As brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to do what we can to bear one another’s burdens to help us all get through our challenges and to face our difficulties.

When we see someone struggling, we must be bold enough to ask that person how we can help.

When we work together as a Body in this way, needs will be addressed and met, and people will be encouraged.

If you’re feeling burdened today, remember the invitation Jesus gives in Matthew 11:28-30 is still offered today.

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

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Our Worship series for the first two months of 2020 is about Creating and Strengthening Community.  That’s the goal and purpose of the “One Another” passages we’re hearing from the New Testament.

When Christ followers are committed to living out the “one anothers” in community—as we are addressing one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs in worship, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ, outdoing one another in showing honor, living in harmony with one another, loving one another with mutual affection, welcoming and being hospitable to one another—relationships are created, strengthened, deepened, and reflect the Spirit of Christ.

Those outside of the family of faith are drawn to the love and depth they see.

When people who claim to be Christian don’t do these things, people are hurt, and the witness of the Church to the world is harmed.

In the final two chapters of Paul’s letter to the Galatians he writes about life together in the church and he offers directions about what it means for a community of Christ followers to “walk by the Spirit” rather than by the flesh.

One of the practices he commends to them is mutual correction and burden bearing. 

Paul thinks of the church as an extended family in which members take responsibility for one another.  He doesn’t want the members of the Galatian churches to see themselves as rivals competing to see who can be the most devout.

The last verse of chapter five is (5:26), “Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.” 

Instead, Paul is trying to help them understand they are brothers and sisters who are to support one another as they walk through perilous times.

Because they bear responsibility for one another, they can’t casually allow other members of the family to go astray; they have an obligation to hold one another accountable to live as faithful followers of Jesus Christ.

At the same time, the responsibility for correcting erring members must be exercised with great gentleness and humility reflecting the character of the Lord that the community serves.

Galatians 6:1-2,

“My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you (plural) who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness.  Take care that you (singular) yourselves are not tempted.  Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

The situation in verse 1 is hypothetical and general in character.  “You who are spiritual” (NIV) or “who have received the Spirit” (NRSV) refers to all members of the community, not to a select group of spiritual leaders.  We’re all to be people whose identity is shaped by the Spirit.  In this case, “to be spiritual” means to act for the mending of the community.  The verb translated “restore” is also used in Mark 1:19 to describe the mending of fishing nets, and Paul uses it to speak of the restoration of unity within the community.

Part of loving one another and loving our neighbor is at times having to gently share our concern about something we’re seeing in his or her life that they may or may not be aware of, and this is not new to Jesus or Paul.

Leviticus 19:17 states,

“You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin, you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself.” 

It’s hardly coincidental that this admonition immediately precedes the command to (Leviticus 19:18) “love your neighbor as yourself” which Paul says is the epitome of the Law.

Restoring, mending, or even if necessary, rebuking a neighbor in a spirit of gentleness and humility not in anger, rage, self-righteousness, or judgment is an expression of loving our neighbor.  Even when done this way, individuals may respond with anger or vindictiveness so it’s not an easy thing to do.

One way we bear burdens is restoring those who have done wrong “in a spirit of gentleness,” all the while being careful not to be tempted ourselves.  We must be careful not to feel a sense of superiority to someone else.

Paul’s warning is based on an astute psychological insight: we may be most condemning of those failings to which we ourselves are most susceptible.

That’s why we have seen too many times preachers who speak forcefully about sexual morality and purity who then turn out to be guilty of adultery and other sexual related sins or crimes.

What people say about other people sometimes reflects their own shadow side and the nature of their own sins, failures and character flaws.  We’re all tempted and imperfect and what happens to one person could happen to us if we’re not diligent and careful.

Paul is telling the church, the goal is not judgment or punishment, but restoration.

The main verb in Galatians 6:1, connotes a remedial action: to return one to an original state, to reconstruct something which has broken down.  This is to be done in a spirit of gentleness, which is one of the Fruit of the Spirit Paul mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23.

From the plural “you all” who have received the Spirit, each individual is warned, “take care that you are not tempted.”

Everyone is warned to be wary, not about his or her neighbor, but about oneself.

As we often see in people in the public arena pride can produce arrogance, where one quickly calls attention to the faults of others but is blind to his or her own.

To avoid this kind of self-delusion which is also found in the Pharisee in Luke 18:11 who prays, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people….”  Paul warns us that each person is to test his or her own work and life to avoid the sins of arrogance or self-righteousness.

Burden bearing takes many forms, not just helping to restore those who have fallen.  Bearing one another’s burdens is also about helping one another when someone is weak, hurting or suffering and needs love, support, encouragement, and often practical assistance.

The word “burden” in Galatians 6:2 comes from the Greek word “baros.”  It refers to a weight that is heavy or crushing and can refer to either a physical or a spiritual problem.

Bearing one another’s burdens is like the thought Paul expresses in Romans 15:1-2, “We the powerful, ought to bear the weaknesses of the powerless and not to please ourselves.  Let each of us please the neighbor for the good, for the purpose of building up” the church.

Martin Luther, the German professor of theology, composer, priest, monk, and religious reformer, who was the catalyst of the 16th-century Protestant Reformation, expresses this beautifully in his Lectures on Galatians where he writes:

“If there is anything in us, it is not our own; it is a gift of God.  But if it is a gift of God, then it is entirely a debt one owes to love, that is to the law of Christ.  And if it is a debt owed to love, then I must serve others with it, not myself.  Thus my learning is not my own; it belongs to the unlearned and is the debt I owe them.  Thus my wisdom belongs to the foolish, my power to the oppressed.  Thus my wealth belongs to the poor, my righteousness to sinners.  It is with all these qualities that we must stand before God and intervene on behalf of those who do not have them, as though clothed with someone else’s garment.”[1]

To live under the guidance of the Spirit is to live a relationship of interdependence which is what all the One Anothers make clear.

Burden-bearing involves a lot more than the practice of gentle mutual admonition; it’s also the sharing of stresses and sorrows, the practice of sharing our material wealth and goods, it’s part of what Paul calls being “slaves to one another” a few verses earlier in Galatians 5:13.

In 1 Corinthians 12:25-26, Paul reminds us that members of the Body of Christ have “the same care for one another.  If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”

Author A.A. Milne’s characters, Winnie the Pooh and Piglet understand this reality as evidenced in this conversation.

“Today was a Difficult Day,” said Pooh.

There was a pause.  “Do you want to talk about it?” asked Piglet.

“No,” said Pooh after a bit.  “No, I don’t think I do.”

“That’s okay,” said Piglet, and he came and sat beside his friend.

“What are you doing?” asked Pooh.

“Nothing, really,” said Piglet.  “Only, I know what Difficult Days are like.  I quite often don’t feel like talking about it on my Difficult Days either.

“But goodness,” continued Piglet, “Difficult Days are so much easier when you know you’ve got someone there for you.  And I’ll always be here for you, Pooh.” 

And as Pooh sat there, working through in his head his Difficult Day, while the solid, reliable Piglet sat next to him quietly, swinging his little legs…he thought that his best friend had never been more right.”

Isn’t that the truth?  “Difficult Days are so much easier when you know you’ve got someone there for you.” 

We know that’s true when we’re on the receiving end of that burden bearing support, so we’re all compelled to be that kind of burden bearing support for one another.

Paul writes that the source of the rather daunting command to bear one another’s burdens is found in fulfilling the Law of Christ.  That Law is also the source of the obligation to carry the weight imposed by the transgressions of others.

One paraphrase of Galatians 6:2 is,

“Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you yourselves will repeat Christ’s deed, bringing to completion in your communities the Law that Christ has already brought to completion in the sentence about loving the neighbor.”[2]

To fulfill the Law of Christ is to play out over and over again in the life of the community the pattern of self-sacrificial love that Christ revealed in his death.

The issue behind the Letter to the Galatians was that rival Missionaries were telling the church that in order to be Christ’s people and authentic children of Abraham, they must be circumcised and obey all the Law of Moses.  But Paul was telling them: if you bear one another’s burdens, becoming slaves of one another through love, correcting one another gently instead of competing viciously as the Missionaries have led you to do, you will fulfill the Law as Christ has redefined it.

Throughout Galatians, Paul contrasts living according to the flesh and living according to the Spirit.

Galatians 5:19–21 describes what someone’s life looks like who is living according to the flesh and the dire consequences of doing so.

“Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.  I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” 

Paul declares that someone whose life is characterized by these things,  “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy,” etc., is obviously and without question not living according to the Spirit of Christ or the Law of Love, is unredeemed, and will not inherit the kingdom of God.  We don’t want to be that type of person and we should be wary of those who are.

On any given Sunday, there are people who come to worship stressed, anxious and burdened by the cares of life.

Perhaps the burdens we carry are due to finances, our marriage, friendships, a problem at work, a child or parent, a death in the family—the list of potential problems people face goes on and on.

Every week some of us come to worship feeling the weight of the world on our shoulders.

That’s why it’s so important for us to engage one another in meaningful conversations.  To look for people who may be standing or sitting by themselves.

Everyone has a story to tell.

Everyone wants to feel like someone noticed them.

Everyone can use a Piglet-kind of friend when they’re having a Difficult Day.

Sometimes just having an opportunity to tell someone what is happening in our lives can help us to feel a little lighter.

At church, at work or school, or with your family and friends, ask the Holy Spirit to help you see when people are carrying too much by themselves.

If you discern that they’re burdened, ask them, “How can I pray for you today?  What’s happening in your life?”  God may use you to bring relief to someone.  Perhaps providing a listening ear is all that’s needed to help that person get through his or her dilemma.

On the other hand, if an overwhelming problem, habit or sin is pressing down on our life, we need to be humble enough to say, “This is too much for me to do by myself.  I need someone to pray with me.”

It may be difficult to open your heart and reveal your need, but it will be far more difficult for you to carry it alone until you eventually become crushed by the burden.  This fallen world is full of ups and downs, trials, and tribulations for everybody.  God doesn’t intend for us to go through it alone.

As brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to do what we can to bear one another’s burdens to help us all get through our challenges and to face our difficulties.  When we see someone struggling, we must be bold enough to ask that person how we can help.  When we work together as a Body in this way, needs will be addressed and met, and people will be encouraged.  If you’re feeling burdened today, remember the invitation Jesus gives in Matthew 11:28-30 is still offered today.  “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Prayer

Lord, we’re asking You to help us be sensitive to the needs of other people.  Help us to stop being so consumed with our own concerns that we’re negligent in recognizing the needs of people around us who can use help and prayer.  Holy Spirit help us see through the masks people tend to wear to cover up what is really happening in their lives.  Give us the wisdom, humility, love, and gentleness to know how to approach people who need strength and encouragement to bear their burdens.  We pray this in Jesus’ name.

Questions for Discussion or Reflection

  1. How do we gently restore a brother or sister who has sinned without feeling superior or falling victim to the same or a similar sin ourselves?
  2. Have there been times in your life when you thought you might break under the weight you were trying to carry by yourself? When that happened, did anyone come to you and ask how s/he might help or pray for your needs?
  3. Have you ever gone to others to see how you could help them through situations they were enduring? Are there times when you’ve been too self-consumed to remember that other people have needs too?  What do we do then?
  4. How do we “fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2)? Hint see Galatians 5:14.

5.`Do you know of individuals you should check on today to see what you can do to help them through a situation they are facing?  In what ways can you help to bear their burdens and be a strength or an encouragement to them?

[1] (Luther’s Works, “Lectures on Galatians – 1519,” vol.27, p. 393)

[2] J.L. Martyn, Galatians, AB 33A (New York: Doubleday, 1997), 547-548.