Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. – Galatians 6:1-2
When I consider the concept of “bearing a burden”, my mind almost immediately goes back to a camping trip I took when I was 14 years old through the mountains of New Mexico. Each of us in the group was hauling a backpack close to half our bodyweight, which felt like quite a lot. Early on, one of our fellow campers sprained his ankle and the rest of us needed to take on some of his load. As the miles went on, each of us was able to notice the influx in the weight of our load to an increasing degree; and yet, no one seemed to complain. There was an unspoken understanding that the pain we were feeling was relieving the unbearable load that a brother could not carry on his own.
There are times in ministry that I wish bearing the burden of another came in the form of physical weight. This would seem much more manageable than coming underneath the weight of a heavy soul as we seek to shoulder a burden together. As though that were not burdensome enough, there is another factor involved with bearing another’s burdens – temptation.
Like a gifted surgeon working on a patient with a contagious blood-borne disease, we need to ensure that we do not become sick ourselves as we cut into the lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ. We must take the necessary precautions beforehand (if possible) to guard our hearts against the temptations that may come with a particular burden. Often, that looks like soaking in specific truths from God’s Word that will “guard our hearts and minds” (Phil 4:7) from the temptation, as well as taking intentional time to pray for strength. In the midst of bearing another’s burdens, we must ensure that we are “taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” – speaking truth to ourselves so as to not be tempted, as the passage warns us.
The cost of bearing another’s burden is weighty and messy, so why would we ever do it? First (and this should be enough), it is commanded in this passage, and moreover, necessary to “fulfill the law of Christ.” Our Lord has spoken – we are called to obey. But the theme of the passage continues on to verse 9: “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.” God promises that if we continue in this good work, there is a harvest ahead. We do not know what this will look like (after all, Paul, who wrote this passage, went from jail, to beatings, to shipwrecks, to jail again, and then to his own death by sword) – we just know that it will be for our good on an eternal scale.
Lastly, when we bear one another’s burdens, we embody the characteristics of our Savior. He bore our burdens on the cross (1 Pet 2:24), facing the unimaginable weight of the wrath of God on our behalf. Not only that, He was “tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15). He came into our mess in the greatest sense, by condescending from the bliss of Heaven, taking on frail humanity, and living a life that would earn Him the title Man of Sorrows. Bearing another’s burden will often cost a great deal, but take this encouragement from the King of Kings: “You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world” (John 16:33).