Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
- Galatians 6:2
“How, then, is true Christian service performed in the Christian community? We are inclined these days to reply too quickly that the one real service to our neighbor is to serve them with the Word of God. It is true that there is no service that can equal this one, and even more, that every other service is oriented to the service of the word. Yet a Christian community does not consist solely of preachers of the Word. The improper use of this could become oppressive if several other things were overlooked at this point.
“The ﬁrst service one owes to others in the community involves listening to them. Just as our love for God begins with listening to God’s Word, the beginning of love for other Christians is learning to listen to them. …
“The other service one should perform for another person in a Christian community is active helpfulness. To begin with, we have in mind simple assistance in minor, external matters. There are many such things wherever people live together. Nobody is too good for the lowest service.
“Third, we speak of the service involved in supporting one another. … Thus the law of Christ is a law of forbearance. Forbearance means enduring and suffering. The other person is a burden to the Christian, in fact for the Christian most of all. The other person never becomes a burden at all for the pagans. They simply stay clear of every burden the other person may create for them. However, Christians must bear the burden of one another. They must suffer and endure one another. Only as a burden is the other really a brother or sister and not just an object to be controlled.”
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together
I also recently reread an old book by Rev. Timothy Keller, Resources for Deacons. If our deacons had enough resources (meaning volunteer help and monetary resources) for a tenth of what he suggests, our churches would be a lot stronger.
But before we go to a book like Rev. Keller’s to see the large and grandiose actions that we might do or the simple and less costly actions in service to the community within the church and outreach beyond the church, Bonhoeffer’s first point is crucial.
If we do not listen to those whom we serve, how do we know that they want or need what we are providing? If they need a good meal, tickets to the football game would be an indulgence that puts far too many resources in the wrong direction. But you might get more volunteers to go to the game with those in need. You know, to supervise. And I have been to 2-3 Pittsburgh Pirate baseball games and no Steeler games or Penguin games in our 25+ years in Pittsburgh. One of the baseball games was a church event on the first day after returning from a month of work in India. Jet lag hit in the second inning and my wife woke me up when the game was over. I would have slept better at home on the couch.
Once you know their needs, you need to be helpful. Bonhoeffer suggests that no one is too good to do the lowest service, but he preceded this quote with the quote from last week, in that you are not fit for Christian service unless you consider yourself the chief of all sinners. If you consider that your sin puts you at the bottom, then there is no task too menial for us. I know a few elders who would have a problem with that. They think their only “spiritual gift” is to supervise those who do the higher-level tasks, and they would not even supervise the menial tasks. I am sure every church has those.
Back many years ago, I invited the students in my class that were from the People’s Republic of China to my home for Thanksgiving dinner. When they learned that my wife and I were Christians, they wanted a photo opportunity in front of our church. The only thing they knew of Christianity is that those were the people who helped others. Since then, the Chinese Communist Party has tried to destroy Christianity in PR China, but I am sure, in the face of imprisonment, they are still helping others.
Other than a few feel-good service projects with the cameras running, do we really have the reputation of being the helpers of those less fortunate? The church that my wife and I go to does the big splash annual mission trips, but if there is a disaster nearby, a team from the church is there, and our church hosts the community food bank with often more than 100 families getting distributions. But I feel we could do much more.
But while long-range planning may help, putting boots on the ground is often the first step, saving the planning for the bigger jobs. Sometimes, when you get into planning mode, you wait for the right time to act, but that time passed you by while you were planning.
The needy already need.
Listen to them. Be helpful. And carry their burdens.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.