Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Galatians 6:1-1:1 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. 5 For each will have to bear his own load. 6 Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. 7 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. 9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. … 14 But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. 16 And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. 17 From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. 18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.
The Sunday Divine Services are over. The organist is busy putting away music. The altar guild is attending to the Communion ware. The elder of the day is taking care of his assignments. The ushers begin to close up the church. Part of those responsibilities is going through all the pews, picking up discarded bulletins, straightening hymnals, and the like.
Suddenly, the sound of young voices fills the nave. Little heads are bouncing up and down as they race between the pews. Their goal is to collect as many bulletins as possible and present them as a prize to their father, an usher. They do this for the joy of it. It is not work. It is not a burden. They do this knowing they’ll receive an approving smile from their father. It’s a golden opportunity to show their love to the one they call “Dad.” The smiling faces and the arms extended upward with hands full of used bulletins tell the story. There’s no secret here as to why they did the thing they did.
What about us?
Why Do We Do the Things We Do?
Do we do the things we do because we feel some sort of burden, an obligation, a requirement of God’s law, or do we do them out of joy for someone?
Do we do the things we do as a burden? Our text describes one of the things we do as Christians: we are commanded to bear the burdens of others (vv 1–2). Verse two says: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Yes, members of the Body of Christ have burdens. Unlike some who think that a Christian is care-free, has a charmed life with no troubles and problems or illness or sufferings, the fact is Christians suffer the same burdens as anyone else. Christian families also experience strife and discord and are not immune from divorce or broken homes. They also are subject to illness and diseases. Cancer strikes the believer just as it does the non-believer, and Christians and their loved ones also die just like all the rest. Believers also experience job loss, financial burdens and struggles, loss of homes through fire, storms, and even inability to pay the mortgage.
Moreover, out dear brothers and sisters in Christ fall into sin. Struggling against sin can be a huge burden of guilt. Temptations afflict believers just like any others. Sinful thoughts and lusts fill the hearts and minds of believers too. Greed, self-righteousness, love of money and things of this world are all experienced by believers. Gossip, saying things about others behind their backs, the desire for power or status all these things are found in churches just as much as in the secular world. Fellow Christians struggle with burdens and are in need of support and encouragement. God tells us in our text this morning that we are to restore these fellow believers in “a spirit of gentleness,” “putting on as God’s chosen ones, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. (v 1; Col 3:12). Bearing one another’s burdens.
That means forgiving them of their sins. Not judging, accusing, pointing out the wrongs of others, or complaining about them, or talking about them on Facebook or social media but forgiving in a spirit of humility and kindness. We are to stand by them in those times of suffering, strengthen them in time of weakness, encourage them and hold them up from falling into temptation and sin.
Obviously, bearing one another’s burdens is a very good thing! It’s “the Christian thing to do.” It’s what we do. It’s what Christians do. It’s the way children of God live.
But why do we do it? We may have mixed motives. Do we bear one another’s burdens because we think it’s what we have to do as a good Christian or to be a good Christian? That is, do we see bearing one another’s burdens as one big burden to us? Do we see it as an obligation that we are required to do, a burden to us, a chore? Do we do it because we think of it as a required fulfilling of the Law? (v 2). Do we do it because we expect a payback? (vv 6–10). “I did this for you, now you owe me one.”
Or maybe do we do it because carrying others’ burdens makes us feel good about ourselves: “We’re the strong ones. We don’t have problems (temptations, family troubles, unemployment, health issues) like they do.” Or, it gives us something we can pat ourselves on the back for. It gives us something to brag about, “Look what I did for someone.” “See, what a good person I am.”
If that’s why we bear one another’s burdens, then what we do is not only for the wrong reason, but also it receives a stern warning; “Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” (vv 1b, 3–5). We are sinful. Doing the right thing for the wrong reason is just as sinful as not doing it at all. It too receives God’s condemnation and wrath.
Okay, it is obvious that bearing one another’s burdens is the Christian thing to do. We all know it’s what we should do. When we’re living out our Christian life, it’s just what we do. But we want to do it for the right reason. What is the right reason?
Do we do the things we do for someone? We know we should do what we do for someone else, don’t we? We should bear another’s burdens not for our benefit but for that of the other person. We are to forgive our neighbor because we wish her to be released from guilt. We are to listen, to comfort, to counsel because we want him to live in joy and peace of mind. That is, our works for others are not to lead us to sinful pride but to humble service as God tells us, “With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.” (Eph 4:2; 1 Pet 3:8).
So, there we go again. Trying to obey God by being humble and bearing the burdens of others with humility in order to fulfill God’s laws. We fall right back into the trap of the law. We can no more make ourselves humble and than an apple tree can turn itself into an orange tree. The fact is the only way we can do what we do for someone else is because of Someone Else.
By nature, we care only about ourselves, accounting for ourselves, keeping the Law. Thinking we’re really something. Feeling pretty proud of the way we bear our own load, pull our own weight, don’t need anybody else’s help. We want to earn the reward ourselves—or avoid punishment—by fulfilling what we think must be that “law of Christ.” But there is someone else we need.
That Someone Else is Jesus Christ. He has freed us from thinking about ourselves (v 14a). That really is the point all the way through Galatians, and now it reaches its climax here in our text. We are by nature slaves to sin and the Law, and trying to keep it, to beat our sin by whatever good things we try to do—even caring for our fellow believers—is hopeless.
But Christ has fulfilled the Law for us so that now we don’t have to worry—or even think—about ourselves. It is done! It is finished! All righteousness has been fulfilled. The law has been fulfilled for us so we are free from its demands and obligations.
Therefore, we focus on the cross of Christ. The cross was considered a place of defeat (Is 52:13–53:12; Heb 12:2), but Jesus turned the cross into a place of victory over sin, death, and the power of the devil (Rom 8:37; 1 Cor 15: 54–57; Gal 2:20). On the cross, Jesus freed us from God’s wrath and punishment.
So now, we do what we do for someone else (our fellow believers) because Someone Else (Jesus Christ) has done what he did for us. Because Jesus Christ obeyed God’s law for us and removed our guilt by dying on the cross. In Christ, we are a new creation (vv 14–16). The old Adam is drowned in our Baptism, and a new man arises (Rom 6:4; Eph 4:22; Titus 3:5).
As a new creation, we are renewed, redeemed, restored (2 Cor 5:17; Gal 3:27). We are led by the Spirit; the world has been crucified to us (v 14; 1 Cor 2:2; Phil 3:7–8). We embrace the things of Christ—live a Spirit-led life of loving, bearing burdens, as Jesus has loved us and bore our burdens and sins (Jn 13:34–35; Rom 12:10; 2 Cor 13:11).
We cannot depend on ourselves to do good for others. Our sinful nature leads us into temptation, and sin will rule the day. But we do what we do because of Someone, because of what Christ has done for us in love. In love and empowered by the Spirit, we are crucified to the world and made alive to Christ. In a spirit of gentleness, we restore our brothers and sisters in Christ, bearing their burdens and so fulfill the Law of Christ. Amen.