The community of faith is one of the greatest blessings God has given us in the local Church. We meet for weekly worship, we gather for Bible study and community, and we rally around one another in the midst of a crisis or life change. Meal trains are established after surgeries and babies, and those most intimate communities pull together finances for one another when a sudden need or trauma arises.
We bear one another’s burdens.
Or at least we should.
But have you ever stopped to consider the context of that commandment in Scripture? Where Paul teaches us to bear one another’s burdens?
“Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. For each one will bear his own load.”
– Gal 6.1-5
It is good and right that we know one another well enough and that we care for each other enough to help meet needs and comfort one another during times of difficulty and suffering. God is a God of comfort, and He gives us one another to help ease some of our momentary suffering (2 Cor 1.3). He loves His Church, we are His bride, and we are commanded to look out for the needs of those within our local body first. Before we seek to meet the needs of those outside of our body and the unsaved:
Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.
– Gal 6.9-10
This is not permission to overlook anyone, we are indeed commanded to take go the extra mile for anyone who would take advantage of us, to love our enemies, to meet the needs of the poor (within and without of the Church), but just as Christ’s first priority is the Church, so should our’s be.
The context of this specific command, which we so regularly quote, however, is to bear one another’s burdens of sin. John Piper eloquently teaches us,
“A sinful act is vastly more harmful that any…other burden, and if [we] love them, [we] will not only comfort them in their troubles, but confront them in their sin.”
For most of us it is easy to go visit someone in the hospital and take meals to a family who is struggling or expending their energy taking care of a sick family member. For many of us it is easy to listen, offer a hug, and to console someone who is suffering a loss of some sort. But not everyone in the Church who is bearing a burden is a victim. Some people are bearing the consequences of their sin. Some people are stuck in an habitual sin. And sin is the most dangerous burden, and that from which we should be most intensely seeking to help one another escape.
Scripture is clear that if we continue in sin after confessing Jesus as our Lord, there is no hope for us. This is a terrifying situation:
“For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.”
– Heb 10.26-27
Therefore, if we have been commanded to do good and to take care of the body of the Church first, and if the greatest threat to our well being is sin, then we must be diligent about confronting our own sin and holding one another accountable. It is the greatest act of love – from a fellow Christian – to help me in my sanctification process and to conquer a sin. We should never just write a brother off, we should never simply react to one another’s sin, we should never refrain from saying anything out of fear, or because “it’s just not my business”. It is your business. It is my business.
Is someone in your community stuck in a sin, or blind to a sin in his life? It is your responsibility to humbly, in love, help bear that burden. And when someone approaches you to confront a sin to which you are blind or needing help to conquer, remember that this is the greatest act of love a fellow Christian can give you. He is looking out for your soul and eternal well being. Let us embrace accountability and community. Let us press one another on to good works and maturity.
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds…”
– Heb 10.23-24