HOW WE HELP EACH OTHER
These are my notes for teaching at the Cornerstone on Sunday, September 20, 2020.
Part 3 of Better Together.
1 Thessalonians 5:14
INTRODUCTION: TEFLON MAN
I cook a lot but I'm not very good at it. I lack patience so I like to turn the stove on high and cook stuff really fast. That's why I love my teflon pots and pans. Nothing sticks. Teflon is a miracle!
Teflon is great on pans, not so great on people. I used to work with a guy who was called Teflon Man. Nothing stuck. He would mess up and people would laugh and he'd get away with it. He took no responsibility for his actions. He'd schmooze his way out of trouble with a smile and joke. There was no accountability. Teflon Man. Sadly, his charm only got him so far and he made a mess of his life.
SMALL GROUPS AND ACCOUNTABILITY
Accountability is an essential practice of the Christian life. This is how we help each other to stay on track with Jesus. We take off the teflon and allow trusted people to speak into our lives. Yes, I know: This is a big challenge for all of us.
Small Groups are one way to stay accountable. Two verses in 1 Thessalonians 5 explain how this works. The church in ancient Thessalonica was new and its people were under pressure. First, they had not received much Christian teaching so their knowledge of the faith was incomplete. Then, they were being harassed and persecuted. These two pressures explain what Paul wrote:
(1 Thessalonians 5:14 And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone.
THREE DIMENSIONS OF ACCOUNTABILITY
Our passage contains four imperatives that describe the four dimensions of accountability. Paul's goal is that the baby Christians would use four methods to help each other stay on track with Jesus. You and I can use these in our families and in our small groups.
The four dimensions of accountability are warning, encouraging, helping, and being patient. Today, we'll take a close look at the first three dimensions - what they are and how to put them into practice.
DIMENSION ONE: WARN EACH OTHER.
Paul wrote, "Warn those who are idle and disruptive."
Here's the backstory: There were people in the church who believed Jesus was coming soon - like, really soon - so they quit their jobs, sold their stuff, and waited. They thought, "What's the point of working when the end of the world is next week?"
There were several big problems with their decision making, but the one that stands out is this: These people who quit their jobs expected the church to buy them food and to give them a place to live until Jesus showed up. Of course, this was disrupting the church by causing division and by putting financial pressure on the Christians who kept on working. These weren't wealthy people to begin with and they couldn't afford to shoulder this extra burden and why should they (See 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 for more details)?
So, Paul writes, "Warn the idle and disruptive." Here's how to warn a Christian friend: Tell them what they're doing wrong, tell them why it's wrong, and tell them how to do right.
It's best if you can bring the Bible into the conversation because it is a powerful resources for getting people back on track with God:
(2 Timothy 3:16-17) All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching (what is right), rebuking (what is not right), correcting (how to get right) and training in righteousness (how to stay right), 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work
The rule of thumb is this, we should consider warning a friend when their beliefs or behavior are not Bible-based.
When I was eleven or twelve, I spent a lot of Friday evenings at my friend David's house playing with electric cars - the kind that go around a slot track. Those little cars were always flying off on the hairpin bends. Then, there would be a mad scramble to get them back on track to continue the race and win.
Accountability is a very important reason to join a small group. We give our trusted friends permission to warn us and to correct us when we're going off the track. It's humbling and even painful at the time - just like bad-tasting medicine - but it can save us from self-destruction.
DIMENSION TWO: ENCOURAGE EACH OTHER.
Paul wrote, "Encourage the disheartened."
The baby Christians in Thessalonica wanted to quit because they were tired of persecution and fed up waiting for Jesus to return. Life was hard and they wanted to go back to their old ways.
Every Christian loses heart from time to time. Life gets hard and we want to quit moving forward. So, in our small groups, it's important to speak up and ask for encouragement when we need it.
Encouraging a believer is like coaching an athlete. Coaches find ways to motivate their athletes to stay in the race, to fight through their pain, and to win in the end.
Small groups are custom-made for encouraging disheartened Christians. "Coaches" should follow a three step process:
Reflect their pain by listening. "I hear you, you are going through some tough times. And you do feel discouraged. It's a struggle."
Re-aliign their focus on God. "The good news is you're not alone in this battle. The Lord is by your side. He will never leave you."
Renew their minds with Scripture. "When I'm struggling, I remember Psalm 23. I find strength in knowing the Lord is my shepherd, that he gives me what I need and he protects me and he blesses me."
Is there anyone in your life that you trust enough to turn to for encouragement? You've given them permission to break up your pity party. They feel they can be up front with you and speak boldly into your life. A small group might be just what you need for this.
I was reading a devotional the other day and it spoke into my life: "If you're filled with anxiety, this is what you need to do: resign from being CEO of the universe and give the job back to God." Bam! Right between the eyes. That's encouragement and it instantly removed my anxiety.
That's what small groups can do for us. Life gets us down, but faithful friends coach us back into the race.
DIMENSION THREE: HELP EACH OTHER.
Paul wrote, "Help the weak."
A weak believer is someone who does not rely 100% on Jesus and the Gospel. For example, some of the Thessalonians brought their Jewish ways into the church. They believed that observing circumcision, and special days, and ritual washing, and dietary laws, was still necessary for a truly godly and holy life. Their faith was weak because they were not living 100% by faith in Jesus. They couldn't believe that the Gospel promises had replaced their old ways.
Here's how to spot a weak believer. They'll call you weak for not following their personal preferences and human traditions.
Back in the late 1960's this was a big issue for the churches in southern California. There was a spiritual awakening among the hippies and they were getting saved in huge numbers and showing up at churches in tie-dyed shirts, bell-bottom jeans and bare feet. The churches didn't want them because they supposedly didn't dress right for God. This was a terrible mistake because clothing is a personal preference and has nothing to do with Jesus or the Gospel.
A small church near the beach had a different approach. Pastor Chuck Smith welcomed everyone to Calvary Chapel's worship services. He kept the focus on Jesus and the Gospel and refused to put any obstacles in the way of hippies coming to Christ.
Sadly, weak believers are still an issue in the church.
How do we help weak believers? "Help" means literally to get a grip on them and hold them up. Not physically, but spiritually. Here's how to hold them up - and this takes a lot of patience, as Paul noted:
Hold them up by prayer. Ask the Lord to help them 100% rely on Jesus so they can have the joy of Gospel-based life and freedom.
Hold them up by teaching them the truth about Jesus and the Gospel and its applications until they can stand on their own two feet - spiritually speaking. Maybe give them a study Bible.
CONCLUSION: WE ALL NEED A NAVIGATOR
Last week, I watched a documentary about the fastest mono-hull sail boat in the world, the Comanche. Its crew smashed the Transatlantic record by more than a day. One of the keys to their success was their navigator. The film showed him below decks in a dark, waterproof, room surrounded by computer screens as he watched the weather patterns. He was looking for the best wind system to get them from New York to the southern tip of England. I thought it was interesting that the skipper of the boat was accountable to the navigator. The navigator told the the skipper how to stay on course for victory.
We all need a navigator in our lives. Someone, or a small group of people, who hold us accountable. We ask them to help us stay on course; to warn us when we're off-track, to encourage us when we lose heart, and to hold us up when our faith is weak.
This is the power of small groups. And this is why I can enthusiastically urge you to join a small group today. Talk to Joey Linert for help finding one.