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The Strong & The Weak


Bullying

by Dennis Pollock

As we read through the Scriptures and begin to discover the ways of our God, we find that He shows a great concern for the weak. In both the Old and New Testaments there are many exhortations for God's people to show compassion and to support their weaker brothers and sisters. Indeed the Holy Spirit's emphasis on this is so emphatic and so thorough that it would appear that one cannot truly relate to God without such an attitude. The "poor and needy," the widows, and the orphans must not be allowed to simply fend for themselves. Those who are in a stronger position must look out for these folks, and make sure to relieve them in their difficult and painful situations.

In Isaiah, the prophet addresses the Israelites who are punctilious and ever so careful to maintain their religious forms of fasting and prayer, but show virtually zero concern for their poor and oppressed neighbors. Isaiah declares:

You will not fast as you do this day, To make your voice heard on high. Is it a fast that I have chosen, A day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head like a bulrush, And to spread out sackcloth and ashes? Would you call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD? Is this not the fast that I have chosen: To loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh? (Isaiah 58:4-7)

God is certainly not condemning fasting and prayer here, but He is telling us that there should be a moral component associated with these things. Some folks seem to love religious ceremony and religious forms, but show little concern for religious duties, especially as they relate to their brothers and sisters who live in a continual state of neediness. Notice that He is not saying that the fasting is less acceptable or not quite as effective because of their unconcern. He is telling them that it is entirely worthless. Prayers and praise music and the lifting up of our hands to the Lord and Bible studies and fellowship dinners… all of these mean little to nothing if they are not accompanied by a willingness to obey God, and this includes showing a compassionate concern for those who are in a weaker state than we are.

Ezekiel sternly rebukes Israel's leaders with these words:

Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks?… The weak you have not strengthened, nor have you healed those who were sick, nor bound up the broken, nor brought back what was driven away, nor sought what was lost; but with force and cruelty you have ruled them. (Ezekiel 34:2,4)

These ungodly leaders were lining their own pockets, enjoying the good life, and totally neglecting the hurting, the oppressed, and the weak. Their leadership was harsh and forceful, utterly devoid of compassion and concern for those that God had entrusted to them. In other Old Testament passages, the prophets summed up the responsibilities of the strong with the word defend:

  1. Defend the poor and fatherless; do justice to the afflicted and needy. (Psalm 82:3)
  2. Learn to do good; seek justice, rebuke the oppressor; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow. (Isaiah 1:17)
  3. They have grown fat, they are sleek; yes, they surpass the deeds of the wicked; they do not plead the cause, the cause of the fatherless; yet they prosper, and the right of the needy they do not defend. (Jeremiah 5:28)

 

New Testament Exhortations

Uphold the weakIn the New Testament we find a similar concern for the poor and the weak. First we are told to uphold the weak. Paul writes to the Thessalonians: "Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all" (1 Thessalonians 5:14). To uphold implies the potential for collapse. Weak people live in a state of frailty, always near the verge of collapse. One puff of the wind of adversity, one financial setback, one romantic breakup, one cruel disappointment, and they will be left helpless and hopeless. Those who are stronger must be vigilant in watching over such weak brothers and sisters, bringing aid and comfort when their circumstances threaten to drown them in an ocean of despair.

The classic biblical example of weakness was the widow. In the Bible days, widows were nearly always entirely dependant upon others for their sustenance. Women were the housekeepers, but their husbands were always the income earners. Should the husband die before the wife, which was often the case, the wife had better have some grown children that could take her into their home or she would be in serious trouble. Over and over God commands his people to care for the widows. James tells us that pure and undefiled religion is to "visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world" (James 1:27).

But financial weakness is just one of many types of weakness that can threaten the lives and well-being of men and women. Some people are born mentally handicapped and will never be able to fend for themselves. Some are born psychologically fragile. They are not lacking in intelligence, and may be as healthy as a horse, but their emotions and their psyche are badly out of order. Their life is one overreaction after another. They constantly struggle with depression and fear, often over circumstances that would hardly affect stronger individuals. The emotional turmoil which churns constantly within them makes relationships difficult and often leads them into lives of isolation and loneliness, which only exacerbates their frail mental and emotional state. In many cases these weaknesses existed from their birth. Just as some folks are born physically weak or handicapped, others are born with emotional weaknesses and disabilities. They certainly did not ask to be born this way – their weakness is one of those mysteries that can neither be explained nor prevented.

Whatever the nature of the weakness, God's command is simple but inescapable: the stronger, more well-adapted individuals must look out for and show special kindness and concern for their weaker and more fragile brothers and sisters. It is vitally important that we see this, because sometimes stronger individuals tend to be judgmental when they look upon others that are not doing as well as they are. "If only they had a little more ambition, if they would just go out and make something of their lives like I did, why don't they just stop this foolishness and snap out of it?" they ask. They assume that since they are prospering, and have good relationships, and are doing pretty well in life, everybody else ought to be able to do the same. But not everybody can do the same, at least not without a little help.

The World's View of Weakness

As is nearly always the case, the view of this world and God's view are in disagreement over this. Instead of helping the weak, the weak are often ignored, marginalized, ridiculed, or sometimes bullied. In nearly every school children pick on the few individuals that do not quite measure up to the majority. Perhaps they are physically ugly, or wear poor clothes, or speak with a lisp, or show no ability in sports. Such children are often mercilessly tormented day after day and year after year, leaving terrible scars on their souls.

The popular Christian author, Frank Peretti was such a child. Frank was born with a condition known as cystic hygroma, which disfigured him in his neck and caused his tongue to grow to such a length that it always protruded out of his mouth. His growth was affected and he was always smaller than everyone of his age. A small stream of blood often trickled out of his mouth, and he could not speak normally. This condition, which should have elicited compassion from his peers, instead motivated them to endlessly mock him and sometimes even beat him. His life was absolutely miserable for years. Eventually numerous surgeries were able to restore him to normalcy, and his bright, imaginative mind helped him to find success as a writer, but clearly the wounds he endured in those early days have left scars that remain with him until now. He still remembers the names and the faces of his tormentors.

There is another name he remembers, in this case with appreciation. Once a bully was coming after him to beat him up, when a strong boy named John stepped in to save him. John let the bully know that he wasn't going to allow him to carry out his plan, and the boy backed off. Frank Peretti says that this was the only occasion anyone ever stepped up to defend him from his tormentors. Here was a great example of the strong upholding the weak.

But bullying and tormenting the weak is not limited to schools. Adolf Hitler did it on a national scale, only in his case he went a step further. Deciding that the mentally and physically handicapped did not fit into his plan for a master race, the German dictator authorized the killing of the handicapped during the years of World War II. He especially concentrated on children who were born with obvious physical or mental problems. By the time his murderous reign ended, he had killed over 200,000 such individuals, firmly convinced that by eliminating the weak, he was paving the way for a stronger, more prosperous Germany. Rather than "upholding the weak," as the word of God instructs, he murdered them, deeming them "unworthy of life."

Bear with the Weak

To the Romans, Paul writes: "We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves" (Romans 15:1). In this case he is talking about believers with "weak consciences" who worry and fret as to which foods are lawful for them to eat. Believers who feel perfect liberty to eat or drink whatever they like should be careful not to offend those who are not so free in this area. But bearing with the weak is something that we must do in most situations where God opens a door for us to get involved in their lives. Nearly every weak individual, particularly when their weakness has extended to many years, is going to be carrying some scars and insecurities which make relationships with them painful at times. It would be marvelous if, when the stronger ones open their hearts and lives to the weak for the purpose of ministering to their needs, the weak ones would always be grateful and pleasant, and show their appreciation constantly. It doesn't always happen that way. Forgiveness and patience are frequently required. Often the weak will "bite the hand that feeds them," and the stronger ones will end up wondering why they bother.

Of course the answer to that is easy: we "bother" because Christ commands us to care. We bother because Jesus, the strong One "bothered" to come to this earth and help all of us, who were in the ultimate state of weakness – without God and without hope. We were being tormented by the worst bully of all, that malicious spirit named Satan, who takes enormous pleasure in the misery of all mankind. Christ came and showed love, compassion, concern, and interest toward us all, we who deserved nothing but judgment and condemnation. He who was absolute perfection and strength became sin and weakness for us on the cross, in order that we might become strong through His indwelling Spirit. Jesus was raised from the dead three days later, to guarantee for us that divine enablement. Today He is strong once again, strong enough to save the worst sinner or help the weakest and most despairing Christian. The Bible tells us: "For though He was crucified in weakness, yet He lives by the power of God" (2 Corinthians 13:4).

May we show that same compassion and concern for all of our weaker brothers and sisters. Jesus tells us, "Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, you have done it unto Me."

For a full listing of all devos (written and audio) go to our Devos Catalog Page.

     

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