Visiting the Sick

“Miserable comforters are you all,” said Job to his friends, and sometimes we are too. When visiting the sick we must guard our tongues. Many patients have had to endure well meaning visitors describing horrible tragedies of people who have had the same procedure as the patient, died after undergoing the same treatment, or died through neglect of the hospital. We should not compare medical war stories. We may make a patient fearful and even impede their recovery by our “comforting words.”

© BrokenSphere / Wikimedia Commons

 

When we visit the sick we should make our visits brief and speak softly.  We should not overwhelm the patient with many visitors at once, but wait if there are several others already in the room.  If there are other sick people in the room, we should be considerate of them.  We should listen to the patient and offer words of comfort. We must not depress them.

One doctor noted that we “should not reveal negative emotional reactions through voice, countenance or manner.  The patient may want to show his wound or a bottle of gallstones.  Sometimes the patient may be in a pitiful condition, or the odor in the room may be so disagreeable as to make the visit an unpleasant task.  Remember that the patient, if conscious, is humiliated about his own condition and aware of the burden he is placing on others” (from Wayne Emmons).

Showing the Love of Christ by Hospitality

1 Peter 4:8-9  “And above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins.’ Be hospitable to one another without grumbling.” 

The early church had the love and togetherness of a stable family.  In Acts 2, we read that the brethren willingly shared their possessions with those in need and ate food together with gladness and simplicity of heart.  Nowhere did God command the church to provide a meal for brethren to use for fellowship.  In fact, Paul rebukes the church in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 11:22 by saying, “What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in?” We do not read of New Testament churches building “fellowship halls” but instead shared social fellowship on an individual basis.

The New Testament writers urged brethren to show hospitality towards one another.  The word “hospitality” literally means a “love of strangers.”  In the Old Testament there were laws regulating the treatment of strangers.  For example, Deuteronomy 10:18-19 commands: “He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing. Therefore love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”   Before the Law, Abraham and Lot fed and sheltered strangers (Genesis 18, 19).  These men entertained angels unknowingly, Hebrews 13:2.  From the beginning, hospitality has been a virtue desired by God.

The New Testament urges us to be “given to hospitality,” Romans 12:13.  The word translated “given” literally means to pursue.  We must pursue opportunities to show hospitality.  We must also recognize that many of our brethren, whom we see week after week, are still in many ways strangers to us.  We may not know where they live, what their hobbies are, their likes and dislikes.  When we enter their homes and they enter ours, they see what is important to us by our collections, our pictures, and our possessions.  Sometimes I have learned that a brother and I have similar interests and hobbies when visiting with them.  When we open our houses and our lives to our brethren, we will develop deeper friendships and brotherly love.

When we share together, we learn some needs that our brethren have.  Going “house to house” is one of the best ways to develop a close relationship with his brethren.
Hospitality should extend beyond a close circle of friends.  It is easy to have people into our homes on a regular basis whose company we already enjoy, and this should not neglected.  However, the transformed life extends hospitality beyond those friends.  Consider Jesus’ admonition in Luke 14:12-14 to not invite those who can repay us back with a meal but invite those who most need it.  Their primary need might not be food but companionship.  Consider also this sober lesson from our Lord:

Matthew 5:46-47: “For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so?”

Christians must be willing to receive hospitality.  When a brother invites us into his home, we should be thankful and, if possible, accept that invitation.  Some people have a hard time accepting hospitality but we help other Christians fulfill their duty by allowing them to show their love towards us.  Just as we should graciously accept when they want to wash our clothes, mow our lawn, bring us food and other types of service when we are sick or otherwise in need, we must willingly receive hospitality. Some have such pride that would refuse the offers of kind brethren. We need to humble ourselves and allow them to fulfill their duty.  We will have a chance to repay hospitality and service shown to us by serving others.

Comforting the Grieving

Most of us have great difficulty when visiting the bereaved at their home or the funeral home.  After all, so great a tragedy has taken place, what can we do?  We feel helpless when trying to comfort the bereaved.

We must first remember to help the living.  We should show our brethren that we are concerned about them.  We can show our concern by visiting them, but also taking food to the family, washing clothes, preparing the clothes for the family to wear to the funeral, assisting with children, and other needful things.

We must also be mindful of our words.  We must remember that no word or phrase that will completely calm the mourner.  Note some phrases intended for comfort that can sometimes hurt:

  • “Time heals all wounds.”  Who wants to forget their loved one who has died?  Of course, things will get easier in time, but now it is not comforting.
  • “After a while you will forget.”  Again, who wants to forget their loved ones?
  • “He/She would have wanted you to…”  No one knows what a person would have truly wanted at such a time.  It is an empty and speculative phrase.
  • “What a great loss you have suffered.”  Pretty obvious statement.
  • (Unborn child) “At least it happened before the baby was born.”  (Someone really said to a friend of mine.)  The parents build a bond with a child even before the child is born.  It is no easier to lose a child in the first few months than it is after the child is born.

Perhaps the best thing that we can do during the time of grief is to say nothing.  A warm hug and a sympathetic ear are often the best comfort we can provide.  It is good to recall the deeds and the personal memories of the deceased.  It can comfort the living to know that their loved one meant so much to others.

“Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” –Matthew 25:44-46

Genuine Love vs. Affection

1 John 3:16-18:  “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.”

True love between brethren is expressed in actions.  Our love is not to be in what we say but what we do.  Love only expressed in word is of little value.  How can we love in word only?  Is our only interaction with fellow Christians at the worship service?  Perhaps we say we love others because we know that we are supposed to but, if our hearts were truly examined, would we only find affection, not true love?  Love that is in word requires no sacrifice of self, time, or money, demands no action, has no risk of being hurt, and needs no deep involvement with others.

Love that is in deed and truth, true love for our brethren, is on a higher level.  It requires action on our part, a show of love.  Christ showed His love, not by shouting His love from heaven, but by dying on the cross.  We show our love by our willingness to die for our brethren.  We may say that we have this love but we must demonstrate it.  Consider John’s example:  If you say that you would lay your life down for your brethren but you will not give of your possessions to help your needy brother, how does the love of God abide in you?  What a profound question!  When we think we love our brethren as Christ loved us, we must immediately ask how the love of God abides in us.  We must prove it.

John pictures a brother in need and a fellow Christian locking up his possessions by first locking up his heart.  If his heart is not with his brother, the resources he has to fill his needs will not be given.  Let us not be narrow regarding the needs of the brother.  Perhaps the brother has emotional needs; do we lock up friendship, a word of comfort, or a sympathetic ear?  If our brother has spiritual needs, do we lock up a gentle rebuke, exhortation from Gods’ word, or a prayer?  Maybe the brother does need our worldly goods: a car ride to church or to the doctor, a meal in a time of sickness or bereavement, or financial help.  We must unlock our possessions, time, and even our selves and help our brethren.  According to Paul, that is why we work: “Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need,” Ephesians 4:28 (emphasis mine-rfd).

Respecting A Brother’s Conscience

When I love my brethren as Christ loved me, I will not do anything that might cause them to stumble and be lost.  To accomplish this we must have true love for our brethren, forbearance, longsuffering, and patience developed in our lives.  Though it is difficult, I may have to refrain from doing something that I know is not condemned in the presence of a brother who, because he does not have knowledge, would be offended.

Consider the issue of eating meat offered to idols in 1 Corinthians 8:1-13.  The issue was not whether it was right to eat meat offered to idols or not; eating meat was not condemned.  The real issue was that if I have a brother in Christ who does think it is wrong to eat meat offered to idols and I, knowing this, eat meat that is offered to idols (since I know that it is not condemned), that I may encourage my brother to eat in violation of his conscience.  I have used my liberty to cause my brother to stumble.

It is not wrong for me to eat meat that has been offered to idols, but my brother who does not have this knowledge, if he eats, will be condemned because he has violated what he believes to be commanded by God.  I must not put my brethren into that situation.  Note the strong language of Paul in verse 12:  “But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.”  When doing something that is not wrong, but doing it in the wrong circumstance, I sin against my brethren and Christ.  My brother and I may be lost through my knowledge!

Paul’s solution to the problem is if an action will cause my weak brother to stumble, I will not do it.  My brother’s conscience is more important than food or anything else that would make him stumble.  This sacrifice is a practical application of bearing with one another.