As a family of believers, we are called to care for one another in a variety of ways. In the letters of the New Testament, believers are urged to “love one another” (17 times), “encourage one another” (6 times), “serve one another” (5 times), “be patient with one another” (2 times), “forgive one another” (2 times), and “admonish one another” (2 times). At least 41 different verbs are paired with the words “one another” by various New Testament writers to provide early believers a gospel-shaped vision of how to show godly care for each other.
One of the hallmarks of care that is genuinely Christian is the interplay between showing the grace of Christ while simultaneously offering the challenge to grow in Christ-likeness. We are called both to “be compassionate to one another” and “admonish one another,” as well as to “comfort one another” and “spur one another on to love and good deeds.” While love is always the underlying motive in how we share life in the community of Christ, sometimes we are called to “speak the truth in love.” Sometimes our Christian charity gets expressed as “tough love.” Sometimes the most loving word to speak is the hard word.
At other times, Christian care must show great sensitivity and tenderness. One such time is when we offer comfort to one another following the death of a loved one. There are certain spiritual-sounding clichés that Christians are tempted to use, that upon closer inspection should be replaced by more reflective responses. For example, instead of saying “I know exactly how you feel,” say “I can only imagine what you’re going through.” Instead of “It’s God’s will,” try “One comfort I find is God’s promise never to abandon us.” Instead of “Just pray harder,” say “Are there spiritual resources I can help you with?” Instead of “We’re not supposed to ask why,” try “Isn’t it amazing how many people of faith also struggled with why?” (My thanks to Virgil Fry for these helpful responses.)
There is one response to grieving that is even worse than the “insensitive answer.” Most grieving people understand that others at least mean well when they offer simplistic platitudes to soothe complex anguish. What is worse than saying the wrong thing is to say nothing at all. Nothing hurts more than the failure of a friend to acknowledge that a significant loss has occurred in your life. Better to stumble your way through clumsy but heartfelt words than to “play it safe” and pretend that nothing has happened.
Showing Christian concern for one another can take many forms but the goal is always the same: to help each other become more fully formed in the image of Christ. I pray that we can continue to grow as a church family to truly “one anothers” each other, embodying both the grace and the truth that was incarnate in our Lord Jesus.