Around about 1985 I met a young Nigerian man named Steven who had been in an auto accident. He was paralyzed from is neck down and connected to a respirator. Pastor Wilcox and I would visit him twice a week at the University Hospital and we would have prayer and bible sharing with him. Now I want you to note that although he was physically weak spiritually his faith was strong. The Holy Spirit was moving in this man. He lit up the room when people would visit him. Sister Annie Holt who worked there at the time, would visit him often. She often shared how she was strengthened each time she visited him. But she was not the only one, others would say how they went in feeling awkward or sometimes sorry for him but walked out encouraged and empowered. Steven’s prayer request from us was that God would give him pain. Why pain? Because he knew that if he had some pain that his body would be functioning again.
I purchased a study bible for Steven and had it placed on a music stand so he could study God’s word. As he began to get stronger in the word he would share with us what he had learned. We had some great times in Lord when we would visit him. Steven’s greatest strength was his prayer life. We would bring the bulletins to him and he would pray over the prayer requests. He would always ask us for a report on the following visit HE HELD US ACCOUNTABLE. Pastor Eric Payne who was an Associate Pastor here for a while. Used to visit Steven when he ministered here after he relocated to South Jersey. One very early morning. He called me from his home in South Jersey and said, “ Please get to Steven and tell him to pray for me” He was scheduled for serious surgery. Eric knew that Steven had a connection with God from his hospital room. He would pay special attention to the prayers given to him. That’s what Strong Christian’s do. Although he was physically weak he was spiritually strong. That’s what spiritually Strong Christian’s do even if their bodies are weak.
Romans 15:1 in the English Standard version says “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.” Now I really could say “Amen and that is my message for today.”
The question for all Christians today is “Life-is it all about me? Allow me to tell you a little about the time that Paul was writing in. The Church of Rome had a lot of different folks. Today we would say it was diverse. Some were slaves, some were poor, and some were rich. Some were Jews, some were Gentiles, Young and old all worshiped together and just think of the makeup of any church, there were some are strong in the faith and some that are weak. Not a whole lot has changed since Paul’s time when it comes to Weak and Strong Christians, but I know you are probably asking, “What is a weak Christian?” You did ask right?
Life itself has a way of showing our weaknesses. These days the economic climate has many of us with bills over our heads. Many of us struggle to keep the lights on, heat running, gas running and food on the table. The stress alone can make us mentally weak. Especially if some family members are not pulling their weight. And that mental weakness from the sheer aggravation and frustration can make us physically weak. Then, add on Health issues that make us weak. Aging bones, aging limbs and aging minds, and being over worked can make you weak. Disagreements and fights can make you weak. So I ask you, when Paul says in the scripture here to please our neighbor and build him or her up for their own good, does it mean that we will be neglected? Don’t we have enough of our own issues or our own weaknesses to worry about?
But in reflection on Paul’s words a Christ centered church will not neglect it’s own. Verse 3 “For even Christ did not please himself.” We are encouraged to help the weak. The bible says,” We ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength.” The word “bear” here means that we should make it a continual habit of bearing and helping the weak.
Open your bulletin right now! If you look at the prayer sheet each Sunday in the bulletin you will see that section that says sick and shut-in. Guess what? They will always need our help.
We all get sick, we all get old, and we all become weak at times. Keep looking at this area in our bulletin, Folks are praying for finances, spiritual growth; family manners and some unspoken prayers are too deep to share. Like the songwriter said, we need strong Christian’s to help us “get back up again.” We Need Each Other! Sometimes we cannot look to our natural families, cousins, brothers, and sisters, but we should always be able to talk with and depend on the body of Christ.
The weak are found in many places out side the church.
I recently met a client to discuss work she wanted me to do. She worked at a senior home in an affluent neighborhood. I watched as one of the seniors, a little woman, sat outside waiting for a loved one, someone she raised, to come by and pay her a visit. My client told me that the senior was waiting for a daughter that lived down few blocks away. So the women sat outside each day hoping that her daughter would drive past and wave or actually stop and spend some time. Unfortunately, that seldom happened. But often my client would sit down besides her and talk. The kind and gentle words from my client made a different. Someone stronger with a kind word can really lift the spirit of someone weak.
We have strong parents that may not even be Christians that would not even think of neglecting their small children because they are too weak. Yet, Why many Christians who are strong will sometimes neglect the weak. Paul encourages us by saying that a strong Christian ought to help the weaker ones.
Weak Christian’s lacks Instruction
Weak Christians lacks Perseverance
Weak Christians lacks Encouragement
Weak Christians lacks Hope
But What is a strong Christian? I knew You Would Ask that too.
Paul writes that we “are not just to please ourselves.” Here the word “please” means to make a continual habit of pleasing ourselves. Now, it does not mean that we should NEVER please OURSELVES. But pleasing ourselves should not become our lifestyle. Life IS NOT ALL ABOUT ME
BUT IT IS ABOUT BALANCE
Parents pace yourself
Caretakers pace yourself
Church leaders and missionaries pace yourselves.
Jesus Christ lived a balanced life. He healed the sick, raised the dead, fed folks, but he also paused to spend time away with the disciples, and He got his rest, and knew how to delegate his workload. Had time for food and fellowship and most importantly He spent personal time in prayer to the Father. All those things kept Jesus physically, mentally and spiritually strong.
Oh let us not forget that sometimes we also need Physical exercise to keep us strong.
On occasion while visiting folks with Pastor Wilcox I remember we would take the stairs in order to keep ourselves fit. He felt that being fit would help us keep it shape to serve others. There is a balance in our walk with Christ. The strong need their exercise, we need our rest and we need our scripture reading, we need our fellowship, we need our prayer life, in order to serve orders well.
Having a strong Faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ is the key to a balanced God glorifying lifestyle. ” Philippians 4:13 says We can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
A strong Christian gives time and shares the Word of God with the weak
A strong Christian provides the kind of persevering love that hangs in there with the weak through the tuff times
A strong Christian encourages the weak in the time of trouble
A strong Christian shares the hope of Jesus in the time of need.
Ministry of serving and building up others.
The reason that pleasing others should not be so physically and mentally demanding is that the scripture in verse 1 does not speak to just one person but to many Look at verse 1 again it says “we” “ourselves” When a family is sharing the load, when a family is working together, when a family is communicating with each other it makes the task of building up the weak easier.
Think about it doesn’t it feel better when you are side by side with someone else witnessing on the street or even helping someone in their home during a troubled time? Working together builds unity and will make you stronger because Just like Proverbs 27:17 says, “iron sharpens iron so one man sharpens another.”
You might ask, well what should I do? How can I help?
I would say pray and ask God. The Holy Spirit will speak to your spirit. I can only say how he speaks to me. When I’m helping the weak I feel rewarded, I feel good about it. God needs us to be willing to serve him. You don’t have to have any great credentials, to serve God; just a willing heart and a commitment to Christ Steven was a testimony. He didn’t let his condition stop him from serving the Kingdom. The key is a heart that wants to please God. There are times I don’t feel like doing some things” but when I feel like this I think to myself, I say Lord give me strength. For example, Jesus never said there was too much distance to travel. He often walked long distances without Nikes sneakers. When we serve others and our obedience is to his word we are never alone. The Holy Spirit of God directs us and guides us.
God wants us to be “hands on Christians, not hands off. I know this personally. The part of the Steven story that I didn’t tell you was that I was sick and weak during this time when we made those visits. My wife was the one Pastor wanted to get out to help with the visits. But because I was in the house she said, “Have you considered my husband Ray? I know he is sick but he gets better around 1PM, reason was like clock work the fevers that I was getting would break at that time so this was the best time to serve. God used me in my weakest time to shape my character into pleasing and serving him. Getting up those stairs was hard but it helped build the physical strength. Serving was fun because I had a partner and I had to learn the word of God to share with the needs of others. You, my brothers and sisters, at this church made my life a lot easier with your time, food, anonymous gifts, words of encouragement and time spent in prayer. Many of you are a lot older and need my help now that I am stronger. And I will never forget Annie Holt helping me get back into my art after getting out of the hospital and the times at little bricks with my mother in-law. You persevered with me to help restore me. I know God is real, God heals, God restores, God provides, Jesus Strengthens, Jesus Saves, JESUS SAVES.
Sermon contributed by Deacon Raymond Horner Jr.