By Billy Graham
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. (Matthew 6:31).
SINCE you have made your decision for Christ and have begun studying the Bible, you find yourself confronted with various social obligations and problems. You have made your peace with God. You are no longer at war and at enmity with God. Sin has been forgiven. You have new horizons for your thinking--new perspectives for your life. The whole world has changed. You now begin to see others through the eyes of Jesus. Old ideas and ideals have changed. Prejudices that you once held are beginning to slip away. Selfishness that was once characteristic of you in many areas of your life has now disappeared. Suddenly you understand what the little story means: Someone asked, "Am I my brother's keeper?" And the reply came, "No, I am my brother's brother."
Many people have refused the Christian life because it has been presented to them in its negative rather than its positive aspect. They say that Christian conduct is against everything pleasant and profitable. They say Christians are like the woman who complained that everything worth doing in this life was either immoral, illegal, or fattening!
Contrary to worldly belief, being a true Christian does not mean the forfeiting of all real pleasure. Only sinful pleasure that has been forbidden by God is to be given up. The full acceptance of Christ and the determination to be guided by God's will draws you almost immediately to the source of the only true pleasure -- which is fellowship with Christ. To you who have not been born again this may seem a far cry from pleasure, but those who have actually experienced daily fellowship with Christ know that it surpasses all worldly activities.
In his introduction to his anthology on George MacDonald, C. S. Lewis writes, "He seems to have been a . . . playful man, deeply appreciative of all the really beautiful and delicious things that money can buy and no less deeply content to do without them."
George MacDonald himself wrote: "I would, if I may, be ever greeted in my study in winter by a glowing hearth, and in the summer by a bowl of flowers. But if not, then let me think how nice they would have been and let me bury myself in my work. I do not think that contentment lies in despising what you have not got."
Even as the psalmist says, "They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights" (Psalm 36:8). God has also said, "No good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly" (Psalm 84:11). Paul said that "[God has] given us richly all things to enjoy" (1 Timothy 6:17).
The fact that we have daily fellowship with Christ should enable us to live realistically. Christ's way of life does not require that a man renounce legitimate interests or ambitions. Though the Scripture also exhorts us to carry on business as usual until He comes.
For example, there was nothing wrong about the eating, drinking, marrying, and giving in marriage in Noah's day except that the people had become totally preoccupied with these activities to the neglect of the spiritual dimension of life (Luke 17:26). Nor was there anything wrong about the buying, selling, planning, and building in Lot's day except that they were carried on by sinful methods (Luke 17:28). What seems to have been fundamentally wrong in the days of Noah and Lot was that men made these the sole interest of their lives. They thought of nothing but their personal pleasures, their personal property, and the material profits they were amassing. They became so absorbed in the things of this life that they had no time for God. This was displeasing to God and He visited the offenders with judgment.
As someone has said, "The Bible was not written to encourage people to take an interest in the affairs of this life. It assumes that they already have more than their share of interest of that. The Bible aims to encourage man to see his worldly affairs in the light of the greater importance and value of spiritual things."
The Bible speaks approvingly of Bezaleel as a worker in metals, stone, and wood. He was filled with the Holy Spirit for craftsmanship: "And I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship . . . to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass, and in cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving of timber, to work all manner of workmanship" (Exodus 31:3-5). Jacob and his sons were shepherds. Joseph was a prime minister. Daniel was a statesman. Both Joseph and Jesus were carpenters, and some of the disciples were fishermen. We are told of the Ethiopian eunuch who was treasurer under Candace; of Lydia, the seller of purple; of Paul, Priscilla, and Aquila who were tentmakers; and Luke, the beloved physician.
The Christian ideal certainly does not demand that a person renounce all interest in the affairs of this life; but rather that we seek God's guidance in performing our daily work to the best of our ability, and that we keep both our work and our ambitions in subordination to the Lord at all times. Thus we find that Christ offers positive help in our daily living here on earth. He inspires us in our gifts, helps us in our work, and blesses us in our pleasure.
In one of his delightful essays, F. W. Boreham, quoting Isaiah, goes on to recount how the carpenter of Nazareth has encouraged the goldsmiths of the ages. The world's greatest writers have been inspired by Jesus of Nazareth, the greatest artists, musicians, and sculptors, have also been illumined by Him.
He also helps in facing the social problems that confront us and it is here that we may become confused. For it is in our daily tasks and in the way we face the social problems around us that the world will see Christ in us.
As my father-in-law, the late Dr. L. Nelson Bell once wrote in the Southern Presbyterian Journal, "If you are in church on Sunday the people who see you there may presume that you are a Christian. But what about the people with whom you come in contact during the week on the street, in your office, in your store, and the multiple places where you make these inevitable daily contacts? Orthodox Christian profession has its place. Attendance at, and active participation in, the program and activities of the church are an inescapable part of Christian living. But as we all know, the business of making a living, the responsibilities of a home, the daily routine all combine to test the reality of our Christian experience and faith. In these daily contacts what do others see? Can our week-day associates tell that we are Christians? Do casual acquaintances see anything in us to suggest that we are different from those who do not know Christ? Certainly one of the real tests of Christian character is to be found in the lives we live from day to day.
"The reality of our Christian profession is shown in many ways: the things we say, as well as the things we do not say; the things we do, as well as the things we do not do. For while Christianity is not primarily a matter of externals, nevertheless it does find expression in conversation, habits, recreation, emphasis, and ambitions to be noted in our daily life. Does our conversation honor Christ? Are our habits those of which He approves? Are our sources of recreation those in which His presence can be a part? Do we bow our heads in a word of thanks when eating in a public place? Can people tell from the emphasis we attach to material things whether we have set our affection on things above, or whether we are primarily attached to this world? Do people see in us an ambition for place and position out of accord with that of a Christian? We should ask ourselves these and many other questions, for in such things men judge whether we are Christians or not."
Some time after my father-in-law's death, my wife hired a man to help with some road work on our mountain property.
One day, on the way to town, she stopped to speak to him. Suddenly he asked, "Is you Dr. Bell's daughter?" she admitted she was, whereupon the man exclaimed with deep appreciation, "Law! He was the awfullest Christian I ever knowed!"
What is our attitude toward those of other races? What is our attitude toward sex? What is our attitude toward labor-management problems? What is our attitude toward the abortion issue, sexual deviation as an acceptable alternate lifestyle, drug and alcohol abuse and the problems inherent in them? All of these are very real and practical questions that must be answered, interpreted, and lived before our fellow men.
The guiding principle of our relation to the world about us should be, as Jesus said, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" (Luke 6:31).
Many people have criticized the so-called "social gospel," but Jesus thought that we are to take the gospel to the world. Actually there is no such thing as a "social gospel." It is a misnomer. There is only one gospel. "If any man preach any other gospel to you, let him be accursed" (Galatians 1:9). At the same time, in 1 Timothy 5:8 we are told, "If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever" (1 Timothy 5:8). What a relief to the federal government if Christians made themselves responsible for the needs of their own!
My son, Franklin, is deeply involved in social work, heading up a Christian relief agency. In a recent interview he was quoted as saying that "proclaiming the gospel must always have priority." He urged evangelical relief and development agencies not to lose sight of the need to reach people for Christ. "The gospel -- not development -- is the Christian's mandate," he said.
The cup of cold water comes after and sometimes before rather than instead of the gospel. Christians, above all others, should be concerned with social problems and social injustices. Down through the centuries the church has contributed more than any other single agency in lifting social standards to new heights. Child labor has been outlawed. Slavery has been abolished in Britain, the U.S.A., and some other parts of the world. The status of women has been lifted to heights unparalleled in history, and many other reforms have taken place primarily as a result of the influence of the teachings of Jesus Christ. The Christian is to take his place in society with moral courage to stand up for that which is right, just, and honorable.
Be a Good Citizen
First: The Christian should be a good citizen. The Bible teaches that the Christian should be law-abiding. The Bible also teaches loyalty to country. A loyalty and love of country does not mean that we cannot criticize unjust laws. The Bible says that God is no respecter of persons. All should have equal opportunities. The government of God should be our model.
The Bible also teaches that we are to cooperate with the government. The apostle Paul exhorted Timothy to ". . . supplications, prayers, intercessions . . . for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority . . ." (1 Timothy 2:1-2). Jesus was asked, "Is it lawful to give tribute?" Then He set the example forever by paying taxes. It takes money to run a government and to maintain law and order. The tax dodger is a civic parasite and an actual thief. No true Christian will be a tax dodger. Jesus said, we are to "render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's" (Mark 12:17). We ought to be more than taxpayers. To be simply law-abiding is not enough. We ought to seek and work for the good of our country. Sometimes we may be called upon to die for it. We are to be conscientious in our work as good citizens.
We should be generous and give to those who are in need and to those organizations who are faithfully and honestly ministering to those in need. We should enter in to various activities such as the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, World Vision, Samaritan's Purse, the Tear Fund, and other good, constructive, and helping-hand organizations. At the same time, as responsible stewards we are to check our various organizations for trustworthiness and honesty, and also to find if the relief given certain governments is given where designated.
Christians should be interested in orphanages, hospitals, asylums, prisons, and all social institutions. Jesus said, "Love thy neighbor as thyself" (Matthew 22:39). Think of a country without any philanthropic enterprises whatever! No one would want to live in it.
I recall visiting a country in which there were both government and Christian homes for the elderly. In the Christian home we saw love in action, but in the government home the care was impersonal and perfunctory. The doctor who served both homes said that the people in the Christian home were not only happier but lived longer. We want to live where neighborly love prevails. We are to take our place in the community. Those in positions of responsibility are entitled to respect, support, and cooperation. "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God" (Romans 13:1).
Second: Christians should be "given to hospitality" (1 Timothy 3:2). The Bible teaches that our homes should be hospitable and that those who come in and out of our homes should sense the presence of Christ. The happiest Christian homes I know are those given to hospitality, where neighbors feel at home, where young people are welcome, where the elderly are respected, where children are loved. That which God has given to us should be shared with others. In doing so God will bless and prosper our homes.
A Proper View of Sex
Third: we should have the Christian attitude toward sex. Nowhere does the Bible teach that sex in itself is a sin, although many interpreters of the Bible would try to make it appear so. The Bible teaches that the wrong use of sex is sinful. For sex, the act by which all life on this earth is created, should be a wonderful, meaningful, and satisfying human experience.
Man, with his vile, self-destructive nature, however, has taken what was intended to be the most glorious and complete act of love between two people, and made of it something low and cheap and filthy. Sex, stripped of total commitment, of mutual love, respect, and the sincere desire to give joy and fulfillment to the other person, becomes simply an animal act, about which the Bible warns us in no uncertain terms!
It is significant that the Bible is one of the world's most outspoken books on the subject of sex. It does not try to gloss over sex in either its right or wrong aspects. The sly, secret, embarrassed, "let's-pretend-it-doesn't-exist" attitude about sex is purely man-made.
In trying to overcome the mysterious, "let's-not-talk-about-it" approach to sex, our present civilization has put far too much emphasis on the mechanics of it, and far too little insistence on the spiritual atmosphere in which this overwhelming expression of human love must have its origin.
Our divorce courts bear tragic testimony to the inability of men and women to achieve this lasting and ever more beautiful relationship without a firm foundation of spiritual values.
Sex is a part of life that we cannot abolish, even if we would, for without it all life would cease. For sex, the act by which all life on this earth is perpetuated, should be a wonderful and meaningful human experience. Used rightly it can bring joy into the home. Used wrongly it can make it a hell. Use it wisely and it will become a wonderful servant. Use it wrongly and it will be a terrible taskmaster.
Christians feel a sense of outrage, a sense of violation, when they see sex emblazoned in newspaper headlines, exploited in advertisements, and used as a cheap lure outside theaters. They blush for their fellowmen that they can be so stupid, so gross, so indecent as to defile and distort the act by which all God given life is bestowed.
A Christian View of Marriage
Fourth: it follows naturally that those who take a Christian view of sex will take a Christian view of marriage. Before you enter into a marriage, consider the real spiritual implications that make an earthly marriage binding in heaven. Little by little as we grow toward maturity, we learn to love, first our parents and our friends, and later the one person who is to share our life. We have already seen how difficult this process is, for it is passion and not love that comes naturally to the unregenerate sinner.
Many have the terrible misfortune of selecting their mates while they are still in the toils of the world, the flesh, and the devil, and while the man or woman they select is also still in the same condition. Is it any wonder then that so many marriages contracted by two spiritually ignorant souls, who most of the time are incapable of real and lasting love, end up in the divorce courts?
Marriage is a holy bond because it permits two people to help each other work out their spiritual destinies. God declared marriage to be good because He knew that man needed a helpmate and woman needed a protector. He desires that husbands and wives never lose sight of the original purpose of marriage. It is woman's role to love and help and reassure her husband in every way she can, and it is man's role to love and protect and provide for his wife and the children she bears, so that the home may be filled with God's peace and harmony. They are to submit to each other -- to love each other.
Marriages entered into with a clear understanding of God's purpose and God's laws have no need for divorce courts. Marriages that fall short of this ideal (and it is appalling how many of them do) should first seek to learn what God expects of the husband and the wife, and then pray for God's help and guidance in carrying out His commands.
A Christian Approach to Labor Management Problems
Fifth: we are to take the Christian attitude in labor-management relationships. The Bible says, "Whatever you do, put your whole heart and soul into it, as into work done for God, and not merely for men -- knowing that your real reward, a heavenly one, will come from God, since you are actually employed by Christ, and not just by your earthly master. But the slacker and the thief will be judged by God Himself, Who naturally has no distinction to make between master and man. Remember, then, you employers, that your responsibility is to be fair and just towards those whom you employ, never forgetting that you yourselves have a Heavenly Employer" (Colossians 3:22-25, Phillips).
If Christ could prevail in all labor-management relations we would rarely have strikes. There would not be these long drawn out arguments in which both sides are unwilling to concede the rights of the other. Management would treat employees with generosity, and employees would be eager to put in a full day's work for their hire or what their contract calls for -- for they would be working not only for wages. We can learn from the attitude of both employer and employees in Japan toward one another in this regard.
The Bible teaches that all honest work is honorable, and the Christian should be the most faithful, the most willing and efficient worker of all. He should stand out in a factory or shop as one who wants justice, but one who would not stoop to take unfair advantage.
By the same token, the Christian employer should treat his employees with a respect and generosity that will become an example for other employers. A man of real Christian concepts cannot help being concerned about safety precautions, good working conditions, and the well-being of those in his employ. He will not only see his workers as "man power," but also as human beings.
Both management and labor should remember that the improved conditions and better understanding they now enjoy had their beginnings as the result of a great spiritual revival. The heritage of labor unions comes from the church and the mighty Wesleyan revivals of the eighteenth century. Social liberty for the working classes began when a Christian leader, Lord Shaftesbury, in the face of bitter family opposition, led a lifelong crusade for better working conditions, shorter hours, more pay, and fair treatment for the working man.
Had it not been for the spiritual revival of the eighteenth century, the gains that labor has made might not have been achieved, or might have been delayed until much later in our history. When some labor leaders talk of outlawing religion, disregarding God, the Bible, and the church, they should remember how much of what they have today is due to the power of the gospel of Christ.
Some labor leaders, as well as industrialists, have grown haughty, proud, rich, self-satisfied, and power-seeking. All of them should humble themselves before God, seek to recognize the needs of each other, their extreme dependence on each other, and above all, try to apply the Golden rule in its most practical and realistic sense.
A Christian View of Other Races
Sixth: the Christian looks through the eyes of Christ at the race question and admits that the church has only partially solved this great human problem. We have let the sports world, the entertainment field, politics, the armed forces, education and industry outstrip us. The church should have been the pace-setter. The church should voluntarily be doing what the federal courts in America are doing by pressure and compulsion. But in the final analysis the only real solution will be found at the foot of the cross where we come together in brotherly love. The closer the people of all races get to Christ and His cross, the closer they will get to one another.
The Bible says in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, there is neither male nor female, neither Greek nor barbarian, neither rich nor poor. The Bible indicates that we are all one in Christ. The ground is level at the foot of the cross. When Christ opens our spiritual eyes we behold not color, nor class, nor condition, but simply human beings with the same longings, fears, needs, and aspirations as our own. We begin to see people through the Master's eyes. Become friends -- invite them to your home.
A Christian View of Materialism
Seventh: the Christian attitude should prevail in the matter of economics. Jesus said a man's life does not consist in the abundance of the things which he possesses. Money is a good slave but a bad master. Property is to be used, enjoyed, shared, given, but not hoarded. Paul said that the love of money was the "root of all evil" (1 Timothy 6:10). Wealth has its place and its power, but it is not entitled to occupy the throne or swing the scepter. Covetousness puts money above manhood. It shackles its devotee and makes him its victim. It hardens the heart and deadens the noble impulses and destroys the vital qualities of life.
Beware of covetousness in every phase and form! All of us should keep ourselves from it through vigilance, prayer, self-control, and discipline. Life is not a matter of dollars and cents, houses and lands, earning capacity and financial achievement. Greed must not be allowed to make man the slave of wealth.
When Jesus was asked to settle an inheritance dispute between two brothers, He declined with a word of warning and with one of the magnificent parables with which He so frequently pointed out the earthly applications of heavenly messages. He told the story of the wealthy landowner, who in the midst of prosperity, envisioned even greater wealth and made long-range plans which would fill his life with all the physical comforts and personal glory that he held most dear. Apparently he was talented, economical, industrious, prudent, honest, and moral in all his dealings -- but he was the victim of ambition and self-interest, as are so many others.
He measured his success in broad fields and full barns, and fed his soul on human vanities. His life was wrapped up in his riches and centered in himself, and he made his plans without thought of God or the uncertainty of life.
But God spoke the final word, and the plans that extended for years ahead were cut short by sudden death. The property he had amassed so painstakingly slipped through his cold fingers to be divided, scattered, and squandered by others, while he was left to stand before God with nothing to show for the life he had led on earth.
The Christian, above all others, should realize that we come into life with empty hands -- and it is with empty hands that we leave it. Actually we can possess nothing -- no property and no person -- along the way. It is God who owns everything, and we are but stewards of His property during the brief time we are on earth. Everything that we see about us that we count as our possessions only comprises a loan from God, and it is when we lose sight of this all-pervading truth that we become greedy and covetous.
When we clutch an object or a person and say, "This thing is mine," when we look with envious eyes at what another person has and plan to "get it by fair means or foul," we are forgetting that no matter what we get, we can't take it with us when we go to make our final accounting before the seat of judgment.
This does not mean that earthly riches in themselves are a sin -- the Bible does not say that. The Bible makes it clear that God expects us to do the best we can with the talents, the abilities, the situations with which life endows us. But there is a right way and a wrong way to acquire money and a right way and a wrong way to achieve power. Too many Christians have misunderstood this and taken a most sinful and damaging spiritual pride in being poverty-stricken, in standing by helplessly and saying, "God's will be done," as their children suffered and went untended. The apostle Paul said, "But if any provide not for his own, and especially for those of his own house, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel" (1 Timothy 5:8).
Jesus told one of His most revealing parables to illustrate this very point when He recited the story of the rich man who gave each of his servants a certain amount of money to invest while he was away in a far land. When he returned he found that some servants had made wise investments and his money was multiplied, and he praised them for their sound judgment and prudence; but the frightened, unimaginative servant who could think of nothing to do with the money but to hide it from thieves, he condemned.
Earn your money, as much as you can, according to God's laws, and spend it to carry out His commands. Give one tenth of it to the Lord, the firstfruits (Proverbs 3:9), tithe faithfully, for the Bible says that this is right and just. After you have given a tithe -- gifts and offerings. Whenever you have any doubts about material values, get out your Bible and read what Jesus taught about money, read what He had to say about the earning of money and the use and distribution of wealth. Just ask yourself, "What would Jesus have done in this situation?" and be guided by that and that alone.
It was my privilege at one time to have among my close friends an extremely wealthy industrialist. One day as we were lunching together he calmly announced that the day before he had sold a certain product, his family clearing $13,000,000 on the deal. "But let me tell you what I discovered in the Scriptures this morning!" he exclaimed, changing the subject abruptly to his deepest interests. This man had his priorities in order.
A Christian View of Those Who Suffer
Eighth: a Christian will be concerned about suffering humanity around him. The great slum areas of your own country will become a burden to you. The poverty and suffering of thousands of people in your own neighborhood will become a concern to you. You will join with organizations and associations to help alleviate the suffering of humanity around you. Many people spend so much time in lofty enterprises that they make no contribution to suffering immediately at hand. Who is our neighbor?
Whoever is closest to us. It could be a wife, a husband, a child, or those living next door. Our neighbor is that one closest to us -- then in our city or country -- then the world.
The Bible says, the common people heard Jesus gladly. Wherever He went, He healed the sick. He comforted the sorrowful, He gave practical encouragement. Years ago, an Anglican bishop told me that he could think of no social organization in England which did not have its roots in some evangelical awakening (including the SPCA!). The Christian will be interested in helping build and develop hospitals, orphanages, old people's homes, and other charitable institutions that are trying to help the less fortunate. The Christian will be interested in doing his part to help share the great wealth of this country with the needy in other parts of the world. He will be a supporter of reputable national or international social organizations helping the unfortunate of the world. A word of caution here. When we're giving God's money to an organization, it behooves us as good stewards to check out how this money is being spent. There are many responsible, worthwhile charitable ministries who deserve our support and prayers -- there are others we should not support.
Nowhere in the Bible does it teach that we are to withdraw ourselves from society. Rather, it teaches quite the contrary. We are to join with others who are working to good purpose to help lift the unfortunate. God needs social workers, prison guards, policemen, doctors, hospital attendants, nurses, charity workers, and many other types of people who can help alleviate human suffering.
The motto of the Rotary Club is "Service above self." The motto of the Kiwanis Club is "we build." The motto of the Lions Club is "Liberty, intelligence, our nation's safety." All of these ideas originated in Christianity. Lots of the pagan religions never had a service club. All of these organizations are really by-products of Christianity even when some of their members are not Christians. The perfume of Christ is in the fragrance of any and all social service.
Love for the Brethren
Ninth: the Christian has a special obligation to fellow Christians. Fellow Christians are in a special class. We are to have supernatural love for them. "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that does not love his brother abides in death" (1 John 3:14).
We are to love our enemies. We are even to love those who persecute us and say "all manner of evil against us, falsely" (Matthew 5:11).
But the greatest of our human love is for those other believers. Jesus said, "This is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you" (John 15:12).
We are told to serve one another, "Brethren, through love be servants of one another."
Lord, help me to live from day to day
In such a self-forgetful way
That even when I kneel to pray
My prayers shall be for others.
Help me in all the work I do
Ever to be sincere and true,
And know that all I do for Thee
Must needs be done for others.
Others, Lord; yes, others.
Let this my motto be.
Let me live for others
That I may live like Thee.
The Bible says that our obligation to each other as Christians is such that we should be examples to each other. Paul said, "Set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity" (1 Timothy 4:12). This is not a suggestion -- it is a command! It is not a recommendation, but an obligation. We are to be model Christians.
The Bible also says we are to forgive one another. "And be kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake has forgiven you" (Ephesians 4:32). Jesus said that if you will not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your sins. He also said, "When you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins" (Mark 11:25).
We are told as Christians not to judge one another, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.
The Bible says that we are to be subject one to another; we are to clothe ourselves with humility toward each other. We are to be "in honor, preferring one another." We are to put others first, and ourselves last.
During the last six years of her life my mother-in-law was confined to a wheelchair as a result of a stroke. My father-in-law, Dr. L. Nelson Bell, who had been an extremely active athlete, physician, missionary, and writer (for the last year of his life he also served as moderator of the Southern Presbyterian Church before its union), devoted himself totally and lovingly to her care. One day he said to my wife, "You know, these are the happiest days of our lives! Taking care of your mother is the greatest privilege of my life." And those of us who watched him care for her knew that he meant it.
As Christians we are to bear one another's burdens. There are burdens which every man must bear for himself for no one can do it for him, and if he neglects them they will not be borne. However, there are other burdens that our friends can help us bear, such as sorrow, misfortune, trials, loneliness, family cares, spiritual difficulties, a son or daughter on drugs or in prison -- or a child who has disappeared. But we are not to worry about our burdens. We are to roll them on to God's shoulders, looking to Him for power to sustain and strengthen us. However, it is our duty to help our fellow man bear his own burden.
The Bible says as Christians also we are to be generous with each other. God says it is our duty as Christians to take care of widows and orphans, and to help the poor within the Christian society. The Bible says: contribute to the needs of the saints . . . practice hospitality . . . lodge strangers . . . wash the saints' feet . . . relieve the afflicted . . . be not forgetful to entertain strangers. And Jesus said, "Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me. . . . It is more blessed to give than to receive." "God loves a cheerful giver." All of these are our social obligations one to another as Christians.
Grace in Action
Lastly, Christians ought to be gracious, and this is one of the most important of Christian virtues -- and one of the greatest.
The very power of our conviction sometimes inclines us toward feeling that we are right and that all other people are wrong. This is well and good when our convictions are based upon the "Thou shalt" and the "thou shalt nots" of Scripture rather that our own ideas. The many different and frequently warring factions within the church emphasize the terrible human tendency to gather into select little groups, built upon profound convictions on trivial matters, each insisting that they and they alone have the right answer.
As the late Dr. Harry Ironside once said: "Beware lest we mistake our prejudices for our convictions."
To be sure we must deplore wickedness, evil and wrongdoing, but our commendable intolerance of sin too often develops into a deplorable intolerance of sinners. Jesus hates sin but loves the sinner.
I was amused and shocked to hear a man of considerable religious background declare on television not long ago that "you didn't catch Jesus associating with questionable people or those whose basic ideas and attitudes were at variance with what Jesus knew to be honorable and right!"
Such a man should have know that Jesus wasn't afraid to associate with anyone! One of the things which the scribes and Pharisees criticized most bitterly was His willingness to help and talk to and exchange ideas with anyone, be they publicans, thieves, learned professors or prostitutes, rich or poor! Even His own followers decried some of the people with whom He was seen in public, but this did not lessen the compassion that Jesus felt for all the members of poor, blinded, struggling humanity.
Jesus had the most open and all-encompassing mind that this world has ever seen. His own inner conviction was so strong, so firm, so unswerving that He could afford to mingle with any group secure in the knowledge that He would not be contaminated. It is fear that makes us unwilling to listen to another's point of view, fear that our own ideas may be attacked. Jesus had no such fear, no such pettiness of viewpoint, no need to fence himself off for His own protection. He knew the difference between graciousness and compromise and we would do well to learn of Him. He set for us the most magnificent and glowing example of truth combined with mercy of all time, and in departing said: "Go ye and do likewise" (Luke 10:37).
These are just a few of the scores of things that could be mentioned that are the social obligations of the Christian. He cannot withdraw himself as a hermit and live a solitary life. He is a member of society. Therefore, the teachings of Jesus deal frequently with our attitudes toward our fellow men.
Study the Bible, read it -- and then live by it. Only then can you demonstrate to a confused world the transforming power of the indwelling Christ.