“Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:1-2).
A stated goal of most mission efforts is to establish and mature congregations in distant areas that will ultimately be independent and self-sustaining. Many congregations, and some missionaries, can become frustrated when young indigenous churches continually need help, whether it be financial or in dealing with ongoing problems.
Even such a successful evangelist as the apostle Paul confessed to this burden. “Besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation?” (2 Corinthians 11:28-29).
The fact is that God’s people require care. They always have, and they always will. Some care is provided by the elders who “watch out for your souls” (Hebrews 13:17). Some comes from the more spiritual in a congregation who help the weaker when they stumble (Galatians 6:1). Some care is simply our task as fellow servants who carry each other’s loads (Galatians 6:2). And some will be provided by the faithful in other places who reciprocate for gifts of grace once shared with them (Romans 15:26-27).
Independent, self-sufficient Christians (or churches) are a myth. We all need attention and help from others. The church which Jesus built was provided for just that reason (study Ephesians 4:11-16 carefully). It has been often said, “No one goes to heaven (or hell) alone. We are all under the influence of others and we all exert influence upon others.” Our great need is to ensure that in both directions that influence is positive and spiritual.
It is with that need in mind that James and Jude (both half-brothers of Jesus and inspired writers) wrote the following:
“Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20).
“Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. And on some have compassion, making a distinction; but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh” (Jude 21-23).
When questioned concerning the whereabouts of Abel, Cain famously replied, “Am I my brother’s keeper” (Genesis 4:9)? Sadly, there seem to be many today who would, like Cain, deny any responsibility for the destiny of others, whether they are unbelievers or troubled Christians.
But the words of Scripture are emphatic. We are brothers and sisters together in Christ. We have duties towards each other. And we have need for each other. It is time for us to drop the myth of self-sufficiency and open our hearts to all those who would seek after God. And at the same time, stop trying to take care of ourselves without the help and support of others. We need them, just as they need us.
Picture caption: Praying for troubled sisters in Bangladesh.