Counseling One Another

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Counseling One Another

Positive Irritation

Yesterday, at Calvary Theological Seminary, we talked briefly about the importance of “positive irritation” in our Foundations of Biblical Counseling class. Positive irritation is the one-another ministry we carry out for the sake of fellow believers, which aids in spiritual growth and the prevention of spiritual apostasy.

This one-another ministry is essential since the capacity to leave the truth lies within every human heart. By nature, we are all like Demas, capable of falling in love with the temporal things of this world and deserting the work of Christ (2 Tim. 4:10). However, as we continually apply Christ-centered truth and keep the implications of the cross evident in our relationships within the body, we feed one another’s growth and perform preventive maintenance on our souls.

The writer of Hebrews says, “let us consider” (10:24). The word “consider” means, “to place the mind down upon … to consider thoughtfully.” In short, the writer is insisting that believers take careful note of one another’s spiritual welfare. We are to keep an eye on one another, to hold one another accountable for our spiritual walks, because our common hope in Christ results in a binding relationship for mutual growth.

The purpose of this practice of biblical fellowship is “to stimulate one another.” “Stimulate” comes from a word meaning “irritating, inciting, stimulation.” It is translated “disagreement” in Acts 15:39 with reference to the dispute between Paul and Barnabas. Solomon said, “Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Prov. 27:17). Believers are to irritate each other toward growth since normal, healthy, biblical change takes place alongside other people, not in isolation. Timothy Lane and Paul Tripp, in How People Change, observe,

At one level we want friendships. At another level we don’t want them! In creation, we were made to live in community, but because of the fall, we tend to run from the very friendships we need. Quite often, our longing for them is tainted by sin. We pursue them only as long as they satisfy our own desires and needs. We have a love–hate relationship with relationships! TheBible recognizes this profound tension, but still places our individual growth in grace in the context of the body of Christ. The Scriptures call us to be intimately connected to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Our fellowship is an essential ingredient for lasting change. The work of redemption involves our individual relationship with Christ alongside our relationship with others … Many helpers fail to move struggling people into the rich context of redemptive relationships. Instead, they cling to the arid individualism of our society. They have a “Jesus and me” mindset as they battle sin and seek to become more like Christ.

In contrast to the pride of individualism, God wants His people to be faithful to provoke one another in love for the purpose of growing in “love and good deeds.” It is through this stimulus that we help one another fulfill Ephesians 2:10: “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”

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9 Comments

  1. Love the concept. We are going through a church discipline class in my seminary counseling class, and this dovetails with it.

    My husband and I chose this Hebrews 10:24 when we first married.

    I always appreciate your thoughtful posts, Dr. Tautges.

  2. I had not ever thought of “provoking” one another the way you describe in this post. It is a helpful reminder to me as I pursue other believers. Maybe more importantly, it reminds me to accept the “irritation” from those that pursue me, and know that it is driven by love.

  3. Because I work in Student Life I have been attempting to challenge students “to stimulate one another” as it were. I am finding that a common schema held among college aged students is that to confront, challenge, or “irritate” is only for those that are in positions of leadership. Only Devotional Leaders should confront sin in a believer’s life or only a Resident Assistant should call someone out for improper behavior. However, that is not the case at all! Christianity is confrontational in nature through and through. This post is exactly what I need to help gather more thoughts on the subject. Especially liked the statement “Believers are to irritate each other toward growth since normal, healthy, biblical change takes place alongside other people, not in isolation.”
    Confrontation is a Christian’s responsibility and it is a blessing. All should participate, not just those in leadership positions.

  4. My favorite part of this post: “We are to keep an eye on one another, to hold one another accountable for our spiritual walks, because our common hope in Christ results in a binding relationship for mutual growth.” This year I have seen God trying to grow me in this area. Not only, by the people in my life who have brought things to my attention that needed help in my life, but also by the questions people have asked me. Holding one another up is hard work, but the benefits are great. I feel privileged to have people keeping an eye on me, but I also become more aware of my sinfulness because of this which makes me rely on God more.

  5. I think for this to work the way God intends it to work both parties need to approach their friendship with humility. The one receiving the “positive irritation” has to humbly accept the truth about their short comings without trying to lash out against the confronting friend. The giver of “positive irritation” needs to confront in a way that is not placing themselves above or beyond the receiver and their weakness.

  6. I have definitely noticed that I pretty much tended towards a “Jesus and me” mentality in spiritual growth. I have studied the spiritual disciplines and have focused on the individual practice. While individual communion with God is essential, I am now seeing that there simply is no substitute for fellowship in the Body. With more preachers and teachers on tv and access to sermons and full church services available through the internet, it is easier than ever to avoid fellowship and try to replace it with individual “stuff.” I am challenged to seek positive irritators by this post and renounce the “Jesus and me” mentality.

  7. One line of the quote from ‘How People Change’ very well sums up the way that many people, including myself at times, view relationships – “Quite often, our longing for them [friendships] is tainted by sin. We pursue them only as long as they satisfy our own desires and needs. We have a love–hate relationship with relationships!” – Tripp

    God created friendships to be mutually beneficial; this only works the way God intended when both people want to see the other grow. Selfish desires do not work if a friendship is to grow!

  8. This summer at camp we studied Hebrews and discussed our responsibility to “provoke one another.” Your picture of ‘irritation” really does help illustrate what takes place with iron sharpening iron.
    Also, I definitely understand the tension of wanting yet not wanting relationships, especially when recognizing my selfish desires that taint relationships. What a great reminder of the purpose of godly friendships!