For the past ten years, I have done whatever I can to receive regular reproof from at least one other godly man. Because of what I have seen in the Bible, and because I have tasted the lasting fruit of real and consistent accountability, I have gladly and relentlessly put myself in the path of correction.
In this season, I meet weekly with another husband and father who opens God’s word with me, asks intentional questions about my walk with Jesus, my marriage, my parenting, my work, and my ministry, and then holds me accountable. He follows up regularly on specific points of growth we identify from week to week.
It is never pleasant to see more of my own sin and to feel more of the awful weight of its consequences, but I wouldn’t trade my small army of reprovers for anything. As wisdom says, “Like a gold ring or an ornament of gold is a wise reprover to a listening ear” (Proverbs 25:12). I have worn my friendships with these men proudly and jealously. I have treasured the sweet aroma their hard words have produced in my faith, life, and relationships: “Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel” (Proverbs 27:9).
Who in your life is most likely to reprove you? Are you forfeiting a gift more precious than gold, and rejecting something sweeter than oil and perfume? Have you avoided making the friends you really need, and so refused to be rebuked?
The Soul Dentist
Many of us treat reproof like going to the dentist: we’re open to it once or twice a year, but reluctant to initiate. We rarely ask for it.
By nature, we seem to have an allergy to reproof (maybe an intolerance — at least a strong sensitivity), but Proverbs says that reproof is a rare pearl to be prized. Fools reject and avoid reproof. The wise know its preciousness, and do whatever necessary to have it. The wise man says, “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid” (Proverbs 12:1).
Stupidity. The irony is that those of us who hate and rebuff reproof think ourselves wise. We assume that we, unlike everyone else, do not need counsel or correction. Isaiah warns us, “Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!” (Isaiah 5:21). And Proverbs sentences us, “Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (Proverbs 26:12).
Like the dentist, an accountability partner will be able to see and diagnose things in us that we cannot see for ourselves. Unlike a dentist, an accountability partner focuses on things in us that last forever and could decide our destinies. Again, Proverbs hails the worth of hard words:
The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise. Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence. (Proverbs 15:31–32; also Proverbs 19:25)
Are you despising yourself? What if you began begging wise and godly friends to rebuke you?
The Reproof of God
Of course, how we respond to (and pursue) reproof from others will reflect how we respond to and pursue reproof from God. If we consistently avoid Christian counsel and correction, we are not likely to passionately pursue or heed hard words from God. It is God, after all, who says,
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (Hebrews 3:12–13)
Exhort one another every day. Exhort, meaning urge, or encourage, or compel someone to do something (or not do something). If an exhortation doesn’t immediately require anything from us, it might be inspirational, or a good conversation, but it is not an exhortation — not yet, anyway. One another means the exhorting goes more than one direction. We are being told to give and receive this kind of love. As followers of Christ, we all need to be exhorting, and we all need to be exhorted. Every day means not occasionally or in restricted circumstances. God calls us to a relentless and continuous rhythm of counsel and correction, a rhythm as regular as lunch or dinner.
What happens if we neglect to exhort one another every day? We may be hardened by sin’s lies, and led away from the living God. We may forfeit forgiveness, hope, and joy. By presuming on grace, we abandon it. Good accountability keeps us on the path to life, the life Christ gladly purchased for us with his own.
Some Practical Advice
Alongside the wisdom and motivation in Proverbs, and the clear command from God in Hebrews, here are some basic principles I’m learning through experience. These are suggestions, not proverbs; but they are lessons that have proven helpful over the years.
1. Prioritize consistency.
Checking in every once in a while may be better than nothing, but not much better. If sin, especially subtle patterns of sin, is going to be exposed, confronted, and repented of, we need an every-day-ness in our friendships.
2. Always ask at least one open-ended question.
Accountability fails without honesty and transparency, but even when we are willing to share, we need to be drawn out (Proverbs 20:5). Good questions are an indispensable ingredient for good accountability. While we listen, instead of quietly mulling what we might say, we can ask what we might ask. What question might pull back the heart layer under the update I’m hearing — the emotional and spiritual layer that matters most, but often goes untouched?
3. Monitor weak or sensitive areas more closely.
Meaningful accountability identifies and pays close attention to besetting sin struggles. God means for repeated and specific confession and repentance to refine away remaining sin in us. We forfeit his grace if we never (or rarely) confess to one another. By weak or sensitive areas, however, I am not only thinking of besetting sins, but also other difficult or vulnerable places in our hearts and lives, such as ongoing relationship tensions, or pressures at work, or suffering of various kinds — the kinds of burdens we were meant to carry with and for one another (Galatians 6:2).
4. Write something down.
This has been an off-and-on discipline for me, but I’ve found it beneficial to take at least a couple notes. I don’t write the whole time I’m listening. I want to be an engaged, eye-to-eye listener throughout the conversation. But I don’t want to leave without jotting down a few things the other person shared (maybe even after the meeting is over). Then, I try to take time before our next meeting to briefly review my notes, pray, and consider how I might follow up next time. Our memories, for the most part, are remarkably unreliable, and yet we rely on them all the time, even with the most important things in life. A notebook and a pen can be amazing catalysts for better accountability, deeper life change, and greater appreciation for what God has done over time.
5. Overcome chemistry with intentionality.
Your accountability partner doesn’t need to be your best friend; he just needs to be a faithful friend. He doesn’t need to share your hobbies and interests, or your schedule. He doesn’t even need to be your age, or in your stage of life. He does need to be committed to following Christ, to working out his salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12–13), to pursuing and investing in your sanctification. Often, those very different from us — and not our closest friends, who are often most like us — will actually have the most helpful perspective on our weaknesses and blind spots.
6. Hear from God together.
Again, this has looked different in different seasons, and with different men. But I have felt it acutely when we have wandered from prioritizing at least a few moments in the Bible when we meet. Currently, my accountability partner and I are memorizing the Fighter Verse for the week, rehearsing it together, and then praying the verse over our time together. We don’t want Bible study to become the whole meeting, but we won’t let a meeting go by without hearing from God.
Who Needs You to Be Rebuked?
One of wisdom’s warnings weighs as heavily on me as any other: “Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life, but he who rejects reproof leads others astray” (Proverbs 10:17). As much as I might suffer personally for not receiving rebuke, the people depending on me may suffer even more — my bride, my son, my friends and partners in ministry, my lost neighbors.
Our attitudes, words, and behavior become a spiritual map for those watching our example and following our lead. And no matter how old we are, or how long we’ve been a believer, someone is watching and someone is following. Someone is looking to us as a model of faith — of love and joy and peace, of patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control — of what it means to know, enjoy, and follow Jesus. The way we live, down to the smallest details, teaches people how to walk by the Spirit, or it teaches them how to indulge the flesh on the path that leads to death.
The people we love need us to be reproved. If we’re married, our wives need to know we persistently seek out counsel and correction from other husbands. Same for wives. Same for mothers and fathers. If we skip this for a few busy years, it’s not only we who miss out. Others will suffer. Instead of rescuing them from harm, we deliver them into the villain’s hands.
“Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching” — and ask others to watch with you. “Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16). God can keep you from stumbling (Jude 24). He will provide a way of escape from temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13). He will complete what he’s started in you (Philippians 1:6). So, in love for him, and for the ones who love and look to you, beg to be rebuked.