Have you ever known a family who has learned that it will soon welcome a child with special needs? It could be that prenatal testing has shown a developmental abnormality or it could be that they have deliberately chosen to adopt a child with disabilities. But either way, the family will necessarily undergo a time of preparation as they ready themselves for the inevitable special challenges to come. They will prepare their home, they will prepare their community, they will prepare themselves.
And when the day comes that the child arrives, you may observe that the entire family begins to accommodate themselves to her weaknesses. Not just over the course of her early days but over the entire duration of her life, they give her their help. If she cannot see, they become her eyes; if she cannot hear, they learn to sign; if she cannot walk, they carry her from place to place; if she cannot make decisions on her own, they make them lovingly on her behalf.
You may observe as well that there is a special kind of love given to this one child. The other children in the family may love one another, but each of them has a special affection for this sister. The mother loves all of her children equally, yet there is a special tenderness for this one who is especially needy. The father makes accommodation for all of his children in his final will and testament, but ensures special provision has been made for her. No one else is so well loved, so safely protected. Her weakness is actually her strength for it draws to her the love and help of the entire household.
The Bible refers to the church as “the household of God.” As we come to Christ we form a kind of family in which God is our father and Christ our elder brother. We are to relate to one another as fathers to sons, mothers to daughters, siblings to siblings. We are to feel and express the kind of love, care, and affection for one another that is usually reserved for members of the same family.
Within every church there will be some who are especially weak. They may be physically weak, marked by some kind of a severe bodily disability. They may be intellectually weak, having some kind of significant mental disability. They may be emotionally weak, grappling with an advanced mental illness. They may be weak in any other number of ways, perhaps through the effects of childhood neglect, or the consequences of a lifetime of making poor decisions, or the infirmities of old age. Or maybe even just through spiritual immaturity.
Regardless of the cause or degree of the weakness, these are the ones who are to be the special objects of our love, protection, and affection. These are the ones we must accept as a special gift of God to the church. It is to the weakest that we owe the greatest honor, to the frailest that we owe the greatest allegiance, to the ones most likely to be overlooked that we owe the greatest attention. The Apostle Paul switches to a different metaphor to explain that “the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require.” God has deliberately composed the human body and Christ’s body alike so that we are to give “greater honor to the part that lacked it” (1 Corinthians 12:22–24).
And so, as we relate to those who are weak, we are to ensure they do not draw our censure, our criticism, or our condemnation, all of which flow so naturally from our sinful hearts. We are to ensure we do not regard them as a trial, burden, or embarrassment. Rather, we are to accept them as a precious gift of God and to treat them with compassion, concern, and special affection. Their frailty is to be met with sympathy, their inability is to draw the love and help of Christ’s whole family. Their weakness is to be their strength as it draws the love and care of the entire household.
Inspired by J.R. Miller