A Season for Growing: Accountability

by Rev. L. John Gable

A Season for Growing: Accountability by Rev. L. John Gable
July 16, 2017

I am not going to suggest that Jesus has favorites.  I wholeheartedly agree with the conviction that He loves each and every one of us as if there was only one of us to love, or as pastor/author Max Lucado rather cleverly put it, “If God has a picture on His dresser, it is a picture of you.”

However, with that being said, I think Jesus did have favorites, and perhaps had really good reasons for doing so.  As we discussed last week, very early in Jesus’ ministry He was attracting crowds wherever He went, mostly because He was performing miracles, healing diseases and the like.  Crowds are great, but not for the kind of disciple-making Jesus needed to do; so from among that crowd He chose twelve men to be His closest friends and followers, the ones in whom He would invest Himself most fully, the ones who ultimately would become His ambassadors sharing the Good News of salvation with the world. These select twelve He called apostles and these became His small group.

Now, being one of twelve, particularly of the Lord’s hand-selected twelve, is really something.  These dozen are given front row seats to His teaching, preaching, healing and miracle-working ministry.  Quite an honor, however, even among these very select few, apparently they weren’t all equals.  Jesus chose three of these to be the inner circle of His inner circle, Peter, James and John.  You might recall these are the three first-named whenever the disciples are listed.  Whenever Jesus took any of the disciples with alone away Him, invariably it was these three: Peter, James and John, when He went in to a house to heal a little girl – Peter, James and John; when He sat privately outside the Temple treasury – Peter, James and John, and Andrew tagged along that day, too; as we read in our lessons this morning, when He went up on the mountain and was transfigured – Peter, James and John; and when He wanted to be alone and pray in the Garden of Gethsemane – Peter, James and John were the ones invited to go along with Him. The other nine left behind.

We can’t help but wonder why these three?  We aren’t told exactly.  Perhaps Jesus saw their potential.  Peter went on to become the leader of the Church in Rome and James of the Church in Jerusalem.  John, identified in the Gospels as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” was the one Jesus entrusted from the cross to take care of His mother, Mary.  Clearly, even among the select twelve there were the elite three.

As we spoke last week, it is essential to our growth and maturity in the Christian life that we be part of a family of believers, a fellowship, a company, we call the Church.  We are not intended to do this life of faith alone.  We are called to do more than simply believe, we are also called to belong.  Beyond that we need to be part of some kind of a small group, which could be defined as simply as a group small enough that you can know others and be known; a group small enough that you can talk openly and honestly about matters of importance, like life and faith; a group small enough that you will be missed when you are not there.  Martin Luther aptly described the Church as being “a fellowship of consolation and conversation.”  That kind of small group experience or encounter is beneficial for all of us to grow in our faith.

But then Jesus seems to take that small, close knit group concept one step further, narrowing it to only three.  Why?  Perhaps there are many reasons: proximity, personality, accommodations, confidentiality, but the purpose that makes most sense to me is accountability.  The unnamed crowd is winnowed to the select twelve; the select twelve to the inner circle of the inner circle, for purposes of intimacy and accountability.  Jesus needed this kind of close companionship in His walk of faith and I believe you and I do as well if we are going to grow deep in spiritual maturity.

With whom can you be totally honest? Or framed the other way, is there someone in your life who can be totally honest with you?  Who can hold you up when you are down or call you out when you are wrong?  With whom can you share your deepest fear or shame or secret, or even your greatest aspiration and accomplishment, knowing it is safe with them?

Crowds of unknowns certainly can’t do these things or even affiliates or associates, perhaps not even your closest circle of friends.  No, such confidences are saved for the select few, perhaps the select one or two, in Jesus’ case three: Peter, James and John.  He chose these three when He went up on the mountain and revealed to them something no one else would see until after His resurrection, a glimpse of His true divinity. In the Transfiguration it shone right out of Him.  He took these three with Him in to His greatest hour of trial, in the Garden of Gethsemane.  That night He had to decide if He was going to remain obedient to the will of His Father, or abandon it and go His own way; not an easy decision, even for Jesus to make.

Great privilege was given to these three to be sure, but with it also comes great responsibility and the potential for great hurt and disappointment.  You get that close to the light and not only are you illumined, but you can also get burned.  Jesus not only shared these remarkable, never again repeated, experiences with these three, He also saved for them His harshest words of rebuke.  Immediately after Peter uttered his famous confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!” not only did Jesus affirm his confession, but when Peter tried to persuade Him not to follow the way to the cross, Jesus turned on him and said, “Get behind me, Satan!”  Jesus called, perhaps, His closest friend, “a son of the devil.”  In the garden Jesus pleaded with the three to stay awake and pray with Him in His greatest hour of need, and His words were harsh and no doubt hurtful when He found them sleeping and said, “Could you not stay awake with Me one hour?”  These kinds of experiences and these kinds of expressions can only be shared with those who are closest to us, those with whom we are willing to be most honest and vulnerable.

There is mutuality inherent in any true friendship.  We have all had experiences in which we wanted to be friends, even best friends, with someone, or they with us, but it wasn’t mutual, so it didn’t last or develop or go deep.

Jesus seemed to have this kind of mutual friendship with Peter, James and John.  When Peter tried to speak truth to power, even in his ill-conceived notion of Jesus’ ultimate purpose in ministry, Power spoke back to him and put him in his place.  That very well could have been the end of a very good friendship, but it wasn’t.  Six days later Jesus took him, along with James and John, up the mountain in order for him to see what only the chosen three were allowed to see.

It is always a potentially threatening thing to speak openly and honestly with another, even with a loved one or closest friend.  There is always the risk that the other won’t hear your words as “truth spoken in love” and the relationship may be severed, but that is the risk true friends, those most committed to us, are willing to take.

Recently in our “Read Through the Bible” I was struck by a similar kind of encounter in II Samuel chapter 19.  King David is mourning the death of his son, Absalom, a young man who had been trying to mount a coup against his own father.  David’s soldiers had captured and killed Absalom to put down the rebellion and naturally David was grieved, but in his grief he failed to commend his soldiers for their service and bravery.  One of David’s closest advisors and generals, a man named Joab, came to him and spoke truth to power.  In effect he told the King, “Get up, get dressed, thank your soldiers and lead your people.”  Harsh words for a subordinate to speak to his superior, but necessary words.  David could have had his head, but instead he realized that Joab had his back.  His friend had spoken a truth to him that he needed to hear, so David got up, got dressed, thanked his soldiers and led his people.

It is funny how something someone said to you a long time ago will suddenly come to mind.  It must have been in the early 1980’s when a friend said to me, “Watergate would never have happened if Nixon had had a small group.”  Perhaps a ridiculous, and certainly unprovable, contention to make, but it has a ring of truth to it.  All people, but particularly people in power, need to have a trusted someone, or someones, who is willing to speak the honest truth to them in love.

I have a friend named Joe who is an attorney.  As a young lawyer and husband and father he identified a gentleman in his church he greatly admired so asked him if he would be willing to be his mentor.  Joe told him he admired how he conducted his business, loved and respected his wife and children, and served his church and community.  The older gentleman agreed to walk alongside him and the two became fast friends, meeting regularly and going deep with one another.

As the years passed, however, Joe told me he started to notice some behaviors in his mentor friend that bothered him.  Nothing particularly serious, but he seemed to be practicing his business with less integrity, paying less attention to family matters than he had previously, and seemed to be slipping in his commitment to his church and other spiritual practices, so Joe approached him on it.  He told this friend he respected so much what he was noticing and then asked him a straight-forward question, “Are you willing to go back to your former ways of doing things, or do I need to look for a new mentor?”

Those are strong, cutting words that could have taken their relationship in only one of two ways, either ending it or taking it even deeper.  Fortunately the older gentleman took his words as they were intended.  He heard them as a wake-up call and decided to change his ways.  Their friendship continues to this day.

When Joe first told me that story I took it as an example of the importance of finding a good mentor, the younger seeking the guidance of the elder, and it certainly is that; but I have also come to realize it is an example of good accountability – one brother holding the other brother accountable for his actions and his witness; one believer encouraging another believer to stay on the path of discipleship; iron sharpening iron; a hard truth spoken in love and friendship.  I want that kind of friend in my life and in my walk of faith, and I want it for you as well.

Not long ago I had a conversation with someone who wanted a peek behind the curtain of the life of being a pastor, and he asked me a very interesting question.  He said, “Do you have anyone that you could call at 2:00 am with a problem?”  I had to think about that one for a moment…and I do.  Do you?  Do you have someone or a very select few with whom you can be totally open and honest, transparent and vulnerable?  Someone who you know will still love you even after they really get to know you, warts and all?  Someone who would be willing to go up on the mountain top with you or down into the garden?  Someone with whom you are willing to speak the truth in love, and from whom you are willing to hear the same?

Jesus had three such friends, Peter, James and John.  Anyone of us would be truly blessed if we have even one.