|Vol. 13 No. 7 July 2011||
Louis Rushmore, Editor
Galatians 5:19-21 is a catalog of sins. Almost any sinful activity can be found is this list. Galatians 5:22-26 gives the definition of the fruit of the Spirit by listing qualities of a Christ-like individual. Each Christian should replace the sinful activities with the fruit of the Spirit. Paul gave the application lesson in Galatians 6:1-5, showing Christians how to put into practice what he taught in Galatians chapter 5 (Oglesby).
The Greek word bastazo is translated “bear” in Galatians 6:2, 5 and 17. This Greek word appears 27 times in 27 New Testament verses, and its definitions, depending upon the contexts in which it appears, can mean:
The context, as with any word in Greek or in English, helps to determine the exact way in which a particular word is being used in a specific passage of Scripture. Especially some words more than others depend almost entirely for their meanings on their relationship to other words surrounding them, but the definition of most words is not complete without first considering other words in the passage. The word “bear” in Galatians 6:2, 5 and 17 must be understood in each verse according to the respective contexts of those verses.
The Greek word baros is translated “burden” in Galatians 6:2 and means weight, burdensome, difficult requirements, load, oppressive, momentous, heavy, pressing on one; it is the idea of a crushing load. It appears six times in six New Testament verses and is used figuratively in each instance (Exegetical Dictionary). This type of burden cannot be borne or carried alone. If we have a burden of this kind, we should appeal to our brethren for help. Christians who become aware of the crushing burdens of other Christians ought to willingly help them carry these burdens. These verses are addressed to brethren (6:1) and primarily affect interaction between brethren.
The Bible records examples of crushing burdens lifted with the help of others. These crushing burdens that were lifted through voluntary cooperation of fellow Christians include both physical burdens and spiritual burdens.
The crushing burden of Galatians 6:2, though, refers especially to the spiritual burden of sin and the sorrow over sin (Coffman) experienced by fellow Christians (i.e., overcome by sin, especially unintentionally, Galatians 6:1). Notice these excerpts from four Bible students about the situation portrayed in Galatians 6:1-2. “Though the principle would apply to all burdens the context has special reference to the heavy and oppressive weight of temptation and spiritual failure” (Bible Knowledge Commentary). “When a Christian is caught in known sin, the spiritual members of the church must seek to restore him with gentleness and love” (Bible Exposition Commentary). “The context indicates the specific meaning. The burdens in this context refer to the responsibility each saint should feel for the spiritual welfare of his fellow-saints, especially when they have sinned” (Wuest’s Word Studies).
1, 2. If a man be overtaken in a fault. Not gone into sin as a result of sinful premeditation, but surprised by it. Those intending well are sometimes caught unawares. Ye which are spiritual. Who have continued to walk in the Spirit. Restore such an one. Instead of judging severely and seeking to cut them off, seek lovingly to lead them back from their error. Considering thyself. We ourselves may be caught by temptation and sin. Let us bear in mind that we are not infallible, and judge others gently. 2. Bear ye one another’s burdens. Help each other, sustain each other; if you see one about to stumble under his burden, hold him up. So fulfill the law of Christ. The law of love. See John 13:34. (Johnson)
Romans 15:1 renders a similar charge to what we find in Galatians 6:2 when it reads, “We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.” “This word bear properly means to ‘lift up,’ to ‘bear away,’ to ‘remove.’ But here it is used in a larger sense; ‘to bear with, to be indulgent to, to endure patiently…” (Barnes’ Notes). While weak and sickly Christians have a responsibility to participate in their own recuperation, stronger Christians likewise have a responsibility to rescue fallen brethren. James 5:19-20 declares, “Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.”
In a secondary sense in principle, Christians may help each other bear physical burdens that become too heavy to bear alone. Under ordinary circumstances, God expects people to provide for their own physical well-being, such as food, clothing and shelter. Most of life’s daily burdens are one’s own responsibility, but sometimes burdens become more than a person can bear alone (Galatians 6:10).
The meaning of Galatians 6:5 and the relationship of the word “bear” to that meaning revolve around the word “burden” in this verse. Simply looking at the English word “burden” in Galatians 6:2 and Galatians 6:5, there appears on the surface to be a contradiction in Scripture. Yet, we know that God’s Word does not contradict itself, and that there must be a reasonable explanation why in verse 2 Christians are to help others with their burdens, but in verse 5 each Christian is responsible for bearing his own burden alone. The answer to the apparent conflict has to do with different Greek words with different definitions that were translated to the English word “burden.”
The word “burden” in 6:5 refers to a burden that can be borne or carried, and in this verse, without help from another. “Burden” here is from the Greek “phortion.” It means a load carried as in the cargo of a ship or “the pack usually carried by a marching soldier” (Bible Knowledge Commentary). In this verse, it represents a daily burden for which no one needs help to bear. Since this burden can be borne alone, it must be borne alone. One should not expect anyone to carry this type of burden for him. Further, we should not seek to lift this type of burden from the shoulders of one to whom it belongs. Biblical examples of daily burdens that are not to be borne by one’s brethren (under normal circumstances) are as follows.
So, what are we to learn from the context of Galatians 6:1-5 and especially at this juncture, verse 5? Two things come to mind. First, our conduct before God and whether sins in our lives will prevent us from entering eternal heaven is the most personal matter imaginable; each of us has personal accountability before God, which will culminate in Final Judgment (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14; 2 Corinthians 5:10). Second, recognition of our own human frailty respecting susceptibility to sin in our lives makes us better Christians to rescue fallen brethren and with a better attitude toward them.
It is the Christian who knows that he has a burden of his own, namely, a susceptibility to certain sins, and who has fallen himself, who is willing to bear his neighbor’s burden. Again, when each man’s self-examination reveals infirmities of his own, even though they may not be the same as those of his neighbors, he will not claim moral and spiritual superiority to others. Furthermore, each saint should bear his own burden in the sense that he must recognize his personal responsibilities towards God and man. He is responsible for the kind of life he lives. Again, when he sees his own failings, he will have no inclination to compare himself with others. (Wuest’s Word Studies)
“The difference between phortion and baros is, that phortion is simply ‘something to be borne,’ without reference to its weight, but baros always suggests what is ‘heavy or burdensome’” (Vine’s emphasis added). The context of Galatians 6:1-5 concerns primarily sin. In verse 2, some Christians slip into sin from which they cannot extricate themselves without help from faithful brethren. In verse 5, since faithful brethren also have their weaknesses, they dare not boastfully compare and contrast their spiritual condition with those brethren that they are attempting to rescue. “And of some have compassion, making a difference: And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh” (Jude 22-23).
The word “bear” in Galatians 6:17 is the idea of to carry or to declare; this is the shade of definition based on the companion words in the context of the verse, namely the words “body” and “marks.” The Greek word for “mark” is stigma, and it means “a mark incised or punched (for recognition of ownership), i.e. (figuratively) scar of service” (Biblesoft’s).
The significance of Galatians 6:17 was captured in the comments of Robertson.
Slaves had the names or stamp of their owners on their bodies. It was sometimes done for soldiers also. There were devotees also who stamped upon their bodies the names of the gods whom they worshipped. Today in a round-up, cattle are given the owner’s mark. Paul gloried in being the slave of Jesus Christ. This is probably the image in Paul’s mind since he bore in his body brandmarks of suffering for Christ received in many places (2 Cor 6:4-6; 11:23 ff), probably actual scars from the scourgings (thirty-nine lashes at a time). If for no other reason, listen to me by reason of these scars for Christ and “let no one keep on furnishing trouble to me.” (Robertson’s Word Pictures)
The application of Paul’s reference to his suffering in the cause of Christ, evidenced in the scars visible on his body, is that these injuries sustained in the service of Christ validated his apostolic authority. Therefore, the apostle commanded especially the Judaizing teachers (Galatians 6:15) to cease their assault on him, on his teaching and upon the brethren that he taught.
In some countries, faithful Christians still suffer physically or may still experience assaults or worse for the cause of Christ. Further, it is possible that even in the western world where for a long time religious freedom has afforded release from physical persecution, it can change. Each child of God must with deep conviction become a Christian and be willing to maintain his or her Christianity at any cost (2 Timothy 3:12; 1 Peter 4:16). Like the apostle Paul, the true Christian will endure persecution when and if necessary; in a sense, this distinguishes between the faithful child of God and superficial practitioners of Christianity.
Our individual Christian responsibility depends on the type of burden under consideration. Christians have individual responsibilities as well as congregational responsibilities to aid those with crushing burdens. Christians have daily burdens that under normal circumstances they alone must bear. Daily burdens can become crushing burdens to which Christians must respond and bear. We do not fulfill the Law of Christ if we do not carry our own daily burdens and help lift crushing burdens from our brethren. No burden is more crushing than the burden of sin, and anytime one or more Christians can help recover a soul from sin, the angels in heaven rejoice (Luke 15:7, 10).
The word of God reveals that burdens may be handled in three ways. Some may be shared with others; other burdens must be borne by every man himself (see under Gal. 6:1); and of a third class, the Scriptures command, “Cast thy burden upon the Lord” (Ps. 55:22, English Revised Version margin (1885).” (Coffman)
Consider also “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28) and “casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).
Barnes’ Notes. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 2006.
Bible Exposition Commentary. CD-ROM. Colorado Springs: Chariot Victor Publishing, 1989.
Bible Knowledge Commentary. CD-ROM. Colorado Springs: Cook Communications, 2000.
Biblesoft’s New Exhaustive Strong’s Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft and International Bible Translators, 2006.
Coffman, James Burton. James Burton Coffman Bible Study Library. CD-ROM. Abilene: ACU P., 1989.
Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament. CD-ROM. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990.
Johnson, Barton Warren. People’s New Testament. CD-ROM. Austin: Wordsearch, 2008.
Oglesby, Robert K. A Group Discussion Study of Galatians and Ephesians. Richardson: RKO Publications, 1974.
Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 2006.
Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words. CD-ROM. Nashville: Nelson, 1985.
Wuest’s Word Studies from the Greek New Testament. CD-ROM. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973.