By Pastor Glenn Pease
In South Dakota a man by the name of August had a clothing store he was going to close up. His was not one of those perpetual year around closing sales. He was actually intending to go out of business by July. So he hung a sign in his window which read, The First Of July Is The Last Of August. Those who did not know the owners name would think the sign was expressing a meaningless and hopelessly unexplainable contradiction, but for those who knew his name, the sign conveyed a clear and clever message.
So often an apparent contradiction has a very simple explanation. This is the case with the many Biblical paradoxes. Paul has one here in the last chapter of Galatians that certainly seems on the surface, to be a flat contradiction. In verse 2 he says, "Bear one another's burdens," and then in verse 5 he says, "Each man will have to bear his own burden." Certainly in three verses Paul had not forgotten what he wrote. But if he did it on purpose, which is obvious, how can it be that we are to carry one another's burdens, and at the same time each be stuck with our own load?
One might just as well say, that to be wise we must become fools, or, to be strong we must become weak. As a matter of fact, Paul said both of those paradoxes as well. Was Paul a master at double talk, or was he gifted with the ability to see life from a wider and wiser perspective than most men? The latter is the obvious answer. Paul's apparently conspicuous contradictions, and puzzling paradoxes, are the result of his God-given ability to see the whole of life, and not just some of its parts in isolation. This ability was essential for one who represented so authoritatively Him who is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. What can be more paradoxical than an A which is also a Z, or beginning which is also an end. This can only be possible if we are referring to one who is eternal and omnipresent, and who, therefore, fills all of reality at the same time. This, of course, is precisely the case with God.
Since God's very nature is paradoxical, because it is so all encompassing, it follows that it ought not to be surprising to find that His revelation partakes of His nature. The Bible is filled with paradoxes just because it sees life as a whole, and not just in fragments, as is the case with all merely human philosophy. To conquer we must surrender; to live we must die; to be exalted we must be humble; to get we must give. God hates the sinner, yet loves the sinner enough to give His Son for them. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. Yet, those who drink of the water of life shall thirst no more. In the last days there shall come those forbidding to marry. Yet, in the last days they shall marry and be given in marriage.
On and on goes the list of Biblical paradoxes, each of them with a valuable lesson to broaden our minds and enlarge our vision of reality. We want to focus our attention on this one before us, which deals with burdens. The thing to be aware of is the truth conveyed by paradox, which is, opposite things can be true of the same thing. A river can be narrow and wide; crooked and straight. From one perspective you may see it go straight for miles, and then begin to wind for miles.
The word burden has more than one meaning, and depending upon how you are using it, it can refer to a curse or a blessing. There are burdens in life that no one can consider good. They are evil, and are crushing burdens. William G. Clark referred to such when he wrote,
Oh, there are moments for us here, when seeing
Life's any qualities, and woe, and care,
The burdens laid upon our mortal being
Seems heavier than the human heart can bear.
The Bible urges us to get rid of these kinds of burdens, for they are anxieties and cares that are beyond our control. "Casting all your care upon Him, for He careth for you." "Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." The burdens of weary, overworked, and frustrated lives are to be gotten rid of, and refreshment, and rest are to be found in Christ. "Cast your burden on the Lord, and He will sustain you." This is certainly one way to look at the matter of burdens, but God forbid that we think it is the whole truth about burdens.
What of the Bible's clear demands that we take on burdens? Take up the cross and follow me; take my yoke upon you and learn of me. All the commands of Jesus, and especially the great commission are commands to take up a burden. Paul adds to this the burdens we are to bear for one another in fulfilling the law of Christ. Here is a burden that is among the loftiest loads we can lift, for to do so fulfills the highest law of all, which is the law of Christ, which is the law of love.
There is a story concerning a king who once placed a heavy stone in the middle of the road, and then hid to see who would remove it. Men of various classes came by, and worked their way around it. Some of them loudly blaming the king for not keeping the highways clear. They all dodged their duty of getting rid of it. At last, a peasant on his way to town with a load of vegetables to sell saw the obstacle, laid down his own burden, and took on the burden of pushing the bolder off the road. As he did, he saw a purse that had been placed under it. He examined it, and found it full of gold, and with a note saying that it was for the one who removed the stone. Burdens can be a blessing when they are matters of helping others deal with their burdens. The peasant fulfilled the will of the king by bearing a burden, and we fulfill the will of our Lord when we bear one another's burdens. So we see there is more than one way to look at a burden.
There are the solitary burdens that we must bear alone; the social burdens that we share, and the senseless burdens that we are to cast upon the Lord. Paul could have kept things simple and uncomplicated by just referring to one kind of burden, but he doesn't do that. He speaks of both the solitary and the social burden in the same context. He links together our obligation to others, and our personal responsibility. Paul is primarily concerned with believers, and the bearing of one another's burdens within the community of faith. The total context, however, is much broader. In fact, in verse 10 Paul makes it clear that all men are included in our social responsibility. He writes, "As we have opportunity let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith."
There are no boundaries to Christian burden bearing. Any good done for any person can be a fulfillment of this Biblical command, for it is a comprehensive statement, as broad as the love of God. Within that general attitude of good will to all, is a specific emphasis on fellow believers. This is similar to the statement that Jesus is the Savior of all men, but especially of those who believe. The love and atonement of Christ is universal and comprehensive, but only those who believe in Christ, and receive him as Savior, benefit by being redeemed. There is always both the all, and the few, in Christian relationships. The comprehensive potential, and the limited actual.
As we study this chapter we want to keep in mind the total scope of our obligation as far as burden-bearing goes. We have seen there are some burdens we ought not to bear at all, but in this chapter we see three kinds of burdens we are obligated to bear. They are, personal responsibility; social responsibility within the church, and social responsibility to those outside the church.
6:1 Paul begins by writing, "Brethren if a man be overtaken in a fault." Here is the first person who needs a hand with a burden. It is the brother in Christ who has been overtaken by sin. It is not just a fault as the KJV has it, but a serious trespass. Sin like a leaping lion as overtaking him in the jungle of life, and has pulled him from the path of purity into the vines of vice, or the cave of corruption, there to devour him, and to render him useless as a servant of God. There is more of this that takes place than we realize. It is not a rare isolated incident. Peter warned that Satan like a roaring lion walks about seeking whom he may devour, but here is a brother who did not heed the warning.
Paul was not blind, for he knows a Christian brother or sister can be overtaken by some sin. Like John the beloved Apostle, he knows if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves. John made provision for the Christians in sin, and said, if we confess it Jesus is faithful to forgive it. Paul gets into the social aspect of sin. Sometimes sin is not just a private matter you can confess and be done with it. Sometimes it has social implications, and becomes a public matter, and a heavy burden. There is blame and shame, and a need for more than God's forgiveness. There is also a need for the acceptance of the body. The world is full of people who know God loves them, and has forgiven them, but who are cut off from the fellowship of the church, because the body paid no attention to what Paul is saying here. We are social beings, and if we don't get social acceptance and restoration to fellowship, we are like branches cut off from the tree, and we wither and bear no fruit.
I remember a silly story I use to tell as a teen. It is about a farmer who was throwing purple powder on his field, and when he was asked what he was doing by a neighbor he said, "I'm throwing this lion powder on my land. It is suppose to keep lions away." The neighbor protested, "But there ain't any lions within a thousand miles from here." He responded, "I know, and its a good thing too, cause I bet this stuff don't work." Silly, but no more so than the Christian who knows he can't face Satan alone on his own ground, and yet, who sprinkles his life with the purple powder of self reliance, and walks right into the lion's jaws.
You know, as well as I do that the reason so many are being devoured by the lion of lust in our day is because they park in his den. Even as a child of God you never know what you might do if the circumstances are right. Therefore, do not be a fool, but stay away from the lion's den. Every man has his Achilles heel, and Satan throws a pretty good spear, so stay out of range. But some will not listen, and will go down, and this is the man Paul is concerned about here. He addresses those he expects to act on the matter as, "Ye which are spiritual." That which is to characterize them is a compassion and a concern for a fallen brother. Some would think the spiritual ones should be the ones raking him over the coals of condemnation. There are those who feel they are spiritual who like to show their contempt for the fallen, and they add more mud to the mess that already is. The obligation of the truly spiritual is neither to condemn or condone the sinner, but to act in a practical way to offset the victory of sin, and restore the victim.
Every soldier counts in the army of Christ, and none are to be left lying helpless and wounded on the battlefield. One of the obvious influences of Christianity on the American culture is the high value we place on the individual life. We go all out at home or in battle to rescue and save one lost child, or one wounded soldier. This in contrast to what a Dr. Pearson told us at a Civil Air Patrol meeting. He was in China during World War II. The Chinese army did not have any medics, because it was too expensive, so if a man was wounded and could not go on, they removed his uniform and left him. They would go on to the next village where the first man they found to fit the uniform was drafted. The life of an individual wasn't worth a penny. Not so in our culture, and not so even more in the Christian battle. No soldier of the cross ever ought to ever be given into the hands of the enemy, but be restored to the company of the faithful.
Those who are quick to condemn, not only give aid and comfort to the enemy, but make it hard for the wounded brother to get back to his own lines. To carry out the analogy, it is like a wounded soldier in no mans land trying to get back to his company, but his own men are raking the area with machine gun fire. Just as some Americans die at the hands of their own men because of error, so the church, if it does not follow Paul's pattern, can drive men out of the church. The number of people who no longer go to church, because of self-righteous condemnation, is legion. Many churches and individuals have failed to be channels of the mercy and forgiveness of Christ, because they refused to bear the burden of a fallen brethren. They left him with the whole load until it broke the back of his faith, and he fell crushed, never to rise again. As terrible as it is for what the Chinese did, it is even worse for Christians to do the same on the spiritual level.
To bear this burden is not easy. To share his guilt and shame for deserting the captain of his faith is hard. No one likes to be identified with a deserter, but this is a burden we can only escape by ourselves being deserters of our Lord's orders. This is not a burden we can cast on the Lord, for it is a part of our obligation to a brother in Christ. If we lift it, we will discover it is one of those burdens that is a blessing. "My yolk is easy and burden is light," said Jesus. This is it, the bearing of one another's burden, and so fulfilling the law of Christ. The saint of India, Sundar Singh once crossed the mountains of Tibet during a heavy snowstorm. He was joined by a stranger, and they were companions in misfortune. The cold was so intense they feared they would not make it. They found a man who had fallen off the path to a ledge below. He was unconscious and Sundar asked his companion to help him rescue the man. He said it would be foolish to try and he went off on his own. At the risk of his life Sundar got to the man, and struggled back to the path carrying him.
He later found his former companion frozen, but he was able to stay alive because his extra exertion of carrying the body. He was able to reach a village and survive because he was willing to carry a burden.
Why should children bear the burden of picking up clothes, making the bed, etc., if mom will bear that burden for them? The most irresponsible people in the world are created when someone else bears all of their burdens. Young women make poor housewives when they are not taught to bear the burdens of running a household. It is curse to escape such burdens, for it is burden bearing that makes people responsible citizens. There are burdens you want others to help you bear, but there are many that you need to bear alone to become the kind of person God wants you to be.
James Gilkey tells of watching workman on the street of New York city carrying a long awkward plank. The wind kept blowing it, and as it would swing back and forth, he would lose his stride and weave back and forth. Another man came up behind and saw his problem, and without a word he eased his shoulder under the back end of the plank. The workman was ignorant of what was happening. He steadied his step, and quickened his pace, and quickly arrived at his destination. His undetected helper slipped from under the load, and continued on his way. The workman never even knew he had been helped with his burden. Our Lord does this for us, and we receive a helping hand we never even see. We can do this type of lifting as well, and give a silent and secret lift to those with burdens. However we do it, we should all be in the business of burden bearing.