Bear one another’s burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ.
(Galatians 6:2 NASB)
On June 6, 1944, over 13,000 paratroopers dropped out of the sky into the French countryside of Normandy to begin the D-Day invasion of Europe. As their parachutes floated toward the ground, each man was loaded with 125 to 150 pounds of equipment.
Today a U.S. Marine officer is required to be able to haul 152 pounds for 9 miles at a 20-minute mile pace.1
Most humans cannot carry such heavy loads! Few of us would even try.
However, many of us haul around emotional and spiritual loads much too heavy to bear. That’s why we need to hear the message of Galatians 6:2: “Bear one another’s burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ.”
When we see someone struggling with a load too heavy to bear, it’s our job to help them haul it.
When Paul instructed us to bear burdens, he chose the Greek word baros, which means “a weight, a heavy burden.” A baros is something that weighs you down and wears you out. It’s not a paper clip; it’s a load of bricks.
The New Testament uses it six times, always in a figurative sense – not a brick but an emotional or spiritual burden.
Matthew 20:12 – Christ told the story of a man who hired several groups of men to work his fields. At day’s end, those who worked a full day received the same pay as the crew who only worked a couple of hours. “Not fair!” They complained. “We have borne the burden of a full day’s work in the scorching heat!”
Acts 15:28 – Must Gentiles get circumcised when they become Christians? When the leaders of the early church gathered to answer that question, they concluded that circumcision was unnecessary. As the moderator James explained, it seemed good to impose no greater burden than a few minimal requirements. Why load on an unnecessary weight of obligations?
Revelation 2:24 – After the Lord scolded the church at Thyatira for tolerating false teachers, He graciously concluded: “I place no other burden on you.” Obeying the commands he had already given was enough of a burden.
1 Thessalonians 2:6 – Paul uses an interesting idiom when he describes his early ministry in Thessalonica. He claims that he was loving and gentle, “even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority.” Literally, he might have “been burdensome.” Or, as we might say, he could have “thrown his weight around.”
2 Corinthians 4:17 – For once, baros is used here to describe something good. Even when our circumstances are distressing, we can still trust God because “our momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory, far beyond all comparison.” Imagine the award ceremony for a soldier who expects to get a nice medal dangling from a ribbon. Instead, the commanding officer holds out a bushel basket full of gold trophies – almost too heavy to hold. We can put up with trouble now because God offers us glory beyond our capacity to carry!
Back to Galatians: “Bear one another’s burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ.” What kind of burdens does this verse describe?
Verse 1 lays down the principle that spiritual Christians should help restore weaker believers who have been overtaken by temptation. Restoring someone who is coming back from a stay in forbidden territory is not easy. The sinner bears the weight of guilt and the burden of harmful consequences. Add the pull of addictions or lifelong patterns of sin, and the load is too heavy for one person to carry.
God want Christians to help each other carry their loads.
At first glance, it might seem that Paul contradicts himself just a few verses later. Galatians 6:5 says, “For each one shall bear his own load.” It sounds like, “Don’t ask other to help you; carry your own load!”
However, there’s no contradiction here. Paul uses as different Greek word for “load.” The word is phortion, which simply means “something that is carried,” like the cargo of a ship. It could be heavy or light; the weight is not the point. Secular writers used it to describe the normal load that a soldier would carry in his pack. Roman soldiers in the first century normally carried a manageable load of about forty pounds of gear.2
Jesus used the word phortion when he promised, “My yoke is easy and my load is light” (Matthew 11:30). We may be staggering under a huge baros that we have taken on through sin or stupidity, but the Lord Jesus promises to calibrate our load precisely.
If your load feels too heavy, He can strengthen you – or send someone to help you. And next time, you can be the one who comes alongside to bear some of the weight.
1 James King, “The Overweight Infantryman,” Modern War Institute. January 10, 2017. https://mwi.usma.edu/the-overweight-infantryman.
© Ezra Project 2019