“You Must Assist Those Who Are Weak”
“SURVIVAL of the fittest”—the strong live at the expense of the weak. Cold and cruel? “No, actually good and beneficial,” say proponents of the evolution theory, for they claim that this brings improvement. But even many of these persons were deeply shocked when they learned of the attempts of the Nazi Third Reich to implement this “law” toward fellow humans that they viewed as weak or undesirable.
Is such a horrifying demonstration required to convince a person that the weak should be regarded kindly and not be oppressed or destroyed? Not among persons who have a sincere esteem for the Bible, for God’s Word is much more than just passive or tolerant of the weak. It is sensitive to them. It directs that they be assisted, helped and supported. (Acts 20:35; 1 Thess. 5:14) But, do not other authorities and agencies advocate compassion toward the weak? Yes, but the Bible is unique in that it can effect continued response to the needs of the weak.
The Bible’s ability to motivate persons to assist the weak is closely related to its power to produce real love, humility and faith. Continually assisting the weak requires these qualities, for weak ones, unlike the strong, often cannot reward or repay another for his help. (Luke 14:12-14) Additionally, the Bible convinces its reader that assisting the weak not only pleases God and Christ but is required for their favor. In our imperfection, we all have weaknesses for which we need the help of God and Christ. (Heb. 4:15, 16) Could we be assured of their helping us with our weaknesses if we did not help others with theirs?—Compare Matthew 6:14, 15.
WRONG VIEWS OF WEAK PERSONS HINDER ASSISTANCE TO THEM
A great barrier to assisting the weak occurs when the stronger person becomes more conscious of another’s weakness than of his own. Additionally, another’s weakness can so dominate the mind that the person is viewed negatively. The result is that the weak one is not assisted and the strong person may feel justified for not extending help. However, the Scriptures lead a person to appreciate that a considerable number of undesirable circumstances in the lives of humans may often be due to weakness, requiring assistance rather than disapproval.
An example is the Scriptures’ attention to the poor. One could take a rather objective view, thinking that generally people are poor because they fail to exercise good judgment and so reap the inevitable results. The compassionate person, though, will view the poor as worthy of his help, in spite of the fact that a lack of good judgment or some other weakness may have been involved. God’s law to Israel was specific in the matter: “And in case your brother grows poor and so he is financially weak alongside you, you must also sustain him. . . . I am Jehovah your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan, to prove myself your God.” “You must not harden your heart or be closefisted toward your poor brother.”—Lev. 25:35-38; Deut. 15:7.
On their own, Israel could never have escaped from Egypt and taken possession of Canaan. They were too weak, needing Jehovah’s help. How inappropriate, then, for an Israelite having gained some material means not to help his financially weak brother, thus failing to imitate his God! Wisely he would fear God, knowing Jehovah’s response to the course he took toward the weak: If a closefisted course was observed, then it would become sin on his part. But if a person was of a generous eye, then Jehovah God would bless his every deed and undertaking.—Deut. 15:8-11.
In the early Christian congregation, those needing the assistance of others included many more than just the materially poor. When writing to the Thessalonian congregation, Paul placed a responsibility on all the brothers, not just the elders, to respond actively to a variety of needs: “We exhort you, brothers, admonish the disorderly, speak consolingly to the depressed souls, support the weak, be long-suffering toward all.” (1 Thess. 5:14) In other letters Paul discusses extensively the condition of those who are weak in conscience. These, too, needed consideration. (Romans chapter 14; 1 Corinthians chapter 8) Yes, among early Christians there were persons with a wide range of weaknesses—but all were to be understood and assisted.
It is difficult for a strong person to bear being looked down on or perhaps avoided. How much more difficult for a weak person who experiences these things! Although not generally thought of as weak, David underwent just such a difficult period in his life: “Show me favor, O Jehovah, for I am in sore straits. With vexation my eye has become weak, my soul and my belly. . . . Because of my error my power has stumbled, and my very bones have become weak. From the standpoint of all those showing hostility to me I have become a reproach, and to my neighbors very much so, and a dread to my acquaintances. When seeing me out of doors, they have fled from me. Like someone dead and not in the heart, I have been forgotten; . . . But I—in you I have put my trust, O Jehovah. I have said: ‘You are my God.’ My times are in your hand.” (Ps. 31:9-15) Rather than seeing his brothers coming to his assistance, he saw them avoiding him. David felt assisted by God alone.
What could cause a weak person to be treated in this manner? One cause could be our allowing another’s negative view of someone to influence our estimation of him. Confusing weakness with wickedness could be another. The Pharisees seem to have erred in both these regards. In response to their murmuring against Jesus for spending time with those whom they considered to be not merely weak but sinful, he said: “Persons in health [strong ones] do not need a physician, but the ailing do. Go, then, and learn what this means, ‘I want mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came to call, not righteous people, but sinners.”—Matt. 9:12, 13; Mark 2:17.
Even when disfellowshiping must be considered, a question that needs to be answered is, Is this person really wicked or simply weak? If it is a matter of weakness, the individual may respond to genuine, loving assistance patiently shown. To what extent has help been given to the erring one? Could more effort and time be extended to reach the heart of the individual so as to encourage him to change his course?
While the interests of the individual are important, the effect of his actions on the congregation and its righteous standing before God are also important. If elders fail to act to remove wickedness from the congregation, harm results. (1 Cor. 5:6-13) However, it is possible to take action hastily, unlovingly or with a lack of discernment. If, as a consequence, harm comes to an individual who sinned due to his being weak, not wicked, this too is damaging to the congregation and adversely affects its righteous standing before God.
Taking the proper course toward those who are taking a false step requires insight. But as the Christian works in this regard, his perceptive abilities increase not only in identifying true weakness but also as to what help, counsel or action may be most needed at the time. (Heb. 5:14) If he errs in his efforts to deal with the problem, may it not be because of failing to show kindness and mercy.—Ps. 25:6, 7; 51:1; Jas. 2:13; Jude 22, 23.
So when young folks or others exercise poor judgment (which may happen in a number of areas), what is our reaction? How good it is when we hold back from immediately condemning them, reflecting instead on what we might do to be of assistance to them! When someone makes a serious mistake in the congregation, do we find ourselves redoubling our efforts in behalf of that one? How much more helpful this is than making that one’s mistake a topic of conversation among other brothers. And when conversation may turn to the weakness of another, how considerate it is when effort is made to change the direction of the discussion, perhaps as to how help or assistance may be given in the matter. “The one covering over transgression is seeking love, and he that keeps talking about a matter is separating those familiar with one another,” says the inspired proverb.—Prov. 17:9; 11:13.
HOW CAN WE ASSIST THE WEAK?
Having the spirit of helpfulness and not viewing weak ones in a disparaging way are primary requirements for assisting them. Next, we want to ascertain the underlying problem: Is it loneliness, lack of understanding or very little love in the home? Could it be economic strain or personal disappointment, failing health or a feeling of uselessness because of old age? These are only a few of the possible problems that could cause an ebbing of strength in the weak one. In every case there is also a need for a deeper comprehension of the Scriptures and of God’s love. Careful reflection on the person’s situation in life along with a warm, heartfelt visit could help in determining the underlying difficulty.
Those who are really interested in helping the weak have for their guidance the example of the apostle Paul. He said: “Who is weak, and I am not weak?” (2 Cor. 11:29) Paul sympathized with all. He felt what others felt and was affected by their distress. To what extent? Judging from his counsel at Acts 20:35, his compassion surely went beyond kind words: “By thus laboring you must assist those who are weak.” He responded to the weak in the spirit of the apostle John’s later exhortation: “Let us love, neither in word nor with the tongue, but in deed and truth.”—1 John 3:18.
While forceful in encouraging assistance for the weak, the Scriptures do not describe in detail what an individual should do in their behalf. Why? No doubt it is because no matter how extensive such instruction might have been, never could all circumstances have been considered. But the Bible’s direction is firm that we develop genuine, sympathetic compassion for the weak. We must act in response to their needs. This counsel, while simple and general, produces specific results among right-hearted Christians.
EVERY INDIVIDUAL ASSOCIATED WITH THE CONGREGATION IS PRECIOUS
All in the congregation will be aided in fulfilling their responsibility to help the weak if they come to recognize the value of each member of the congregation. But if a member is weak and must be assisted, of what positive value is he? Is he not rather a liability to the congregation? Paul did not see it that way: “Much rather is it the case that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary, . . . God compounded the body, giving honor more abundant to the part which had a lack, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its members should have the same care for one another.” (1 Cor. 12:22-25) The congregation that values every individual and treasures his participation in Christian activities within the framework of his limitations is a warm, happy congregation, full of life and vigor.
Who can say how any effort put forth to help the weak may turn out? “In the morning sow your seed and until the evening do not let your hand rest; for you are not knowing where this will have success, either here or there, or whether both of them will alike be good.” (Eccl. 11:6) Especially can we be assured of God’s help when we assist others spiritually. How many who are today very fine servants of Jehovah received lasting spiritual assistance at a time when they were weak!
A weak person cannot become strong quickly. Just as recovery from physical weakness may be slow, so some may take a long time to become strong spiritually. But do we exercise patience with the weak? Do we love them just as much as if they were strong? When this love is shown, what blessings come to all! The weaker brother has the blessing of being cared for and supported in his difficulties. The stronger one realizes the greater blessing that only giving can bring. The congregation as a whole experiences an evergrowing warmth as each member depends on and takes an interest in others. Honor goes to God and Christ as their own matchless assistance of the weak is reflected in their earthly servants.