When I was in Seminary, I remember a professor telling me one day a harsh but true reality. He told me that there would be days when my Sunday sermon would bomb! Simply put, the sermon would be dull, would not go well and would likely draw several dreaded yawns throughout the congregation. He also added that such days happen to even the best of preachers. But what he told me next was the more important reality. He said that people would forgive me for a bad sermon, but that they would have a harder time forgiving me if I wasn’t there when they really needed me. Those words have stuck with me ever since.
Being there for people, caring for one another is a staple of the Christian church. There are just certain things that go together (peanut butter and jelly or Cedar Springs and Red Flannel), and in the same way, caring must be a part of the church. Jesus was the best example of showing care to people, but in scripture we have a variety of other examples as well. In Philippians 2, we hear of two men who seem to be specialists in caring for others that we can learn a great deal from. Their names were Timothy and Epaphroditus. These were two men that Paul wanted to send out to care for the church in Philippi while he sat in prison. Paul describes these guys as having at least three quality caring attributes.
First they were authentic; they really did care. Regarding Timothy, Paul said that he had no one else like him who took a genuine interest in the people. Of Epaphroditus, Paul said that he longed to see the people. Epaphroditus’ care for others can be especially seen during a time when he got sick and almost died. For him, the worst part of being sick was not the illness itself, but that the people were distressed that he was sick. He was sad they were sad!
Secondly, we can tell that these guys offered hands on care. Timothy is described as having proved himself and Epaphroditus is described as being a worker and a soldier. What did their work consist of? It consisted of teaching, preaching, encouraging and helping to resolve differences. In other words, caring for the people in their midst and hands on.
Third, they were great caregivers because they saw others as family members. Timothy considered Paul a spiritual father and Epaphroditus a spiritual brother. And certainly both saw the people in Philippi as their brothers and sisters in the Lord.
Those three qualities that those men embodied are wonderful attributes for us to include or improve upon if we are going to be successful at offering care for others. First we must be authentic; we must really care for people. People can tell if we don’t really care, so don’t even try to fake it. We can be helped in our authenticity by trying to learn more about each other. After all, how can we care if we don’t really know each other. Find out about what’s going on in peoples lives. You can do so by reading your church bulletin, staying for coffee after church and meeting new families in the church or talking with long time members you don’t normally converse with. Second, we must be hands on with our care. Praying from a distance is vital, but there is something special about actually being there for someone, to listen to them or offer a word of encouragement. Thirdly, see each other as family members in Christ. The more we see each other as part of our families, the more our care for each other increases.
Finally, remember that you don’t have to be a specialist to offer good care. During my first hospital visit I recall bumbling through my words and not knowing what to say. After the visit I regretted coming and thought I made things worse. The next week, however, when that person had gotten out of the hospital, they expressed how much they appreciated my visit. It wasn’t so much what I said, but that I was simply there for them.
That same professor who told me about sermons that will bomb also said to me that care is about walking with people in their pain; even if were not saying much along the way. Let us keep working to improve our care for others; we know that Christ equips us to do so.
Pastor Jim Alblas
3110 17 Mile Road, Cedar Springs