November 22, 2017

Restoring a Sinning Brother

Ron Allen

Galatians 6:1–5 deals with the subject of restoring a sinning brother. When a brother is caught up in a sinful situation, the Spirit-controlled believer is commanded to help mend or repair or restore his fellow Christian. As the Apostle Paul enlarges upon this subject, he makes two statements that seem to rival one another. In verse 2, the writer commands, “Bear ye one another’s burdens”; in verse 5, he exhorts, “For every man shall bear his own burden.” How does one relieve the tension in this passage? What is in our Lord’s heart concerning the believer’s business of burden-bearing? Practically speaking, am I responsible to bear my brother’s burdens, or is he responsible to bear them himself? The answer is, “Yes.” Believers are to bear one another’s burdens and their own burdens.

First, the wording of the text supports this dual responsibility of burden-bearing. Since every word of the Scripture is inspired by God, it is interesting to note that the Holy Spirit breathed out two different words when He spoke of our burdens. The word translated burdens in verse 2 is baros, and the word the Spirit of God employed in verse 5 is the word phortion. The emphasis of baros is on the heaviness of the matter, the weight of it. It denotes something extremely burdensome. Everyone has these kinds of burdens from time to time. They are mountain burdens that weigh the believer down—perhaps a death in the family; a terminal illness; or the burden of a besetting sin in which the young believer finds himself trapped, and real victory seems nearly hopeless. Every life has these heavy, “unbearable” weights from time to time. How encouraging it is to the struggling, burdened believer to have a fellow comrade come and say he is praying for him during his battle. How necessary it is that we help carry these kinds of burdens for one another. “Bear ye one another’s burdens.”

The word phortion, translated burden in verse 5, however, has a different connotation. It refers to a load that is carried or borne and emphasizes the individual responsibility of the one doing the bearing. In ancient literature, this word is employed for the soldier’s pack. No soldier expects another soldier to carry his pack for him. That is something each man must bear himself. Practically, this burden is the load that every disciple of Christ carries alone. Our Lord gives to all of His children certain obligations that accompany their Christian life. Each believer must live his own life for Christ according to the call of God for him. He bears this burden through the divine enablement of the Spirit of God, but it is his own load to carry. A parent cannot live his child’s Christian life for him. The godly parent will train his child and pray for his child and model a Christlike example before his child, but he cannot do for the child what God has called the child to do for himself. He must bear his own burden. “Let every man bear his own burden.”

Second, in addition to the words, the context of the passage also indicates our dual responsibility. A careful look at the context immediately reveals that the Spirit of God is asking the believer to do something in regard to another believer, particularly another believer in need. This struggling believer is “overtaken in a fault.” He is in the clutches of the enemy and is in desperate need of help. The spiritual believer, the one who is Spirit-controlled, has a duty to fulfill: he must go to his fallen comrade and restore him back to Spirit-filled living. Note that it is in this context that the Apostle Paul exhorts, “Bear ye one another’s burdens.” In this case the burden was the heavy weight of sin. In The Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan spoke of the weight of sin that Christian felt as his burden. Christian earnestly sought to be rid of his burden: “That which I seek for, even to be rid of this heavy Burden; but get it off myself, I cannot.” With what joy Christian came to the Cross, where his burden fell from his back. The context of Galatians 6:1 is a believer overburdened with sin. This struggling, burdened Christian is in need of someone who can help him with his burden. “Bear ye one another’s burdens.”

In verses 4 and 5, the context is of a more individual nature. Every man is exhorted to examine his own life to see that he is living as he should. The standard for his examination is the life of Christ, not how he thinks he looks as compared to other believers. He has a responsibility to live his own life—to carry his own load. Therefore, “let every man bear his own burden.”

In summary, the tension of the passage is relieved when we consider the wording and the context. Believers should help fellow believers bear their burdens. Certainly God is the ultimate source of strength and help. Psalm 55:22 exhorts us to cast our burdens upon the Lord. God uses fellow believers to encourage one another in this way. Yet the burden of our own life and ministry we bear ourselves, all through the divine enablement of the Spirit of God.

Dr. Ron Allen pastors Bible Baptist Church in Matthews, North Carolina.

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