mind. But also it has a lot to do with being warned away from something. You make sure that you put it into your mind, so that you are warned.

Now this is a word that only Paul uses in the New Testament. Paul’s a big fan of it, so much a fan that here in Acts he uses it in this little speech.

In 2 Thessalonians, Paul is writing and telling the church when they ought to avoid certain people, and he concludes this little warning in verse 15 of chapter 3 with this:

Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.

So this is somebody you’re not supposed to spend time with, but you’re not to regard him as an enemy—you’re to admonish him as a brother.

Regarding as an enemy or admonishing as a brother

Even little kids can admonish each other, and we understand when we are being admonished versus when we’re being treated as an enemy. We can tell even when we’re two and three years old whether our older brother is admonishing us or treating us as an enemy. It’s the difference between, “Don’t touch that,” and “DON’T TOUCH THAT!!!” What’s the difference? What’s missing when you’re being treated as an enemy is love. So you little kids, you’ve got brothers and sisters and friends and you can admonish them—and you should—but admonishment means reminding of what they’re supposed to do because you love them, not because you’re angry at them.

When Paul uses this word admonishment, he’s not talking about an angry confrontation because you’re his enemy. This is not what he spent three years doing in the church at Ephesus. They would not be encouraged and he would not bring it up as a reminder if he was constantly losing his temper with them: “I thought I told you…!” This is not admonishment the way that Paul is speaking of it. Not that he spent three years railing on them, treating them as an enemy, but he knew that their experience of his admonishment was filled with his love for them. He’s talking about a love-filled, care-filled warning.

So again, you kids, what does it look like to love your brother? Now we all know there’s all kinds of things that they’re not to do. What are some of the things that your parents have told your siblings not to do? Don’t steal. Don’t punch your brother. So we know there are all sorts of rules. But what are the ones that you remind your brothers and sisters of? The ones that benefit you. Like, “You’re supposed to share!” “You’re not supposed to punch me!” “You’re not the boss of me!” “You’re supposed to mind your own business.” These are the ones that we remember to remind our brothers and our sisters of.

Now adults, we are little children, aren’t we? We do exactly the same thing. We grew up doing it and we’re still doing it. So again, let’s think about this. Tate does both of these things, and all of us have done both of this things. We do love and care for our siblings sometimes, and other times we’re just mad at them and treating them as an enemy, and both of those can flow into a reminder of, hey there’s a rule about this. “Hey, Eliza”—Tate grabs her by the feet, pulls her back, her hands are scraping along the wood floor, you can hear her getting dragged down the hall, because she’s been doing something she’s not supposed to do, and you can hear him admonishing her, sometimes. “Don’t touch that, you’re not supposed to touch that. Mommy, she won’t stop touching it!” It’s an electrical outlet, or a cord or something. It’s his care for her that’s causing that. On the other hand, sometimes, “Don’t grab that from me!” And so the care-filled warning is, “I don’t want you to get hurt, I don’t want you to get in trouble, I don’t want you to get a spanking, I don’t want you to be in pain, I love you! Don’t do that.”

And what is that? That’s putting in mind the rule: “You may not do that: it will not go well with you if you do that.” This is what Paul is speaking of: “Let me help you stop. I will drag you down the hallway by your feet to help you stop.” That’s the type of care that Paul had for the people in Ephesus. Really! That’s a good way of thinking about it: “Let me drag you by your feet away from danger. I don’t want you going there, because I love you. You can’t do that. You have to stop.”

So that we may present every man complete in Christ

What’s Paul’s goal with that? Well it’s flowing out of love, and he describes his goal in Colossians 1:28-29, “We proclaim Him,” speaking of Jesus, “admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom”—now here’s his goal with admonishing—“so that we may present every man complete in Christ. For this purpose also I labor, striving according to his power which mightily works within me.”

What a beautiful picture. What a great understanding of love, what a great demonstration of care. That’s his purpose, that he would be able to present every man complete in Christ.

Kinds of admonishment

Public and general

So what does that mean: “Present every man complete in Christ”? Let’s talk about admonishment as you would see it in Ephesus while Paul was there. There’s a couple different ways that he would be admonishing. One is publically and generally—widespread admonishment. So think about the city of Ephesus and think about the sins of the people in Ephesus generally, and think about what Paul would do in Ephesus. He preached the gospel, and as he was preaching the gospel he would admonish them. How would he admonish them? By putting them in mind, by putting them on alert, reminding them of what the commands of God are that they have broken—specifically to the city of Ephesus. That’s him being an evangelist, being an apostle to the Gentiles, is pointing out the sins of the city where he is. In Athens it looked different than in Ephesus—not because he avoided the sins of Athens when he was in Athens and then he avoided the sins of Ephesus when he was in Ephesus. Quite to the contrary, he brought up the sins of Ephesus when he was in Ephesus. That’s what admonishment means: bringing out those things. And what’s his goal? His goal with public evangelism, which would include admonishing the people of Ephesus in their sins, is that they would repent and turn away from their sins. Because they can never be presented complete in Christ if they are never in Christ in the first place, can they? And so it’s a warning, publicly and generally in evangelism, to turn away from sin and to turn to God.

It can also happen publicly, generally, to a whole group of people, in a church service during preaching to God’s people. And there it’s a little different, but a lot the same—the goal is still to present every man complete in Christ—but now you’re preaching to people who have repented, have believed. Does that make them complete in Christ? No, not yet. There’s still work to be done. And that work is to avoid sins, to be warned against sins that you see—I look around in here and I see, ok, here is this church—preaching to this church is different than preaching when I go to another church. Part of what’s different is I know this church better. I know the sins that we are tempted by more than I know the sins of other churches. And so I admonish this church to leave behind our sins—our particular sins.

This could be any number of things—you know, you want examples of admonishment, and the list can just go on and on. But let’s just take one example: we need to be joyful in the work that we’ve been called to do, and not complain. This is an admonishment. Why do I say that? I say that because I have seen complaining. And so when I say that, it’s specific to this group of people, but it’s also general to this group of people. We like to complain, don’t we? We like to complain about not getting enough sleep, we like to complain about the amount of work we have; we like to complain about how our arm hurts. I like to complain. Is it any surprise that you like to complain? Not to me it’s not, but it is something that needs to stop, because complaining is not helpful to anybody. And as part of us being presented complete in Christ, we have to do away with complaining, with that sin of being dissatisfied in Christ.

So preaching can be general admonishment to the body: we need to stop sinning in this way. It can also be a warning away from a sin that we see is tempting us. It can also be a warning to beware of a particular false doctrine or a particular false teacher that we know there’s susceptibility to. All of these things would fall under admonishment, putting in mind: hey, here is a particular man, a particular false teacher, teaching a particular wrong doctrine that is not just wrong but tempting to us—so avoid it, avoid him, don’t fall into that error. That’s putting in mind a warning, so that we may be presented complete.

Individual and personal

Now we’re all a lot more comfortable with public general admonishment, though. As uncomfortable as it may be for me to stand up here and say “We need to stop complaining,” it’s a lot harder for me to walk up to an individual after the service and say, “You need to stop complaining.” Harder for me to do and harder for you to receive that admonishment. And if you don’t believe me that it’s harder for me to do, then I just want you to know that one of the things that we’re coming to here is that there ought to be admonishment going on between each other, and you will discover how hard it is to admonish if you start trying to do it. So Paul admonished publicly and generally in the whole city and then in the entire church, but then we’re working our way down narrower and narrower, and we remember that he said, “from house to house,” earlier, before our passage, in verse 20. He’s reminding them, he says, “how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house.” We’ve already seen this distinction: publicly and from house to house, publicly and privately, teaching things that we need to hear—well that’s all positive, that’s all well and good, I like to hear things I need to hear, I like to be taught, both publicly and privately in my house—but I’m not quite so sure I want to be admonished publicly and privately. But it’s clear that admonishment is one of those things that we need to hear. And so what does admonishment privately look like? Well, a lot of the same things: turn away from sin. Avoid this particular sin and temptation in your life. Your attitude needs to change, your complaining has got to stop. That’s an admonishment that can be given publicly and generally, and individually and personally. It’s a warning not to fall into sin. You’re in a dangerous position. What are you going to do with all your free time that you just got dumped on your plate? You need to come up with a plan so that you aren’t falling into sin. See, I can’t say that generally, because you all haven’t just had a whole bunch of free time dumped on your plate. But I can say it to some individuals, as an admonishment of particular warning away from sin. “Hey, this is about to be a temptation to you. What are you going to do to make sure you don’t fall into sin? I’m putting it into your mind now, ahead of time so that you don’t fall into sin.”

Particular errors as well, again, can be spoken generally and personally. For example, I can say generally, Don’t fall into the error of believing that God doesn’t care what you do with your body. It’s clear that He cares what you do with your body and with your heart. This is an old heresy, and it’s making a new comeback, so we need to be warned generally about it. But then some of you need particular warnings, particular ways that this is going to be tempting to you. So general, public admonishment and personal, private admonishment look like a lot of the same things: a warning to turn away from sin, to leave sin, not to fall into sin, to avoid temptation, to avoid falling into error in our doctrine, which will also lead to sin.

The heart of admonishment

A sweet, tender, loving desire to see others in right relationship with God

So Paul’s been doing this for three years in Ephesus—and you’d think that they must really be sick and tired of him, that it gets really old, hearing admonishment all the time. And yet it’s obvious from this passage that the church of Ephesus isn’t sick of Paul. They actually really, really love him. They’re very sad that they’re having to say goodbye. And if this is something that he’s been doing constantly, without ceasing, night and day for three whole years, then do you think maybe that has something to do with their love for him? It does. It’s central to what he’s been doing, and so it’s central to their love for him. Why? Because he hasn’t been treating them as his enemy in his admonishment, but it has flowed entirely out of his care for them and his desire for them be presented complete in Christ Jesus. His love for them. And this is why he describes this admonishment further with these wonderful words, “with tears.”

Paul’s admonishment flows out of a sweet, tender, loving desire to see others in right relationship with God. That’s what makes it admonishment as he uses the word. Otherwise it would simply be being an enemy of theirs, and there wouldn’t be this sweet, loving relationship between them, and this sadness at saying goodbye. In 1 Corinthians 4:14-16, Paul writes,

I do not write these things to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me.

Not to shame, but to admonish as beloved children

Paul desires them to be like him, in good ways, because they are his spiritual children. And therefore he’s not correcting them, he’s not admonishing them, he’s not writing this—1 Corinthians is a very intense letter, we read quite a bit of it in Sunday School this morning, and it’s got lots of rebuke, and difficult things are said by Paul; and then here he writes and he says, “I don’t write these things to shame you,” because he knows that the temptation would be to take his admonishment and to think, “Oh, you’re just trying to make us feel bad.” He goes, “No! It’s not about shaming you; it’s about my love for you.” My beloved children.

So what does this mean for us? Well, fathers, here he is, he calls himself a father in the faith to them, and he talks about how he interacts with them, and he talks about how his admonishment works, what it comes from, what his desire is for his children. Now what is your desire as you correct your children. Is it to admonish them as beloved children, or is it to shame them?

This is just constant in our culture today, in the church, outside of the church—we don’t have eyes to see admonishment as anything different than shaming, and so we can’t interpret the difference between the two when we receive one or the other, and we can’t distinguish between how we’re to do correction either. The distinction is lost on us. And so I saw multiple examples yesterday of correction from fathers, literal fathers and figurative fathers, to children, that was either intentionally or unintentionally simply about shaming them, not out of love for them as beloved children. So what I want us to try to do is to get in our minds with fathers—because actually in a lot of ways it’s easier to see in fathers interacting with their children, what is good and proper and right and true, than it is with fathers in the faith, in the spiritual sense—but the one will help us to see the other.

So fathers, when you’re disciplining your children, when they need admonishment, it’s obvious, isn’t it? We can tell, we know they need to be corrected. Now you have a choice. You can act and do something about it because you love them, or you can ignore it. That’s your first choice. Ignoring it is done because you’re lazy and you don’t love them enough to correct them. If our laziness and our desire not to be bothered is the ruling principle for how we interact with our kids, eventually we will move from ignoring them when they need to be corrected to lashing out, blowing up. That will be the progression in our interactions. There will never be any room for tears in either of those. And yet Paul’s admonishment of his children in the faith is with tears.

With tears

Why is it with tears? It’s because he desires that they would be holy. It’s because he loves them. It’s because he does not want them to face the consequences of living sin. It’s because he desires them to avoid God’s wrath and instead to experience God’s blessing. This is what love for others means—that we desire that they would experience God’s blessing rather than His curse. So fathers, your children don’t need somebody who can’t be satisfied, who can’t be bothered to speak into their life until you’re being irritated so much that you have to finally say, “Hey! (whack) You know better than that!” They need somebody who will speak up right at the beginning, with love and tears, saying, “Please obey. You must obey. Because I love you I’m telling you—not because I’m trying to shame you.” Not, “Go stand over there in the corner in front of everybody so they can laugh at you.” Not that we would say that, but that is the type of rebuke that fathers are tempted to give when it’s not coming out of love. Or, “Yeah, I’m sure nobody else minds you being a jerk, I’m sure they won’t beat up on you later when I’m gone…” you know, this is the type of manipulative correction that we’re tempted to give, is to place the corrective weight on everybody else, leave it up to everybody else to actually do the correction. “Well, why didn’t you punch him back?” No, go talk to him. Be a father, a father that loves his children and is willing to admonish them.

Remember this purpose statement of admonishment:

We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me. – Col 1:28-29

Fathers in the faith who with tears call us to obedience

Only those who are truly loving will admonish in this way. Only those who are truly loving can admonish in this way. In 1 Thessalonians 5:11-15, Paul uses the word twice:

Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing. But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and…

…are nouthetic. It says “give you instruction” in the NASB. It’s the same word, admonish. So he requests of the church

…that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and [admonish], and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another. We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people. – 1 Thessalonians 5:11-15

So God gives people to admonish His church. And then He tells us to love them.

Nehemiah 9:30 says,

However, You [God] bore with them [His people] for many years,
And admonished them by Your Spirit through Your prophets,
Yet they would not give ear.
Therefore You gave them into the hand of the peoples of the lands.

So this is what happens when we refuse admonishment: eventually we suffer the consequences of not having heard the admonishment. God is patient with us, sometimes for decades, sending people to admonish us, admonish us, admonish us, and we must hear those admonishments and be thankful for them and respond to God having sent His prophets to admonish His people.

Do we love each other? Do we love each other enough to admonish each other? Do we love each other enough to receive admonishment from each other?—maybe the ultimate test. Yet look at the beautiful fruit that it produces. Here’s God’s promise, if we hear admonishment. From Psalm 81:8-14, God is speaking, He says,

“Hear, O My people, and I will admonish you…”

Like this is a good thing. Listen, and I will admonish you, because admonishment is good—

“…O Israel, if you would listen to Me!
Let there be no strange god among you;
Nor shall you worship any foreign god.
I, the LORD, am your God,
Who brought you up from the land of Egypt;
Open your mouth wide and I will fill it.
But My people did not listen to My voice,
And Israel did not obey Me.
So I gave them over to the stubbornness of their heart,
To walk in their own devices.
Oh that My people would listen to Me,
That Israel would walk in My ways!
I would quickly subdue their enemies
And turn My hand against their adversaries.
– Psalms 81:8-14

Do we want that blessing? We ought to want that blessing—that we would be satisfied with good things from His hand; that we would open our mouth only to have it filled with goodness from God—that He would turn His hand against our enemies and pour out blessings on us.

What does that come from? Obeying His commands. As Christians how are we reminded to obey His commands? By His admonishments that He’s given to us. And this is why when Paul leaves Ephesus and comes traveling back through, the elders walk six miles to the coast to meet him to spend a couple of hours with him, because they love him. Why? Well, because he’s been admonishing them. He has loved them enough to spend three years constantly pouring himself out admonishing them. How could they not love him? Because think of the fruit that comes from that. Think of how beautiful it is, the sanctification, the putting of sin to death that comes in our lives through this sort of admonishment. What a gift it is to have fathers who love us enough to admonish us, to have fathers in the faith who with tears call us to obedience.

This entry was posted in admonishment, courage, faith, gentleness, Let all things be done for edification, love your neighbor, transcripts. Bookmark the permalink.

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