The both/and of our ongoing dialogue of love

Someone is always sinning; someone is always doing something you did not like; someone is always failing. How do we respond to that?

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.  Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.  If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves.  Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else,  for each one should carry their own load (Galatians 6:1-5).

We use this section of Galatians so often, it has become the “both/and” proverb. It answers the questions that come up whenever there is a dialogue about something that is wrong in the body: Do we have to put up with every bad thing someone is doing until they get better, or do we need to put a stop to their nonsense before everyone gets hurt? Do we accept people where they are at, or do we demand that they live up to the gospel? The answer is “both/and.”

Can one be too empathetic?

baby in basketSome people are so empathetic that they defend the sinner even before they have repented! They understand the person’s problems so well and care about them so much that they are offended if anyone points out what they did wrong. Even more, sensitive people know that everyone is afraid of being criticized, so they don’t want more trouble being thrown on already-overburdened people who are just trying to have a life, for once. The “sinner” might just quit doing anything if they are asked to improve right after they just got brave enough to appear in public. So even if someone tries to “restore that person gently” the empathetic are afraid they could be mortally wounded in the process.

For instance, some people have been talking about the Audio Arts Team’s latest gift to the church. It is a brave thing to put out a piece of art that can’t be edited any more. But they did it and a lot of people love it. But like everything and everyone else, there are some “sins” lurking in that CD. If someone has a reaction to it that seems critical, someone else may automatically feel wounded and jump to the defense of the victimized artists. Rather than doing that, you’d think we would just instinctively “carry each other’s burdens,” since we’re all flawed — and if we caused trouble by being creative, bold and artful, then we’d really need help! Instead, some people try to solve the problem by insisting that there are no problems! — and they imply that people who love people don’t make people feel bad by saying they have a problem.

Can one be too careful?

man and bearOn the other hand, some people think that empathy has gone too far and everyone needs to carry their own load and bear responsibility for what they say and do. They assume people are more likely to take advantage of loose situations rather than repent or even listen to reason. So they are not expecting good will to rise up if people are left alone.  As a result, they are often rather offended by the latest dumb thing someone did that went unquestioned or even got defended. They become very reactive because they can’t get their shell hard enough to repel the sin that keeps getting poured on them. If they say something about it, they are instantly seen as a mean person. So they walk around feeling unaccepted. No one seems to be held liable for carrying their own load, so the responsible people feel even more burdened!

For instance, the pastors and other speakers and the PM Design Teams are often the recipients of this group’s scrutiny, since they have a tendency to do something wrong every week. Compared to what should happen, something is always not happening. If one is intelligent, the problem with what gets done wrong (or not at all) just gets worse. It seems like every flaw could have been prevented and nothing ever gets better! One would think we would all “carry our own load,” especially if we accepted a role that is very influential in the church.  Instead, leaders, especially, make people have a fight with us about what we are doing or neglecting. Who wants to do that?

Polarized dialogue is an oxymoron

In the postmodern atmosphere these poles are often dividing up a dialogue. There is usually a group at one extreme that wants us all to bear one another’s burdens. If there is insensitivity, that is the main sin — Love means you never have to say you are sorry. Then there is another whole group at the other extreme that wants each person to bear their own load. If there is irresponsibility, that is the main sin — Love means everyone has to say they are sorry. In the adversarial way our culture has designed everything to work, those two positions could be vying to make policy until Jesus returns. It could be the survival of the loudest; MSNBC vs. Fox forever.

We keep thinking that Paul assumes an obvious both/and in the matter of loving sinners like Jesus loves each of us. In the course of a few lines he wrote: “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ…for each one should carry their own load.” We all bear one another’s burdens and each of us carries our own load at the same time.

  • In the name of sensitivity, one would not erase someone’s sin — because they are carrying that burden and need to be restored!
  • At the same time, in the name of responsibility one would not be insensitive and make it harder to repent — because we are in this together.

If someone is restored, we are all healthier. For restoration to proceed, both elements: carrying another’s burden and carrying one’s own load, need to be in every dialogue of love. Both elements need to be expressed by a heart filled with the law of love. The body of Christ is not supposed to work like a therapy room or a courtroom; we are the place where Jesus lives. There must be acceptance and judgment at the same time, but mostly there must be the Holy Spirit restoring humanity.

8 thoughts on “The both/and of our ongoing dialogue of love

  1. I love the last paragraph! I must confess that at times I must consciously rebuke, “That’s not fair.” when someone who deserves punishment receives a blessing from the Lord. Reminding myself that if the Lord had not continue to bless me when I was a prodigal. My heart would have become as hard and cold as steel.

  2. I always believe being a artist or/ and a christian is being a burden on Society. ha ha I feel we have much to learn. about being both, Good stuff Rod! I hope to understand most of it one day. It has me thinking.

  3. In some sense I don’t know what to say. You point is clear and I think what Paul had in mind. Jesus spoke of a log in my eye and a speck in another’s eye.. However, the doing is the tough part. I see it as an iterative process (dynamic). When I write a long complicated report and some says I don’t like the font. I get upset at their pettiness and tend to ignore them unless there is an overarching goal/policy that establishes a format that I must comply with. If they question the data, I must respond and justify my report but I gauge their interest and their knowledge . If they don’t like my conclusion, I must decide whether or not to change them while holding to the integrity of my work for which I am accountable and judge if they have any “skin in the game”. It usually ends up that after some time I get over myself and they get over themselves and the report is better. Not always mind you but if they are willing to engage then so am I. The mutuality of co-operation is important, although within CoH it is assumed, yet it must be affirmed again and again. The passage speaks of the boundaries of the process – “both/and”. The doing requires more than knowledge of the boundaries. It requires animation (the Spirit) and submission to one another which is not static.
    In retrospect – Art wrote what I wrote in 1/3 the words. I just needed to unpack it.

  4. This is really good. Paul is talking about sin and assumes that the sin-burden is recognizable as sin by those who are engaged in mutual restoration. The passage doesn’t address how to sort out when it’s sin that is preempting the need for restoration/reconciliation, or when it’s just differences, Still, the same applies: the Holy Spirit and a dialogue of love.

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