The Christian life is meant to be one of preferring one another, loving one another, and caring for one another. But sadly at least in the West often things are the reverse, with Christians looking after Number One, and having a rather weak sense of body life and the corporate nature of Christianity.
I wrote just recently about this in terms of those believers who do not place much emphasis on fellowship and church life. I used the story of several elderly people who died with no one even aware of their deaths: billmuehlenberg.com/2011/07/11/dying-all-by-oneself/
Today another story appeared in the press, which tackles this subject from another angle. It has to do with a family member refusing to care for another, resulting in her death. There are of course spiritual lessons one can draw from this as well.
The story headline runs as follows: “Daughter let mum ‘rot to death’.” And the story opens in this fashion: “A daughter was so overwhelmed by having to care for her sick mother she let the elderly woman rot to death, a court heard. In the Court of Appeal in Brisbane, Agnieszka Alojza Miller was appealing her five-year jail sentence to be suspended after 12 months.
“Last year in the Supreme Court, Miller, 46, pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of 76-year-old Kazimiera Hys at their Woodridge home, on Brisbane’s southern outskirts, on May 27, 2006. The Crown alleged Miller failed to provide her mother with the necessary medical attention leading up to the death.
“Mrs Hys, who was 154cm weighed just 36kg when she died of sepsis caused by multiple bedsores, and some of the ulcers had maggots in them. The court heard Miller was suffering from chronic depression and had become overwhelmed at caring for her mother since 2005.”
Although admittedly a rather extreme case, we sadly find spiritual equivalents quite often in the Christian church. All over the place Christians are languishing, falling away, or renouncing their faith because they have been given little or no care by other family members – those of the household of God.
A chief characteristic of the West is of course its radical and rugged individualism. It is not too surprising that this feature is thus found all over Western Christendom. We have embraced the surrounding culture and its values, and therefore we have lost much of the communal nature of our faith. We have forgotten what body life is all about.
We tend to look after only ourselves, or at best, our immediate family or circle of close friends. But we often neglect or ignore the wider body of believers we live amongst. We tend to think if someone is in strife, or in need of rebuke, or starting to drift away, that someone else can deal with them.
“The pastor can look after these hard cases” we probably think. Or the elders, or deacons, or youth leaders, or someone else. We have forgotten that we are all our brother’s keepers, and we all have a responsibility to love one another, serve one another, encourage one another, and keep one another to short accounts.
In my earlier article on this topic I spoke of how important it is that we are all in some sort of small, intimate accountability group, where we can keep close tabs on one another. Not only does this allow others to help maintain our spiritual health, but we can keep a close eye on theirs as well.
Of interest, just this moment someone posted elsewhere this quote from Bonhoeffer: “Christ is really present only in the community. The Church is the presence of Christ, just as Christ is the presence of God.” So let me slightly interrupt the flow of this article, or at least my writing of it, with this short detour.
This quote triggered a few thoughts, including the fact that he had penned a whole volume on this. So I rushed to my shelves and quickly found it: Life Together, a volume of his I had picked up back in 1976. I blew off the dust and looked for those underlined bits I highlighted decades ago.
Let me just offer one quote: “The individual must realize that his hours of aloneness react upon the community. In his solitude he can sunder and besmirch the community, or he can strengthen and hallow it. Every act of self-control of the Christian is also a service to the fellowship.
“On the other hand, there is no sin in thought, word, or deed, no matter how personal or secret, that does not inflict injury upon the whole fellowship. An element of sickness gets into the body; perhaps nobody knows where it comes from or in what member it has lodged, but the body is infected. We are members of a body, not only when we choose to be, but in our whole existence. Every member serves the whole body, either to its health or to its destruction. This is no mere theory; it is a spiritual reality.”
OK, back to my article. As I was saying, we have an obligation to look after one another and care for one another. Sure it can become tiring, hard work, and we may want to shirk our responsibilities here. But we must not. We cannot allow our brothers and sisters to “rot to death” spiritually speaking.
It is exactly because so many believers feel isolated, left alone, and uncared for, that they can easily abandon their faith and give the whole thing away. The Bible speaks so much to our obligation to look out for one another. Let me close with just a few of these passages:
Romans 1:11, 12 – I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong–that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.
Romans 14:19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.
Romans 15:2 Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.
Ephesians 4:11,12 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up
1 Thessalonians 5:11 – Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
Hebrews 3:13 – But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.
1 Peter 4:10 Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.
We should never hear of a fellow saint “rotting to death” due to neglect, lack of care, or because we are just too busy.