We are on the last week of our Precept study of 1 Thessalonians and I sat down to do my work this morning with a heavy heart. Yesterday was full of struggles with our little one. The latest struggle is one which I feel much less than equipped to walk her through. I have been at pains to figure out how to teach her truth, with the patience necessary to await her brain to make new connections and then change the behavior.
And, honestly, after my study this morning, I am still not sure of the answers to these concerns. But I found encouragement and hope in doing a word study of “admonish the unruly” from 1 Thessalonians 5:14. One of the ways to cement truth into my heart is to do a synthesis of what I have learned. I thought I would share my synthesis with you, I hope it is encouragement for the parent who is weary of admonishing, or unsure of even how to admonish their little ones.
First, two definitions.
admonish (3560) – noutheteo (from 3563 nous – mind, understanding, reason) – admonition, used of instruction and warning. It is a warning based on instruction, not the mere imparting of truth; but the next step of reproof based on a pre-established understanding of truth.
unruly (813) – ataktos (from 1- a negative prefix and 5002 taktos – ordered) – out of order, out of place; a military term denoting not keeping rank, insubordinate, disobedient
Second, a note about the verbs in this passage:
All the verbs in this passage are present imperative active. This means they are commands to do something in the future which involves continuous and repeated action. Wuest translates it, “be admonishing those who are rebellious.”
And third, the cross-references for this word admonish: Acts 20:31, Romans 15:14, 1 Corinthians 4:14, Colossians 1:28; 3:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:12; and 2 Thessalonians 3:15.
Here are the things I learned about admonishing the unruly that apply to the parenting of a precocious three-year old:
1. Take the long view and patiently admonish
Paul speaks of admonishing the elders of the church at Ephesus for 3 years in Acts 20. Proverbs 28:23 tells us “he who rebukes a man will afterwards find more favor than he who flatters with the tongue.” The length of time for the desired result can vary, but the instruction and admonishment must be done.
Paul built a foundation of truth with the church at Ephesus. Then he admonished them to walk in that truth. As a parent, I need to lay the foundation of truth and then encourage, with all patience and diligence, walking in that truth. If Paul continued to admonish for years with a group of regenerate adults, I cannot expect this admonishment will be complete after one conversation with my little ones.
2. Able admonishment is the result of the Holy Spirit
In Romans 15: 13, Paul sums up his teaching on the unity of the church with a prayer that “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.” He goes on in verse 14 to say he is convinced those believing people are “full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to admonish one another.”
The power of the Holy Spirit has filled us with goodness and knowledge so we are able to admonish one another. My walking by the Spirit will help me to admonish my children well, with goodness and with knowledge of what is right. Trusting and leaning wholly on him in the moment of conflict, in the moment requiring admonishment will equip and fill me to do this.
3. Admonishment is a natural parenting instinct
Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 4 of the relationship he has with those he led to the Lord in Corinth as a parent-child relationship. He says (in verse 15) “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.” And he says, “I do not write these things to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children” (verse 14). The natural instinct of a loving parent is to admonish, to teach, to train, to warn. It is based on the desire for good in the life of the child, not to bring shame onto the child.
4. Admonishment has a goal in mind
Just as I said above: admonishment requires patience and a long view. There is a goal in mind. There is a reason to demonstrate patience and look ahead. In Colossians 1:28, Paul says he proclaims Christ, “admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, that we may present every man complete in Christ.” The goal is completion in Christ (sanctification, holiness); and admonishment is the guard of the path.
My goal in parenting is that our girls learn to love Jesus and walk in Him. If I am to meet this goal, I must admonish them (with wisdom), “striving according to His power, which works mightily within me.”
5. Admonishment is marked by the Word of God
The Bible has much to say about how to live life. But it has very little to say about table manners and how to dress. The things about which I admonish my girls must be based on the Word of God. They must be clearly taught in the Word of God – not my preferences or opinions. Since I am to lead them in truth with the goal that they learn to love Jesus and walk in Him, I have to give them truth, the truth of the Scriptures.
Paul instructs me in Colossians 3: 16 to “let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another…” If I am going to impart the Word of God to my girls, I have to get it in me first. And if I am going to admonish them rightly, I must admonish according to the Word.
6. Admonishment can carry a tune
Continuing the verse in Colossians 3:16, Paul says, “teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” As I study God’s Word, there is always something new, something surprising, something life-altering (thanks to the work of the Holy Spirit to constantly teach me). This morning it was this verse.
This verse opened a door to my ability to reach my girls in new ways: music. Music gets their attention, music affects them. As a result, I can seek out songs, hymns, and spiritual songs to help teach and cement truth in their hearts. I can teach them without sitting them down and having a talk!
I am still trying to wrap my mind around all this means for my girls and me as we walk through our days. But I will say, I know this to be true in my own life. The countless songs I have in my heart that teach and admonish me in the Word of God are evidence of God’s ability to reach into the very heart of man with truth.
7. Admonishment comes from a friend and brother
Proverbs 27:6 tells us that “the wounds of a friend are faithful.” And 2 Thessalonians 3:15 tells us that we should “admonish…as a brother.” It is the closeness of familial and friendly bonds which create the opportunity for admonishment. It should be noted these bonds should be marked by love, gentleness, and patience.
Although we do not have perfect relationships in this fallen world, the admonishment spoken of here between brothers and friends is based on a redeemed relationship – one that is “in the Lord.” As such, we have a higher standard for expressing our love, and a higher standard for the gentleness with which we admonish one another.
8. Admonishment is swift and keeps short accounts
Ecclesiastes 8:11 tells us when “a sentence against an evil deed is not carried out swiftly…the hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil.” My girls have a little time in their rooms each morning, after they wake up and before I go in to get them. It can be anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes, depending on when they wake up. And my oldest girl has a tendency to run around the room, flitting from one “no-no” to another (we have a camera to watch them). In turn, my youngest is encouraged in the practice of “no-nos” and by the time I get in there, there is a laundry list of things to go over with them again.
My mother’s heart was struck by this verse because I have been allowing them to accumulate “no-nos,” increasing my frustration, and their need for many admonishments. They know not only the standard (the rule), but they also know disobedience has consequences. But when they see one “no-no” go through without correction, they are encouraged to do another…and another. Giving my girls the space to play freely is not the bad thing; not correcting and admonishing as they go is. I need to keep short accounts on “no-nos” with the girls. And use each opportunity to correct behavior along the way.
9. Admonishment is marked by gentleness
Galatians tells us we (who are spiritual) are to “restore…in a spirit of gentleness, each one looking to yourself, lest you too become tempted.” This instruction comes just after the discussion of the qualities of the fruit of the Spirit, including “patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. The admonition of my girls should be characterized by gentle words, spoken with self-control.
Exasperation, frustration, and angry eyes are all too often my default with my girls. God is so good to reveal in His Word just how short I fall of this. And to give me admonishment and hope that I can speak gently to my girls even in the midst of their disobedience. I need to remember to walk by the Spirit in my admonishment (see number 2).
10. Admonishment is private when accepted, public when ignored
This is another shocker of my study. It seems everyone knows the Matthew 18 passage on restoration (especially the church discipline part). But as I was reading it again today, I noticed the privacy afforded one who sins. Jesus goes on to discuss what happens when the sinner does not respond to the private rebuke (1651 – to convict, to prove one in the wrong, thus to shame him).
Let it be our hope that as we admonish correctly, we see an immediate response. Thus we can keep the matter private and not make the sinner an object of public shame. Shame is not the motivation for one to admonish a brother; we should not desire to shame anyone. It is the public display of one’s folly that causes shame. Let us pray we shall admonish correctly and with the correct motives (for restoration in right-living) as an encouragement to the one admonished to accept it.