Help – Or Not?

Monday morning at 7:30 am, I am scheduled to do a presentation to a group of unemployed executives at St. Luke’s Methodist Church. The Business and Professional Exchange (BPE) has met there each Monday morning for the last 20 years. I was not present the first week it started, but I was there the second week, and I have been back many times thereafter since 1991. For several years, I also sat on the board. Over the years, BPE has helped thousands of people get back to work by providing career assistance – whether it is advice on how to write a resume, or working with the more difficult aspects of job loss; such as the impact on families and the divorce rate. By and large, BPE speakers focus on the technical aspects of job search, but I have a heart for the tougher aspects of helping people. The average attendance each Monday is more than 80 people.

Invariably, one of the things I am always asked in these meetings is how I make the decision on who to help. And it’s a great question, because while most people want to find new employment, there are always those few who expect you to do all the work, and then let them know where and when to report. And that’s just not the way it works. Right now, the statistics about job loss are rather sobering. The average person who turns 21 this year will have more than 13 jobs by the time they are 38 years old. For older folks, the average length of employment at a job is 39 months, and we know that 1 out of 2 middle level managers who loses a job will get divorced over the issue. Of course, job loss leads to financial stress; and this isn’t good either.

So what’s the Bible have to say about all this? In fact, Galatians 6:2 is quite emphatic about what we are to do. It states, “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” And that law? In the book of John, we are told, “To love one another as Christ has loved us.” Ironically, Gal. 6:5 presents what appears to be an opposing command. It says, “And each is to bear his own burden.” So which is it – in fact, folks who don’t believe in the Bible point to these two verses to make the argument that the Bible is self-contradictory. Well, it’s hard to tell from the English language. But the Greek is quite clear.

In 6:2 and 6:5, while we use the same word, burden, in English, the Greeks used two different words. In 6:2, the word the word burden is translated from the Greek “βαρη” – pronounced “baray”. It is a shipping term and means to be be overweight, no longer sea-worthy, ready to capsize. However, in 6:5, the word burden comes from the Greek “φορτιαν” – pronounced “fortion”, another shipping term, which means to carry an assigned load, within the weight limit, the cargo that a ship has been built to carry. In ancient times, when ships went out to sea, they were loaded with the cargo they had been constructed to carry. But even the best ships ran into rough seas, and encountered unexpected circumstances which led them to be in danger – ready to capsize and be destroyed. When this happened, other ships would come to the aid of the vessel in trouble, re-distribute the cargo among all the ships, and the entire fleet would travel safely to shore together.

I think this is the picture of what Christ wants from us. Each of us has been created to carry certain responsibilities and obligations that are within our capacity – and that isn’t the same for everybody. However, there are times in our lives when things get out of control – illness, family crises,  job loss, unforeseen medical expenses, etc. that cause us to struggle with burdens beyond our capacity. That’s when we should expect help from other people. And of course the converse is true. Part of our role as Christians is to be on the lookout for other “ships” in trouble – and we should always be ready to come alongside and re-distribute some of the cargo – at least for a season.

In this way, we function as the body of Christ in this world. So, my encouragement tonight is to look for other people in trouble and find ways that you can assist them. Then when they get back on their feet, you can begin the search for others to help. And my prayer is that when the time comes, and it will, that you are in rough water and in danger of no longer being seaworthy, you will reach out and ask other people to lash themselves to you until your overwhelming burden goes away. It’s as simple as that – have a great day in the Lord….


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