Burden Bearing 102
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For each one shall bear his own load. – Galatians 6:2-5
The example given of burdens to assist in bearing is that of a brother overtaken in a trespass in verse one of Galatians chapter six. Bearing another’s burden can be difficult. Sometimes burden bearing requires the help of fellow-saints. Wisdom is needed in knowing which burdens we can take on ourselves and which ones are too heavy to carry alone.
■ Bear One Another’s Burden
The first commandment by Paul is to “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (6:2). This is based on the assumption that all will have burdens. Shared burdens become lighter for everyone involved. In the days when settlers traveled around the great plains and over the Rockies, they learned that a wagon train helped them bear one another’s burdens and thus greatly improve their chances of reaching their destination. Two are better than one, and three is less likely to be broken (Eccl. 4:9,10,12).
As Americans we have been sold on the great myth of the self-sufficient rugged individual who can take on anything without the help of anyone. This is not Biblical theology but western mythology. Lifting yourself up by your own bootstraps or just walking it off or being the Lone Ranger is not the scriptural concept of Christianity. Remember even the Lone Ranger had Tonto and his horse Silver.
While traveling through life one quickly learns they are going to come across those in need and will find themselves in need. We are not in this journey alone and we will not make it on our own.
To avoid possible implications in the context of contradictory commands, definitions are in order. First, the term “bear” in verse two is in reference to carrying a very heavy weight continually. This is not a one-time trip with a moderate load. This is illustrated by Simon of Cyrene who was compelled by the Roman soldiers to carry or bear the cross of Jesus to Calvary, because it was too much for the bloody beaten Savior. Or when Aaron and Hur helped Moses hold up the staff in Leviticus 17.
Just which heavy burdens does Paul have in mind? One cannot literally bear the sins of another in the way Christ bore our sins on the cross. It is all those burdens which are too heavy for one to carry too far and for too long. Life is filled with such burdens: family crisis, unemployment, long term illness, financial needs, mental disorders, etc.
Elsewhere the Bible commands us to “Cast your burden on the Lord, And He shall sustain you; He shall never permit the righteous to be moved” (Ps. 55:22). “casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Pet. 5:7). Jesus invites us to “come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Mt. 11:28). God, the Great Burden-Bearer has made us burden-bearers, too (1 Jn. 3:17).
By obeying this command, we fulfill “the law of Christ.” Perhaps, this goes back to Paul’s reference to the law of Love in 5:14: “for all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
■ Confess Your Own Nothingness
Paul warns against the wrong kind of thinking which will hinder burden bearing: “for if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself” (6:3).
Paul describes two possible attitudes about self. First, the myth that “I am something.” This is the opposite of Christ who made Himself nothing to help us bear the burdens of sin. It also goes against “the spirit of gentleness” and the “Law of Christ.” Such over-estimation of self comes from pride. It says to others: “I did not get you into this mess so I cannot or do have to get you out of it.” Such a person might compare himself with the sinner like the Pharisee who while praying compared himself to the publican (Luke18). The truth is you will never prove to be a saint by comparing yourself with sinners.
The real true estimate of self is “I am nothing.” This is a hyperbole or exaggeration. God did not send Christ to die for nothing. However, He did not come to create a sort of spiritual hierarchy. All ground is level before the cross of Christ. In order to help others, one must realize how much help he had to have from Christ. To think one is something when nothing, he deceives himself. This type of thinking has led his mind off into a land of fairy tales.
■ Examine Your Own Work
The third commandment is: “but let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another” (6:4).
Paul requires the burden bearer to test his own behavior. The Greek term is dokimazo which is the word used for the fiery testing of gold so as to determine its purity. Our efforts to help need to be examine as to their purity.
Instead of taking pride in what he has done or is doing, he must take pride in pleasing God. This is opposed to the man who brags: “I have never needed help with this burden, but I will help this poor, weak loser carry his.” Such self-rejoicing needs to be eliminated by self-examination. The standard of comparison is not others but God’s will.
So, don’t compare yourself to others. At judgment God is not going to grade on a curve by comparing you with others and how well you did in comparison to how poor they performed. Rejoice if you do as good as God requires of you despite how much you have to help others. To point out the flaw in others may improve the way you feel about yourself, but it does not impress God.
■ Realize Your Own Responsibility
Finally, Paul commands “each one shall bear his own load” (6:5). This seems to create an apparent contradiction with what Paul commanded in verse two. However, “load” (or “burden” as translated in the King James Version) in verse five is a different Greek term. Here it is the word phortion meaning a backpack. Something one can use to pack books or supplies. One could strap it on his shoulders or a pole and carry it themselves. Jesus used the term in Matthew 11:30: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light”. So, verse two is talking about a load too heavy for one person to carry in comparison to the lighter load an individual needs to carry himself.
Again, wisdom is involved when knowing which burdens require assistance and which loads a Christian should handle by himself. There are those who want to be lazy and shift responsibility to others when in fact they are capable in bearing their own burdens. Some saints are willing to do their own work and other saints are willing to let others do the work for them.
When it comes to the heavy unbearable burdens of life that we cannot carry any further, help should be sought from those who are willing and able to assist. “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16).
Keep in mind that if your right hand was weakened by an injury your left hand will automatically come to the assistance. Even when it is normally something the right hand could do on its own. God created the body with parts which can supply mutual assistance especially when the burdens on one member become unbearable for another. Just as our physical bodies are designed to work in a way to bear the work, so is the body of Christ. “There should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Cor. 12:25-26).
An Indian language has word for “friend” which means “one who carries my sorrows on his back.” Being a Christian means there will be times when one must bear the troubles of a brother upon his back.
– Daniel R. Vess