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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