Back to the Right Path
Restoration cannot be accomplished without confrontation, and this may require firm words and a stern rebuke. Yet even—especially!—in these cases, Luther’s advice to a pastor charged with setting a lapsed brother back on the right path should be heeded: “Run unto him, and reaching out your hand, raise him up again, comfort him with sweet words, and embrace him with motherly arms.”
It is rather a family of born-again brothers and sisters supernaturally knit together by the Holy Spirit in a common fellowship of mutual edification and love. In this context Paul admonished his readers to bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ. The immediate context refers back to the preceding verse and conveys the idea of the spiritually mature bearing with and helping to restore those who have fallen into sin
The Reality of Burdens. All Christians have burdens. Our burdens may differ in size and shape and will vary in kind depending on the providential ordering of our lives. For some it is the burden of temptation and the consequences of a moral lapse, as in v. 1 here. For others it may be a physical ailment, or mental disorder, or family crisis, or lack of employment, or demonic oppression, or a host of other things; but no Christian is exempt from burdens
The myth of self-sufficiency is not a mark of bravery but rather a sign of pride. Paul’s maxim in v. 3 is aimed at this perverted understanding of the self. “If a man thinks he is ‘somebody,’ he is deceiving himself, for that very thought proves that he is nobody” (Phillips). Such an attitude of conceited self-importance leads to two fundamental failures in relationship: one, the refusal to bear the burdens of others, for that would be a task too menial and deprecating for a person who “thinks he is something”; the other, the refusal to allow anyone else to help shoulder one’s own burdens since that would be an admission of weakness and need. To live this way, however, is to practice the art of self-deception, for “no man is an island entire to itself.
The duty of bearing one another’s burdens is stated in the imperative mood; it is not an option but a command.
Surely the practice of spiritual restoration is needed not only in ancient Galatia but in every church community. Indeed, every Christian ought to be prepared to lovingly respond to a brother or sister who falls into sin.
Regrettably, however, this is not something Christians do very often, or very well. Too often we act like a timid medical student who sees a patient with a bone fracture but is too insecure or immature to say anything about it. Or worse yet, we can be too proud or preoccupied with ourselves even to notice, much less care.
Spirit-led communities, and Spirit-led individuals, do spiritual restoration. But they only do it—or at least only do it well—when they’re not tempted by their own pride and conceit. Thus Paul warns the Galatians, “Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” (v. 1).
Tempted in what way? Certainly we may be tempted to stumble in the same way the erring person has. But more to the point, we may be tempted—and almost certainly will be tempted—to gloat over others who are overtaken in sin. Not that we would ever intend to, but sin is just that subtle, and pride and conceit are just that powerful.
The proud, the conceited, are too exalted in their own hearts to bend low to carry other people’s burdens. Inflated egos inhibit burden bearing. Burden bearing is, after all, a slave’s task; it’s a menial, messy, and often thankless job. It’s not a job for the proud.
No wonder that great theologian of the human heart, Jonathan Edwards, concludes: “’Tis inexpressible, and almost inconceivable, how strong a self-righteous, self-exalting disposition is naturally in man; and what he will not do and suffer, to feed and gratify it.”