"…If anyone wishes to come after me," Jesus said, "He must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow me." (Luke 9:23 NASB) These are familiar words to anyone who has been a believer for awhile. Following Jesus really does involve more than saying "I believe." Faith is the foundation of salvation but doing something is the natural consequence of a living faith.
Following Jesus implies doing what he did, and acting as he acted. It means hearing and heading his commands so that the life of Jesus is more than an ancient story. The Life of Jesus is meant to live and breath in our own lives.
Would you turn this morning to Romans 15 with me, as we look at Jesus living not for himself but living for others. Please read with me Romans 15:1-6
Living For Others Means: Helping Them Get Stronger
In the very first two verses we read twice about strengthening others. He says, "bear the weaknesses" of the weak. Then he says to please your neighbor "to his edification".
That implies that we invest in others in order to consistently build them up.
When he says that we should be bearing the weaknesses of the weak, he uses a figurative term which really means to serve them or to support. In the context of the passage it means being considerate of the doubts and fears of others.
Other passages in the Bible indicate as well our need to bear the burdens of others.
Romans 14:1 "Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions."
Galatians 6:2 "Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ."
1 Thessalonians 5:14 We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone.
This is the answer to the question, "what should I do when people struggle with faith, or for that matter any part of life?" The fact of the matter is that God makes it our responsibility to hold them up.
By putting the word that means "we ought to" at the very start of the sentence the emphasis is on our obligation to do so. This isn't going above and beyond as a Christian, this is the essence of living in Christian community with other people. This is what God expects of his people, people who will, just like Himself set aside our own rights in order to serve and support one another – all of which simply continues to be an outgrowth of both offering our bodies as a living sacrifice to God (12:1) and Loving our neighbor as ourselves (13:9-10).
Do you know anyone who is struggling in their faith? One way to guage that might be to ask yourself if there are people you don't see much in church these days.
Living For Others Means: Not Living For Yourself
If you look at many pamphlets or advertisements for getting involved, they all seem to start out with some discussion about how much help is needed but eventually they almost all seem to come around to the point that "this will make you feel good about yourself!"
Now I know that is often the truth, but feeling good about yourself is not the motivator for helping others. Love is.
1 Corinthians 13 reads, " Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged. It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance." (1 Cor 13:4-7)
Loving others implies some kind of sacrifice; because Love that is real looks out not for oneself, but for one's neighbor. Remember the greatest commandment, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind"? What's the second? "Love your neighbor as yourself."
And again Jesus says, "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13) Jesus paid the ultimate price for our sakes, his example is one of love; and it is our perfect example for dealing with each other.
Jesus didn't go to the cross in order to feel good about himself. In fact, if the Garden of Gethsemane prayers are any indication (and they are) then Jesus wasn't exactly looking forward to the cross as a feel good moment. He did that for us, not for himself.
It should be the same for us. Let us take the other person's strengthening as the goal and not our own selfish emotional high.
Invariably if we are giving of ourselves to help others that means hardship.
Living For Others Means: Suffering with others.
That probably seems a bit simplistic but consider Christ who, as we see in the third verse did not please himself, but instead absorbed and everything negative upon himself.
Part of bearing someone's burden means that their burden becomes yours. This is what is meant by "rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep"(Romans 12:15)
Remember the leper who came to Jesus and merely said, "Lord if you're willing you can make me clean…" Jesus did the one thing that made as much a difference as actually healing him. Jesus touched him. In a day and age in which lepers were not allowed to be around people, Jesus did the unthinkable and relieved that man's emotional suffering as much as his physical by the simple act of human touch.
In our text today it says that Jesus did not please himself, but that the reproaches or the shame of others fell upon him.
Living for others demands that we be willing to join into someone else's suffering together with them. But the strength to do so is not within ourselves it comes from God's word.
Read Romans 15:4-6.
As we look into the Bible we find there examples of saints who have gone before us, enduring hardship and emerging victorious. In those stories we find perseverance, encouragement and hope! If Abraham could wait 25 years for the promised son, and then prepare himself to actually offer him to God, than we can wait long for God's deliverance, and we can bear to sacrifice those things that are dear to us for the benefit of others.
When that happens, when we take strength from the scriptures and we learn the lessons, we become more like Jesus. Able to sacrifice for others and able to bear the weak up so that some day they too will become strong. In so doing we become even stronger, and yet like John the Baptist who saw that Jesus was growing in popularity, he recognized his own place and said, "He must increase, and I must decrease." We step out of the way, and God gets the glory.
Living For Others Means: GOD gets the Glory!
Again consider the fifth and sixth verses. Ultimately it is God alone who grants to us the ability to persevere, and the encouragement to stretch and grow to be more like Jesus. We bear one another's burdens in his strength.
The end result of bearing one another's burdens means more than that everyone is strengthened, it means that all worship.
Worship is the ultimate goal of living together in love. Worship is the result of living for everyone else's benefit. Worship is the endgame to spiritual growth.
"Therefore," Paul says in the seventh verse, because it is God's glory that is at stake, "accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God." If you're good enough for Jesus to love unconditionally, than you are more than worthy of being loved unconditionally, and more than that, those around you are worthy of being loved with no strings attached.
Let us make it our practice to invest our lives in others so that they are made stronger. There are some who were once among us who are not, let's spend ourselves reaching out to them to restore them. There are some who have never known Christ but they are people for whom Christ died. They are worth our time and effort.