A Commentary by John Stott
Galatians 6:2-5. 2). How Christians should treat each other.
The general principle is supplied in Galatians 6:2: *Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ*.
Notice the assumption that lies behind this command, namely that we all have burdens and that God does not mean us to carry them alone. Some people try to. They think it is a sign of fortitude not to bother other people with their burdens. Such fortitude is certainly brave. But it is more stoical than Christian. Others remind us that we are told in Psalm 55:22 to ‘cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you’, and that the Lord Jesus invited the heavy-laden to come to Him and promised to give them rest (Mt. 11:28). They therefore argue that we have a divine burden-bearer who is quite adequate, and that it is a sign of weakness to require any human help. This too is a grievous mistake. True, Jesus Christ alone can bear the burden of sin and guilt; He bore it in His own body when He died on the cross. But this is not so with our other burdens – our worries, temptations, doubts and sorrows. Certainly, we can cast these burdens on the Lord as well. We can cast *all* our care on Him, since He cares for us (1 Pet.5:7,AV). But remember that one of the ways in which He bears these burdens of ours is through human friendship.
A striking example of this principle is given us in the career of the apostle Paul. At one stage in his life he was terribly burdened. He was worried to death over the Corinthian church and in particular about their reaction to a rather severe letter which he had written to them. His mind could not rest, so great was his suspense. ‘We were afflicted at every turn’, he wrote, – ‘fighting without and fear within.’ Then he continued: ‘But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus’ (2 Cor.7:5, 6). God’s comfort was not given to Paul through his private prayer and waiting upon the Lord, but through the companionship of a friend and through the good news which he brought.
Human friendship, in which we bear one another’s burdens, is part of the purpose of God for His people. So we should not keep our burdens to ourselves, but rather seek a Christian friend who will help to bear them with us.
By such burden-bearing we ‘fulfil the law of Christ’ (verse 2). Because of the interesting link in this sentence between ‘burdens’ and the ‘law’, it is possible that Paul is casting a side-glance at the Judaizers. Certainly some of the law’s requirements are referred to as a burden in the New Testament (e.g. Lk.11:46; Acts 15:10, 28), and the Judaizers were seeking to burden the Galatians with the observance of the law for their acceptance with God. So Paul may be saying to them, in effect, that instead of imposing the law as a burden upon others, they should rather lift their burdens and so fulfil Christ’s law.
The ‘law of Christ’ is to love one another as He loves us; that was the new commandment which He gave (Jn. 13:34; 15:12). So, as Paul has already stated in Galatians 5:14, to love our neighbour is to fulfil the law. It is very impressive that to ‘love our neighbour’, ‘bear one another’s burdens’ and ‘fulfil the law’ are three equivalent expressions. It shows that to love one another as Christ loved us may lead us not to some heroic, spectacular deed of self-sacrifice, but to the much more mundane and unspectacular ministry of burden-bearing. When we see a woman, or a child, or an elderly person carrying a heavy case, do we not offer to carry it for them? So when we see somebody with a heavy burden on his heart or mind, we must be ready to get alongside him and share his burden. Similarly, we must be humble enough to let others share ours.
To be a burden-bearer is a great ministry. It is something that every Christian should and can do. It is a natural consequence of walking by the Spirit. It fulfils the law of Christ. ‘Therefore’, wrote Martin Luther, ‘Christians must have strong shoulders and mighty bones – sturdy enough, that is, to carry heavy burdens.
Tomorrow: Galatians 6:2-5. 2). How Christians should treat each other (con’t).