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Thursday, February 11, 2016

Stirring One Another Up, Part 4

(This is the last post in a series regarding the importance of biblical relationships/fellowship.  You can find the other articles here:   Part 1   Part 2    Part 3)
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.  (Hebrew 10:24-25)
We have looked at biblical imperatives regarding fellowship with one another.  We’ve also considered what it might look like to engage in these relationships in a biblical way.  Now let’s think about why this is so important (in addition to the fact that God says it is.)  There are at least a couple of practical reasons that we must engage in biblical fellowship.
First, it is essential for our own spiritual growth.  As we attempt to put off sin and put on godliness, biblical fellowship serves to keep us on track.  Without it, we will inevitably return to old habits and fail.  Remember, God has designed sanctification so that it cannot happen without coming together with other believers to stir one another up to love and good deeds.  If we are going to attempt to grow without fellowship, we might as well be trying to grow without the Bible or prayer.
I’ve seen it numerous times while counseling people who are struggling terribly in their walk with the Lord.  No passion.  No growth.  No vibrancy.  The drudgery of their spiritual walk is so bad that they wonder if they are even saved.  Yet, they are in the Word.  They are spending time in prayer.  And it seems inexplicable to them why their walk with the Lord seems so dead. 
But when by God’s grace they are persuaded to plug in that third component – meaningful relationships with believers – they begin to grow like crazy, they have joy, they have vibrancy, and they grow in their love for God.  In other words, they are stirred up to love and good works. 
You may be in that situation right now.  You’re in the Word and you’re praying, and yet it seems that walking with the Lord is an all uphill battle.  There is no joy, no love, no vibrancy.  Ask yourself this question:  Do I have relationships with other believers with whom I meet regularly for the purpose of stirring one another up to love and good deeds?  If the answer is “no,” that’s your problem. 
Second, it is essential for the spiritual health of those around you.  If you don’t do this, not only will you not grow, but you will be unavailable to help others grow.  Remember that Ephesians 4 tells us that we have all been gifted by God to serve the body and that the body only builds itself up in love “when each part is working properly.”  In other words, we are responsible not only engage in meaningful relationships for our own spiritual growth, but also so that others may grow due to our service in their lives.  So my spiritual health will directly affect yours and vice versa. 
We must treat biblical fellowship as essential, not optional.  We must view gathering with other believers for the purpose of stirring one another up as an indispensable component of our own spiritual health and the spiritual health of the believers around us. 
If we leave this piece out of the equation, the rest of our efforts to grow in godliness will be in vain.  We cannot live the Christian life alone.  We must walk alongside others in some meaningful capacity, not just by showing up at church.  We need others stirring us up to love and good deeds and we need to be doing it for others.  There is no other way.
“But what if I’m too busy.”  This is a super common objection.  Perhaps, you’ve got too much going on to imagine adding this discipline to your schedule.  Remember that this is a matter of obedience to the Scriptures.  If you are too busy to obey the Scriptures, then you are literally too busy, and something needs to go in order to make room for what is essential.  Some of us have kids who are in sports eight nights a week.  If that is what’s in the way, cut it back to five or six nights a week.  Whatever it is that is not biblically essential, cut it back to make room for what is biblically essential.
Don’t think of biblical fellowship as a drain on your time or another burden to bear.  It is a God-given opportunity to be used by Him in the life of another.  It is a blessing.  Meaningful relationships are practical conduits through which we love one another by stirring one another up to love and good deeds.  Clearly we’ve been called to this.  Let’s obey Him for His glory and our own good!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Stirring One Another Up, Part 3

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.  (Hebrew 10:24-25)
(This is the third in a short series on the vital necessity of meaningful relationship in the church.  You can read the earlier articles here and here.)
A common objection to the kind of relationship that I’ve proposed in earlier articles is that “accountability doesn’t work.”  I think conferencing, by being others-focused, will help to correct this belief.  But we also need to keep in mind why accountability fails when it fails.  We need to know these dangers so that we can combat them.  There are at least a few:
Lack of honesty.  Accountability is only as useful as we are transparent.  If we’re holding back or hiding something, it’s a complete waste of time in overcoming sin issues.  If a the person you’re meeting with tells you he or she is not struggling with anything, that is almost surely not true.  Press that person and help them recognize where they need help.
Letting each other off easy.  Frequently, people in accountability relationships accept vague answers from one another.  When we are really struggling with a sin issue, we are often not forthcoming about.  And so in response to accountability questions, we give vague answers.  “Did you give into temptation this week?”  “Not really.”  And since we don’t like confrontation, we accept these kinds of answers from each other.  But it’s not loving or helpful to do so.
We need to pry a little: “What does ‘not really’ mean?”  We are not doing each other any favors by letting one another off easy.  Sin that is kept in the dark is deadly.  Drag it out into the light and it dies.  We can help each other by probing.  We need to put each other in a position to be either completely honest or completely dishonest.  “So are you saying that you didn’t give in to that temptation at all?”  “No.”  “Then what are you saying?”  Just gently, lovingly probe. 
If the person confesses sin, encourage them to repent and seek forgiveness.  Ask them what you can do to help beyond that. 
Lack of consistency.  It’s a common pitfall to depend upon the other person to keep the ball rolling.  One week one partner cancels and then nobody takes the initiative to reschedule.  The next thing you know it’s been months since you met.  Understand that it is your responsibility to obey the Scriptures, therefore it is your responsibility to make sure that these meetings happen.  If you have a tendency to rely on others to lead, recognize that tendency up front and resist it.  Don’t wait for the other person to schedule a meeting.  Take it upon yourself.
Lack of confidentiality.  I’ve heard numerous people talk about how they’ve become disillusioned with accountability groups because an accountability partner shared their secret with someone else.  This happens all too often.  Person A shares his struggle with Person B.  Person B decides she has a good reason to share it with Person C.  “But only with Person C.  I wouldn’t want this to get out.  Person C won’t tell anybody.”  Person C almost always shares it with Person D.  It doesn’t take long before Person A learns from Person M, N, or O that Person B spilled the beans.  In that way, Person B destroys Person A’s trust and Person A will likely never trust person B ever again.
We should consider anything shared with us in a conferencing group to be on lockdown…with only one exception.  If that person is unrepentant sin, doing nothing to fight that sin, a loving brother or sister must obey the Scriptures (Matthew 18:15-17) and bring a third party into the situation for the purpose of helping the unrepentant person reconcile with the Lord.
If you break confidentiality for any other reason, you will destroy that group and render it all but useless.  Proverbs 17:9 reads, …he who repeats a matter separates close friends.  Don’t share sensitive information with anyone.  Not your spouse.  Not your dog.  No one.
If we can recognize each of these dangers and consciously work at overcoming them, conferencing can be a framework that very affectively facilitates stirring one another up to love and good works.  Next time we’ll complete this series by considering why these relationships are so important and how to overcome our own internal objections to them.