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.
Paul is speaking of two different burdens. The “burden” of verse 2 is a Greek word describing an oppressive weight that must be shared because it is too heavy for one person to carry. The “burden” of verse 5 is a different Greek word, which refers to a backpack. It’s a heavy load, but a manageable one.
Charity, verse 6
The word Paul uses for “instruction” is where we get our word “catechism.” Part of making disciples is training people to know the teachings of the Bible and the basics of the Christian life. People can’t afford to be Biblically illiterate. It is our task to help others grow in their faith, to be mentors.
When I served in the Army, I would ask those above me for guidance and, I’m sad to say, I rarely got any. Many times my supervisors would claim they didn’t know what to tell me…yet no one obtains senior rank by being ignorant. Leaders lead by helping others become successful. But knowledge is power, and many want to keep it to themselves. This uncharitable attitude convinced me to be a mentor, and any chaplain who’s worked for me will tell you that I was generous with information, to a fault. My conviction is that if I learn or develop something useful, I need to share it. I’m sure some think I hand out too much “stuff”, but I’d rather err on the side of generosity. Paul understands that information should flow in both directions--we help one another.
Paul is also talking about clergy compensation. Pagan priests charged fees for their services, but pastors were to be supported by voluntary gifts of God’s people (Ryken). Many clergy are bi-vocational by economic necessity, which means they cannot devote their full attention to the needs of their congregations.
Conclusion: 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, what we call in the Army “buddy care.” There will be times when we are givers and recipients of assistance. Let’s be willing to be both. Let’s link together to foster unity as God’s people, as agents of reconciliation.
Prayer: Faithful Lord, I rely on You and on fellow-travelers in life’s journey. I am a pilgrim, plodding along in a broken world. I join with others for mutual encouragement along the way. Help me to abide in Your love. Strengthen me by Your Spirit in my inner self for every purpose of my Christian life. May I support others in resisting temptation and proclaiming the truth of Your word; then will our walk be one of endless praise…Amen.