When trying to teach our one-year-old about things he is (and is not) allowed to do, we run into a couple problems. One is that, since he can't communicate except in grunts, waves, and "diddle-diddle" baby-talk, it's hard to know how well he understands what we're telling him. If we tell him not to stand on the sofa, does he understand what a "sofa" is? And does he understand what it means to "stand"?
The second problem is that he has not yet developed much impulse control, so if we inundate him with rules to follow, we will be constantly correcting him. There are only so many hours in a day, and we don't want to spend them all saying to him, "We told you not to do that!"
So, as our son is developing understanding and impulse control, we are careful to keep our instructions to him at a simple and minimal level. Most of the "dos and don'ts" we give him divide into two primary categories:
1. Instructions that are for his own benefit/safety. For example, we are strict about not letting him stand on the sofa, or take things out of the trash can, because the first activity could easily result in injury, and the second activity -- well, let's face it -- the trash can is not the most sanitary object in any home!
2. Instructions for the benefit/safety of those around him. For example, we have a diabetic cat, and if he eats "people food," he gets sick. Thus, we are strict about our son not throwing his food on the floor.
There is a third category of "dos and don'ts" which we try not to delve into too deeply:
3. Instructions that are for our own convenience. For example, even though we don't let him get into the trash can, we have never told him that he's not allowed to unload the diaper bag all over the floor. There's nothing in there that's dangerous for him, and while it's a nuisance to repack the bag, we feel that there are more important "dos and don'ts" for him to learn first.
The goal in all of this is to have a set of rules that are not overwhelming for either our one-year-old or us. Are we succeeding? I don't know, and perhaps it'll be a very long time before I do know. But as I thought about all of this, it occurred to me that what we're trying to do is to emulate our Heavenly Father in the way He gives commands to us.
1 John 5:3 says that "His commandments are not burdensome." Doesn't God do for us (perfectly) what we are trying (imperfectly) to do for our son? God's commands are neither burdensome nor self-serving. His commandments to us fall -- for the most part -- into two basic categories: commands that are in our own best interest, and commands that are for the benefit of those around us.
If I can appreciate that my rules for my son are reasonable, wise (hopefully!), and beneficial to our household, can I not trust that God's rules for me are even more reasonable, wise, and beneficial?
In the 1600s (aproximately 1688) Christopher Wren, a well-known architect, was commissioned by the Windsor town councillors to build the Windsor Guildhall -- a picture of which is shown below.
As you can see from the picture, the ground floor of this building is completely open, with the main part of the building being supported by eighteen pillars around the edge. This open space was designed to be used as a public market.
When the town councillors saw what Wren intended to do, they (in their infinite architectural wisdom) protested to the great architect that his design would never work. Eighteen pillars would not be enough to support the weight of the building, and the whole thing would collapse.
Christopher Wren insisted that his design was solid and safe, and an argument ensued. The upshot of it all was, Christopher Wren agreed to add four more columns into his design. These four columns were interior columns, and can be seen in the picture below.
But Christopher Wren had the last laugh; when he designed the four inner pillars, he deliberately designed them to be two inches too short; the tops of the columns do not even touch the beams of the ceiling. They bear no weight at all!
Over the centuries, many people have had a good laugh at Christopher Wren's subtle jab at the town councillors (although today, if you visited the guildhall you would discover that at some point wooden shims have been placed above the pillars, so they really do bear weight.)
But Christopher Wren obviously knew what he was doing; for centuries this building stood strong and tall without those center columns supporting any weight.
The book of I Peter describes the church as a building -- not made of stone, but of living stone. We, as Christians, make up the structure of the church.
Just as people rejected and disbelieved Christopher Wren's architectural plans, mankind has rejected the foundation (Jesus Christ) upon which God is building His church. But our foundation is a foundation which will never disappoint, and the structure built on that foundation will never collapse.
But God is not like Christopher Wren; unlike Wren, God has not put any "useless" columns in His church. The book of Ephesians tells us that we are all being fitted together. There are no useless or unimportant parts in God's building. We each have a part to play, a work to do, a section of the building to support. And when we choose not to do our part, the whole building suffers.
If we refuse to bear the weight given to us, the building will not collapse, but another -- stronger -- part of the building will have to carry the burdens we refuse to bear. In other words, our choice to not do our part in God's work is a choice to place a heavier burden on the back of another part of the church.
When I was a kid, our house had a kitchen and a dining room, and there was a wall, with a doorway, between the two.
That wall is no longer there. At some point while I was growing up, my parents decided they'd had enough of that wall. They wanted to have one large, wide open room, instead of two smaller rooms.
So dad took a sledgehammer to the wall and knocked it out. Of course, when they built the house in the first place, they knew that someday they might want to get rid of that wall, so they were careful to build the house in such a way that this wall was not a load-bearing wall. It was supporting nothing. Nothing else anywhere in the house depended on it. It was, in a nutshell, useless.
The book of Ephesians tells us this:
1 Peter 2:4 adds to this image by telling us that we are not just stones in a building, but we are living stones, growing together as God has fitted us together.
But as God is building His house, He is not putting in any useless stones. There is no part of His church that He could point at and say, "That living stone there doesn't support anything. Nothing else in My house depends on that living stone. That living stone is, in a nutshell, useless. I could take a sledgehammer to that living stone and it wouldn't affect anything else in the building."
We are all "load bearing" in the church. God has fit us together perfectly, designing each of us to bear and carry a load which was specifically designed for us. Galatians tells us this:
The good news is that the load is not an unbearable load; Jesus said in Matthew:
In 1 John, John reiterates these words by assuring his readers that:
The loads we are each given are not unbearable, or unreasonable. But they are our burdens to carry. And in carrying our own load, we support and strengthen all the other living stones in the building with us, strengthening the entire structure. It is an exciting realization to understand that we are fitted so perfectly together by God, but with that realization comes an exciting responsibility as well -- to build up, strengthen, and support the living stones all around us, who shoulder their loads side by side with us.
Two times in the last month, under completely different circumstances, I've had people say to me, "I don't want to be a burden." In both cases the statement was made by another Christian. Both times my reply was: "How could you be a burden? You're part of my family. This is just what we do for each other."
We always talk about "brothers" and "sisters" in Christ, but I don't think we often stop to really think about what it means that we are family.
I remember hearing a story about two brothers who were walking one day, and the younger one became tired, so he asked his older brother to carry him. The older boy scooped his brother up in his arms and began to carry him. As he walked, a neighbor chuckled and said, "Wow. He must be heavy."
And the older boy replied: "He's not heavy, he's my brother!"
It's a cute story, but let's be realistic -- the younger boy would have weighed exactly the same if he hadn't been brother to the other boy. And yet, because he is family, the load seems much lighter.
You can see the same truth in your own life. Think about everything your parents gave up for you. The freedom of activity they gave up the moment you were born. The sleepless nights (my parents tell me I used to wake them up with my giggling in the middle of the night ::)) All the money spent on your food, clothing, medical bills... the time spent driving you from place to place, going to your sporting events, concerts and school plays. And then when you were a teenager, the sleepless nights started all over again...
Okay? You've got all that in your mind, right? Now go to your parents and say to them, "I'm sorry I was such a burden to you..."
And if they're anything like my parents, they'll look at you like you've got a third ear sprouting out of the middle of your forehead, and they'll say, "Burden? You weren't a burden!"
Well, yes, you were. But because of their great love for you, they don't see you that way. Because you are family.
Now think about your spiritual family. The people you call your brothers and sisters in Christ. Do you really treat them as brothers and sisters? Or are they simply your burden you have to bear? If a physical family (born of corruptible seed, as 1 Peter 1:23 says) bears one another's burdens, how much more should we, who share an imperishable, incorruptible family tree, bear one another's burdens?
No wonder Galatians 6:2 tells us to "bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ"! It is one of the most simple and obvious responsibilities -- and joys -- of family life!