There are two well used myths when it comes to encouraging each other in the faith. I’m sure you’ve used them many times because I have used them as well.
The first myth: I don’t know you well enough speak into your life.
I understand this myth well. I’ve used it often, and I acknowledge it as a weakness in my ministry. I fear that not knowing people well enough negates or invalidates my ability to speak directly into their lives.
Underneath this fear is the genuine desire for a greater level of personal comfort between people. I want to feel comfortable with another person before we feel confident in slipping into deeper matters and conversation. So we wait, we make chit chat, we hang out more… all in the hopes that our relationship will move to another level.
But there’s a few problems with this approach. For instance, we know from personal experience that some friendships are easy to make, and others take more time. There’s no set moment to define when a relationship is ‘deep enough’. So often it can be hard to know if I really am in a deeper level relationship with someone.
But there’s a far more greater problem – especially as we consider what the bible says.
The New Testament calls Christians both friends (3 John 15) and family. In regards to family, the New Testament is filled with the language of ‘brothers’ and our ‘adoption as sons’. This familial language redefines cultural and societal norms within the church – breaking through economical, racial, gender and social barriers (cf Galatians 3:28-29).
It is within this context of familial language that every passage to encourage, exhort and reprove each other in the Word does not come with the caveat that you must know someone on a deeper, more intimate level, in order to do so. Rather, the New Testament says something profoundly remarkable: Christians are deeply connected to each other by the blood of Christ.
Take two examples from the book of Galatians (looked at recently at the Ignite Training Conference!):
‘For freedom Christ has set us free… for you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.’ [Galatians 5:1, 13]. (emphasis mine)
Notice here that Christ’s death and resurrection frees us – and to this freedom we are called, as brothers (family in Christ). Now as family we use this freedom we have gained to love and serve each other. We are connected by the blood of Jesus and that gives us permission to lovingly serve each other.
‘But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh… But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law… But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law… If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit… Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. [Galatians 5:16-17a, 18, 22, 25, 6:1a] (emphasis mine)
Notice the connection of walking by the Sprit, being led by the Spirit, the fruit of the Spirit, living by the Spirit, keeping in step with the Spirit and being spiritual. Those who are ‘spiritual’ in 6:1a is not referring just to mature, super-godly Christians – but any Christian seeking to live by the Spirit and not by their sinful flesh.
And any Christian, because we are family (‘Brothers’, cf 6:1a), should restore a wayward Christian.
That’s just two examples from Galatians. But there is plenty in the rest of the New Testament. There you will see that the onus of speaking into each other’s lives – for encouragement or reproof – is not dependant on how well you know someone. The New Testament grants us permission to speak into each other’s lives because we are profoundly connected to each other by the blood of Christ.
That’s the first myth.
The second myth: I have no life experience in this area, so I can’t speak into it. Or: it’s important to be discipled by someone with more life experience than you, otherwise they don’t have enough life wisdom to share.
The problem with this myth is that it’s only partly true. Life experience is helpful in counselling and discipling someone – but only so far as it has been reviewed in the light of and shaped by the gospel. Some of the worst counsel can come from someone who has lived many years. Heaps of people have life experience, but whether they have thought that through biblically is another issue.
The Apostle Paul’s end goal of all his teaching and ministry was the presentation of everyone ‘mature in Christ’ (cf Colossians 1:28). So all theology and life experience he encouraged with, rebuked people over, and exhorted others towards was ultimately shaped by the gospel in order to shape others in gospel-centred living. He never wrote a letter full of imperatives without first laying out the gospel indicatives.
And he commonly spoke on topics that he had little to no experience in.
As far as I can ascertain Paul was neither married nor had any children. Yet he spoke with authority on the topics of Marriage (Ephesians 5:22-32) and parenting and family relationships (Ephesians 6:1-4).
He would also write to a young Timothy to tell him that he was to pastor a church which included elderly people (cf 1 Timothy 4:11, 5:1-2). So if Timothy was young, and had little life experience, does that mean he had little to say to the older generations in his congregation? Or to the married couples, or to families?
Does this mean a single pastor today can have no ministry towards married couples and families? Of course not!
Rather, we may not know from experience what life is like as a parent, but scripture does give us some guidance on these matters. Any Christian who understands the biblical command should be able to humbly and lovingly encourage another Christian in these matters.
At the end of the day how you go about this process matters as much as you doing it in the first place.
If you do need to rebuke someone then you need to do it humbly. The whole speck in your brothers eye and log in your eye is not meant to be a warning against making any judgement, but an exhortation towards humble conversation. So I lack life experience in this area, so I don’t know you very well personally… ok – but because I’m profoundly connected to you as brother in Christ, and because I know the clear scriptural teaching on this issue, let me humbly come to you and ask you gently what’s up with this. My goal is to not judge or tear down, but to see Christ formed in you even in this area of life.