God is a God of relationship. He is the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in relationship within the Godhead. We are created in His image, for relationship, with Him and with one another. The middle chapters of Genesis record God calling Abraham to become the father of many nations and to become the father of His people, the nation of Israel. The Old Testament Law reflects God’s love for His people and His desire for them to love one another well. As they fail to do that, we read later in the Old Testament about God scolding His people through His prophets for oppressing the weak and vulnerable.
The New Testament underscores God as a relational God as the Father sends the Son to live among us, to save us, and to show us what the love of God looks like in the warp and woof of daily life. Jesus walked in and among sinners, welcoming the weak and needy. He also trained and empowered His disciples to serve others even as He was serving them. He sent them out in pairs because ministry is hard, and we need one another as we go about fulfilling the Lord’s purpose for us.
“One another” verses in the New Testament are varied and plentiful, illustrating the importance of nurturing life among members of the body of Christ. It is only as we practice these one another passages that we grow strong in faith, become who the Lord created us to be, and fulfill His purposes for us, both individually and corporately. Like it or now, we are so dependent on relationship that we are not able to fulfill God’s purposes for our personal, individual life without practicing and experiencing the one anothers.
There is one “one another” passage I would like to bring to our attention. In his letter to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul writes, “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2). And then, in completing his thought, Paul admonishes his readers—just three verses later: “For each one will bear his own load.” (Galatians 6:5).
The apparent inconsistency in our English translations is resolved when we investigate the actual Greek words that Paul used. The word for burden in Verse 2 carries the connotation of a particularly heavy and difficult burden, while the word for load in Verse 5 carries the connotation of an expected responsibility. And so we understand that Paul is exhorting believers to take responsibility for themselves and also help brothers and sisters who are struggling with unusually difficult loads. This seems quite reasonable, and we tend to nod at this truth and move on.
But even though we can readily understand this passage, I am less sure that we follow Paul’s instructions as well as he would like. It is simply not that easy to always distinguish reasonable personal responsibility from an unreasonably difficult load. Indeed, there is a good bit of subjective judgement involved for all concerned. What is unbearable or overwhelming for one person may be routine for someone else. And, when we add other factors—perceptions of expectations, personality, life experience—it becomes even more complex. Do we persevere, or ask for help? Conversely, do we encourage a brother/sister to persevere, or do we offer to help?
There is no formula or flow chart to answer these questions. I would like to suggest that we consider a “both and” approach rather than an “either or.” In other words, we can honor Paul’s words even in the uncertainty that attends them. We can encourage a struggling brother and sister to persevere in faith even as we do what we can to help with their load. And, we can ask for help even as we walk in faith through a challenging time.
In order to do this, we must develop an essential Godly characteristic: humility. In our contemporary American culture, it is easy to want to do it ourselves, on our own strength. Coupled with our prideful sin nature, it can be exceedingly difficult to ask for help. Our pride fuels self-focus so that we can miss the needs of others. And when we do see a need, our pride and self-reliance can make it difficult to see someone in need of help without feeling somehow superior. And when our offers to help fuel our pride and elevate our opinions of ourselves, we move far away from Paul’s intent. Finally, as we cultivate a spirit of humility, we become more able to be genuine in our need and in needing the needs of others, which brings us back to relationship building. Although we may never achieve the perfect balance of personal responsibility and burden sharing, humbly and actively exercising both proclaims the love of Christ to the world and blesses His body—us—with ever deepening relationships.