Practice What You PreachDan Doyle
“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” In these few words we have the simplest description of what the Christ life is about. And we have the supreme mentor to look to, the One who, out of infinite love for us, bore the burden of all of the sins of the world in his body on the Cross, in order to set us free from the burdens of sin and death. Glory be to God in Jesus Christ. In this passage we see that this, too, is what we are to be doing for one another, albeit on an infinitely smaller scale. In this passage we hear the echo of another passage: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25) And as we encounter these two powerful and related passages, we hear the truth, the wisdom in them, while at the same time, we recognize how difficult this way of being is for us, and how often we have failed to follow it in our own lives.
But today’s verse is surrounded by the information that we need to be able to understand and to practice this very important and difficult mission too. Paul tells us, “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.” (verse 1) This is a description of our calling in Christ. It is another way of putting the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Our correction of the other, our forgiveness toward them must be a product of the heart, an act of love. If this is so, it is given without presumption or arrogance, or expecting anything in return. It is an act of love to correct sin and to do it “gently” as Paul says here. We do this because we are all sinners in need of correction from time to time. We correct our of love, gently, because that is how we would want to be corrected.
The second sentence in verse 1 is very important to reflect on as well, for it points to the need for self-reflection. Temptation is a powerful reality. We must be careful of being drawn into temptations like pride, anger or revenge in correcting others. Paul is reminding us of the principal virtue of humility here. We must do all things in humility.
Paul reinforces this with, “If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load.” (verses 4&5) These few words from Galatians 6:1-5 define the reality of living in community. One of our greatest temptations is to compare ourselves to others. We do this in two ways. The first is to compare ourselves to others as if we are better than them. When we do this, we succumb to the temptations of pride. When we do this, we tend to treat the other accordingly, as if they are of lesser quality or importance, or worse, as nothing. There is no love in this. The “corrections” that come from this attitude are condescending at best, or mean-spirited and unjust at worst. The second is to compare ourselves to others as if we are lesser than, or not as good as they are. The temptations that can accompany this attitude are things like jealousy, anger, revenge and, worst of all, despair. All of these are equally dangerous and unhealthy for ourselves and the other. We must, as Paul counsels us here, “Carry each other’s burdens” out of a deep love for one another that is rooted in our mutual empathy for one another. Where does this empathy come from? It comes from the self-knowledge that we too are sinners, that we too fall and need correction at times. In doing this we will be fulfilling the law of Christ, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35) As Christians, then, we are to learn to treat one another, indeed, all whom we meet and have commerce with in our daily lives, those in our homes, those in our faith communities, and those in the public square, as brothers and sisters. This is a matter of love, and as such, fulfills the law of Christ.
Lord, help us to recognize and to resist the temptations to compare ourselves to others. Help us to turn away from the temptations of pride and anger, or jealousy and revenge and, most importantly, that of despair. Inspire in us a love for one another that is deep enough and true enough to humbly carry one another’s burdens, to heal one another’s wounds, to relieve one another’s fears, and to encourage one another to fulfill the law of Christ in this world. We ask these things in your name, Jesus. Amen!
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