I don’t think we do a good job of thinking of each other’s needs. Physical and emotional needs we’re okay at (though some would even argue that point). Spiritual needs we’re often lacking. Let me give an example. We’re usually thinking about things like, “I should give so-an-so a call because his mom is back in the hospital,” or “I’ve got some extra peaches from the farmer’s market and I bet so-and-so would like some, too.” Very rarely are we thinking, “I should refrain from this around so-and-so because it might cause him to stumble.” Or if we are thinking along those lines, we’re thinking, “Well, I can’t do this because of so-and-so.” The wording between those two sentences is subtle, but all important. In the first case, the needs of our brother is in the forefront of our thinking. In the second case, the restriction it places on us is. So in the first case we’re thinking of our brother. In the second we’re thinking of us.
For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols? For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble. – 1 Corinthians 8:10-13, NASB
Paul’s point here is that we understand that food sacrificed to idols is food. The idols have no power, the rituals are meaningless, and at the end of the day, it’s just food. But for a believer who is young in the faith, he or she might associate that idol somehow with faith in Christianity. This isn’t as strange as it may sound when you consider how often we encounter old mysticism incorporated with Christian worship all around the world. It’s one thing to use culture or custom to form a bridge. It’s another thing when the use of that culture or custom actually contradicts the message of the Gospel. A classic example is when Paul writes of rebuking Peter in Galatians 2. So Paul was saying we need to think beyond ourselves. We need to think of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. While we may have the knowledge that something is not harmful or not of consequence, if we practice according to that knowledge around someone who doesn’t, we might hurt a fellow brother or sister in Christ. And while our initial action is itself not sinful, the fact that we did so and hurt another believer is. Therefore, we must think of them and their spiritual maturity first. And if we were to put physical, emotional, and spiritual needs and determine which is most important, spiritual needs are the clear winner. So we’ve got to do a better job of thinking of each other’s spiritual needs.
What staggers me are the implications of Paul’s command. In order to understand what may help or hinder my brother or sister in Christ spiritually, I have to know where they stand spiritually. That means I have to get to know them reasonably well. This goes beyond the, “Hi, how are you?” to the point where we feel comfortable enough discussing issues and matters of faith, some of which will be personal. This is a level of interaction I think we avoid a lot within the Church. I know in my case, I’m very introverted. This is an area I struggle with, even within the confines of my immediate family. It’s easier on me to keep things at a superficial level with most folks. But that’s not good enough. We can’t meet Paul’s command by doing it that way. We have to know where each other stands. And that means deeper relationships. That means more caring, more interaction, more investment in each other. That’s scary. But if we did this right, would we not stand out from the world? Would we not have something within our midst that would be attractive to the ones who have realized the superficiality of the world and are looking to reject it? I think we would.
I think that’s what God intended all along. This was something the early Church had. It had to. The believers were pushed together by a foreign and often hostile culture. They were driven together by trial and tribulation. We stay apart by choice and motivation. We shouldn’t. We’re called to be better than that. It’s a hard calling, especially for those of us who are introverted. But it is God’s calling. And we will be better for it.