“Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.”
Life without accountability is dangerous. You have a circle of Christian friends; you have Christian friends whom you know and interact with on a regular basis. You see their attitude and behavior; you see the pattern of the way they live their lives; and they see you and the pattern of the way you live your life.
You should discuss scripture with each other, discuss issues with each other, encourage and support each other, pray for one another, have fun and laugh together … and you should hold each other accountable.
We need accountability in our lives. We need feedback from close friends. We need to be challenged. We need people who will tell us what we need to hear, not people who only tell us what we want to hear. That’s the central message of the proverb at the top: We are much better off when we are “wounded by a friend” that when we are “kissed by an enemy.”
In similar fashion, a few verses later in the same chapter of Proverbs it says, “Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel.” (Proverbs 27.9)
If we are the one giving the feedback and challenging a friend, we must be careful to operate from humility. We must never seek to correct others from a spirit of arrogance or superiority.
“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” (Galatians 6.1)
Jesus warned against this kind of self-righteousness in the Sermon On the Mount.
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-3)
These words of Jesus are often quoted, and nearly as often misinterpreted. Jesus is not telling us not to judge; he is telling us not to judge wrongly. Note in the last verse of this Matthew passage that Jesus tells us what he wants us to do: First remove the log that is blinding you out of your own eye, then you will be able to see clearly so that you can help your brother take the speck out of his eye.
The central point here is how you see the situation and how you see yourself. Do you see the situation clearly, or is your perspective distorted by your own sin and self-righteousness? Do you see and understand that you also are a sinner saved by grace? Do you recognize and acknowledge that you also are susceptible to disobedience?
Both the Galatians 6 passage and the Matthew 7 passage emphasize that we must be humble and self-aware in order to effectively challenge another Christian. The message is the same in both passages: Before you challenge the sin in someone else’s life, examine yourself first.
I want to emphasize again that this does not say we should not challenge the sin in someone else’s life. This is not a declaration against judging. It is a prohibition against judging wrongly; in particular, it is a warning against self-righteous judgment. If we do not see and acknowledge that we too are sinners, then we will not be effective at challenging and restoring our Christian friends who have chosen a path of disobedience.
Christian accountability requires clarity, courage, and humility. We must not be too lenient, and we must not be too harsh. This requires that we walk in the Spirit. When we need to confront a Christian brother, the Holy Spirit humbles us, telling us that we are sinners saved by grace. The Spirit also empowers us with the boldness to engage the person with truth. This unique combination of humility and boldness is both rare and powerful, and it comes from the Spirit of God. It is the fruit of the Spirit.
When we are empowered by the Spirit as we challenge each other, we neither blow up nor clam up. We do not get angry and judgmental, nor do we get discouraged and defensive. We don’t attack, nor do we avoid. Instead, we engage with wisdom. We speak the truth in love, and we trust the Spirit of God to do his work.
“Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4.15-16)