Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
Burdens—we all know what they are. We all have them and struggle to bear them to one extent or another. They are the temptations and sins with which we struggle, the anxious cares, the sufferings, and the sorrows that weigh heavily upon us physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Yes, Scripture exhorts us to “cast thy burden upon the Lord” (Ps. 55:22a), but it is not always as simple as that. We need help.
In this chapter the apostle Paul is applying the truth that living in the Spirit calls for a consistent walk in the Spirit of Christ. In the opening verse, in what we might call a “case study,” he shows how walking according to the Spirit is shown in the tender and merciful restoration of a fellow saint who through weakness fell into sin. It is this thought of the proper restoration of a fellow saint who has fallen into some transgression that leads Paul to broaden his admonition. For there are many burdens that we ought to help one another bear.
The apostle is really describing the mutual calling in the communion of saints. It is the communion of the saints in action. In the fellowship of the church, we are not merely to “tolerate each other,” or “put up with each other.” By the grace of God we must jointly shoulder each member’s burdens as we have opportunity. This is the blessedness of the communion of saints, that each is not left to bear his burden alone. In the love of Christ others will help him to bear it.
As we noted, the apostle Paul speaks particularly in the context of a burden of sin. Ultimately, the burden is sin. Sin disrupts the walk in the Spirit. It robs one of his hope and comfort. Sin disrupts the manifestation of the life of Christ. Sin brings into one’s life and into the church great misery and grief. Sin is a heavy weight! It drags us down! It would crush us! When a brother or sister is overtaken in a fault, in a certain sin, we must seek to restore them.
Such sin is a terrible thing. Another’s sin may never be the occasion for lightheartedness or indifference on our part. We may not simply ignore or overlook the sin of a brother or sister. We may not take the attitude, “Well, that’s his problem.” In a spirit of meekness, we seek to restore.
At the same time, we must recognize the sad reality that sin has consequences that also may be grievous burdens upon us. There are effects of sin everywhere. There is the reality of God’s curse upon this world in which we live. This broadens the whole concept of “one another’s burdens.” This would include all the trials and tribulations of this present time. Living in the midst of this world, we know from hard personal experience what burdens are: besetting sins against which we must constantly fight, pain, affliction, financial adversity, anxiety, depression, loneliness, doubts, fears, sorrow, and so much more.
For each of us, our particular burdens, at any given time, are concrete. There is nothing vague or abstract about them. Maybe it is a rebellious son or daughter. Maybe it is living with severe pain. Maybe it is struggling to make ends meet financially. Maybe it is coping with the loss of a loved one. Maybe it is division and separation taking place in the church or your family. You know your burdens and I know mine.
Our calling is to bear one another’s burdens. As we become aware of a burden, we become involved, not curiously prying or intruding into someone’s personal affairs, but seeking to help out of genuine concern. When it is a matter of a specific way of sin, we are to restore such an one in the spirit of meekness. We do not ignore it. We do not gossip about it. We pray for him/her. We seek out the brother or sister in the love of Christ. It is our desire to bow together before the Word of God and the cross of Christ. We seek restoration in the God-ordained way of confession of sin, hearty repentance, and forsaking of sin. It may well mean lending support— encouraging, comforting, admonishing, listening, perhaps just being there!
But whose calling is this? Is this perhaps only the calling of the officebearers of the church, the pastor, elders, and deacons? Certainly they have an official responsibility in this regard in their respective offices. They have an awesome responsibility as undershepherds of the flock of Christ.
But there is also a mutual calling given the people of God. There is an area in the church of Christ where the saints together bear one another’s burdens, supply one another’s needs, help and care for one another in times of trouble and distress. And so the apostle opens this chapter addressing us as “brethren.” He speaks to us as those who are “spiritual” (v. 1).
By nature we would not and could not bear one another’s burdens. The natural man stands in enmity against God and his neighbor. He has no genuine concern for the brother or sister laboring under a heavy burden. In his supposed sympathy or assistance he is never motivated by the love of Christ. His tender mercies are cruel. Ultimately he delights in the downfall of the brother to the exaltation of self.
But as “brethren,” as “ye which are spiritual,” we are not only exhorted by Christ but also enabled by His Spirit to bear one another’s burdens. God has sovereignly and graciously ordained a communion of saints, ultimately the whole body of the elect. But that fellowship or communion of the saints is manifest in this world wherever the true church is manifest. By God’s grace we see and experience this in our own congregation. We are not alone! God brings together many saints who are personally distinct and diverse from one another. But each of us receives of God a place according to our gifts and calling.
One does not receive the gifts and calling of the Spirit by himself only to serve his own selfish ends, but always for the sake of others. We need each other. We mutually satisfy one another’s needs. Yes, we are to bear one another’s burdens.
In the last verses of Acts 2 there is a beautiful picture presented during that unique time of the church’s infancy when there was persecution and great poverty. But there were present at that time indications of the love, concern, and care for one’s fellow saints that must always exist among us. The apostle states in I Corinthians 12:25, 26 that the care of the saints for one another must be such that “whether one member suffer all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it.”
And let us remember that this is vitally important for the women of the church. God lays this calling upon women because they have received from God natures that are well suited for this work. Women have a sensitivity, a sympathy, a charitableness of spirit that men are not always as inclined to possess.
Think of examples in Scripture. Remember Tabitha, also called Dorcas, who “was full of good works and almsdeeds which she did” (Acts 9:36). Think of Lydia, the seller of purple in Philippi, who opened her home to Paul and Silas. In Romans 16:1, 2 Paul commends Phebe, a spiritual sister, a servant of the church at Cenchrea, “for she hath been a succourer of many and of myself also.” Never think that as women you have nothing to do in the church! Never let it be said that the faithful church of Christ stifles women, holds them down! For God has given virtuous, godly women in His church this calling, “Bear ye one another’s burdens!”
Also the youth, young people, even our children need to hear this exhortation to bear one another’s burdens. By nature, in our younger years we are inclined to be self-centered, concerned about our own popularity, focused on our own problems and burdens. But we are called in our youth to bear one another’s burdens.
How is this calling fulfilled? As we have seen, it is possible only as saints, brothers and sisters in the Lord. It is possible only by grace, only as we walk in the Spirit. The context emphasizes that the virtues of meekness and humility are necessary. In verse 1 we are exhorted to restore our fallen fellow saint “in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted” (cf. v. 3). In bearing one another’s burdens there is no place for pride!
In Ephesians 4:32 we read, “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” Bearing one another’s burdens is possible only if there is that kindness, genuine concern, and tenderheartedness. It is possible only when we are ready to forgive one another our sins, even seventy times seven.
And how vital it is for us to be sensitive to the burdens of others. Often we will not be asked to help. We must strive to be sensitive to the needs of our fellow saints. We ought to have a listening ear so that we become aware of these burdens and know what we can do. And let us guard our tongues! We must be able to keep personal matters private. Spreading reports of sin or problems makes those burdens heavier.
Yet we often wonder what we can really do to help others with their burdens. First and foremost, let us pray for one another! “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16b). And let us remember that bearing one another’s burdens is not something that needs to be excessively difficult, or time-consuming, or costly. It is not usually earth-shaking sacrifices that are involved in bearing one another’s burdens. It is the little ordinary deeds of kindness, love, and concern: an encouraging phone call or email message, a listening ear, a short visit, a card, some cookies, a tender touch, a ride to the doctor or to Bible study, a note on a care-page. Bear ye one another’s burdens!
Remember too that we are but means. Christ is the One who ultimately bears our burdens. His Word is, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).
Nevertheless, Christ calls us to bear one another’s burdens: “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.” In Galatians 5:14 Paul says, “For all the law is fulfilled is one word….” That phrase, “all the law,” means just what it says. It refers to the whole law in every detail. It is the law as it expresses fully the will of God for us. It is the law as it is the rule for our life of thankfulness. This says it all, this one word. What is it? Love—“Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Gal. 5:14b).
Let us bear the burdens of the brothers and sisters of Christ! Let us minister to one another in true love, so fulfilling the law of Christ.