Read Psalm 141.
Friendship is one of the great mysteries of life. It can’t be bought at a store or earned through hard work. It comes free of charge, but it’s worth more than a lifetime’s wages. And it’s a force to be reckoned with—powerful enough to change the course of history and yet as simple and welcome as that first cup of coffee in the morning:
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:9–12)
Some people might be tempted to say that friendship has no survival value, but I beg to differ. Until the veil between heaven and earth is lifted, I don’t think we’ll know the number of those who have fallen for lack of true friendship.
Far too often, I flip open my laptop to find dangling in the center of my social media news feed a report on the latest scandal involving some Christian leader or another. It doesn’t matter who it is. It doesn’t matter the details. Each and every one is an epic tragedy, the story of a son or daughter of God who forgot their first love and fell for the lies of the enemy.
Do you know what each and every one of these living nightmares has in common? In every case, the person at the center of the controversy was all alone. Even though they might have spent their days surrounded by godly people, doing the work of ministry, they kept their sin in the darkness, not sharing their struggles with anyone. Small sins sheltered from the light continue to grow until they overwhelm a life.
That’s why David prays, “Let a righteous man strike me—that is a kindness; let him rebuke me—that is oil on my head” (Psalm 141:5). He understands that sin is a ruthless enemy, eager to take hold of him and bring him to ruin. No one is immune. Even the godliest man or woman is not above temptation or the weaknesses of the flesh. In fact, it is often when we fool ourselves into thinking we no longer have to be careful that we trip and fall. But David isn’t so cocky. He asks for help: “Do not let me be drawn to what is evil so that I take part in wicked deeds along with those who are evildoers; do not let me eat their delicacies” (v. 4).
David knows, as the book of Proverbs teaches, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted” (27:6). He recognizes he needs someone to hold him accountable. And here’s the thing: Most of the disgraced pastors and church leaders you’ll read about know this too. They’ve studied Scripture for themselves, they’ve counseled others about the devastating effects of sin, and they’ve been around long enough to see the pattern play out in the lives of some of their peers.
Then why is it so hard for us to confess our sins and struggles to our friends? Could it be fear that keeps us in the dark? We are called to be people of grace and reconciliation—people who build rather than tear down, who rejoice over resurrection, not death. And yet we fear that if we were to even breathe a whisper of an ongoing temptation in our life, we would be met not with the rebuke of kindness David prays for in Psalm 141, but the slap of judgment.
I can’t say these fears are unfounded. I’ve witnessed them come to life firsthand. Even after someone’s sins are exposed, the path forward almost always involves rejection instead of redemption, shoving aside instead of coming alongside, canceling instead of counseling.
It’s as if we believe the Christian life is entered by grace but kept by good, old-fashioned gumption and self-determination. It’s as if we read Jesus’ prescription for dealing with sin in the church (see Matthew 18:15–20)—a process that involves deep friendship—and skip to the worst-case scenario each time, so that we treat every child of God who sins “as a pagan or a tax collector” (v. 17).
Brothers and sisters, this should not be so. Each and every one of us is a minister of grace, not to ignore sin or tolerate it in our churches, but to bear each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). We are people of the new creation who are to delight in seeing all things made new—including one another.
Each one of us is in a battle. We cannot afford to shoot each other.