“We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14) NASB
I don’t know about you, but it bristles me to have the word ‘unruly’ tossed at me or others who are not ‘disorderly’ ‘unruleable’ ‘disruptive’ or ‘amenable to discipline or control.’ Granted, I may be that person who, based on the assumptions of others, who “doesn’t follow the rules,” but overall I think accusations like those come from the sort that like to be ‘ruled over’ or those in leadership ‘positions’ who feel they are entitled to the obedience of the ones they ‘rule’ over. I get it, I really do. There are personalities that thrive on order, repetition, and the like, and there’s nothing wrong with that per se, but I’m not one of those people.
I think the NASB translation of the Greek in this particular verse is unfortunate. (I know, of course I do) ‘Unruly’ (unruleable) is a heavily weighted word that, when combined with the urging to admonish those who are unruly, often results is harsh and uninformed judgment.
Let’s unpack the word a bit…
From HELPS Word Studies: ‘Unruly’ – 813 átaktos (an adjective derived from 1 /A “not” and 5021 /tássō, “draw up, arrange”) – properly, out-of-line (“without order,” M. Vincent); (figuratively) out of God’s appointed (proper) order; unruly, refusing to observe God’s guidelines (live in faith). Accordingly, faith (4102 /pístis) and 813 (átaktos) are directly associated (see 1 Tim 5:12-14).
I very much like and appreciate the words “refusing to observe God’s guidelines (live in faith).” in this summary of the definition. I also believe that if that’s being ‘unruly,’ then I would agree. If however, someone, particularly a believer, is not following the form or substance of rule by or from men, then we owe it to ourselves and others to further examine our own lives before any admonishment.
By the way, ‘admonishment’ is also too strong of a word here and it assumes that another has the right to warn, castigate, call to obedience, etc., when the very right itself has not been earned by example or scriptural precedent. Just because one follows the rules of men or a system does not, and I repeat DOES NOT mean that they should warn others who don’t appear to be.
Besides, that’s not what the word means anyway. To admonish another means to:
- place the mind, i.e. reasoning with someone by warning (admonishing) them.
- appeal to the mind by supplying spiritual content
- exert POSITIVE pressure on someone’s logic or reasoning
- urge others to choose God’s best.
This is not done via an erroneously crafted hierarchical system or through structured leadership which takes lordship over people. Jesus expressly forbade that kind of leadership. (Matthew 20:25) (Mark 10:42) (Luke 22:25) and via Peter (1 Peter 5:3) No, this is done by being a positive reasonable influence and example. I long to see more of that.
You’ve heard the old adage that Christianity is not about rules, it’s about relationship, but the cliche does little active good and is, unfortunately, often quoted by those who have more regard for the rules of people rather than God. If you’re like me, you’ve probably been on receiving end of the kind of admonishment, ridicule, and marginalization that comes with being a creative and different sort of Christian.
Now, I’ll also admit that my tendency is to write off most ‘church’ rules as religious fabrications of men, but Jesus did say to Make Disciples of all nations and to teach them to obey (not ‘how to obey’) all of his commandments. So, this is where those, like me, who take pleasure in bending and breaking rules need to pause and think about what or whom we are ‘rebelling’ against. Being a rebel is fashionable and often lauded by others. Being disobedient to God has no honor or glory.
Take a look at how many possible interpretations there are for the beginning of this verse.
I like the Aramaic version in Plain English which says “correct wrongdoers” (not admonish right doers who do things differently). Also, there is still quite a bit of ambiguity which needs a little fleshing out, but I’ll leave you to it.
What do you think is the best way to relay the import of the beginning of this verse today?
Lastly, let us not forget that there is a succession of events in this verse. Warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the faint-hearted, help the weak, and be patient with everyone in the process. I believe that if ‘admonishment’ is not followed, or better yet, enveloped by those other things, then it is not from God.
Are you unruly?
How would you deal with those who are?
How would you respond to those who say that you are unruly?