Your Problems Belong To Your Church

body-of-christ-1Struggling alone is disastrous to your soul. Those who struggle alone have no support structures, no encouragement, no one to help carry the load. Isolation is particularly disastrous when you are completely worn out, when your faith is small, or when you are ready to throw in the towel. A strong community can help you keep going when its tough, can bear some of the weight, and can walk alongside you in the midst of hurt and frustration. Without such a community your soul will surrender to despair.

Suffering alone, however, is not simply dangerous, it can also be selfish. As part of the church, believers are called to be a family (Eph. 2:19), and as a family we are called to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2). We are called to be responsible for one another. We are called to invest in one another, and we are called to invite one another into our lives. This is not optional, it is part and parcel of what it means to be in the family of God. This means, therefore, that your struggles are not your own. They belong to the whole church. Your problems belong to your church.

We tend to think “my issues are mine”. A sense of pride comes over all of us when we are in the midst of a struggle; it spills out in one of two responses to the church. Often our pride will reveal itself in a fear of man. We don’t share our struggles because we are afraid of what others will say about us, or fearful of how they will think of us. We don’t want people to know that we struggle. So we conceal our sufferings. It’s embarrassing to be needy, desperate, despairing. So we suffer alone.

At other times, however, we genuinely worry that we will be a burden to others. It’s not that we don’t want help, we just don’t want to bother others, put them out, or concern them with our struggles. This too is a form of pride. It is still a fear of others, but this response also assumes the worst of our fellow church members. We tend to think that they are either not like us, because they will be annoyed and bothered by our neediness, or perhaps that is precisely how we act and so we assume they will act just like us. In either case we make ourselves the standard. We think others don’t think like me, or they do think like me, and therefore I can’t share my burdens with them. We are still proud. In other words, it could be pride and selfishness that keeps us from sharing our burdens with our church. But those burdens belong to the church, they are not ours to keep.

Paul speaks of this family as a body. It has many members but they are all so interconnected that they depend on one another. In fact, he says, they are so interconnected that when one suffers all suffer. So he writes to the Corinthians:

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts,yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. (1 Corinthians 12:14-26)

Paul says here that you are so interconnected with the local church that your suffering impacts the whole church. Even if you want your struggle to be simply yours it’s not. You can’t claim independence from the body. When you join the body of Christ your struggles are no longer merely your struggles. They belong to the church. It is selfish independence that tries to say otherwise.

Of course that’s never how it feels when we struggle. We are genuinely grieving and broken and hurting and frustrated and often consumed by these emotions. Add to this reality the fact that many people in the church can be judgmental, condemning, and hurtful. Sometimes they can let us down or worse. So, we guard ourselves from unwanted pain. We hold back because we don’t know what to expect. But in the end we don’t have this right if we are truly members of Christ’s church. We are part of his body and when one member suffers all suffer together.

So, what does this mean for your personal struggles? This reality has several important components to it.

First, it means you never suffer alone. We don’t need to announce all our struggles to the whole church (see, my previous post on confession), but we do need to include someone in it. We need help. We need encouragement. We need somebody to know. As part of the body of Christ I have an obligation to share my pain, to share my need, in order that others might be able to obey Christ and help me bear the load.

Second, it means that I should take my struggles seriously. This is true particularly of sin. Because my sin is not simply my sin, it impacts the church, I need to take it very seriously. I am part of the body and when I struggle with temptation, when I struggle with outright rebellion it has implications for those around me. I am part of a family and no individual struggle is isolated from the rest of that family.

Thirdly, it means I have a responsibility to others too. There is a mutual reciprocity at work in the bearing of one another’s burdens. I get help but I am also to be ready to give help. As others meet my needs so I am to meet theirs. In fact Paul even states plainly that God comforts us in order that we might be able to comfort others (2 Cor. 1:3-5). Being part of the family of God means I have a responsibility to the rest of the family.

Your problems are not your own. That can be a scary realization for many of us, but it also has the potential to be incredibly freeing. I don’t have to wrestle alone. I don’t have to despair. I don’t have to worry that if I can’t make it I will be consigned to failure. When I recognize that my problems belong to my church it assures me that help and hope will come as I reach out. Rejoice, friends, your problems belong to your church.

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