Sharing life’s struggles is fundamental to the way followers of Christ are called to live. As Paul challenged us, “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (KJV) (Galatians 6:2) By working together through life’s challenges we can help to strengthen and support one another when times are hard. By expressing toward one another the care and affections of Christ, the difficulties of life should draw us to Christ and to each other—not isolate us in our suffering.
What are the burdens that we need to bear for one another? The Greek word rendered burden is bareos meaning something that makes an overwhelming demand, that which brings sorrow or grief. A burden is anything that oppresses the spiritual development of a brother or a sister.
With that definition, one can see quickly that burdens come in many different forms. For example, some burdens are spiritual. Go back to verse one. “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you may also be tempted.” (Galations 6:1) Then our command, “Carry each other’s burdens, and, in this way, you fulfill the law of Christ.”
In Galatians 6:1, the word that is translated, “caught,” those who are caught in a sin was a Greek word that was sometimes used to refer to an animal who found itself in a trap. That’s an image, a metaphor, used all the way through Scripture. 2 Timothy 2:26 says, “Beware the snare of the devil.” In James 1:14, James says, “But each one is tempted when, by his own desire, he is dragged away and enticed.” The term that is used there refers to a fishing lure. You see it’s not that we are unaware of what sin is, but we’re often unaware, like an animal heading to a trap, of how insidiously we are being drawn in, and we are often unaware of how drastic the consequences are going to be to the point that we become so burdened that we fall underneath the weight.
I read a story this week about the white ants in Africa. It has become one of the major building nemeses on the entire continent. Folks will pick out a spot of ground, and they’ll build a nice house. They think everything looks good and one day, maybe months or a couple of years later, the entire house just caves in. It’s because the white ant lives underground, and never comes out onto the surface; it never sees the sun. It lives underneath the house and eats away inside the timbers to the point that, when it has done its damage, one can take his finger and poke a hole through the largest beam.
That’s the way it is in many lives, including some of you. You look so good on the outside, but one day the whole life, the whole house just collapses because all that decay was on the inside and nobody knew it.
Burdens may be:
1. Sin. The worst burdens are those that are caused by yielding to our desires and sinning.
2. Emotional. This is not when we are a perpetrator of sin, but rather when we are the victim of sin. Maybe we have been mistreated, neglected. Maybe it’s the result of fear or a grief. Emotional burdens overwhelm us at times.
3. Physical. These may be caused by illness or accident, impairment, or sometimes just by advancing age.
4. Financial – A financial calamity brought on by a layoff, a medical emergency, a poor investment strategy, or 101 other factors.
A burden is anything that oppresses the spiritual development of a brother or a sister.
Our responsibility to brothers and sisters as they face these burdens.
1. Be humble. You’ve got to be humble, or you’re going to be of no use to anybody. I find it amazing that our command about bearing one another’s burdens is couched between two bookend verses that say much the same thing. Galatians 5:26, the last verse of chapter 5 states, “Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other” and Galatians 6:3, “If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” The reason more people in God’s church don’t bear more burdens is we think we’re too good to get down there and help. “Don’t think so much of yourself.”
Humility is the foundation of the command in Galatians 6:1, “…you who are spiritual should restore a brother.” You see spiritual doesn’t mean you’re perfect. Spiritual doesn’t necessarily mean you act any differently, or much better than your brother. Spiritual certainly doesn’t mean having a self-righteous haughtiness. Being spiritual means being full of the spirit. It means having love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, gentleness, kindness, faithfulness, and self-control. If you wrap all those up, you have a spirit of humility.
Sometimes we can proudly find faults in others that are also our own faults. If I am going to bear another’s burden, whether that burden be spiritual, emotional, physical, or whatever, it starts by being humble, by being full of the spirit. Spiritual men and women are so cognizant of the need of God’s grace in their own lives that they could never approach a brother in the spirit of arrogance. So what do I do when I bear a burden? I examine my own humility. Am I being humble? Am I spiritual?
2. Be gentle – Galatians 6:1 says, “Be gentle, restore that brother with a spirit of gentleness.” That’s especially pertinent when the burden that we help bear is related to sin.
3. Bear the burden. That bearing will take on different forms depending upon what the burden is. The sentence construction says, “Carry and keep on carrying the burden.” It’s the present/perfect tense, it’s not just a “give it a lick and a promise”. Hit it once and move on your way. The way the sentence is structured says, “You do it and do it for as long as it takes.” If the burden is the result of a person’s sin, Galatians 6:1 says, “Restore the brother or sister gently.” Restore was the word used by ancient Greek doctors to refer to the setting of a broken bone. If you’ve ever had a bone set, you know you want it done carefully, you want it done gently. Most importantly it’s done for healing, not for punishment.
If the burden is emotional, you bear it through counsel, hugs, listening and prayers. You may do that day after day after day, as long as that brother or sister carries the burden. If the burden is financial, the burden is borne by giving your money or other assistance. If it’s a physical burden, you bear it through your time, effort, compassion, and energy. Whatever the cause, bearing the burden means carrying the load until the brother or the sister can walk unburdened on his own again. I love the old proverb that says, “A joy shared is a double joy. A burden shared is half a burden.”
Why bear the burden?
The answer is simple. It’s right there in Galatians 6:2, “because it fulfills the law of Christ.” “Well, what is the law of Christ?” I’ve looked all the way through the Bible and, in my opinion, Jesus gave that law when said to his apostles before a hostile group “A new command I give you, love one another as I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34)
Now when Jesus gave that command, it really was a bit of a paradox to his listeners because he wasn’t giving a new command to love one another. Leviticus 19:18 commands, “Love one another.” That one was a thousand years before Jesus. But the new command was to “Love one another as I have loved you.” That’s how much I want you to love one another.
Did he bear our burdens? He surely did. He bore every burden that we have, and every burden that we will have on that cross on a hill called, “Calvary.” Because of that, Christians know a newness of life now, and an eternal life in a perfect place called “Heaven.” Jesus has given us the ultimate model of what it means to bear one another’s burdens-that’s the new command. Do it as long as it takes, as deep as it takes, as much as it takes. Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.
By sharing in the struggles of another, we are modeling the love of Christ. We read in Isaiah, “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isa. 53:4). No matter how great the struggle we face, we never face it alone.