No person fails on purpose. Yet, spiritual, and moral failures abound. A few years ago, I taught a lesson to my church’s men’s group which focused on temptations men face. The workbook we were using quoted C.S. Lewis on this subject and was a turning point for many in the group. Lewis wrote,
“It does not matter how small the sins are, provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the person away from the light and out into the nothing… Indeed, the safest road to hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”
The truth communicated by Lewis rang true. It reminded me of something a former mentor of mine once said. He emphasized repeatedly that compromise comes through the smallness of our daily surrenders.
It is giving up that little bit of personal conviction each day. It is the little piece of candy no one will ever know you ate. It is watching that program or visiting that website when you are all alone. You get the picture.
Usually the first surrender to “small, insignificant sins” makes it easier to fall prey to them again and again. The damage comes from the “cumulative effect” Lewis was pointing to. Few people wake up in the morning planning to sin spectacularly later in the day. Yet those daily surrenders build up over time. Give a little ground here and there and before you know it, you are in trouble. In fact, you become practically unrecognizable, even to yourself. You did not plan for this to happen, but those daily surrenders were enough to do the trick.
Therefore, we must be vigilant. We need to work from the foundation of knowing who we are in Christ. We need to count ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:11). Those “daily surrenders” need not reign over us. The same Spirit who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead dwells in us as well.
Yet, we also need to exercise the self-awareness that recognizes those areas in our lives wherein we are weak. Every person ought to ask himself or herself: Am I being less watchful in some areas of my life than others? Even the small, seemingly insignificant areas? Am I overly confident I would never again fall prey to that particular temptation? A member of my church used to remind me often, “to be forewarned is to be forearmed.”
If you want to avoid those small daily surrenders, then pray for God to deliver you from temptation. But do not forget to do your part. Name those temptations in advance. Talk with a godly person you trust and ask them to hold you accountable. Renew your mind daily in God’s Word. The Apostle Paul shared God’s wisdom on this point when he wrote in Philippians 4:8-9,
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
What are you thinking on?
Merciful and patient Lord, I do not want to sin. I do not want to “fail on purpose.” Yet I confess to you that I have not always put in place or practiced those wise spiritual disciplines that would draw me ever closer to you and protect me from the snares of the devil and my own fleshly weaknesses. Please forgive me and renew me. As David cried out, put a right spirit within me. Give me such a desire for you that turning away from you would be the last thing on my mind. Give me greater Spirit-enabled self-discipline and self-control to practice those means of grace you have given to your children to help us conform more and more to the likeness of your Son, our Lord and Savior. For it is in his name and for his sake I pray. Amen.
2 Timothy 2:2; 1 Timothy 1:2; Acts 13
In my reading over the years I’ve been often reminded of how important one-to-one ministry really is. As a man invests his life into the life of another man, real growth can occur in remarkable ways. This is one of the key ways our faith has been passed down through the centuries. And I can certainly attest to the power and influence such a ministry has played in my own life.
A helpful way of thinking about one-on-one ministry is to think about three names: Paul, Barnabas, and
Timothy. Below is a description of what each name represents as we think in terms of ministering to other men.
1.) Paul represents that person in your life who mentors, leads, and directs you. This is the man who comes along side you to disciple you along the road of faith and life. This is someone who has traveled further down the road of faith and life than you. This man doesn’t have to be a great deal older than you, but it probably ought to be someone who has walked faithfully with God long enough and far enough for you to profit from his wisdom – his reflected-upon experience, study of God’s Word, etc. And it usually is the case that, though not exclusively so, this man will be older than you as well. But, as I said, sometimes this simply means, “older in the faith.”
I hasten to add that you must beware of someone who says he has been a Christian for 25 years when in reality, he has been a Christian for only one year, 25 years in a row. In other words, there has been no growth and maturation over that 25 years. My own observation as a pastor is that this sort of person abounds in the church. There are many people who, by their own admission, haven’t learned much more about God’s Word and walking along the road with him, than when they were children in Vacation Bible School. And so brothers, you must be careful about this. Pray for discernment.
Also, just because a man is at the top of his game in his profession, does not mean he is likewise mature and advanced in his faith. Success in one field of endeavor doesn’t necessarily mean success in another area of life. As I heard one person describe it, a man may have a Ph.D. in psychology, but have a second grade Sunday school degree in Bible. This is not the sort of man you want to have as your Paul.
2.) Barnabas is someone who encourages you and holds you accountable in your faith and life. This is more or less a mutual friendship, or what’s called in the world of spiritual formation, a “spiritual friendship.” In the book of Acts, Paul and Barnabas traveled together side by side. Barnabas was a key person in Paul’s life, especially at the beginning of his walk with Christ as he introduced Paul to the Christian community. Their relationship then became one of mutual encouragement, ministry, and accountability.
There are men I have discipled for years who have gone from being a Timothy in my life to becoming a Barnabas to me. And while I can still disciple them, they also minister to me in many ways.
3.) Timothy is that man you help guide along the road of faith and life. This is generally someone who has not traveled as far as you have in your walk with Christ. Such a man is marked (or should be) by an eagerness to grow in his relationship with Christ and is humble and teachable enough to receive what you have to share and to interact with you on the things of faith and life.
This “mark of a Timothy” should not be ignored just for the sake of having a Timothy. There are many smart guys out there who don’t have teachable spirits. They feel they have nothing to learn from another man. So too, some are indifferent to the things of God. Timothy, Paul’s “son in the faith,” as Paul called him, was humble, teachable, and eager to know, love, and follow God through Jesus Christ. So too, a “Timothy” shouldn’t expect to only receive guidance and wisdom from his “Paul,” but should plan on becoming a Paul himself one day so he can begin the whole process over again with another man.
This is a process in a man’s life that ought to last a lifetime and be produced, reproduced, and multiplied over and over again throughout the course of the man’s lifetime, as well as in the lives of the men he invests in. We are Christians today, humanly speaking, because those who went before us were faithful to this process.
In sum, we need to be a Paul, Barnabas, and Timothy and we need to have a Paul, Barnabas, and Timothy. Such men in our lives are gifts from God. And we have the blessed opportunity to be such a gift to other men.
· Who is your Paul? To whom are you a Paul? Describe those relationships.
· Who is your Barnabas? To whom are you a Barnabas? Describe those relationships.
· Who is your Timothy? To whom are you a Timothy? Describe those relationships.
· If you drew a blank on any of those questions, begin praying for God to bring men into your life who will invest in you or who will be open to you investing in them.
Flee from the Wrath to Come
Do you desire to flee from the wrath to come and be saved from your sins?
Answering yes to that question was the only condition required for those who wanted to be admitted into the societies of a new movement of God in the 18th century, called, “Methodism.”
Romans 8:1 reminds us of this good news,
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Wrath. Condemnation. That’s some pretty serious stuff.
How to Flee
So, how can we flee from the wrath to come and be saved from our sins? And how can we make Paul’s declaration our own and say, “There is now no condemnation for us for we are in Christ Jesus”?
James helps us here. Listen to this paraphrase of James 5:13-16a from Eugene Peterson’s, The Message,
Are you hurting? Pray. Do you feel great? Sing. Are you sick? Call the church leaders together to pray and anoint you with oil in the name of the Master. Believing-prayer will heal you, and Jesus will put you on your feet. And if you’ve sinned, you’ll be forgiven--healed inside and out. Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed.
It was James 5:16a, that was the governing verse and slogan for those early Methodist societies. Again, James wrote,
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.
There was a direct connection for Wesley between spiritual healing and physical healing – or any other kind of healing.
We can flee from the wrath of God, be saved from our sins, and be delivered from condemnation because our Lord Jesus Christ died for our sins on the cross. That’s what we remember and experience when we celebrate Holy Communion. That’s what we remind one another of when we meet together to build one another up in our faith.
John Wesley wanted Methodist Christians to live whole and holy lives in response to the grace of God, by the grace of God – out of thanksgiving and obedience to God. And part of doing that was by meeting together regularly to confess sins, share temptations and other struggles with one another.
Then they would encourage one another, pray for one another, and remind one another of God’s healing power, grace, and the truth of 1 John 1:9, which says,
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
This is similar to what United Methodists do when we confess our sins together in our Holy Communion liturgy. Once we confess our sins, the pastor then reads these words,
“Hear the good news:
Christ died for us while we were yet sinners;
that proves God’s love toward us.
In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.”
Then the congregation responds,
“In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.”
Here’s the key: We’re not forgiving one another. Instead, we’re affirming and declaring the truth of the Gospel of 1 John 1:9 – that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
Forgiven and Forgiving
Now, of course, if we sin against another person, we do need to go to that person and seek their forgiveness. That’s why Jesus, in Matthew 5, tells us if we’re going to the altar to give an offering and remember someone who has something against us, we should first go to them and be reconciled.
We should be people whose lives are marked by being forgiven and forgiving.
Think of the words we say when we pray the Lord’s Prayer: “And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Jesus expects his followers to be people who forgive much because they have been forgiven much.
I encourage you to take a close and hard look at your life. If you have any areas of your life that need that sort of reconciliation, then this very day, go to that person and either ask for forgiveness or offer it. That’s a healing act. That can bring about wonderful healing and wholeness in your life and in the lives of others.
You see, Christianity is a wholistic faith. To be whole and holy means we seek to live wholistic lives under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Our spiritual lives, physical lives, relationships, mental lives, emotional lives and more are all interconnected. And therefore, we need healing, which of course includes spiritual healing. You see, sin is a sickness of the soul. It has devastating power in our lives.
It can have an incredibly alienating impact in our lives. It can…
· Alienate us from God
· Alienate us from Others, and
· Alienate us even from Ourselves.
James recognized that in our text by connecting our spiritual need for forgiveness with our physical needs for healing and the many other ways we experience troubles in this world.
Meeting together with other brothers in Christ is a way to watch over one another in love, to confess our sins and struggles to one another, to be reminded that when we confess our sins God will forgive us, and to receive help and reconciliation when needed. In a word, we experience God’s grace in these times of deep, biblical fellowship.
Brothers, isn’t that good news? And because of it we can declare with the Apostle Paul,
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Thanks be to God.
· Reread Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of James 5:13-16, mentioned in this chapter. Meditate upon it and write down key ideas you gain from it.
· In what ways does your small group help bring healing to the men in your group?
· What are some ways your group could improve at reminding one another of the wholistic healing offered in and through Christ Jesus, our Lord?
· At its best and most biblical, what do you think should take place when men meet together in a small group setting?
· How can you help and encourage your group to start moving in that direction? Start praying for that today. God will move mountains when men pray.
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