Dear Church Family,
The fifth section of our newly adopted church covenant reads: “We will rejoice at one another’s joys and endeavor, by tenderness and sympathy, to bear one another’s burdens and sorrows.” Before I attempt to answer how we should attempt to do this, let’s consider why we have committed to do this. In Romans 12, Paul instructs the church to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” This is one of the main verses by which this section in our covenant is informed. Now, what I find crucial in our understanding of how to do this well or as Paul intended, is locating this verse in its context. If you go through Romans 12, it may seem like a Christian conduct catchall strung together because he couldn’t figure out where else to put them—but it isn’t.
Paul calls for the members of the church at Rome to pledge their lives and renew their minds in order that they might worship the Lord by looking like Jesus and not like the world. This is the war of the Christian life, but it will look different in the life of each Christian according to the measure of faith he or she has been assigned by God. Since this is true for each Christian, as we gather together in local churches or bodies, each member has a different function, “so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” We are called to use the gifts that differ according to the grace given us for the good of the whole body.
As we live this life together as repentant sinners in the process of being made more like Jesus, we are called to genuinely love one another like family—because that’s what we are. If we’re going to grow as a family, we must grow in our love for one another. Part of this growth comes as we identify with one another through our common salvation experience as well as our common commitment to one another as members of the same body. Often we identify with one another instinctively. We rejoice when they rejoice and we weep with they weep and visa versa. But as those who have different measures of faith, unique functions, and varying gifts—not to mention all the other differences—we also need to be told to identify with the other members of our church.
This is confirmed when the author to the Hebrews calls the church to “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body” (Hebrews 13:3). Or Paul again in 1 Corinthians 12 says, “God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” All this means our desire to identify with the other members of our local church must be motivated by love and built on the reality that we are one as parts of the same body. As we bear one another’s burdens we are fulfilling the law of Christ which is the law of love (Galatians 6:2; John 13:34-35).
Alright, so how should we attempt to do this? Well, we won’t be able to faithfully “rejoice at one another’s joys and endeavor, by tenderness and sympathy, to bear one another’s burdens and sorrows” if we don’t seek to know one another and to be known by one another. How can we rejoice at joys and bear burdens if we’re oblivious to them? God has designed the local church to build itself up in love as each member is working properly (Ephesians 4:16). In order to love one another as God intends, brothers and sisters, we must know each other. Probably for most of us, it is more difficult for us to allow ourselves to be known than it is for us to desire to know our fellow members. That realization alone should help us realize the other members of this church will receive us and not reject us because isn’t that how we would treat them?
The most frequent times these kinds of opportunities to know and be known by one another will present themselves will be in our personal interactions. Some of this will happen naturally as we spend time together, but there is also a great need for us to intentionally cultivate our relationships by going deeper in order that we might be used by God to bless one another. However, there is also a place for us to grow in our knowledge of one another for the sake of Christ during our corporate family time on Sunday nights.
Let me encourage you to assess how you’re doing here. Are you easy or hard to know? When you spend time with the other members of this church, are you intentionally seeking to cultivate meaningful relationships God will use for His glory? Do you believe that God has called us to know and be known in order that we might love one another? What’s keeping you from applying this in your life?