Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. – Galatians 6:2
Look up the definition of “burden” and you’ll find descriptions like “duty; responsibility; something oppressive or worrisome; the bearing of a load; capacity for carrying cargo.” Despite the definition, burdens are something we all carry and immediately understand. The question here is not what burden is, but what burden should NOT be. Burdens should not be carried alone. We need someone to assist us, and God has provided for us in Christ and His Church.
We must first recognize that we cannot walk this life on our own. This is the transformative thinking of the gospel. We are desperately in need of Christ, and we surrender our independence when we come to the Cross. We acknowledge our dependence on the One who will help carry our burdens for us, and will remove the burden of sin once and for all. This is the daily act of denying ourselves and taking up our crosses to follow Him (Matthew 16:24).
As we follow Him, we are shown how He daily bears us up (Psalm 68:19). We are reminded that He gives us rest when we bring our burdens to Him (Matthew 11:28-30; Psalm 23). And we feel the reassurance that His commandments are not burdensome because we obey them in His power (1 John 5:3).
As we then go out and bear the burdens of our fellow believers, we are small extensions of Christ’s love for us. However, we’re not taking the burden from someone else. We’re simply sharing it, lightening their load a little by meeting them where they’re at and entering into the burden with them. Through the Spirit, we are able to help bear burdens that we do not personally understand or identify with. In His grace, we can show others that we love them and hear them, even across cultural, financial, or racial boundaries.
Paul gives us some practical applications for this in Philippians. The church at Philippi had been his partners in the gospel from the very beginning (Philippians 1:5), even though they could not contribute financially for some time. But Paul acknowledges and gratefully received their bearing of his burdens. In Philippians 4:10-20, he details their service.
- shared his trouble (v. 14)
- were the only church who partnered with him (v. 15, though only when able v. 10)
- sent him help in places that were inconvenient (v. 16)
- thought of him when he was traveling (v. 16)
- met his physical needs (v. 18)
- gave sacrificially (v. 18)
- and trusted God with their own needs (v. 19)
We, too, can share others’ troubles and support them financially or even simply in prayer. We seek margin in our lives to give us the room to love others, even sacrificially. We listen with fairness, patience, and great empathy. We acknowledge how something might be difficult. We sit with that person in their grief or despair. But we also don’t leave them wallowing in the difficulty. Bearing those burdens means that we also point others to truth and wisdom from God’s Word, and challenge them to move forward in Christ.
Sometimes bearing another’s burdens means forgiving their sin (and the ramifications from it), practicing forbearance and patience. This doesn’t mean we don’t sometimes confront the sin (Galatians 6:1), but that we recognize our brother or sister as a fallen individual in need of grace, just as we ourselves are. We bear that burden without passing judgment on their struggle.
We cannot bear every burden. Only Jesus can do that. But we can keep our eyes open and our hearts willing.