Luke Gilkerson (COV) / 05 DEC 2014 – Often people in the church treat accountability as a last resort, not a lifestyle.
Accountability is a buzz word among Christians—perhaps an overused one—that sounds like a great idea, but for many it isn’t practiced. One survey found that even among those who regularly meet with a small group from their church (formally or informally), only 7% say accountability is one of the functions of the group.
How can we cast accountability in a new light for God’s people?
Accountability as Preventative Medicine – James 5:13-16
While the word “accountability” isn’t a Biblical term in the strictest sense, the concept of believers meeting together for confession, prayer, and encouragement is found all throughout the New Testament. One of the pillar texts for this is James 5.
The text posits a scenario where a believer finds himself sick. Here is James’ prescription: “Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord…And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.” (v.14-15). The elders of the church—those charged with the spiritual wellbeing of this individual—come to this person with a three-pronged approach:
- Prayer – Ask God to lift the cause of the ailment.
- Medicine – Oil was (and is) believed to have medicinal value.
- Confession – While sin might not be an underlying cause of the problem, it might be. Implied in the text is that the elders probe to discover what hidden sins may be the driving cause of illness.
But then James makes a sudden shift in subject: he is no longer talking about meeting with elders, but mutual confession among church members. “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (v.16).
Why is this James’ concluding thought? Because if unconfessed sin can be the cause of spiritual and physical malaise in our lives, it makes sense that the church practice routine “preventative medicine” by confessing sins to one another—allowing no secret lives to develop.
Today, advocates of preventative medicine stress the need for good habits in our lives that make it harder for diseases to take hold: proper hygiene, balanced nutrition, proper balance of vitamins and minerals, plenty of water, routine exercise of the heart and lungs. For James, there are two essential vitamins we need to take on a regular basis: mutual prayer and mutual confession.
We need to engage in regular accountability, not just when things are going wrong, but all the time. We need to engage in relationships where we specifically discuss the details of our deepest sins and weaknesses to receive help, encouragement, and challenge.
Prayer as Preventative Medicine – James 5:16-18
“The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (v.16).
While prayer without confession can be surfacey, confession without prayer places no dependence on God who is our ultimate Healer.
As his example, James chooses none other than Elijah, the fierce prophet of Israel. But instead of highlighting Elijah’s uniqueness as a prophet, he stresses the prophet’s humanness: “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours” (v.17), subject to the same weaknesses we all have. We all can learn to pray like Elijah.
James confidently asserts that prayerful petition is strong, able to accomplish much. However, James is not teaching this about just any kind of petition.
- Powerful prayer is persistent – James asserts that prayer has power “as it is working [energoumenē]” (James 5:16). The expression means a righteous man’s prayer is an energy working inwardly—prayer keeps putting forth energy until the petition is answered. Elijah emulates this persistent quality in his prayers as well. Three times Elijah prays for a widow’s son to come back to life (1 Kings 17:21). Seven times Elijah sends his servant to scan the horizon for signs of rain while he prays (18:43). Elijah’s faith is tenacious and tireless when answers to prayer tarry.
- Powerful prayer is fervent – James writes that Elijah “prayed fervently” (James 5:17) for the drought and the rain. There is intensive force to James’ language—his prayers were zealous and earnest. Literally, the text reads Elijah “prayed a prayer,” an expression of repetition that denotes force. Elijah’s prayers were heartfelt and penetrating. Stories of Elijah’s life demonstrate this in numerous ways. Elijah is fully engaged with his prayers. While he prays he stretches his own body over a deceased boy, desiring to imbue his own life with the boy’s (1 Kings 17:21). The words of his prayer are deeply personal: he is not just any boy but the son of “the widow with whom I sojourn” (17:20). After the contest on Mount Carmel, Elijah hides his face between his knees in humble reverence, showing full-body engagement with his prayers (18:42). Elijah fervently prayed.
- Powerful prayer is righteous – James specifically mentions it is the “prayer of a righteous person” that sees results (James 5:16). The Hebrew understanding of righteousness was to live in conformity to God’s covenant requirements. Not only was Elijah righteous in an ethical sense, but also his very prayers were informed by God’s covenant ideals. Elijah’s great lament was that “the people of Israel have forsaken [God’s] covenant” (1 Kings 19:10, 14). Elijah’s prayers for drought and rain are based on God’s covenant curses and blessings (Deuteronomy 11:16-17; 28:12). He prays in God’s covenant names (1 Kings 18:36). He was confident God would answer because He knew God’s promises and knew that God would never break them.
This is the kind of mutual prayer we need in the face of our personal weaknesses. We need people who can get on their knees with us…
- people who pray with faith and are energized within to see God do something within us,
- le who are fully engaged with their prayers out of deep compassion for us
- people who know God’s covenant promises and pray according to them on our behalf.
Mutual accountability and prayer: these need to become part of our regular diet as Christians. This is the high calling of friendship in the church.
For a lot of us, we’re not looking for accountability in our lives until things have gone horribly wrong—and, of course, this is a great time to start. For many men and women I know, the sinful crisis they face is a nagging slavery to lust or pornography. If this is you, you can download our free e-book, Coming Clean: Overcoming Lust Through Biblical Accountability.
Luke Gilkerson is the Educational Resource Manager at Covenant Eyes. Luke has a BA in Philosophy and Religious Studies and is currently working on an MA in Religion. He is the author of Coming Clean: Overcoming Lust Through Biblical Accountability and The Talk: 7 Lessons to Introduce Your Child to Biblical Sexuality. Luke and his wife Trisha blog at IntoxicatedOnLife.com
Source: Covenent Eyes