By J. Vernon McGee
Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)
For every man shall bear his own burden. (Galatians 6:5)
Most little towns of a bygone day had a character known as the town atheist, a freethinker, generally a ne'er-do-well. The little town in which I lived as a boy lacked many things. It didn't have streetlights. In fact, we didn't have electric lights in our home, and I can remember using a kerosene lamp to study by in those days. Our little town didn't have sidewalks, it didn't have paved streets. It didn't have running water - except what you ran out to the well to get; and it didn't have inside plumbing. There were many things our little town lacked, but we did have a town atheist. He called himself a socialist. Each Sunday morning, weather permitting, he was down at the street corner on the town square, speaking. These fellows are generally loquacious, and this fellow was especially so. Usually he had about a dozen listeners who were also loafers. On my way to Sunday school - I killed as much time as possible - I always stopped to listen to him. The thing that impressed me about this atheist was that his mouth was cut on a bias, and as he chewed tobacco an amazing thing took place. He not only defied the Word of God, he also defied the law of gravitation. You would think, according to the law of gravitation, that the tobacco juice would run out of the lower corner of his mouth. But it didn't. It ran out of the upper corner. I used to stand there as a boy and wonder how he did it.
This man, I remember, always ridiculed the Bible and pointed out supposed contradictions. His favorites were verses 2 and 5 in the sixth chapter of Galatians:
Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.... For every man shall bear his own burden.
He would read both verses, then lift his head, leer at the crowd and say, 'You see, there is a contradiction in the Bible. One place it says that you are to bear one another's burdens, and then it says you are to bear your own burdens.' None of us in the little town knew how to answer him, so we just stood there in silence and listened to him. Actually, the answer was very simple, but we didn't know it in those days.
There are in the Scriptures eleven different words that are translated by our one English word burden. This means there are different kinds of burdens. There are some burdens that you can share; there are other burdens that you must bear and cannot share with anyone. That is a very simple but a very satisfactory answer.
Burdens are those things that we all have in common. All of us have burdens. Not all of us have wealth, but we have burdens. Not all of us have health, but we have burdens. Not all of us have talents, but we have burdens. Some of us even lack physical members - not all of us can see, not all of us can hear, not all of us have arms and legs, and certainly not all of us have good looks. We say that we all have the same blood, but it is not the same; it comes in different types. Although we may not have very much in common, we all have burdens.
However, not all of us have the same burdens. Actually, we all have different burdens. What Paul is doing in this sixth chapter of Galatians is dividing burdens into two classes: burdens which we can share and burdens which we must bear and cannot share.
Burdens You Can Share
He first refers to burdens that you can share:
Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)
Dr. Lenski, the Lutheran expositor, has a very fine translation of this verse: 'the burdens of each other keep bearing.' That is a literal translation. The Greek word for 'burden' in this verse is baros, and it simply means 'something heavy.' There are other derivatives, but fundamentally and basically it simply means 'something heavy.' Our Lord used it when He spoke about 'the burden and the heat of the day.' And the early church, when it met in its first council in Jerusalem, made this decision: 'For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things' (Acts 15:28), speaking of a burden that the Gentile churches were to share with the church in Jerusalem.
Someone has said that a load is only half a load when two are carrying it. There are burdens today that we can share.
A woman boarded a bus with a very heavy basket. She sat down beside a man and put the basket on her lap. After noticing her discomfort he said, 'Lady, if you would put that heavy basket down on the floor, you would find that the bus would carry both you and your load.' May I say to you, there are burdens that you can let someone else bear with you.
Again, the word baros can mean 'fault,' as we shall see. It can mean 'infirmity.' It can mean 'tension.' And it can mean 'grief.' These are some of its meanings.
Now what are some of the burdens that you and I can share? We will look at three of them, although there are many others.
The first of these three is one that all of us have today. It is the burden of our faults. I think everybody has at least one fault.
A man speaking to a group asked the question, 'Is there anyone here who does not have a fault, or do you know of someone who does not have a fault?' No one raised his hand. After he had repeated the question several times, a little fellow in the back, a Mr. Milquetoast type, raised his hand. The speaker asked him to stand.
'Are you the one who has no faults?'
'Oh, no,' he said, 'I'm not the one.'
'then do you know someone who does not have any faults?'
'Well,' he said, 'I don't exactly know him, but I have heard of him.'
'tell me, who is he?'
The little fellow said, 'He's my wife's first husband.'
And I have a notion that he had heard of him quite a few times!
All of us have faults. Notice that Paul began this sixth chapter of Galatians like this:
Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye who are spiritual restore such an one in the spirit of meekness, considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. (Galatians 6:1)
Faults - that's a burden. And the word fault here means 'to fall down.' It is the Greek word paraptoma, meaning 'a falling aside.' Many times we fall down. Many times we see a brother fall down, and we are told, 'Ye who are spiritual restore such an one.' Restore is the same word used in the Greek for a physician to reset a bone. This is the meaning that is really primary here. It requires a man who is an expert, a man who has deftness and experience to reset a bone. Notice that he says, 'Ye who are spiritual restore such an one.' Oh, the clumsiness of so many people in trying to straighten out somebody else! We need to be spiritual to restore such an one. Also note that we are to restore him, not drive him out of our fellowship. The sin should be condemned - there is no toleration in the Scriptures for sin - but the sinner should be restored. Sometimes it seems as if we have gone out of the business of restoring. Instead, we are in the business of criticizing the man with the fault, the man who has fallen down.
Also notice that we are to restore 'in the spirit of meekness.' One of the great preachers of the South reminded me of this a few years ago when we were together. He and I had graduated from college together. We also had graduated from seminary together, and we both had worked our way through college. I worked in downtown Memphis on a newspaper, and he was the manager of a garage at night. One night I got on the streetcar to go back to the dormitory, and I saw him standing in the back of the streetcar. It was a warm night, the windows were open, and he had his head hanging out. I walked back and found that he was sick, but not only that, he was drunk. He turned to me and said, 'Mac, I'm getting out of the ministry. I'm discouraged.' He had been engaged to a girl in Alabama who had let him down, and he felt the whole world was against him. He said, 'I'm through. I'm leaving school.' I hit him on the back as hard as I dared, and said, 'No, you're not.' I got him off the streetcar a block before we reached the school, and I slipped him around the corner and brought him in the back door of the dorm. He didn't have a roommate at that time; so I just put him to bed with his shoes and clothes on. The next day he came to me and said, 'Mac, I thank you for what you've done, but I still am going to leave.' Well, I talked with him and could tell him, 'I have felt just like you feel, and I could have done exactly what you did, easily.' Well, he did not leave school, and I thank God for that because he is today one of the beloved preachers of the South. The Scriptures tell us:
Brethren, if a man [a Christian man] be overtaken in a fault, ye who are spiritual restore such an one in the spirit of meekness, considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. (Galatians 6:1)
There is not a sin committed today by anyone but what you or I could have committed it. The faults of others are burdens that you and I can share.
Then there is another burden that you and I can share: tensions. Now you can take a tranquilizer but, my friend, that really won't solve your problems. We are living in a time of tension such as the human family has never before experienced. I don't know about you, but I live in 'tension Town.' Many of us in these great metropolitan areas are under pressure and tension today. This is certainly a burden we need to bear with one another. Let me illustrate. A very dear man in one of the churches I pastored came to me and said, 'Do you have something against me?'
'No,' I said. 'Why do you say that?'
'Well, I met you down on the street and you didn't even speak to me.'
'No, you just passed me right by.'
'I didn't see you.'
'You must have - you looked right at me.'
So I asked him what day that was and realized it was the day the airlines had gotten my tickets mixed up, and I was going down to the ticket office to straighten them out. We are under tension at a time like that. And my friend was also under tension for assuming I had snubbed him. Well, I never shall forget how he put his arm around me and said, 'I'm glad to know that.' You see, he was helping me bear the burden of tension. That's something we can share with each other.
Now I come to the third burden you and I can share. That is the burden known as grief. The burden of tragedy, the burden of sorrow, the burden of disappointment are inevitable in the human family. If one hasn't come to you, it will come. And when it comes, you need a friend to stand with you. The three friends of Job are examples. We criticize them because they began a talking marathon, but actually they spent seven days sitting with Job and sorrowing with him.
In a book of natural history there is a statement that reads: 'Man is the only one who at birth knows nothing and can learn nothing without being taught. He can neither speak nor walk nor eat. In short, he can do nothing at the prompting of nature but weep.' All that you and I know to do when we come into this world is weep! We come into this world with a cry, and we need comfort. From the very beginning and all through life we need comfort because of the fact that we have been born into this world of woe.
Ruth could say to Boaz, 'thou hast comforted me.' She was a stranger, an outcast, had come from a foreign country, and expected to be kept on the outside, but into her life came someone who showed an interest in her and extended to her certain courtesies. With appreciation she said, 'thou hast comforted me.'
Mary broke open an alabaster box of very expensive perfume, and poured it upon the head of our Lord. She did this shortly before His crucifixion because she knew what was going to take place. No one else seemed to realize what was happening, but she knew. She was criticized for it, but Jesus said, 'Let her alone; for the day of my burial hath she kept this' (John 12:7). She alone entered into His sufferings. And He said,
Verily I say unto you, Wherever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her. (Matthew 26:13)
And the fragrance of that ointment has filled the world!
Grief is a burden that you can share. There will be those who will come to you in your sorrow.
Our faults, our tensions, our griefs - these are some of the burdens that you and I can share.
Is thy cruse of comfort failing?
Rise and share it with a friend,
And thro' all the years of famine
It shall serve thee to the end.
Love Divine will fill thy storehouse,
Or thy handful still renew.
Scanty fare for one will often
Make a royal feast for two.
Lost and weary on the mountains,
Wouldst thou sleep amidst the snow?
Chafe that frozen form beside thee,
And together both shall glow.
Art thou wounded in life's battle?
Many stricken round thee moan;
Give to them thy precious ointment,
And that balm shall heal thine own.
- Author unknown
Burdens You Must Bear
Now let's look at the other verse that tells us there are burdens which we cannot share.
For every man shall bear his own burden. (Galatians 6:5)
The word 'burden' here is the Greek phortion, meaning a load to be borne. This word is used to speak of a ship's cargo. Actually it is used to speak of a child in the womb - only the mother could bear it, you see. This is a load that is impossible to share. While I never recommend J. B. Phillips' The New Testament in Modern English as a translation (it should not be called a translation), it is a most excellent explanation. Many times it throws light on a passage of Scripture. Here it gives this paraphrase of Galatians 6:5: 'For every man must ''shoulder his own pack.' ' That's it. Each man must shoulder his own pack. There is an old bromide: 'to every man his work.' And another, a rather crude one, 'Every tub must sit on its own bottom!' In other words, there are burdens today that you and I cannot share.
Every life in one sense is separated, it is isolated, it is segregated, it is quarantined from every other life. Dr. Funk, of the Funk and Wagnalls Dictionary, has compiled a list of words in which the saddest word in the English language is alone. There are certain burdens that you and I will have to bear alone. I will mention just a few of them here, and you will think of others, I'm sure.
The first one I want to mention is suffering. You will have to suffer alone. No one can suffer for you. You are born alone into this world of woe, and you will suffer alone. You will have to face certain problems alone. There will be physical suffering that will come to you. You will get sick, and no one can take your place.
When my daughter was a very little thing, we were coming back to California from Texas, and she started running a high fever. We took her to the hospital at Globe, Arizona. A doctor gave her certain medication and told us, 'You give her this, and the fever will go down. It is getting late in the afternoon so keep driving into California and get out of the heat!' So we started out. In Phoenix we stopped for gasoline, and my wife took her temperature. It registered 104 degrees - her temperature hadn't gone down. We were frightened. We went to a motel, called a doctor, and told him the situation. He said to continue the medication and to bring her to the hospital in the morning. Never shall I forget my feelings as I carried her to the hospital and laid her down. Never in my life had I had that experience. I would have gladly taken that fever in my own body, gladly would I have done it. But, my friend, I could not do it. We have to suffer alone. You cannot get someone to substitute for you. Suffering is one thing that we cannot share. Mental anguish is another type of suffering that you cannot share. Oh, the number of folk who are disappointed. They are even bitter today because of some great disappointment. Suffering is a burden that we have to bear alone.
There is another burden that you and I cannot share with anyone else. It is death. There will come a time when each of us will go down through the valley of the shadow of death, and we will go alone. Thomas Hobbes, an agnostic all of his life, a very brilliant man, said when he came to his death, 'I am taking a fearful leap into the dark!' And then he cried out, 'Oh, God, it is lonely!' Yes, it is. Death is a burden you cannot share. John Haye, at one time Secretary of State, was quite a writer. He wrote a poem portraying death entitled 'the Stirrup Cup,' having in mind the cavalrymen who used to drink when they mounted their steeds.
My short and happy day is done
The long and lonely night comes on:
And at my door the pale horse stands
To bear me forth to unknown lands.
And, my friend, when death comes, you and I will be riding alone. Death is a burden that you will have to bear alone.
We come now to the last burden we will bear alone. It has an unusual name, by the way. It is the Bema. The Bema is the judgment seat of Christ. It is not for the unsaved; it is for Christians. Oh yes, there is a judgment for the unbeliever, the Great White Throne judgment described in the twentieth chapter of Revelation, but the Bema seat is for the Christian.
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that everyone may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. (2 Corinthians 5:10)
Everything that we have done in the flesh as Christians is to be judged to see whether or not we receive a reward. Salvation is not in question - that was settled for the believer at the cross of Christ. It is the works of the believer that are to be judged at the Bema seat.
So, then, every one of us shall give account of himself to God. (Romans 14:12)
Then Paul puts down a principle which is applicable to every avenue of life, but is specifically given to believers:
Be not deceived, God is not mocked, for whatever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. (Galatians 6:7)
This principle is true in the realm of nature. You sow cotton, you reap cotton. You sow wheat, you reap wheat. And as a Christian you will reap what you sow. We like to sing 'the Old Account Was Settled Long Ago.' In a believer's life this is true. But what about the new account? What about the account since you were saved? What has your life been since you accepted Christ? Do you have sin in your life? Have you confessed it? We are all to appear before the judgment seat of Christ.
Somebody will say, 'I'm a Christian. I don't have any sin.' You don't? Then you are not in the light. If you will get into the light, you will see the sin that is in your life. The light, which is the Word of God, reveals what is there.
Try this one on for size: 'therefore, to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin' (James 4:17). Does that fit you today? I think it will fit all of us. He that knows to do good, and does it not, sins. Your life as a child of God is a burden that you carry, and you will have to bring it before Him someday.
A Burden You Can Neither Bear Nor Share
Now as I bring this message to a conclusion, I want you to see that there is another type of burden which you cannot bear nor can you share. It is a burden the Scriptures speak of: the burden of sin. Paul speaks of it in the first part of Romans. David in the Psalms says:
For mine iniquities are gone over mine head; like an heavy burden they are too heavy for me. (Psalm 38:4)
Sin is a burden you cannot share with anyone else. And sin is a burden you cannot bear, my friend. 'My iniquities,' David says, 'are gone over my head; as a heavy burden they are too heavy for me.' Also from the Psalms comes this longing:
And I said, Oh, that I had wings like a dove! For then would I fly away, and be at rest. (Psalm 55:6)
Have you ever felt like that? Sometimes the doctor recommends that we get away from it all. The psalmist said, 'If I could only run away from it.' But you and I cannot run away from our sin because we have a guilt complex. A psychologist out here at the University of Southern California tells me that the guilt complex is as much a part of us as our right arm. Psychologists have tried to get rid of it. They have not succeeded. Everyone has it. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the writer of detective stories and creator of Sherlock Holmes, liked to play practical jokes. At one time he sent a telegram to twelve famous people in London whom he knew. The telegram read, 'Flee at once. All is discovered.' All twelve of them left the country - yet all of them were upright citizens. May I say to you, my beloved, we all have a guilt complex. Sin is that burden which we can neither share nor bear. It is too heavy for us.
There is only one place you can get rid of it, and that is at the cross of Christ:
Cast thy burden upon the LORD, and he shall sustain thee; he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved. (Psalm 55:22)
The Lord Jesus said:
Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)
He alone can lift the burden of sin today, and it is because He paid the penalty for it. He alone can lift it; He alone can take it from you.
There are two famous pieces of sculpture that depict this. One is the 'Dying Gaul' and the other is 'the Laocooen;' both are in Rome at the Vatican. 'the Dying Gaul' depicts a man who has been brought as a captive and slave to Rome, put into the arena as a gladiator, and has been mortally wounded. He is lying there, his life blood flowing from him, and he is looking up for help. He is in a strange land, and there is nobody, nobody there to help him. A dying gladiator. May I say to you that this is a picture of any man today without Christ. Christ alone can help us, for that is the reason He came into the world. He said:
For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost. (Luke 19:10)
He also said:
... The Son of man came, not to be ministered unto but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45)
Christ paid the penalty for your sin and my sin. Like the dying gladiator, we can look to Him and be saved.
The other piece of sculpture is 'the Laocooen.' A priest of Troy looked out and saw two sea serpents come and coil themselves about his two sons. He went to their aid, but he could not help them because the sea serpents also enmeshed him in their coils. There they are - all three of them going down to death. To me this illustrates the fact that personal sin is a burden that we cannot cope with. It will take us down to death, eternal death.
What do you do with your burdens?
There are some burdens that you can share. There are others that you must bear alone. But the burden of personal sin is a burden too heavy for you; it is the burden you cannot bear. About 2000 years ago Christ took the burden of your sin, and He bore it on the cross. Today your burden is either on you, or by faith you have received Christ as your Savior, and it is now on Him. It cannot be in both places - your sin is either on you or it is on Christ. And Christ does not share it; He bore it all. Literally He said,
Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)