Carry Each Other’s Burdens
February 2, 2003 | Brian Bill
I’ve not watched a lot of the American Idol TV show, but I’ve seen enough to know that Simon Cowell, one of the talent judges, enjoys tearing down the talentless. Here are some of his cutting comments:
- “If you lived 2,000 years ago and sang like that, they would have stoned you.”
- “That was absolutely ghastly. I can honestly say if you won, it would be the end of the American music industry.”
- “That was dreadful. Is singing something you want to pursue?” The contestant thought for a second and then said, “I can take it or leave it.” With a sinister smile on his face, Simon responded, “Leave it.”
While most of us will never have to face a relentless critic like Simon, many of us have experienced either the brokenness that comes from sin or we’re just trying to bear the burdens that come from life itself. Unfortunately, the church is often the last place where we can find friends who will help carry our burdens. Instead of hearing words of comfort from fellow Christ followers, those who are closest to us sometimes wind up and whack us.
That reminds me of the wife who came home to find her husband in the kitchen shaking frantically and wildly dancing around. She noticed that there was a wire running from his waist towards the electric frying pan. Intending to knock him away from the deadly current, she whacked him with a handy 2×4, breaking his arm in two places. When he turned around she realized that he had just been listening to his Walkman!
We’re quick to chastise Christians and take a swing at the saints, aren’t we? It’s been said that believers belong to the only army in the world that shoots its wounded. Do you remember that TV commercial several years that showed an elderly woman lying on the floor shouting, “Help me, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up?” That phrase has become part of our vocabulary but it’s not very funny for some of us today. There are times when we falter in our spiritual life and we can’t get back on track by ourselves. And there other occasions when we feel so burdened that we don’t know how we will ever make it through another day.
As we continue in our series called, “Body Building,” we’ve learned that since each of us are valuable pieces of God’s puzzle, we’re called to care for one another, to be united with one another, to love one another, and to accept one another. Today our emphasis is on how we can “Carry Each Other’s Burdens” from Galatians 6:1-5.
Before we tackle our text, let’s back up to Galatians 5 and set the context. Verse 25 provides the key to the Christian life: “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” As we march along like soldiers, we do so in unison, realizing that we either make it together or we don’t make it at all
Verse 26 indicates that if we want this body to be strengthened, we must avoid belittling others while we build ourselves up: “Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” The word “provoke” means “to challenge” somebody to a contest. Pride can cause us to go after those we consider inferior and to envy those who appear to be superior. Either way, this reveals a heart that is self-focused, not others-centered. Whether we whack away at the weak or are overcome with envy toward those we think are better than us, the problem is that we’re too caught up with ourselves.
Self-centeredness is the deadly enemy of all the “one another” statements in Scripture since our conduct toward others is largely determined by our opinion of ourselves. The attitude we should have toward people, according to John Stott, is not, “I’m better than you and I’ll prove it” or, “You’re better than me and I resent it,” but, “You are a person of importance in your own right and it is my joy and privilege to serve you.” (“The Message of Galatians,” InterVarsity Press, Page 157).
#1: Restore the Broken (1)
God gives us four relational responsibilities in this passage. Our first task is found in verse 1: “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.” The Message puts it this way: “If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out.”
Paul refers to his readers as “brothers,” a term that indicates we’re part of the same family. By using the word “if” he’s helping us think through something hypothetical that has far-too-often become a real story.
The situation: a broken believer.
The word “caught” was used to describe a bird or an animal that had become entangled in a trap. A believer who is caught in a sin is one who has been surprised or suddenly entrapped, with no hope of escape. The idea here is of a brother or sister who has been caught red-handed in sin, much like the woman ambushed by the authorities while she was committing adultery in John 8. The word “sin” in verse 1 is the word translated “trespass,” which indicates the idea of stumbling or sliding off a slick path.
When we lived in Mexico, one night we went bowling with our team members. We had a great time, that is, until Beth starting beating me. At that point, the fun was over as I stopped smiling and put on my game face. I’ll never forget what happened next. I lined up and began my approach. As I got ready to let go of the ball, my fingers got stuck in the holes and I slid face first down the alley! It was a perfect swan dive. I have never seen Beth laugh so hard in her life. I defaulted because I had slipped and crossed the line, and no one helped me back up because they were all splitting a gut.
That’s similar to what Paul is referring to here. A believer, for one reason or another, is suddenly tripped up by his trespasses, and is lying on the ground for everyone to see. A good example of this is Peter. He boasted that he would never bail on Christ and yet he ended up denying Jesus three times in a row.
Who is to help: a spiritual believer.
The person best equipped to help a fallen follower is one who is “spiritual.” I guess that means no one on our team was qualified because none of my teammates even offered to help me up! In the context, this describes those who are walking in the Spirit and keeping in step with the Spirit. It’s not referring to mystical spirituality but to normal Spirit-filled Christianity. You don’t have to be a super saint to help others. Spiritual people are ordinary people relying on an extraordinary God.
What to do: restoration.
The one who has fallen is in need of restoration. To “restore” means to make something right by bringing back to its former condition. This word was used for setting a broken bone or mending a torn net in Matthew 4:21. In other words, restoration is an integral and necessary part of the healing process. If someone has experienced dislocation, or brokenness, or has been torn apart by transgression, he or she needs someone who will come alongside in order to lift them up. God Himself is in the restoration business as we read in Ezekiel 34:16: “I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak.” Since God works to bring sinners to wholeness, we should seek ways to help others as well. If a man is my brother, then I am his keeper.
Friends, if we are not actively looking for ways to bring back those who are spiritually sidetracked, how will they get back on their feet? Who does God want to restore through you? Is there anyone you can think of right now who is going down the slippery path of sin? Jude 22-23: “Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them…” I am both challenged and comforted by the words of James 5:19 in the New Living Translation: “…If anyone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back again, you can be sure that the one who brings that person back will save that sinner from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins.”
How to do it: with gentleness and humility.
Broken believers need spiritual believers who will come alongside in order to mend them. This process must be done with gentleness, which is a fruit of the Spirit. The King James Version uses the word “meekly” which has the idea of doing something quietly and with enormous kindness. When a friend is down you don’t announce it to the world. You don’t try to ruin his reputation but instead you touch with tenderness. Paul told Timothy to “gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance, leading them to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 2:25). Romans 2:4 tells us that its God’s kindness that leads a person to repentance.
I must confess that I don’t always do very well with this. There are times when I want to restore someone but I end up being more judgmental than gentle. Just this week I had to call someone and ask forgiveness for my harshness. Paul struggled with this in 1 Corinthian 4:21 when he wrote: “What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a whip, or in love and with a gentle spirit?”
If we don’t allow ourselves to feel the pain of someone’s sin and approach people with tears in our eyes, then we either do not love the sinner sufficiently, or we don’t hate the sin enough. As I’ve said before, our default setting is to get angry and judgmental with those who sin differently than we do. And let me add, that we often get really mad with those who sin the same way we do! Paul chose the terrain of tenderness when he wrote in 2 Corinthians 10:1: “By the meekness and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you…” Once again, Jesus is our model and our motivation. In Matthew 11:29, Jesus refers to Himself as “gentle and humble in heart.”
The last part of verse 1 is a rebuke to our self-righteousness: “But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.” The phrase “watch out” refers to taking aim, or spying on yourself. Gentleness is born out of a sense of our own weak and wandering hearts. When we see someone else slipping into sin, we should pause and ask the Lord to keep us safe from the sins that slip us up. James 3:2 reminds us that “we all stumble in many ways” 1 John 1:8 declares that we all struggle with sin: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” And because we’re sinners, 1 Corinthians 10:12 sounds the alarm that we’re just one short step from falling ourselves: “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!”
It’s difficult to know how to respond when a brother or sister falls. Restoration is delicate work and is not for those who feel spiritually superior. It’s a daunting responsibility and its often very messy. Because of that, we must keep three things in mind:
- Don’t diminish the seriousness of sin. We shouldn’t excuse or ignore iniquity. Remember, while Jesus comforted the woman caught in adultery by saying, “Neither do I condemn you,” He also said, “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11).
- Avoid the temptation to witch-hunt. No one is asking you to go on a “search and destroy” mission to uncover and correct the sins of others.
- The goal is recovery. Punishment looks backward to the offense while restoration puts the person back on the path that leads forward. When we “carefront” someone, our aim should always be to bring them back to God.
Are you ready to restore God’s masterpieces?
Several years ago, an angry man rushed through a museum in Amsterdam and repeatedly slashed one of Rembrandt’s most famous paintings. A short time later, another man slipped into St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome with a hammer and began to smash a Michelangelo masterpiece. These two cherished works of art were badly damaged. What do you think the officials did? Did they throw them away? No way. Using the most qualified people they could find, working with care and precision, they made every effort to repair the treasures. Are you ready to restore God’s masterpieces? Is there anyone you know who has slipped up and needs a helping hand?
#2: Relieve the Burdened (2)
The second responsibility we’ve been given is not only to restore the broken, but to also relieve the burdened. The assumption behind this task is that we all have burdens and God does not want us to carry them alone.
Look at verse 2: “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” The word “carry” means to remove or lift an overwhelming load. A burden is like a huge boulder weighing someone down as they stagger along the highway of life. This may represent any number of things: sickness, a sudden tragedy, personal loss, financial difficulty, broken dreams, a failed marriage, family problems, career setbacks, or the death of a loved one.
I find it significant that Paul does not focus on what the burden is or where it comes from. That doesn’t seem to matter. What matters is that when we see our brother or sister staggering under a heavy load, we should drop what we’re doing and go help them bear that load. Instead of judging them, we’re to assist them by doing whatever we can for as long as we can. That includes even helping those who don’t like us. Exodus 23:5: “If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help him with it.”
When we help the hurting, we are “fulfilling the law of Christ,” which is summed up in John 13:34: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” In other words, when we see someone who has been rocked by the reality of life, or crushed by the weight of the world, we should ask ourselves a simple yet profound question, “What Would Jesus Do?” And that doesn’t always mean that we’ll do some spectacular deed of self-sacrifice. Many times we’re called to the more mundane ministry of just humbly helping the hurting.
We need to be careful that we’re not the cause of someone’s burdens. Jesus had no tolerance for those who piled people with problems and endless expectations. Some of His harshest words are reserved for religious leaders in Luke 11:46: “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.” I certainly don’t want to be guilty of preaching in such a way that you leave here more burdened than you did when you came in. Friend, do you pile people, or are you a load lightener?
#3: Repent of Bragging (3-5)
The Bible is so perceptive when it comes to human nature. God knows that you and I will not restore the broken or relieve the burdened if we’re too full of ourselves. Verses 3-4 challenge us to repent of bragging: “If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else…” When you see your brother or sister suffering, don’t be too arrogant to get involved.
It’s so easy for us to look down our noses and say, “They deserve it.” “She’s so weak.” “He just can’t handle the pressure.” “I saw it coming.” “Maybe they’ll listen to me next time.” “I don’t want to get involved.” “I’m just glad it’s them and not me.” “I know I would never do something like that.” How quick we are to condemn, and to look the other way, as we pass by on the other side.
The implication is that if we refuse to restore the broken or relieve the burdened, it’s because we think we’re better than others. If you think you’re something special, then you’ll find it easy to condemn. But if you know you’re nothing apart from the grace of God, then you’ll be quick to forgive and ready to help the hurting. 1 Corinthians 4:7 sets us straight: “What do you have that you did not receive?” Don’t be deceived – everything you have has been received.
So before you condemn or criticize, take a good look in the mirror
If we find it easy to condemn it may be because we have an inflated view of ourselves. If we were more conscious of our own sins, we’d be more forgiving of the weaknesses and failure of others. So before you condemn or criticize, take a good look in the mirror. We’re not as hot as we think we are, and our faltering friend isn’t as bad as we think he is.
Verse 4 tells us to test our own actions, by examining our behavior. A frail old man went to live with his son, daughter-in-law, and their four-year-old son. His hands trembled, his eyesight was blurred, and he had a hard time walking. The family ate together at the table but grandpa’s shaky hands and failing sight caused a lot of mealtime tension. Peas rolled off his spoon onto the floor and he spilled milk on the tablecloth.
The son and daughter-in-law became irritated with the mess and so they decided to have grandpa eat at a small table in the corner of the kitchen. Since he had broken a dish or two, his food was served in a wooden bowl. When the family glanced in Grandpa’s direction, sometimes he had a tear in his eye as he sat alone. Still, the only words the couple had for him were sharp admonitions when he dropped a fork or spilled some food.
The four-year-old watched it all in silence. One evening before supper, the father noticed his son playing with some pieces of wood on the floor and so he asked, “What are you making, son?” The boy responded, “Oh, I’m making a little bowl for you and mommy to eat your food in when I grow up.”
The parents were speechless and tears started to stream down their cheeks. Though nothing was said, both knew what they had to do. That evening the husband took his father’s hand and gently led him back to the family table. From then on, they ate every meal together. And for some reason, no one seemed to mind when the wooden bowl bounced off the floor.
#4: Respect Your Boundaries (5)
Restore the broken. Relieve the burdened. Repent of bragging. Our final responsibility is to respect boundaries. Look at verse 5: “For each one should carry his own load.” While verse 2 refers to an overwhelming burden that we cannot carry by ourselves, the word “load” in verse 5 describes a soldier’s backpack. It’s something small and light enough for everyone to carry. It’s the difference between a backpack and a boulder. We’re to bear that which is too heavy for another human to handle alone but we cannot carry someone else’s responsibility.
If your burden seems light today, don’t think that God intends for you to go skipping and singing all the way to heaven. Open your eyes and look around. Find someone who needs the help only you can give. And then lend a hand but respect the boundaries that God has established. It is not your responsibility to do what a person can, and should, do for herself.
Some of you have the tendency to take everyone’s cares and concerns on your shoulders. Perhaps you do this out of genuine compassion or maybe you have a little co-dependency going on where you need to feel needed. Whatever the case, don’t carry what is not yours. You were never designed to carry the world on your shoulders.
Others of us struggle in the opposite direction. Maybe you’re burned out and you frankly don’t care about people’s problems. Or maybe others have burned you and you don’t want to get involved again. While we’re not expected to carry another person’s backpack, be careful about backing too far away from people who are trying to lift loads that they cannot bear.
In other words, we should help each other bear the big burdens of life, but there are personal responsibilities that each person must bear for himself. The New Living Translation captures what it means to respect boundaries in verse 5: “For we are each responsible for our own conduct.” There are times when you have to pull back until the other person begins to take responsibility for what is theirs alone. Just as Jesus didn’t chase after the rich young ruler when he walked away from a decision, so too, we need to let people make their own choices (see Matthew 19:16-22).
A man fell into a pit and couldn’t get himself out.
- An empathetic person came along and said, “I feel for you down there.”
- A Pharisee said, “Only bad people fall into pits.”
- A gossip wanted to know all the details.
- A self-pitying person said, “You should see my pit.”
- A fire-and-brimstone preacher said, “You deserve your pit.”
- A psychologist noted, “Your parents are to blame for your pit.”
- A self-esteem therapist said, “Believe in yourself and you can get out of the pit.”
- An optimist said, “Things could be worse.”
- A pessimist said, “There’s nothing worse than this.”
- Jesus, seeing the man, took him by the hand and lifted him out of the pit. Psalm 40:1-2: “I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.”
Here’s the question for us today. Will we partner with Jesus to restore the broken, relieve the burdened, repent of our bragging and have a healthy respect for boundaries? We don’t have to carry the world on our back because Jesus has the world in his hands.
Aren’t you thankful that God is in the restoration business? He doesn’t give up on us when we grieve Him. He doesn’t stop loving us when we can’t lift our load. He pursues us even when we’re proud. And He breaks through when we operate without boundaries.
While Jesus Christ is not a relentless critic like Simon who picks apart our shortcomings for the whole world to see, He is our righteous Judge before whom we will give an account of our lives. I am so thankful that He has taken our judgment upon Himself so that we can be redeemed and restored. Titus 3:3-5: “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.”
And, instead of pushing us to a corner table in the back of the room, He invites us to sit down in a relationship of restoration and commune with Him right now.
Do you need to come to the Lord for the first time? Do you feel like you’ve slid past the line and now you’re laying flat on the ground? Psalm 80:3: “Restore us, O God; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved.”
Or, do you need to come back to Him because you’ve wandered? Allow Him to renew you. Lamentations 5:21: “Restore us to yourself, O LORD, that we may return; renew our days as of old.”