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Fix Your Own Hotdog
07/24/05 (10/22/89 and 9/25/94)
I invite you to turn in your Bibles now to Galatians chapter six and follow along as I read verses 1-5.
1 Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.
2 Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.
3 For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself.
4 But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another.
5 For every man shall bear his own burden.
Amen. The Word of God. Thanks be to God.
When I was in seminary, I was the pastor of a church in Belton SC. This particular church liked to have hotdog suppers. I don’t know why but they did not do many covered dish suppers of the type we did last Sabbath, but they liked their hotdogs. After I became pastor there, at the first hotdog supper we attended, my wife Beth caused something of a scandal. First, let me describe what they had been doing. This was their custom: After the blessing, the husbands would be seated, and the wives would fix a hotdog and bring it to the seated husband. Then the wives would fix their own plates. When a husband finished eating a hotdog, the wife would get up, fix him another, and bring that to him. Throughout the supper, there was this process of wives busily fixing hotdogs and husbands equally busily scarfing them down.
The scandal at our first hotdog supper was that Beth turned to me and said, “Fix your own hotdog.” Now she did not say that in a mean way, but she said it loudly enough and firmly enough for everyone to hear. And I immediately knew which side of the hotdog my mustard was on—so to speak, so I did. I got up, went over to the food table, and fixed my own.
After that there was a brief flurry of conversation, and all the other wives apparently like very well what Beth said, because ever after that no other hotdogs were fixed by wives for husbands. A tradition went down in flames that night, shot down by the preacher’s wife.
Now before you start thinking of Beth as a wild-eyed women’s liberation type, I need to tell you another little truth. I prefer to fix my own hotdog. It is not a big deal. If Beth fixed a hotdog for me, and gave it to me, I would say thank you and eat it and enjoy it, but if I have my “druthers,” I would “druther” fix my own—because no one knows how much mustard or chili or onions I want at that particular time. So Beth was not declaring her freedom and imposing a burden upon me. She was telling me to do what she knew I preferred to do anyway.
All of which brings me to the point the Apostle Paul is making in Galatians chapter 6. Some things people should do for themselves, and some things are too much to bear alone, and we need to help them, and it is wisdom to know the difference.
The word “do-gooder” has a negative meaning because “do-gooders” are people who try to do for others, what others need to do for themselves, or they try to do what does not need to be done at all. I am reminded of an old story I first heard when I was a Boy Scout. The scoutmaster tells a young scout, “Son, I want you to go up town right now and do a good deed.” The scout was gone for sometime and then returned all smiles and happily informed the scoutmaster that he had in fact done a good deed. “What did you do?” asked the scoutmaster. “I helped a little old lady across the street,” said the boy. Then he added, “Of course she fought me all the way, and I had to drag her across.”
That old story illustrates the point that we often do not have the wisdom to know what others need or want done for them. This is a criticism that has been offered of many welfare programs or assistance programs.
Over the last year, the ministerial association has studied our local assistance programs. In York, we have three types of programs: Individual churches have their own programs. The ministerial association has a transient fund that provides lodging for homeless folks. And we have PATH, which is a community program to help people in need.
All of these programs are good, but sometimes they tend to create dependency. For example, PATH has been existence for a little over twenty years. In some cases, they are now proving assistance to the third generation of the same family. Twenty years ago, PATH helped these folks and today PATH is helping their grandchildren.
Twenty some odd years ago, I was one of the founders of PATH. Our church supports PATH; Our deacons fund regularly contributes to PATH. But PATH as it is currently organized is ineffective in dealing with a certain kind of person. These folks expect to get food and assistance continually. This is a part of their lifestyle, and they teach their children to do the same thing. Obviously that is not the way the program is supposed to work. PATH is not a long-term assistance program. The purpose of PATH is to give short term help to people in trouble so that they will be able to take charge of their own lives and bear their own burdens. We have failed with a minority of clients. We have not been wise enough to know what we should do for them and what we should not. But at least we know the problem and we are working on it.
Perhaps Galatians 6:1-5 should be a required study for agencies and individuals who want to help others.
In the KJV, V2 says, "Bear ye one another's burdens." V5 says,"For every man shall bear his own burden." Our first reaction might be that these verses contradict themselves, but the contradiction is produced by translation. In v2, the ancient Greek word for "burdens" is "baros". It denotes a weight. "baros" is something pressing down on us. In V5 the word that is translated as "burden" is a different word. It is "fortion." "Fortion" does not refer to the weight of the burden but to something that ought to be carried. V5 then means that we all have certain burdens that we ought to carry ourselves, and we cannot pass the responsibility for these burdens on to others. For example, "fortion" referred to the soldier's knapsack. Each soldier in a Roman legion had to carry his own knapsack.
Incidentally, a Roman soldier’s armor and weapons and rations weighed about sixty pounds. Today, the modern American soldier’s weapons and gadgets, and stuff he is supposed to carry weighs about sixty pounds. The weight a soldier carrys on the march has pretty much remained constant over the centuries. But the point is, his individual responsibility is to carry those things. Even so, God has given each of us certain responsibilities that we cannot give away to other people.
That is what V5 says; V2 is talking something else. V2 is talking about helping people that need help. The emphasis of v2 is that when others are loaded down with the cares and troubles of life, then we ought to take some of their "baros," some of their heavy burdens, upon our own shoulders and help them along the way.
But the question is when are we to help with burdens and when are we to say, “Fix your own hotdog.” Well, lets look at the rest of these verses and see what they have to say.
First, we are told what we should do. Our responsibility is found in V1 in the word "restore."
The word is "restore" not "rejoice." Some people rejoice about other people's troubles. Some people, when any brother or sister falls into sin, cannot wait to tell everyone about it. "Did you hear that brother so and so ran off with someone else's wife, and he was an elder in the church. O what a shame." And the way they tell it, you know that they do not think it is a shame at all. They think it is great entertainment.
They have forgotten the way that the body of Christ works. In the New Testament, all believers are described as one organism. We are members of the mystical body of Christ, and when one member of the body hurts, all hurt. If we are walking barefooted through the house, and step on a tack, our eye does not say, "I am glad that the tack is in the foot and not in me." The tack may be in the foot, but the whole body hurts. The same is true of the body of Christ. If one believer suffers physically or spiritually, then we all suffer.
Now that might strike you as impossibly idealistic. You might say when a fellow believer has cancer, I do not have cancer. That is true. You might not suffer as they do, but we sympathize with them in their suffering, and to an extent, we feel their pain. I have often heard people when another is describing something painful that happened to them respond by saying, “It hurts to even hear you talk about it.” They were saying that they were so involved with that person’s pain, that they felt pain.
We feel sympathy when others suffer. We want to help. The question is how to help. Notice that Paul says “restore” them. The implication is that you are going to help them bear these impossible burdens that have come upon them so that once restored they can bear their own burdens and live their own life.
Since we are doing Greek today, the Greek word translated as "restore" in v1 is "katartizw"--which means to mend, or to set right. "Katartizw" can be a medical term describing the mending of a dislocated or broken bone. Gal. 6:1 uses the term to describe the mending of dislocated or broken people.
Greek sailors used the word "katartizw" when they talked of outfitting or “setting right” a ship for a voyage. We are all on a voyage through life, and we all face storms and squalls along the way. Every person has to carry some cargo (fortion), and we want to do that, but for some the burdens become baros, a weight too heavy to bear. They are like a sinking ship, desperately sending out an SOS. We are not to pass them by. We are to help them with their burdens and help them on their way.
Thus, "katartizw" meant to set a broken bone or to outfit a ship, and this is the kind of thing we should be doing for hurting believers. We should restore them, physically and spiritually. WE should do it. This scripture is addressed to us. We are called of God to be Restorers.
Secondly, GL6:2 tells us why we should restore a fallen believer. "Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." Jesus told us what his law is in John 13:34, "A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another." We have the same commandment throughout the New Testament. Love one another--that is “the law of Christ.”
The accusation made against Fundamentalists is that they are big on judgment and short on love. They are big on condemnation and short on mercy. I do not see how Christian Fundamentalists can possibly be that way because the New Testament frequently and consistently insists on a different attitude toward people
Gal. 6:1 addresses us all as "brethren." We are all brothers and sisters in Christ. We are family, and, like any good family, we love the members of our family and take care of each other. Gal. 6:10 says, "As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith." Thus, when a member of "the household of faith" is in trouble, we need to “fulfill the law of Christ,” which is the law of love.
Thirdly, Gal. 6:1 tells us how we should go about this restoration. "Restore such an one in the spirit of meekness." Be gentle and mild in your treatment of others who are in a bad way. I pray to God that I might apply that scripture to myself. I admit that I am not as patient as I ought to be with some of the folks who come by the church asking for assistance.
Then the Apostle Paul adds, "Considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted." Paul says, you are not different from these people. They are sinners, well, you are sinner too. They are having a bad time right now, well, you have had bad times in the past, and perhaps will have more in the future. Don’t look at these people with a sneer and say, “I would never do what they do, I will never be in their situation.” The reality is that we do not know that we are not going to be in their situation someday.
So how does Paul handle our question—which is when to help and when not. Paul is not in any sense a “do-gooder.” He is very well aware that there are many things that people need to do for themselves. He also knows that sometimes people are so overwhelmed by their problems that they need help, and, he says, they should receive our help, and receive it tenderly and lovingly.
Perhaps we need to shift the situation. We need to ask ourselves how would I want to be treated if I were the one asking for assistance? I would want to be treated with dignity. I would want to be treated as a human being.
Maybe if we could learn to treat people in trouble as we ourselves would want to be treated we could more effective in helping them get through their troubles. We could be more effective at giving them hope so that they can eventually bear their own burdens. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 8/22/05