|Volume 22 Number 3 March 2020||
Louis Rushmore, Editor
When I was a very young married man, my late wife Bonnie and I along with our first child, Rebecca, moved to Memphis, Tennessee. We lived in a cottage behind a church building, in which were living a brother and a sister who had been placed into foster care. Bonnie and I were new parents ourselves, and we had become foster parents, too. It wasn’t long until a third child was introduced into the home, a 13-year-old boy; the other two children were maybe six and 11.
The boys shared a room in which were bunk beds—one over top of the other. The younger boy who had already been there informed the new arrival that the bottom bunk was already occupied and that the older boy had to climb up to the top bunk. That arrangement, though, lasted only one night because the new kid was a bed-wetter! The younger boy who the day before insisted that the older boy take the top bunk now adamantly demanded that he would have the top bunk and that the bed-wetter would have the bottom bunk.
However, even that sleeping arrangement was not entirely satisfactory because the bed-wetter would turn on the light in the middle of the night to take the sheets off of his bed—which disturbed the sleep of the other child. We really didn’t know what to do, but neither did we want him sleeping the balance of the night on any other furniture in the house. Sadly, we would find him in the morning sleeping in the bathtub.
Another oddity about the 13-year-old boy was that he was not accustomed to dressing himself. His mother had treated him as though he was an infant in her arms all of his 13 years. He didn’t know how to dress himself! Noting that and the bed-wetting, we sought medical consultation for him. The conclusion was that the boy had no physical conditions underlying his bed-wetting and ineptitude at even dressing himself. The poor child was the victim of his mother’s care for him.
Over time in the home, the 13-year-old made improvements whereby he stopped wetting the bed and learned to care for himself. Yet, whenever he visited his mother overnight, he returned to us as a bed-wetter and less capable of caring for himself. He relapsed each time his mother cared for him once more.
In the case of this boy’s relationship with his mother, her help harmed him. It was not some medical condition that resulted in wetting the bed and his inability to provide for his own most basic care. Doubtlessly well meaning, nevertheless, this boy’s mother crippled her son, who otherwise was as normal and as capable as any other healthy boy his age.
Not to this degree, but every set of parents struggles with when to lessen their care and control over their children as the young ones mature. The 13-year-old boy is an extreme example of too much help for too long that impaired or hurt rather than helped him toward maturity as a young man. I don’t know where he is nearly 50 years later, but I’m certain that the lingering affect of his early childhood relationship with his mother has affected him in a negative way.
The Moral of the Story
Why do you suppose that I told you all of this? What is the point I’m trying to make? How does any of this apply to the topic at hand, “If Not Now, When? Self-Edification”?
Every baby born into this world is completely helpless and entirely dependent on others for his or her care and wellbeing. A baby needs someone to provide shelter, clothes, feeding, bathing, medical attention, love and so much more. As parents, we are to love our children (Titus 2:4). If we do not provide for our households, we are alienated from God’s approval of us. “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8 NKJV).
If years go by and our child remains a baby in either mind or body, we know that something is horribly wrong. We would seek medical advice because every parent wants his or her child to be healthy in body and in mind. Parents want their children to grow to maturity academically and physically.
The same reasoning applies to Christians as individuals, as congregations and as a brotherhood. In the beginning, more help is necessary for babes in Christ, but at some point, babes in Christ, churches and a brotherhood ought to move in the direction of maturity. Parental-type help needs to diminish as Christians, congregations and the brotherhood mature and take upon themselves a greater responsibility. However, just as in the real-life illustrations mentioned earlier, continual too much help has a crippling affect. It stops being helpful and becomes harmful.
How long have you been a Christian? How long has it been since the congregation you attend was established? If not now, when will individual Christians and congregations lay the groundwork for and progress to the point of relying principally upon themselves for their own edification? Lectureships, seminars and workshops have their place, but they dare not become the substitute for maturity among Christians, congregations and a brotherhood. This is your Christianity about which we're talking. This is your brotherhood.
Most brethren are capable of teaching within their local congregations. We cannot substitute the preaching and teaching by other brethren for one's own spiritual growth. If a person only relies on others for preaching, teaching, evangelism and financial support of the local congregation, the Lord’s church will not sufficiently mature or ever be all that it could and ought to be. There may be some things that one cannot do himself or herself, but each child of God needs to do what he or she can for himself or herself.
Not anywhere should Christians and the Lord’s church resemble a bed-wetting 13-year-old child who cannot dress himself or a grown man such as my brother who is a virtual vagrant with a mental impairment. Please understand that I am not making fun of the 13-year-old boy or of my brother, and I’m not trying to offend you either. We just need to be all that we can be for our Lord Jesus Christ.
An interesting paradox appears in Galatians 6. Verse 2 reads, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” However, verse 5 says, “For each one shall bear his own load.” Which is it? Should we expect someone else to bear our burdens or do we need to bear our own burdens or load? Though the KJV refers to “burdens” in both verses, two different Greek words with slightly different meanings underly them. The “burdens” in verse 5 refer to something to be carried, but “load” or “burdens” in verse 2 refer to something that is heavy. Therefore, the normal or ordinary things (v. 5) are to be borne or carried by individual Christians because they do not need any help with them. On the other hand, heavy burdensome things that are too heavy for one person to bear or carry alone (vs. 2) require assistance from other Christians.
Borrowing the concept, let’s apply that to ourselves, to our congregations and to the brotherhood. We have the responsibility to do for ourselves what we can do for ourselves, but shame on us if we expect others to do for us what we should do for ourselves. Contrariwise, there is no shame or embarrassment for accepting help from others for the things that we cannot do for ourselves without help.
From the first century through the present, there has always been the problem of spiritual immaturity. It is worldwide and spans the centuries from the establishment of the Lord’s church to our modern world. This is not a unique situation anywhere on earth. However, it is something that Christians everywhere need to consider.
The first century Corinthian church was a mess. Every chapter of 1 Corinthians attempts to correct something that those Christians were doing incorrectly. One of the problems was spiritual immaturity. “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able” (1 Corinthians 3:1-2). The writer of Hebrews also addressed the widespread immaturity among first century Christians.
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. (Hebrews 5:12-6:2)
Likewise, the apostle Peter noted the same first century problem. “As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby” (1 Peter 2:2).
If not now, when will individual Christians and congregations lay the groundwork for and progress to the point of relying principally upon themselves for their own edification? Resources are fine, but you need to use them rather than to be used by them. Do for yourselves what you can do for yourselves. Prepare yourselves and help others prepare themselves to be more capable servants of our Lord Jesus Christ.