Note: Begin reading the passage at 5:16 and read through 6:5 in order to get the context in mind. Note also that I have a habit of including references to Greek terms in my notes, whether I actually refer to them or not, so I have left them in with transliterations.
Introduction: These days it is not uncommon to hear people say, “I am a spiritual person.” It is a statement not infrequently heard from celebrities such as actors and pop singers, and it is becoming an increasingly popular sentiment. I’m not sure, however, precisely what is meant by the statement, and, frankly, I’m not sure those who make the claim know what they mean by it. Yet the Apostle Paul spoke of certain people as being spiritual, and he had a very definite understanding of the term in mind, one that he expected his fellow Christians to share. We shall begin to see what he means by the term as we examine the preceding context of our passage, in which Paul has described the Christian life as a battle between the flesh and the Spirit. For example:
NKJ Galatians 5:16-17 “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusts [Pres. Act. Ind. > ἐπιθυμέω, epithuméō, continually desires] against [κατά, katá] the Spirit, and the Spirit against [κατά] the flesh; and these are contrary [Pres. Mid. Ind. > ἀντίκειμαι, antíkeimai, constantly opposed] to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.”
Not surprisingly, then, Paul goes on to stress how crucial it is that we follow the Spirit’s leading if we are to have victory in the conflict:
NKJ Galatians 5:25 “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.”
As we have seen, earlier in the epistle Paul already commanded us to walk in the Spirit (vs. 16), and then he also spoke of our being led by the Spirit, in which the active role of the Spirit Himself was emphasized (vs. 18). In those statements, as well as this one, Paul used the present tense to denote a continual or habitual walking or being led. In other words, being led by the Spirit, and thus walking in the Spirit, is not something we do once and then we are done. It is something that characterizes the whole life of the believer, day in and day out.
But in verse 25 Paul used a different word for walk than he used in verse 16. There he used the typical Greek word for walking – περιπατέω, peripatéō – but here in verse 25 he used a specialized Greek word – στοιχέω, stoichéō – which literally means to “be drawn up or advance in line, belong in the ranks” and was used of soldiers marching or advancing in line (Friberg #25001, BibleWorks). But it is used figuratively here with the sense of walking in the steps of the Spirit as He leads. The ESV Study Bible is thus on the right track when it says that this verb means to “walk in line behind a leader.” And J. I. Packer is also close to the mark when he takes it to mean that we must “keep in step with the Spirit” (in the book by that title). G. Walter Hansen has even been so bold as to assert:
Keep in step is a military command to make a straight line or to march in ordered rows. The Spirit sets the line and the pace for us to follow. Keeping in step with the Spirit takes active concentration and discipline of the whole person. We constantly see many alternative paths to follow; we reject them to follow the Spirit. We constantly hear other drummers who want to quicken or slow down our pace; we tune them out to listen only to the Spirit. (IVPNTC, e-Sword)
Paul has taught in this passage that we are in a battle with the flesh, in which “the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other,” as he put it in verse 17 (ESV). In this battle we must learn to be led by the Spirit and to keep in step with His every command. This walking in the Spirit is similar to the way a soldier follows his commander and heeds his commands. So, we might say that, just as soldiers at war all have a pack to carry, so do we. And just as when one soldier is exhausted or wounded, the others help to carry the load, even so we must all recognize our responsibility to bear one another’s burdens. We see this necessity in the central command of today’s passage, which is found in verse 2:
NKJ Galatians 6:2a Bear [Present Active Imperative > βαστάζω, bastázō] one another’s burdens [βάρος, báros]
But how should this be done? In what way are we to bear one another’s burdens? We will see that we do this by restoring others and by loving others. Both of these ideas are taught by Paul in these verses. He begins by giving a specific application (restoring others) and then goes on to focus on the general principle behind it (loving others). We will follow this same order, then, in our examination of the text. And we will see that 1) we must bear one another’s burdens by restoring others, and 2) we must bear one another’s burdens by loving others.
I. We Must Bear One Another’s Burdens By Restoring One Another (vs. 1)
We see this principle clearly stated in verse one:
NKJ Galatians 6:1 Brethren, if a man is overtaken [προλαμβάνω, prolambánō] in any trespass [παράπτωμα, paráptōma], you who are spiritual [πνευματικός, pneumatikós] restore [Present Imperative > καταρτίζω, katartízō] such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.
When he gives the command to restore one another, Paul uses a Greek verb (καταρτίζω, katartízō) that basically means to “put in order, restore to a former condition, mend, [or] repair” (Friberg #15350, BibleWorks). It was used in the Gospels to describe the disciples’ mending of their nets (Matt. 4:21; Mark 1:19). But it also had a technical meaning as a medical term used to refer to setting a bone or joint (Linguistic Key, p. 518). So we can understand why it could have been used figuratively to describe the restoration of a sinning brother. The late James Montgomery Boice applied the term this way:
The verb is a medical term used in secular Greek for setting a fractured bone. What is wrong in the life of the fallen Christian is to be set straight. It is not to be neglected or exposed openly. (EBC, Vol. 10)
John Stott also offers some helpful observations about the implications of this command:
Notice how positive Paul’s instruction is. If we detect somebody doing something wrong, we are not to stand by doing nothing on the pretext that it is none of our business and we have no wish to be involved. Nor are we to despise and condemn him in our hearts, and if he suffers for his misdemeanor, say ‘Serves him right’ or ‘Let him stew in his own juice.’ Nor are we to report him to the minister, or gossip about him to our friends in the congregation. No, we are to ‘restore’ him, to ‘set him back on the right path’ (JBP). (The Message of Galatians, p. 160)
Or as David Guzik puts it, “The overtaken ones need to be restored. They are not to be ignored. They are not to be excused. They are not to be destroyed. The goal is always restoration” (Commentary on Galatians, e-Sword).
Restoration is indeed the focus Paul wants us to have. But he not only commands us to restore one another; he also provides crucial information that we need in order to fulfill this responsibility. He says something about who should be restored, who should do the restoring, and how the restoration should be done. Let’s briefly consider each of these points as we seek to understand Paul’s teaching here.
1. Paul tells us who should be restored (vs. 1a).
He says that one “overtaken in any trespass” should be restored. The Greek verb translated overtaken (προλαμβάνω, prolambánō) here means “to overtake by surprise, to overpower before one can escape” (Linguistic Key, p. 518). The use of this verb probably indicates that the person is not deliberately or remorselessly sinning, but, even if he is deliberately sinning, the idea is that he has been caught or trapped in the sin.
I don’t think, then, that Paul intends for us to be constantly confronting every possible sin we can find in a brother. Indeed, if that were the case, I don’t think we would have time for anything else! Rather he wants us to confront any trespass by which one has been overtaken. And this certainly means that no nagging or persistent sin should be let go without seeking to correct and restore the person caught in it.
2. Paul tells us who should do the restoring (vs. 1b).
He says that those “who are spiritual” should do the restoring. Given that he uses the plural when he addresses “you [plural] who are spiritual,” without any further qualification, we may assume that Paul is not referring to a select few here but to the majority. And we may not assume that Paul has in mind different classes of Christians, as some might be tempted to assume. When he refers to those who are spiritual, he means those who have attained a basic level of Christian maturity and consistency in their walk. If we recall the preceding context, we can say a number of things about those who are spiritual:
1) The spiritual are those who are trusting in Christ alone for salvation. They are those, for example, who can say with Paul:
NKJ Galatians 2:20-21 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.
2) The spiritual are those who have received the Spirit by faith. Remember, for example, Paul’s earlier challenge:
NKJ Galatians 3:2-3 This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?
3) The spiritual are those who are walking in the Spirit and battling the flesh. As we have already seen, for example:
NKJ Galatians 5:16-17 I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.
4) The spiritual are those who are demonstrating the fruit of the Spirit.
NKJ Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness [πραΰτης], self-control. Against such there is no law.
5) The spiritual are those who humbly realize that they have not yet arrived at a point where they themselves cannot fall into sin. For example:
NKJ Galatians 5:25-26 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited ….
Or consider Paul’s warning at the end of verse one, where he makes it clear that those who are spiritual may also be tempted to sin:
NKJ Galatians 6:1d … considering yourself lest you also be tempted.
This leads us to the next point.
3. Paul tells us how restoration should be done (vs. 1b-c).
He says at least two things about how restoration should be done.
First, restoration must be done caringly. I think this is indicated when Paul says that restoration should be done in a spirit of gentleness [πραΰτης, praǘtēs].
Here Paul is actually recalling an aspect of the fruit of the Spirit mentioned earlier in 5:23. The Greek word translated gentleness there in most modern translations may also be translated meekness, as in the King James Version. The Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament defines it “as a quality of gentle friendliness gentleness, meekness (as strength that accommodates to another’s weakness), [or] consideration” (Friberg #22840, BibleWorks). Jesus, who was God incarnate, demonstrated this attribute in his gentle calling to His disciples:
NKJ Matthew 11:28-29 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle [πραΰς, praǘs, adjective related to the noun πραΰτης, praǘtēs] and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
Here we see Jesus as the ultimate example of “strength that accommodates to another’s weakness,” for here we have One who is God Himself accommodating Himself to our weakness! And we are to follow His example when we seek to restore a fallen brother or sister in Christ. We too are to be gentle and lowly of heart as we confront their sin and encourage them to repent.
When Paul refers here to “a spirit” of gentleness, he may simply mean that we should have a gentle attitude or demeanor. But it is also possible that he means that we should restore a fallen brother by the Spirit who produces gentleness. Either way, in the context gentleness is definitely the attitude or demeanor we must have, and gentleness is definitely also that which comes from the Holy Spirit.
Second, restoration must be done cautiously. I think this is indicated when Paul says “considering yourself [singular] lest you [singular] also be tempted.”
The Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament says concerning the verb translated considering here that “the verb indicates being sharply attentive, very diligent and the pres. tense indicates continually doing so” (p. 518). In other words, we need to be constantly on our guard lest, in our attempt to help another who is caught in sin, we too are tempted to sin.
But in what way might you or I be tempted to sin as we seek to restore a sinning brother or sister? Paul does not say precisely, but it might include several possibilities. For example:
(1) We might be tempted to fall into the same sin as the one we are trying to help.
(2) We might be tempted to be harsh or unforgiving.
(3) We might be tempted to be prideful and feel superior to them.
I think that Paul definitely has at least this this last problem in mind here, for he goes on to say in verse 3, “For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.”
Pride will certainly get in the way of our effectiveness in bearing one another’s burdens by restoring one another, but it will also keep us from loving one another as we should, and this leads to the second main point.
II. We Must Bear One Another’s Burdens By Loving One Another (vs. 2b)
This is found in the second part of verse 2:
NKJ Galatians 6:2b and so fulfill [ἀναπληρόω, anaplēróō] the law of Christ.
Paul means by this that we must love one another, because this is what he means when he speaks of “the law of Christ.” This becomes clear when remember what he has said earlier in the context:
NKJ Galatians 5:13-14 For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For all the law is fulfilled [πληρόω, pleróō] in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
It is important to remember also in this regard Jesus’ own teaching, which I think Paul has in mind here:
NKJ John 13:34-35 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.
So, we bear one another’s burdens by loving one another, or, better still, we love one another by bearing one another’s burdens.
Thus, in this passage we have the general moral obligation to love one another, leading to the general principle that we must bear one another’s burdens, and this in turn involves the specific application with which we have spent most of our time this morning, namely the restoring of a fallen brother or sister who has been caught in a sin.
So, we restore fallen brethren because it is the loving thing to do. The command to love others is what drives our interest in restoring others. Let us never think, then, that we are truly loving others if we neglect to confront a persistent sin in their lives! In fact, we would do well remember the original context of the command to “love your neighbor as yourself”:
NKJ Leviticus 19:17-18 You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. 18 You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
But if loving others is the most important command, and restoring others is just one application of how we lovingly bear one another’s burdens, we may assume that loving others will certainly involve bearing one another’s burdens in other ways as well. For example, we could say further that:
1) We should bear one another’s economic burdens. A good example of this would be Paul’s challenge to the Corinthian church concerning giving. After noting of the example of sacrificial giving by the Macedonian churches, Paul says:
NKJ 2 Corinthians 8:8-15 I speak not by commandment, but I am testing the sincerity of your love by the diligence of others. 9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich. 10 And in this I give advice: It is to your advantage not only to be doing what you began and were desiring to do a year ago; 11 but now you also must complete the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to desire it, so there also may be a completion out of what you have. 12 For if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have. 13 For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened; 14 but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may supply their lack, that their abundance also may supply your lack– that there may be equality. 15 As it is written, “He who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered little had no lack.”
2) We should bear one another’s emotional burdens. I think we can find a couple of examples of Paul’s teaching about this elsewhere in Scripture as well. For example:
NKJ 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ.
Or, as he puts it more simply to the Roman Christians:
NKJ Romans 12:15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.
Conclusion: I would like to conclude simply by observing that Paul’s teaching here assumes that, as we mature as Christians – as we learn to be more spiritual, which is to say, Spirit-led – we will bear one another’s burdens. But doesn’t this also assume that we will share our burdens with others so that they can help to bear them? I think John Stott insightfully addresses this matter in his commentary on verse 2:
Notice the assumption which lies behind this command, namely that we all have burdens and that God does not mean for us to carry them alone. Some people try to. They think it a sign of fortitude not to bother other people with their burdens. Such fortitude is certainly brave. But it is more stoical than Christian. Others remind us that we are told in Psalm 55:22 to ‘cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you’, and that the Lord Jesus invited the heavy-laden to come to Him and promised to give them rest (Mt. 11:28). They therefore argue that we have a divine burden-bearer that is quite adequate, and that it is a sign of weakness to require any human help. This too is a grievous mistake. True, Jesus Christ alone can bear the burden of our sin and guilt; He bore it is His own body when He died on the cross. But this is not so with our other burdens – our worries, temptations, doubts, and sorrows. Certainly, we can cast these burdens on the Lord as well. We can cast all our care on Him, since He cares for us (I Pet. 5:7, AV). But remember that one of the ways in which He bears these burdens of ours is through human friendship (The Message of Galatians, p. 156)
I hope we will all better learn not only to take our burdens to the Lord in prayer, but also to allow our fellow believers to be instruments of the Lord in our lives by humbly sharing our burdens with them and even accepting correction from them when we need it. In fact, I hope we will learn even to share the burden of a besetting sin if need be. As the Apostle James admonishes us:
NKJ James 5:16 Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.