In the Book of Galatians, Paul writes that Christian brothers and sisters are supposed to carry one another’s burdens.
He states that in doing so we fulfill the law of Christ. But then he goes on to say that everyone needs to carry their own burden as well.
This can be quite confusing. What is Paul saying here?
Are we supposed to carry each other’s burdens or not? What are the burdens he’s talking about? Where does the law of Christ fit in?
To get a better understanding of what Paul is trying to communicate, let’s start by looking at the passage for context.
Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself. But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For every man shall bear his own burden (Galatians 6:1-5, KJV, emphasis mine).
As you can see, it seems that Paul is contradicting himself. It’s interesting that he says burdens (plural), and burden (singular). This seems insignificant. But let’s look deeper.
The original text was written in Greek, not English. So, we’ll look at both the original words, as well as their translations.
- Bear – Paul used the same word both times. The word in Greek is a verb that means to take up, bear, carry, to carry (take) away. It also means to endure, tolerate, or support.
This word has been translated as bear, carry, share, help carry, and assume.
- Burden(s) – Paul used two different words each time. This in and of itself separates Paul’s first instruction from the second.
In the Greek:
- Burdens – a weight, burden, trouble, heaviness. This type of burden has real substance with value, carries personal or eternal significance.
This word is found translated into the one word, burdens.
- Burden – a burden, the freight of a ship, cargo, load. This type of burden must be carried by the individual as something personal, not transferrable.
This word is translated into a variety of words: load, conduct, burden, responsibility, luggage, actions, shortcomings.
It’s clear by unpacking these words that Paul was addressing two different types of burdens.
- One we are to help one another with.
- One we are responsible for ourselves.
Still, this can be difficult to understand how to apply, so let Scripture interpret Scripture to find out what Paul meant.
See how the bearing of burdens is carried out in these three different translations (emphasis mine).
Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out. Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived (Galatians 6:1-3, MSG).
Help carry each other’s burdens. In this way you will follow Christ’s teachings. So if any one of you thinks you’re important when you’re really not, you’re only fooling yourself (Galatians 6:2-3, GWT).
Carry one another’s burdens and in this way you will fulfill the requirements of the law of Christ [that is, the law of Christian love]. For if anyone thinks he is something [special] when [in fact] he is nothing [special except in his own eyes], he deceives himself (Galatians 6:2-3, AMP).
The Law of Christ
Paul states that by bearing one another’s burdens we fulfill the law of Christ. He refers to it in 1 Corinthians as an example in his life.
To the Jews I became like a Jew so that I could help save Jews. I myself am not ruled by the law, but to those who are ruled by the law I became like someone who is ruled by the law. I did this to help save those who are ruled by the law. To those who are without the law I became like someone who is without the law. I did this to help save those who are without the law. (But really, I am not without God’s law — I am ruled by the law of Christ.) To those who are weak, I became weak so that I could help save them. I have become all things to all people. I did this so that I could save people in any way possible. (1 Corinthians 9:20-22, ERV, emphasis mine).
What is this law and where is it written? It isn’t defined in Scripture as such but is understood to be the law of love.
Jesus the Christ revealed this law when asked what the most important command was.
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29-31).
James speaks of the law of love, calling it royal.
Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (James 2:8).
It’s All about Love
God is love and Paul admonishes us to imitate him as dear children.
Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma (Ephesians 5:1-2).
For further reading:
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Danielle Bernock is an international, award-winning author, coach, and speaker who helps people embrace their value and heal their souls through the power of the love of God. She’s written Emerging With Wings, A Bird Named Payn, Love’s Manifesto, Because You Matter, and hosts the Victorious Souls Podcast. A long-time follower of Christ, Danielle lives with her husband in Michigan near her adult children and grandchildren. For more information or to connect with Danielle https://www.daniellebernock.com/