Monday, September 29, 2008

Strong Shoulders

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

                        Galatians 6.2

The Core Ideal

Most Christians, when asked what they believe, fall back on Biblical record, not theological ideals. Jesus was born to a virgin, lived as a teacher and miracle-worker, was crucified and resurrected, ascended to heaven, and will come back to reward those who obey His word. Or, as any good Sunday school alum will say, quoting John 3.16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."

It’s Jesus’s own succinct rendering of His purpose. But, alas, it’s not His core ideal. In Matthew 22.37-39, Jesus laid out His ideal, plain and simple: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. ‘This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it:  ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” This is Christianity's core ideal; this is the law of Christ. 


We define Christians as people who believe in Jesus. But is that enough? It wasn’t for the Early Church. For them, it was only the first step. Fulfilling His law—embracing His core ideal, activating its principles—was the most crucial differentiator. Letters written to the first congregations are consumed with teaching and advice on this. 

Belief in Christ sets us apart, entitling us to be called “Christians.” It’s an identifier. First-century believers wanted to know what that calling entailed. In other words, the label meant nothing to them without distinctive behavior to back it up. Like endlessly curious children, they kept tugging on their leaders’ sleeves. “Why does this work?” they asked. “How do we live? What are the rules?” In one of his many responses to these questions, Paul told the Galatians, “Fulfillment of Christ’s law demands that we carry each other’s burdens.”

The Human Pyramid

One way to picture true Christianity is as a massive human pyramid, with its strongest believers at the base and weakest at the top. This image is particularly effective, I think, since it directly contradicts natural law, which teaches us to strive to “rise to the top.” In fulfilling Christ’s law, though, we work our way down by strengthening our capacity to bear more of our brother and sisters’ burdens. This completely synchs up with Jesus’s repeated first-last, rich-poor, high-low constructs, e.g., “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23.12)

Christ’s ideal encourages us to find honor in being at “the bottom of the pile.” Our position there confirms we’ve got strong shoulders. We develop them spiritually just as we do physically—by working out. Numerous times, Paul spoke of “building up,” steadily increasing our ability to bear more weight. When we find weaker believers stumbling beneath burdens they can't carry alone, we reach out to them. When we come on non-believers whose backs are breaking, we do the same. We love them as we love ourselves. We don’t do it to show off, saying, “I'm stronger, more experienced. Let me handle it.” We say, “I’ve got it. Take a minute, pull yourself together. Lean on me.”

Kirk Franklin & Nu Nation (with R. Kelly, Crystal, Mary J. Blige, and Bono): Lean On Me

(Tomorrow: Correction is Coming)


Anonymous said...

This was lovely Tim. I love the imagery of a human pyramid. I think so many think that being a Christian begins and ends with simple faith. The protestant paradigm of faith alone is an impediment I think. The Catholic view may be incorrect, yet, I think it serves a better purpose in promoting works as a necessary part of our salvation. Thanks for this more than worthwhile reflection.

Tim said...

Sherry, I completely agree! James said faith by itself, if it's not accompanied by action, is dead. I've never quite grasped those who believe Christ redeemed us just so we'll believe in Him. Faith is vital because it spurs us to do things--it opens our minds and hearts to possibilities that natural thinking overlooks and then it challenges us to pursue those possibilities in deed.

A cursory reading of the Gospels is all it takes to discover that Jesus intended His followers to accomplish things in His name and for His glory. We have to do something!