On bearing one another’s burdens

So I have been reading Generous Justice (Tim Keller)  and really just been challenged by this one section on the Good Samaritan. I will copy it out here:

“Another objection [to the duty of sharing money and goods with the poor] comes from people who say they “have nothing to spare” and that they barely have enough for their own needs. But one of the main lessons of the Good Samaritan parable is that real love entails risk and sacrifice. Edwards responds that when you say, “I can’t help anyone” you usually mean “I can’t help anyone without burdening myself, cutting in to how I live my life.” But Edwards argues, that’s exactly what Bibilical love requires. He writes:

We in many cases may, by the rules of the gospel, be obliged to give to others, when we cannot do it without suffering ourselves . . .If our neighbor’s difficulties and necessities are much greater than ours and we see that they are not likely to be releived, we should be willing to suffer with them and to take part of their burden upon ourselves. Or else how is that rule of bearing one another’s burdens fulfilled? If we are never obliged to relieve others’ burdens, but only when we can do it without burdening ourselves, then how do we bear our neighbor’s burdens, when we bear no burdens at all?”(Tim Keller, Generous Justice, p. 70)

I feel quite convicted by this. Two other scriptures spring to mind:  “Bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2) and “Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality…” (2 Cor 8:13-14).

I know many many times I have said to beggars at street corners, Big Issue sellers, car guards, and street children, “I’m sorry but I don’t have anything.” or “I don’t have anything today.” Those are lies. Because I do have; but the truth is in those times I cannot give without taking a hit myself – without burdening myself and cutting in to how I live.

The really hard-hitting thing is that when there have been brothers and sisters, fellow Christians, even friends, who I KNOW are in a tough spot or are really struggling, I have used the exact same rationalisation. I have not helped because doing so would burden me and cut into my tight finances. I have given when I have had excess, but really, how often have I given when doing so would have meant me sharing their burdens?


42 thoughts on “On bearing one another’s burdens

  1. We have been trying to apply this as a family mission. So far, we’ve had the joy of cutting cable and gym to free up resources for this, but the rewards are amazing!

    Prov. 3:27-28
    Do not withhold good from those who deserve it,
    when it is in your power to act.
    Do not say to your neighbor,
    “Come back later; I’ll give it tomorrow”-
    when you now have it with you.

    1. Absolutely, Kirstie. Love that proverb and it exactly hits the heart of what the blog was about. Thanks for sharing. check out Tim Keller’s book Generous Justice if you have a chance. It gives SUCH a solid scriptural grounding and foundation for why we do justice (drawing on old testament, new testament and Jesus’ teaching), to whom we do justice, and how we do justice.

  2. What do we do with beggars who use the money to drink alcohol? I do not give to any of these beggars as I do not know where the money will go. I think its better to give to a shelter or organization that knows how to work with these people and direct them there. Alternatively we could give them leftover food or food that we don’t eat. I don’t think I’d go out of my way to buy them food, as they would then just use the food money they have for alcohol. So I reckon shelters are the way to go to help them.

    1. Hi Charles, thanks for the input on the blog. It was less about how is the best way to help people who need help, though, and more about the attitude with which we help them and the motivating force for helping them. And I think this is where your comment perhaps misses the point: because there was nothing in us deserving of God’s grace, He took the HUGEST risk in loving us (and continually loving us) and giving grace to us, and we squander, exploit, trample on, abuse, and reject His love and grace constantly. So the point is 1. we love because He first loved us and we love in the same way – even when it is undeserved and at the risk of it being squandered, exploited and trampled on. This is not to say that we cannot give and help in a wise manner, one that stewards the resources we have been given in an honourable way. What it does mean is that all those things should NEVER prevent us from giving. If they do it means we have not fully grasped the tremendous grace we have been given – “God demonstrates his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us…” Romans 5:8

      The second point of the blog is that a response of giving and helping our neighbour, such as Jesus describes in the story of the Good Samaritan and the parable of the Sheep and the Goats, should not merely be from what we can comfortably “afford” to give. Such giving is neither sacrificial nor sharing of each other’s burdens. I think I’ll write a blog about this bit – the tendency to give only out of our “have”or our abundance and not out of our “have not” or our “little”, where it hurts us, and the ease with which we give second best, or as you put it “leftover food or food that we don’t eat.” But more on that at a later stage….

      Keep engaging.

  3. These beggars continually breed and produce offspring. They don’t care how they feed their kids and are selfish. They make their burdens ours on purpose. Most are too lazy to find a job and just expect a handout all day. In these times we are all heavily burdened by the banks who enslave us. We don’t have enough even for ourselves let alone millions of people who have millions of kids. Giving to beggars encourages more into your area and soon enough, you have hundreds roaming your street and increases in burglaries. People need to look at the cause of this- namely over breeding. Also the vast difference between rich and poor is due to our enslavement by the banks. If the banks mess up, they get bailed out. If we mess up, we end up as beggars. It is time for a revolution. People are tired of taping society together, we need to rebuild it with concrete.

    1. I think you are missing the point of my blog because you are coming from an entirely different worldview and paradigm so not sure you are hearing what I am saying and while I can agree with some of the logic of what you are saying I believe it is far more complex than how you portray it. They Biblical view attributes poverty to three primary causes: structural injustice (i.e. lack of education, capitalist economic system, racism etc); natural disasters (i.e. famine, earthquakes, death of primary bread winner etc); and personal failure (i.e. laziness, indolence, not handling finances correctly – which is also linked to education etc). So, no, I do not believe as you do that the issue is one-dimensional and solely the problem of the poor and their “lack of self-control” and “selfishness”. Also, I do not believe that these issues are exempt. Which is why when we address the physical condition of man we must do so holistically – i.e. SHALOM – addressing physical, emotional, mental and especially spiritual needs simultaneously. That is exactly what the Gospel – the Good News – is all about. It is certainly not one dimensional.

  4. What about them always having so many kids? Why should we support them? They then go and vote ANC time and time again. Survival of the fittest, why should we support people that dont work? Its another thing helping people that want to help themselves.

    1. Hi Martin, check out my response to Andre (above) because I think a lot of it applies to your reply too. If you do not agree with the Biblical worldview which I am taking as my starting point in these blogs, then of course none of it will make sense. As I said in response to Charles (above) I am not saying that we should be responding to people’s needs in an unwise manner – there is often a more productive/better way of giving than a few coins at a street corner. I am not arguing in favour of reckless handouts which never address the route causes of poverty – structural injustice, natural disasters and personal failure. I am arguing for a holistic approach to these issues. But actually this blog post is less about the “how” we give and more about the “why” we give. And the “why” is deeply rooted in our understanding of and response to God’s grace and love for us. That is what compels us…

  5. I work bloody hard for my money. I work from 7AM to about 8PM most nights of the week, and on Saturdays as well I put in the hours. I should be a millionaire, but I am not, far from it – I struggle to make ends meet. I am taxed, pay car licence fees, import duties, toll roads, VAT, petrol increases. Then I am expected to hire according to BEE? I need to put in security to protect myself and my family on top of that. These same people that beg all the time are first in line at the voting office, voting ANC. We suffer from racism all the time.

    Communism has never worked, and socialism can only work when everyone pulls their weight. Not enough workers here to carry millions of lazy uneducated poor.

    Then after a hard days work, and having avoided all the hijacking spots, beggars come up to my window and say,”Eiishh gimmmeee muuunneeeeeee….”. Reeking of alcohol.

    I say there should be sterilization of the masses who cannot control themselves. Give them each R1000 if they get sterilized. This will go a long way to stopping a mad population explosion consisting mostly of criminals and lazy opportunists.

    Put prisoners to hard labor or face starvation. Let them be productive. Round up all the beggars and put them in farms and get them to plough the land or mine or something constructive, and at the same time maybe receive some education.

    But no more freebies.

  6. You see, according to your view, we should help one another. This is a symbiotic relationship. Sometimes I am down, sometimes you are down – we help each other. But in South Africa, we have what is known as a parasitic relationship. Government takes most of our money, and then we are still expected to support people who refuse to work, and yet continue to support the government. Catch 22.

    This a very generalized comment, but its mostly true. There are a few exceptions, but in this busy life we lead, who really takes the time to find them or who cares?

  7. wow andre, your usage of the word “breeding” (generally used for animals) speaks a lot already – martin as well, the two of you have a very simplified picture of poverty and the people that end up there – in a lot of cases i am sure you are completely right and i don’t think val is speaking about giving indiscriminantly (again you both seem to be missing the point of her blog as she’s said which is not so much the ‘should we give?’ as the ‘how should we give’ – she is working from the assumption of the starting point that we are going to give [i like what charles said in terms of giving to organisations that are helping people on the street rather than just randoms on the street but even better might be building relationship with some people in need and then helping people you know and not just randoms because they are now your friends – in fact just building these kind of relationships will be worth more than any kind of handout – taking time to learn a name and hear a story] – so once we have decided to give [val’s starting point] how do we give and the truth is usually in a way that is comfortable and doesn’t affect us too much and the challenge of this post is doing more than that…

    the african concept of ubuntu – i am a person through other people – is what comes to play here – as we help those around us so we help society step forwards and thus ourselves…

    but the point is it’s very easy to judge those on the street with a blanket judgement as to how they got there – how did you guys get where you were? did you start on the street and work your way up or were you born into a certain amount of privilege (probly in most cases from being lucky enuff to be born white like i was at the time i was born) and if so then shouldn’t there be some grace and mercy and judgement extended to those who were born on the streets and maybe havent had much chance for anything else, for education, for the daily things you and i take for advantage and so on…

    i am completely opposed to just giving out randomly to everyone but i think we can do a much better job of giving to those people we do decide to give to and i do think we should decide to…

  8. They are not much different form animals, so breeding is a good word. But animals actually control their own populations. Animals don’t run around hijacking and murdering for the fun of it. When last have you heard of a dolphin murdering someone? Animals are more graceful and kinder than most humans are.

    1. Sho, Martin. Really struggled with whether to approve this one or not. For me it borders hugely on hate speech and the kind of thinking which has characterised so much of our country’s history. And makes me sad. It confounds me how people can still so strongly and blindly cling to those kind of ideas and for me indicates close-mindedness, fear, hatred, hurt, and a profound sense of hopelessness. I hope you keep reading the blog and maybe glean something of a hope and future, another way of seeing things, a broader perspective, love, grace and understanding.

  9. Animals kill one another for food, but there is no malice about it. They do not have a feeling of hate in their hearts. Humans on the other hand murder in cold blood just for the sake of it. Many of these humans are like cattle – eating and breeding. At least cattle do not murder one another – they have more morals.

    The Egyptians were more advanced 2000 years ago, than most of Africa is today. It is a simple fact, and I dont see how it can be regarded as hate speech when it is the truth.

    There are parasites trying to suck every last bit out of us. How are we supposed to survive with government, banks, fees, tax, vat, petrol hikes? Then we’re still expected to help these selfish lazy people who do nothing but breed and ask for handouts all day.

    AIDS is a good thing. It is the earths way to self-regulate itself. God created AIDS yes/no? Just like the plagues in the Bible. This is why there is still no cure. It will help to control the population.

    Its a harsh world we live in. Earthquakes, people die, get cancer, wars, famine. What is the point of risking our own lives to help those who are selfish and just want a handout?

    If it were a country where everyone worked, then if someone fell on hard times, it would be easy to help one another. Not here. Here we have leeches stuck to us all over, and then we’re expected to drain some more blood to give to even more leeches.

    If these people realize that sitting around and breeding and drinking gets you nowhere, then maybe they’ll stop doing it and start getting off their butts and get a real job.

    Who is doing any actual work around here? What do you Val do? You Brett? Do you grow anything? Do you manufacture anything? Sounds like you’re both very involved with the church, counceling people and all. But who pays your salaries? People that do real work. People that come to church and tithe or donations?

    The only people that work in this country are the miners, farmers, manufacturing industry, doctors, nurses and some trading industries.

    There are too many parasites – government, bankers, accountants, lawyers, beggars draining the life out of all who work.

    1. I’ve approved this one, Martin, because the virulent hatred, despair, frustration and anger that comes through in it speaks for itself. But I will not approve anything else that runs along the same lines of hatred and outrageous dangerous claims (such as the one you say, “Aids is a good thing…God created it”).

    2. martin, you’re a bigot, look it up.

      writing an opinion and calling it a simple fact does not make it anything less than an opinion, sorry.

      if you are not going to engage val on the stuff she is writing on (which you aren’t) then you’re not really welcome here which is a pity because the point of this blog post is to challenge people on their (and our) selfishness and encourage more positive action. you are not really adding to any of that. when you choose to, you will be welcomed back.

  10. In the Bible, God created plagues right? So why not AIDS? Isn’t it also a plague?

    Maybe you should try to work for a year like the rest of the people instead of relying on handouts from Churches. See what its like to stress about money, end of month payments, taxes, etc.. Then in one year we’ll talk again?? Or is it a case of easy come easy go?

    I fully agree that we should help each other in civilized countries like Sweden, Germany etc.. but in this place, its a war-zone and we battle to just survive.

    We are not selfish – we just have nothing left to give.

    The handout brigade are the selfish ones.

  11. I give to SPCA and animal charities. There are enough people helping people, but not enough done for animals – also God’s creatures.

    1. Hi All!
      I’m with you on this Julie! This is a very interesting debate that leaves me somewhere in the middle with my own views. But thankfully some people do care about the poor animals although we have an awfully long way to go to be able to call ourselves animal friendly. Yes I’m veggie and although I consider myself to be a good Christian any spare money I have will go straight to the animal world.

      1. What I said to Melissa. Please keep commenting but please try to keep comments on track and on topic and don’t digress to your own soapbox. I agree we need to care for the environment and animals more – but, I beleive there is a higher obligation to care for our fellow-man, our neighbor, before animals. The greatest command, in Jesus’ own words, is summed up as love God, love People. So in terms of priorities in how we spend our money, I do believe that in fulfilling this commission, our primary responsibility should be towards people, and then to animals and the environment.

  12. I do agree that there must be sterilization once a person has had two kids. Or maybe one like they do in china. Otherwise we must pay for these kids. Along with aids campaigns, sterilization campaigns is the answer. Aids is there for a reason. It’s natures way of population control. Too many people on earth. I agree also too many parasites. Who works these days?

  13. Kp: how can you cut out gym? You are putting the health of your family at risk to help lazy people who refuse to work. If you think about it, for every one person that works, there are five who bum off them. What do these beggars contribute to society? Nothing. Indiscriminate breeding and feeding. We are not slaves to these lazy sods. Put them to hard labor and teach them the meaning of work. Freebies make people weak and lazy. Evolution is the survival of the fittest. Catering to lazy sods weakens the gene pool. Society needs contributors not burdens. Give people a chance, give them a plough and spade snd set them go work. They are so lazy they can’t even clean the streets they beg on. It’s the least they can do if they want our hard earned cash. So we need to be more firm. A spade and sterilization will go a long way to improving the ratio of workers and spongers

  14. I also donate to animal charities like the world of birds and nature conservation. There are way too many people killing the earth. More should be done by Christians to help animals. Are there even any Christian groups that help these innocent beings? Sometimes Christians come across as people, people, people with no regard for animals or nature. I am a veggie eater as well. Imagine a world where all the animals and forests have died. All that remains is people- what a lonely world that would be. God made these beings as well and they also gave rights to live without cruelty.

    1. Melissa, again this is a comment that is way off point from the blog post. Feels like a lot of people just jump on here with their own agendas and soap boxes and “hijack” my blog with outrageous assertions and generalisations. However, I will reply to your comment: I have no problem with people donating to animal charities and nature conservation – one of the first commands we were given was to look after the earth and I agree we have done a pretty poor job of it. Your question about Christian groups helping animals is phrased in such a way that it comes across accusatory and as if you assume there are no such groups. There are. Google them. Blanket statements about “the kind of people Christians are”, which treat all Christians the same and assume the same stuff about them are also unhelpful. So less a concern with the content of your comment – and indeed, I agree with a lot of it – and more a concern with the way it is put across. But keep commenting – just please keep it on topic.

  15. Andre, you make it all sound so easy – “they should just work” – and yes there are definitely a bunch of people who are lazy and enjoy doing nothing and will use the money for drink etc but there are a lot of people just down the road from us who are desperately seeking jobs and just unable to find them – because they have not had the opportunity for proper education because of their background and a variety of other reasons – there are thirty to forty guys who every morning sit out on the side of the road waiting for the wine farm managers who drive past and randomly select a few of them to go and do manual laboour on their farms – and so some days they get chosen, other days they dont and then they sit for most of the day waiting, hoping but return home empty-handed… and hungry, and return the next day to do it again – i don’t think i’d have it in me to do that, but for some of them there is no better way

    so when you make a blanket statement you need to ask yourself about the possibility and reality of “just get a job” – i assume you were born in to a family and circumstance that alloowed you to go to school quite easily (a lot of people don’t) and to receive tertiary education if you wanted it (a privilege in this country that the majority go without) and so to compare even your situation with the situation of a lot of these people assume it is the same, well you are not comparing like things.

    do you know how much money the people who clean the streets you walk and drive on earn? do you have any idea how much the lady who sits by the cash register at pick n pay (probly woolworths in your case?) earns and the possibilities of raising a family or upping her standard of living is? start looking at that information and you may find its a completely different story and it may hopefully stop you from throwing out blanket assumptions and generalities which do not apply to everyone.

    then valerie’s blog post comes into play – for people genuinely trying to help themselves, do we give the scraps or do we give something that costs us so they can be lifted above their situations?

    1. Thanks Grant. Will check out the link and hopefully will be able to put together some thoughts on it. Nice to have constructive comments on here for a change! d; ) thank you

  16. Also look at the section on “history of money”. I think the money system is to blame. It keeps us l poor to varying degrees. It enslaved us all. A few wealthy families control the earth. The link I presented has a Christian writing about these issues. It really gets you thinking in a new way and challenges. The guy also writes a bit like Brett.

  17. They must firstly stop reproducing. Can we agree on that? Birth control is free at most clinics. Don’t breed if you can’t feed! That should be put up all over the Poor areas. Also slogans like “don’t play if you can’t pay”. Educate them so they know it’s selfish to make babies if you can’t raise them properly and also selfish to expect others to pay if you play.

    I shop at woolworths as well as pick n pay. The food us better quality at the more expensive shops, and money to a large extent is no object. Good food makes one healthy.

    I mostly eat fresh fish and vegetables. Pick n pay and checkers has lots of red meat which I don’t eat for cholesterol reasons and because of the chrmicals in meat. The poor should eat fresh produce and it will make them stronger to work. Boozing it up makes one lazy.

    It is not my fault these bergies are having do many kids. They are lazy and if they cannot cut it, then why must we carry them? Carrying them makes them lazy. You supporting them and it makes them have more kids and become more lazy.

    1. Andre, I have given you a lot of space to punt your views on my blog but would like you to know that I will no longer do so. Your last few comments which I did NOT approve were way out of line and are unacceptable. If you hold such outrageous, racist, misinformed, uneducated views so strongly and continue to expound them in an illogical and incendiary manner, then please go make your own blog and punt them there. Should you wish to respond directly to my blogs and to their content, without digressing to your own soapbox, then feel free to do so. Just please keep it on point and on topic, and try to refrain from inflammatory statements, generalisations, and words and opinions which amount to hate speech. I will not tolerate that on my blog.

  18. I dont know how much these tellers or street sweepers earn, maybe a grand or two. I spend about that a week on groceries. I look after my body. I earn a good salary as I work harder than most.

    We are all materialistic, and enjoy the good things in life. You probably have a pc or laptop. You enjoy coffee which is expensive to a bergie. It’s all relative. I like my Egyptian cotton sheets, breitling, overseas holidays, Paris, New York.

    If we carry everones burdens, we going to be forever burdened as there are too many to carry and too many people who can’t or don’t work.

    Why not give up coffee and restaurants then and use the money for the bergies? Because you don’t want to as you probably also tired of bergies taking and being lazy

  19. I must agree to some extent with Andre. I do think that they should have birth control. Why should just the poor be making babies, and the educated like yourself not? This is counter-evolutionary and weakens the species. You are educated and healthy, with a good work ethic yet you do not have children. The vagrants are uneducated, unhealthy and have almost no willingness to work, yet they have many children. If the more well-off people like yourself (Val) do not have kids, yet you support the poor all the time, then eventually after a few short decades, we’ll be let with hundreds of poor who do not wish to work. It will be contrary to the principles of evolution. THe fittest will die off because they have too much sympathy for the poor, and the unfit will survive, leading to a class division of poor and poorer, instead of rich and poor.

    1. Ah, finally a measured voice. Thank you.

      I am not an evolutionary or population growth expert and do not claim to be, as I am sure you aren’t either. So take these opinions from where they come. I do support birth control; I do not support state instituted birth policies (such as in China) or sterilisation of certain population groups (such as in Germany during World War II). I think that yours and Andre’s assumptions about why poor people have more kids (i.e. “breeding”, animalistic tendencies, poor work ethic etc) are wholly simplistic. There are a number of other factors involved:

      1. Lack of education: perhaps as basic as not realising that sex leads to babies. Incomprehensible for us, but not for someone who has never been told so and where immediate cause and effect is not present (i,e, not every time I have sex without protection do i get pregnant).
      2. Lack of education: not being aware of birth control options, not being able to see long term consequences.
      3. Poverty: not being able to afford birth control options which are not completely freely available in South Africa. Yes, condoms are fairly freely available but this leads to the fourth point
      4. Patriarchal and violent society: poor women often do not have or feel they do not have the right to refuse sex, or to voluntarily go on birth control, or to request the male partner to use a condom.
      5. Evolutionary tactics: high birth rates tend to occur in countries or amongst populations which have extremely high child mortality rates. People have more children on the assumption that most of them won’t survive and so in order to increase their own chances of survival, in old age, they need to increase the pool from which potential caregivers and bread winners can survive. Unfortunately, education and increased access to health are not concurrent and so people continue having children on the assumption they will not survive, then the government institutes state-sponsored vaccination runs and those children who weren’t expected to survive do survive, leading to an unexpected boost in population growth.

      These things don’t go away overnight. They take many decades – generations – to reverse. Assuming that poor people have many kids because of poor impulse control (i.e. a rampant desire for sex!) is an uneducated and simplistic assumption. My solution? Better education, greater access to birth control, better primary health care, a reversal in patriarchal tendencies. Certainly not the easy solution.

      The easy solution is enforced sterilization. In a democratic, “civilized” community I believe such a solution is morally untenable and harkens back to the enforced sterilisation of Jews under the pretence of evolutionary tactics for survival, as instituted by Hitler. Go read up more on that. Because as far as I can tell, yours and Andre’s suggestions of the cause of poverty (the poor themselves) and the need to protect the species (i.e. the rich, the “evolutionary advanced”, the “fittest”) is not so different from Hitler’s ideologies. And if that is a case, it is a very, very dangerous line you are walking.

  20. Have you not heard of Charles Darwin? By allowing unhindered population explosion amongst the poor, it ruins the planet. There are not enough resources. What is your take on sterilization?

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