Influences Matter

Who speaks into your life? Whose voice matters? We all need people to counsel us, to challenge us, and to encourage us. But if we make bad choices regarding the voices we will listen to, we can allow ourselves to be led into some serious difficulties.

Toward the end of the book of 2 Chronicles, we see a king whose life perfectly illustrates this point for us. His name is Joash.

2 Chronicles 24:1-2 – 1 Joash was seven years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Zibiah of Beersheba. 2 And Joash did what was right in the eyes of the Lord all the days of Jehoiada the priest.

Joash, as a young man, was advised by Jehoiada the priest. And so long as Jehoiada was helping Joash, he followed the ways of the Lord well. Chapter 24 of 2 Chronicles highlights great reforms that Joash made and a great return of the people to the temple of God.

But, when Jehoiada died, things in the kingdom changed.

2 Chronicles 24:17-18 – 17 Now after the death of Jehoiada the princes of Judah came and paid homage to the king. Then the king listened to them. 18 And they abandoned the house of the Lord, the God of their fathers, and served the Asherim and the idols. And wrath came upon Judah and Jerusalem for this guilt of theirs.

After the death of Jehoiada, Joash heard different voices. Like King Rehoboam long before him, Joash was influenced by younger men who flattered him and convinced him to walk a different path than that of wisdom. Joash seems to have been convinced not by Scripture and not by wisdom but by the homage offered to him by these nobles. His hunger to be praised led him to choices that brought the wrath of God upon the land.

What voices do you listen to? Are you able to listen to a wise, older counselor? Are you able to take it when a person questions the wisdom of a choice you want to make? Or are you easily flattered?

The book of Proverbs repeatedly warns us that flattery is a dangerous thing. After all, the one who flatters us is not often out for our best interest. And the one who flatters us is very seldom interested in the glory of God. Flattering lips are those which would seek to manipulate us for another’s gain. Joash fell victim to them. We need to be careful.

How can we be careful here? First, be sure that you surround yourself with a few believers who will honestly speak Scripture to you that is rightly understood and applied. You would be wise to be sure that you do not limit all the voices you hear to your own generation. Jehoiada was a much older, much wiser, and much more experienced person who could offer Joash counsel. Watch out for flattery. Do not let yourself grow to love the sweet words of others so much that you let them lead you with short-lived thrills of praise. And, in all things, be sure that you know the word of God well enough that you do not let any counsel that opposes Scripture slip through.

You Need Friends in the Church

Do you have friends? No, I do not mean to ask you if you have people who know your name and will smile at you as you pass by. Do you have real friends? Are there people to whom your life is tightly connected? Are there people in your local church who know you inside and out, who speak truth into your life, who encourage you when you hurt, and who kick you in the pants when you need it?

When Paul wrote to the Romans, he shared a particular desire with them that speaks to us about our need for the church.

Romans 1:11-12 – 11 For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— 12 that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.

Paul was an apostle. IN so many ways, we think of Paul as the apostle. Paul is the man who God used to take the gospel to the gentiles. In Acts, it appears that Peter fades into the background as the ministry work focuses on Paul as the book moves forward. Paul personally wrote 13 of our New Testament letters. Paul’s influence is clear in the life of Luke, and thus Paul’s fingerprints are on Luke-Acts. And though I do not think Paul wrote the letter to the Hebrews, his teaching oozes from the pores of that book too. If there was a titan of the early church, a man used by God to shape the growing body of believers in the first century, it would be hard to settle on any single figure more than Paul.

Thus, it is no surprise to us that Paul would want to get to the Christians in Rome so that he could encourage them. Of course he would want to do this. Of course Paul would know that those folks needed his teaching.

What is a surprise, however, is that Paul said that he wanted to be mutually encouraged. He wanted to be strengthened by the faith of the Romans as much as he wanted to give of his own faith to the Romans. Paul saw both that he needed to go to Rome for the good of that church and he needed the Romans for the good of his own soul.

Let me say to you, dear Christian, that you are not wiser or stronger than Paul. And if Paul needed the church, so do you. If Paul needed to get himself to be with other believers for two big reasons, so do you.

You need the church in two big ways, no matter how strong and self-sufficient you think you are. You need the church to encourage your soul. You need the people of the church to challenge your thinking, to teach you truth, to encourage your heart, to test your patience, to bring about your repentance, to prod at your sanctification, to show you love, to help you to forgive, to live out the biblical “one another” commands, and so much more. You cannot live the Christian life that God commands you to live without the help of the other believers you find in a local church.

And you need to be a part of a local church so that you can do for others the very things you need others to do for you. If you are a brainy Christian, you need to help other believers understand the truths that God has gifted you to learn. You need to encourage the weak. You need to give kindly to others. You need to show compassion. You need to train up believers who are younger than you in the faith. You need to encourage and strengthen older believers. You need to grow the church as you love others in Christ with truth, mercy, compassion, grace, love, joy, and so much more.

You cannot be a faithful Christian and not connect in the church. You cannot be a faithful Christian without friends in the church. You need friends in the church whether you think you do or not. You need people that you can hurt with your words so that you can learn to temper your words and seek forgiveness when you fail—this is good for your humility. You need other Christians who will drive you nuts with their weaknesses, as this will teach you to love them as Christ loves them and gave himself for them. You need Christians who are smarter than you to remind you that your thoughts are not the best thoughts ever thought by thinking thinkers. You need Christians who can barely make themselves read a book but who put you to shame with their deep seasons of prayer and their gloriously sweet hearts to serve others, hearts you would do well to learn to imitate.  You need kind Christians who teach you not to be a jerk. You need jerky Christians to help you to be compassionate toward sinners as God has been compassionate toward you even as you participate in their sanctification.

At the end of the day, if you are a believer, you need the church. So do not disconnect. Find a body of believers. It will not be perfect. Find a place where the gospel is preached faithfully. Find a place where believers walk through life together, sometimes getting it right, often getting it wrong, but always wanting to glorify God. Find a local church and dive in. Love the people. Care for the people. Help the weaker grow. Learn that you are also the weaker and people help you grow. Obey Christ and love his church. You need this.