Bearing Each Other's Burdens (Galatians 6:2)
Topic: One Body: Love One Another Passage: Galatians 6:2
I. Are You Resolute?
Some of you are annual resolution makers. Some of you roll your eyes at the mention of New Year's resolutions. And some of you drift back and forth between these two positions, moved here and there by the circumstances of that previous year. Whatever your feelings about New Year's resolutions, think for a minute about the word itself. A resolution is the product of “resolve”, and to resolve means “to decide firmly on a course of action”.
Whether it be at the beginning of a new year, or in the middle, or at anytime throughout, I would hope that every follower of Jesus Christ would “decide firmly on a course of action”, specifically, to glorify God, to honor God, at all times and in every way according to God's revealed word. As we step into 2022, are you resolute in regard to Christ's “course of action”?
If you are, I'd like you to consider with me the “course of action” to which God is calling us this morning. We find that course spelled out in a verse from Our Bible Reading Plan, Galatians chapter 6, verse 2.
II. The Passage: “And So Fulfill the Law of Christ” (6:2)
Let's look at that verse together. The Apostle Paul writes this to his fellow believers (these were most likely converts from his first missionary journey in Acts 13-14). He writes....
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
Now take a moment to consider how that verse 'lands' in regard to your own heart this morning; in regard to your own thoughts, your own experiences, your own practice, your own needs... maybe your own fears. Listen to it again...
But as is always the case, we need to make sure we understand what Paul is saying here. And we do that by considering this verse in its context. Let's use three of the words in this verse as stepping off points for exploring the context of chapter 6. First, think with me about the word...
For anyone reading Galatians from start to finish, the word “law” here should set off alarm bells. Why? Because the whole letter has been focused on the danger of Christians submitting themselves to the Mosaic (OT) Law in order to supposedly gain a firm footing of righteousness before God. It seems that certain Jewish-Christian teachers had come into these churches and were teaching these young believers something like, “If you want to be a true Christian, you must first become a true Jew”, and that means being circumcised.
What's wrong with this thinking? Paul sums up the danger of this teaching at the beginning of the previous chapter. Look back at Galatians 5:2–4...
Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you.  I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.  You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.
This is why he tells them in verse of chapter 5, “do not submit again to a yoke of slavery”. And it's that legalistic mindset that shapes the very thing Paul is arguing against in 6:2. Look back at our main passage and think about the mindset Paul is trying to correct or guard against when he calls them to “bear one another's burdens”.
We discover the answer to that question in verses 3-5 of chapter 6...
For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.  But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor.  For each will have to bear his own load.
Instead of bearing each other's burdens, it seems that many in this church were being tempted to judge each other's burdens; and in so doing, elevate themselves over one another. This is why Paul calls them to test their own faith and practice, rather than inspecting others with a prideful attitude. As chapter five revealed, many in these Galatian churches were “bit[ing] and devour[ing] one another” (5:15), and things like “enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, [and] envy” seem to have been prevalent (5:20). Thus Paul's final command of chapter 5 is not surprising (5:26)... Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. This leads to a second word to consider from 6:2, the word...
What does Paul mean by that word when he calls them to “bear one another's burdens”? Well, notice the context. Verse 1 provides the setting:
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.
Clearly, what Paul has in mind when he talks about “burdens” here are the struggles of fellow believers, specifically their struggles with sin... “if anyone is caught (lit. overtaken) in any transgression”, brothers and sisters should restore this believer in a “spirit of gentleness”.
Verse 1 then helps us better understand verses 3-5. Instead of restoring wayward brothers and sisters, some were simply condemning others because of their sin. They were using the law of Moses to reject, rather than guide and encourage others. This is why Paul warned them to guard their own hearts in such situations: (v. 1) ...restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. How tempting it can be for any of us to look down on a brother or sister instead of trying to lift them up.
But notice how Paul points them back to Christ in Galatians 6:2. It's that focus that brings us to a final word...
I think most of us recognize that the word “bear” in verse 2 has the sense of helping someone else to shoulder a heavy weight. But since we're not talking about a literal burden (like a heavy bag of grain or a millstone), what exactly does Paul have in mind here?
I believe that question brings us right back to the very first word we considered from Galatians 6:2... the word “law”. When Paul mentions the law in verse 2, he's not talking about the law of Moses per se. No. He's clear about what he means, isn't he? He's referring to “the law of Christ”. In fact, when we bear one another's burdens, we are actually fulfilling the “law of Christ”.
What is this “law of Christ”? I believe Paul explained this in the previous chapter, in another passage where he talks about both fulfilling and law. Look back at Galatians 5:13–14...
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.  For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
So “the law of Christ” is the essence of God's law that Jesus taught when asked about the greatest commandment (Matt. 22), and when Jesus taught his followers a new commandment to love one another (John 13). It's the law that Jesus himself lived by in each and every situation. Paul actually drives home the importance of this love earlier chapter 5. Look at 5:6...
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
So bearing each other's burdens means serving one another in love, and specifically in this passage, it means (6:1) serving a brother or sister by restoring a struggling sinner in a “spirit of gentleness”. That is the “spiritual” response. Now it's helpful to note that the word “spiritual” in verse 1 should be understood as meaning something like “of the spirit”; that is, “you who are of the Spirit”. That fits perfectly with the emphasis on the Holy Spirit throughout the previous chapter, where Paul talks about walking by the Spirit, being led by the Spirit, the fruit of the Spirit, living by the Spirit, and keeping in step with the Spirit.
Therefore, if the “fruit” or manifestation of the Holy Spirit in and through you is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22–23), then of course you will seek to patiently restore a struggling sinner in gentleness, which again, is a fulfillment of the law of Christ... the law of love.
So let me try to summarize Paul's teaching here, God's inspired word here, with a simple statement:
To bear one another's burdens as followers of Christ means helping, in love, to shoulder the weight of any struggle that might hinder our brother or sister's personal faith, and possibly the faithfulness of the church.
Brothers and sisters, Galatians 6:2 provides us with a course of action, doesn't it?
The question before us, before you is this: are we... are you... resolute? To glorify God, to honor God by bearing one another's burdens? Three months ago we relaunched Way of Grace with a vision to simply be the church; to do less better by emphasizing what matters most; to commit ourselves on Sunday mornings to both shared worship and life groups. And I believe God has been blessing those efforts. As the Spirit has worked through those efforts, I've witnessed the very thing we've talked about this morning: believers bearing one another's burdens.
But as we begin a new year, it's so important we recommit ourselves to that focus. So how can we as WoG honor God through the bearing of another's burdens? Some practical steps forward:
First, we need to ask God for a Spirit-empowered sensitivity to one another. The goal is to be attentive to one another's needs; to be watchful as we get to know one another better; to better sense when someone is struggling, and to cultivate a climate in our fellowship where people can talk about their burdens. Is that your prayer when you gather with God's people? How might you work for change where there are impediments to this, among us or within you?
Second, by God's grace, we need to make sure we are in proximity to one another. We cannot help shoulder a burden, and we cannot receive help with a burden, if we are not with one another in any kind of meaningful way. Can this happen within a life group? Absolutely. Can the life group help us nurture the kind of familiarity that leads to co-burden-bearing? Absolutely. If before/after shared worship or in a life group you sense someone is struggling, why not pursue proximity. Invite a brother or sister out for coffee or plan a phone call. Let's pursue proximity.
Finally, third, we need to walk with one another in gospel-inspired humility. A key concern for Paul in this passage is the kind of pride to which legalism tempts us. In contrast, the gospel should inspire humility in us. Though we deserve the condemnation of hell, through Jesus, we're freely offered the love of heaven. And we do nothing to achieve this except trusting that Jesus did it all. As we have been loved so well, we should love well. Again, all of us can be tempted to look down on someone struggling, rather than seeking to lift them up. We roll our eyes, we label things 'drama', we minimize hurts, we deem certain burdens not worth our time, or we write people off as 'un-help-able'. But praise God we don't receive the same response from Jesus!
That should humble us. And that gospel-inspired humility informs our sensitivity, which motivates us to pursue proximity. And as we help shoulder the weight of another's struggle through our presence and prayers, through counsel and confidence, we are trusting God for the strength and wisdom we need to truly be the blessing that brother or sister needs. Sometimes burden bearing simply means a willingness to listen to someone who's struggling.
Allow me to share a final thought. Did you notice what Paul said in 6:5? He says something unusual in a passage where he just called his readers to bear one another's burdens. He said, “...Each one will have to bear his own load.” What does that mean? It means that the struggling brother or sister we are often tempted to judge is not accountable to us. He or she is account-able to God... just as you and I are accountable to God... accountable for how we respond to a brother or sister who is weighed down by the burden of sin or suffering. There will be no finger pointing when we stand before Jesus. “For each one will have to bear his own load.”
Brothers and sisters, may God sober us in light of that accountability, but also inspire us in light of Christ's love. And as a result, may we love one another as Christ has loved us, so that we might bless one another, and even draw in those being crushed all around us by the burdens of sin, suffering, and separation from God. For our faith is not in ourselves, but in him who bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. (I Pet. 2:24)
More in Our Bible Reading Plan (2021-2022)
October 2, 2022Visions of Jesus (Revelation 19:9-10)
September 25, 2022Why Justice is Worth Singing About (Revelation 15)
September 18, 2022How to Conquer the Dragon (Revelation 12:11)