While I was writing last week’s post, I noticed I’d come back yet again to the idea of other people’s importance to our lives with God. I feel like I’ve been writing about that a lot lately, starting with “The Glorious Weights We Carry” over a month ago, then in “Building People Up in Christ,” “The Reason For Relationship,” and most recently “The Crown of Victory.”
It’s clear that God cares deeply for people. We all benefit from His love immensely as recipients of grace, mercy, salvation, and ongoing relationship. Yet as human beings, we have a tendency to think about how much God cares for me and how His love changes my life. We think less often about what His care for all people means for how we should interact with others. But we’re supposed to become like God, and that means learning to see other people the way He does.
As I’ve studied the Bible over the past month, it struck me that the glory we anticipated is connected to other people. When Jesus builds us up, He expects us to respond by building others up. The type of relational oneness that Jesus and the Father want with us is the same type of oneness we should want to have with others in God’s family. Even the crown of victory we’re promised after faithfully completing our mortal lives is linked with other people who are also living lives of faith. Our individual lives with God are inescapably contextualized by our relationships within His church.
Carrying Others’ Glory
If we’re going to follow Jesus’s example, then we need to spend a lot of time focused on helping other people toward a good outcome. Paul says, “Carry one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2, NET). The word translated “burdens” here is baros (βάρος), the same Greek word that’s translated “weight” in this verse: “For our momentary, light suffering is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17, NET). I suspect C.S. Lewis was connecting these two scriptures when he spoke of our neighbor’s glory in a sermon from 1941.
It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbour. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, p. 8
I often think about this sermon, and this passage in particular. We know that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” and as a result “whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (1 Tim. 1:15; John 3:16). God deeply desires for all people to know the truth, repent, follow Him, and receive salvation (1 Tim. 3:4; 2 Peter 3:9). If we want to be like God, then we should deeply desire that as well. We need to remember that the people all around us have the same glorious potential that God grants to us.
So we must not grow weary in doing good, for in due time we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who belong to the family of faith.Galatians 6:9-10, NET
We’re supposed to be doing good to other people. God never intended for there to be quarreling, backbiting, pettiness, and rivalries among His people. We’re supposed to care so much about other people, especially those in “the family of faith,” that we’ll carry their burdens and shoulder the weight of their glory along with our own.
Build Others Up First
In 1 Corinthians, Paul counsels his readers to “flee from idolatry” in the context of whether or not they should eat meat sacrificed to idols. Paul answers that specific question like this: you’re free to eat the meat as long as you’re not participating in idol worship and thereby having dinner with demons (1 Cor. 8:1-13; 10:14-33). But Paul also points out there’s a much deeper issue here. The question is about an individual choice, but that doesn’t matter nearly as much as the question of how the choice to eat this meat affects other people.
With regard to food sacrificed to idols, we know that “we all have knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. … With regard then to eating food sacrificed to idols, we know that “an idol in this world is nothing,” and that “there is no God but one.” …
But this knowledge is not shared by all. … be careful that this liberty of yours does not become a hindrance to the weak. For if someone weak sees you who possess knowledge dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience be “strengthened” to eat food offered to idols? So by your knowledge the weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed. If you sin against your brothers or sisters in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.1 Corinthians 8:1-2, 4, 7, 9-12, NET
Paul shifts the conversation. The most important thing here isn’t whether you have the freedom to eat the meat sold in the market place without asking about its backstory. The thing you need to worry about it how your choice affects other people in the family of faith.
“Everything is lawful,” but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is lawful,” but not everything builds others up. Do not seek your own good, but the good of the other person. … So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. Do not give offense to Jews or Greeks or to the church of God, just as I also try to please everyone in all things. I do not seek my own benefit, but the benefit of many, so that they may be saved.1 Corinthians 10:23-24, 31-33, NET
I’m a Star Trek fan, so this makes me think of Spock’s statement that “The good of the many outweighs the good of the one.” That’s the attitude Paul is describing here. What does it matter whether you get to eat meat in the grand scheme of other people’s salvation? If you decide to do something because it’s technically allowed, even though you know it’s going to hurt someone else who might be “weaker” in the faith, then you’re sinning against Jesus Christ Himself. When we love as God loves, we’ll focus on the things that build other’s up before we focus on our own desires. In fact, just a little later in this same letter, Paul says, “Let all things be done to build each other up ” (1 Cor. 14:26, WEB). We need to make doing good to others the main goal of our actions and interactions, particularly in the church.
Copying Christ’s Attitude
Last week when we were studying the crowns of victory that God promises us for living faithfully, we looked at two verses where Paul describes other people as our glory, joy, and crown (Phil. 4:1; 1 Thes. 2:19-20). This description emphasizes that there’s no competition among believers. Even though our Christian lives are described like an athletic game that we need to strive to win, we’re not competing against other believers but alongside them.
Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort provided by love, any fellowship in the Spirit, any affection or mercy, complete my joy and be of the same mind, by having the same love, being united in spirit, and having one purpose. Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well. You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus hadPhilippians 2:1-5, NET
Paul goes on to describe Jesus’s attitude as humble, service-oriented, sacrificial, and obedient (Phil. 2:6-11). Just like He and His servants admonish us to do, Jesus built other people up. He put their needs first, whether that meant correcting them sternly or showing unexpectedly generous mercy (Matt 16:22-23; Luke 7:36-48). He even died for all of us. And He expects those who follow Him to be similarly humble, forgiving, service-oriented, and sacrificial (Eph. 4:31-32; Col. 3:12-13; 1 John 3:16).
He died for us so that whether we are alert or asleep we will come to life together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, just as you are in fact doing.1 Thessalonians 5:10-11, NET
Notice that while Paul charges his readers to encourage and build each other up, he also points out they’re already doing this. We might already be doing this as well, but a reminder is always good to help us continue doing the right thing. Supporting others in God’s family is important enough that even if we’re already doing it, we need reminders of it’s importance.
If we’ve stopped encouraging and building each other up–for example, started avoiding some people at church because we don’t like them–then we can take Paul’s words here as a nudge to get back on track. There will be people in God’s family and our local church groups we don’t get along with very well. There may even be some that, in extreme cases, we need to stop associating with for our mental or spiritual health (Rom. 16:17-18; 1 Cor. 5:11; 2 Thes. 3:6-14). However, that’s the exception rather than the rule. God’s intention and command is for us to live in peace with others in the church and invest in good relationships with them.
Let’s consider how to provoke one another to love and good works, not forsaking our own assembling together, as the custom of some is, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.Hebrews 10:24-25, WEB
Nearly two thousand years ago, the apostle John wrote, “Little children, these are the end times” (1 John 2:18, WEB). That was true then, and we’re even closer now. This makes the admonition in Hebrews to assemble together and encourage each other as the Day of the Lord approaches even more urgent. (Of course, this includes the caveat, “if it’s possible to assemble;” health problems, location, and persecution can make assembly in person very difficult or impossible for some of us.)
If we can get together with other believers and participate in a church group, though, we should. We simply don’t have time to waste bickering, competing, or holding petty things against each other. We need to forgive, to encourage, to show love when we speak truth, and build each other up. And we ought to enjoy spending time together. If everything goes according to plan, we’ll be spending eternity with these people. That thought should make us excited–it’s what Jesus and the Father want, and it’s what we should want as well.
Featured image by Ben White from Lightstock
Song Recommendation: “City On The Hill” by Casting Crowns