Shared Burdens Make Lighter Loads
I read for you the sixth chapter, Paul’s letter to the Galatians, beginning to read at the first verse. This is the Word of God. “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Look to yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each man will have to bear his own load. Let him who is taught the word share all good things with him who teaches.
“Do not be deceived, for God is not mocked. For whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption. But he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Let us not grow weary in well doing. For in due season, we shall reap if we do not lose heart. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”
Soli Deo gloria. To God alone be the glory.
Let us pray. Now may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, oh God, our rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
I want to ask you to think with me today about a single verse from Paul’s letter to the Galatians. It’s the sixth chapter, the second verse. Paul writes, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Now, right on the very face of it, the intent of that verse is so clear that it cannot be mistaken. We are to bear one another’s burdens. We are to assist one another in carrying the heavy loads we sometimes encounter in life. We are to help one another when we encounter times of difficulty. That is a note sounded so frequently on the pages of Scripture that it simply cannot be ignored.
For the Bible tells us again and again how we as Christians are to outdo one another in showing our love for each other; how when someone comes to us in need, seeking our cloak, we are not only to give our cloak but then also to offer our coat; how we as Christians are always to be reaching out to others, especially to the least of the brethren, just as we would reach out to Christ Himself. The message of the Bible and the message of this verse cannot be mistaken. We are to bear one another’s burdens. That is so clear that I do not need to say any more about it than that which I have already said.
But I do want to say something more about one of the implications of that verse. It’s this. You cannot bear another person’s burden if you do not know the other person has that burden. You cannot assist another in need if you do not know that the person needs assistance. You cannot carry another person’s load if you are not aware that the person has a load that needs to be carried. Do you hear what I’m saying? Put it in other words, and it comes out like this.
Before there can be burden bearing, there has to be burden sharing.
That’s a great Biblical principle that I want us to focus on today. Out of the sharing comes the bearing.
You know, that great principle has affected the life of the church. I think we see it quite clearly in the life of the Apostle Paul himself, the one who wrote these very words. We know Paul, do we not, as one who was a great bearer of burdens of other people. We know him to be that. I mean, you can see it all the way through his letters. Again and again in the course of his letters, he mentions how he is, in effect, trying to help other people bear their burdens. He writes about taking up offerings for poor churches and poor people. He writes about how he is trying to settle disputes of a personal nature between individuals or even between congregations. He writes of how he is offering himself always, wherever the Spirit may call him, as a teacher, a counselor, a friend. And at the end of his letters – I love it. At the end of his letters, there are always those lists of names, one after another, people to whom he was writing. And he offers to them at the end of those letters specific words of advice and direction and encouragement to help them with the pains and the difficulties and the burdens that they were having to carry in life. Again and again, all through his letters you can see it. Paul was a great burden bearer.
But I wonder if we are also aware of the fact that Paul was a great burden sharer. In no less than six of his letters, he specifically states a personal need of his and asks for the prayer support of the people. In one place, for example, he speaks of his thorn in the flesh, and he asks people to pray for him in the midst of that pain. In another place, he recognizes his need for strength in the face of some temptation, and he says to the people, “Pray for me, lest I myself become a castaway.”
He had loneliness, terrible loneliness, Paul did. It was a great burden for him to bear. And at one point, he cries out to Titus in need. “Titus,” he says, “I need to spend some time with you in Nicopolis.” And then he pours out the deepest pains of his heart to his young friend Timothy when he writes to Timothy, “Timothy, do your best to come to me soon. And when you come, please bring my books and my coat and especially my parchments. Timothy, please do your best to come to me before winter.” Again and again, Paul expresses his own need, asking his brothers and sisters in Christ to help him bear those burdens. Paul was not only a great burden bearer. Paul was also a great burden sharer, and he calls us to do the same.
Now, let’s be honest enough to admit that that is not easy for us to do, not for us here in twentieth-century America. We are not taught to do that. We are not taught to share the needs and the difficulties of our life. Keith Miller has a marvelous little story about a woman who took her little girl Christmas shopping one day. And while the mother was so busy doing her own shopping there, the little girl became bored. And she got down on the floor and began to play with a little toy which she had bought. The aisles were crowded. And there was a man coming down that aisle, and he had his arms loaded with packages. And he never even saw the little girl, and he stepped right on her hand. She screamed in agony and then began to sob almost uncontrollably. And her mother picked her up and clasped her in her arms and said to her, “Honey, don’t cry where all these people will see you.” Oh, that’s the American way now, isn’t it? Don’t cry where all these people will see you.
We are taught that to share the burdens of our lives, to talk about personal hurts, that’s a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength to hold it all inside. Paul says that approach to life does not lead to strength. It leads to isolation, to hardness, to loneliness. No. Paul says, “In Christ Jesus, we are to bear one another’s burdens. We are to share our burdens one with another.” And Paul says – because, you see, that increases our strength. Shared burdens make for lighter loads. That’s the way to be truly strong is to have someone else join you in carrying that burden. That’s what Paul is trying to call us to do here. “Bear one another’s burdens,” he says. But he wants us to understand that it is out of the sharing that there comes the bearing. Before there can be burden bearing, there has to be burden sharing.
Understand me, please. I am not suggesting here that we are to go through life spilling out over everyone we happen to meet all of the personal details of our lives. In the first place, that’s obnoxious, and in the second place, that’s not Biblical at all. No. Paul wants us to understand that, as Christians, we are to have at least one other Christian to whom we could tell anything and everything, nothing held back. Paul wants us to understand that no Christian need ever bear any burden in life alone. We are to share our burdens and then call some Christian friend to join us in bearing that burden. And that’s precisely what we’re trying to do right here at the First Presbyterian Church in Orlando.
We have a ministry here called “Caring in Action.” It’s described in this little leaflet. You may have seen it. It’s available for you. The purpose of this ministry is simply to link Christians together, quietly, confidentially, away from the public view, one on one, to link them together, one on one, so that two Christians can face any burden or any crushing load together. And that ministry will never work if we are not willing to pick up the phone and dial the “Caring in Action” number, 894-3811, if we are not willing to pick up the phone and dial that number and say to the person who answers the phone, “I’ve encountered a tough spot in my life, and I want someone who would be willing in Christ to walk through that difficulty with me.”
That ministry is built upon the command of Christ, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” And it is out of the sharing that there comes the bearing. That principle has affected the church, but that principle has also affected my ministry, especially, I think, my preaching ministry. You know, when I started out in the ministry, I believe now, in retrospect, that I was too much influenced by those teachers of preachers who said to me that illustrations from the preacher’s personal life are always inappropriate in the pulpit. Now I’m learning a better way. You see, I honestly believe that one of greatest curses in the Church of Jesus Christ today is the fact that there are too many preachers who are preaching not out of their depths but out of their shallows. There are too many preachers who are preaching only out of their studies and never out of their hearts.
I was in a seminar not very long ago. It was in Dallas. The man’s name was David Redding. He had this to say. He said, “If you in your preaching are not breaking open your heart to your people, then you’re not really preaching the Word of God. And not only that, you’re not preaching with power because no preacher can preach with power unless that preacher is being prayed for. And the people cannot pray for the preacher if they do not know the preacher’s needs, if they do not know what’s in the preacher’s heart.” And that hit home. Now, understand me again. I do not intend to say by that that I am going to come into this pulpit on Sunday and transform this pulpit into some kind of a psychiatrist’s couch where I proceed to pour out to you all of the problems of my life. No. This pulpit does not belong to Howard Edington. This pulpit belongs to Jesus Christ. It is His. It is not mine. And therefore, as long as God gives me the grace to stand in this place, I shall preach Christ and Him crucified. I shall preach this Book, which is the Word of God. It doesn’t just contain the Word of God. It is the Word of God, the Word of God to you and to me and the world in which we live. I shall preach Christ, and I shall preach the Word of God.
But I have to tell you that I stand in desperate need of your prayers. And therefore, on occasion, as I try to be faithful to the preaching of the Word of God, I shall come to you in this pulpit not only with my victories but also with my defeats, not only with my wins but also with my losses because, you see, it’s so important for you to know where God needs to be at work in my life. And I shall have to tell you that as we go because I need you. I need your prayer power. I don’t know if you’re aware of the fact or not, but there are lay people in this church who meet with the ministers before every service begins to pray specifically for us. And I tell you, we simply couldn’t do it without that. But that’s not enough. I need more than that. I need more than a prayer on Sunday. I need your prayers every single day of the week. But you cannot pray for me if you do not know what’s in my heart. So out of the sharing, I pray there shall come the bearing.
You know, one of the greatest joys of my week is to read all of the letters that come in response to our television ministry “The Certain Sound.” It’s absolutely incredible. And I’m so grateful that you, who watch by television take the time to write to me. And I’m even more grateful that you’re willing to share with me particular needs in your life. We do not know one another. All I know is a name that’s at the bottom of the page of a letter. But because we share the same Christ, there is a bond of love there, and I rejoice in that. And so when you share your needs with me, I begin to pray for you specifically by name, and I begin to do anything else that I possibly can to ask God to help me in assisting you in bearing that burden. And I try to respond to as many of you as I can. And I only hope and pray that you will keep on sharing your burdens with me because that ties us together in Jesus Christ. And it is out of the sharing that there can come the bearing. That’s true, you know. That’s true for all of us.
If we have the courage to share our burdens and the difficulties of our lives with one another, then the ministry of the church begins to move with power because we are in obedience to the command of Jesus Christ. Out of the sharing, there comes the bearing.
That principle has affected my ministry. And that principle will affect your life. It will change the way you relate to other people every single day. It will. I promise you that. I remember being in a meeting. It was almost two years ago now. It was in another city. And after we had conducted our business for the day, several of us – there were four other ministers and myself – we gathered together about a dinner table. We’re long-time friends, and we were going to have an enjoyable meal together. And when we started out our conversation together, you know what we did? We engaged in what I think I would choose to call tallying our triumphs. You know what that’s like? You know what I mean, don’t you? “How are things at the church?” “Oh, they’re great.” “Attendance?” “Oh, we’re packing them in.” “What about the family?” “Ah, they couldn’t be better.” And after a little while of that, one of the men at the table said, “You know, I guess we really can’t be of much help to one another because we don’t have any needs.” That got our attention, and we began to share what was really happening in our lives. And for me, at that point, I was carrying the pastoral responsibility for this great church all alone. And the frustration at having to leave very important areas of ministry undone, the frustration of that was literally eating me alive, and I shared that. And there at the dinner table, my friends in Christ began immediately to pray for me, and not only to pray for me but then to go on and to make suggestions about some ways to begin easing that frustration. It was a beautiful experience, and it reminded me all over again that, yes, out of the sharing, there can come the bearing.
It reminded me all over again of that old saying. You know that old saying? I don’t know quite where it originated. Maybe it was with Cicero. Yes. I think maybe that’s who it was. At any rate, you know the old saying, the old saying that goes like this? A friend is one who doubles our joys and divides our sorrows. Yes. When we share our burdens with a Christian friend, it divides our sorrows. Shared burdens make lighter loads, but not only that – but here’s the gospel truth. Many times, God uses another friend in Christ to communicate His power into your life and into mine. It happens again and again.
It happened to a fellow. His name happens to be Ben Franklin, not the Ben Franklin, but that’s his name, Ben Franklin. He lives in Topeka, Kansas. Back in September the 14th, 1963, a good while ago now, he was a freshman at the University of Colorado. He was injured in a mountain-climbing accident. The jagged rocks cut through the ropes that were holding him, and he plunged 150 feet down into a ravine. Two friends were with him when, at last, they managed to reach his side. They realized he was terribly injured. One of them went to get help. The other stayed with him. When help arrived, he had lapsed into unconsciousness. They rushed him to the hospital. They discovered there that, among other things, his back was broken in four places. Surgery was attempted. It was not successful. And for the next four weeks, Franklin lived with a gathering sense of fear. He was paralyzed from the waist down. And the doctors came to they, and they said, “There’s no hope. We’ve done everything we can do. You’ll be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of your life.” He was ready to give up. But you know something? In that hospital, there was another patient, a patient who’d had a spinal injury, a patient who was a paraplegic, but a patient who was, more importantly, a Christian. And that patient began to come to Franklin’s room every single afternoon to talk to him, to encourage him, to challenge him, to share with him the struggles that he himself was going through as a way, hopefully, of catching his attention. Every afternoon, he was there. And one afternoon, he said to Franklin, “I dare you to move your toe.” And Franklin said, “You must be crazy. I can’t do that.” And he said, “Yes, you can. I dare you to do it.” And he tried, and nothing happened. Same thing the next day, “I dare you,” and the day after that, and the day after that. Two weeks later, that toe moved ever so slightly, but that was the first step in five years of rehabilitation. Franklin can walk now. Oh, he’s on crutches, wears braces on his legs, has a brace on his back, and he’s in rather constant pain. But for all that, he went on to graduate from the University of Colorado. He was the editor of the yearbook there, and he was elected to Who’s Who in American Colleges and Universities. And I want you to listen to what he says. He says, “The day that I fell, I did not fall into a ravine. I fell into the arms of God, for this Christian brother who had the courage to come to me and share with me the burdens of his life, thus enabling me to share with him the burdens of mine. God power came through this Christian brother into my life so that God enabled me to find in him the strength I needed to bear this awful burden. And the power of God remains so real in my life to this moment that I would not exchange anything I own to replace it. I fell, yes, but into the arms of God.” There it is. Do you hear it? Out of the sharing, there comes the bearing.
I guess that’s all I want to say to you about bearing burdens and sharing burdens, except maybe to remind you that the Apostle Paul, when he wrote the letter to the Galatians, it was one of the first letters he ever wrote. And he started off that letter with these words, “Paul, an apostle,” right there claiming for himself the highest office in the church, “Paul, an apostle.” Seven years later, he wrote a letter to the Corinthians. And in that letter, he said, “Paul, the least of the apostles, one not worthy to be called an apostle,” not so ready now to lay claim to spiritual superiority. Eight years after that, he wrote the letter to the Ephesians. And in that letter, he said, “Unto to me is grace given, though I am less than the least of all the members of the church,” no longer claiming a position of leadership but declaring himself to be less than the least of the members of the church. Near the end of his life just before he died, when he knew that death would soon come, he wrote to his dear friend Timothy. And in that letter, he said, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners and I, Paul, am the foremost of sinners.” Do you hear the progression? That’s what it was. It was a progression because, you see, the longer Paul lived with his Lord Jesus Christ, the deeper a person he became. And the more he deepened, the more he opened. The longer and longer he walked with his Master, enabled him to share more and more and more.