Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Paul, Confrontation of Sin, and Fellowship

In last Tuesday’s post, the take-away application point was that we ought to improve our everyday, relaxed, natural conversation, especially with other believers. And this was in the service of grounding our subjective experience of fellowship in the objective reality of fellowship (the Gospel) first by speaking to one another about the things of Christ.

A second way that we can work towards having true fellowship with one another that is honoring before God is the subject of today’s post (which was originally going to be one long post but will now be two shorter ones). I really believe this to be an important, essential, and even foundational element to our relationships with each other as we live the Christian life together. If Christians don’t have this element, we do little more than play church, and have a social club under the banner of the Word of God and the name of Jesus Christ – which is blasphemous.

Here's a little fill-in-the-blank test to get us started:

“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 ________ one another.” – The Apostle Paul

What do you think goes in the blank? What do you think many professing Christians think goes in the blank? Would you guess things like: “love,” “encourage,” “affirm,” “serve,” “teach,” and “agree with”?

The text is Romans 15:14, and the word that fills in the blank correctly is admonish.

This is that second component that is absolutely foundational to living the Christian life together. We could call the first component that we talked about last Tuesday conversation. And we can call this second component confrontation. (We could also call it admonition, rebuke, or reproof, but they don’t start with con- like conversation and confrontation.
:-) )

And so Paul praises the Roman church for being competent to admonish one another. And Paul himself exemplified this
nouthetéō in his own ministry. Indeed, even in this text we see his positive evaluation of the believer who, in goodness and according to knowledge, confronts his brother regarding sin.
  • Romans 15:15-16 – But I have written very boldly to you on some points so as to remind you again, because of the grace that was given me from God, to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, so that my offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
Taking that piece by piece, we see that Paul regards confrontation, admonition, or rebuke ("I have written very boldly") as a mark of grace ("because of the grace that was given me from God"). The grace he speaks of includes his Apostleship ("to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles"), and so considers this to be a mark of maturity. By using the language of the Old Testament priesthood ("ministering as a priest the gospel of God"), he also shows that he considers it to be a mark of service. And he sees this ministry of confrontation, admonition, and rebuke as serving the purpose of advancing believers in holiness ("so that my offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit").

And we know that Paul didn’t just talk about it. He lived it out in His own ministry. In Acts chapter 20, Paul is giving his farewell address to the Ephesian elders, among whom he labored for three years, and whom he loved very dearly. In it, he says:

  • v. 20 - You yourselves know...how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house.
  • vv. 26-27 - 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.
  • v. 31 - ...remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears.
This is pretty striking. Paul continues to lump in the same category the idea of speaking boldly, admonishing, and declaring even hard things to his fellow believers, with the idea of being innocent of men's blood, and with profiting them in love. When the situation called for Paul to talk straight, even in what would seem to be a severe manner, he didn't let some man-made, man-centered, vague, ambiguous fabrication that people call "love" hinder him from actually benefiting his brethren by admonishing them.

And by today's standards, you'd think that Paul wouldn't be very liked among this group. I mean, night and day for three years? I can hear the Tone Police
of contemporary evangelicalism now: "Come on, Paul? Isn't that overkill? It's quite arrogant of you to do so much admonishing! Nobody's perfect! Have you taken the plank out of your eye?"

But we don't see that arrogant, ungrateful attitude among these brothers. The result of Paul's tireless ministry among them
in which he wasn’t afraid to say hard things to them and admonish them for their unbiblical actions and beliefs – was true, loving fellowship. We read in Acts 20:36-38:
When he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And they began to weep aloud and embraced Paul, and repeatedly kissed him, grieving especially over the word which he had spoken, that they would not see his face again And they were accompanying him to the ship.
Such affection is heartwarming. These brothers knew that Paul was benefiting them by presenting Christ to them, even and especially in his admonitions, rebukes, confrontations, and warnings. And his love, plainly manifested in his ministry of night-and-day admonition, produced in them great and overwhelming love for him.

Next time, we'll look into how we can apply these lessons in our own lives as we live the Christian life with our brothers and sisters.

We proclaim Him,
admonishing every man
and teaching every man with all
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.

- Colossians 1:28-29 -


Tiyani said...

It is very difficult for us the teenagers to admonish one another. But I pray now that the lord may help the young people at our church to do this because it is in the bible and it is for the bennefit of our growth as believers in Christ.

Mike Riccardi said...


Thanks so much for your comment. It's a great encouragement to me to know that folks will be applying the lessons of the Scriptures. And it is indeed for our benefit!

Hope you'll stop by again!