Galatians 6:2-5: Burdens

Galatians 6:2‑5  •  15 min. read  •  grade level: 8
“Be ever bearing one another’s burdens, and thus fill up to the full the law of Christ. For if anyone is reputed to be something, being nothing, he is by fancies deceiving himself. But let each one test his own work, and then he will have his boast only with regard to himself, and not with regard to the other. For each shall carry his own load.” vss. 2-5.
We saw in our last chapter that the Apostle changes from the plural to the singular while he says: “Paying attention to thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” Now in the next words (which we have quoted above), he returns to the plural. It is such a very personal thing, to pay attention to myself, to look to myself, that the plural there would not be suitable; and I do well to turn my eyes away from my fallen brother to look to the beam that may be in my own eye, before I begin to cast the mote out of his eye. (See Matt. 7:3-53And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? 4Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? 5Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye. (Matthew 7:3‑5).)
Now we go back to the plural again: “Make it your habit to be bearing the burdens of one another.” The Galatian Christians were very anxious to take up the burden of the law. This burden, you remember, Peter said was one which “neither our fathers nor we were able to bear” (Acts 15:1010Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? (Acts 15:10)); yet the Galatians were keen to bear this burden. No, says the Apostle, I will show you a better burden for you to bear than that. Bear one another’s burdens. And do not do it only now and then, but make it your habit, day by day, to be ever bearing the burdens of your brothers and your sisters. You remember in the last chapter, after the Apostle told them once again of their liberty, he immediately adds: “But by love let it be your habit to be slaves to one another.” ch. 5:13. Now he tells them to make a habit of bearing each other’s burdens. How many heavy burdens there are all around us, sin and sorrow, poverty and care, sighing and suffering. Here are burdens waiting for you to take up, burdens that are so heavy they will drive you with them to the great Burden Bearer, the One who says, “Cast thy burden upon the Lord” (Psa. 55:2222Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved. (Psalm 55:22)). But the burden of law, with which most Christians today are burdening themselves, is not for us; we are free from the law— free, so we may take up the burdens of one another. “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things” (Acts 15:2828For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; (Acts 15:28)). Then why do we everywhere see the people of the Lord making burdens for themselves with rules and regulations that are not at all a part of “these necessary things” (Acts 15:2828For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; (Acts 15:28))? And even worse than this, we find them following the example of the Pharisees: “For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders” (Matt. 23:44For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. (Matthew 23:4)). How different is this to the way of Christ, that we find in this verse in Galatians! Instead of binding on one another the heavy burdens, now it is our joy to lift them off and carry them ourselves.
You want a law, says the Apostle, here is just the law for you! The law of the Christ! How different is the law of the Christ from the law the Galatians were wishing to bear. Turn your eyes upon Christ. Has He not borne your heavy burden of sin for you? Can you not sing from the very depths of your heart:
O Christ, what burdens bowed Thy head!
Our load was laid on Thee;
Thou stoodest in the sinner’s stead—
To bear all ill for me.
A victim led, Thy blood was shed;
Now there’s no load for me.
Are you not one of the “many” whose sins He bore? (Isa. 53:1212Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:12).) It is true that that is a load He bore all alone. None can share that burden with Him; none can take the sin of another. But how many other burdens has He borne for you and for me! “Surely He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows” (Isa. 53:44Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. (Isaiah 53:4)). That is the burden, dear fellow Christian, for you and for me to bear— the griefs and the sorrows of one another around us. So will we be walking in the steps of our Master; so will we be filling up to the full the law of the Christ. Yes, that is the law for us to fulfill— not the “law of commandments” (Eph. 2:1515Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; (Ephesians 2:15)) or one of our own making. May the Lord Himself give us grace so to do!
But I believe we must not forget the connection between v.1 and v.2. In v.1 the Apostle speaks of the fall of a brother who sins, and commands the spiritual ones to set him to rights. In days of old, in the service of the law, in the tabernacle and the temple, it was the duty of the priests to deal with the sins of the nation. When a man sinned, he must take his offering to the priest “and the priest shall make an atonement for him concerning his sin” (Lev. 5:66And he shall bring his trespass offering unto the Lord for his sin which he hath sinned, a female from the flock, a lamb or a kid of the goats, for a sin offering; and the priest shall make an atonement for him concerning his sin. (Leviticus 5:6)). It was the death of the offering (pointing forward to the death of Christ, the Lamb of God) that made the atonement, but the priest acts for the fallen one in standing between God and the sinner. The Lord said to Aaron, “Thou and thy sons... with thee... shall bear the iniquity of your priesthood” (Num. 18:11And the Lord said unto Aaron, Thou and thy sons and thy father's house with thee shall bear the iniquity of the sanctuary: and thou and thy sons with thee shall bear the iniquity of your priesthood. (Numbers 18:1)). The priest that offered the sin offering “for sin shall eat it: in the holy place shall it be eaten” (Lev. 6:2626The priest that offereth it for sin shall eat it: in the holy place shall it be eaten, in the court of the tabernacle of the congregation. (Leviticus 6:26)). When we eat a thing we make it our own; it becomes part of us, and so the priest must deal with the sin offering of the one who had sinned. I believe that the second verse of Gal. 6 is perhaps connected with the first verse in just this way. God has made us to be priests unto Himself. (1 Peter 2:55Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:5); Rev. 1:66And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. (Revelation 1:6).) And when we are seeking to restore, to set to rights, a fallen brother, we are doing the work of a priest, and we must “eat the sin offering” (Ezek. 45:1717And it shall be the prince's part to give burnt offerings, and meat offerings, and drink offerings, in the feasts, and in the new moons, and in the sabbaths, in all solemnities of the house of Israel: he shall prepare the sin offering, and the meat offering, and the burnt offering, and the peace offerings, to make reconciliation for the house of Israel. (Ezekiel 45:17)) in the holy place. This is not a thing that we may do lightly. It is no light matter “to eat the sin offering” (Ezek. 45:1717And it shall be the prince's part to give burnt offerings, and meat offerings, and drink offerings, in the feasts, and in the new moons, and in the sabbaths, in all solemnities of the house of Israel: he shall prepare the sin offering, and the meat offering, and the burnt offering, and the peace offerings, to make reconciliation for the house of Israel. (Ezekiel 45:17)); for that sin offering has taken upon it the sin of the fallen brother, and now I make it my own. It is the offering that makes atonement; the priest has no share in that work, but he does have a share in bringing the erring one to God, and in doing so, he must eat the sin offering. That is, perhaps, the most difficult burden of all for us to bear for one another. That requires grace and humility that most of us do not possess; and though we have our great High Priest from whom we may freely draw, most of us seem to know very little of eating the sin offering for my fallen brother.
I think in v.1 the Apostle had used the words, “You, the spiritual ones,” in sarcasm. Those who put themselves under law are always occupied with themselves and thinking of themselves, and so are either conceited, thinking themselves to be very spiritual, or else cast down as they see the truth that they are really complete failures. But the work of bearing the burdens of one another is not a work that a conceited man may take up; so the Apostle continues: “If anyone is reputed to be something, being nothing, he is by fancies deceiving himself.” These law teachers were reputed to be very good and holy men. They were men probably from Jerusalem, probably with a famous reputation and a great name; so the Galatians had received them according to this reputation. These were the men who were walking in the steps of the Pharisees, binding on the Galatian Christians heavy burdens, but they knew nothing of bearing the burdens of one another. They knew nothing of the mind of Christ, who made Himself of no reputation. So the Apostle continues: “If anyone is reputed to be something, being nothing, he is by fancies deceiving himself.” This word, “he is by fancies deceiving,” is all one word in Greek and means, literally, “he is deceiving his own mind.” This is the only place in the New Testament we find this word, though the adjective like it is in Titus 1:1010For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision: (Titus 1:10), where again it refers especially to this same sort of people who love to teach the law.
There are many today with a reputation; let such beware lest they are by fancies deceiving themselves. Wood and hay and stubble seem to be much more than gold and silver and precious stones. (See 1 Cor. 3:12.) The word we have translated “reputed to be something” might be better translated “seem to be something,” only we have had it before in ch. 2:2, 6, 9. We may be making a great show to those around us, but will it stand the fire that must test it? And so the Apostle exhorts us: “But let each one test his own work.” How this reminds us of the passage in 1 Cor. 3, to which we have just referred: “Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try [or, test] every man’s work of what sort it is” (1 Cor. 3:1313Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. (1 Corinthians 3:13)). I remember many years ago a friend of mine had a box of silver dollars that got burned in a fire. When the fire was out, my friend found the silver dollars had all stood the test. Among them was one made of lead but with a silver face, and the fire declared it. The fire revealed it was only lead, though before nobody knew it was false. So in the coming day, the work of every one of us will be made manifest. Everything we do now will be tested then. This testing time is called in Scripture, “the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Cor. 5:1010For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. (2 Corinthians 5:10)). And “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.”
We must clearly understand that this is very different from “the great white throne” of judgment in Rev. 20:1111And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. (Revelation 20:11) where the unsaved must all appear. There only those appear who have refused Christ and trusted in their own works. They are judged according to their works, and their terrible end is that they are cast into the lake of fire. But at the judgment seat of Christ, only those who belong to Christ appear. It is like prize day at a school, when the work of the year will all be reviewed; for the examinations have tested the students, and their work has been made manifest of what sort it is. “If any man’s work abide... he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.” 1 Cor. 3:14, 1514If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. 15If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire. (1 Corinthians 3:14‑15). We read of some who will give an account with groaning. (See Heb. 13:1717Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you. (Hebrews 13:17).) This will be a most solemn time for every one of us. I fear we will have some terribly bitter regrets and groans as we give our account, and as we see what we had thought was a great pile of work for the Lord all consumed by the fire. We can deceive one another now and we can deceive our own minds now, but we cannot deceive Christ, and that testing fire will try all. What about the rules and regulations that we have made? What about the heavy burdens of law that we have taken upon ourselves, and bound upon others, so that there was no time or strength for the work the Lord would have given us to do for Him? All will be burned; the law cannot stand the fire. The work of these law teachers must all perish then, and be manifested at its true worth. Little wonder the Holy Spirit by the Apostle exhorts the Galatians, yes, exhorts us, “Let each one test his own work.” It is the very same word “test” as we find in 1 Cor. 3:1313Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. (1 Corinthians 3:13). Oh brother, sister, oh my reader, may God give to me and to you the grace we need to do that testing now as His Word exhorts us; then I may have my boast with regard to myself, not with regard to another.
And what work will stand the fire? Only that which is according to the Word of God: “If a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully” (2 Tim. 2:55And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully. (2 Timothy 2:5)). He must strive according to the rules of the contest and not according to his own ideas; the rules for us are the Word of God. How much there is all around us, and perhaps much in our own lives, that is not according to that Word. Let us test our work. Let us test it now. The Lord’s exhortation to us comes most solemnly: “Let each one test his own work, and then he will have his boast only with regard to himself, and not with regard to the other.”
The Apostle closes this little section with the brief words, joined closely to those we have just been considering: “For each one shall bear his own load.” In the second verse we were exhorted to bear one another’s burdens. But I am not to expect that my brother should bear my burden for me, whatever I may do for him: “For each one shall bear his own load.” The word for “bear” is just the same as in the second verse, but the word for load is quite different. The word in v.2 means a heavy burden; it is used of troubles, of faults, and of responsibilities in ordinary Greek, and if it refers to the sin of the brother who had a fall in v.1, then we know that every sin and every fall must be a very heavy burden, when we come to realize what we have done. The load in v.5 is the same word as the “light burden” that Christ speaks of in Matt. 11:3030For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:30). It really means “something carried,” whether it be heavy or light, and it is often used for a soldier’s “pack.”
You know in an army each soldier has his own pack, and he himself is responsible to carry that. Perhaps here, the Apostle is thinking of those individual packs which he had so often seen the Roman soldiers carrying; so he says, as it were, the Christian soldier also has his own pack, and we must each one of us carry that. Some soldiers put their own private things into their packs and make them heavy, but Christ’s pack that He gives to each one of us is light. If we fill it up with gold, or even with books, or some other thing that in our eyes is quite innocent and harmless, we will soon find that our “load” has become very heavy. One of the best Christian soldiers that I ever knew used to say: “My life motto is, ‘Travel light!’” Do not put anything in that pack except what the Captain of our salvation has put in it, and then we may be sure our load will be, as He promised, “light.”
That soldier of Jesus Christ, of whom I have just spoken, had learned to travel with a very light pack, and perhaps that was the reason that she (for she was a lady-soldier) was able to bear more of the burdens of her sisters and brothers than any other person I ever knew. If we have filled up our own private load that we have to bear for ourselves with all sorts of things of our own, then we cannot expect to bear one another’s burdens. We spoke of some burdens from which we are set free— our sins and the law— but there is another burden that is never meant for the shoulders of a Christian, and that is the heavy, heavy burden of anxiety. The Lord says: “Be careful [or, anxious] for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Phil. 4:6, 76Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. 7And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6‑7). He tells us also what to do with anxiety when it comes, as it so often does, trying to take possession of our hearts: “Casting all your anxiety upon Him, for it matters to Him about you.” 1 Peter 5:77Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you. (1 Peter 5:7). But the word for “casting” here is not the ordinary word to throw or cast or put; it means to hurl it away, as something we do not want to have anything to do with. It is the word used for the thirty pieces of silver, that became so terrible to Judas that he hurled them back to the chief priests into the inner temple. The Lord invites us to hurl our anxiety upon Him, for it matters to Him about us. If we fill up our pack with anxiety, we will never have any strength left to bear the burdens of one another. Christ is the great Burden Bearer: our sins, our griefs, our sorrows, our anxieties, our every burden, we may cast on Him. May we then learn from Him to make a habit, on the one hand, of ever bearing one another’s burdens and, on the other hand, to always bear my own load. In Heb. 10:3535Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward. (Hebrews 10:35) we are told of something we are not to “cast away” (a different word) and that is our “confidence, which hath great recompense of reward.” Another has remarked that too often “we cast away our confidence, and carry all our care.”