Several months ago, back when our main association with the word Corona was a Mexican style lager, I was in a staff meeting during the lunch hour. Through a strange series of events, I did not have my lunch with me. Most people in the meeting were enjoying the fruits of their lack of negligence while I went without. I jokingly told the group that I would just eat off of Joseph’s plate who was sitting next to me. Truth be told, I really was not very hungry. But Joseph, another pastor on staff, graciously offered to share his lunch with me. It was very kind but I politely declined. Then Joseph said something to me that will not soon leave my memory.
“It’s ok to be in need.”
Joseph offered me a gift that day. And it was more than just half of his microwaved pork chop. It was the gift of sacrificing my pride in order to be the recipient of kindness. Like a ball bearing in a spray paint can, Joseph’s words rattled in my mind for several reasons. For starters, I was faced with the fact that I do struggle to receive help from people because I see it as a sign of weakness or deficiency within myself. But also, growing up as a child in a very low income home, I was reminded of the feelings of shame that came with living in a constant state of need.
I think being in need is difficult for us as humans in general. But the challenges are compounded in our western, and specifically midwestern, culture. Now I contend that there are noble and even biblical reasons for the discomfort of being in need. Perhaps we don’t want to be a burden to others (1 Thessalonians 4:12) or we want to strive to work hard to increase our own capacity to contribute (Ephesians 4:28).
But if we are honest with ourselves, our midwestern politeness can be used as a diversion to prevent us from embracing a place of humility and dependence. It can be a way to save face and avoid looking inadequate or perhaps inferior.
This is absolutely a motivation at play in my life when I attempt to do things on my own without the assistance or even input of anyone else. Not only do I want to avoid feeling inferior, I want my name to be the only name on the credits of my work and accomplishments. The pernicious nature of the sins of pride and arrogance is precisely why being in need is not just ok, but also good for us. But if that isn’t convincing enough, then consider the example of Jesus.
The person who was in very nature God was Himself a man who lived in need of others. Jesus needed His mother to care for and raise Him as a child (Luke 2:7). Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman showed that He was in need of her to provide water for Him (John 4:7). We even see Jesus needing the financial support of several successful women who were committed to His mission (Luke 8:2-3). If Jesus was in need then it is ok for you and I to be in need.
So let me offer three final words about why it is ok to be in need and receive help from others.
When we are humble enough to show our need to others and let them care for us, we are actually showing love to them. We are giving them the gift of using their gifts to serve us. We all know the experience of being blessed by blessing others. Now this does have a shadow side to it where we may want to help others to make ourselves feel good or, God forbid, superior. But in my experience within the family of God, people genuinely want to help and serve others because they truly believe the words of our Lord Jesus, “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
One of the best ways to grow in hospitality and generosity is to be the recipient of hospitality and generosity. If we only ever play the role of host and never of guest, then we will find ourselves being malformed in the area of compassion.
Only those who have suffered are able to truly be a comfort to the suffering. This is most powerfully seen in the gospel of grace. When we receive the love of God in the gospel through Christ, it compels us to be people of love and grace towards others (1 John 3:16).
If we have a hard time being in need, then we will have a hard time being in worship. Because at the heart of what it means to worship God is to recognize our deep dependence upon Him.
Worship is not a mere spiritual experience. It is when we are profoundly awakened to and in awe of the reality of how great God is, and how great is our need for Him. When we are able to humble ourselves to receive from others, it is a way to prepare us to worship God. It is why the Psalmist describes our worship to God in this way.
Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and perform your vows to the Most High,
and call upon me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” (ESV)
It is not easy being in need. But if we are to be a people who are shaped by the gospel and who live as a family united by Christ, then we must embrace the goodness of being in need. And the sooner we do, the more we can function as a caring family.
We know that times are tough and needs are increasing in this season. If you or someone you know is in need and are facing challenges right now, we want to know about it so that we can love and care for one another as family. We have a needs request form on our website that we would encourage you to fill out. By doing so you are loving us by letting us love you. That is what family does.
In the 4th century the city of Caesarea was reeling from war and famine that rendered its citizens and infrastructure vulnerable. The city’s fragility was compounded with a widespread plague that forced many to flee, leaving the poor and sick to fend for themselves. While many evacuated in panic there was one group of people who remained in the city to care for the dying. It was the Christian remnant of Caesarea who risked exposure to illness and death to stay back and care for their indigent neighbors.
The ancient historian Eusebius recorded the events that took place during this time and penned these words:
“All day long some of [the Christians] tended to the dying and to their burial, countless numbers with no one to care for them. Others gathered together from all parts of the city a multitude of those withered from famine and distributed bread to them all.”
In the face of great sickness, uncertainty, and even death, followers of Jesus risked their own well being to love and care for the most vulnerable in their midst. While many saw these events as an opportunity for self-preservation, apprentices of Jesus saw it as an opportunity for sacrificial love. This has been a hallmark of the church of Jesus Christ from the beginning. And she finds herself presented with another opportunity to be who she has always been.
This is quite an unusual time in our world as we watch the COVID 19 virus spread around the globe. It is unusual to see major sporting events canceled, churches empty on Sundays, and toilet paper in such high demand. If you know where I can score some please hit me up…I have 4 kids.
But these unusual times call for unusual kindness (Acts 28:1-2).
Yes, we need to take precautions to avoid the spread of this virus. Yes, we need to adjust our rhythms and habits to embrace a new normal for the time being.
While many are viewing this time as a reason to panic, the church of Jesus Christ should see it as a reason to persist in neighborly love.
Here are a few suggestions for us to consider as we seek to offer a counter-narrative to the Coronavirus by showing unusual kindness:
1. Check in on the vulnerable
The elderly and the chronically ill are the most susceptible to the virus. Odds are there is someone on your block or in your apartment complex who is living with a heightened and justifiable concern because of their increased risk of contracting the virus. Find ways to contact them to offer prayer, encouragement, and any assistance that is appropriate within the parameters recommended by the CDC and other public health officials. It could be as simple as offering to get groceries for them. If your neighborhood or apartment complex has a social media group or webpage then use it to contact neighbors and encourage others to do the same.
2. Put pen to paper
We may be limited in our face to face contact. What a great opportunity to dust off your ink pen and stationery to write some cards to friends, family members, and neighbors. When you consider our technological age and our impending quarantined lifestyle, receiving a handwritten card in the mail might do wonders for people stuck in isolation.
3. Redeem social media
Can we all agree that social media has been kind of terrible as of late? But it doesn’t have to be. With people more isolated due to the virus, let’s redeem this tool to connect, encourage, pray for, and serve others. Ask people how you can pray for them and just see who responds. Invite people to your church’s online worship service if they are offering one. Share encouraging words of Scripture that will buoy people’s spirits and remind them of God’s presence amidst the chaos.
4. Volunteer (if possible)
This may not be a viable or even permissible option, but if it is within your means to do so you may reach out to offer your time and resources to area food pantries, non-profit groups, hospitals, and nursing homes. We all know that medical professionals will be swamped during this time. We also know that there are many food insecure families who will be in greater need with schools closed for an indefinite period of time. Many families rely on the meals their children receive at school. Consider contacting the principal of your neighborhood school to see if there is any way to help.
5. Share the unusual good news of Jesus
It is during times like these when we are awakened to our need for Jesus. When we discover just how fragile, vulnerable, dependent, and fearful we actually are.
May the church of Jesus Christ be present and ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3:15) and to show how the unusual message of the cross of Christ is actually our wisdom and power (1 Cor 1:20-25).
This is indeed an unusual time in our history, but it is also a unique opportunity for the church to step up and reach out to our neighbors. As it is said, desperate times call for desperate measures. I think unusual times call for unusual kindness.
We compiled a sermon series on the Vices & Virtues, the seven deadly sins and their corresponding virtues. We are no stranger to the vices. We have been fighting anger, lust, gluttony, sloth, vainglory, and greed for years. But what about envy? Do we also carry this small, subtle vice? The answer is yes. And that is a big problem because envy is the death of love.
In envy, you lose your ability to love others because others almost always have something better than we do. We lose our ability to care for ourselves because we are constantly comparing. We lose our ability to love God, because how dare He give that thing or that talent or that opportunity to someone else, and not us. Self-love kills. Envy kills love.
Genesis 37 tells us that envy is as old as sin itself. We see envy in the story of Joseph and that crazy, colorful coat.
“Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him.” (Genesis 37:3-4)
Envy begins with comparison
We’re always comparing. Joseph’s brothers saw that their father loved him more. It’s been said: Envy is feeling bitter when others have it better. Honestly, who has not felt bitterness at some point!
Envy is rooted in identity
Envy begins with comparison, but it is also rooted in identity. Envy is always personal because it’s never really about the thing we’re envious of. Rather, it is more a reflection of our own fragile sense of self.
Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. He said to them, “Hear this dream that I have dreamed: Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.” His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words. (Genesis 37:5-8)
In a patriarchal society, the brothers all want to be in charge, and that right should fall to the oldest, not Joseph, so they hated him even more.
Our comparisons, our envy, reveal much about our true selves. Our envy reveals our desires, idols, and sense of self-worth. Envy is often rooted in our own damaged sense of self and insecurity and often reveals itself in very passive-aggressive ways. We secretly celebrate when things go wrong for others, we quietly spread rumors, respond sarcastically, or just assume the worst about them.
Envy alienates us. It pushes us further away. Tragically, envy does not stop there.
Envy takes us where we don’t want to go
If left untreated, the trajectory of envy will take everything!
They saw him from afar, and before he came near to them they conspired against him to kill him. They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits. Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams.” (Genesis 37:18-20)
Joseph’s brothers rip off his colorful robe, throw him in the pit, but decide not to murder him. Instead they sell him into slavery. They are all ruined. Envy is the death of love.
Envy can only be killed with kindness
Like all the vices, envy can be killed. But envy can only be killed with kindness. It is more than simple behavior modification or trying to get better. It is not about doing more good deeds. It is about character formation and growing in virtue, both of which take time and effort.
Joseph was a slave, a falsely accused prisoner, a nobody. Ironically, he ends up in a prominent position and protects the people against famine. His brothers go to Egypt to get food, and they bow before Joseph. Joseph provides for and feeds them. And by doing so, he rescues the people of God.
The brothers continue to live in fear after the death of their father. They are not expecting the kindness Joseph will soon offer them. After 40 years, Joseph has learned and embraced kindness, forgiveness, love. Not in an instant, but through decades. His response is kindness to his brothers.
When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.”
But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. (Genesis 50:15-21)
To kill envy, we must:
1. Embrace God’s kindness toward us as enough
We cannot be kind on our own. We must first embrace that God’s kindness towards us is enough. We are not God. God decides who gets what. This can only mean that our envy problem is not really with another person. It is with Him! Will we trust Him enough to let Him decide what is fair?
2. Extend God’s kindness toward others
If we want to kill envy, we must extend God’s kindness towards others. We must comfort them even when we don’t feel like it.
“So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. (Genesis 50:21)
Envy is the death of love
Our ultimate hope lies in the fact that God has not just been nice to us. Kindness Himself was killed on the cross for us! Jesus took all of our envy and all of our shame and offers us His love in return. God has not given us less, but everything we need because of the cross: forgiveness, hope, life, joy, power to kill envy, a new identity. We are the daughters and sons of the King. We have everything! With whom are we trying to compare ourselves?
Envy does not have to be the death of us. Being made in His image and as a redeemed people, through the power of the Holy Spirit, let us practice His kindness together.