January 22, 2010

To Live is Christ — means knowing which burdens to carry

Politicians are plunged into hot water when the press takes something they said out of context that makes them look like idiots. Observers must back up and see the entire block of what was said before the person who said it is off the hook. If someone did that to my speech or writing, I would be enraged.

I wish it worked like that with Bible interpretation. Far too many false doctrines have been formed and perpetuated because someone lifted a line from the Bible and disregarded the words before and after it.

This morning’s devotional again is from Galatians 6, but this time I am thinking of the context to understand what it means to bear someone’s burdens. We tend to think this means burdens like grief, loss, financial reverses, and other trials, but is that all that Paul meant?

Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For each one shall bear his own load. (Galatians 6:1–5)
As I read it, it seemed that verses 2-5 are an explanation of verse one. Paul is telling the church that individuals need to look out for others, but in doing so they must not forget that they themselves are vulnerable. Broadly speaking, obeying these words would put a stop to both individualism and meddling in the affairs of others.

Suppose a Christian tips over and falls into a habit of gambling and is in a casino every other night. When another Christian (who is walking with Christ) hears about it, he is upset and even angry. He knows the power of such temptation for he is a reformed gambler. Can that man help the one in the casino? Yes, if he goes in the spirit of gentleness (this word could also be translated meekness), realizing the danger not only to the first man but to himself. He could be in the same mess, so cannot act “holier than thou” with the first man. He needs to consider his own vulnerability and be meek on the inside and gentle on the outside.

He also needs to bear the burdens of the first man. This is anything the first man considers a heavy weight. It could be whatever pushed him into this in the first place, or a fear of financial loss, or strained relationships at home, or the loss of respect from other Christians. The burden-bearer must feel those concerns and pray for this man in ways that the man cannot or will not pray for himself, including confessing his sins and asking God for forgiveness. This is what Christ is doing, so “to live is Christ” means doing the same thing. (See yesterday’s post.)

At the same time, this second man must avoid spiritual pride. Yes, he is helping someone who is in trouble, but that does not make him anything special. It is as Jesus says . . .  

So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’ (Luke 17:10)
Instead, the second man is to examine whether or not he is being obedient to God. Is he doing this because he is angry with the man? Or because God says so? From my own experience, I know that by doing what Jesus commands, I “have rejoicing in myself alone” and don’t need anything else (like retaliation or “I told you so”) to give me a sense of satisfaction. Nor do I have to compare myself to any other person to be glad about what I am doing.

That being said, the load or burden of obedience is my own load. Regardless of what others do, this is my burden. No one can bear it for me or obey for me.

The first man, the one stuck in the casino, is also responsible for his own obedience. However, because he is “overtaken” or caught in sin, he needs help to untangle himself. This is part of Body life for Christians. We bear one another’s burdens, knowing we cannot bear them ourselves, but also reminding ourselves that Jesus bore them in a greater sense when He died on the cross to remove our burden of sin for all eternity.

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