In my experience there is usually one of the spouses in a marriage that handles the majority of the doctoring and nursing duties. There is one who has the medical knowledge and who knows what to do when a child or spouse is injured or maybe just plain under the weather. There is one who can clean up vomit without having to don a hazmat suit. For my marriage, this person is most definitely Aileen. She is the one who is always the first to notice the signs of sickness in our children. I may think they are acting perfectly normal, but she notices something almost indiscernible and declares that they are in the early stages of a cold or flu. Though I usually protest that nothing is wrong, more often than not time bears out the fact that she is right . . . again.
Aileen has a remedy for everything. Somehow she has learned how to treat any ailment. Some of these treatments make perfect sense to me; others, well, not so much. One that continues to confuse me is putting a hot cloth on something that is infected. If one of us has some weird skin thing going on, Aileen will put heat on it and insist that this draws the infection to the surface. I remain skeptical, though who am I, really, to challenge her? I looked it up online and the plethora of medical sites out there seem to agree that there is something to this theory. Maybe it is more than an old fable or wives’ tale that has been handed down to her. Heat draws out the infection.
Lone Rangers are Dead Rangers
I thought of this principle while sitting with the men of my church last Wednesday night. No, none of the men there had a huge blight on his face or anything unsightly like that. We’ve been reading through Josh Harris’ Sex Is Not the Problem (Lust Is) and came to the chapter dealing with accountability and the kind of friendship that asks the tough questions. We talked together for quite some time about the kind of relationship that allows for deep and probing questions—the kind of relationship that offers a real level of accountability. We soon came to see that almost all of us desire to be in this kind of relationship—one where we can speak with other Christian men and have them both challenge us to put sin aside and preach the gospel to us in those times where we’ve committed that sin yet again. This is not just accountability that focuses on sexual sins, but on all kinds of sin and transgression. But though it seems that all of us felt we could benefit from this kind of relationship, I believe that very few of us actually are.
And this has been my experience and my observation. It’s interesting to me that Christian men are hesitant to seek out this kind of relationship (and here I implicate myself as much as any man). Men want these relationships but very few are actually in them. I’m quite convinced that the main reason, or at least one of the main reasons, is that as men we are convinced that we would be the one who was imposing on others. I’d be glad to talk to a friend if he called me at midnight in the throes of a crisis. But I would never think of calling another if I was the one experiencing crisis. I would be glad to help a friend who truly desired a measure of accountability, but it would not occur to me to impose upon another if I needed accountability. Everyone is busy; why would I want to be a bother? And yet the other men are thinking the same. Maybe it’s time for us to lay aside pride and let other men into our lives.
Applying the Heat
According to Alan Medinger (quoted in Harris’ book), an accountability relationship is “one in which a Christian gives permission to another believer to look into his life for purposes of questioning, challenging, admonishing, advising, encouraging and otherwise providing input in ways that will help the individual live according to the Christian principles they both hold.” These relationships are of the type in which Christians apply heat to each others’ lives. They ask tough questions, probing questions, potentially humiliating questions, in order to find evidence of sin. Because we often have trouble seeing the sin in our own lives, we ask others to seek it out on our behalf.
Drawing Out the Infection
Too many accountability relationships end there. They are incomplete, ending with sin or with sympathy. Confession is necessary and we may well sympathize with one another as we discuss sins that are common to all men. But we cannot and must not end there. Instead we must take those sins to the cross. My pastor gave the wise advice Wednesday night that we must be prepared not only to look each other in the eyes to ask about sin, but also to look each other in the eyes and preach Jesus. We need more than confession and sympathy—we need the cross of Jesus Christ; we need the gospel so we can draw out that infection. We need to admonish, challenge, advise and always preach the gospel. As Harris says, “The most important thing we can do for each other when we talk about sin and temptation is to remind each other of God’s provision for our sin—the Cross of Jesus Christ.”
This is the kind of friends, the kind of brothers, we need to be. We need to be brothers who will ask the difficult questions—who will apply the heat—so that we can help one another draw out the infection.
“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).”
This is a guest post written by Tim Challies. Tim is the author of The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment. He is the author of the widely-read Christian blog, Challies Dot Com, and the editor of Discerning Reader, a site dedicated to discerning reviews of books that are of interest to Christians. Tim is a self-employed web designer who lives on the outskirts of Toronto, Ontario.
This post first appeared on Tim’s blog in April of this year. Thanks to Tim for letting us re-post his timely words for those who are struggling with a secret sin in their life