Much has been said recently in the men’s spiritual leadership boot camp and in Sunday School about the necessity for believers to have meaningful relationships with others in the church. This is an essential part of how we grow spiritually. But is it possible that eventually we may reach a level of maturity that makes this a bit less crucial? Does anyone ever get to a place where they are able to make it on their own?
We should consider the life of Paul as we seek to answer this question. Paul could be considered the perfect example of Christian maturity. Surely if any believer could survive and grow without the sharpening influence of other believers, it would be Paul. Yet, we find clues throughout his writings that relationships with other Christians were vitally important to him.
Consider that Paul always traveled with ministry companions, usually quite a few. For example, when he wrote Colossians, he had been traveling with Tychicus, Onesimus, Aristarchus, Mark, Justus, Epaphras, Luke, and Demas. In every Pauline letter except 1 Timothy, he makes reference to the brothers who were with him (Rom 16:21-23; 1 Cor 1:1, 16:18-19; 2 Cor1:1, 13:13; Gal 1:2; Eph 6:21-22; Phil 1:1, 4:18, 4:21; 1 Thess 1:1, 5:25; 2Thess 1:1; 2 Tim 4:11; Tit 3:12,15; Philem 1, 22-23).
Some may suppose that Paul only had those men with him because of the work load of spreading the gospel – he needed these workers for the harvest. Certainly, these people were useful to Paul for ministry (2 Tim 4:11), yet there is ample evidence that Paul personally desired their presence with him to encourage him in the faith.
For example, he wrote in 1 Cor 16:17-18, “I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have made up for your absence, for they refreshed my spirit…” In Phil 2:19-28, he called Epaphroditus a “minister to my need,” and wrote of Timothy, “I have no one like him.” Conversely, in 2 Timothy 4:10-18, he expressed a desire for Timothy to come to him soon, noting the difficulty of having his other companions leave him. He closed the letter with the urgent exhortation, “Do you best to come before winter” (2 Tim 4:21; cf Tit 3:13).
Further, numerous times Paul expressed his desire to see the recipients of his letters for the sake of his own joy. He desired to see the Romans that they might be “mutually encouraged by each other’s faith” (Rom 1:12; cf 15:24). He expressed his expectation that the Corinthians would make him rejoice upon another visit, but that he resisted this visit only to spare them sorrow (2 Cor 2:1-4). He desired to once again see the Thessalonians face-to-face, writing, “For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy” (1Th 2:19-20). Toward the end of his ministry, he expressed the same to Timothy: “As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy” (2Tim 1:4).
It can also be said that in his maturity, Paul was compelled to be a blessing to other believers and to encourage them. He frequently sent his own companions to various individuals and churches for the purpose of bolstering their faith (Eph 6:21-22; Phil 2:19-28; Col 4:7-9). Typical is the closing of his letter to the Ephesians: “So that you also may know how I am and what I am doing, Tychicus the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord will tell you everything. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage your hearts” (Eph 6:21-22).
It would appear that even the most mature need fellowship with the saints, both to benefit their own faith and the faith of others. We are all called to pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart (2Tim 2:22). We are all called to meet together regularly to stir one another up to love and good works (Heb 10:24-25).
For this reason, those of us who participated in the men’s spiritual leadership boot camp should be all the more diligent to continue meeting with our conference groups. A number of men have expressed to me the concern that this discipline will fall by the wayside without the structure of meeting every Saturday. Do what you have to do even if it means joining with men who were not in your original group, men who live closer to you and who have a more compatible schedule. If Paul couldn’t afford to be alone, neither can we. Let’s persevere in this for our own good, for the good of the church, and for the glory of God!