The Christian’s Gym
Unfortunately, if you lifted weights for me, it wouldn’t make me stronger. I have to lift my own weights to be healthy and strong. Sometimes, we think the same way as Christians. You need to carry your own burden, or you won’t grow. To each his own, right? The Gospel says something quite different: ‘Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed’ (Is 53.4-5).
Lifting one another’s weights
Paul says, ‘Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ’ (Gal 6.2). Because God, in the person of Jesus Christ, bore our burdens, lifted our weights, our sins, the law of Christ, bearing one another’s burdens, is fulfilled. We are called into the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings, enabled to bear one another’s burdens in Christ, and so we are to ‘share in this law’.1
The truth is, we all have burdens. We have burdens of being annoying, idiosyncratic, immature, unwise, and worse, very sinful. Yet we are called to patiently bear with each other, suffer, endure one another, carry each other. Bonhoeffer helpfully outlines two ways that we must bear with one another.
The freedom of other people is our burden. God created us after his image, with different skills, gifts, personalities, capacities and interests. For those who have followed along in our reflections on Life Togther, this has been a common theme. Often sin within community shows itself by control and manipulation of the other, refusing to give the freedom the other has. We shrug of the burden of bearing with one another by eliminating freedom. ‘He could get rid of this burden by refusing the other person his freedom, by constraining him and thus doing violence to his personality, by stamping his own image upon him,’ but bearing each other’s burdens means ‘involvement with the created reality of the other, to accept and affirm it, and, in bearing with it, to break through to the point where we take joy in it.’2
One of the ways in which bearing with one another is challenged is with the spiritually weak and strong. ‘The weak must not judge the strong, the strong must not despise the weak. None must seek his own rights. If the strong person falls, the weak one must guard his heart against malicious joy at his downfall. If the weak one falls, the strong one must help him rise again in all kindness.’3 Both weak and strong have to bear with one another, and both weak and strong need each other. It can be easy to bulldoze over weaker Christians, and we often associate this with pride. But there can be a pride far more subtle that comes from the weaker believer. Both need to tenderly endure the other in love.
We also have to bear with one another’s sin. ‘As Christ bore and received us as sinners so we in his fellowship may bear and receive sinners into the fellowship of Jesus Christ through the forgiving of sins.’4 Rather than judging, we must forgive, which is to bear another’s burden. It shows the depth of our sin that even in bearing one another’s burdens, we can fall into pride, and boasting. Look at me! Holding you up like this! Wow me. But bearing one another’s burdens is about compassion, not comparison5 . Forgiveness must be the joy and privilege of the community. ‘Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness’ (Gal 6.1a).
Along with forgiving, another key part of the bearing of other’s sins, is looking to ourselves and our sins against community. How have we failed in our responsibility to pray and intercede for our brothers and sisters? How have we failed in our own spiritual laziness to the hurt of the community? As Paul makes clear in Philippians 4.2-9, the health and strength of the community depends on the personal sanctification of its individuals. ‘Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted’ (Gal 6.1b).
In the church, lifting weights for others is exactly how we help them.
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (NY: Harper & Row Publishers, 1954), 100.
- Ibid, 101.
- Ibid, 102.
- Moíses Silva, Galatians.