Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Do You Have Close Friends in Christ?

Dear brothers and sisters at Morningview, though all of our MIT classes this coming quarter (January 6 - March 10) will be excellent, I wanted to encourage you to give special consideration to "Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands" which will use Paul Tripp's book by the same name.  It's about how God calls every believer to be an "instrument" in the sanctification of fellow believers.

Consider that Scripture requires us to know and fellowship (or share) with "one another" in the gospel.  Fellowship is about becoming a "means of grace" in the lives of one another.  A search on the words “one another” in the NT reveals much about Christian fellowship in the church.
John 15:12 love one another as I have loved you; Romans 12:10 Outdo one another in showing honor; Romans 12:16 Live in harmony with one another; Romans 14:13 let us not pass judgment on one another; Romans 15:7 welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you; Romans 15:14 instruct one another; Romans 16:16 Greet one another; 1 Corinthians 11:33 wait for one another; 1 Corinthians 12:25 care for one another; 2 Corinthians 13:11 Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you; Galatians 5:13 through love serve one another; Galatians 5:15-16 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh; Galatians 5:26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another; Ephesians 4:2 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love; Ephesians 4:32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you; Colossians 3:9 Do not lie to one another; 1 Thessalonians 5:11 encourage one another and build one another up; 1 Thessalonians 5:15 always seek to do good to one another and to everyone; Hebrews 3:13 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 10:24-25 consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together; James 4:11 Do not speak evil against one another; James 5:9 Do not grumble against one another; James 5:16 confess your sins to one another and pray for one another; 1 Peter 4:8-9 keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling; 1 Peter 4:10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, and finally 1 Peter 5:5 Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another. In order to fulfill these commands, we need to grow in our fellowship. 
There are a number of other reasons that close gospel fellowship is vital in the life of the local church:

1. Sanctification happens as we learn to live out the truths of God's Word in our relationships. Experiencing the love and grace of other Christians is one of the means by which God presses His Word into His people experientially. When our brothers and sisters "fill up what is lacking in Christ's sufferings" by loving us and serving us, we experience the gospel. Also, learning to believe the gospel and live in light of the gospel toward other redeemed sinners sanctifies us. Living in community forces us to deal with the sins of our brothers and sisters and with our own sins. It's not enough for the church to know the Word. We must lovingly live the Word toward one another.

2. One of the goals of faithful teaching and preaching is that folks learn to "pastor their own hearts" and so to pastor others. God's people are not to depend only on ordained pastors to apply God's Word to them. They need to learn how to apply the gospel to themselves and to others. The first place this needs to happen is within the home. Second to that, it should be happening in the local church.  The healthiest communities of faith are ones where its members understand how the streams of sin run in the human heart and know how to apply the gospel of Christ to one another for their mutual edification.

3. It's only when we truly know each other personally that we will do good to one another in covenant community. Outside of close personal relationships, it may be easy for us to "pretend" and "perform" the externals of Christianity. But it's only through close personal relationships in Christ that we can truly know one another's burdens, sorrows, sins, weaknesses, and so love, identify with, and so encourage each other to grow in Christ Jesus.

4. Close fellowship is absolutely vital for the church's formative discipline. Without it, I believe more cases of corrective discipline will arise. With true gospel fellowship, it's possible that cases of corrective discipline will diminish as we bear one another's burdens and learn to encourage each other more faithfully.

5. A culture of gospel fellowship directly confronts the idol of American individualism. Unlike Eastern cultures (and biblical culture), Americans tend to make too little time for relationships with people. Instead, Americans tend to focus on individualistic ends, including individual advancement and individual gratification. The way to get beyond this is not only to preach the Word, but to encourage one another to foster sincere relationships in the Word of Jesus Christ.

6. One of the greatest joys in the life of the believer is truly knowing other believers and being known by them. But building close Christian friendships means we have to make ourselves vulnerable as Christ was vulnerable on the cross.  It takes time and hard work, reflective of Christ's hard work during His earthly ministry.  But the blessing will certainly be well worth the effort.

Certainly, we can't all have close relationships with one another.  Close Christian fellowship can't be programmed or brought about by church administration.  Often such fellowship grows without much intentionality.  But we can and should be intentional about working to develop Christian friendships.

What about you?  Do you have close friends in Christ?  Are you living in fellowship with other brothers and sisters?  Are you working to build into the lives of others?

Let me encourage you to consider taking Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands in MIT this quarter.  Paul Tripp's book encourages churches to develop cultures of knowing one another in Christ for the sake of mutual sanctification. His book sets out the theology and methodology of true Christian fellowship and discipleship among believers.

Some people might say Paul Tripp's book teaches lay people how to "counsel" one another.  But I'm convinced that the term "counseling" isn't helpful or accurate.  What true "biblical counseling" really is and what Paul Tripp really does is teach Christians how to "fellowship" with and "disciple" one another in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

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