“Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2 NRSV). Bearing one another’s burdens is a direct imperative of the Apostle Paul to the Galatian Christians, and it follows his concern about “anyone” who may have been “detected in a transgression” (Galatians 6:1 NRSV). Paul advises that Christians, who have received the Spirit, should restore such a person with gentleness. Paul’s message is very relevant to Christians/Friends today, both for the individual and the church. Everyone has personal burdens to bear: guilt from transgressions, losses, failures, disappointments, and other difficulties. In our churches/Friends meetings we sometimes face the burden of financial challenges, disunity within the fellowship or lack of vision.
Paul tells us that we, the “body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:27 NRSV), are to support one another amidst personal and church-wide burdens, and in so doing, we will “fulfill the law of Christ.” As he points us to Christ, we look to Jesus, our supreme “Teacher and Lord” (John 13:13 NRSV), for the fullest counsel on bearing one another’s burdens. “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30 NRSV). Jesus’ lesson begins with an invitation to come to him when we are burdened, and he promises to give us rest. He asks us to learn from him, because he is gentle and humble in heart. He explains that in him we can find rest for our souls. Then he teaches that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. Yoked with Christ, we have his divine strength abiding with us, easing our loads and helping us to carry our burdens. What an offer!
These teachings of Jesus and Paul have sustained me through my life in Friends pastoral ministry in Friends United Meeting and Evangelical Friends Church International. The words of counsel given by Christ and Paul have guided me in my ministerial work at Purdue University, University Friends Meeting in Wichita, Kansas, Whittier Friends Meeting in Whittier, California, High Point Friends Meeting in High Point, North Carolina, and now, in my teaching at Barclay College. Relying upon Christ’s strength, I have been particularly diligent to help these Friends communities bear their burdens, some of which have seemed enormous. As a pastor, I have discovered sometimes that the burdens of individuals and the churches have become my own. When this has happened, I have found myself working more intimately with Friends as a fellow seeker for answers to our mutual problems. Hopefully, I have pointed us to the gentle, humble Christ, working within to provide the perfect answer we need. The counsel of George Fox in his Journal has been beneficial. “I . . . turned them to the light of Christ in their hearts.”
A question for us to consider is: “How might we respond more faithfully to Paul’s directive and Jesus’ gracious offer?” Will you join me in answering this crucial question? Some responses seem necessary to me. We can share the compassion of Jesus with members of our church community who are experiencing heavy loads. We want to reassure them that the power of God in Christ, which is greater than any of our burdens, is available to all of us. Relying upon Christ’s power within, we are lifted beyond our feeble human attempts and given Godly strength. Moreover, if we are to “fulfill the law of Christ,” we will follow Jesus, who modeled for us the true way to love, forgive, heal, reconcile and pray for one another. Very significant, also, is our ministry of encouragement, since burdens often cause discouragement. Finally, we need to express generously our gratitude to God. The prayer of Jesus is our ultimate model, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth . . .” (Matthew 11:25 NRSV).
Bearing one another’s burdens is central to the Christian community and becomes a joyful responsibility when strengthened by the resources of the living Christ.
David Kingrey is Professor and Chair of the Division of Bible/Ministry at Barclay College, and Director of the Church Leadership Institute for Ministry, Evangelical Friends Church Mid-America Yearly Meeting.