Today’s passage stood out to me as interesting for a few reasons. I feel like it’s one of those sections that you can read through, thinking you understand it. But then you take a moment, pause, and re-read it a few times; for me at least, I found that I was finding more questions than clarity. What is the temptation Paul is referring to? Is he actually encouraging pride and boasting? If we’re to bear other’s burdens, why does he emphasize we are going to bear our own loads? Passages like these can be really interesting to study and wrap our heads around, so join with me today by reading through the first 5 verses of Galatians 6.
Before we get in to the specific verses of the day, we need to understand the context. By this point in the letter to the Galatians, Paul has emphasized again and again what it means to live by and walk in the Spirit, contrasted with living under the Mosaic Law. Remember that one of the primary issues that Paul is addressing in this letter is that some Jewish Christians were demanding that the Gentile Christians conform to the Law (specifically with regards to circumcision). Instead, he highlights how they are all unified in Christ, and how they ought to act that way, living the new life of a Spirit-filled believer. He lists off the sinful “deeds of the flesh” and the nourishing “fruit of the Spirit”, then reiterates: This isn’t a competition. We’re all in this together (5:26). With that said, let’s dive in!
Brothers and sisters, even if a person is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual are to restore such a person in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you are not tempted as well.Galatians 6:1 NASB
It’s really important to view this verse in light of what Paul has just been addressing. He has talked about living by the Spirit versus living by the flesh, and with his directives in 5:26, it’s clear he is aware there could be a temptation to compare oneself with others. That is, to delight in the downfall of another for the sake of feeling better about yourself. Instead, if someone is “caught” in wrongdoing, the instinct of those who are “spiritual” should be to “restore” them “in a spirit of gentleness”. I don’t usually spend a lot of time in these posts going into specific words, but I think here it could bring some clarity:
|“Caught”||The picture here is likely more the idea of being trapped or surprised by one’s own sin (i.e. an unexpected stumbling) rather than catching another believer in the act.|
|“Spiritual”||Harkening back to all the previous discourse on living by the Spirit. Those who are doing this well. Spiritually mature.|
|“Restore”||Used to describe repairing a broken bone, or mending a net (Mark 1:19). I love the image here of actively and intentionally helping someone or something return to its pre-broken usefulness.|
|“Spirit of Gentleness”||Fruit of the Spirit. Not forcefully or aggressively (or boastfully or competitively to reference 5:26 again).|
If a brother or sister in Christ stumbles, one who walks by the Spirit would help them get back up to their feet. However, Paul also warns that those helping should keep an eye on themselves, “so that you are not tempted as well.” The temptation here could be regarding the same sin that caught the brother/sister, or it could be referring to the other ideas Paul is warning about in this section: pride, boasting, egotism, etc. The next set of verses leads me to assume Paul is referring to the latter.
Burden Bearing and Self-Deception
Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks that he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.Galatians 6:2–3 NASB
In contrast to the Mosiac Law, which boasts in one’s own outward signs of the flesh, submission to Christ is characterized by loving one another sacrificially (cf. Rom. 6:15–22). Remember Jesus’ own words:
28 Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”Matthew 11:28–30 NASB
Again, painting a picture with his words, Paul’s imagery to the Galatians involves taking one’s excess upon yourself. I imagine the metaphorical runner who, in seeing his competitor get injured, stops to help them up so they can cross the finish line together rather than running on ahead. Paul’s warning in verse 3 encourages that sort of humility and guarding against the dangers of self-deception. Don’t pretend you are too high and mighty to stoop down to help someone else. And don’t pretend you are above stumbling yourself; we’re all human, it could happen to you as well.
Comparison and Conclusion
But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting, but to himself alone, and not to another. For each one will bear his own load.Galatians 6:4–5 NASB
Just in case his point hasn’t been clear, Paul drives it home. It’s not about comparison! Of course Paul isn’t encouraging pride or boasting in the traditional sense, because that all has to do with how we view ourselves in comparison with those around us. Instead, look at yourself and how you’re doing in relation to you! Are you learning? Are you growing in righteousness, being sanctified as you pursue Christlikeness? Are you walking by the Spirit?
Herein lies what I consider the weightiest truth of this section: when I stand before the judgement seat of Christ, my life and actions will not be judged in comparison with the worst sinners out there in the world, or the most righteous believers in the Church. I will be judged for my own faithfulness with what I’ve been given. (Just to be abundantly clear, I am not suggesting a works-based gospel. Paul is pretty clear about how he feels about that in Eph. 2:8–9). When Paul says “each one will bear his own load”, he purposely uses a different word than was used for “burden” in verse 2. This highlights the reality that although we may bear one another’s burdens (or have our own burdens borne), we each have our own loads that we are responsible for, and we will be held to account as such. So when I pause and examine myself and how I’m doing in my walk with Christ, it shouldn’t be about how well I’m doing in comparison to my peers, or my pastor, or my spouse, or other people in my community. It is based on the standard that God has set.
Why Does it Matter?
I started out today’s post by saying that I found this passage interesting for a few different reasons. Not least of these were the challenges it brought to the forefront of my attention. First, of course, is the spiritually mature response to a brother or sister caught in sin. To put it pithily, our response should be to carry not to bury. How easy it is to get defensive, to be bothered or frustrated by the actions of our family in Christ, to notice and emphasize the weaknesses of others. (Don’t get me wrong here: sin should bother us!) But what if my instinct was to believe the best, to trust that my brother/sister is running the same race I am, and to offer a hand of support rather than a kick of condemnation? To bear their burden for a time as we strive towards Christlikeness together? Easier said than done, perhaps; but that sounds pretty great!
It’s the second part, though, that strikes hardest. The part that I don’t like to admit how convicting it is. The reminder that I need to look at myself and bear my own load. If I’m being honest, it’s often easier for me to focus on bearing the burden of others than looking in the mirror and addressing my own flaws (cf. Matt 7:1–5). I can get so focused on helping others, challenging others, teaching others, correcting others; all of which are good things in their right place! But if in the midst of all that I forget that I, too, am a work in progress, in need of support and correction and discipleship, there’s clearly a problem.
And that’s part of why I both love and hate this passage (speaking hyperbolically of course). I hate that it forces me to look at myself, acknowledge my numerous imperfections and all the ways I haven’t yet “arrived” at where I want to be (cf. Rom. 7:14–20). Yet I love that it’s that very recognition that can grant us the humility to do what the rest of this passage is calling us to do well: to love and care for and support one another as we all pursue Christlikeness together!