Ruth and I, along with my sister and her husband, flew to Edmonton yesterday to visit family. The reunion at the airport with my brother and sister-in-law was the highlight of my year so far. On the drive back to their home I started thinking about how important family and friends really are. When we left home to fly out, friends of my sister and ours drove us to the airport and there will be people waiting to retrieve us when we return. That bit of practical friendship helped us and made our departure run smoothly without the hassle of getting cabs or the expense of leaving a vehicle at the airport.
Friendship and family are important because we never know what the future holds. The last two times I saw my brother were for our mother and father’s funerals. Life is short and fleeting at best. When possible, we need to take advantage of our opportunities to visit and keep in touch with family and good friends. When you think of it, it cost very little to pick up the phone and renew a friendship or say hello to a family member. A while back a childhood friend phoned me and we talked for over an hour and a half about everything from childhood pranks to friends and family. And though we had lost contact over the years, that day on the phone was as if we were kids again and those intervening years had never happened.
One of the sad realities of life is that so many people are estranged from family. I know people who haven’t talked to their siblings in years and have no desire to communicate with them. That seems tragic to me, because family and friends are our sources of strength, encouragement and love. When so many people who don’t have the luxury of family and good friends wish they could, it seems extravagant on the part of those who have such privileges to ignore those relationships.
Paul writes to the Galatians some practical advice for relationships. “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of God.” Galatians 6:1 Paul is saying that we all have burdens and we shouldn’t have to carry them alone. Some people refuse help thinking there is some form of merit in being stoic about not accepting a helping hand when they need one. Others consider it a sign of weakness to ask anyone for help, and so they struggle alone when friends and family are often willing to give support. It is true that Jesus alone bears our sin and our guilt; those he bore in His body at the cross. And it is also true that we cast our doubts, worries, fears and sorrows on Him as well. Psalm 55: 22 reminds us,” cast your burden on the Lord, and He will sustain you.” I believe one of the ways God carries those burdens is through the support of our family and friends.
Paul was a man who faced never-ending challenges. He suffered from a medical condition that often pained and hindered him in his ministry. Early church tradition records that his looks were rather unpleasant and of course he spent most of his years mocked and persecuted by the very people he was trying to help. It is little wonder that in a number of places in his writings you feel his anguish and suffering through his words. He wrote,” we were afflicted at every turn – fighting without and fear within” but then he wrote, “but God who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus.” 2 Corinthians 7: 5,6 Many of us know what Paul must have felt like when he looked up and saw his friend Titus. The burdens were still there but they were lighter because he had someone to comfort, support and encourage him in his journey.
One last thing, did you notice that to bear one another’s burdens is the fulfilling of the law? The law of Christ is to love one another. (Galatians 5: 14) John Stott in his book, Only One Way points out, “to love our neighbor, bear one another’s burdens and fulfill the law are three equivalent expressions.” p 158 To fulfill the law of God is to love our neighbor and we do that by bearing their burdens. And how do you bear each other’s burdens? I believe it’s in the everyday kindness we show to others. When Christ takes over our heart, showing compassion and goodness is part of who we are. I know my life has been richer for knowing such people and having them in my life.