This article first appeared in the Standard Bearer (vol.62, no.11), March, 1, 1986.
I have shown you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.
When the saints suffer there is often no one in the church who will help. Thus, for example, the poor in the church must often turn to the world for help because the church does not care for her own poor. The brother who has fallen into sin is often avoided and shunned rather than led to repentance in a spirit of concern and love. Often the widows in the church are neglected and excluded socially.
This ought not be in the church of Jesus Christ. For the world to turn its back on those in need is one thing. You expect that. The world is evil and knows not how to love in the true sense. But in the church among the saints it is different. In the church you find those who are redeemed in Christ's blood, who are new creatures in Christ Jesus. Certainly in the church you ought not find cold indifference to those who suffer! But the sad fact of the matter is that this is often the case.
It is to this situation that the words of the apostle Paul to the elders of Ephesus are addressed. The Apostle is returning to Jerusalem at the conclusion of his third missionary journey. He knows that bonds await him in Jerusalem. Hence, he stops in Miletus and summons the elders of the church of Ephesus to him to bid them farewell. They will see his face no more. How sad is this farewell. The Apostle reminds the elders of his labors in Ephesus. He charges them to be faithful in their labors as shepherds of the flock of Christ. And then he charges them to support the weak. Even as he had shown them by his own example earlier, they must labor to support the weak. And to encourage them in this difficult task they must remember the words of Jesus, how he said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive."
This admonition is directed to the elders of Ephesus for their work in the church. This admonition however is not limited simply to the elders or officebearers in the church. This is a calling for all in the church. Laboring we ought to support the weak, remembering the words of Jesus that it is more blessed to give than to receive.
A Solemn Calling
The weak are those who are without strength, whether that be financial strength, physical strength, spiritual strength, or emotional strength. They are further identified by Paul, as he quotes the words of Jesus, as those who can not give but only receive. That is to be weak indeed!
All of us at one time or another will fall into this category of the weak. Some of us may be numbered among the weak for long periods of time; others may be weak for only a short time. But God in His good providence brings each of us sooner or later to the position where we desperately need help, where we must receive the help of others and can give nothing in return.
For some this may be financial weakness—poverty. This appears to be uppermost in Paul's mind when he speaks of the weak. In the preceding verses Paul reminds the elders of Ephesus how that while laboring in Ephesus he labored with his own hands as a tentmaker to provide not only for his own needs but also for the needs of those with him. These latter probably refer to his fellow laborers in the gospel who had no means of financial support. It may also refer to various poor in Ephesus. And so when Paul here speaks of the weak he no doubt has in mind first those who are financially without strength, those who financially can do nothing but receive. How often haven't the saints found themselves in this weakness?
Just as often however the saints of God find themselves weak in other ways. Sometimes they find that they are without strength spiritually, so that for a time sin controls their lives and they stray far from the path of righteousness. At other times they may find themselves without physical strength. Sickness and disease can take away all our strength so that we must rely entirely upon others. So too can old age do this to us. Then there is the widow who has lost her husband, the orphan who has lost his parents, the saint upon whom God places crushing burdens that can no more be carried, the saint who suffers chronic depression. There is no end of ways in which the saints can become weak, so weak that they cannot give but only receive.
Laboring we ought to support the weak.
To support the weak means to help them, to provide for them in their need.
As already pointed out, the saints who become weak often find that they are not supported by their fellow saints. The widows are often neglected, the elderly and chronically ill are seldom visited, the poor must go to the world for help, the erring brother is shunned and avoided, the depressed are not encouraged but rather criticized and avoided. . . .
There are reasons for this. Note carefully, we did not say excuses.
The first reason why the weak are not supported is that it requires work to support the weak. Says the Apostle, "Laboring ye ought to support the weak." To support the weak is a labor. It requires hard, difficult work. It requires a great deal of time and energy. And many in the church are simply not willing to exert such an effort necessary to help their fellow saints in need.
In the second place, however, the weak are often neglected because they can give nothing in return. The weak are those who can only receive. And again there are too many in the church who are not willing to give of their time and money and energy if there is not an immediate, tangible return. If they give, they expect something in return.
However, the Word of God is quite clear: "Laboring ye ought to support the weak." The idea is that it is necessary to support the weak. It is necessary because God commands it. The support of the weak is implied in the very law of God. The great command of the law is that we love God and love our neighbor as ourself. Certainly the love of the neighbor requires that we support him when he becomes weak.
This obligation of love is especially on us, the redeemed of God.
To be sure, this obligation is on all men. Even the world has an obligation before God to help the neighbor who is weak. However, the world is corrupt and depraved and is not able to accomplish this as the law of God requires.
But among the saints it is different. We have been redeemed in the blood of Christ. In Christ God has come to us in our great weakness and in love supported us. In love He has helped us even to the point of saving our wretched souls from hell. And He has given us a new life according to which we are able to love both God and the neighbor. Certainly, therefore, we, the redeemed of God, ought to help those that are weak.
A Wonderful Encouragement
We are encouraged to support the weak by the words of Jesus, our Savior, "It is more blessed to give than to receive."
You will look in vain in the Gospels for these words of Jesus. Paul is not quoting the Gospel accounts. Evidently this is a saying of Jesus that, although never appearing in the Gospel accounts, was nevertheless recognized by the early church as a very significant saying and thus repeated often by her members.
Now the Apostle reminds us of this saying. Helping the weak is often a wearisome labor. Remember, therefore, that it is more blessed to give than to receive. Jesus Himself taught us this.
The meaning of these words is, first, that it is blessed to receive. Yes, if it is more blessed to give than to receive, it certainly is blessed to receive. The weak are truly blessed when their fellow saints support them and help them in their needs. The widow is blessed when the saints remember her in her need. So too are the sick and infirm, the elderly, the poor, the erring brother, the depressed and downtrodden all blessed when their fellow saints take the time to help and support them. They are blessed first because their immediate needs are met. Within the church there are all the gifts necessary to meet the needs of those who are weak and without strength. What a blessing for the weak when their fellow saints step forward and together labor to support them. But more blessed still is the fact that through the labors of their fellow saints the weak experience the mercies of Christ.
Let the weak never in pride shun the help and support of their fellow saints.
But according to the words of Jesus it is still more blessed to give than to receive.
There are many in the church who do not believe this. They believe it is blessed only to receive. Consequently they give only when they know they will get something tangible in return. And so they seldom, if ever, help the weak.
However, the words of Jesus are true. It is blessed to give. It is by far more blessed to give than to receive. For those who give even when there is nothing to receive do in fact receive. They may receive nothing from those whom they help. And they probably won't receive anything from their fellow saints, probably not even the recognition that they have given of themselves. But they will receive something from the hand of God. For nothing goes unnoticed by God. He handsomely rewards those who support the weak in the name of Christ. And this reward more than compensates for all the weary labors extended to help the weak. In fact, it is a reward that makes them even more blessed than those whom they have helped. What is this reward? It is approval of God Himself. It is the sweet bliss of God's fellowship and companionship. To appreciate the blessedness of this reward one must be born again in Jesus Christ. The natural man hears this and scoffs. But to the born again heart the fellowship of God is sweet and precious indeed. With such a reward God the Father blesses all those who labor to support the weak. This reward they possess now in principle, and one day in eternity will possess fully.
A Necessary Example
To assist the saints of Ephesus in carrying out this all important calling Paul calls the attention of the elders to his own example. During the three years he spent among them he had shown them by his own example how laboring they ought to support the weak.
This had been necessary, for the saints of Ephesus were only babes in the faith. They had to be taught not only by word but also by example to support the weak.
That same example is also necessary today in the church. Those who are mature in the faith must teach those who are less mature to support the weak. This instruction must be given by both word and example. Certainly this is the calling of the elders and officebearers in the church with respect to the whole congregation. And it is also the calling of the parents with respect to their children.
When this is done so that the strong truly support the weak, then the church is truly blessed. The weak are blessed in that they have received from their fellow saints. But the strong are also blessed because they have given.
Rev. James Slopsema (Wife: Joan)
Ordained: September 1974
Pastorates: First, Edgerton, MN - 1974; Randolph, WI - 1982; Hope, Walker, MI - 1986; First, Grand Rapids, MI - 1995; Emeritus, July 2014Website: www.firstprchurch.org/
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