In Christian community there will always be reasoning among us, in our hearts, as to who should be the greatest. It is very common among all of us to struggle with self-justification as we compare ourselves to others, pass judgment, or condemn others.
Self-justification is only overcome by the grace of the Holy Spirit. We must combat our evil thoughts and refuse to allow them to be expressed in our words. It is as James 3:2 says, “We all stumble in many ways, and if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man also able to bridle his whole body.”
Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” When this discipline of the tongue is practiced we discover that we have stopped scrutinizing, judging, condemning, criticizing, and trying to look better than others. We start to see that God did not make this person as we would have made them, but in an image that He saw fit to make. God made this person in His image; that image comes from God in its unique form.
We are no longer incited to judge, condemn, or self-justify, but enabled to celebrate and serve one another. We start to envision each individual as a link in the chain in which the Christian community and body of Christ is being formed.
If we are to learn to serve we must first get to the place of humility where the motto is “you before me.” It is as Romans 12:3 declares, “For by grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment.” When we have no high opinion of ourselves, our plans, and schemes then we will know how good it is to be broken in our encounter with our neighbor. We will then be able to consider how to serve our neighbor’s needs as more important than our own.
We discover that seeking our own honor hinders our faith and prevents us from seeking God and serving another. What does it matter if we suffer injustice? Would we have not deserved worse punishment from God if He had not dealt with us according to His mercy? Dietrich Bonhoeffer said in Life Together, “One who lives by justification by grace is willing and ready to accept even insults and injuries without protest, taking them from God’s punishing and gracious hand.” The sin of resentment rises up quickly and is an indicator of how much our false desire for our honor still burns in our hearts.
To let go of self-conceit and to live life for another is to know we are the worst of sinners. There can be no acknowledgement of sin that does not get us to this point. If our sin is in any way smaller or less detestable in comparison with the sins of others, then we are not recognizing our own sinfulness at all.
Only when we have experienced God’s mercy on our behalf can we then aspire to serve another. For us to serve well we must first learn to think little of ourselves. It is only when we live in the light of Jesus’ forgiveness of our sins that we can rightly think little of ourselves and serve another well. How do we aspire to serve well and what is our service to another?
The first service we owe to one another is to listen. Just as we learn to love God by listening to His Word, so we begin to love another by listening to them. It is God’s love for us in that He listens and hears us, in the same way we image Him by listening to another. We pray to God to listen with His ears so that we may speak with the voice of His Word. The words that provide the most comfort are the words of God.
The second service we should give to another is helpfulness. We must keep our spiritual hearts open to the voice of the Holy Spirit as He interrupts us to act on His behalf. Are we ready to have God cancel our plans by sending us someone in need?
The third service we provide consists in bearing another’s burden. As Galatians 6:2 says, “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfil the law of Christ.” The Bible speaks often of bearing and expresses the whole work of Christ in this word. It is as Isaiah 53:4-5 declares, “Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed.”
The whole life of the Christian can be characterized as bearing the Cross of Christ. “It is the fellowship of the Cross to experience the burden of the other. If one does not experience it, the fellowship he belongs to is not Christian.”(Dietrich Bonhoeffer). To bear the burden of another means involvement even amidst varying strengths and weaknesses of our faith, bind this all together, creating the fellowship of bearing another’s burden. “With all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love…,” (Ephesians 4:2). It is as Martin Luther said, “Behold, you bear them all, and likewise all of them bear you, and all things in common, both the good and bad.” As we bear another’s burdens we find ourselves being borne, and only in this mutual strength, entwined with the Lord, we go on bearing. It is in this mutual caring and sharing together that the bonds of self-justification are broken and hearts of caring service are born.