The Path of ServiceJohn 13:13-17Theme: Foot-washing.This week’s lessons teach us how to encourage one another and share each other’s burdens. LessonWe must bear one another’s burdens. The Bible is able to express the whole work of Christ for us as bearing our burdens: “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows” (Isa. 53:4 KJV). So it is not surprising that it can describe the whole of the Christian life as bearing the cross and admonish us to “carry each other’s burdens,” saying, “and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).
Small groups within a larger church community are particularly important if we are to do this effectively. How are we to carry another’s burdens if we do not know what they are? How are we to learn about them unless we have a context in which Christians can share with one another honestly? There are many problems at this point, one of which is our natural reluctance to let our hair down and confess what bothers us. If we have problems with our schoolwork or at home with our children, we hesitate to say so because admitting to what may be a failure leaves us vulnerable. We worry about what others think. Again, if we are having difficulties with our husband or wife, we are afraid to admit it. We keep it in, and the problems build to the point where they sometimes prove unsolvable. How are Christians to learn to share their burdens in such areas? The easiest way is through a natural building of acceptance and confidence in the small-group setting.
We must speak God’s truth to the other person. When I began this listing of what it means to serve others, I said that Christians tend to talk without listening. That is true; listening is an important first requirement. But having said that, we need to say that there is also a time, after having listened, to speak and that Christians are distinguished from others at this point by having something genuinely helpful and transforming to say – because they can speak the words of God as they have first learned them from the Scriptures. This gives us a service far ahead of psychologists and other merely human counselors. They can listen – often better than we do. They can offer wise advice or counsel. But the help of a purely secular counselor stops there. The Christian, once he has heard and understood, can go on to share the cure for that problem or the hope for that despair given by God in the Bible.
Many persons have a natural reluctance to instruct another person, particularly another believer. They are conscious, as we should all rightly be conscious, that they themselves are weak and often confused. But fear of our own proneness to failure should not keep us from saying what is necessary at the proper time. The Christians at Rome had not had the benefit of apostolic instructions when Paul wrote to them, but he said, “I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another” (Rom. 15:14).
Bonhoeffer is surely right at this point: “Where Christians live together the time must inevitably come when in some crisis one person will have to declare God’s Word and will to another. It is inconceivable that the things that are of utmost importance to each individual should not be spoken by one to another. It is un-Christian consciously to deprive another of the one decisive service we can render to him. If we cannot bring ourselves to utter it, we shall have to ask ourselves whether we are not still seeing our brother garbed in his human dignity which we are afraid to touch, and thus forgetting the most important thing; that is, no matter how old or highly placed or distinguished he may be, he is still a man like us, a sinner in crying need of God’s grace. He has the same great necessities that we have, and needs help, encouragement and forgiveness as we do.”1
1 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, p. 105.
According to Galatians 6:2, how do we fulfill the law of Christ?
Why do people hesitate to share their burdens?
How are small groups helpful in discipleship?
When is it helpful to speak rather than to merely listen?
ReflectionThink about what enables us to instruct others when the need arises. How can we overcome our fear of doing so?