In the previous article I wrote about the importance and necessity of perseverance in faith and how such endurance and continuation in our hope is the evidence of a genuinely born-again life. But it’s also important to take note of the provision God has made to enable his children to persevere. Continue reading . . .
In the previous article I wrote about the importance and necessity of perseverance in faith and how such endurance and continuation in our hope is the evidence of a genuinely born-again life. But it’s also important to take note of the provision God has made to enable his children to persevere. The author of Hebrews refers to one crucial dimension in chapter three, verse thirteen. There he says:
“But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13).
In other words, the means God has ordained to accomplish the preservation of his people is the loving and sustained encouragement and instruction and personal accountability that one finds in Christian community.
Of course, none of this is to deny that God also uses other means: the Word preached and proclaimed and applied, prayer, the ordinances, worship, etc. But perhaps the most important means is when each of you embraces the responsibility to speak into the lives of others: encourage them, warn them, love them, remind them of the promises of Scripture, pray for them, and teach them God’s Word.
This is what Paul had in mind in Ephesians 4:29 when he said, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” This is the purpose for the spiritual gift of prophecy as outlined in 1 Corinthians 14:3 – “the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.” And again, this is what the author of Hebrews will say yet again in 10:24-25 – “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.”
In the absence of a healthy, honest, faithful community I don’t give you much of a chance in the Christian life. Those who isolate themselves from the local church, or even those who attend a local church but avoid genuine fellowship and regular interaction and accountability with others, are a disaster waiting to happen.
You are the means by which God desires to keep others faithful and full of hope. Others are the means by which God desires to sustain you in perseverance and endurance. We are all placed in this local church so that by means of one another’s input and encouragement and warning we might continue steadfast in our commitment to Christ.
God is ultimately the one who preserves and protects us, but he always accomplishes his purposes through means, through instruments, through a variety of factors and people and opportunities that we, in obedience, take advantage of. People come to faith in Christ only if we employ the means of preaching the gospel to them. People awaken to the beauty of Christ only if we demonstrate in a variety of ways how he is a superior treasure to whatever alternative the world may offer. People grow up in the knowledge of God only if they avail themselves of the means of memorizing Scripture. People go deep in their relationship with Christ and have their hope renewed only by means of the faithful preaching and teaching of God’s Word. The sick are healed only if we pray for them. Others are instructed and encouraged and assisted only when the body of Christ employs those means or instruments that we call spiritual gifts.
What specific things are you doing on a regular basis to help your wife or your husband or a friend or a member of your small group flourish spiritually? How should you be speaking to them and what questions ought you to ask them? I have two suggestions.
First, look one more time at v. 13. Our authors talks about the “deceitfulness” of sin. Sin lies to us. Sin tries to deceive us into thinking that yielding to it will bring more happiness and joy and value than will obedience to Christ. Sin misleads us into believing the lie that someone or something other than Christ will bring satisfaction and sweetness to our souls. So speak to people in such a way that you expose that lie and that you point them to the beauty and glory and splendor and all-satisfying sweetness of Jesus Christ.
Second, ask questions like these:
As you contemplate your immediate future, what do you most want to see happen? What do you most fear or worry about losing?
If you could change one thing about yourself right now, what would it be? I’m not asking what you think you ought to change or what you think the Bible or some other individual says should change. In complete honesty, what do you wish could change (even if it’s not the most spiritual thing in the world!). Why?
When you are depressed or bitter or angry or frustrated, to what or to whom do you typically turn first for comfort?
What experience in life makes you feel the most significant? Or again, when do you feel valuable and life seems meaningful?
Who is there in your life that you find yourself incapable or unwilling to forgive? What did they do? What prevents you from forgiving them according to Scriptural guidelines?
What doctrinal truth in Scripture do you struggle most to believe? In what ways does your doubt regarding this biblical truth affect your life and your relationship with God?
What or who in your life is the greatest obstacle to spiritual growth and your passionate pursuit of God?
What is the greatest obstacle in your life to the pursuit of that ministry or mission to which you believe God has called you?
What are the most severe and appealing temptations to sin that you currently encounter? How are you fighting to resist them and to whom are you accountable in the process?
Let me be as clear and forthright and honest and urgent as I can. You cannot make it alone. You cannot flourish spiritually in the absence of other Christians who speak truth into your life and call you to account and regularly pray for you and with you and display for you to see, on a daily basis, the superior beauty and treasure of Jesus Christ. You need someone there to pick you up when you fall down, to point you in the right direction, to call you back from having turned aside, to cry with you and rejoice with you and to remind you each day of the unfailing love of Jesus Christ.
Perhaps the greatest deception that sin has unleashed upon Christian men and women is precisely that they don’t need other Christian men and women to “exhort” them daily lest they be hardened by the deceitful and treacherous schemes of Satan. So, I’ll say it again with the words of Hebrews 3:12, “Take care” men and women of ______ Church, “Take care . . . lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.”