The Magnetic Power of Shared Burdens

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“And we exhort you, brothers and sisters: warn those who are idle, comfort the discouraged, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See to it that no one repays evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good for one another and for all.” — 1 Thessalonians 5:14-15 (CSB)

Life feels heavy these days. The weighty burden of everyday life seems to be exacerbated by a relentless stream of headlines that range from the unique (murderous hornets) to the fear-inducing (a global pandemic) to the shockingly horrific (videos of racism and murder). The natural impulse in the face of this unyielding bad news is to cower down and pursue self-preservation. Today’s pandemic has certainly exposed—not caused—our own proclivity toward selfish individualism and isolation.

In First Thessalonians, chapter five, Paul calls the church to a bold faithfulness in light of the certain return of Christ and the assured persecution they will face until then. This passage provides a reminding context that, while it may seem like everything has changed in the span of a few months, that God’s church is sovereignly designed for troubling times. But it is in these unsure moments, that his people, then and now, are tempted to hunker down in isolation and fear resembling those without hope and without the gospel. But that impulse is not the way of Jesus. In the worst of days, Christ calls us into relationships.

All of the commands found in verses 14 and 15 are relational in their very orientation. We can’t obey any of them individually. They require human relationships. It’s as if Paul knew that the secret to facing life in a fractured world necessarily involved others.

There is only one challenge given to all: “be patient with everyone.” The other commands require a degree of intimacy to gain personal knowledge. Somehow, we must be invested in the daily lives of others to know who is idle, who is discouraged, who is weak, and who has done evil. Once I know who fits these descriptions, …

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