“How can I admonish my sister in Christ when I’m not supposed to offend anyone “in word” (Jas. 3:2)?” -a reader
November 17, 2013
This is a great question, with a whole book waiting to answer it! Let’s see if I can cover the bases in a few paragraphs.
Biblically, “offend” means “to sin against”. If we sin “in word” against someone, it means that the motives behind our speech are impure. Impure motives include jealousy, anger, fear, egotism, or self-righteousness. James 3 is not about exercising godly admonition; it is about the importance of exercising control over our thoughts, so that we don’t unleash “the poison of asps” from our lips.
Godly admonition is a completely different concept. Strong Christians are to exercise their spiritual maturity in a way that it is essential to the well-being of the church body. In Romans 15:14, Paul says, “And I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another”.
Admonition is “gentle rebuke”. It is to be performed by those who are “spiritual” on those who are in Christ, but “overtaken in a fault” (Gal. 6:1). By performing godly admonition, the spiritually mature are fulfilling the law of Christ by bearing one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2) in the hopes that a sister who is in error will be restored (Gal. 6:1). This process of restoration, when performed in Christ Biblically, is called edification.
Unfortunately, “edification” is commonly misunderstood. It is not merely a positive spiritual experience that brings us closer to God. It involves the entire process of restoration, which includes the acknowledgment of our sin. We cannot be brought closer to Christ unless we are first made aware of how distant we are from Him. This distance is a result of sin.
Our society is currently obsessed with “positive affirmation”. We cannot tell a friend an uncomfortable truth without risking the friendship. We can call such behaviour “politically correct”, “loving”, “compassionate”, “generous”, or “kind”, but the Bible calls it sinful. It is based on “flattery” and “dissimulation”, which are insincere, duplicitous, and dishonest (see Prov. 7:5, 21; 1 Thess. 2:5; Prov. 27:6, 28:23;Rom. 12:9) . Christians who follow the band wagon of positive affirmation by withholding uncomfortable truths in the name of a worldly, misguided definition of the term “love” do not edify their sisters in Christ – they cripple their sister’s conscience. They become enablers of sin, effectively doing the devil’s job for him. This is the opposite of love.
A sister who exercises godly love will consider the loss of a friendship a small price to pay for the sanctity of the church and the eternal well-being of a friend. Godly love is completely selfless. It is a reflection of the love of God, which is “shed abroad” in the hearts of those who are sincere followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. A sister who is more worried about losing a friendship than she is about restoring a backslidden loved-one is not living to please God. She is living to please herself through the positive affirmation she receives from friends who are enabled by her. She gives those friends every excuse to continue in their sin by withholding from them the loving truth. Do you see how a withheld admonition is the opposite of Biblical love? Read Ezekiel 33 to get an even clearer picture of what awaits a person who is too selfish to warn her sisters of impending doom.
Often we are reticent to offer correction because we expect that it will be poorly received. But we must remember that the responsibility we have before Christ is not for our glory, but His. The way she receives your admonition is not in your hands, but in His. If we are personally invested in the outcome of our warning, we have egotistically made the entire endeavour about us when it is, in fact, about her and God. A sister’s conviction is not to be shared with you as if you were to glory in it. It is to be shared with her heavenly Father, so that He may receive the glory for her change of heart. “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us” (2 Cor.4:7). Our responsibility is to give our warning and then allow the Holy Spirit to do the rest. If we are offended by a negative reaction, we are being egotistical.
When someone is easily offended, it is not because she lacks confidence. It is because she has an inflated ego. The more a woman esteems herself, the more likely she is to be offended if someone dares to disagree with her. This is not a problem of having too much humility; it is a problem of having too much pride. To be easily offended is to lack meekness. Meekness is the ability to take godly instruction, a godly rebuke, or godly criticism without feeling offended. A true test of meekness is when, like Jesus, we remain unfettered by false accusations. Meekness is Christ-like; it is the definition of being “lowly in heart” (Mt. 11:29). Those who learn from Christ to cultivate meekness and lowliness of heart will “find rest unto their souls” because this godly type of confidence is not founded in Self; it is founded in Christ.
Reader, may I encourage you to seek God’s will in this matter, as you would in every other? Focus on His will, His love, and His way so that you may be blameless before Him with a pure heart. If your approach to an errant sister is bathed in humility, with the knowledge that you, too, are prone to sin and temptation, then your words will be a reflection of the grace of God that is in all of those that believe.