As I type this blog post I am sitting watching The Great British Bake Off – just one of many programmes on TV where people’s skills are pitted against each other. There seems to be a huge demand for these types of shows.
The BBC has just launched a show called Tumble, in which celebrities pit their gymnastic skills against one another. Soon Strictly Come Dancing will be back on our screens. ITV host both Britain’s Got Talent and The X Factor. Channel Four have just launched a show called The Singer Takes it All. Not to mention The Voice, Master Chef, The Apprentice and a whole rake of quiz shows!
What is the reason for the success behind all these shows? Without a doubt there is some Darwinian allure. We are drawn to them like a shark to blood. It’s survival of the fittest, in a similar vein to Rome’s Gladiatorial Arena. Everyone is keeping an eye on how the other is doing, and secretly they all want one another to fail in some way. Every contestant is fighting to be the last one standing.
As I examine my own Christian life sadly I find this attitude present. Often I catch myself in the act of comparing myself to other Christians – weighing up where they are stronger than me, and vice versa. And I have a funny feeling that if you were to examine your own life you could find instances of your own cross-Christian-comparison.
However, this is not the image of church life that the New Testament calls for.
As Paul brings one of his toughest letters to a close (Galatians) he leaves the congregation with these exhortations for their life together:
“Bear one another’s burdens” – 6:2 (ESV)
“So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” – 6:10 (ESV)
Make no mistake; Paul was no soft touch as a missionary, pastor or author. He did not overlook sin, he was not easy on Christians who were shirking their responsibilities and he never entertained those who did not live out the ethical demands of the gospel. We need only to read the opening of the letter of Galatians (Gal. 1:1-9) to see this – he forgoes his usual thanksgiving and prayer to tell the Galatian Christians he is gobsmacked at their behaviour (1:6). Indeed, he comes across as exasperated at a number of junctures in the letter (3:1-6 for example).
Yet, Paul does not end this tough letter by telling those in the Galatian churches to trample the weaker brother, look down in pride on those who are less knowledgeable and forget about the struggles of their brothers and sisters. No! Rather, Paul tells the Galatian Christians to bear one another’s burdens and do good to others, especially to the household of faith. In other words, look out for each other. This kind of behaviour stands in stark opposition to the way in which the world operates – instead of killing each other off we should be striving to keep as many alive as possible.
As we examine our attitudes toward our brothers and sisters we need to consider whether they are ones of comparison or compassion. Do we, in arrogant pride, consider ourselves better than them? Or do we consider how we can better them through the love of Christ poured into our hearts and the gifts he has given us for the building up of the church?
There are many ways that this can be done. Paul gives us three examples at the end of Galatians: restoring brothers and sisters caught in sin (6:1), sharing all good things with those who teach the Word of God (6:6), and doing good (6:10). This reorientation of our thinking must be born out in physical actions!
Over the next three weeks I plan to explore each of these examples Paul gives us at the end of his letter to the Galatians. However, we can start right now to bear one another’s burdens. This incoming week pick a handful of people from your church who you know have burdens – perhaps two or three people. Pray for them every day and on Sunday approach them and encourage them with the knowledge that you have prayed for them this past week.
Check back next week to explore restoring a brother caught in sin.