“He Never Repaid Me In Like Kind”
In A Little Exercise For Young Theologians, Helmut Thielicke warns beginning theology students against abusing their new-found knowledge. This warning was prompted by the Church, which was “concerned very rightly for our spiritual health.”1
The concern Thielicke references highlights the nature of the Church. The Church is not just a collection of people but, in some sense, a distinct organism. At least this is the picture Paul provides when he states that God “gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13).2 Given this underlying unity, it would make sense for members of the Church to be concerned with the spiritual health of those around them. In fact, it would be concerning if they weren’t. John puts the matter rather straightforwardly: “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death” (1 John 3:14).
If I’m called to love my brother and to build up the body of Christ, then I need to be aware of the well-being of the members of my local church. Doing this effectively requires at least three different points of intentionality on my part.
The first point of intentionality to practice is checking-in. Before I can care for a brother or sister, I need to know how they are doing. Passing small talk before or after a church service probably won’t cut it. Taking time to have a decent conversation is more likely to work. Depending on the person and situation, it’s probably worth touching base at other points in the week as well. Sunday’s only won’t get you very far.
Checking-in provides opportunity for the second point of intentionality: Spiritual Care. When it comes to the body being built, the spiritual growth of its members is key. As I’m looking out for my brothers and sisters, knowing how they are doing spiritually allows me to help point them back to the Gospel, or encourage them when their focus is already there.
Finally, checking-in also opens the door for the third point of intentionality: Practical Care. Running alongside of spiritual care is, well, everything else. House repairs, computer troubleshooting, meals, rides to an appointment, someone to help process a tough situation or share joy and excitement—the list of ways to invest in the lives of other church members could go on for a while. Because we aren’t merely spiritual beings, how the rest of life is going for others should be of importance to us. Additionally, it’s here in the day-to-day moments of life that our faith is lived out. Building up a theologically astute body which fails to put its theology into practice is a tragic failure.
While touching base with someone is generally a good starting point for stepping into their life, the important point is being willing to share what God has given us. We should always be asking, “How can I best invest in my brother or sister right now?” Another way to ask this might be, “How can I best bring the redemption of the Gospel to bear on their life?”
The initial thoughts for this post came while reading Fangorn’s assessment of Saruman: “I told him many things that he would never have found out by himself; but he never repaid me in like kind. I cannot remember that he ever told me anything. And he got more and more like that; his face, as I remember it—I have not seen it for many a day—became like windows in a stone wall: windows with shutters inside.”3 Two lines seemed especially poignant, “he never repaid me in kind,” and “windows with shutters inside.”
This is the choice before us. We’ve been given the gifts and experience needed to benefit our brothers and sisters. Will we choose to build into them, or will we shutter the windows and focus on ourselves?
How are the other members of your church doing?
If you know, is there a way you can invest in them this week?
If you don’t know, how can you find out?
2. Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
3. Tolkien, John Ronald Reuel. The Lord of the Rings (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1993), 494
Photo courtesy of Jeff Sheldon