Putting first things first is one thing. Keeping first things first, now, that’s a whole ‘nother thing. So, we’re gonna talk about, well, how do you keep first things first? The problem is, many start well, but few finish well. It’s one thing to make a commitment and to really mean it. It’s quite another thing to keep it sustained, over a significant period of time, so that those things that you know you wanna do, you know God wants you to do, you find yourself little by little by little putting a week together into a month, and a few months into a year, and a few years into a decade, and a couple of decades – and that’s how you leave a legacy.
I mean, that’s how life really plays out. It’s what I’m doing today, with a view to God’s calling, His purpose, and legacy in my life. And whether it’s scanning – you know? You can look – read the characters in this book, and a lot of ‘em start well. There are a lot of kings that start well, but I can only find a handful that finish well.
In the second half of life, some people that we all have admired seem to – something happens. A lot of churches start well, don’t finish well. In fact, closer to home, a lot of marriages start well; a lot of parenting starts well; a lot of it doesn’t finish well.
And now that we’ve got the problem isolated, what’s the solution? I wanna suggest that the solution, apart from your own relationship with God – there’s no quick-easy, but for people who really want to follow Christ, for people that want to honor God, for people who wanna balance their life and do things God’s way, for His glory and for their good, and for others, the two words I would give you is, biblical accountability.
Let me give you a definition. Biblical accountability is enlisting the support of those who love me, to help me keep my commitments to God. In other words, it’s biblical. As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. It’s not simply accountability. That’s, in some ways, a negative word, too. This is not getting a group of people that harass you. You know, this is not getting a group of people that you can meet with on a regular basis to make you feel guilty. This is not calling it “We’re involved in accountability group,” but everyone goes about, oh, a little past the first, superficial layer, but you never really get down to what’s really going on. This is where you ask, you invite people into your life, and you say, “This isn’t about expectations of other people.” This is where you say, “I want to be...”
In my case, “I wanna be a man of God. I wanna be a great father. I wanna be a great husband. I wanna be, in the eyes of God, a great pastor and a great friend. Will you help me keep my commitments to God? I don’t wanna fulfill your program. I don’t wanna fulfill what you think. I’m asking you, would you enter into my inner world, because of our relationship and our trust – will you help me keep my commitments to God? I’m going to open my life. I’m going to be honest; I’m going to be vulnerable. I’m gonna share my victories; I’m gonna share my struggles. Will you help me?” That’s biblical accountability.
And I’d like to suggest that there is no way to fulfill anything we’ve talked about without it. It’s powerful. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 says, “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity” – notice that – “pity the man” – pity the woman – “who falls” – and you know you’re gonna fall – “and has no one to help him 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 . . . is not quickly broken.”
We have an American, individualistic mindset about spirituality and walking with God that is rooted somewhere deep in the heart of John Wayne. “All right, Pilgrims, it’s me –” that’s not a very good imitation, by the way, either – “and God, and I’m gonna do it all by myself, you see?” That was a little bit better.
I want you to know that every New Testament command that I can find is in what’s called, grammatically, the second-person plural: “Hey, be this kind of a husband, you all men. Be this kind of a wife. Walk in purity, you all.” Second-person plural means, you can’t do it alone. It is – it’s not hard, it is impossible to be a man of God, a woman of God, the kind of husband, the kind of pure, single person, the kind of employer, employee, church member, elder, deacon – it’s impossible, impossible to do what God’s called you to do – you, God, your Bible.
You need people. I need people. But not people that are at a length, not people that know you superficially, not people that you let in on just certain things, and the real deep struggles and the secrets and the difficulty and the pain and the hurts never get out on the table. You were never designed – it is impossible for you, and impossible for me, to make it apart from other people.
We all agree. Intellectually, everyone agrees with biblical accountability. I mean, you know, back to, you are your brother’s keeper. Our experience affirms it works. Some of you will look back, and you could say, “You know what? I would not be the person I am today, apart –” and you’re either thinking of a real close friendship, a mentor, a small group, a season, at times, that it was just like, wow, man, there was connection, open honesty, you were motivated.
History affirms – I mean, we’ve got the Moravians, the Wesleys, the Korean movement, the small group movement – I mean, they didn’t call ‘em “Methodists” for nothing. It was their methodology. You were in a small group. You shared. In Methodism, people would meet twice a week, and they would have corporate confession: “This is where I sinned this week.” Reintroduce that, see how it works.
The great majority of all the Christians do not have or experience biblical accountability.
We need one another.
Well, if we agree we need one another so much, we know it works, question: Why don’t more believers have authentic, biblical accountability that allows you to sustain the discipline in the arenas that God is revealing to you, that you know you want and you long for Him to change in you? And I would like to give you five reasons why accountability is essential for spiritual success.
And what you’re gonna find is, we’re gonna start right where we were in the last passage.
we go. Five reasons accountability – biblical accountability is essential for spiritual success.
Number one, because we never outgrow the need for personal accountability. And you say, “Chip, well, where do you get that?” Well, let’s listen one more time to what the apostle Paul said. He says, verse 24 of chapter 9 of 1 Corinthians, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you... win. [And] everyone who competes in the games” – those Olympic Games – “exercises [discipline or] self-control in all things. [Well,] they . . . do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we [do it] an imperishable. Therefore” – application – “I run in such a way . . . not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air” – clear-cut goal – “I [buffet] my body and [I]make it my slave” – discipline – “[lest possibly] after [I’ve] preached to others, I myself [should] be disqualified.” Paul’s greatest desire? Great use for Christ. Paul’s greatest fear: “I think I might, myself, get disqualified. I’ll get off track.”
Here’s the principle: If Paul had those concerns, how much more should we?
So, the first reason is, you never outgrow it. The second reason that we need biblical accountability for spiritual success is because past successes are no guarantee of future faithfulness. And this is very subtle. “I’ve been walking with God for years. I read my Bible. I pray, and I go to church. My family’s done this and, you know what? I have a few little struggles here and there, but I’m not having big problems with the Internet. I mean, hey, you know? Lighten up, guy. I mean, I’m just – I’m okay.” Past successes are no guarantee of future faithfulness.
And you say, “Well, where do you get that?” I get it from what Paul said. After Paul just finishing telling me, “I’m afraid I might blow it,” he reaches back into the Old Testament, and he’s gonna go back and look at, wow, let’s take a look at the Israelites, and let’s get some lessons from them about people that had some pretty cool experiences. I mean, they had some past success. How’d you like to be on the “I Went Through the Red Sea Team,” and got a T-shirt at the end? “Hey, I was there!” Or the “I Was On the Manna Team,” 40 years, you know, little picture over here, a little logo that says, “I ate special kind of bread for 40 years and never...” Do you realize how many amazing, overwhelming, supernatural experiences the children of Israel had?
Your spiritual experiences will not sustain you.
So, he reaches back in the Old Testament, and notice the connecting word, for. He’s giving a reason. He says, “That I should be disqualified.” Because Paul’s looking back and saying, “If those people, with those amazing experiences, can get disqualified, who am I?” He says, “For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud... [they] all passed through the sea; and [they were] all baptized into Moses in the cloud and... the sea; and [they] all ate the same spiritual food” – the manna – “and [they] . . . drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ.”
Underline the next word: nevertheless. “Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness.”
Walking with God in the past is no guarantee that you’ll walk with Him in the future. Yesterday’s experiences do not make you useful for tomorrow. There is no such thing as spiritual autopilot: “We’re now at 30,007 feet. You can lean back, put up your tray – Boop! You will walk with God until you die.” Wrong. You’re either growing or shrinking spiritually. For all of us.
I could pass a microphone around about now, and you could tell me stories. I’ve got mine, but I don’t need to share. You could tell me stories of some of your great heroes – a pastor, a mentor, church leader – that, somewhere in your spiritual journey, they were, like, “Whoa, hey, some day, some way, I wanna be –” And right now, they’re a moral failure, right? And boy, it’s sad.
The third reason is because we constantly underestimate the power of our own sinful passions. I mean, it begs the question, you – well, how? How can some of the most committed, gifted people in all the body of Christ, both in Bible times and our times – how in the world can you get off track? And hopefully, in your heart of hearts, you’re saying, “I don’t ever wanna get off the track, and I don’t know how I could get off of track, but gosh, if Paul thinks he could get off track and if all those people in the nation of Israel got off track, and some people that were my heroes got off track, I guess I could. But how? What happens?” You and I underestimate the power of our own sinful passions.
Paul will pick up the story, after reaching in and giving us his spiritual view of those children of Israel. Then, in verse 6 through 11, he explains. “Now these things happened as examples” – or a type – “for us” – those things he just talked about – “. . . that we [should] not crave evil things as they . . . craved. [And] do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, ‘THE PEOPLE SAT DOWN TO EAT AND DRINK, AND STOOD UP TO PLAY.’ Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. Nor let us try the Lord” – or test the Lord – “as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents. Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now these things happened to them as” – notice the repetition – “an example, and they [are] written for our instruction, upon [which] the ends of the ages have come.”
I want you to realize his point is, “I’m making the example.” Now, if we had a lot more time, and for some of you that really love to do Bible study, did you notice, a lot of these phrases, he is pulling out the whole big stories of the Old Testament, right? And so, let me do some quick Bible study with you.
I want you to put a line under “crave evil things.” What he’s saying is, there are passions. In fact, it’s an intensive form. There’s a word for cravings or lusts or passions. This has a prefix. It’s an intensified form. So, he’s saying they had supercharged lusts and passions and drives that they fulfilled outside of God’s plan.
And then, he goes on to say – put a box around the word idolaters. At the heart, always at the heart of us falling away from the living God is, we make someone or something the idol, or the god, in His place. And guess what? It can be your mate. Are you ready? It can be your ministry. Yes, it can be your money. It can be a car. It can be another woman, another man. But anything or anyone that takes the rightful place of your loyalty and allegiance is an idol. He’s saying we have passions, we have drives, we’re tempted in the world to satisfy ‘em in different ways. And so, what’s he say? He says they come out as idolaters, as some of them did.
When he says, “Nor let us act immorally,” put a box around “act immorally.” That’s the lusts of the flesh. Skip down and put – it’s hard to put a box around, but, “try” – or test – “the Lord.” He’s talking about the story of the envy of Moses. That’s the lust of the eyes. And then, put a box around the word grumble. That’s the pride of life. We want that power. And then, put a box around the word grumble. That’s the pride of life. We want that power.
And all I’m telling you is, this is just so basic, and he’s giving us this picture. He says you constantly underestimate the power of your own sinful passions. I don’t care how much Bible, how long you’ve been a Christian, on certain days, at a certain time, you have these desires, and different windows and different seasons, and it can be difficulty or loneliness or travel or pain or sickness or some unresolved anger and injustice, and in that window of time – you know, maybe only one out of a hundred thousand times you would act on that lustful, sinful passion, but he says, you better understand that you, David, and everybody else – you can fall off and make mistakes that you regret the rest of your life.