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Needy People

All of us are in relationships with people who require a little extra energy. I remember earlier in my Christian Life, I heard these people called “EGR’s,” or “extra grace required.” Regardless of what label you put on these people, we are all in relationships with people that require more energy, that require more time, that require more of us than someone else for whom we might find it easier to be with. We’re talking about how to respond to those people on the podcast.

The Bible actually gives us so much instruction about how to be in relationships with these kinds of people who are a little more needy than the other folks we might spend time with. There’s actually a category in Scripture as a group of Bible passages that some people call the “one another” passages. They’re passages that teach us how to live in community together, how to be in relationship with one another. One of the very many passages in the Bible would be a passage like 1 Peter 4:10, where we’re commanded to serve one another. These passages, the one another passages in general, and a passage like 1 Peter 4:10, where we’re commanded to serve one another in particular, teach us a number of things about being in relationship with people.

First of all, they teach us humility. It’s easy to talk about being in relationship with people who are needy and come at it from an exalted, prideful, arrogant standpoint. A passage like 1 Peter 4:10, where we’re commanded to serve one another, teaches us that neediness is a common property of every member of the body of Christ. That is, we are all needy people. I’m needy and so are you. When the Bible commands us to serve one another, it means that sometimes I am serving you, and sometimes you are serving me. That’s because we all have a need to be served at some point; we are all needy. But the reverse is also true, that meeting needs is spread across the body as well. The commandment to serve one another doesn’t just teach that we’re all needy, it teaches that we all have a responsibility to serve other people.

One of the ways that I have pictured these one another passages is the idea of a merry-go-round. When I was a little boy, during recess at my grade school, there was a merry-go-round among all the other playground equipment. The way a merry-go-round works is everybody sits on the merry-go-round and some people are standing and pushing the merry-go-round in a circle. A-merry-go-round works and is fun as long as someone is pushing it, but the same person can’t push it all the time because the merry-go-round goes too fast and the people pushing it get tired. So, what happens when a merry-go-round is working really well is that sometimes you’re pushing the merry-go-round and sometimes you’re enjoying being pushed on the merry-go-round. That’s the way life in the church is supposed to work when we’re living life in community.

Sometimes, in the 1 Peter 4 sense, I’m being served—I’m seated on the merry-go-round. Sometimes I’m serving you—I’m pushing the merry-go-round. Life works best, life functions at all in a community of believers, when we understand it’s our responsibility to take turns. If anybody ever gets it in their mind that they’re only going to serve, only going to push, they’re going to burn out real quick. If anybody ever gets it in their mind that they’re just going to sit and be twirled and that’s all, then they’re going to burn others out very quickly.

We need to remember this kind of idea when we’re thinking about being in relationship with needy people. At some point, all of us are going to be needy, and that makes us humble as we think about dealing with needy people. At some point, we’re all going to be required to serve needy people, and that inspires us to action.

When we think about this biblical idea of “one anothering” and when we think about living in relationship with needy people, and a context of a community of believers where we will all be needy at some point or another, what do we do when we’re thinking about people who seem to be a little more needy or more demanding than the rest of us? What I want to do is talk about several different commitments that we need to have to needy people.

The first is that we need to love needy people. In Romans 12:10, the Bible says that we are to love one another; the command to love one another is a command that goes to every member of the body of Christ and impacts every member of the body of Christ. That is to say that when I read Romans 12 that I am commanded to love one another, I have to look at everybody in my body of believers and I am commanded to love every single one of them.

I’m not allowed to look at the more complicated, the more difficult, the more needy people in my congregation and decide not to love them, to decide that I’m not going to have a heart full of care for them. The first thing we need to do is repent when we are tempted to have a spirit of frustration and anger towards needy people and remember that the Bible commands us to love one another. To love everybody, even needy people.

A second commitment that we need to have is to serve needy people. I talked about 1 Peter 4:10 that says to serve one another. Another passage that’s very similar to that is Galatians 6:2 that says to, “bear one another’s burdens.” It’s an absolutely fascinating passage in the Bible, and it teaches that my brother’s burdens are my responsibility. The burdens that you are required to carry are not yours to carry alone, but also belong to your brothers and sisters in Christ.

This means we can’t look at people who are a little more needy, a little more demanding in relationship and say, “I am not going to be involved with that person,” because Jesus Christ says the burdens they’re carrying are your burdens to carry as well. That doesn’t mean that we will do every single thing that we’re asked, it doesn’t mean that I won’t have to prioritize other obligations that I have to Jesus first, to my family second, and that I won’t have to prioritize other responsibilities and demands within the body of Christ, but it does mean that I’m not allowed to say, “It’s not my responsibility to help that person.” I’ve got to figure out what my responsibility is to them.

A third commitment is to be patient with needy people. Another one another passage is in Ephesians 4:2 and it says to “bear with one another,” to “endure with one another.” One of the great temptations with needy people is to be frustrated,  to get angry, maybe to pop off at them. When the Bible says that we are supposed to bear with one another, it means that, at the very least, we’re to be patient with one another. I need to have a heart full of compassion to endure with your neediness, even in your demandingness.

A fourth and final commitment that we’ll talk about with regard to needy people and the one another passages is the commitment to instruct needy people. In Romans 15:14, the Bible teaches us to instruct one another. In fact, one of the ways that we might need to bear the burdens of a needy person and to help them is to tell them the truth about what’s going on. We need to do this with a heart full of compassion, with a heart full of patience that avoids the kind of frustration and anger that I was just talking about.

But one of the ways God might be calling us to serve needy people is to, having been patient with them, having loved them, having served them in meaningful ways, to say, “Hey, I want you to know I think you are asking too much of me in this relationship. I think you’re being too demanding of me in my time. I don’t think you are considering how you ought to love me or other people and our congregation.” To use that analogy of the merry-go-round, we would want to look for ways to communicate that you’re spending all of your time seated on the merry-go-round asking everybody else to exhaust themselves spinning it around, and that’s not right. What we can do is point them to the hope and the joy of service when we do that. We’re pointing them to the hope and the joy of Christ who says that it’s better to give than to receive.

Regardless of which of those four commitments we find ourselves fulfilling to needy people in the moment, we cannot ignore this reality. There are going to be needy people in our churches, there are going to be needy people in our communities, and God calls us to press into them and to love them. He calls us to do it knowing that sooner or later, we might be the needy person that needs help as well.