Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Galatians Journal: Chapter 6, verse 2

Galatians 6:2 Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ

“Carry each other’s burdens” The original Greek word for “carry” here implies hardship and difficulty. The Kind James Version translates it as “bear.” It speaks of a need for endurance – this load is heavy. (as opposed to Galatians 6, verse 5, where the “load” is not so heavy).

“Burdens” literally means something heavy, a great weight, or something extremely troublesome. In context, it is referring to troublesome, vexing moral faults. (see 6:1). In Romans 15:1-3, Paul makes a similar admonition, where he instructs “strong” Christians who need to “bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.” It goes on to say that we all are to “please his neighbor for his good, to build him up” and points to the example of Christ, who bore in himself (voluntarily) man’s hostility towards God when he died on the cross.

Thus the concept of bearing another’s burden here means much more than empathy. We are to endure the faults of others, patiently, as a service to them, to help them grow in Christ. This is a sacrifice – not done to build ourselves up, but selflessly, following Christ’s example. This is an act of ultimate service.

It must also be done in a spirit of complete and abject humility. The phrase “carry each other’s burdens” would have evoked a particular image in the Roman world. Of course, servants or slaves were required to carry burdens for their masters, but there was also a common practice called “impressment.” Roman soldiers could require the locals in the provinces occupied by the Empire to carry something for them – on the spot, at a mere command. The person so instructed would have no choice but to obey. A scriptural example of this is found in Mark 15:21 where Simon of Cyrene is pressed into service to carry the cross for Jesus. This was a prevalent practice throughout the Roman world. This whole concept conjures up an image of subservience, demanding much more than a momentary act of kindness, more than the convenience of helping that person carry something for that moment. Indeed, it demands commitment. It demands humility. It demands a total laying down of our lives for the sake of others. The local citizens begrudgingly carried the load of the soldiers only as far as they had to. Paul is instructing us to voluntarily take the soldier’s load, and carry it as long as is needed – even for a lifetime.

“fulfill the law of Christ” The only other reference to a “law of Christ” I can find in the New Testament is in 1 Corinthians 9:21, where Paul explains he is not free from God’s Law, but is under Christ’s Law. In the context of the rest of the letter, I can’t believe Paul is referring to adhering to a set of rules Jesus laid down in the Gospels. Rather, he is speaking of the essence of Jesus’ message, portrayed in the words Christ spoke, and the examples He gave. He is speaking of the character of Christ, imparted to us supernaturally through the transformation and evolution of walking in the Holy Spirit as discussed in Chapter 5. The “law of Christ” is the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham discussed in Chapter 3. It is a living, loving relationship with Jesus expressed supernaturally in our relationship with each other. To paraphrase a favorite phrase of my pastor, it’s “where the rubber meets the road.”

There is further and deeper implication when we look at the word translated as “fulfill.” It implies more than just “doing,” or even “completing,” but to perfectly observe. Paul argued back in Galatians 3:10 that it was impossible to fulfill the law of Moses no matter how hard we might try. Here, however, it IS possible to perfectly fulfill the “law of Christ” because what we do to so fulfill it is done as a response to the transformation that has taken place within us – it is a relationship based on being welcomed as a beloved child (see Galatians 3:25 – 4:7). Jesus has given us everything we need to fulfill Christ’s law. “Fulfill” also implies that we will complete what is lacking in our obedience. Indeed, anything we try to do in and of ourselves won’t be enough. We need the presence of Christ in our lives, the filling of the Holy Spirit, to accomplish this kind of selfless, humble service. And in so doing, we are bound inextricably close both to Jesus and the person whose burden we are carrying – in a close, intimate walk – a RELATIONSHIP! And that is the fundamental difference between the concept argued by the Judiazers of Paul’s day (or legalists today) and the truth of the Gospel. Its not about following rules, changing what we do, adopting the culture and practices of a particular group, or trying to overcome our own shortcomings. No, its all about an intimate relationship with the one, true living God. It is indeed all about RELATIONSHIP!.

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