A Word of Wisdom Used in Two Senses (Wed. Sept. 28)

The word of the day is “bear.”  Words must be understood in context.  A single word can have different meanings depending on the situation in which it is used.  Today in our reading of Galatians 6:2-10, St. Paul seems to contradict himself.  He writes, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (OSB vs. 2).  But then he writes, “For each will have to bear his own load” (OSB vs. 5).

We learn from our study that these verses are not opposed to each other.  They refer to different points that Paul is making.

Bear One Another’s Burdens

The first statement is that we should “bear each other’s burdens” (OSB vs. 2).  The word, “burdens” here refers to what is “heavy,” that is, “loads” or “weights” (Strong’s #922).  Therefore, the thought of “heavy loads” is a metaphor for troubles.  Paul teaches that we are to “take up” or “carry” these difficulties for one another (Strong’s 941).

We should carry each other’s struggles just as the Lord “has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” according to Isaiah’s prophesy (OSB Isaiah 53:14).[i]  The word “borne” in Hebrew refers to “lifting,” “carrying,” and “taking [along with us]” (Strong’s Hebrew #5375).  And the word “carried” means to lift a heavy load (Strong’s Hebrew #5445).

Mutual Support in the Body of Christ

Note that our support for one another, according to the Lord’s example is to be mutual.  The cares of others should become our cares.  The troubles of others should become our troubles.  The concerns of others should become our concerns.  Accordingly, Paul teaches that there should be “no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another” (1 Cor. 12:25).  And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it (OSB 1 Corinthians 12:25-26)Thus, the mutual sharing of the weight of our distresses testifies to the church’s unity in Christ.

The Term “Bear” In a Different Sense

However, Paul uses the term “bear” differently.  He writes, “each one shall bear his own load (OSB vs. 6).  We can understand why Paul is using the word in another sense if we ask why Paul is doing so.  In verse 3, Paul abruptly turns to the question of those in Corinth who are “puffed up” with pride.  The apostle suggests that their bragging is empty.  It is self-deception (vs. 3).  Therefore, Paul urges, “Let each one examines his own work” (vs. 4).  Self-criticism is the remedy for self-conceit.  In self-reflection, one discovers what accomplishments he can “rejoice in” and what congratulations belong to another (vs. 4).

In this light, Paul declares that everyone shall carry his own weight (vs. 6).  We can express the sense of this word when we say that everyone will bear responsibility for their own work.  What we do or do not do will reap the credit or the blame in the judgment of the Lord.

 For Reflection

Today’s reading presents a challenge to us because it is a summary of Paul’s teaching.  To wrap up his message, the apostle skips from one topic to another.  The apostle’s final admonitions are like aphorisms, succinct kernels of truth and wise counsel.  But like other adages, these pithy statements are easy to remember, such as “Bear one another’s burdens,” “Each one must bear his own load,” and “Examine your own work.”  These saying provide a kind of New Testament wisdom comparable to Proverbs, the Wisdom of Solomon, and Sirach.  Like the wisdom of the Old Testament, we should understand each on its own terms.


[i] The Greek Septuagint translates, “This One bears our sins and is pained for us.”  Matthew 8:17 and 1 Peter 2:24 cite this version.

Galatians 6:2-10, Aphorisms of wisdom, bear one another’s burdens, each bear his own load, He has borne our griefs, if one suffers all suffer,

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