I read these verses in my quiet time this morning

  • From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. Ephesians 4:16 (NIV)
  • My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, Colossians 2:2 (NIV)
  • He has lost connection with the Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow. Colossians 2:19 (NIV)

What do these verse have in common? I have put the words in bold. These words translate one Greek word: SUMBIBAZO. Gotta love the sound of that word. Say it three times out loud. SUMBIBAZO. SUMBIBAZO. SUMBIBAZO.

The word means to be connected. What these verse tell us is we only grow as we are connected. We don’t grow, can’t grow alone. We grow as we are connected together. John MacArthur comments on this word’s usage in Ephesians 4.16:

The power for being equipped and matured into lovingly authentic proclaimers is not in believers themselves, in their leaders, or in church structure. The Body receives its authority, direction, and power as it grows “up in all aspects into… Christ,” from whom the whole body [is] fitted and held together. The two present passive participles that these phrases translate are synonymous and are meant to express that the close, tight, compacted correlation of function in the Body as an organism is the result of Christ’s power. That does not negate the efforts of believers, as proved by the phrases by that which every joint supplies and according to the proper working of each individual part. Each of these phrases is extremely significant in conveying truth about the function of the Body. Christ holds the Body together and makes it function by that which every joint supplies. That is to say, the joints are points of contrast, the joining together or union where the spiritual supply, resources, and gifts of the Holy Spirit pass from one member to another, providing the flow of ministry that produces growth.

The proper working of each individual part recalls the importance of each believer’s gift (v. 7; cf. 1 Cor. 12:12-27). The growth of the church is not a result of clever methods but of every member of the Body fully using his spiritual gift in close contact with other believers. Christ is the source of the life and power and growth of the church, which He facilitates through each believer’s gifts and mutual ministry in joints touching other believers. The power in the church flows from the Lord through individual believers and relationships between believers.

Where His people have close relationships of genuine spiritual ministry, God works; and where they are not intimate with each other and faithful with their gifts, He cannot work. He does not look for creativity, ingenuity, or cleverness but for willing and loving obedience. The physical body functions properly only as each member in union with every other member responds to the direction of the head to do exactly what it was designed to do. — MacArthur New Testament Commentary, The – MacArthur New Testament Commentary – Ephesians.

Only connected people grow. We would get this straight every time if someone were to say to us, “I have a vibrant relationship with God. Me and Jesus go golfing every Sunday morning.” We might quote the familiar passage, Hebrews 10.24 that speaks to the importance of not neglecting to meet together. I want to misquote this verse to make a point. See if you can catch me. Misquote of Hebrew 10.24 – 25

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. (25) Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us meet together and sit in straight rows and watch the same events happen on the same stage–and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:24-25 (NIV)

Here is the real verse. See the difference?

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. (25) Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:24-25 (NIV)

This verse is not a command to come to church as we normally think of church. It is a command to encourage one another. Encourage one another means I encourage you AND you encourage me. It is a participatory meeting. It is not sit in straight rows and watch the same events together. If you are not encouraging and being encouraged Hebrews 10.24 – 25 is not happening. The verse not to let that happen.

Andy Stanley says it this way, “Growth happens in a circle.”

James 5.16a is instructive at this point: “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”

I take a pretty broad definition of sins here. Somewhere it speaks of sin as everything that falls short of God’s glorious ideal. Everything that is not glorious and ideal is sin. That is quite a bit in my life, how about you? Confess means to talk about it. Get it out in the open. Admit it. Come clean. You don’t have it all together. Your life is a bit of a mess and so is mine. We are all messy, just in different areas. No one has it all together.

This verse teaches us that we move a little closer to the goal (find healing) as we confess. Question: what healing comes to the person who talks to God and God alone about their sin?

Answer: none. We are promised forgiveness in 1 John 1.9. This verse has to do with healing.

As Rick Warren says it, “You are only as sick as your secrets.”

Things in darkness don’t grow. Get them out in the open sunlight and they thrive.

And now, we have the data to back this up. (Did we ever need anything more than the Word of God?)

Here was the statement: “The atmosphere in my group is honest and open and encourages transparency.” Participants who agreed or strongly agreed with that statement were 69% more likely to be spiritually vibrant when compared with those who were neutral or disagreed with that statement.

If you want to create spiritually vibrant people, create an atmosphere that is open and honest and encourages transparency.

How to create an open and honest atmosphere

First, let’s define what we mean. Balance is a good thing. There is a such a thing as too much information. What we are looking for is appropriate levels of openness and honesty, and opportunities to go deeper in other contexts.

How much openness and honesty is too much? When people start to feel uncomfortable. You are a reasonable person; you will know it when you see it. And, this is rarely the problem. Rarely is the problem too much openness and honesty. Most of the time the problem is not enough openness and honesty.

Too many groups spend too much time on theoretical and theological musings about how many angels can fit on the head of a pin when people in the group are dying with issues of depression, boredom, fatigue, relationship difficulties and so forth. Good groups talk about real issues and real life and the people are real with each other. We don’t sit around and smile when we are dying on the inside.

Take the issue of giving for an example. Listen in the next time the subject comes up. You would think, from listening to the conversation, that everyone has been faithfully tithing for years. Then look at any number of sources of data. Look at information on national giving records. Divide your church’s budget by the number of members. Do the math. A lot of us are not tithing–no where close.

But, rarely does anyone ever speak up and say, “I am really struggling in this area. I am not doing all I’d like to do and all I should do. Please pray for me.” And, James 5.16 teaches that until that someone speaks up and confesses that sin to someone, it is not going to get a lot better. You are only as sick as your secrets.

So, how do we create an atmosphere of openness and honesty?

Answer #1: slowly.

In some areas of Christian growth, we do well to do what one old hymn writer said: plunge in today and be made complete. This is not one of those areas. You do well to wade in slowly. Gradually get a little more honest and open and see how the group reacts. Does anyone freak out? Do people know how to keep a confidence? Do they tend to pounce and try to fix, or do they relate and encourage? They may need some coaching on how this works.

Here is another thing. The sharing should be more or less balanced. If everyone in the group is sharing their secrets, there is not a lot risk of someone breaking a confidence. It is called equal vulnerability. I will keep your secret because I want you to keep mine. If one or two people are doing all the honesty, you will have problems.

Answer #2: with grace AND truth.

Grace says, “You failed; we understand. We love you. It doesn’t make us love you one bit less.

Truth says: “We love you too much to leave this way. We are going to speak truth to you. If you keep this up, it could kill you. You could pay a price you don’t want to pay. We admonish you: quite now. We will help any way we can.”

John Ortberg tells the story of bearing his soul to a friend. He told his friend of all the hidden junk that he was so embarrassed about. it was so hard. He talked and talked, pealing back one layer after another. Finally when he was all finished, his friend looked him the the eye and said, “John, there has never been a time I loved you any more than I do right now.” That is grace. We all need that. Not just from God, but from human representatives of God. Your class needs that and I challenge you to create an atmosphere where it can happen.

Answer #3: lead by example.

If you want them to open up, you open up. Tell what is really going on in your life. There is something that is magical about a group that is open and honest and real. But you must set the pace. You must open up if you want them to open up. Again, not too much. Appropriate openness.

Answer #4: monitor the groups reaction to honesty.

There is a tendency to want to pounce and fix. There is a tendency of six people to give simple platitudes about how they can easily do better if they will just decide to do so. Not to say some advice giving isn’t occasionally a good thing–sometimes people want answers, not just Kleenex. Again, balance is in order. But, most groups err on the side of giving too much advice too quickly and not near enough sympathy and understanding. Sometimes, we don’t want answers. We just want to have a safe place to open up and for people to be understanding.

Job’s friends don’t win a lot of prizes for friendship in my book. But, they did start out pretty well. Check this out:

When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. (12) When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. (13) Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was. Job 2:11-13 (NIV)

That is brilliant. Did you see it. They sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word. Brilliant. Sometimes you need that.

I remember one time I was going through a really difficult chapter of my life, and was having a very bad day. I was near-suicidal. My son came home and found me curled up in a fetal position in bed. It was the middle of the afternoon.

“Are you sick, Dad?”

“No. Not sick. I am just not having a very good day.” [My life was not glorious and ideal.]

I will never forget what he did. How God imparted the wisdom to do this I will never know. This is the grace of God. He lay down beside me, put an arm around me and held me. He didn’t move and he didn’t say anything for half an hour or more. What could he say? He had the good sense to close his mouth and just hold me. I will never forget that day when my son held his daddy on a very bad day.

When someone speaks up and talks about a part of their life that is not all pretty and all together, you might need to do some coaching. You might say something like, “Now, guys, this is a tender moment and Jim has really taken a risk being honest with us. I want us to encourage him in any way the Spirit leads. Resist the urge to give advice that he hasn’t necessarily asked for. Resist the pride of thinking you can fix a problem in three minutes that he has struggled with for years. Think about how you would want to be treated in this moment. Jim, I’d like to start by saying to you, ‘Thank you for your honesty. We all struggle in different ways and to different degrees. This doesn’t’ make us love you any less–in fact, I think I speak for all of us–we have never loved you more than we do in this moment. We don’t know all the answers. We have ideas you might think about, but we don’t pretend to have all the answers. But, we want you to know we are going to walk you through this difficult time. We will pray for you and be there for you.'”

There is one more thing. It is not just about what happens in class. It is in, through, and around class. It is the little cluster of men that hang around afterwards. It is the group of ladies that decide not to bowl that last game so they can get some nachos and visit. It is lunch with a friend. Groups are not just about what happens in groups; they are also about the opportunities that groups create.

If you would create spiritually vibrant people, do all you can to create an atmosphere of appropriate openness, honesty, and transparency. Teach on it. Model it. Coach it.