“Bear ye one another’s burdens.” — Galatians 6:2a
For the sake of our readers who may not be acquainted with our Conference and its polity, the purposes of its Committee on Missions (according to its Constitution, Article IX, 3) include (among others) the following:
- To review the mission opportunities which are brought to its attention and to seek out further opportunities for extending God’s Kingdom.
- To advise new missions of our fellowship which seek their advice as to the calling of available missionaries and as to other matters pertaining to a new congregation.
- To survey the field and general circumstances of congregations requesting financial subsidy from the Conference and to make recommendation regarding such requests to the Conference at its conventions, with the view both to assisting truly needy congregations and also to using the Conference treasury in the wisest way for the extension of the Savior’s Kingdom. Requests for subsidy, in order to be included in convention business, shall ordinarily be submitted through the Committee on Missions at least four (4) months before the end of each fiscal year [i.e. before May 31st].
Historically, since its founding in 1951 as the Orthodox Lutheran Conference and since it reorganization in 1956 as the Concordia Lutheran Conference and up to 1983, the Committee on Missions had been involved with “home missions” rather than “foreign missions.” Thus it had dealt chiefly with local congregations stateside which were and are in need of logistical and financial aid, particularly for the specific purpose of supporting their respective pastors according to God’s ordinance “that they which preach the Gospel should live [that is, have their living] of the Gospel” (I Corinthians 9:14) and not be engaged in secular work for the provision of their families. Then, for several years in the mid-eighties, the Conference subsidized a member-congregation in Brisbane, Australia, whose pastor was a graduate of our seminary; but, due to difficulties encountered in his ultimate migration to Australia, the congregation tired of the complications and dissolved in December of 1985. It was not until the turn of the century that our Conference once again became involved in “foreign” mission work, when a pastor and his congregation in Ekaterinburg, Russia, joined our fellowship and availed itself of offered financial subsidy. By God’s grace, that congregation has “continued with us” (I John 2:19); and its pastor is able to “make full proof of [his] ministry” (II Timothy 4:5) unencumbered with secular employment.
Then, when the Fellowship of Lutheran Congregations (1979-2004) corporately merged with our Conference in June, 2004, our fellowship grew to encompass not only the stateside congregations of the former F.L.C. but also the congregations of the Fellowship of Lutheran Congregations in Nigeria (F.L.C.N.), though they maintained their organizational identity in Africa. While the Nigerian congregations have not applied to our Conference for regular financial subsidy, we continue, through our Committee on Missions, to render to these dear brethren other support as requested (books, supplies, Bibles printed in their indigenous Kalabari language, and so on); and our congregations have, individually and collectively, contributed funds to help relieve special financial burdens of various kinds, including the health care needs of some of the pastors and growing indebtedness which, in their economy and because of their great poverty, is increasingly prevalent (cf. the situation of the Macedonian Christians in the early church, II Corinthians 8:2, etc.). We, of course, stand ready, by the grace of God, to do everything possible to continue to help them, motivated by the grace and love of our Savior (II Corinthians 5:14; 8:9; I John 3:16; etc.) to bear not only our own but also their burdens (cf. Galatians 6:2a, our title-text above).
It is perhaps an overworked adage that “I complained I had no shoes ‘til I met a man who had no feet;” but to a certain extent the truth embodied in those words is a hard pill to swallow for our self-absorbed and self-defensive sinful flesh. It’s not so much that we tend to overlook the disparity that exists between people as to their advantages and disadvantages, but we are inclined in our Old Adam to resent the fact that the disparity is sometimes shoved in front of us by the urgency of the moment and makes us feel guilty of being insensitive and unsympathetic to the plight of the less fortunate. We tend to bristle when people speak of all Americans as being “rich” just because we have a median income far and away higher than people in any other so-called “developed” country — just because we have a “disposable” income with which to purchase non-essential “comfort items;” just because many of us own two cars and perhaps even a “recreational vehicle” besides; just because we have a savings account, several CD’s, a stock portfolio, and a 401K; just because we have the latest electronic gadgets and games, I-phones and -pads, and pricey data-plans. While not all of us may have all such things, they are not at all uncommon among us. We cannot deny that, generally-speaking, we have, by virtue of God’s gracious providence, “all that we need to support this body and life” (Luther, First Article) and certainly more than mere “food and raiment” (I Timothy 6:8).
In this “information age,” it is certainly not difficult (and may take only a very few minutes) to “search” the Web for information about the both the “mean” (average) and “median” (mid-point) of the standard of living “enjoyed” by our Russian and Nigerian brethren — about their housing, their diet, their wardrobe, their income, their healthcare, their personal transportation, their “electronics,” their creature-comforts — you know, their “life” (Matthew 6:25) of temporal advantages. And it may well surprise you (as it always surprises your writer) how much we have that we take for granted as being “necessities” for our life but that many around the world only dream about. The fact that, even in our sluggish economy, most of us enjoy so much lays upon us Christians in particular a very specific responsibility according to God’s Word when it comes to our relationship with those less fortunate: “Whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” (I John 3:17). The compassionate love of God toward us in giving His only-begotten Son to the world of sinners, who “became poor” in His state of humiliation, “that we through His poverty might be rich” (II Corinthians 8:9) should “constrain us” (II Corinthians 5:14) to be “likeminded one toward another” (Romans 15:5) as the fruit of our faith in Him, as evidence that God’s love dwells in us.
“Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ,” Paul instructs us in our title-text. Mere “talk” doesn’t “cut it,” as we say. And the Apostle John, not unsurprisingly, says the same thing in almost the same words: “My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth” (I John 3:18). Indeed, the Apostle James echoes the expression common in our day, “Talk is cheap,” when he writes: “If a brother or sister be naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, ‘Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled’ [‘Have a nice day!’], notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body, what doth it profit?” [What good does all that talk do for him?] (James 2:15-16).
These exhortations of the Lord through His apostles do not apply merely to our budgetary considerations as a Conference when we determine and decide at our annual conventions what we, as an organization, can “afford” to authorize as financial subsidies. They apply to each of us individually, as we review, consider, and decide upon our offerings for mission work — both for “home missions” as we seek to bear the burdens of our brethren stateside whose congregations are extremely small and yet who seek under God to support the ministry of Word and Sacrament in their midst as the Lord Himself has commanded (I Corinthians 9:14) — and for “foreign missions” as we seek to bear the burdens of brethren in far off lands who are in desperate need of our assistance in so many ways.
By the grace of God, the poor Macedonians contributed richly out of their great poverty for the relief of the impoverished saints in Jerusalem. St. Paul writes concerning them as an example to the Corinthians and to us: “Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia, how that, in a great trial of affliction, the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality. For to their power [to the best of their ability], I bear record, yea, and beyond their power [more than their ability] they were willing of themselves, praying us with much intreaty that we would receive the gift and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints (I Corinthians 8:1-4). Moreover, Paul, in urging the Corinthians as well to contribute to that effort, sets before them a most wonderful truth and promise concerning God’s ability, according to the riches of His grace, to make sure that they would not “go broke” because of their abundant support of their impoverished brethren but would have sufficient to take care of their own needs and also to bear the burdens of others: “God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work” (II Corinthians 9:8). To those who put His kingdom first in their lives (Matthew 6:33) and give evidence of the sincerity of their love (II Corinthian 8:8) by making sure that there is food on His table, as it were, and not worrying about their own needs, He challenges them to test Him concerning the limitless blessings He will provide, saying: “‘Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in Mine house; and prove me now herewith,’ saith the LORD of hosts, ‘if I will not open you the windows of heaven and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it” (Malachi 3:10).
Therefore, concerning the financial subsidy of our Conference granted to two stateside congregations and to our congregation-in-fellowship in Ekaterinburg, Russia, as well as our readiness, at their request, to help as possible also our dear brethren in Nigeria, your Committee on Missions leaves you, our readers, with the “mission” of our title-text, namely, “Bear ye one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2a). And, as you continue generously to support the work of the Lord’s kingdom at large by contributing to the General Fund of the Conference for all of the other endeavors in which it engages (the publishing of books, periodicals, tracts and Sunday School materials, the theological training of future pastors, Lutheran union activities, etc.) that, concerning mission work in particular, “as ye abound in everything, in faith, and utterance, and knowledge, and in all diligence, and in your love to us, see that ye abound in this grace also” (II Corinthians 8:7), “not by commandment, but to prove the sincerity of your love; for ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich” (vv. 8 and 9).
— Pastor David T. Mensing, Chairman
Committee on Missions