In 1624 the English author and poet John Donne was confined to his bed with a serious illness. As he laid there alone with his thoughts, he heard the ringing funeral bells of an adjoining church house.
As Donne reflected on the transitory nature of life and the reality of death, he responded with these words that would forever cement his place in literary history.
No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
While Donne speaks of the interconnectedness of humanity, Christians in a unique way experience connection, community, and comradeship. The Bible calls it fellowship. It is highlighted in Scripture with numerous “one another” commands about our mutual relationships.
“Each one of you is a part of the body of Christ, and you were chosen to live together in peace,” Paul penned (Col 3:15, CEV).
There is an interdependence within the Body of Christ as metaphorically depicted in 1 Corinthians 12 with the analogy of the physical body. All the members, directed by the head depend on each other. We each have a distinct role and responsibility. And we need each other. Help each other. And serve each other. As a result, “if one member suffers, all the members suffer together.”
Therefore, we are commanded: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).
The word “burden” refers to “a weight, anything that is pressing one down physically or makes demands on one’s resources. It is a load that is too heavy for one person to carry and requires assistance. It is used in the New Testament for carrying a coffin, stones, and even a corpse. Figuratively, Christians shoulder together one another’s burdens to lighten the load.
We bear the burden of sin by seeking to restore the erring. The text speaks of a brother being “overtaken in a sin” (Gal. 6:1). This does not mean a deliberate sin, but a slip. Like a driver hitting a patch of ice and sliding into the ditch. It’s something unintentional. Realize that you too might have slipped under the same conditions. Humbly help him overcome his feelings of guilt, shame, and disgrace. Seek his restoration. Offer forgiveness. And pray for his future faithfulness.
We bear the burden of material want by helping those in need. It’s very easy in our land of plenty and prosperity to become calloused and unconcerned by the needs of others, even our own brethren. The Bible commands us to work, not only to provide for our own, but to “have something to share with anyone in need”(Eph 4:28). Of course, this involves both our ability and the opportunity to do so (Gal. 6:10).
We bear one’s another’s burdens by offering comfort in times of sorrow. Sorrow may be caused by physical sickness and suffering. It may result from family problems. And death always brings sorrow into our hearts and homes. We can “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15). We can pray. Show our concern. Offer encouragement. Give our time. And share our lives with those who are hurting.
Christians are called to care about one another. To be involved in each other’s lives. And to offer a helping hand. As George Bernard Shaw correctly observed, “The worst sin toward our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them. That’s the essence of inhumanity.”
So, when we see a brother who’s fallen, needy, or suffering, let’s respond with compassion, not censorious criticism. And to remember, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”
Ask not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for you.
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman