Recently, my husband and I bought weight lifting equipment – a power rack, weights, bars, bench, the whole nine yards. Several years ago, Eric really got into weight lifting at the Y and had some real gains. Then job schedules changed, life got busy, and getting to the Y on a regular basis didn’t seem as feasible as it had been. But he’s been desperate to lift again. And he’s always wanted me to lift. He calls it “big medicine.” He’s a researcher, super intelligent, and has found a good system called Starting Strength. So, we finally took the plunge and bought equipment for a home gym. It’s cheaper over time than a monthly Y membership we weren’t using.
In a month of lifting, the changes are already pretty amazing to me. I’ve finding it a pretty addictive workout and it’s been good for me. Having been told I’d have problems squatting after knee surgery 16 years ago, I’m finding it easier now that I’m getting my leg muscles stronger. I feel more energy and my six year old son thinks I am pretty awesome lifting heavy things.
And, in my typical fashion, I’ve found myself thinking of the non-physical applications in my life. The discipline, the mental toughness, and, most importantly, the spiritual application of exercise. And one day, in the middle of squatting with the bar on my back, it hit me. This is a burden. I have a burden of weight on my back that I am carrying. When benchpressing, I am lifting a burden, for me, a heavy burden. Yes, if I’m careful, I can lift and manage these weights on my own. But if I get into trouble, you know what is really great? Having my husband there as a spotter.
The spotter is someone who stands by to help if you get too much weight or too fatigued to properly and safely move the barbell. The spotter stands near you, waiting to assist. The spotter sometimes helps you lift or move your weight – you know, the spotter helps you bear your burden. It’s an essential element to proper weightlifting.
My new friend Heather has been into weight training for many years. She competes. She knows what she’s doing. But you know what? There are times she needs to use a spotter. She needs someone there to help her bear considerable burden and make sure she is not injuring herself.
So, here’s where I really started thinking. Galatians 6:2 says: Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. What does that verse really mean? And how can we apply it to our lives?
Some background first. Paul when writing to the church at Galatia had to deal with Judaizers, a legalistic form of Jewish-Christian missionaries. They taught Gentiles (non-Jews) that they must live according to Jewish law and customs to fully be Christians. This was causing much division in the church in Galatia. Gentiles didn’t understand why they needed to circumcise, follow Jewish dietary restrictions, and adhere to the Mosaic purity code. The Judaizers were often dogmatic, judgmental, and essentially adding works to the grace of God. Paul knew he had to put a stop to such nonsense and his letter to the Galatians is one of his most forceful in the New Testament.
So, what did Paul mean by “bear one another’s burdens.” The people of this time would have realized that bearing burdens would have been the work of a servant. So, Paul was first reminding people that instead of lording over each other our works and how spiritual we are compared to others, we should first be there to serve each other. Secondly, burdens could be anything – physical, spiritual, financial, etc. So, we should help each other out when necessary. It’s incredibly easier to do life together when encouraging and not comparing.
But again, there is more here. A Bible verse must be read in context and not taken singularly. When you read the rest of chapter 6, especially verse 1, Paul is talking about sin and helping to restore believers who struggle with sin – whatever their individual burden might be. So, in order to fulfill the Law of Christ, we should help each other.
Pause for a moment – what is the Law of Christ? Paul chose these words carefully. The Judaizers were very concerned with keeping the Law of Moses, a system that grew to be a behemoth of laws. It was impossible to keep the Law of Moses. So, Paul is reminding everyone that the Law of Christ has replaced the Law of Moses – Remember, the challenge to Jesus was “what is the greatest commandment?” He answered to love the Lord God with your heart, soul, and mind and likewise, to love your neighbor as yourself. He took the hundreds of laws and boiled it down to two commandments. Especially when Christ then said in John 15:12 to “Love each other as I have loved you.” How did he love us? Yes, recall John 3:16. Recall the work of the Cross. He was a sacrifice for us.
So, in bearing each other’s burdens, we are Loving God and Loving Others. Especially when we are there to help each other with our burdens of sin. And that’s where I realized the spotter/weight lifting analogy works so well. When lifting weights, it’s a definite burden. A spotter eases that burden.Look at the picture of my friend Heather above. Her husband BJ isn’t lifting her weights for her, but literally has her back, with arms reached out ready to grab that bar if necessary. Ready to prevent serious injury in case of a moment of weakness or misstep.
It’s good to know I have a spotter when I lift weights. It’s refreshing and life-affirming when I have a spotter in my spiritual life, too. My friends have done that for me in the past. My husband does that for me. My parents, so many. They’ve held me accountable when they could have washed their hands of me. They loved me when I was struggling. They wrapped their arms around me and lifted my burden. They “spotted” me with my burdens.
How often in our churches does the opposite play out. Today, the church struggles with legalism just as the church did in the times of Paul. We seem to have a checklist of behaviors that are acceptable and not acceptable in order to even enter the church. Certain sins are often immediate grounds for exclusion. A large swath of Evangelicals have declared that no one can be a Christian if they still struggle with particular sins, just like the Judaizers couldn’t allow “Gentile Sinners” into their fellowship. I loved this one line from the Intervaristy Press New Testament Commentary Series on this verse: In contrast to this attitude, Paul says that the law of Christ is fulfilled when his people carry the burdens of sinners! Serving sinners in the church, not separating sinners from the church, is the way to fulfill the law of Christ.
Let’s strive to be Christians who are spotters. Let’s strive to be Christians who bear each other’s burdens instead of judging that a burden exists. We are all fallible, we all have our burdens – our secret sins. We don’t want to be crushed or injured because we carried such a burden and no one was there to help us.
God’s peace to you all!