At first glance, it sounds like Paul contradicts himself in Galatians 6. At the beginning of the chapter, he clearly states to bear the burdens of other people. Yet only a few verses later, he insists that everyone should carry their own load. So which is it? Do we help others? Or should we insist everyone take responsibility themselves?
Many people get confused about these two ideas. Some argue we should help others regardless of the circumstances. Some become closed off and argue that everyone should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.
If you ask me, I don’t think there is any sort of contradiction. Paul uses two completely different words in these commandments. Both commandments are important to the Christian faith. First, Paul speaks of burdens, and secondly brings up the topic of loads. There must be something different between the two! Here are some thoughts from my own personal study and interpretation.
Everyone has a load. It is usually something we are born with, such as a certain personality type, temperament, or even one’s health. A “load” signifies something deeply personal about someone. I would even argue that our personal actions are part of our load. If I reject God by how I live (showing hatred to others, indulging in sin, giving into temptation, etc.), then that will lead me to an extremely dark place. Nobody can be me. I cannot be other people. I have my own responsibilities. I have my own personal load.
A burden, on the other hand, is often some kind of tribulation that someone is experiencing. It is less “permanent” than a load. You often hear people going through a difficult time speak of how they feel “burdened.” If a close friend has died, then you will obviously feel very burdened. If you have a stressful week at work or school, then you will likely feel emotionally drained or stressed. Burdens can be shared among people, with others potentially offering assistance.
Here lies the important point Paul is trying to make. Burdens are not loads. We should remember the difference because we frequently confuse the two. We are to assist with other people if they are bearing a burden. Nobody ought to be alone. If we find ourselves able to help someone else, we ought to show sympathy and compassion for whatever their pain might be. It doesn’t matter whether that is a church event or family crisis… We are to bear one another’s burdens!
But someone else’s load, on the other hand, is something that is outside of our personal control. I cannot change your heart—which is part of the “load” you personally carry. I cannot adjust your temperament. I cannot heal what ails you deeply. I can not take upon your sin and brokenness. I cannot fix whatever is in the realm of your “load.”
To paraphrase Paul in Galatians 6, I would say:
Help other people out when they’re going through challenging times.
But remember everyone is ultimately responsible for their own relationship with God.
We can do a wonderful job of providing assistance when someone seeks our help. We can help alleviate the stress, give a word of encouragement, or show love when they are facing a dark valley. Yet absolutely none of us can force anyone to change their own heart. We cannot adjust their load. We cannot take control of their destiny with God. That is for the other person to “carry” themselves. Hopefully, they will choose Christ and lead a live of discipleship.
The good news is that God is the only one capable of handling our loads. God is willing to change us if we are willing and respond to God’s grace. God can change who you are.
Be mindful of this truth as you seek to love and serve your neighbor. Carry burdens. That’s a core commandment of scripture. But leave the loads up to God!