The troubles of this world are manifold and relentless. It’s not easy to stay so focused on heaven that we remain unperturbed by the afflictions of earthly life. We’re commanded, of course, to set our minds on things above, not on earthly things (Col. 3:2), but even the most committed believer will testify that earthly trials sometimes obscure the heavenly perspective.
We worry. We grieve. We stumble. We strain under the toil of our daily labors. We feel the guilt of our fallen condition. Meanwhile, we are assaulted with adversities of various kinds. Those are just a few of the many worldly burdens that frequently keep our thoughts from rising to heaven.
And yet we are commanded repeatedly to “seek the things that are above” (Col. 3:1). We are instructed to “look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen” (2 Cor. 4:18). We must not allow the burdens of this life to divert our hearts from heaven.
How is that possible? When the load weighs us down and the troubles become too much for one person to bear, pie-in-the-sky sentiments can sound very hollow.
But that is precisely why the church is so important. It is our duty as believers to help bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2). When someone staggers, we help steady the load. If he is straining, we help bear the burden. And if he stumbles, we lift him up. Helping fellow believers carry the weight of their worldly troubles is one of the chief practical duties that ought to consume every Christian.
Of course, that concept is contrary to the drift of our culture, with secular society’s tendency to foster self-absorption. Our generation has developed an unhealthy obsession with entertainment; we are daily assaulted with a plethora of trivial diversions; and we tend to interact with one another in sound-bites or through faceless media. We live in crowded cities and over-populated neighborhoods; yet most individuals are more isolated than ever.
And let’s be honest — Reformed and evangelical churches nowadays often imitate the culture precisely where we most need to confront and counteract its influence. As churches seek to become bigger, flashier, and more technologically savvy, they usually tend to become more cold and impersonal. Contemporary churches sometimes even seem to encourage the “me first” agenda of self-love rather than the “one another” commands of Scripture. As a result, we don’t bear one another’s burdens as we should.
Yet Paul made this duty a high priority. It was the centerpiece of his admonitions to the Galatian churches. The first half (or more) of Galatians is a defense of justification by faith and a series of arguments against the false teaching that threatened to place those churches in bondage to the Law. In Galatians 5:14 he reminded them: “The whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
How is that love best manifest? “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (6:2).
The first and preeminent example of burden-bearing Paul mentions involves dealing with the burden of another Christian’s sin. “If anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness” (v. 1). That, of course, isn’t a different approach from the steps of church discipline Jesus outlined in Matthew 18:15–17. It merely explains how that process is to be carried out (gently and meekly), and it underscores the true goal (restoration, not punishment or public rebuke per se).
In other words, the person restoring the sinning brother isn’t to approach him as if he were a master over him but meekly — as one who is willing to help shoulder the burden so that the one who has stumbled can get to his feet again.
Verse 2 then simply states the underlying principle as an imperative (“Bear one another’s burdens”). Obviously, the precept applies to all kinds of burdens — not merely the burdens of those who stumble into sin. When Paul suggests that burden-bearing “fulfill[s] the law of Christ,” he makes it clear that he has the whole moral law in view. Every act of compassion and self-sacrifice on behalf of our brethren is a practical means of displaying the love of Christ and thereby fulfilling the moral demands of His law.
But the apostle clearly has in mind spiritual, emotional, and temperamental encumbrances — not physical freight only. The burdens we need to help carry for one another include guilt, worry, sorrow, anxiety, and all other similar loads.
Do you want to fulfill the moral requirements of the Law? Love your neighbor. How do you love him? By bearing his burdens.
It’s interesting that Paul would emphasize this theme in an epistle written to confront people who were falling into legalism. It’s as if he were saying, “You want to observe a law? Let it be the law of Christ. If you have to impose burdens on yourselves, let it be through acts of love toward your neighbor.”
If you will do that faithfully, your own burden won’t seem so heavy. Best of all, you will find it easier to keep your focus heavenward, regardless of the trials you suffer in this life.
This post was originally published in Tabletalk magazine.