Amber Wackford writes a three-part series on friendship, accountability, and the Fruit of the Spirit. If accountability is unique to spiritual friendship, then it must reflect or bring out the fruit of the Spirit. If it is not kind, it is not accountability. If it is not gentle, it is not accountability. If it does not promote peace or inspire faithfulness, it is not accountability. Because the point in anything we do in the community of the Church is to get each other closer to God.
This Part 1 of a three part series on accountability in friendship. Access the rest of the series here:
I was mean to a friend in Bible study. We were studying Romans and she was making a misinformed point about the Abrahamic covenant, and I let her know in no uncertain terms that she was wrong. I quoted verses from Genesis and some of the Prophets, and I threw out definitions of Hebrew and Greek words for good measure, just to hammer home the point that I was right and she was wrong. And I lost the argument at the exact moment my friend shut up and curled herself into the corner of her couch, like a dog who couldn’t take being smacked with the newspaper anymore.
My best friend, who is also in Bible study and who sat nearby as I reduced our friend to a smaller version of herself, was quick to hold me accountable that night. She made me get into her car and talk long after the rest of our Bible study members had gone home. She told me in no uncertain terms that I was a jerk and she was baffled that I couldn’t see how I was hurting our friend. She said she was disappointed in me because I had acted so unkindly. She told me we had worked really hard to create a sisterhood in that Bible study, and that it was supposed to be a safe place where we could ask questions and be wrong every once in awhile. She said she loved me for my study of the Bible and the Greek and Hebrew, but she said that if I didn’t learn to do a better job of teaching what I was learning, I was going to undo all that we had built together. And then she reached over and laid her hand on my shoulder and said she loved me, and then she prayed that I would soften and be less of a jerk moving forward so that the Jesus in me and in what I was learning could really shine.
Whenever anyone wants to talk about accountability, this is the story I want to tell. I want to talk about my friend lovingly telling me that I wasn’t being my best self because I wasn’t looking like Jesus. I do not want to talk about the time my “accountability partner” in high school told me it was a bad idea to go to a party with my non-church friends because they weren’t “church people” and they might “lead me astray.” (It’s to my benefit that I don’t like to be told what to do and I went to the party anyway. Because that group led me right into drinking Coke and tutoring me in trigonometry, which meant I didn’t fail math and could graduate from high school. But that’s neither here nor there.)
I was, and still am, looking for something different from my friends.
My point is this: telling people what to do (or not do) isn’t accountability. Or at least it isn’t accountability friend-to-friend. I had parents to tell me what parties I could go to, or what words were off limits, or what CDs I could buy. I was, and still am, looking for something different from my friends. I’m looking for brothers and sisters who understand the plight of being human, who are going to help me see God when the world is a hard place, who are loving and joyful and peaceful and patient and kind and good and gentle and faithful and self-controlled.
I’m looking for people who manifest the fruit of the Spirit, not just in how they behave but in who they are. I’m looking for this especially when they need to tell me I’m being a jerk.
The Bible never uses the word accountable to describe the relationships between brothers and sisters in Christ. But it does use the word rebuke to describe the way we are to call each other out of sin. In Hebrew, the word rebuke is used to mean “to adjudge; to correct.” As in Proverbs 24:25: “Those who rebuke the wicked will have delight, and a good blessing will come upon them.” But in Hebrew the same word also means “to reason together.” So then, I’m thinking that if we’re really holding each other accountable, if we’re calling each other out of sin and away from wickedness, it’s not just about correction. It’s about a meeting of the minds, a coming alongside, a joining together to get out of the mess.
In Greek, rebuke is also used to mean “to adjudge; to award, in the sense of merited punishment.” In Luke, we read, “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them.” But as in the Hebrew, the Greek word has a second meaning—“to show honor; to honor”—and this means accountability among Christian friends is a way that we honor one another. This means when my friend saw me sinning—being prideful, berating a sister, acting unkindly—she was doing right by me by pointing it out. She rebuked me, but she also affirmed me. She told me she saw Jesus in me, and that this one moment when I had behaved badly wasn’t the whole picture of who I am. And she prayed and reminded me that God was continuing to do a good work in me. What she did was hold me accountable.
That moment in my friend’s car happened almost a decade ago. This year my friend to whom I was a jerk got married. And I stood next to her as her maid-of-honor, with my best friend and my other friends from Bible study standing up for her too. And I think it’s partly because God was at work in that car so long before this wedding. He was building something real in us, forging some depth of relationship that could only come out of hard conversations and truth-telling. He was helping me to see the foundation of our group was always going to be our ability to say to each other, “I see Jesus in you,” even in moments of failure or weakness or sin. And then to pray for each other that God would step into that moment of failure or weakness or sin and make something good from it.
These women have taught me that friendship without accountability isn’t really friendship. And that accountability never leaves you feeling like you’re left alone to figure out what to do with your sin. In fact, it settles in next to you, puts a hand on your shoulder, and prays. And in it, you know you are loved.