True Love Instructs, Corrects, and Warns: A Plea for Churches to Admonish One Another

June 9, 2016

The word is the same; but contexts couldn’t be any more different.

In countless ad campaigns “love” is the word of choice: “I love you man.” “I’m loving it.” “Love is on.” “For the love of the game.” In these various commercials contexts, love becomes an economic commodity or an ephemeral catch-phrase. By contrast, in Scripture “love” defines who God is (1 John 4:8), summarizes the law (Romans 13:8), motivates God to sacrifice his son (John 3:16; Romans 5:10), impels our evangelistic efforts (2 Corinthians 5:14), and so much more.

Whereas the world defines love in any number of ways—rather, it doesn’t define love; it simply uses it as a cipher to get whatever it wants—the Bible secures love in God’s covenant faithfulness and the shed blood of Jesus Christ. More to the point, love can be wrong according to the Bible. The man who loves creation more than the Creator is an idolater (1 John 2:15–17); and the man who loves to drink from his own broken cisterns invites the wrath of God (Jeremiah 2:13).

Against a culture that says, “If you love me, you will accept me and never question me,” the Bible says “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). In the Bible, love does not gloss over sin; it teaches sinners they need pardon for their sin and that—miracle of miracles!—God has provided that in Jesus Christ. Because God hates evil and evil-doers (see Psalms 5:5; 11:5), he teaches that genuine love cannot turn a blind eye to sin, it must rejoice with the truth (1 Corinthians 13:5).

Accordingly, those who claim to know him will embrace his truth and willingly speak to one another with loving correction. In short, love corrects, instructs, warns, and admonishes. But what does that look like? The idea is so foreign to modern versions of love. How do we lovingly admonish one another?

Admonish One Another

Though only used eight times in the New Testament—all by Paul (7x in his Epistles; 1x in Acts)—the word “admonish” (noutheteō) lays a special charge on believers. While only commanded as “admonish one another” in two places (Romans 15:14 and Colossians 3:16), the command is implied in all its uses, with especial consideration for leaders. To get a sense of its meaning consider these eight verses. The word noutheteō is bolded in each instance.

“Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.” (Acts 20:31)

“I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.” (Romans 15:14)

“I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children.” (1 Corinthians 4:14)

“Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” (Colossians 1:28–29)

‘Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16)

“We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.” (1 Thessalonians 5:12–14)

Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother. (2 Thessalonians 3:15)

Seven Ways the Church is Called to Love through Admonition

You can see that the ESV translators render noutheteō as admonish, instruct, and warn. Each of these translations get at the meaning of the word. For it certainly includes serious instruction and warning, as well as an urgent plea to avoid wrong-doing. Still, it’s the surrounding contexts which bring this command to light. For sake of time, let me summary what we find.

Admonition requires endurance and emotion.

As Paul says he admonished with tears the Ephesians every day for three years (Acts 20:31). Admonishment is not merely information transfer; it requires the soul of the “teacher” to plead for the souls of others. It takes time and takes a toll on the “admonisher,” hence it is often the work of the spiritually mature.

Admonition depends on a genuine knowledge of God’s Word.

Admonition cannot simply mean “telling someone like it is” or saying hard things. Lots of people speak strongly with no attention to God’s Word, no design encourage or strengthen faith. Genuine admonition comes from wisdom found only in God’s Word (Romans 15:14; Colossians 3:16), and is aimed at improving the spiritual condition of the hearer, or at least protecting them from their folly.

Admonishing goes beyond teaching.

Twice in Colossians (1:28; 3:16) Paul couples “admonishing” with “teaching” (didaskō). In these instances, the primary stress is not on teaching but imploring the hearers to do what the teaching instructs. In this way, admonishment pleads in earnest for the hearer to obey the teaching. As Jesus said in Matthew 28:19, disciples must be more than taught, they must be taught to obey. Teaching alone won’t produce obedience; admonition is necessary.

Admonition is personal.

While it’s possible, in theory, to admonish a stranger, these eight examples display Paul admonishing those whom he knows well. Again, he spent three years with the Ephesians, 18 months with the Corinthians whom he calls “beloved children” (1 Cor 4:14), and he calls for the Thessalonians to respect those who “labor among them . . . and admonish them”—hence implying that the ones who do the most admonishing (local pastors) know well the people whom they instruct and warn. Additionally, the context for admonishing is to be in the local church, among disciples seeking to obey God’s commands.

This is an important caveat: to the lost world incapable of holy love, admonition will only sound harsh and irritating. Therefore, while we do not shy away from speaking truth publicly, we must make distinction. To those without eyes, we don’t demand sight. But to those who see, we charge to walk well. So it is with biblical admonition and loving correction—it is best applied among the community of the redeemed.

Admonition is aimed at worship.

In Colossians 3:16, the goal of admonition is to sing “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” In other words, admonition doesn’t aim at ethics alone, but Spirit-filled exultation in the Lord. This doxological end comes through teaching and admonition that pours out of a heart filled with the word of God. In this way, admonition presses the hearer to consider the Word of God and to express his thankfulness in praise to God.

Pastors are lead admonishers.

Surely, as the word only flows from Paul’s pen, he is the lead admonisher in the Bible. However, in 1 Thessalonians he calls the local church to respect their elders and receive from them biblical admonition (cf. Hebrews 13:17). The temptation for church members is to harden their hearts against those called to speak the truth in love. They may grow embittered at those who point out their sins and challenge them to walk worthy of the gospel they hold. Accordingly, pastors who are charged to admonish must proclaim the gospel of grace, and not just a message of morality. At the same time, church members must labor to hear Christ’s message through their fallible prose. Woe to the church that does not have leaders who admonish; in time, the weeds of antinomianism will swallow that garden-temple.

The church is a body of admonishers.

While pastors lead in admonishing one another; they are not alone. Romans 15:14 expresses Paul’s confidence in all the Christians in Rome. Because they were filled with goodness and spiritual knowledge, he commands them to admonish one another. In truth, this might not be a universal command to immature and fickle Christians, but only to those who are filled with goodness and the spiritual wisdom. But to those who have the word of God dwelling richly within them, admonition is a normal and necessary part of church life.

Dear Church: Love One Another Through Biblical Admonition

Proverbs regularly commends the wise man as one who receives and invites correction (9:8; 13:1; 17:10; cf. Psalm 141:5). And not surprisingly, to a people who have received the Spirit of wisdom through faith in the gospel, Paul says to admonish one another and, by extension, to receive instruction, correction, and warning.

For Paul, there is no separation between love and law (see Romans 13:8–10; Galatians 5:13–15), personal ethics and personal embrace. In fact, to abandon ethics and affirm others in their sin would be the height of hatred. Rightly, Paul’s ethic requires him to admonish those who are straying from the truth. This is evident from his use of the word noutheteō and from a general consideration of his letters. To his beloved children in Corinth (1 Corinthians 4:14) he writes piercing words. And to those who are most exemplary in faith, hope, and love, he says, “excel still more” (1 Thessalonians 4:1).

In truth, Paul models for us what true love is. It is not the modern sentimentality that says, “Whatever you do, I will accept you.” Such a naïve statement, endorses someone’s road to hell. Rather, with eyes fixed on the eternal chasm between heaven and hell, Paul teaches us to live and labor for the eternal good of others. This is what is truly loving. And such love necessarily includes biblically-grounded, Spiritually-empowered admonition.

May God equip his saints and build his churches in this age of acceptance, as we learn together to love another through biblical admonition.

David Schrock

David Schrock David Schrock is the pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Seymour, Indiana and the assistant editor for the Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. He is the husband of Wendy and the father of two energetic boys. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24