Life can be messy. It is full of ups and downs, successes and struggles, victories and defeats, loves and heartaches. We see these ebbs and flows personally, and we see them in the lives of others that we are close to. In fact, in our families, we often find ourselves not only having to navigate our own ebbs and flows, we also face the challenge of helping our loved ones navigate their ebbs and flows. But in the sovereignty of God, such challenges are meant for our sanctification in Christ.
The same is true in a spiritual family. If we are truly manifesting the love of Christ and building the proper bonds of fellowship in the Spirit, then we will necessarily be involved in one another’s lives, sharing in those ebbs and flows of our brothers and sisters in Christ. It is a great blessing and also a grave responsibility to invest ourselves in others and to be invested in by them, but this is God’s design for His household of faith.
Some of us resist the building of such bonds in the church, and this resistance is often the result of the individualism fostered by our culture. We may not like to be open with others, we may think that we have enough on our hands just managing our own lives, or we may not like the ideas of loving accountability and spiritual fellowship, but such excuses do not invalidate the Scriptural command to love one another just as Christ has loved us (John 13:34). And Christ does not love us distantly or superficially, He loves us closely, whole-heartedly, and sacrificially.
In the end, this is what makes a warm, biblical, loving church, when we “Bear one another’s burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2) The law of Christ is the law of love (Gal 5:14, Rom 13:8-10, John 13:34-35), and we love one another by bearing each other’s burdens. But what does Christian burden-bearing look like?
First, bearing another’s burdens means moving from sympathy to empathy. Sympathy looks upon the challenges and difficulties of others and expresses pity and sorrow. Empathy moves us to understand and share the feelings and challenges of another. It means rejoicing as they rejoice, grieving as they grieve, and being an anchor point in their storms. In this way, we are Christ to one another. He did not stand in glory above and pity us in our sin, He took on human flesh and dwelt among us to identify with us and save us from our sin.
Though we may not always hold the solution for the burdens of our brothers and sisters, we can come alongside of them, and identify with them, and show them the tangible love and comfort of Christ by sharing God’s truth, meeting practical needs, and showing them that they are never alone.
Second, we bear one another’s burdens through prayer; particularly through prayers of intercession. We are to pray for one another diligently and faithfully, trusting that “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” (James 5:16b) Through intercessory prayer, we plead with our Heavenly Father to accomplish His glory, to intervene in circumstances for the good of His children, and to bring healing, restoration, and wholeness out of pain, loss, and suffering. And we need to not just pray for our brethren, we also need to pray with them. Bearing their burdens includes joining them in prayer and allowing them the blessing of hearing our loving intercessions on their behalf.
Third, bearing one another’s burdens means walking the road of obedience alongside one another. We all have different temptations and struggles; we all face different circumstances and may even be at different points in our spiritual maturity; but we all need encouragement and accountability no matter where we are. We should confess our sins to one another (James 5:16a), and we should be aware of each other’s besetting sins so that we can be accountable and help guard each other from falling into sin. And when one of us does fall, we must love each other enough to confront and restore those who have stumbled. Bearing one another’s burdens is all about walking together in the reality of the Gospel.
Not one of us is an island unto ourselves; “We are members of one another.” (Eph 4:25) How we obey, or fail to obey, affects everyone in our lives and everyone else in our church, so let us go forward together. Embrace the gift of close Christian fellowship; God never meant for any of us to go it alone. Let us fervently love one another from the heart (1 Pet 1:22) by bearing each other’s burdens as true children of our loving heavenly Father. I love you all dearly!
For more on this subject, listen to the two-part series from Pastor Jon English Lee, “Healthy Marriages, Healthy Families” – “Unhealthy Relationship Dynamics” and “Bearing Burdens in the Church”