Sunday Morning Live Stream Worship 11:15 AM
PRACTICAL LOVE | The “One Another” Commands
Share One Another’s Problems and Needs
Rev. T.J. Campo
Galatians 5.25-6.5 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. 26 Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another. 6.1 Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. 5 For each one will bear his own load.
1 Thessalonians 5.8-11 But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation. 9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.
Hebrews 3.12-15 Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end, 15 while it is said, “TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS, AS WHEN THEY PROVOKED ME.
This is the first in a series of sermons we hope to consider in the next few weeks (about 9 weeks). Normally between Easter and the end of Summer we look at the New Testament Letters and this year we plan to look at a long thread of commands in the NT; all containing the reciprocal pronoun, “one another”(the“one another” commands of the NT).
When Mallory was asked why he wanted to climb Mt Everest he said, “Because it’s there!” and why look at the “one another” commands? A: Because they’re there! There are so many of these commands in the NT! You get the idea that they ARE the Christian life, but ALSO they really speak to our cultural moment!
I realize, as most of us do, that the American Church and the Church in So. FL continues to struggle. Our whole society continues to question whether the Bible can speak authoritatively and whether Christianity is relevant. In light, for instance, of science or in the wake of the ongoing sexual revolution or in an environment of new spirituality and religious pluralism… is Christianity still viable?
And many people who identify themselves as Christians are questioning some cardinal ideas that Christians have always believed. A new book by NY Times columnist Ross Douthat called Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics…that book continues to draw attention to the decline of institutional Christianity. People continue to describe themselves (in growing numbers) as “spiritual but not religious” and that often means, “I believe but I won’t commit to any group or congregation”. SO, will the Church (in this hour) display Practical Love in and demonstrate the viability of basic Christianity and the
Church? Big challenge!
A few years ago I found a taxonomy or an arrangement of all these reciprocal or “one another” commands in a study by a Presbyterian minister, Tim Keller…and I’m going to use his arrangement (three categories – share with one another, affirm one another and serve one another with three topics under each). Today, Share One Another’s Problems and Needs. (“Bear one another’s burdens” Gal 6, v 2)
I simply want to look at 1) What it means to bear a burden 2) Why it’s not an easy task and what to do about that 3) How to practically live this out.
Paul’s Letter to the Churches in the region of Galatia is a fiery warning: this whole group of churches was standing at a precipice! They were about to slide OUT of grace and back INTO old, stale, dead morality and religion. Paul’s clear: Christianity is not standard religion – it functions very differently!
Christianity is NEWS of what GOD has done in Jesus Christ to save us and to renew the world…standard religion is a PLAN or program that WE must do to save ourselves and make ourselves presentable to God – huge, day-and-night difference!
In that OLD WAY of do-it-yourself religion – the people who are most deserving are the ones who get respect and position and recognition in the church/synagogue/mosque. In the NEW WAY, the Gospel/Good News we all have the same status. God receives us NOT on the basis of OUR obedience or our heritage or social standing or wealth or gender (see Gal. 3.28). God sees us as if we ourselves had lived the perfect life that Christ lived. He lived in my place and I am “clothed with Christ” (3.27). (Picture a hideous scraggly, mangy, flea-infested alley-cat…and over the top of him is thrown a lion suit…I am clothed with Christ…that’s what I’m going to be!)
In religion you have to earn your place in the group – you get the status you deserve. That’s why there’s often competition and envy and comparing (5.26). But in the Gospel you recieve the status JC deserves before you do anything to deserve it and THEN God’s Spirit shapes you into the person He has declared you to be.
Some people are more messed up than others when they first get this undeserved new status (btw – they are not the ones you think they are!) and for some the shaping takes longer. There are hidden impediments in all people (things like moralism and a false sense of goodness OR [on the other hand] addictions and deeply ingrained patterns of immorality and excessive appetites…bad family dynamics). But, God IS shaping them to be like Jesus Christ AND in some ways there’s been real progress …but…in other ways…slow going.
AND you TOO…YOU are accepted by God only because of Jesus Christ (just like this other guy) and YOU are being shaped to more resemble Jesus… AND in some ways there’s been real progress …but…in other ways…slow going. AND probably that other guy is Christ-like in ways you are not and YOU are Christ- like in ways HE is not. HIS rough edges are not the same as yours …and his rough edges are really, really repulsive to you…as yours are to him!
When Paul says, “bear one another’s burdens,” a burden, in this way, is anything that is hindering you from becoming the lion you are destined to be. Whatever oppresses a person spiritually and threatens to pull him into sin or keep him in sin…that’s the burden Paul has in mind here.
To bear the burden is to tolerate this brother’s or sister’s flaws. We use the word that way, “grin and bear it” or “I don’t know how longer I can bear this” by which we mean, put up with it or tolerate it. It means at least that.
It means to pay attention to what’s going on with this person, to really listen and learn about him or her. It means to feel with this person, to try and walk in his shoes and “see where she’s coming from” (as we say). It means to EMPATHIZE.
And to move toward the brother…to engage him. It may require those who are in some sort of leadership role to prayerfully restore this person. Not simply to tolerate but to inquire, to become involved and with all the soul-searching necessary so as not to slip into the old self-righteousness of old religion and morality. “Looking to yourself…”
Now, I think we can see that we are swimming upstream here and for any number of reasons, this’ll be difficult. To choose ONE: it’s becoming increasingly counter-cultural. To tolerate is ok in our culture because it means we each go our separate ways. It’s live and let live…it’s the privacy cult. As long as no one gets hurt (which means especially that I don’t get hurt). But even if we take this to mean, sort of ignoring what is offensive to us in this brother/sister it doesn’t mean to go our separate ways, but to stay involved, “Brethren” (1 st and 3 rd texts). So, this is hard for us in this age of anonymity and privacy,
easy to ignore and run…much harder to bear with and yet stay engaged…relating like siblings.
And it may be one of the curses of our abundance: we really don’t need each other. This was written to people who were mostly very poor (at least by our standards!) and people in that society were far more interdependent than we are. They were always with other people – relational of necessity. The countercultural part for them was to be together WITH people from outside their traditional ethnic group or economic level. This Church of Jesus Christ brought together people who would’ve been natural enemies.
There’s another counter-cultural aspect for us and that is: our culture doesn’t come together at all. We are “bowling alone” (Harvard prof., Robert Putnam)! We’re able to do our own thing and we always have options, choices, alternatives, upgrades, preferences …we can re-route at any moment. It’s not a problem to put up with people because we can just walk away.
If you were a Christian in ancient Galatia… there was only one game in town…one church…and to be a part of it would put you in a despised minority!
SO, how do we do this? How do we swim upstream in the “rabid individualism” of our society and become people who both tolerate and congregate? How do we know when to engage and get involved and when to mind our own business and give the other person some space and latitude?
Well here’s some help – notice the reciprocal command here is not simply “bear one another’s burdens” but also a qualifier, “and thereby fulfill the law of Christ”. See how Paul connects the cart to the horse, the command to the engine?
The law of Christ is that animating principle that moved or motivated Jesus Christ. His modus operandi or method or His basic function in coming to earth IS TO BEAR BURDENS. He is the “burden bearer” and that is His basic law or job description. SO, connect to that.
Paul is saying, “You Christians know about this instinctively because you have deep experience with it! You know how it is to be INFINITELY repugnant to the God who is HOLY, HOLY, HOLY…the God who sees how really destructive sin is…YOU KNOW HOW IT IS to have your offensiveness, your shame, carried by another. “Surely our griefs He Himself bore and our sorrows He carried”. THAT passage (Isaiah 53) pictures Jesus Christ becoming utterly repugnant to people and to God the Father (“Like one from whom people hide their face”) That’s what He underwent in order to bear my burden – He became disgusting with my moral disgusting-ness, my mange and fleas were put on the Great Lion…so that I could be clothed in His beauty and majesty and power.
Since you know that experience, complete the cycle – mercy shown TO YOU becomes mercy shown through you to others. The basic animating principle that moved Jesus will now move YOU…IF you are believing. To be believing, in this Letter (Galatians) is the way to get the power of the Spirit. You get the energy to love NOT by training or by self-discipline but by hearing the Gospel and humbly believing it (3.1-5). And to remain in that posture, the receiving/repenting posture is to walk in the Spirit.
When that is happening, God is leading us beyond rules/principles, “Is this a time to do v. 5 and mind my own business or v. 2 be tolerant and give some space or even v. 1 to be more proactive to inquire and seek to restore this person who is sort of spiritually short-circuiting?” Walking in the Spirit (that’s the heading of this passage) is the key to being a burden-bearer.
OK, just three final ideas on how to walk this way:
1) This involves give and take. You have to be willing to tell people about your life, your failings, your hurts and needs AND be willing to hear about theirs. You may have been raised to “be a man!” and to sort of “keep a stiff upper lip” and maybe you really like v. 5 (“bear your own load”) and there IS a place for that (we’ve all been around people who are whiners and who are inappropriate in “sharing”)…BUT still this is a reciprocal command. Your staying private and aloof from others is not a strength and it may be keeping others from opening up to YOU. This is one of those areas where we have to
lead by weakness. Open up to people – get free from the privacy cult and be a link in the chain – give and receive (reciprocate!).
2) Seek the gifts of awareness and empathy. These gifts are given and cultivated in the midst of believing and repenting. They’re the fruit of the Spirit. Ask the Spirit to help you pay attention to people. Ask for patience to become a good listener, not like you can’t wait to get away. (Simone Weil “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.”) Turn off your phone. Make eye contact. This is what it means to be a burden bearer. This is what Jesus Christ did for you in the Gospel – He noticed YOU, He made eye-contact with you and became present (not ready to just run away).
3) Be convinced that THIS is authentic Christianity. It requires that we be daily encouraging one another. Because we are in the light we are coming clean to one another. We recognize our tendencies toward griping and unbelief and hard-heartedness (3 rd text). Discouragement is a constant temptation and we NEED to be in real ongoing relationships…as long as it’s called today!