Bearing One Another’s (Sin) Burdens
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. Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. For each one will bear his own load (Gal 6:1-5).
God never intended for the Christian race to be run alone. We need one another, not only for mutual encouragement, but also to help each other overcome besetting sins. This continues the relational context of the above Scripture.
The one-another ministry of restoration, described in Galatians 6:1-5, includes supportive accountability for fellow believers who are struggling with sin. The exhortation “Bear one another’s burdens” (v. 2) means that the ministry of restoration involves helping carry the weight of another person’s sin. The “burden” in this context is the weight of sin or the “burden of temptations” that has trapped sinning brothers or sisters. To bear this weight is to help them carry their sin burden. Richard Baxter encouraged his fellow pastors to serve their sheep in this way:
Another class of converts that need our special help, are those who labour under some particular corruption, which keeps under their graces, and makes them a trouble to others, and a burden to themselves. Alas! There are too many such persons. Some are specially addicted to pride, and others to worldly-mindedness; some to sensual desires, and others to frowardness or other evil passions. Now it is our duty to give assistance to all these; and partly by dissuasions, and clear discoveries of the odiousness of sin, and partly by suitable directions about the remedy, to help them to a more complete conquest of their corruptions.
Nevertheless, though those who are “spiritual” are responsible for carrying the burden with those who are trapped, they do not carry it for them: “For each one will bear his own load” (v. 5). In other words, whatever help we give to sinning brothers or sisters must not remove an ounce of personal responsibility, since they are, first and foremost, morally accountable to God as creatures made in His image. While we lovingly confront, in keeping with the goal of restoration, we must remind those who are caught in sin that “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death” (Rom. 8:2). By ministering in this way, we “fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2), who came not to be served but to serve (Mark 10:45).
Jay Adams writes of the priority of love in our relationships with fellow believers:
Love for God and one’s neighbor constitutes the sum of God’s requirements for the Christian. The man who loves needs no counseling. Love cements relationships between God and man and man and man. While love attracts, fear repels. When love gives, lust grabs. What love builds, hatred destroys. With love communication flourishes; with resentment it withers. Love is the ultimate answer to all the problems of living with which the Christian counselor deals. Love, therefore, is the goal.
As believers committed to each other’s spiritual well-being, we must recognize that we are not the only ones fighting the daily battle against sin, but our brothers and sisters are too, though some of them may be losing the war and need extra help in gaining the victory. If walking in love is what we are called to then we must love one another enough to humbly confront when we are aware of one who is trapped by sin, and gently lead him or her into paths of righteousness. Ministry without this kind of love profits nothing (1 Cor. 13:1–3). Love looks to the long-term good of the defeated brother or sister and brings forth compassionate, restorative, humble ministry to a fellow sinner, recognizing that, to one degree or another, we are all “strugglers” and therefore must maintain a commitment to the kind of ministry that restores amidst a culture of grace and truth.
[To learn more about this biblical philosophy of one-another ministry, read Counseling One Another.]
*This post was originally published in September 26, 2012.