Bearing with One Another—and Ourselves
As usual Paul ends this letter with some general exhortations to godly living. The end of chapter five reminds us that those who claim to live in (have) the Spirit must walk in such a manner that their claim is apparent. He cautions the Galatians not to become conceited, provoking one another and envying one another. Instead they are to do the very opposite by bearing one another’s burdens.
And herein lies some wonderful teaching for the church, which if a church were to practice, would find the sweetest fellowship this side of heaven. We must bear one another’s burdens. We often think of this as having to do with sorrows such as death or serious health issues. And certainly this is included; after all, we are commanded to weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15). But I am intrigued that here Paul has in mind temptations. In the first place, those “who are spiritual” (and I am thinking here of pastors and elders and some holy women in the church) must hold the individual members of the flock accountable. This is not an option for any Bible-believing church. It is the God-given task of those leaders in the local church who have been set aside for such service to…well, fulfill that service, and that service includes admonition. In the second place, those chosen for this task much do so in utter humility. This does not mean apologetically; we are never to apologize for what God’s word commands us to do. But when admonishing one another, we approach one another with the utmost tenderness and with the goal of reconciliation through Scripture and prayer. And why do we approach one another in such a way? Because we too are sinners, tempted just like the one we seek to admonish.
And in such a way, we bear one another’s burdens and our own—by carrying one another. Hear Martin Luther: “Nothing so demonstrates the spiritual man as his treatment of someone else’s sin, when he plans how to set him free rather than how to deride him, and how to help him rather than how to revile him” (“Lectures on Galatians, 1519,” LW 27:388). And this: This is what you must do: the virgin must place her wreath upon a prostitute, a virtuous wife must give her veil to an adulteress, and we must let everything we have become a covering for the sinners (Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther , 310n73). This might be more sacramental than most evangelicals would allow, but not me.