Galatians 6:2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (NKJV)
The Apostle Paul was a master teacher, not only plumbing the depths of theology and doctrine, but also laying out for us practical, simple ways to live the Christian life. In Galatians, chapter six, Paul finishes up his letter with a burst of practical commands on daily living. In this series, “Practical Paul”, we will cover several aspects of how to live the Christian life that does not involve an understanding of doctrine, or the interpretation of difficult Bible verses. They are simply basic commands on how to live out our faith in a way that is pleasing to God. Let’s review the series so far:
- Restoration – (v. 1) Paul commands: “If you discover a fellow Christian who is caught up in sinful behavior, the spiritually mature Believers should gently confront them with the idea of restoring their relationship with God, and their place in the Body of Christ; but be careful and alert when you do deal with the sin, so that you will not be tempted to sin yourself in some way, whether in attitude or action.” Christians are to watch out for each other, and when one of us falls into sin, the goal is to restore the sinner’s relationship and fellowship both with God and their fellow Christians. It involves judgement, discipline, confrontation and accountability (Matt 18:15-17), but the goal and motive is love and restoration of relationships.
Bearing Each Other’s Burdens
Galatians 6:2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (NKJV)
Paul continues in verse 2 of Galatians 6 telling us to “bear one another’s burdens” which has an interesting and curious reward… it “fulfills the law of Christ”. That’s quite a promise. Have you ever wondered what it means? First, what exactly are these “burdens” and what does it mean to bear them? In context, burdens are:
- Something oppressive or worrisome
- Heaviness or excessive troubles
- Hardship or tremendous weight
It implies situations or circumstances which are beyond the normal responsibilities that come with taking care of your every day life. “Normal” responsibilities, for example, would be: work, cleaning the house, taking care of kids, paying the bills, etc. Later in verse 5, the word “load” refers to these everyday normal types of responsibilities and we’ll talk more about that when we get to that verse.
“Burdens” here are out-of-the-ordinary, excessive and particularly hard circumstances that need the extra support and help that fellow Christians can provide whether physical, financial or emotional. I have written several times about Mary Brownlee and her family. She has five small children and has been battling cancer for years. During that time, not only has the family had to face the prospect of losing both Mom and wife, they have had to deal with the burden of constantly living in hospitals and doctor’s offices, bearing the difficulties of extraordinary amounts of drugs and treatments… and that’s not to mention the physical pain and discomfort, as well as the crippling financial burden of fighting cancer for years on end. Mary is now very quickly nearing the end of this battle and it is clear that short of a truly miraculous intervention by the Lord (and I say “truly miraculous” because of how carelessly we throw around the word ‘miracle’ today) she will have her heavenly homecoming in the very near future. While we all rejoice that she will be freed finally from this trial, we also are mindful of the burden the family is bearing, and that Earl and the children will continue to bear for years to come.
This is truly an example of a “burden” in the context of Paul’s command. Mary and her family continue to face something that is extremely oppressive and worrisome, that is unthinkably heavy and filled with troubles, and represents a hardship that few of us will ever be able to comprehend. Thus, we are commanded as Christians to help bear these types of burdens when members of our Christian family are afflicted with suffering. What does it mean to “bear” a burden? It means to:
- Carry something for someone
- To take away
- To put upon our shoulders
- To relieve another of some weight
- To sustain, uphold or support
So it goes much further than simple sympathy or just a quick token of help. It is much more than “I’ll be praying for you” which we often say to make ourselves feel better but have no real intention of actual doing (or maybe we do intend to but don’t take the steps necessary to see it through). Sometimes we use “I’ll pray for you” as a reason not to do something harder, like taking time or giving money. I understand that prayer is important, prayer is powerful and prayer is commanded… but let’s be honest that sometimes its easier to say we’ll pray for someone than it is to stop and take time and money from our own lives to help someone.
Sometimes its easier to say “I’ll pray for you” than it is to
actually give up time or money to help someone.
The idea of “bearing” in this verse implies the removing of the burden, in part or whole, from the person who is burdened, and taking on that burden yourself. So if the burden is financial, it means relieving it with our money. If the burden is physical, it means using our hands, feet and strength to bear it for them. If the burden is emotional, it means redirecting our time and attention from what we desire, to give that emotional energy in a way to help bear and relieve the burden.
Sometimes bearing that burden comes in conjunction with forgiving someone. The act of forgiveness is much like bearing a burden. We take the pain and consquences of the offense (a burden to the offender) and we choose to take it on our shoulders. We bear the burden of the consequences (material and/or emotional) thus relieving the offender of the burden. For example, recently I was in a situation where someone I do business with found out that a previous employee had stolen a very large sum of money from the company. My friend, the business owner and a Christian, decided to act on Galatians 6:1 and chose to pursue a course of “gentle restoration” of this ex-employee who was also publicly professing believer. In choosing “gentle restoration” over prosecution, revenge or retaliation, my business friend chose to bear the burden of the offense, thus relieving the offender of the weight of the guilt and possible consequences that stemmed from the sin he had committed (to clarify, the offender made financial restitution of his own free will; the burden that was lifted was the consequence of prosecution and the potential harm to his job and family).
In that particular case, forgiveness was extended, gentle restoration was pursued and the bearing of a burden also took place. That is REAL Christianity in action from a person who had been legitimately and seriously harmed by another Christian. The burden in that case was a deserved burden of the sinner’s own doing but another Christian still had the opportunity to help if the Lord leads.
Whatever the cause, the idea here is that we need to help each other when burdens of an unusual or extraordinary nature come upon another Christian. In doing so we “fulfill the law of Christ”, which is:
Luke 10:26-27 – He said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” So he answered and said, “ ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’” (NKJV)
How do you keep this command from Jesus to love God and love you neighbor? Paul tells us in very easy to understand and practical terms that when we help each other, specifically when we bear the burdens of others, we are fulfilling what is “written in the law”. The difference between Christianity and the world can be summed up as “self or others”. The world encourages us to be “self” concerned (self esteem, self love, self achievement, self development) while the essences of Christianity is to learn to look past “self”, deny “self” and put “others” first (God, other Christians, family, friends, those in need, etc.).
Yeah, but doesn’t the end of verse 27 (Luke 10) say “love your neighbor as yourself”? Doesn’t that imply that we are supposed to learn to love ourselves? No…. it implies that we already DO love ourselves (the natural selfish tendency of all humans), and that if we should learn to love others the way we already naturally love ourselves (even those who claim to not like themselves are actually still practicing self love because they are focused on themselves, even in a negative way; but that’s a whole entire other message…).
Bearing the burdens of our fellow Christians is an act of love that fulfills Jesus’ command to love God and love your neighbor (others in need). That’s a pretty exciting, tangible and fulfilling reward from a command that is very easy to understand: bear the burdens of your fellow Christians, and you will be keep Jesus’ command to love God and love your neighbor.
Nice and simple… the way I like it.
Lord God, help us to learn to share each others burdens and fulfill Your command to love You with our whole heart and love our neighbors as ourselves. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Application: Bearing the burdens of our fellow Christians is an act of love that fulfills Jesus command to love God and love your neighbor (others in need). That’s a pretty exciting, tangible and fulfilling reward from a command that is very easy to understand: bear the burdens of your fellow Christians, and you will be keep Jesus’ command to love God and love your neighbor.
James 1:22 – But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (NKJV)
- What is the most obvious Bible truth you have learned today?
- What change in your life needs to be made concerning this truth?
- What specific thing will you do today to begin that change?