On Sunday my pastor gave a good teaching. It pierced the heart and was not easy on the ears. The topic was the necessity of Church discipline for the Body to be “transformed into the same image”—the image of Christ Jesus—“from glory to glory” (1 Cor. 3:18). This discipline comes in many forms, but here my pastor spoke about the exchange of teaching and correction between members of the Body.
It’s that iron-sharpening-iron notion—as “iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Prov. 27:17). Believers are to help one another to grow and mature in faith. This requires the sloughing off of old, sinful ways to make room for God-honoring ways. My pastor challenged us to be courageous and love boldly, so that we might all come to maturity in Christ.
This is no easy love. If this is to happen in my life, then others around me must exhibit true love—which wants for me what God wants for me. This is love that calls me out of my excuses and encourages me to “lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and . . . [to] put on the new self;” to do this, those around me must lay “aside falsehood, speak truth . . . with his neighbor, for we are members of one another” (Eph. 4:22–25). I need people who will not lie to me or tell me only what I want to hear. I need people who will speak the Truth of God’s Word, beckoning me to leave the old and step into the new. Do I make it easy for people to speak truth to me? Or do people feel the need to speak falsely? I want to make it easy for those around me to sharpen my dull places.
This sort of love takes tremendous courage in today’s world. Society clamors for something else—a love devoid of power, rooted in fear. I too clamor for this sort of love when I don’t want to change and I want others to leave me as I am. This notion has come to be known as unconditional love. Society’s definition has taken what was once a lovely concept and left it limp and faded.
The beauty of unconditional is that it remains faithful toward the Beloved even when the Beloved is not acting in accordance with what is lovable. This part of the definition society accepts—because it’s the warm and fuzzy part. It is seen best in God’s pursuit of His Beloved: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
But society has tacked an addendum onto unconditional love: It claims that unconditional love approves without opinion whatever behavior the Beloved might choose—and it is deemed intolerant to wish for the Beloved to live otherwise. Using society’s definition of unconditional love, even God doesn’t measure up, for He has called His Beloved into a life of ongoing transformation to display more and more of His beauty and holiness. “And Jesus said, ‘I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more” (John 8:11).
So often, though, I settle for society’s weakened definition. I want God and those around me to “love” me by endorsing my life and choices; I don’t want to be called to live according to God’s Word when it means giving up my ideas, my ways, my rights. When I love my sin, I don’t want to hear the truth; I am content with the lie. In my immaturity, I will choose this pseudo version of love because this sort of love has no power to change what I have no interest in changing.
How grateful I am for God’s patience as He bombards my faulty thinking and brings me back to His Reality. He comes after me, He sends the Body after me. And I am slowly changed by the discipline of His grace.
I am blessed to have at least 10 women who are courageous enough to sharpen me with their words and lives. (My husband also loves me well in this way—I am blessed.) They willingly listen to me, offer biblical counsel, supportive prayer, rebuke and correction, acceptance, a vision for the future, and prodding when I want to hide and deny and whine.
And as part of the Body, I need to step up and invest in the iron-sharpening-iron exchange that will help me and those around me grow and glorify the Lord Jesus. [gulp.] I admit that this comes with a bit of fear-and-trembling, as these relationships take much: much courage, much time, much grace, much prayer.
The return is sure to be worth it though. I’m going all in.
<Listen to my pastor’s message from 8.16.2009 here.>