Summary: Paul gives 6 characteristics of successful churches. We should not keep our burdens to ourselves. We are part of a caring community of faith, and we’re to help when people are hurting, we respond.
Introduction: People dislike accountability. They prefer to go their own way without answering to others. Among Christians, this attitude breeds self-reliant “Lone Ranger” believers and independent churches. Yet life works better when there is a “chain-of-command”, when we have others looking out for us, correcting us when we stray from the path. We should give our friends a hunting license to correct us! (David Midwood). I’ve known some micro-managers in the military, and I’ve known supervisors who neglected to oversee those under their authority. Leadership is a matter of empowering people to be successful. In these 6 verses, Paul gives six characteristics of successful churches...
Carefrontation, verse 1 What do we do when fellow-Christians stumble and fall into sin or error? We take the initiative to restore them. Paul stresses the relational character of discipleship, which is up-close and personal. The Greek word for “restore” was used to describe the setting of a broken bone, and means “to return to its former condition.” Fallen believers are not damaged goods to be discarded. In our denomination we place clergy under probation and into accountability groups for the purpose of restoring them to ministry. This work is done “gently” (a fruit of the Spirit). We care enough to confront, with a sympathetic spirit. The goal is to reconcile those who’ve been overtaken in sin, not to punish them. Everyone is struggling with something; some are better at hiding it than others. We’re responsible for one another, and we need one another.
Compassion, verse 2 It is not enough to be concerned; we may need to take action. True compassion offers both sympathy and a plan to alleviate the distress. This is a hands-on ministry of presence in which we “mourn with those who mourn”. We rally around to assist those in distress. We let some of their burden shift onto our shoulders. We talk, but having all the “right words to say” is not as important as being present.
I heard of a man who was struggling with grief. Two friends came to visit him. One spoke about bereavement and loss, saying a lot of true and useful things. The other just quietly stayed with him, saying very little. The man said he was glad when the first friend left and sorry when the second one departed. There’s a Jewish tradition of “sitting shiva” in which friends come to a bereaved person’s home and just sit, saying nothing unless they’re invited to speak. I did this recently for a Jewish friend. Job’s friends did this initially, and had they limited their support to that, all would’ve been fine. But they just had to offer advice, and that’s when they got into trouble. There is a time and place for counsel; wisdom will dictate when that is appropriate. I’m not saying we say nothing to people in distress; but initially what people need are not answers but consolation.
Constraint, verse 3
Here Paul is warning us of spiritual pride. An inflated ego leads to a sense of spiritual superiority. Humility leads us to put aside a sense of entitlement.
Heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali boarded an airplane, sat down, and prior to takeoff, a stewardess reminded him to buckle his seatbelt. Ali objected. “Superman doesn’t need a seatbelt!” She reminded him: “Superman doesn’t need an airplane.”
We are never more in danger than when we think we’ve arrived and we forget that every day we must say: “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
Confidence, verse 4
This seems like a contradiction. We’re told in verse 3 to not think too highly of ourselves, then in verse 4 Paul tells us to take “pride” in what we achieve! Paul is encouraging us to be confident of who we are in Christ. If we’re functioning by His strength, we ought to be pleased with what He is doing in us. In I Corinthians 15:10, Paul says, “By the grace of God I am what I am.” We don’t take credit, yet we should be confident. As Paul says in 2:20, “the life I live, I live by faith in the Son of God.” He has done it all--for today and forever!
In II Corinthians, Paul talks about “boasting” in the Lord. What is holy boasting? It’s praising God for what He has accomplished…maybe it was through us, but He did it! We need absolute confidence in God and no confidence in ourselves.
Paul also cautions about comparing ourselves with others. Their journey isn’t ours, and we may become envious and resentful if we’re not careful. We’re to appraise our own work, not that of others…and to do our own work, not to copy that of others.
Conscientious, verse 5
Here is another seeming contradiction. Paul tells us in verse one to bear the burdens of others, but here he seems to say everyone should bear their own burdens. What Paul is saying is that, while we need to help one another in the struggles of life, we are each responsible for our own conduct. We’re to do the best we can with what we’ve been given. We will answer to God individually. This is about mutual accountability and personal responsibility.