Amongst my blogs on ‘Partially Understood Texts’ you would find one labeled ‘Burdensome biblical contradictions’. In it I mention that two neighbouring statements of Paul in Galatians chapter six seem to cancel each other out:
 ‘Bear one another’s burden’ (verse 2), and
 ‘. . . each will have to bear his own load’ (verse 5).
I would like to invite you to revisit that paragraph of Scripture afresh with me.
Galatians 6:1-5 (English Standard Version)
- ‘Brothers, if anyone is caught [= overcome] in any transgression [= ‘fault’, King James Version], you who are spiritual should restore [Greek for ‘repairing nets’ in Matthew 4:21 New Living Translation] him in a spirit of gentleness.
- ‘Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.
- ‘For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.
- ‘But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbour.
- ‘For each will have to bear [or ‘accept’] his own load [or lot].’
Paul’s first word in our selected paragraph is a favourite family greeting of his: ‘Brothers-and-sisters’ [Greek adelphoi, siblings, family members]. It would be admissible to say that in these five verses he offers insights into how ‘to do church as family‘. While mulling over this piece of Pauline advice to his readers in what today is Central Turkey I found three essential contributions to genuine fellowship in Christ:
 Adjust any lapse made by another, and
 Assist with another’s load, while
 Accepting one’s own God-assigned lot (that is, allotted duties and responsibilities within one’s own range of gifts and calling).
- Help adjust another’s lapse (verse 1)
The ESV and other translations seem to consider that the Greek noun paraptoma refers to a moral failure, rendering it as a ‘transgression’. But the old KJV actually struck the correct level of such a misdemeanor by labeling it as a ‘fault’, or a side-slip. Peter’s three-fold denial of any knowledge of, or involvement with his beloved Master was truly a moral outrage. But in his previous years he displayed many a fault or lapse, as for example, his aborted attempt to walk to Jesus on the rough lake’s surface (Matthew 14:24-33), and his offer to build three tents at the summit of the mountain to commemorate Jesus’ transfiguration in the presence of Moses and Elijah (Matthew 17:1-9).
- Assist with another’s load (verse 2)
‘Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.’ Some burdens are plainly obvious, such as a broken leg or a damaged car or a death in their family. How to share such ‘burdens’ hardly needs to be spelled out. But another’s emotional upset can be a more complicated burden to bear empathetically. Proverbs 14:10 and 13 tells us why this is so: ‘Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can fully share its joy (10, New Living Translation). Laughter can conceal a heavy heart, but when the laughter ends, the grief remains’ (13 NLT).
We do well to avoid such expressions as ‘I know exactly how you feel; I’ve been through a divorce/job loss/bereavement myself.’ Since we all differ in temperament, and in details of each tragedy under consideration, let’s simply be empathetic and listen to the other’s pain, and be there for them with attention, availability and general support.
‘Word For Today’ by United Christian Broadcasters offered these appropriate notes on Sunday 27 May 2018:
‘He brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person’ (2 Corinthians 1:4 The Message). One way to help a friend in crisis is to help them identify important resources – spiritual, personal, and interpersonal.
1) Spiritual resources. ‘God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble’ (Psalm 46:1 RSV). God’s Word illumines the darkness and confusion. His Spirit is the source of all comfort – he gives ‘peace … which surpasses all understanding’ (Philippians 4:7 RSV). His presence addresses the loneliness, and his power enables the hurting heart to overcome feelings of helplessness. People in crisis are often disoriented, which causes them to forget what God has already given them.
2) Personal resources. Remind them of their unique strengths and skills. Help them recall past triumphs when they successfully navigated through tough times. Encourage a positive attitude that looks to the future rather than being paralysed by present pain. Most importantly, strengthen their faith with prayer and truths from God’s Word. And last but not least, remind them of your support.
3) Interpersonal resources. Family members, friends, business associates, and neighbours are likely to be supportive, and community resources are also available for medical, financial, and material assistance. The local church is another network source. People in crisis are often too embarrassed to ask for help; they feel that they should be able to handle their own problems. Help them understand that you are blessed by giving, and that one day they too will have an opportunity to help ‘someone else who is going through hard times.’
Here are a few helpful sentences from ‘Word For Today’ for the next day, Monday 28 2018.
Dr Raymond Vath said, “We must do for other what they cannot do for themselves, but we must not do for them what they will not do for themselves. The problem is finding the wisdom to know the difference.”
Show them manageable action steps. … [W]hen the crisis involves irreversible loss like divorce or death, the work of simply getting through one day at a time is action enough.
Be sure to follow up. Crises are seldom resolved quickly … there may be episodes of relapse into sadness, helplessness, or loneliness. Your words may bring comfort, but your ongoing attentiveness will help the hurting person maintain faith and progress in their journey to healing.
- Accept one’s own God-assigned lot
Here the key phrases are:
 ‘Let each one test his own work’ (verse 4); and the reason is:
 ‘… each will have to bear his own load’ (or ‘lot’, verse 5).
Let’s make one more visit to Word For Today – Saturday 30 June 2018. Fourteen questions about your assignment: ‘For this reason I was born’ (John 18:37 NIV, 1984 edition).
When you know what your God-given assignment in life is, and that God is on your side, you become virtually unstoppable. Will you make mistakes? Of course, but God loves you enough to correct you, redirect you, and get you back on track.’How do I go about discovering my assignment?’ you ask. Here are fourteen helpful questions to ask yourself:
- What desires have been living in me most of my life?
- What motivates me to work hard and be productive?
- What keeps me going forward when I’m worn out?
- What makes me refuse to quit when I meet resistance?
- What do I do that doesn’t seem like work?
- What do I do that brings a positive response and support from people?
- What am I doing or what’s happening in my life when doors seem to open automatically and effortlessly?
- What do wise leaders and godly counsellors think about my work?
- What makes me feel good about being who I am?
- What makes my creative juices flow?
- What am I willing to sacrifice in order to accomplish it?
- What am I doing that I’d be proud to offer for God’s approval?
- What would I do without being paid for it if I could afford to?
- What would I be willing to withstand Satan on in order to accomplish?
Prayerfully consider these fourteen questions, and they will shed light on our God-given assignment in life.