Tonight, while putting a puzzle together with some of the people I am staying with at the Feast this year, one of the people was enthusiastically telling a story of a particularly unjust teacher in her past who had bragged about the quality of her artwork and challenged anyone to show a flaw in it, only to act in a harsh and petty and offended manner when a valid flaw was found. There were a few aspects of this that galled my friend, including the fact that she had merely done what was asked, and so she felt entirely justified in giving correction, even where it was manifestly unwelcome. Likewise, she felt upset that she suffered repercussions, like a lower letter grade in the art class, for giving insight that was true, and that she was never given a chance to overcome the offense that was made. I told her I was able to relate, all too well. Not everyone, even if (or especially if) they are asking for input, really appreciates admonishment, and even those who do generally care a lot about tone and attitude when admonishment is given.
It so happens that the first split sermon for services was about the admonishment that can be provided in the context of songs. At this point, it would be worthwhile to at least provide some representative samples of verses and passages that deal with admonishment, before adding some brief commentary to the whole set as a reminder of what admonishing needs to be like:
Psalm 81:8-9: “Hear, O My people, and I will admonish you! O Israel, if you will listen to Me! There shall be no foreign god among you; nor shall you worship any foreign god.”
Ecclesiastes 4:13-14: “Better a poor and wise youth than an old and foolish king who will be admonished no more. For he comes out of prison to be king, although he was born poor in his kingdom.”
Ecclesiastes 12:11-13: “The words of the wise are like goads, and the words of scholars are like well-driven nails, given by one Shepherd. And further, my son, be admonished by these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is wearisome to the flesh. Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all.”
Jeremiah 42:19-20: “The Lord has said concerning you, O remnant of Judah, ‘Do not go to Egypt!’ Know certainly that I have admonished you this day. For you were hypocrites in your hearts when you sent me to the Lord your God, saying, ‘Pray for us to the Lord our God, and according to all that the Lord your God says, so declare to us and we will do it.’”
Zechariah 3:1-7: “Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the Angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to oppose him. And the Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?” Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and was standing before the Angel. Then He answered and spoke to those who stood before Him, saying, “Take away the filthy garments from him.” And to him He said, “See, I have removed your iniquity from you, and I will clothe you with rich robes.” And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head, and they put the clothes on him. And the Angel of the Lord stood by. Then the Angel of the Lord admonished Joshua, saying, 7 “Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘If you will walk in My ways,
And if you will keep My command, then you shall also judge My house, and likewise have charge of My courts; I will give you places to walk among these who stand here.”
Romans 15:13-15: “Now may 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. Now I myself am confident concerning you, my brethren, that you also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another. Nevertheless, brethren, I have written more boldly to you on some points, as reminding you, because of the grace given to me by God.”
Colossians 3:15-17: “And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”
1 Thessalonians 5:11-13: “Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing. And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves.”
2 Thessalonians 3:14-16: “And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother. Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace always in every way. The Lord be with you all.”
Titus 2:1-8: “But as for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine: that the older men be sober, reverent, temperate, sound in faith, in love, in patience; the older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things—that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed. Likewise, exhort the young men to be sober-minded, in all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility, sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you.”
What sort of patterns do we see from the biblical references to the word admonish? For one, we see admonishing as a task that is essentially constructive in nature, as it is meant to edify and instruct, coming from a position of goodwill towards the person that is being admonished from the person who is doing the admonishing. If we do not have the best interests of someone in our heart, we are not in the place where we can properly admonish, as it will neither be delivered well or taken well. Admonishing need not be a negative matter–it is not only correction and rebuke, but it is also often written as a matter of caution or putting something into awareness that may not be a matter of conscious awareness. The giving of admonishment requires a great deal of compassion and love, and the receiving of it requires a great deal of forbearance and appreciation, and both require a lot of giving of the benefit of the doubt. Ultimately, the end result is supposed to be peace and growth. Clearly, we can stand to do better in these matters, but I suppose we should start with ourselves and set as good example as we can both in the giving and receiving of admonishment, in due measure, with justice and compassion.