We all want to help people. As Christians we really want to help people and love them – as Christ has loved us, so we should love the world. I get that, and I believe that. But sometimes what we think is loving is not helpful to someone and is actually hurting them. One of the key things we need to understand to be successful Christians is there is a difference between hurt and harm.
Once I had to have emergency root canal surgery, but I had a funeral to speak at in the afternoon so I decided not to get my mouth anaesthetized. The dentist really hurt me, but he did not harm me, he made me better. Drinking Cokes harmed me, but didn’t hurt. We need to act in ways that don’t harm people, not don’t hurt them. It might hurt your adult child if you tell them they cannot live at home if they smoke drugs and don’t get a job, but it will harm them if you don’t. It might hurt someone if you do not let them minister in the church because their lifestyle is lacking in some way, but it will not harm them. It will harm them and the whole church if you let them minister.
So how do we know when to help someone and when to let them help themselves? It’s a great question, and thankfully, the Bible (as always) has some great answers for us.
2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ… 5 For each one shall bear his own load. (Galatians 6.2 and 5, NKJV)
We have to bear one another’s burdens, but we also have to let everyone carry their own load. The KJV sadly has the same word as both which I am sure has confused many people, but the Greek has two different words. The word burdens is the word that gives the picture of a rock falling on you, a massive crushing weight. Sometimes avalanches happen in life, things just fall out the sky and crush you. I would imagine most of you reading this have had days like that and events like that happen – the death of a loved one, a car crash, losing a job. Something that comes out of nowhere and it feels like it might crush you.
The word for “load” is the Greek word for what today would be a backpack, the load that we have to carry – our stuff, our life, our daily load.
So that is a great divide and great wisdom about when to help people and when not to help people. If it is a crushing weight that has fallen out of the sky, you have to bear it with that person. If they have lost their job, their washing machine breaks and their car fails its MOT in the same week, get in there open your wallet and help that person. But if someone is month after month spending more than they earn, you are not helping them by giving them money – you are harming them. You need to let them carry their own load.
When things fall out the sky and crush people, we should stand with them, help them lift the load. But we should not be carrying people’s daily life about – they need to do that. If someone doesn’t work, they shouldn’t eat says Paul. We can pray for people, but people need to also learn to pray themselves every day. We can help feed people the Word, but they need to daily feed themselves.
You should jump in and help anyone if an avalanche has fallen on their head, but your goal should be to lift that burden and encourage that person to carry their personal load.
We need to re-read the parable of the Good Samaritan, and realize he helps the man who had an avalanche fall on its head (being mugged and left to die is definitely a burden not a load!). But he also leaves the man to carry his own load.
If the Good Samaritan had been a modern Christian this might have happened:
…And when the Good Samaritan said he was leaving the man cried out, “Oh please don’t leave me now. Stay with me.” And so the Good Samaritan did as the man bid. But in staying the Good Samaritan was not able to keep his business flourishing so he lost all his money. After caring day and night for the man his strength was gone. Soon the Good Samaritan and the man were thrown out of the inn. Homeless and penniless they were soon both taken away and killed by thieves. (found online at http://utahmentalhealthservices.com/the-parable-of-the-good-samaritan-with-no-boundaries/)
We need to make sure that we set healthy fences in our life. Yes, of course we should love people – especially people with crushing burdens. But it is also God’s command that we enable everyone to carry their own load.
I will not carry someone’s daily load for them. It hurts them. It makes them dependent, and I am then their enabler. We have to help people mature, not keep them perpetually immature.