Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
— Galatians 6:2
I started smoking cigars the summer after I graduated high school. That would’ve been in 1994. I smoked cigars for nearly seventeen years. Smoking cigars was my favorite way to pass the time. It may sound silly to some, but some of my favorite moments in life involved sitting with friends and enjoying some good tobacco together, talking about important things and silly things, sharing and laughing and eating. Some of my favorite moments in life involved just me and a cigar and deep thoughts about the gospel. It’s something probably only serious cigar smokers might understand.
Then I stopped. I didn’t want to, but I did. I transitioned my family’s health care coverage from insurance to a Christian “health-share” program. Incredible insurance costs were the main reason. But one of the stipulations for participation in the new co-op is abstention from all tobacco use. Alcohol in moderation is okay, but there is no consideration for “tobacco in moderation,” which I assume my roughly one cigar a month might have qualified for. I won’t lie; it was tough. Again, this might seem odd for some to understand, but take one of your favorite hobbies, something “unnecessary” but that nevertheless brings you joy and satisfaction and is an exercise of a good gift that you’ve enjoyed for over a decade — ladies, maybe it’s crafting; fellas, maybe it’s golf — and imagine someone said you have to stop. Like, for good.
But I decided it would be worth it. So two years ago I agreed to abstain. It has not been easy. Joe Thorn’s Instagram is one particular sticky thorn in my flesh. When I go visit friends or attend after-hours hangouts at various conferences, I will be among friends who are enjoying fine cigars all around me. They always offer me one, not knowing about my pledge to abstain. I have been tempted to flout the rules. I can come up with all kinds of justifications. For instance, there is no rule against eating junk food or sitting in smoggy traffic all day every day, and surely I’m healthier smoking 13 cigars a year than some folks on the plan eating McDonald’s three times a week. The flesh is great at self-justification. I am great at self-justification.
So what has kept me from cheating? On the form you fill out every year to renew membership, which includes the pledge to abstain from tobacco, there is a place where a church officer must sign to vouch for the veracity of your statements. My friends Elder Dale and Deacon Neil have been signers of this document. I know that if I cheat on my pledge, it doesn’t just make me a liar, it will make them liars. It will make me a liar to them. So even though they are not asking me (ever, really) if I’m really keeping my promises in that form, they are signing with the assumption that I am, and therefore their vouching for me is my accountability-holder.
When we think of accountability relationships (or accountability “partners”), we often think of all the ways someone might keep a weaker brother responsible for his actions. We rarely talk about how the one being held accountable might live in such a way to not make his accountability-holder look like a jerk. This runs through issues of church discipline and the like, as well. The focus is so much on gentleness and directness and loving rebuke for those sinning — which is a necessary focus, of course — that we sometimes neglect to remind people that walking in repentance and integrity is a good gift to leaders (Hebrews 13:17) because it keeps them from having to enter conflict. Us folks under accountability can take real burdens off those holding us accountable by striving to act right.
Maybe your accountability partner receives your Internet logs each week to hold your online surfing habits under inspection. When you go where you shouldn’t online, you’re not just sinning against God, you’re sinning against your brother by putting him in the difficult, undesirable, burdensome position of figuring out how to confront you, rebuke you, and restore you in ways that bring glory to God and joy to you. He will do that, because he’s committed to do it (and you asked him to). But isn’t it better to work at making sure he’s not having to be in that position?
We are looking for grace from our accountability-holders. But we ought also to be looking to how we might give grace to our accountability-holders. Maybe we ought to strive for holiness and integrity in our lives not simply out of personal religious ambition but out of relational mercy, out of a desire to not make religious cuckolds of our friends.
Outdo one another in showing honor.
— Romans 12:10