August 24, 2017 | Articles by Rev. David Bodanza
John F. Kennedy was the nation's first Roman Catholic president. During his election campaign, he was tested by Protestants who were fearful that the Pope would gain a foothold in American government should Kennedy be elected. Kennedy's speech to Southern Baptist leaders in September of 1960 was masterful. Kennedy said while the "finger of suspicion" was now pointed at him as a Roman Catholic, in the future it may be aimed at another religion. He warned that "[i]t was Virginia's harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that led to Jefferson's statute of religious freedom. Today, I may be the victim — but tomorrow it may be you ... ." My guess is this statement made some Baptists think.
This principle should make us all think. Today I may be going through difficulties, whatever they may be. It could be an issue relating to my physical or spiritual health, my finances, or my marriage. You may be doing just fine. You may be feeling blessed of God and acting blind, indifferent or insensitive to my plight. But how foolish you would be to act this way. Soon enough, providence may frown upon you. Today, it may be me — but tomorrow it may be you. "Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, 'Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?" (James 2:14-15). Saving faith says help the brother or sister. The law of Christ says "love your neighbor as yourself." John Donne was right when he said "no man is an island." One of the reason the Lord births us into the church is so that we can carry one another's burdens and live a life of love.
The Bible tells us, "Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in
himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load." (Galatians 6:1-5).
There are times when Christians become snared by besetting sins. These are those transgressions which enslave us, like addictions for example. It takes Christian maturity to deal with such sin in others. A firm but gentle practitioner best sets a broken bone. The break must be dealt with realistically but not with an ounce of overzealousness which only inflicts pain without a healing purpose. The mature Christian recognizes that " there but for the grace of God, go I." Condemnation is unwarranted and is symptomatic of ugly pride. Shooting the wounded serves no legitimate end. Compassion is the order of the day, which should be accompanied by a humble recognition that we may fall into sin too. Matthew Henry observed, "We ought to deal very tenderly with those who are overtaken in sin, because none of us know but it may some time or other be our own case."
We are told to carry each other's burdens. These are those heavy problems that people cannot face alone. To sincerely come to the aid of another in such a crushing situation fulfills the law of Christ: "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:34-35) One's faith is best demonstrated by one's actions. The good Samaritan bound up the afflicted man's wound while the religious folks crossed the street to avoid the situation. We must guard our hearts from thinking we are better than others or from indulging in the sinful human tendency to take pleasure in another's misfortune. The Proverb counsels, "Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice, or the LORD will see and disapprove and turn his wrath away from him." (Proverbs 24:17-18) Real life is not lived by competition and comparison, or attempting to make oneself look good by making the other person look bad. If you live like that, they will be able to have your wake in a telephone booth!
It is interesting to note that while we are to "carry each other's burdens," "each one should carry his own load." The Bible does not foster an entitlement culture. While we are to help one another with heavy burdens, we are not to divest another of his ordinary responsibility. Warren Wiersbe remarks, "We should help each other bear the heavy burdens of life, but there are personal responsibilities that each man must bear for himself. 'Each soldier must bear his own pack.' If my car breaks down, my neighbor can help drive my children to school, but he cannot assume the responsibilities that only belong to me as their father. That is the difference."
Many are alarmed today by the expansion of the entitlement culture in America. Are we becoming a society of takers? Some answer affirmatively and fear that the ambition, ingenuity and achievement sparked by the American Dream is being snuffed out. To borrow George Stuart Benson, where is "the latent fire that lies buried, awaiting a spark, in the breast of every American … the dream of achieving, the dream of contributing, the dream of fulfillment?" There is a distinction between helping others and hurting others by rendering them dependent. The Bible has recognized this for over 2,000 years.
The Lord Jesus taught, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." (Acts 20:35) The matter may be counterintuitive but that does not make it less true. James Wells tells the story in the "Parables of Jesus " of a little girl carrying a big baby boy. Seeing her struggling, someone asked if she was tired. With surprise she replied, “No, he’s not heavy; he’s my brother.” In 1943, the Reverend Edward J. Flanagan borrowed, with permission, the modified motto "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother," for Boys Town, the orphanage in Nebraska.
It seems America has slid a long way since President John F. Kennedy's admonition in his 1961 inaugural address: "And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country." Nevertheless, we must not overcorrect by closing our hearts and hands to legitimate need around us. The Bible says, "What good is it, my brothers,
if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, 'Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, 'You have faith; I have deeds.' Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do." (James 2:14-18) And remember: today it may be me, but tomorrow it may be you.