“œIf we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another. Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restre such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. For each one will bear his own load“ (Gal. 5:25 – 6:1-5).
I heard this passage faithfully exposited by Dan Wilson from Harvest USA (www.harvestusa.org) in the context of several sessions on biblical masculinity and the call to fight the fight of faith at our church’s men’s retreat earlier this year.
I have to confess that I’ve often glossed over this passage, reading it (through the lens of our cultural feminism that is so hard to escape) as a “œwarm fuzzy” reminder that we’re not in this alone, that we should support each other in the faith. It’s so much more than that, however. A little contextual reading and a little Greek exegesis can help us see what Paul is really saying here.
Galatians, it has been said, is “œRomans written while Paul was angry.” He covers many of the same themes as are addressed in Romans (i.e. – justification by faith, struggle against sin, etc.) in a much more terse fashion, punctuated with refrains of ”do you not know“ or “œbut you know“œ”“this was material they had already covered, and Paul is firmly reminding them that these truths should have a hold on their lives. The immediate context of this passage is a discourse on circumcision (more specifically, the spreading heresy that it was necessary to follow the Jewish law to attain salvation), the bondage to sin that comes from the rejection of grace, and the freedom that comes when we crucify our flesh with Christ. Paul here reminds the Galatians how to flesh out grace-filled living in a Christian community”“he tells them to take sin seriously and contend for one another’s spiritual health.
The word translated “œwalk” in 5:25 is the verb stÅichÄ•Å, which speaks of marching in cadence and conformity to a leader. The NIV’s translation of this phrase as “œkeep in step with the Spirit“ is a more correct rendering of the meaning. Often Paul uses the verb pÄ•ripatÄ•Å to refer to our spiritual walk, but his use of a different verb here sets a military tone to let us know that we should listen to the Spirit as soldiers listen to a commander”“that failure to hear and obey quickly and accurately can have disastrous results. Therefore, as we listen to the Spirit’s leading, we should be alert to the dangers of sin and contend for those who succumb to temptation, lovingly but firmly restoring them to right relationship with God and the Church.
The “œburdens” that we are to bear together (6:2) are the Greek word baros, which always has the connotation of weight pressing down upon someone or something. Temptation and sin are a crushing load that individual believers should not have to (and indeed, are not able to) deal with alone. There is a definite call to brotherhood and mutual accountability among believers in dealing with sin in the Body. The command is a two-way street: brothers are not to let an individual struggle alone, nor is an individual to attempt to. If he thinks he can handle sin on his own, he is deceiving himself (6:3).
The apparent contradiction of the statement that “œeach one shall bear his own load“ (6:5) so soon after we are told to “œbear one another’s burdens“ is resolved in the Greek. The word for “œload” is phÅrtiÅn, meaning “œsomething carried”. The idea of weight and struggle is not attached to this term”“it is the word Christ used when saying that His “œburden is light.” The concept here is that while a body of believers is necessary to confront the baros of sin, each individual is responsible for his own phÅrtiÅn of the spiritual disciplines (prayer, study, and meditation on God’s Word); phÅrtiÅn is like a soldier’s pack that contains his provisions, ammunition, and everything he needs to participate in battle and neglects at his own peril. Other believers are not accountable for our personal devotion”“that’s between us and the Lord”“but they are called to rescue us from the pits we fall into when we neglect our responsiblity.
Living this out is tough (we don’t like confronting our fellow men about their sins, and we like it even less when the shoe is on the other foot), but it is an absolutely crucial command for the Church. We cannot live for Christ in a vacuum”“without brothers to encourage us and chastise us, our witness is shot full of holes by “œthe sin which so easily entangles us“ (Heb. 12:1). I pray that more men of the valiant faith that Paul describes will be raised up in our churches to rescue them from the mire of irrelevance, cowardice, and unfaithfulness that so often characterizes them today.