Spiritual growth is a fragile process. Without vigilance and encouragement from others, you live with the prospect of slipping back into sin. In the face of this, you need help from others who have courage and sensitivity toward your situation. Harsh condemnation will not help you, but neither will friends who flatter you with falsely positive words. Working with faithful support is what you need.
Consider John’s short letter in the book second John. In this letter, John balances condemnation and encouragement, proving himself to be a wise counselor and a great example to us. Recognize the past successes of others and affirm your brothers and sisters in Christ. At the same time, be willing to point out hazards ahead when you see them. Share your hard-won wisdom with warnings when necessary. Pointing out the obstacles ahead and encouraging others to be careful is the loving thing to do.
Loving one another is the most basic act of obedience to God. It’s also an essential element in your spiritual growth. At times, you may tend to focus inward and become self-centered. We live in a dog-eat-dog, every man for himself world. But that’s not Christianity. Remembering to be loving toward others will not only please God, but it will also help you to think of others and build good relationships.
Do you have an older sibling? It can be difficult to live up to the high standards set by older brothers and sisters. It can be equally difficult, and sometimes more painful, to live down the reputation of a notorious or embarrassing older sibling. James and Jude are two men in the Bible who had to deal with both challenges. Their older brother Jesus was both perfect and, in their minds, embarrassing.
Jesus must have been a hard act to follow, don’t you think? It may have been difficult for James, Jude, and the rest of their siblings to feel close to their wonderful, though different, big brother.
After Jesus’ public ministry began, his brothers James and Jude seemed to take a stand-back-and-watch attitude. One day Jesus would do great miracles and be acclaimed as a hero. The next, he would present a convicting message and offend the powerful religious and political authorities. In the end, he angered too many people and was sentenced to death. He’d claimed to be not only the promised Messiah but also God himself! No doubt, James and Jude thought their brother had gone off the deep end.
Yet the resurrection of Jesus overcame the doubts of his younger brothers, who later became leaders in the early church. Both brothers are remembered for the letters in Bible they wrote.
This same power that transformed James and Jude can transform you, too, and turn you from an unbelieving cynic to a faithful follower of Christ.
Roscoe and Arnie were friends for forty-five years. They met at work, played golf together every Saturday, and played poker with a few other guys on Tuesday nights. When they retired, they started playing golf together three times a week.
When Roscoe was diagnosed with colon cancer, he bravely endured chemotherapy and two surgeries before he passed away at age sixty-eight. After the funeral, the minister, who knew both men only casually, said to Arnie, ‘You men have been close friends for two-thirds of your lives. Roscoe must have confided in you about his hope for recovery, his fear of dying, and his remorse at leaving his wife behind.’ ‘Nope, Reverend,’ Arnie replied, wiping the tears from his eyes. ‘We talked about golf, fishing, poker, and work. We didn’t talk about what we were afraid of. We were good friends, Reverend, but we weren’t brothers.’
Unfortunately, many men view their friendships with other men the way Roscoe and Arnie viewed theirs. For them, a friend is someone who enjoys working, fishing, playing golf or racing stock cars with. But the relationship rarely gets much deeper than what they do together. The macho code of mythical masculinity prevents them from revealing their fears, dreams, weaknesses, mistakes, or hurts to each other.
Today’s man would do much better at handling the stresses of life if he had some friends who were more like brothers: men to whom he could bare his soul and still be completely accepted. Do you have a friend like that?