Yesterday I taught my second bible study to adults. Last time I taught, I rewrote the whole thing as an essay here on Chasing the Wind but that was a lot of work. I think this time I’ll stick to posting the outline, notes, and scripture. Especially since halfway through I deviated from my notes in a big way, so it’s possible a lot of the notes have nothing to do with what I said. 😛
I. Introduction to Isaiah 18
Today’s lesson is very specific and addressed to only certain people. Let’s turn to Isaiah 18:3-5:
All you people of the world,
you who live on the earth,
Who in here falls in this group, raise your hand? Everybody but Ken, good.
when a banner is raised on the mountains, you will see it,
and when a trumpet sounds, you will hear it.
God is saying here that his message is unmistakable. Armies at the time would raise a banner and sound a trumpet to get the attention of the troops. God is speaking to his people, those that belong to Him.
This is what the LORD says to me:
“I will remain quiet and will look on from my dwelling place, like shimmering heat in the sunshine,
like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest.”
God will remain quiet and watch and observe, but he is everywhere, watching and observing. When you’re driving down the highway and the heat is shimmering in the distance, God is there, waiting. And a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest like a sudden rainstorm is hurtful and can destroy a crop. When God is through watching disobedience, his punishment will be severe.
For, before the harvest, when the blossom is gone
and the flower becomes a ripening grape,
he will cut off the shoots with pruning knives,
and cut down and take away the spreading branches.
When God’s punishment comes, He will prune unproductive vines. Vines that produce no fruit but absorb water and nutrients are harmful to the rest of the crop, and God will prune those that are not productive.
So in Isaiah we see that God is waiting and watching and ready to prune those branches that are not producing fruit, ready to render His perfect judgment. God hates sin. I hope that’s not a surprise to anybody here, but God hates sin.
II. Overcoming Sinfulness
So, is there sin in your life? And is God watching you? Just asking that question makes me feel uncomfortable. Of course there is, there is in my life, too.
Romans 3:23, For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Each and every one of us. And if God hates sin, and we are the sinners He’s watching like a simmering heat, what do we do? After receiving the Holy Spirit and confessing the Christ is Lord, the Christian begins a process of sanctification.
Sanctification is the process by which the Holy Spirit makes us more like Christ in all that we do, think, and desire.
In other words, we become better at overcoming sinfulness. But how does this happen? Is there something like a sanctification tanning salon where sanctification rays beam down on us?
The Bible tells us about 4 main ways of overcoming sinfulness.
1. The Holy Spirit
So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.
The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
How is one filled with the Holy Spirit? First of all, it is of God’s choosing. In the Old Testament, He selected individuals and specific incidents to fill individuals He chose to accomplish a work that He wanted done.
- Genesis 41:38 says that when Pharaoh chose Joseph, he said, “Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?”
- In Exodus 31:3, “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts.’
- Numbers 24:2, “When Balaam looked out and saw Israel encamped tribe by tribe, the Spirit of God came upon him and he uttered his oracle.”
- 1 Samuel 10:10, “the Spirit of God came upon [Saul] in power, and he joined in their prophesying.”
Let’s look in the New Testament:
- Ephesians 5:17-18, Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.
- Colossians 3:16, Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.
I believe that if you fill yourselves with the Word of God, then God will you with the Holy Spirit. That brings us to the next method of overcoming sin.
2. The Word of God, the Bible
2 Timothy 3:16-17 says that God has given us His Word to equip us for every good work. It teaches us how to live and what to believe, when we have chosen wrong paths, and helps us get back on the right path.
And as Hebrews 4:12 shares, the Word of God is living and powerful and is able to penetrate to our hearts to root out the deepest hypocrasies.
The bible is a resource that we often treat carelessly. We carry our Bibles to church, read a chapter during bible study, but the Word of God is so much more powerful than just a tool. The Word of God becomes active in our lives when we memorize it and when we meditate on it.
We have some sort of eating disorder when it comes to reading the Word. We either snack on it but never filling ourselves, or we gorge on it for a day and starve ourselves for the rest of the week.
Do you memorize scipture when you come across passages the Holy Spirit impresses upon you? The Bible is the tool that the Spirit uses in our lives and the lives of thers.. In Ephesians 6:17, we are to take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, the word of God.
Like carrying our bibles around, we don’t use prayer to the fullest extent. In times of trouble or in stress, do we always go to the Lord in prayer first before we attempt to solve things on our own?
God has given us wonderful promises if we pray. Matthew 7:7-11, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; those who seek find; and to those who knock, the door will be opened.”
In the parable of the persistent widow in Luke 18:1-8, Jesus says that if at first you don’t get the response from God, just keep praying. And if you still don’t get the response you want, just keep praying.
And in 1 John 5:14-15, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears usâ€”whatever we askâ€”we know that we have what we asked of him.”
Our 4th method of overcoming sin is the Church, and specifically small groups, 1 on 1, personal relationships. God wants us to depend on others and for others to depend on us.
In Matthew 10:1, when Jesus sent His disciples out to spread the Good News among the lost sheep of Israel, He sent them out two by two. In the missionary journeys in Acts, they did not go out one at a time, but in groups of two or more. In Matthew 18:20, Jesus said that where two or three are gathered in His name, He is there in their midst. In Hebrews 10:24-25, we are to spur one another on, to encourage one another in love and good works. This doesn’t always mean a gentle encouragement. Have you ever ridden a horse? When you want to spur the horse on, would you consider that a “gentle encouragement?”
We are also told to confess our faults to one another. James 5:16, Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. We are not expected to walk through this world all alone. Confess to each other, we are told.
In Proverbs 27:17, we are told that as iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend. We become better Christians when we learn to lean on each other.
1. What is Accountability?
Did you notice that our instructions for relationships with other Christians is not just passive? We don’t just hang around each other, we admonish each other, we teach each other, we confess our sins to each other, we encourage each other. These instructions are active.
Coming to church to worship is excellent, of course, but we also should come to church to fellowship in an active way with other Christians and encourage the sanctification process in each other. Some have found brothers or sisters in Christ who get together to share how they are doing in their Christian walk, how they may have struggled, and commit to pray for each other. They hold each other accountable in applying God’s Word to their relationships. Let’s review what the bible says about this.
We already talked about Hebrews 10:24 (to spur one another on), James 5:16 (confess your sins and pray for each other), and Proverbs 27:17 (iron sharpens iron). Are there any other verses that tell us we are accountable to each other?
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor:
If they fall down, they can help each other up.
But pity those who fall and have no one to help them up!
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
Have you ever tried to move from one apartment to another by yourself? It’s hard to live half of a dresser. But two people lifting half a dresser each can give “good return for their labor.”
When I was in the Boy Scouts, they told us that if someone was suffering from hypothermia, say, if they fell in a lake of ice, then two people should share a sleeping bag. The heat from one person could save the other.
And have you ever seen a movie where the good guys, against overwhelming odds, stand back to back to defend themselves?
And after a verse like this – two have good return for their labor, two can help each other up, two, two, two – why does it say a cord of three strands? I like to think of that third strand as God binding us all together.
Galatians 6:1-2Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
There are two specific instructions here – if your brother or sister is in sin, bring them back to the attention of God’s Word. If your accountability friend has done something contrary to the Bible, you are called to confront him gently, forgive him, and comfort him. But make sure your primary influence is strong Christians so that you, too, don’t get caught up in the same sin. No one is above temptation.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
Value others obove yourself. Not equal; above.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
I’m of the opinion when God tells us something more than once, it’s important. The pages of the Bible are filled with stories of people leaning on others for growth and personal and spiritual development. Deep connections help people overcome their struggles and see what they cannot see on their own. Examples are
- Moses and Aaron (Exodus)
- David and Jonathan (1 Sam. 18-20).
- Paul and Barnabas
- Paul and Titus, Silas, and Timothy (Acts 11-14; 2 Cor. 2:12).
- And of course Jesus had His twelve disciples with a special attachment to Peter, James, and John.
We see through these examples of strong biblical people that accountability is not for just for those who are weak or needy. Accountability is for those whose faith is strong and who want to be stronger.
In 1 Corinthians chapter 12, we read that Christians are all part of the same body of Christ. Some of us are a foot – I think I may be a thumb. Separately the parts of the body cannot survive. We all need each other.
2. How do we have good accountability?
What keeps accountability from being effective? We are an abundant source of pride, we want to be the best we can be, even to the point of lying to ourselves and others. As I said earlier, we are all sinners. We want to appear the best that we can be, and we focus on our performance and behavior. Admitting we mess up is hard to do. In order for accountability to be effective, we must be honest.
What happens when a Christian brother or sister stumbles? Do we gently restore them to the church as we are called to do? We tend to shoot the wounded. If we’re afraid of being shot, we don’t show that we are wounded. We must be gentle with each other.
Active listening is essential. James 1:19 says, “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” I think we do the opposite – slow to listen, quick to speak, and quick to become angry.
Caring for each other is essential. 1 John 4:21 says, “And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.” Our attitude is very important. Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind and tender to one another. Forgive each other, just as God forgave you because of what Christ has done.” We should “speak the truth in love” as Ephesians 4:15 says.
Small groups are better, it gives everybody a chance to participate. Mixed groups are not better. The dynamics of men and women are complicated, and they struggle with different sets of issues. Men struggle with football. I can’t think of anything else they struggle with. No, actually they struggle with lust, pornography, idolatry to work, or laziness. Women might struggle with eating disorders, intimacy in relationships, gossip, envy, or jealousy.
The Tuesday night group I participate in is invaluable to me. We’ve been studying together for 6 months and we’ve worked ourselves to the state where we can trust each other and share our troubles. For me the best part is being able to share my concerns for the week, what’s most important to me, and have a group of strong Christian men that can offer support and advice.
And also I have a wife of accountability. This morning I ran an errand to the pharmacy, and when I got back, Diane asked me if she could fix me a piece of toast. “Um, no thanks,” I said.
“Did you eat while you were out?,” she asked.
“What? A donut?”
“Um…. I had…. um… breakfast.”
My accountability partner is helping me eat healthy, which the Egg McMuffin probably wasn’t as healthy as that granola bread stuff. You can try this method, but Diane will be very busy if you do.
A non-judgmental attitude is another essential element. If we have any scripture memorized, it is probably “Judge not lest ye be judged.” Matthew 7:1-3, Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in someone else’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? The concern here is that if we’re having an affair and accuse a brother of lust, we need to remove our own plank first. But why do we look at this judgement as something bad? Why wouldn’t we want our brother to hold us to a higher standard?
3. Discussion Questions
A good friend invites you for a cup of coffee. “Friend, I’ve been struggling with a particular sin over the past couple months. I don’t think I can shake it on my own. Would you hold me accountable in my fight against this sin?â€œ
- Does this make you feel uncomfortable? Why?
- Let’s reverse the role. What prevents you from asking another to hold you accountable?
4. Bad Accountability
Remember we are to spur one another, but we are to do it in love. Here’s a fictional news article we do not want to read about in the newspaper (adapted from an article at Larknews.com):
Headline: Houston. Accountability groups classified as gangs.
Noting a rise in accountability-group-related violence, Houston police are keeping a close eye on church-based men’s groups.
Houston police chief Harold Hurtt says, “Gang violence has dropped, but Christian accountability group violence is up sharply.”
Houston is the home of the “radical accountability” movement, where breakfast meetings have been been turned into gang-style networks. Instead of applying peer pressure to prod one another to wholesome lifestyles, these groups have started “hazing and harassing” non-compliant members, police say.
One Second Baptist man, who quit his accountability group and is now in police protective custody, says his former accountability group pounced on him after he broke a promise to his wife. “I told her I’d take her to a bed and breakfast in the Hill Country, but I went to play golf instead,” he says. “On Monday morning, the guys in my group were waiting for me in the parking lot at my workplace with brass knuckles and family-edition Bibles. They worked me over pretty good, and said they’d pray for me.”
Sociologists say accountability groups are following a predictable path into increasingly aggressive behavior, says a sociologist from the University of Texas. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we start seeing accountability drive-by shootings in the near future.”
Accountability is not about confrontation. We may at times need to be confronted, but accountability is more about challenging one another to grow in Christ.
Let me leave you with this final thought if you are on the receiving end of a Christian rebuking:
Like an earring of gold or an ornament of fine gold is a wise man’s rebuke to a listening ear.
If your brother or sister cares enough about you to rebuke you in a loving and caring way, then you truly have a treasure.