My heart is full to the brim right now. I just got off the phone with an old mentor of mine. He’s a business man, I’m a pastor. That might seem odd to some, but it doesn’t to me. This is a man who has wrestled deeply with God’s word and rested sweetly in His sovereignty for decades. In him I have found a rare mix of encouragement and correction, jovial celebration and a fierceness towards sin. Sixty minutes felt like ten.
The Delusion of Autonomy
So, here I sit, fat and happy after a heaping portion of soul-nourishing fellowship. But there’s something I’ve learned about myself over the years. No matter how many times I taste the sweet benefits of Christian community and no matter how many times my cold heart is thawed out by a fitting word from a brother, it’s still only a matter of time before I begin to believe that I can make it on my own. Soon, my crystal clear conviction about the importance of regular fellowship will once more be enveloped by the delusional fog of self sufficiency.
How does this self sufficiency express itself? Well, for me, it’s never meant forsaking the central, weekly gathering. That’s not the issue. Rather, where my audacious autonomy rears it’s ugly head again and again is in my failure to take seriously the “one anothers” of the the Bible: “Bear one another’s burdens” (Gal 6:2), “encourage one another with these words” (1 Thess 4:18), and “confess your sins to one another” (Jas 5:16). I have found that these kinds of commands do not typically find their fullest and most consistent expression on Sunday mornings alone. Therefore, another regular, more intimate gathering becomes necessary. Call it small group, community group, life group, or whatever you like. The point is I need this… and so do you.
Know Your Enemy
The danger of going it alone is nowhere more clear than in Hebrews 3:12-13. “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by deceitfulness of sin.” Let this passage be a smelling salt for your soul. Let it sting your senses until you’re wide awake to see clearly that sin is after your heart. It strikes from the shadows. It seeks to catch us unprepared and unaware. It disguises itself as some noble desire that grows disproportionate as it slowly strangles and suffocates our souls.
We must go John Owen on our sin. But how often do try to do this on our own? How often do we apply “be killing sin or it will be killing you” only to the individual? Yes, we must withdraw to desolate places and pray (Lk 5:16), we must go on solo missions to search and destroy our sin. But the author of Hebrews tells us that this isn’t enough. We need more than just one set of eyes to help us see through the deceitfulness of sin. We need brothers and sisters to see our sin and then to speak. We need exhortation from the mouth of another, fit words (Prov 25:11, Eph 4:29) , custom tailored for (and by) us from the promises of God.
Sin is dreadfully deceitful, but the Almighty wages his holy war against our remaining inward rebellion through the keen eyes and fit words of our ordinary brothers and sisters in Christ. When we believe this, then and only then, will we begin to meet together with the kind of regularity and earnestness that our situation requires.