Restoring the Fallen, Helping the Hurting: Two Ways You Can Serve the Lord
September 23, 2001
We begin with a famous story from the early days of the Salvation Army. As the eyes of the nation have focused on the rescue and recovery efforts in New York City, the work of the Salvation Army has been easy to spot. Soon after those hijacked planes hit the twin towers, the Salvation Army was on the scene, offering aid to the hurting, the dying, and to the fire fighters and the police. The following story (from a hundred years ago) may help us understand them a bit better.
When General William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, was an old man, he was invited to address a large convention of Army workers and volunteers. When it was determined he was unable to attend, he was asked to send a greeting instead. The message he sent went like this:
“To the delegates of the Salvation Army convention:
General William Booth.”
Verse 2 of our text says a similar thing: “Carry each other’s burdens.” The King James Version renders it this way: “Bear ye one another’s burdens.”
On the 69th Floor
John Abruzzo is alive today because his friends took that verse literally. At 8:45 a.m. on Tuesday, September 11, he was working on the 69th floor of the south tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. That’s when the first hijacked plane hit the north tower. Seeing the flames and debris filling the sky, everyone scrambled to evacuate the building. Everyone, that is, except John Abruzzo. A quadriplegic since a diving accident 17 years ago, there was no way he could make it down 69 flights of stairs by himself. Eight men and one woman stayed behind to help him. Easing his 6’ 4”, 250-pound frame into a special sleigh-like device that itself weighed 150 pounds, they began to take him to safety. It wasn’t an easy trip. After they had descended a few stories, the south tower shuddered when the second hijacked plane hit it. Soon the stairwell was filled with hot smoke and panicked workers racing to escape the doomed building. When they got to the 20th floor, after an hour, they heard a roar outside. It was the sound of the north tower collapsing. The lights in the stairwell went out. When they reached the lobby, it looked like a deserted war zone: broken windows, smoke, debris, doors on their hinges, furniture overturned. And no one in sight. As they exited the building, a fireman urged them to run for their lives. They followed the crowds to a high school three blocks away. Ten minutes after they left the south tower, it too collapsed.
Looking back on his experience, John Abruzzo hardly knows what to say. He is alive because his friends carried him to safety. If they hadn’t, he would be among the 6,000 still missing. “We all had our lives to lose,” he mused. “What they did … I don’t know. Do you just say thanks? I don’t know what to say to them.”
A Ministry for All of Us
Sometimes I am asked by new attenders if there is a ministry they can perform at Calvary. I often don’t know what to say because they usually mean having an official position, like teaching a Sunday School class. Those ministries require a certain amount of training and preparation. But there is one ministry that any believer can perform and it doesn’t require special training. It’s called “bearing one another’s burdens.” If you have the heart, and the time, and the desire, you can be a burden-bearer for those in need.
In our text Paul explains two ways we can bear the burdens of those around us. As we study this text, keep in mind that these ministries are not reserved only for leaders or pastors or elders or teachers. If you love the Lord, and if you are willing to get involved, if you will take a risk, you can be a burden-bearer for Jesus.
I. Restoring the Fallen 6:1
“Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted” (Galatians 6:1).
Here’s the same verse from The Message by Eugene Peterson: “If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out.”
Who are the “fallen” people and how can we help them? This verse gives us four answers to that question.
First, they are trapped by sin. The word “caught” was sometimes used for a bird or an animal caught in a trap. It describes a believer who has been suddenly overcome by some temptation that came upon him unawares. A perfect example is Peter who, after boasting that he would never desert the Lord, denied him three times. It is the picture of a believer whose leg is caught in a trap of sin. The bone is broken and the person is trapped with no hope of escape. What will you do when you hear your brother, your sister, crying for help? Will you walk away? Or will you come and help them?
Second, they require the help of spiritual people. The phrase “you who are spiritual” in this context describes those who are walking in the Spirit, filled with the Spirit, producing the fruit of the Spirit, and keeping in step with the Spirit. Since this is not meant to describe a certain class of super-spiritual saints, it really applies to everyone who loves the Lord and wants to please him. One writer comments that truly spiritual Christians would never use that term to describe themselves. But the mark of their spirituality is that they are alarmed at what sin has done to a brother or sister in Christ, and instead of walking on by, they stop to help out.
I picture in my mind’s eye a vast army of the Lord’s servants, marching along together. They are laughing and singing as they go. As you march with this happy band, your friends are to your right and left. Together you sing “Shout to the Lord” and “Our God is an Awesome God.” Suddenly you notice the friend to your right is no longer there. Looking back, you see him in the distance, lying by the side of the road, his foot badly mangled by a trap labeled “Lust.” His face is contorted in pain, his left leg covered with blood. You can see that he cannot free himself. With pitiful cries, he begs you to come and help him. What will you do? The army marches onward. Will you go back and help your buddy? Or will you march on with the happy throng? If you are truly spiritual, you go back and help your friend for that’s what buddies do for one another.
Needed: Gentle Hands
Third, they must be restored gently. The word “restore” was used for setting a broken bone and for mending a fishing net. If you’ve ever had a broken bone, you know how painful that can be. And if the doctor is rough, he can make your pain much worse even as he tries to help you heal. That’s why the work of spiritual restoration must be done “gently” or as the King James Version says, “meekly.” It has the idea of doing something quickly, quietly, and with enormous kindness. When a friend is down and hurt by sin, you don’t announce it to the world. You don’t try to ruin his reputation. No, you go to his aid and do what you can to help him recover.
Fourth, they must be approached carefully. Here is a warning we all need to consider. Paul says that we should be careful in our helping lest we should fall into the same hole as our friend. Satan is tricky. He knows that if he can get one Christian trapped in sin, he may soon get another and then another. This is why doctors wash their hands so often. Not only must they avoid giving germs to their patients, they must also guard against receiving germs from their patients. In our attempts to help struggling Christians, we must be careful lest we start making excuses, offering rationalizations, avoiding confrontation, and letting sympathy replace truth.
Before we leave this noble ministry, I should note that Paul does not specify the sins involved and he does not specify the precise pattern we are to follow. This verse describes a willingness to get involved with others and the attitudes that best promote healing and restoration. The precise details and the time involved will vary from case to case and from person to person. Just as no one medicine cures all diseases, there is no magic formula that works in every case. We are called to care enough to get involved and to act in a compassionate, careful way. The Lord can lead us if we will do those two things.
II. Helping the Hurting 6:2-5
The second ministry is a bit broader in that it includes restoring the fallen but goes on to include ministering to those hurting for any reason. When we see a friend burdened with the problems, cares and pressures of life, we are to drop what we are doing and go to his aid.
First, there is the need to bear the burdens of others: “Carry each other’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2a). The burden of this verse refers to an overwhelming load, an impossibly huge boulder weighing you down as you stagger along the highway of life. The boulder may represent any number of things: sickness, sudden calamity, personal loss, financial difficulty, broken dreams, a failed marriage, family problems, career setbacks, or the death of a loved one. I find it significant that Paul does not focus on what the burden is or where it comes from. That doesn’t seem to matter. What matters is that when you see your brother or sister staggering under a heavy load, you drop what you are doing and go help them bear that load. Instead of judging them, you help them by doing whatever you can for as long as you can. Will this not slow you down? Assuredly it will, and if getting to the finish line first is your goal in life, then you won’t bother to bear very many burdens. But if helping the hurting is part of your vision of Christian discipleship, then for you bearing burdens isn’t a distraction, it’s at the heart and core of what it means to follow Jesus.
What Would Jesus Do?
And that brings us to a crucial principle. In every situation, do what Jesus would do: “And in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2b). Theologians debate this verse because Paul has said over and over again that we are not under the law, meaning keeping the Law of Moses as a way of gaining God’s favor. What is the “law of Christ?” It probably refers to Jesus’ call to love God supremely and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-40). As you march through life, and as you see others falling around you, and as you come upon those suffering from various troubles, ask yourself the question that has become so famous in recent years: What would Jesus do? In almost every instance, the answer will not be, “Just keep on marching.” Almost every time, the answer will be, “Jesus would make a difference in this situation.” He would be there, he would care, he would minister the love and grace and mercy of God.
It may help to imagine yourself as the person under such a heavy load. What would you wish that a friend would do for you? Go and do likewise. And when you “do unto others,” you will be doing the work of Jesus Christ. Soon after the terrorist attacks on September 11, Gordon and Gail MacDonald volunteered to work at Ground Zero where the World Trade Center once stood. They are part of a large team of Salvation Army workers who are ministering to the men who trudge into “the pit” to remove debris and carefully search for human remains. This week I’ve been reading Gordon MacDonald’s daily dispatches. In his first one he talks about the clean uniforms of the men as they go into “the pit.” When they come out a few hours later, the workers are covered with a thick layer of dirt and grime. The smell of death is on them so strong that it takes rubbing alcohol to remove it. The work is physically dangerous and takes an enormous emotional toll. The Salvation Army workers offer water, encouragement, and a prayer when appropriate. The first dispatch ends with Gordon MacDonald talking about the heroism of the men and women who go into the “the pit” each day. Then he muses to himself, “This is where Jesus would most want to be.”
I think he is right. If you are looking for Jesus, don’t start by going to church on Sunday morning. I know the Lord is with us as we worship, for he is always with his people when they come together. But if you are looking for Jesus, look for those who give themselves to help hurting people. He is always present when Christian people carry the light of hope into the darkest corners of this very dark world.
Too Good to Get Involved?
Paul next mentions a danger we should all consider. When you see your brother or your sister suffering, don’t be too proud to get involved. “If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else” (Galatians 6:3-4). It’s very easy to look down your nose and say, “They deserve it.” “She’s so weak.” “He just can’t handle the pressure.” “I saw it coming.” “Maybe they’ll listen to me next time.” “I don’t want to get involved.” “I’m just glad it’s them and not me.” “I know I would never do something like that.” How quick we are to condemn, to look the other way, to pass by on the other side.
Paul puts his finger on the problem: personal pride. If you think you are something special, then you’ll find it easy to condemn. But if you think that you’re a nobody apart from the grace of God, then you’ll be quick to forgive and ready to help the hurting. Perhaps we can rephrase that a bit. The reason you find it easy to condemn is because you’ve got an inflated opinion of your own importance. If you were more conscious of your own sin, you’d be more forgiving of the weakness and failure of others. Aesop said that every man carries two bags over his shoulder. With one bag hanging in back he carries his sins; with the bag hanging in front, he carries his neighbor’s sins. If we were more aware of our own sins, the sins of our neighbor would bother us less than they do.
So before you condemn or criticize, take a good look in the mirror. You’re not as hot as you think you are, and your hurting friend isn’t as bad as you think he is.
Finally, there is a test for all us: Am I doing my part? “For each one should carry his own load” (Galatians 6:5). In the older translations, the word “burden” was found in verses 2 and 5, leading some to think there was a contradiction in this passage. The NIV solves the problem by using “burden” in verse 2 and “load” in verse 5. That’s appropriate because Paul uses two different Greek words. The word in verse 2 refers to an overwhelming burden that we cannot carry by ourselves. The word in verse 5 describes a soldier’s backpack. It is something small and relatively light that every person can carry. It’s the difference between a backpack and a boulder. We all have our load we must carry, but as Jesus said, his burden is light (Matthew 11:30). One reason the backpack is light is so that as we travel, we have the strength to stop and help those struggling under enormous loads. If today your burden seems light to you, don’t think that God intends you to go skipping and singing all the way to heaven. Open your eyes. Look around you. Find someone who needs the help only you can give. And then lend a hand.
You Can Do Something.
The message of our text can be summarized this way: “I cannot do everything but I can do something.” God never calls any of us to “do it all.” Superman is only a comic book character. But that doesn’t excuse us from doing what we can when we can. You can’t do everything, but there is something you can do. Will you do it?
One of the most touching pictures to come out of the World Trade Center disaster shows a young fireman—evidently in his early 20s—going up the stairs, a look of determination on his face. As he goes up the stairs, frightened people are going down the stairs. It was probably the last picture his parents will ever see of him. While others were fleeing to safety, he was going toward danger because that was his duty. You cannot do everything but you can do something.
Todd Beamer had no idea that he had less than three hours to live when he boarded United Flight 93 in Newark, New Jersey, bound for San Francisco. When the hijackers took over the flight, he and many of the passengers were herded to the back of the plane while the hijackers took over the cockpit. When several of the passengers used cell phones to call family and friends, they learned about the hijacked flights that had already crashed into the World Trade Center. That’s when the truth sunk in. This wasn’t a normal hijacking where the plane would be safely landed in someplace like Cuba or Algeria. These hijackers intended to turn the airplane into a flying torpedo that would destroy a building in Washington, D.C. Perhaps the target was the Capitol or the White House. It meant that no matter what happened, the passengers would never get off the plane alive. They were already as good as dead.
“Are you ready? Let’s roll.”
What does a person do in a situation like that? For a handful of men, including Todd Beamer, the choice was simple. You don’t just sit there and go down in flames while the plane crashes into the heart of your nation. If you’re going to die, you go down fighting. Todd Beamer was a Christian whose love of God and of his family was obvious to all who knew him. A graduate of Wheaton College, he and his wife Lisa were very active in their church in Plainsboro, New Jersey. When he couldn’t contact his wife, he picked up a phone and called an operator. For nearly 15 minutes they talked. He described the situation and asked the operator to tell his wife and his two sons—David, 3, and Andrew, 1—how much he loved them. Then he asked the operator to recite the Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23 with him. When the time drew near to take action, these were his final words: “God help me. Jesus help me. Are you ready? Let’s roll.” Then he dropped the phone and the men moved down the aisle to confront the hijackers. The operator heard some screams and then the line went dead. Ten minutes later the plane crashed into a field not far from Pittsburgh. Though everyone on board died, the hijackers’ dream of assaulting Washington, D.C. had been foiled.
We may never know the full story of what happened in those last few desperate minutes aboard Flight 93. On Saturday, the New York Times reported that an analysis of the cockpit voice recorder revealed the sounds of a scuffle and loud shouts in Arabic and English. Whatever Todd Beamer and Jeremy Glick and Thomas Burnett did, it worked. Even though they lost their lives, they died as true American heroes. They were ordinary men under incredible pressure who did extraordinary things.
A Message from the Lord
This week Lisa Beamer summed up her husband’s actions this way: “Doing what you know ought to be done, without regard to the results, this is the true test of character.” There is a message here for all of us. When those men rushed the hijackers, knowing they were certain to die one way or the other, they were bearing the burden of an entire nation. They had no way of knowing how the struggle would end, but they did what they had to do.
The same is true for all of us, usually in ways much less dramatic. We come again and again to moments of decision where we have to decide whether or not to get personally involved. Many times the outcome will not be certain. In those moments we must say, “God help me. Jesus help me. Are you ready? Let’s roll.” And down the aisle we go, ready to do what needs to be done, leaving everything else in the hands of God.
There is a message from the Lord today for everyone who reads this sermon. It goes like this:
To my people who are called by my name:
“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). On a human level, this is what Todd Beamer and the other men did when they rushed those hijackers in order to save the nation from even greater disaster. And this is what Jesus did when, as the Son of God in human flesh, he died on the cross, taking our place, died in our stead, paying the price for our sins, taking the death we should have died, turning away God’s wrath, setting us free, and opening the door to heaven for us. There is no greater love than this.
All of us have been deeply touched by the example of those brave firemen who went into the World Trade Center, risking their lives to save others. Many of them died as a result. Did you know that God loves firemen? I know he does because he sent one to the earth. His Son was a fireman who gave his life to save us from the fires of hell. Do you know him? Have you ever come to him in simple faith, saying, “Lord Jesus, thank you for dying for me. Come into my heart and be my Savior and Lord.” He gave his life for you. Will you trust him here and now? Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. Trust in him and you can know for certain that you will go to heaven. He died to save you. In Jesus’ name, I urge you to run to cross and lay your sins on Jesus.
Jesus died as he lived—for others. May God help us to follow in his steps.
Lord Jesus, forgive us for our callous indifference to the hurting people we see every day. Give us missionary eyes to see those who need a touch of healing grace. Make us burden-bearers who are not ashamed to help those who struggle under a heavy load. When the call of duty comes, may we say, “Let’s roll,” and leave the results with you. Amen.