Over the past five weeks, as we’ve worked our way through Paul’s epistle to the Galatians we have been wrestling with his underlying question. Which one will it be dear Christians? Will you find your hope in the Lord’s Gospel or some false news too good to be true? Will you seek to please men or God? Will you devote yourself to the foolish notion that you can earn God’s love or will you look to the faithful Son who loved you to the cross and the tomb and beyond? Will you choose to live as slaves to the Law or sons and heirs of heaven? Will your life seek to cultivate the fruits of the flesh or of the Spirit?
For five weeks, as we’ve circled around the same them you have been presented with an “either or” a “this or that” Which one will it be – the grace of God or the tyranny of the Law? And now there is only one question left: What shall we do with all the gifts so freely given? Will you bear each others burdens or serve one another in love? Which one will it be?
But, now you see the switch. In matters of Salvation the question is always an either or. Either God does it all or we are lost. But in matters of Christian duty the answer must always be a “both, and” We are free in Christ to both serve one another in love and bear each others burdens.
As St. Paul writes: 1Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. 2Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. 3For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. 5For each will have to bear his own load.
You are your brother’s keeper. Always. In every need and burden they bear. You are to bear not only your own load, but those around you too. This is the law of Christ or the law of love. It is the only law we are beholden to as God’s beloved children in Christ. And we are held to it not for our own sake, but for others. Every kind of other, every kind of need – no matter how unpleasant or unwanted.
As Luther describes it: [Here is] A very considerate commandment, to which Paul adds great praise as a kind of exclamation. The Law of Christ is the law of love. After redeeming and regenerating us and constituting us as His church, Christ did not give us any new law except the law of mutual love … To love does not mean, as the sophists imagine, to wish someone else well,10 but to bear someone else’s burdens, that is, to bear what is burdensome to you and what you would rather not bear. Therefore a Christian must have broad shoulders and husky bones to carry the flesh, that is, the weakness, of the brethren; for Paul says that they have burdens and troubles. Love is sweet, kind, and patient—not in receiving but in performing; for it is obliged to overlook many things and to bear with them. In the church faithful pastors see many errors and sins which they are obliged to bear.11 In the state the obedience of subjects never lives up to the laws of the magistrate; therefore if he does not know how to conceal things, the magistrate will not be fit to rule the commonwealth. In the family many things happen that displease the householder. But if we are able to bear and overlook our own faults and sins, which we commit in such great numbers every day, let us bear those of others as well, in accordance with the statements: “Bear one another’s burdens” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” 1
“For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (cf., what Jesus says in John 13:34). Can we love in this way? Can we bear all those burdens? Of course not. But that doesn’t mean we don’t try. We do try and we fail and then we remember the point. That Christ fulfilled this law in a remarkable way through his own faithful obedience even to death on a cross. We are free to bear one another’s burdens because Jesus first bore us and our sins! Our burden being lifted, we are the only ones now both ready and able to do likewise for our fellow man.
But bearing one another’s burdens is only part of our calling in Christ. As St. Paul continues: 9And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
If you thought bearing others burdens was too much you will not like this command, for it knows no bounds – it allows no limits. It promises no good thing in the here and now (not even thanks), only the harvest to come in eterinity
Again, as Luther explains: Paul … passes from the particular to the general and exhorts us in general to all good works, as though he were saying: “Let us be liberal and kind, not only toward the ministers of the Word but toward all men; and let us not grow weary.” For it is easy to do good once or twice, but to stay with it and not to be overcome by the ingratitude or malice of those you are helping—this is work and labor. Therefore he exhorts us not only to do good but also not to grow weary in doing good. To persuade us of this more easily, he adds: “For in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart.” It is as though he were saying: “Watch and wait for the eternal harvest that is to come. Then no human ingratitude or malice will be able to dissuade you from well-doing. In the time of harvest you will receive the most abundant fruit from your sowing.” With these sweet words he exhorts the faithful to do good works. 2
Will those good works come easily? Of course not. Will they come freely? No. Not until we remember once again that what He asks of us is only what He himself is aready doing for us in Jesus. For God Himself serves us in every good work day after day after day. Whether we recognize it, or give Him the thanks He is due. God is always there continually serving us in the blessed means of grace! Reminding us of His never-failing love in the Holy Gospel. Granting us new life and an eternal place in heaven through Holy Baptism. Forgiving our sins and strengthening our faith in the Lord’s Supper. Answering our every prayer, comforting us in our grief, protecting us from so much evil. Day in and day out He never stops doing good and serving we His beloved children. And knowing we are so richly served, our every need is abundantly met, frees us to gladly obey the law of love – the law of Christ – and return those good deeds by serving others.
14But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. 16And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. 18The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.
For those who are not Christian, this world and our comfort in it is the all-encompassing and only reality, and they must order their lives according to it. In other words, they are under its power from birth to death. But we who have been crucified with Christ share in His victory. For us who are in Christ, the power of the world over us has been broken, as has our selfish love of the world and ourself. We are “dead to the world,” and the world “is dead to us.”
What matters instead is “the new creation” in which faith works through love. Rather than being slaves, God’s people are sons and their lives, led by the Spirit are lives lived in gratitude for the grace that they have been given. Which one will it be? Living under the gracious Lord and Saviour who bore our burdens and serves us without fail. Growing in thankfulness and appreciation of all that has been given to us freely in Christ. Learning to give a little back to everyone else around us, by bearing and serving … sometimes even without complaining but rather with rejoicing!
1 Luther, M. (1999, c1964). Vol. 27: Luther’s works, vol. 27 : Lectures on Galatians, 1535, Chapters 5-6; 1519, Chapters 1-6 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther’s Works. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.