This message is about the importance of an authoritative warning. We learn from Paul that one of the great tests of health and maturity in a church is appropriate, effective confrontation without judgment, superiority or spiritual pride; and the ability to receive it openly without getting defensive. When confrontation is offered in the right spirit, at the right time, in the right way, it’s an expression of love. We will learn four critical aspects of confrontation from Titus 1:10-16.
Today we look at Paul’s words to Titus about the importance of a warning.
When my daughter Lily was little, she was a fearless climber. She would climb to the top of almost anything she could get her little toes and fingers into – trees, buildings, fences, swing sets… anything.
She would often climb trees and go higher than I felt comfortable with. I would watch her and warn her when it got to the point where I thought she was doing something dangerous… “Lily, I don’t want you to fall and get hurt, so be very careful.”
I gave her a warning… because when you love someone and they’re in danger, you warn them.
That’s just what people do. When a kid is in danger, parents don’t say, “Look at her playing on the edge of the cliff. What a dope. You’d think she would know better than that.”
Parents talk directly to their kids. “Get away from the cliff.”
And this is not just parents and children.
Imagine a coach of a team who would never bring correction to one of his misbehaving players.
Imagine a conductor who never confronts an off-key soprano.
Imagine a leader of a workgroup who never confronts someone who’s not doing their fair share of the work.
Imagine a CEO of a financial firm, whose chief investment strategist pulled all their money out of an investment just before it doubled in value and invested it instead in something that lead to significant loss.
Imagine the CEO complaining to the receptionist and lamenting to his stockholders, but never having the conversation with the misguided employee.
You see what I’m getting at?
If any of the people genuinely care about the community they’re part of, and if they have any heart at all for the well being of the individual, they’ll go directly to the person who has the problem. And they’ll have a fearlessly honest conversation.
“I don’t want you to fall and get hurt, so be very careful. You’re on a road that could lead to serious damage.”
You know, a warning is a precious gift.
If this gift is withheld, teams deteriorate, performances fail, families break apart, companies go bankrupt.
The lack of appropriate warnings is fatal to communities. And it can be lethal to individuals like you and me.
And if that’s true for teams and companies and choirs, it’s exponentially greater when it comes to God’s dream — the church.
And this is the Apostle Paul’s great concern in the passage we look at today.
We’ll start reading at Titus 1:10.
For there are many rebellious people who engage in useless talk and deceive others. This is especially true of those who insist on circumcision for salvation. They must be silenced.
Now, that’s strong language. “They must be silenced.”
It’s no wonder because Paul goes on to say, “Whole households are being ruined. Families are being destroyed… Titus, you can’t just stand by and watch that happen. That would be unthinkable. God’s community is at stake. The community must be protected. And there are individuals who are in real bad shape, Titus.”
Look at verse 12:
Even one of their own men, a prophet from Crete, has said about them, “The people of Crete are all liars, cruel animals, and lazy gluttons.” This is true.
These people have very, very serious character problems. The people in Crete are known for this.
Even in our day, people who live in different areas are sometimes known for different faults.
Just consider a couple states in the US — think about New York and California. They’re known for different profiles. See if you can guess, out loud, which part of the country has which profile.
Obnoxious, aggressive and over-bearing. Who fits that profile?
New York. Everyone knows that about New Yorkers.
Okay, what about: Laid back, pleasure seeking, narcissistic wackos.
Some of you are pleased because you think that’s kind of a compliment. That’s the narcissism part.
Well, Paul says this testimony is true. It was kind of known among the Greeks. In fact, the Greeks actually coined a word, Creetidzo, which meant to deceive, because it was so associated with the island of Crete.
Now Paul says, “This is true. They have these problems,” but this is very interesting in verse 13. Notice what he says:
This is true. So reprimand them sternly to make them strong in the faith.
“So…” Some translations use the word, “Therefore.” Some use, “For this reason.”
“This testimony is true, therefore here’s what you should do.”
He doesn’t say, “This is true, therefore give up on them. They’re hopeless cases. They’ll never change. Don’t expect them to be any different, Titus. Just leave.”
He doesn’t say, “This is true, therefore, gossip about them, Titus. Talk about their problems to sympathetic listeners under the guise of helping them to pray more intelligently.”
He doesn’t say, “Titus, it’s none of your business. They have their way, their faith, their life. You have yours. To each his own.”
Paul says, “Therefore, reprimand them sternly… to make them strong in the faith.”
“Reprimand them sternly, Titus, because there’s hope for them. They’re not beyond the power of God. Therefore, reprimand them sternly. Confront them. Warn them. If you don’t do this, Titus… it will mean disaster.”
In verse 11 Paul says:
They must be silenced, because they are turning whole families away from the truth by their false teaching.
Then look what’s going to happen to individuals in verse 15:
Everything is pure to those whose hearts are pure. But nothing is pure to those who are corrupt and unbelieving, because their minds and consciences are corrupted.
Such people claim they know God, but they deny him by the way they live. They are detestable and disobedient, worthless for doing anything good.
Individuals were being warped and destroyed. And in Titus 3:10, Paul talks about the whole church being in peril. Divisive people can break apart the whole church.
And that’s all the consequence of not giving a stern warning, not confronting someone when it’s needed.
You know, this emphasis on the importance of a warning is not just found in this one little letter. The New Testament is full of this language.
Paul says to the church at Colossi in Colossians 3:16:
Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom.
Admonishment is a strong warning.
Paul says to the church at Rome in Romans 15:14:
I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to admonish one another.
He says, “You’re competent to admonish one another.”
Admonishment was expected by New Testament writers to be standard operating procedure for the church.
Without it, we can expect the same results as in Crete — endangered families, shipwrecked lives, and splintered churches.
There’s a famous passage in Matthew 18 about conflict resolution. You may have heard me teach it. It’s
Matthew 18:15-17 if you want to read it sometime later.
I’ve talked a lot about the crucial importance of going directly to the person that you’re in conflict with and speaking face-to-face, one-on-one.
And then if that doesn’t work, although you try your best with a sincere heart and prayer, then you may need to seek help.
Eventually you may need to involve someone from our elder board.
It’s important that we as a church learn to handle conflict according to the teachings of Jesus.
Now, the last time I taught Matthew 18, I had one of our elders mention to me that there is a case when going directly to the person you have a conflict with would not be a wise way to approach the situation. And that would be when someone has been sexually abused or harassed, especially by someone in a position of power.
It would not be appropriate to tell someone who was sexually abused or harassed to go to the perpetrator and follow Matthew 18. I just want to be real clear on that. In that case, the appropriate thing would be to go directly to one of our elders who would help navigate that very sensitive situation in a way that honors the victim.
Now, in all other situations where there’s conflict, I want us to know and practice Matthew 18. I want us to get to the point where the common language around here becomes, “You two are in conflict. You need to do Matthew 18 with each other.”
If someone comes to you with a complaint about someone else, I would love for your first response to be, “Have you gone to that person face-to-face, one-on-one and tried to resolve it?” And if they haven’t… then you refuse to listen to them gossip about that person.
Now, the reason I bring this up is… there’s a difference between conflict resolution (what Jesus teaches about in Matthew 18) and a strong warning or admonishment.
And the difference is this: In admonishment, my obligation is to help you by warning you, even though we may not be in conflict at all.
And this requires all of the skills involved in conflict management and then some. It adds the need for great humility, as well.
Admonishment is really kind of the broader category that conflict resolution is just a subpart of.
I need to be admonishing you, and you need to be admonishing me when we see each other off track, even if we’re not in conflict with each other at all.
I may not have sinned against you personally, so we don’t need to resolve anything between the two of us. But I have sinned… and I need you to point it out to me and help me back on the right path.
I don’t think this happens nearly as much as it should these days, and I think it’s because we live with such an individualistic attitude.
The mindset of our culture is, “My life is my business. Your life is your business. If we’re in conflict, okay, then we need to confront each other. Other than that, you mind your own business. I’ll mind my own business.”
And I want to tell you, that mindset is a departure from what was expected in the church during most of it’s history.
That is not the mindset God wants to characterize his people — “Your life is your business. Mess it up if you want to.”
This week I was amazed to read in the life of person after person, writer after writer, in the early centuries of the church, how over and over again, church fathers and mothers wrote that admonishment is crucial to the health of the church.
For a church to try to be a church without admonishment, they would say, “It’s unthinkable… because growth in faith and grace simply won’t happen apart from admonishment.”
And just like conflict resolution has a classic text in Matthew 18… there’s also a classic text for admonishment. It’s found in Galatians 6:1.
This is what Paul writes:
Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are spiritual should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself.
So in the time that remains in this talk, I just want to go over the nuts and bolts of this business of admonishment, or giving a stern warning.
And I need you to know I’m not an expert in this at all, but I’m learning.
And I want us to learn this because here’s what I think — I think this is one of the greatest tests of our maturity as a church.
To be able to appropriately effectively admonish someone without judgmentalism, or superiority, or spiritual pride, and to be able to receive it openly without getting defensive, or crushed; that’s going to be one of our greatest tests.
So let’s just walk through what Paul says to the church of Galatia about this.
And the first question about this is –
When is admonishment needed?
Paul says, “It’s needed…
If another believer is overcome by some sin…
Now, he doesn’t say, “If someone has a personality quirk that I don’t happen to like.”
It’s not needed when someone likes music I don’t like, or wears clothes that aren’t my style. It’s not a nit-picking, fault-finding spirit behind this.
He also doesn’t say, “If ANYONE commits a sin.” Because someone might be guilty of some wrongdoing… they might be aware of it, repent and change, and then they don’t need this.
He says, “If someone is overcome…”
The idea here is if a person is involved in misbehavior, very possibly involving a pattern of misbehavior — a tendency or a habit strong enough to get noticed — but they appear not to recognize it.
There is not an admission of guilt.
There is not evidence of repentance.
There is not movement towards change.
They’re overcome or they’re stuck.
I’ll give you some examples.
Maybe someone you know habitually neglects their children. God has entrusted these little lives to them, and they’re just blowing past it. And they don’t even seem to be aware of it.
Maybe someone has a problem with anger, and they’re using words in a way that hurt those around them. They’re just not even aware, or they’re not changing.
Maybe you know someone whose pace of life is unhealthy, and it’s keeping them from becoming the kind of person God wants them to be. It’s keeping them from intimacy with God.
Maybe you know someone who, on a fairly regular basis, distorts the truth — embellishes, exaggerates, deceives — to avoid pain or to manipulate people, and no one is calling them on it. No one has the courage (or the love) to confront them.
Maybe you know someone who is just cold in their heart towards God and people.
Maybe you know someone who’s living in a habitual attitude of complaint or ingratitude, and it’s killing them relationally. Other people are starting to avoid them. No one is talking to them.
Admonishment is needed when someone I know and love, someone I care for, is overcome… or stuck.
Now Paul says when someone is overcome, what should you do? How should you respond? He says:
If another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are spiritual should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path.
He doesn’t say, “Ignore what they do and maybe it’ll go away…” which is what happens way too often in churches.
He doesn’t say, “Complain about them to close friends. Maybe they’ll hear what you’ve said second hand and straighten up.”
He doesn’t say, “Give up on them and be thankful that you’re superior to them.”
He says, “Gently and humbly help that person.”
I’ll tell you the flip side of this.
When someone you know well and you love is stuck in sin and you see it or, at least, have good reason to suspect it, and you do nothing… you’re violating community.
Martin Luther said, “My failure to instruct and rebuke my brother is actually an evidence of my anger.”
When admonishment is offered in the right spirit, at the right time, in the right way, it’s an expression of love.
Withholding it is an expression of hostility. Because that’s really saying, “I don’t think you’re capable of anything better than what you’re living right now…”
“I don’t think you’re capable, with the help of God in your life, of growing beyond the sin that you’re stuck in… than what you’re doing right now.”
“Or if you are, I don’t care enough about you to be willing to go through the pain of an unpleasant conversation.”
Either it’s saying, “I don’t think you’re capable with God’s help of growth,” or it’s saying, “I don’t care enough about you to want you to grow.”
It is just an absolute violation of what’s at the heart of God’s plan for community between men and women. If you don’t offer admonishment when it’s needed, it’s a form of hostility.
A lot of you are parents. One of the greatest gifts you can give your children is to teach them to prize corrective feedback — to be open to it and, eventually, to prize it.
Many times in my home, I’ll reprimand one of my children sternly. And they say, “Thank you Dad for that reprimand…”
Then they fly with their little angel wings into the kitchen to fix dinner for the whole family.
To prize corrective feedback is a mark of great maturity.
Alright, when is admonishment needed? When someone is overcome or stuck; when someone is caught.
Then, What do I do when admonishment is needed?
Galatians 6:1 says:
Gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path.
You go to them. You don’t ignore it. You don’t gossip about it. You don’t get superior over it. You go to the person in love.
Now, who ought to do this?
Who should give the warning?
If another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are spiritual should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path.
He doesn’t say pastors. He doesn’t say elders. He doesn’t say teachers. “You who are spiritual…”
And there’s nothing magical about this phrase. It simply means “you who have the Spirit. You who are sincerely seeking to allow the Holy Spirit to have influence in your life.”
And I imagine that’s almost everyone in this room.
Now, if you’re struggling with a spirit of superiority, or judgmentalism or something like that, you shouldn’t be the one giving the warning.
But if you can honestly, sincerely say — and it would be confirmed by spiritually mature people around you — that you sincerely seek to allow the Holy Spirit to have influence in your life, then it’s your job to give the warning.
Just don’t do it apart from asking the Spirit for help — spending time in prayer, and being sensitive to the Spirit’s leadings.
And I want to say a special word here to all of you who are small group leaders here at Blue Oaks.
Admonishment is absolutely essential. We will not grow into Christ-centered living apart from it.
And you won’t get much help in our society. You don’t even get much help on this one from the church at large, because the church has really drifted on this one. You don’t hear much about this.
If it’s going to happen in this church, mostly it’s going to happen in the little communities that people join up with. Mostly, that’s where it’s going to happen.
It’s not going to happen in a large group gathering, like this. I’m not going to start admonishing you all, name by name by name. That would be kind of a scary deal.
It’s going to happen in little communities.
So group leaders, I just want to challenge you on this. If you don’t model this, talk about this, study this, receive it openly, lead in it, you’re denying the people in your care an indispensable gift for their growth.
Now, that brings me to the next, very important question. How do we carry it out? How do we carry out an admonishment or stern warning?
I’m going to go through four different ways that we can carry it out –
Four aspects to admonishment.
The first one Paul mentions is gentleness.
Admonish with gentleness
You should restore that person gently. Admonish with gentleness.
Use a scalpel, not a machete.
Use questions. They can be helpful. Like if there’s someone that needs a warning, go to them and begin by saying, “I have something I’d like to point out that you say or do that I think will help you. Can I tell you about it?”
Use something like that because very often people will respond much more openly, much more constructively to admonishment if they give their permission for it first, and they know what’s coming.
And you let them know your heart is not to attack them.
Now, if your heart is to attack them, don’t do it.
But if you can say it sincerely, you just go to them, “I have a concern with something you say or do. Can I talk with you about it?”
Or there’s a phrase that we use sometimes: “Help me understand this.”
In other words, you’re saying, “This is what I see. This is my concern. Maybe there’s a missing piece that I’m not aware of so I don’t want to make any assumptions here. Help me understand.”
This is a way of raising the concern real clearly without automatically blaming.
Paul says this is part of why this is a test for our maturity. When we’re involved in this, we’re involved in a kind of spiritual surgery. And spiritual surgery requires some precision.
You need to cut just enough to do constructive work, but not so much that it gets destructive.
So Paul says, “Do it gently. Do it with a careful spirit.”
But then, there’s a second way in which admonishment must be done, and it’s a counterpart. Admonish gently, but then admonish with truth.
Admonish with the whole truth
Now, when people go to take an oath in court — at least they always did it this way in movies — they put their hand on the Bible and are asked, “Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?”
I think what happens for many of us is we shrink back from telling the whole truth that needs to be told. And in most cases, where admonishment is difficult, this is a game changer.
When you admonish someone, you will be tempted in that moment to tell part of the truth but then shrink back from telling the whole truth.
There’s an idea when it comes to this — it’s called sharing the last ten percent. There will be the last ten percent that’s the hardest thing to say, but it’s the thing that most needs to get said.
And most of the effectiveness of the admonishment rests on whether or not, in that moment, you have the courage to say the whole truth.
Why do we hold back from doing that?
Well, I’ll tell you why I think most of us do. In Titus 2:15, this is what Paul says:
You must teach these things and encourage the believers to do them. You have the authority to correct them when necessary, so don’t let anyone disregard what you say.
“Don’t let anyone disregard what you say, Titus. Don’t hold back because you’re concerned about what people will think about you.”
I think the number one reason we shrink back from telling the whole truth is fear.
“Maybe they won’t like me. Maybe they’ll think I’m wrong. Maybe I am. Maybe they’ll think I’m trying to act superior. Maybe it’ll be unpleasant.”
As long as my primary goal is to make sure no one disapproves of me, I’ll never do it well.
If I’m not willing to run that risk, I might as well quit now.
Maybe you’re a group leader, and there’s someone in your group who talks too much… because there are these kinds of people in the world.
And other people in the group pressure you because you’re the leader. “Come on leader, do something.”
You’ll be tempted to just tell the truth.
“I don’t think our small group went real well this last week. We have some new people in it. We should let them talk more. We should be better listeners.”
It’s true, but it’s not the whole truth. It’s not clear what the problem is, and who has the problem.
The whole truth would be, “I’m concerned for you, and I’m concerned for our group. You’re talking too much, and you’re not listening well. And I’m not sure that you’re reading the group well either.”
“I’m not sure you realize the effect that your monopolizing the conversation has on other people. And I want to talk with you about that. I think you can do better. And I want to help you think about why that might be going on and how it can change.”
Now, that’s the whole truth.
And I’ll give you another piece of guidance while we’re on this. When you tell someone the whole truth, there will be tension.
Very rarely will the other person say, “Man, I’m so glad you told me I’m talking too much because I thought maybe I was, but I just wasn’t sure. So that’s very helpful. Let me tell you why. I’d like to talk about this for a while.”
When you tell the whole truth, there will be tension.
Don’t relieve that tension prematurely.
I had a situation where I had to sit down with someone and tell them a difficult truth recently.
And we just sat there for a few seconds.
Then the person’s response was, “You know, I think that’s true.”
And I had to fight my initial tendency. My first tendency in that moment was to say, “Well, I’m glad to hear you say that. I’m glad we had this talk,” and to kind of stop the tension to let them off the hook.
And I had to fight myself and say, “There’s still some tension here and I need to just be quiet and let them sit, because there’s more work that needs to get done.”
Tension can be a very powerful way for people to be motivated to do self-examination and change.
While they’re making their way toward clarity and insight, tension can be a good thing. Don’t release it too soon.
Alright, admonish with the whole truth that the person needs to hear. Be gentle with it, but don’t just tell the truth – tell the whole truth.
Then there’s a third way in which admonishment needs to be done.
Admonish with gentleness.
Admonish with the whole truth.
Admonish with humility
This is so important. This is why Paul says what he does when he’s writing to the Galatians.
You who are spiritual should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path.
And he says in verse three:
If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.
I think the number one criteria, perhaps, for someone to effectively give a stern warning is — you’d better be in touch with your own wrongdoing, your own depravity.
Any spirit of self-righteousness or pride or spiritual superiority will just do damage. It’ll just do damage.
So be in touch with your own wrongdoing.
If when you go to warn someone, if you can’t say sincerely, “I’m capable of this. Given the right circumstances, I’m in touch enough with my own capacity for sin to know I’d be capable of this, and worse than this… because I know my own darkness better than I know anyone else’s.”
If you can’t say that, if there’s kind of a spirit of twisted joy, which I’m capable of, if there’s that spirit in you, you’d better back off. You’d better do some more work between you and God first.
Admonishment has to be done with humility.
When we do Matthew 18, we’re saying, “We’ve got a conflict, that’s why I’m coming.” When we do Galatians 6, we’re saying, “I think you have a problem,” and the potential for self-righteousness is so great.
That’s why it requires enormous humility.
Galatians 6 takes all the skills of Matthew 18 plus enormous humility.
And then there’s a fourth way in which admonishment needs to be carried out.
Admonish with patience.
Paul says in Ephesians 4:2
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.
Sometimes admonishment gets short-circuited because we’re an impatient people.
“Transform now,” we think.
“I told you how to change, so get on with it.”
And we expect people to get it overnight.
You can’t FedEx admonishment. It’s not an overnight delivery deal.
Generally, there’s a connection with problems and healing. The deeper a problem goes — those are the ones that people get caught in or stuck in — the longer the healing process, the longer it takes to see it… to acknowledge it… and to begin to change.
I think of a situation where admonishment happened recently. And the person that gave the warning had one conversation. And then was very frustrated because the person didn’t change overnight… and was ready to, pretty much, write them off.
Here’s the deal. How patient is God with you?
If God’s that patient with you, don’t you think you can show some patience? Don’t you think we can bear with one another?
And if you’re willing to do that — to admonish with gentleness and with truth and with humility and with patience — someone’s life is going to be transformed.
You hold in your hands a gift… that another person desperately needs.
And God may want to use you to bring about significant change in another person’s life.
And some of you know it. You know exactly who that person is. God may have brought them to your mind already.
You need to make a decisions to warn them this week.
You’re in a position to do this, and so I’m asking you today, I’m challenging you. Will you love them enough?
Will you be submitted before God enough to pray and think about how to do it wisely, and go to this person who Jesus died for, who’s maybe part of this community, and say to them, “Can you help me understand something? I have a concern with something you say or do. Can I tell you about it?”
Some of you have received it from others.
Some of you are going to receive it maybe soon, maybe sometime today, after this message.
The phone may ring tonight or this week with someone who wants to set up an appointment to do Galatians 6 with you.
Will you receive it with openness? Will you have the kind of courage and character not to get defensive and not to be crushed?
Remember, it’s not your worth that’s at stake. That was resolved on the cross a long time ago. It’s not your worth, it’s your growth that’s at stake.
Well, for us as a church, this is one of our ultimate tests. And if we can master this, it will really be true what Paul said so long ago in Ephesians 4:16:
Speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.
I think we can do this. I really do.
Alright, let’s pray as Michaela and the team come to lead us in a closing song.
Blue Oaks Church