“One Another” Ministry for the Homebound (Part 2)
From 2020 to 2022, Christians faced Covid-19 lockdowns and connected online from separate homes. Many worldwide still faced harsh governmental restrictions or the threat of persecution. Yet these circumstances do not excuse the church from obeying Scripture’s “one another” commands. We have needed fresh ways of considering, “how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb 10:24-25). Our experiences have opened our eyes to the ongoing challenge of practicing the “one another’s” from a distance. How do we minister to the homebound in our local churches? How do we care for members who face prolonged isolation from the church due to chronic illness, physical disability, caretaking, or other factors? How does the persecuted church continue to flourish when meeting altogether is neither safe nor wise? Please use this resource for personal reflection, family worship, small group study, or discipleship counseling.
Care for One Another as Members of One Body (Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 12:25)
During the Covid-19 pandemic, as churches faced limited resources and minimal gatherings, committed members flourished while the chaff was blown away (Ps 1:4). Dismembered Christians hurt the body and hurt themselves. For this reason, Paul encourages member care in the local church, for “we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Rom 12:5). Church membership defines our relational commitments to one another (Eph 4:25b) and the foundation for our unity (1 Cor 12:25) as we care for fellow believers and receive care in return.
Consider the following reasons to become a member of your local church:
- Membership follows the New Testament pattern (Acts 2:37-47).
- It is inherent in the biblical metaphor of the body (1 Cor 12:12-31) and expresses your commitment to a local church (Heb 10:24-25)
- It demonstrates submission to your church’s elders (13:17) and aids them in shepherding the flock (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet 5:2-3).
- It is necessitated by the practice of church discipline (Matt 18:15-17) and clarifies the difference between believers and unbelievers.
- Membership is both a glorious privilege and a practical help.
Membership promotes unity: “There may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another” (1 Cor 12:25). Despite our differences, these relational commitments bring us together, for we cannot divide from those with whom we share the same heart. We care for every member of the body, whether strong or weak, honorable or dishonorable, prominent or hidden. Such care is not based on the merit of the recipient but on the loving example of Christ (1 John 4:19)—not merely emotional affection but rather intentional concern for our fellow believers. Member care means rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep (Rom 12:15). Churches that care well for one another will continue to grow in Christ-like unity.
Here are some ways to cultivate intentional member care in your local church:
- Identify those who are dealing with chronic illness or pain. Minister to them with home-cooked meals and baked goods, errands and grocery runs, or yard work and house cleaning. Remain sensitive to their privacy and insistent on your willingness to help.
- Organize the deacons into care teams who regularly call upon the elderly and homebound, then communicate any needs to the rest of the body. Coordinate with each ministry’s leaders to do the same.
- Take up the lost art of letter writing and send encouragement by snail mail. The homebound often have more time to read and re-read notes. Make care packages or drop off doorstep deliveries to cheer them up.
- Most importantly, continue to stir one another up to love and good deeds through the compelling truths of the gospel (Heb 10:24-25).
What are you doing to care for fellow members of the body personally? What examples of loving care have you received? Your consistent care for one another will reinforce your relational commitments and promote church unity.
Do Not Provoke or Envy One Another (Galatians 5:26)
The two “one another” prohibitions in Galatians 5:26 may be taken as a pair: “Let us not become conceited, [neither] provoking one another, [nor] envying one another.” Both stem from a heart of prideful conceit; therefore, the cure is Christ-like humility.
In the context of Galatians, the strong have provoked the weak by taking advantage of their Christian liberties. The weak have begun to envy the strong in their desire to live without a bound-up conscience. So the way to avoid extremes is found in verse 25, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.” Only the Holy Spirit of grace and truth will guide the church toward this gospel equilibrium.
Many Christians during the pandemic held strong views about masks and vaccines, lockdowns, and religious liberties. They disputed practical matters such as live streaming services or observing the sacraments of communion and baptism. Is it civil disobedience to worship in song or meet together if county health guidelines prohibit such actions? What about refusing to wear facial coverings when mandated by the government authorities (Rom 13:1-5)? Should churches cater to those with the most restrictive consciences or the most serious health concerns to keep them from stumbling (14:14-23; 1 Cor 8:1-13)? Many quickly became critical of how others spent their time in lockdown or the level of precautions we needed in society.
Consider then some additional questions the church must face for members who are homebound:
- Does active church membership require regular attendance during the Sunday gathering? Does online attendance “count” as meeting together with the church? How do we encourage the church to gather while also being sensitive to those with genuine health concerns or chronic pain?
- How do we help homebound members from becoming envious or bitter toward those in the gathered church? How do we help them guard their hearts when they feel less involved in worship and fellowship than others? Are we willing to “bring worship to them” with fellowship, songs of praise, and the ministry of the Word? Is it biblically allowable to serve communion to a homebound member outside of the regular worship service?
- What relational commitments does the gathered church have toward those who are homebound? For example, should we provide respite services so a caretaker can worship with the rest of the church? Do we spend time and effort transporting the elderly or disabled to and from the Sunday gathering? Should we reschedule evening meetings if certain members cannot safely drive at night?
- Although lockdowns and mandates have been lifted, many churches will continue to address differences regarding health precautions for years to come. Should vaccines be required for short-term mission teams? Are members expected to attend the Sunday gathering in seasons of sickness? When should symptoms compel us to exercise greater caution around others? Do we show disdain for those who either wear facial masks or those who do not? Our constantly differing views will require the church to labor for peace.
What matters of conscience do you wrestle with during this time? How can God’s Holy Spirit help you maintain gospel humility instead of provoking others or envying them?
Bear One Another’s Burdens (Galatians 6:2)
Christians are responsible for helping our fellow believers endure difficult trials. As Paul writes in Galatians 6:2, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” When others stagger beneath the trials of life, we come alongside them to support and assist. It would not be wise to take the entire load upon ourselves (v. 5), yet we can certainly help.
Bearing each other’s burdens involves more than a flippant, “I’ll pray for you.” Rather, we must uphold them in prayer as if we ourselves are in trouble. We feel their pain as members of one body; then, we help them find relief. Bearing their burdens also requires more than saying, “Let me know if you need something.” Instead, we demonstrate our willingness to help by actively and intentionally offering ideas that they can accept or decline: “Could I bring you a meal on Thursday? Please let us organize your rides to the hospital.” Prayer and acts of service go hand-in-hand (1 John 3:18).
The church must also learn to “help the weak” (1 Thess 5:14). Homebound members often face financial difficulties due to unemployment, medical bills, in-home services, or other expenses. So we can bear each other’s burdens by remaining sensitive to their needs. Many churches offer benevolence to shoulder the financial strain. Individuals or families might set aside funds in their monthly budget to bless fellow believers in need. Each month becomes an exciting adventure as we prayerfully seek God-given opportunities to bless one another.
Consider the following ideas:
- Pray that God will grant you regular opportunities to bear one another’s burdens. Begin setting aside funds each month for this very purpose.
- Identify fellow members in your church or small group who have financial needs. Sensitively assess the details of their need and whether they require temporary or long-term help.
- Cover certain costs for others as a one-time blessing (i.e., meals, rent, medical bills, etc.). Include words of gospel encouragement to lift their spirits as well.
- Give to your church’s benevolence fund to help cover short-term financial needs.
- Be sensitive when planning church events that require expense (i.e., conferences, retreats, outings, transportation). Make scholarships available in a way that does not embarrass those in need.
Which fellow believers in your life have burdens too heavy to bear alone? Identify one practical way you can step in to help. If you are the one bearing the heavy burden, how can you make this known to others? Are you humble enough to either give or receive assistance?
Do Not Lie to One Another (Colossians 3:9), but rather Speak the Truth in Love (Ephesians 4:25)
Paul grounds truth-telling in the church on the foundation of our Christian faith: “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices” (Col 3:9). First, Paul declares lying to be morally wrong (“Do not lie”)—a biblical imperative based on the Ten Commandments (Exod 20:16). Second, he defines honesty as a relational commitment (“to one another”), such that breaking this command will harm our fellow believers (Matt 22:39; John 15:17). Third, he insists that any false witness will tarnish our testimony as new creations in Christ Jesus (2 Cor 5:17; see John 8:44). Truth-telling is essential to who we are as Christians once we have “put off the old self” of our sinful nature and its deceptive practices.
During the pandemic, Christians often struggled to speak the truth with one another.
- Many in isolation were ensnared by secret sins or addictions. Others suffered alone or because of loneliness. So learn to be honest with others if you struggle with either sin or suffering issues. The body of Christ must care for each of its members but can only do so if its members are honest (Jas 5:16).
- The homebound are often out of mind because they are out of sight. They also don’t have natural means of communication with the other members of the body who are meeting in person. Some are embarrassed to speak the truth about their needs. So encourage your small group to adopt a homebound member (1 Cor 12:20-26). Together, you can minister to them regularly, share prayer requests, and convey any concerns to the leadership team.
- During the pandemic, many Christians left their churches over conscience issues (i.e., masks, vaccines, online worship) instead of displaying unity through open dialogue. Some spread misinformation to win arguments, while others chose not to engage because the issues were so polarizing. Tell one another if your conscience is bothering you about matters of worship or fellowship. Not everyone shares the same views or level of comfort, so practice healthy dialogue and “pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (Rom 14:19).
- Most importantly, speak the truth in love. Make sure that every word you speak reveals your new self in Christ and not your old self in the flesh. As Paul writes in Ephesians 4:15, “Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (see v. 25). The truth spoken in love builds a foundation of trust and promotes unity in the body of Christ. Truth without love can be harsh, whereas love without truth can be sentimental. Therefore, godly speech employs both to edify the hearer.
In these days of increased anxiety and discomfort, we rejoice as Christians become more truthful with one another. Although physically distant, members shared deeper prayer requests and their need for help. They grew in transparency with one another and their boldness as we speak the truth in love. In these times of concern, fellow believers can encourage us: “Don’t be anxious. Here’s how God has encouraged me during this time.” Thank the Lord as his church ministers the gospel to the needs of the moment.
Are you more likely to speak without truth or to speak without love? Confess any sin to those you may have hurt by your harmful speech. Then resolve from now on to only speak for the glory of Christ and the good of those who hear.
Be Kind to One Another (Ephesians 4:32)
Finally, “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Paul describes the kindness we must show to our fellow believers (Eph 4:32) with the same word that describes God’s kindness to sinners (Rom 2:4). Christian kindness is, therefore, a radical commitment to serve others like Christ sacrificed for us.
During the pandemic, we observed many neighbors in our community practice intentional acts of kindness. College students are offered free tutoring and yardwork. Groups organized to pick up trash and improve the streets. Strangers shared citrus fruit from their trees, extra toys for the kids, and even toilet paper (which had run in short supply). Neighbors often exchanged “Hello’s” as we went out for walks, though still maintaining a safe distance. The coronavirus seemed to increase our overall kindness to others.
Human kindness, however, only went so far. Many still uttered strong criticism of government authorities trying to the right the crisis. Others publicly complained about the efforts to house the homeless in our local parks and recreation centers. Some posted on social media about inconsiderate people they encountered while neglecting to mention the dozens of decent interactions. Community kindness, driven by self-effort and motivated by the common good, eventually falls short when we tire of serving others or when their good competes with ours.
Yet Christian kindness relies on Spirit-driven effort and extols the glory of God (Matt 5:16; Isa 43:7). Our love is rooted in God’s amazing love for us (Rom 5:8). Therefore, we show Christ-like kindness to fellow believers despite our different lifestyles, interests, and ways of thinking. We practice kindness even when our Christian siblings drive us crazy—not because they are worthy of our love, but because our heavenly Father first loved us (1 John 4:19).
Here are some ways you can practice kindness toward one another:
- Start praying for members in your local church whom you know the least and have little in common. As you pray, meditate on the commonalities you share in Christ.
- Continue to enjoy your unchurched neighbors and seek their welfare (Jer 29:7). Even worldly kindness can dimly reflect God’s abundant kindness to his children.
- Certain parts of the world continue to face harsh lockdowns such that the very old and the very young cannot even leave their homes. For example, even as western societies open up, many in Asia are starving for lack of food. Christians in the U.S. have arranged to deliver groceries at ten or twenty times the usual cost. You can also give to charitable Christian organizations positioned to minister both material aid and the gospel.
- Go out of your way to practice one act of kindness every day.
The past two years have taught the church different ways to minister to the homebound. What have you learned, and how have you grown? What can we carry with us as Christ’s church continues to advance?