Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
Popular wisdom suggests that fresh resolves – at new year or any other time – often fall prey to the fatal flaw of ‘going it alone’. They focus on individual self-improvement to the neglect of relationships through which support might be given and accountability expressed.
Likewise, it’s possible to mistake the fruitful Christian life for private Christian experience. For sure, we walk by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16, 25), but we do not cultivate his fruit alone. We need each other in order to exercise patience, kindness and gentleness. The change we aspire to is a communal process – at the heart of which is love.
Paul has already made this clear. Those who have been freed from the law now become ‘slaves’ of one another through love (5:13). Those who walk in step with the Spirit are empowered by the Spirit to live a life of love (5:22). Such love – far from doing away with the law – actually sums up the law (5:14). In fact, the law attains its primary reason for existence in churches of Christ when its members become loving servants of one another.
Paul’s concrete example is love expressed in restoration. Even those who have been set free and who seek to walk in the Spirit are still caught out by sin in unanticipated ways. Here, however, is an opportunity for people of the Spirit to display the fruit of the Spirit in gentleness, enabling correction without arrogance or anger – where the goal is restoration. And we do so, Paul reminds us, fully realising our own proneness to stumbling, and our own dependence on others. I who help to restore you one week may need your gentleness the following week.
So it is that we carry each other’s burdens. Beyond suffering the consequences of a specific failing, burdens might be physical, emotional, practical, financial… What, then, might we be able to do for someone this week – a visit, a conversation, a meal, a cheque, a hand with the children, a cup of cold water? Whatever the case, shouldering a load with someone requires distributing the weight between us, lightening the load of the other in the process, demonstrating love in action.
Thus it is that we follow the example of Christ, the supreme burden-bearer. Thus it is that we fulfil the law of Christ.