The Ministry of the Strong

Rom. 15:1---' We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.'

When the tale of human weal and woe comes fully to be told, the part played by love, human and Divine, in burden-bearing on behalf of others will be revealed in all its shinning glory. We are all too familiar with the experience of the strong domineering over the weak, and using their infirmities as a source of gain. The existence of the strong as a stumbling-block to the weak meets us daily in our walk through life. We need to ponder afresh a brighter side of human life in the picture of the strong bearing the infirmities of the weak, or of the weak upholding those weaker than themselves. It takes us a step deeper into the mystery of the Atonement and reveals to us the glory of suffering love in the ministry of burden-bearing.

'We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak.' 'Ought to bear.' It is a part of the moral content of Christianity. It is a part of the Christian interpretation of human life. Our strength belongs to the weak, our vision to the blind, our health to the infirm, and our life to the brotherhood. This is the noblesse oblige of the Christian Faith. Wealth has no right to pose as the patron of poverty; learning has no right to say to ignorance, "See, in my gracious condescension I give you some of my beautiful treasure." Strength has no right to say to weakness and to pain, "I am minded in my condescension and good-will to suit my strong stride to your halting steps for awhile." All such help dishonors the man that offers it and the life that accepts it! 'We that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak.' Let the sense of the Divine demand, let the law of life as God means us to live it, be in our hearts, and then shall we be able to serve men in a fashion that does some honor to our common manhood and helps to make our brotherhood in Jesus Christ a realized fact in human life.

It is here that Christianity makes its most unique and distinctive pronouncement. Concerning a man's own sufferings the Greek and Roman philosophers said some very fine and noble things. But towards the suffering of others they showed a hard face. Pre-Christian philosophy never struck the deep, authentic note of sympathy. It was left to the gospel of Jesus Christ to teach men the wider obligations of their common humanity.

The kingship of wealth, and learning, and strength, would never have opened its palace-gates to the weak and the sick and the needy, and to all who cannot help themselves, had not the King with the crown of thorns and the wounded hands first knocked at these gates and asked admission in the name of the Father by whom all men are brethren, in the name of the Cross that proclaims the beauty of unselfishness, the worth of sacrifice, and the eternity of love.

We ought to bear the infirmities of the weak for our own sakes as well as for theirs. Strength, for practical purposes, exists only when it is in operation. It becomes ours only when we use it to make it the property of others. The use of strength for self-pleasing is not use; it is abuse.

One day a young man of such fine qualities came into the presence of our Lord that He loved him at sight. He was, as we would say, a man of character. But the Master bade him sell all that he had and give to the poor. Why? If that young man had been using his strength on behalf of the weak would any such injunction have been laid on him? The penetrating eye of the Master saw that he was not strong enough to do that most difficult thing,to use his riches effectively as a trust on behalf of the whole social body, and He bade him surrender them at once and completely. There is the alternative for all time---privilege must be used or relinquished.

There is a holy, tender something that is called 'sympathy.' We do not learn the meaning of this word all at once. We can learn it only in the school where the sick and the lame and the blind and the needy are our teachers. The man who has closed his gates against other men in their suffering cannot tell what sympathy means. It is not in his vocabulary. He can speak of gaiety and merchandise and learning; but sympathy is beyond him. It was the man in trouble and need who could teach him that.

'We that are strong ought . . . not to please ourselves.' But that is just what strength is prone to do. And what is to hinder it? It steps forth to go just where it will, and to do just what it will. It is full of its vital energies and its self-approved plans for pleasuring and conquering. But that is not the way in which the strong life is to grow stronger. That is not finding the sacramental meaning of strength. And so between the strong man and his self-pleasing, God puts the infirmities of the weak, and bids him bear them.

The word 'bear' in the text is the same word as is used concerning Jesus in His cross-bearing, and concerning the cross-bearing of His disciples. It is something more than patience and good temper towards weakness that is demanded here. It is that the strong, in whatsoever sphere their strength may lie, should try in silence and simplicity, to take upon their own shoulders the burdens which the weak are bearing; to submit themselves to the difficulties amidst which the weak are stumbling on; to share the fear, the dimness, the anxiety, the trouble and heart-sinking through which they have to work their way; to forego and lay aside the privilege of strength in order to understand the weak and backward and bewildered, in order to be with them, to enter into their thoughts, to wait on their advances.

We know it well in regard to education. The man of learning who is so engrossed in his own investigations, or so dazzled by his own brilliancy.or so anxious to make his own stand-point clear, that he forgets or fails to enter at all into his hearers' minds may possibly impress but hardly educate them. His teaching may show, indeed, how far on he has got, and it may quicken aspiration in those who are nearest to him; but it will leave many whom he might help just where they were.

And surely we know how, in those deeper and more anxious difficulties through which we may have to fight our way, in the trials of the moral and spiritual life, if any help can come to us from others, it can come only from those who see our troubles, not from without but from within; who with the wisdom, the simplicity, the strength of love will come out of the sunshine to be with us in the gloom and dimness; who touch our wounds as tenderly as though their own nerves throbbed for them; who measure our fears and hindrances and sorrows not by the cold estimate of an external critic, but as they are to the heart which really has to bear them.

It summons us to the ministry of intercession. We shall not be tempted to wonder what to pray for, or be depressed by the consciousness of the poverty and inadequacy of what we describe as "saying our prayers," if we think of the needs of those around us and of the part we are called upon to play as intercessors. All true intercession springs from love, and love's ministry is to take the needs of others and to make them our own. If we are bearing the burden of another soul and giving of the best in us to aid it in the daily struggle against temptation; if in a strength which flows through us to others they are being helped to overcome evil habits and to struggle up towards an ideal of goodness, we are partaking of the suffering of Christ for His Body's sake, which is the Church.

In such a ministry our power in prayer depends upon the life we are leading, and our whole life may be a prayer, not in word, but in deed. A mother prays for her child when she strives to live closer to God, that her example of self-sacrifice, forbearance, patience, and unfailing care may win the boy to a higher sence of duty and steady him in the time of trial. An elder brother prays when he denies himself and fights temptation in order that the younger may be able to make a better stand for righteousness. A friend prays when he stands by another and influences him for good in a crisis when the choice between two ways has to be made. In all our human relationships the ministry of intercession plays its part, and in all cases it is the life that prays and intercedes.

It is not for nothing that we worship a God touched with the feeling of our infirmities. And if we are to admit the world's pain into our hearts we must first admit the world's Savior. When once the Man of Sorrows has passed beneath the portal of a human life no sad lives are turned away unhelped. When once Jesus has speech with a man in the innermost place of his heart, that man has a new ideal of gain, of pleasure,and of good. Measure our life by loss instead of gain. Not by what we take in, but what is poured out. For love's strength stands in love's sacrifice. And whosoever suffers most has most to give.

In Christ, timothy. maranatha