Paul launches into the first practical implications of walking by the Spirit. The Spirit-led man will interact with others differently than the man who walks on his own. The one who walks by the Spirit will not think much of himself – he will not be boastful or challenging or envious. Even more, he will gently restore the brother who is overwhelmed by the deeds of the flesh. The one led by the Spirit approaches others in love and does not worry about comparing himself to them because his security is in his heavenly Father.
This passage is interesting in the contrasts it presents. As believers we are to invest ourselves in others and bear one another’s burdens – but we will ultimately give an account for our actions only. We are to be others-centered in our walk and self-centered (in a good way) in our assessment. God does not measure us based on others’ righteousness, but our righteousness will be judged based on its effect on others.
Verse 26 is the negative side of the command in verse 25. We are to walk by the Spirit – therefore we are not to become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another. The opposite of interacting with others in godliness is to interact selfishly. The one walking in his own strength is the one who is threatened by others or who sees everything through the prism of competition.
This verse is all about insecurity and self-centeredness and really defines how the selfish man approaches those around him. Boasting and challenging and envying all stem from insecurity and ultimately pride. Pride breeds insecurity. We worry that others do not appreciate us so we boast. We worry that others are better than us, so we challenge them to bring them down or envy them for what they are or have. With no thought of God, the only standard for our success and worth is how we measure up to the world we see. When we walk by sight instead of faith, our surroundings determine our sense of value and contentment.
The Spirit-led man, on the other hand, is secure in his relationship with his Father in heaven. He knows he is nothing if left to himself and so has no issues with how others live or achieve. He does not compare himself to others because there is nothing to compare – his only strength is in Who he walks with and his success is measured by his Father. His shortcomings force him to depend on the Spirit rather than become threatened by others. The very things that would cause him to boast, challenge, or envy instead push him into the arms of the Father. The Spirit-led man focuses on God rather than himself.
The Spirit-led man invests himself in others and is willing to do so at the basest level. Far from boasting and envying, the godly man ministers to fallen brothers with the goal of restoring them to fellowship.
Paul seems to say in this verse, “If one does not walk by the Spirit and thereby falls into sin, you who DO walk by the Spirit (you who are spiritual) restore him gently.” This verse is directed at believers dealing with the sin of other believers. It is another indication that there are times when the believer may not walk by the Spirit (along with 5:17).
The word Paul uses for caught does not mean that the brother was discovered in his sin. It is not like the adulterous woman brought to Jesus who had been caught in the act. What Paul refers to here is the brother who is overwhelmed by his sin – caught meaning ‘caught in a trap’ rather than found out. The sin that catches him is likely one of the deeds of the flesh listed in 5:19-21.
However the sin is found out, the approach of the godly man to the sinning brother is based in love and gentleness. Since the one walking by the Spirit bears the Spirit’s fruit, the elements of that fruit will be on display as he ministers. He will not come to him to condemn or to belittle or to needlessly expose his sin for the purpose of embarrassing him. He will gently work to restore him.
Gentleness carries with it the sense of restoring in the most beneficial way for the sinner. This means having an attitude toward the fallen brother that is benevolent, forgiving and encouraging – and that seeks to bring him back as fully as possible to the same fellowship that existed before he sinned. This is an others-centered act that keeps the man’s feelings and interests in the forefront.
The Spiritual man will not needlessly condemn but will also not overlook the sin of a brother. Overlooking can be as unloving as gossiping or tearing down. The one who loves his brother will not allow him to remain in sin that overwhelms him. We do not ignore a man in quicksand under the guise of minding our own business. The one walking by the Spirit hates sin because his Father hates it, and he will not allow one of his Father’s children to remain shipwrecked if he can help it.
Paul’s direction presupposes this is a repentant and contrite brother. In no way is he contradicting Jesus’ words about a sinning brother in Matthew 18:15-20. If one who is caught in sin refuses to repent or to take steps to remove the sin from his life, restoration is not possible. We do not restore a brother who does not think his sin is an issue. Restoration happens after repentance.
The last admonition of the verse is important – each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted. In ministering to the fallen man we must be wary that we are not tempted also. Gentleness is born out of a recognition of our own fallibility. This could mean tempted to the same sin, tempted to fall to any sin and be in the same situation, or – most likely – tempted to feel superior to the one being restored. Satan can turn any good act into an opportunity to sin. We must always examine our motives and ensure that our intent is truly to restore and not just to model how righteous we are by comparison.
Paul moves from a specific command to a general one. Those who walk by the Spirit are to bear one another’s burdens and thus fulfill the law of Christ. This goes right along with what he said in 5:13-14. We are not to turn our freedom under the Law into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another – because loving each other as we love ourselves fulfills the whole Law. Loving others as ourselves is the same as bearing their burdens.
Bearing one another’s burdens fulfills the law of Christ. Jesus told His disciples His new commandment to them was to love one another as He loved them (Jn 13:34). When we love others as Christ loves us and as much as we love ourselves, we will help to carry their loads. Christ’s love is always active – to love without coming alongside others is impossible.
Burdens as Paul uses it here includes the trials of life but also obviously includes the sin he spoke of in verse 1. We do not come alongside just when a fellow Christian is sick or unemployed or financially needy – we also minister to him when he is in the gutter of his own sin. Burdens are messy things and the Spirit-led man will get his hands dirty as he serves in love.
That’s the main point of the passage, then: Bear each other’s burdens; specifically, take on the trouble of helping people realize their sin and get it repaired. If it seems easy for you to help a person bear the burden of sickness, or unemployment, or loss of a loved one, or loneliness, or rejection, but too hard for you to bear the burden of confronting a person because of sin, meditate on this thought: a sinful attitude or a sinful habit is much more harmful to a person than any of those other burdens. Therefore, if we really care about a person’s ultimate welfare, we will confront them with their sin as well as comfort them in their trouble. Wouldn’t it be great to belong to a family of believers who loved each other so much that they simply could not look the other way while a brother or sister hardens into a habit of sin! Let’s be that family! If we are not, we do not fulfill the law of Christ. – John Piper
Bear one another’s burdens is in the present tense. This is a continual and ongoing perspective of the believer. The love that does not allow a brother to struggle alone will also continually look for ways to serve – and will sometimes just keep carrying. Loads do not always go away or get resolved simply. Sometimes a brother needs help in the same way for a long time and we need to stay alongside. This is true even when the same person makes the same prayer request over and over. Love is patient and the Spirit bears patience in us and so we patiently stick with the brother whose situation does not seem to change. [We are sometimes not good at praying for the same thing for the same person for an extended time. We tend to want people to bring different requests to us rather than just asking for the same prayer over and over. We like variety in our requests for help and sometimes see it as weakness if a person’s situation will not go away. We must remember in our praying that trials in life sometimes last for years or even lifetimes – and praying for a brother is based on our love for him whatever his situation.]
Bearing one another’s burdens presupposes transparency. I cannot bear your burden if I do not know about it. You cannot bear mine unless I share it. They will know us by our love for one another and love includes trust which leads to transparency. We are to confess our sins to one another (Jas 5:16) and we are to bear one another’s burdens because we love one another. Christians are to be transparent people within the community. If we are not transparent we cannot be restored and we cannot allow someone else to help with our burdens. Transparency should mark the community of faith because of its basis in love and because a lack of transparency is ultimately based in pride.
Paul says in Philippians 4 that the alternative to anxiety is to make our requests known to God with thanksgiving. And Peter tells us to cast all our anxiety on God (I Pet 5:7). But neither admonition precludes making our requests and anxieties known to others. We are to go first to God, but not only to Him. God made us for community and sometimes specifically ministers to us through the people He brings into our lives (II Cor 7:5-7).
Note that Paul does not phrase any of this as if having burdens is the exception. His commands assume everyone has burdens and everyone needs help and this will always be the case this side of eternity. It is like James’ perspective on trials – rejoice WHEN we encounter trials. Having burdens is nothing to be secretive about or ashamed of. EVERYONE has burdens – the wise ones allow others to share the load and the loving ones look to help wherever they can.
Remember that Satan wants to isolate us. He wants to make us feel like we are the only ones going through what we are going through – or that no one else understands what we are experiencing. He wants us to think that no one wants to hear about our problems or that they are unworthy to hear because they have no idea what it is like to go through this. He also wants us to think that sharing our problems is a sign of weakness and that if we were real people we would suck it up and keep our issues to ourselves. Listen to how Peter addresses this in I Peter 5:8 – Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. Our suffering is not unique to us and we serve a God who understands and brings Spirit-led people into our lives who love us and can help.
Bearing one another’s burdens also makes us like Christ. His whole purpose for coming was to bear the sins of others. In Romans 15:1-3 Paul makes the point that we are to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves because of the example of our Savior. He did not please Himself but gave Himself for others.
And that is really what this comes down to. The one living for himself will not bear the burdens of others because his life is full of his own concerns. He will not see the needs of others because his own life is blocking his view. It is only the Spirit-led person who realizes what he is and is not in Christ who can regard one another as more important than himself and not merely look out for his own personal interests, but also for the interest of others. (Phil 2:3-4).
In verse 3 Paul gives a reason someone might not bear with a brother. The one who thinks he is something when he is nothing is one who does not fulfill the law of Christ. He boasts, challenges, and envies. He does not have time to minister to others because he is too busy comparing himself to them.
The one who thinks he is something deceives himself. The truth is that he is nothing – nothing apart from the One who can save him. People with their eyes open and a firm grasp of reality do not have inflated senses of themselves. Note that those who think they are something only deceive themselves – not others.
We realize we are nothing because if we walk in our own strength we carry out the desires of the flesh which puts us in the position of needing restoration just like the man in verse 1. Spirit-filled people do NOT think they are something when they are nothing. Spirit-filled people are not deceived. Apart from Christ we can do nothing (Jn 15:5) – our worth and value are in Him.
People with a proper perspective on themselves – knowing they are nothing apart from Christ – do not hesitate to bear others’ burdens because they realize they are needy too. People who have a deceived perspective of themselves do not bear burdens because they assume everyone should be able to handle their own stuff just like they do. Or that having burdens is a sign of weakness and others should learn to handle their own lives.
These verses at first do not seem to go along with the first three. But Paul wants to make sure that as we bear one another’s burdens and come alongside sinning brothers we do not begin to measure ourselves by them (thus leading back to the condition of 5:26).
The language Paul uses in these verses seems to contradict what he just said in 1-3. He says we are to examine ourselves and then have reason for boasting (!) based on our own actions and that each man shall bear his own load. Boasting is a sign we are not Spirit-led in 5:26 but here it appears we are to do it, and we are to bear one another’s burdens in verse 2 but carry our own load in verse 5.
What Paul means is that we are not to compare ourselves to others (particularly the fallen brother we work to restore) in regard to our obedience before God. Each of us will give an account for his own actions and we are not to base our lives on how we compare to those around us. We do not look at others and suppose we have reason for boasting because we look good in comparison. We look only at ourselves – and then have reason to boast based on our actions alone.
Note that he does not say we DO boast. Only that we have reason for boasting (or do not have reason for boasting) based on how we live. In regard to giving an account of my life it really IS all about me.
When it comes to trials and sins we are to think of others and both offer to help and ask for assistance. When it comes to judging where we stand before God and how we walk by the Spirit we are to think of ourselves and not worry about how another stands. No one stands before God to answer for my actions other than me. But one of the actions I will answer for is how much I bore others’ burdens and sought to restore those who fell.
Paul takes what we just went over in the Fruit of the Spirit and basically says, “Here is how a Spirit-led man interacts with others.” The Spirit-led man will not be hung up on himself – he will not have a higher opinion of himself than he should because he knows he is nothing apart from the Spirit. He knows the kinds of things he is apt to do if left to himself (the deeds of the flesh). He will not boast about himself, he will not challenge or envy others out of his insecurity. He knows exactly who he is and what he is in Christ and so does not worry about how he stacks up against others.
By the same token, he will love others enough to invest in their lives. He will bear others’ burdens. This is not limited only to the trials of life like sickness and unemployment but also to sin. The man who walks with the Spirit is willing to get down and dirty with other believers where they live – when they are overwhelmed by sin. He will work to restore them with a spirit of gentleness. He also will allow others into his life so they can bear his burdens. And to accomplish this he will be willing to be transparent with his own life and patient with the lives of others.
He lives his life in the Spirit with the knowledge that it is only his Creator’s opinion that matters. He will stand before God one day alone but be judged by how he loved and treated others.