Updated: Feb 1
January 28, 2021
In today's Reflections on Life Together, Pastor Scott shares about the ministry of bearing another's burden. But Bonhoeffer in Life Together means a lot more than just helpfulness (as important as it is). He means how to serve others by honoring the ways that their unsinful differences from us and their sinful faults against us create a weight that we must bear to preserve the reality of the church-community Christ has created. #lifetogether #community #ministry #forgiveness #freedom #unity
Another essential ministry for followers of Christ to one another is bearing one another’s burdens. The image is perhaps intuitive—we need help from others to carry safely things that are too heavy or cumbersome for ourselves alone—but it also comes directly from a command written in Galatians 6:2: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Of course, there are lots of burdens that we all have to shoulder and many ways that we need help from one another. In times of crisis, we need others to pitch in in various practical ways. Bonhoeffer sees that kind of helpfulness as a real ministry to one another, but it isn’t all that he has in mind here. He means that as followers of Jesus, we need to bear the burdens not only that one another has, but also the burdens that we are to each other. This willingness to take on the burden of another person is a distinctive quality of a Christian:
The brother is a burden to the Christian, precisely because he is a Christian. For the pagan the other person never becomes a burden at all. He simply sidesteps every burden that others may impose upon him. The Christian, however, must bear the burden of a brother. He must suffer and endure the brother. It is only when he is a burden that another person is really a brother and not merely an object to be manipulated. The burden of men was so heavy for God himself that he had to endure the Cross. God verily bore the burden of men in the body of Jesus Christ…. (Life Together, p. 100)
We bear the burdens of others—we only can bear the burdens of others—because that is what God has first done for us in Jesus Christ. Over 700 years before, Isaiah prophesied about what Jesus would accomplish in his death by saying, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows… upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace…” (Isaiah 53:4–5). We can bear with others because Christ bore us on the cross. Or as Bonhoeffer puts it, “It is the fellowship of the Cross to experience the burden of the other” (p. 101). But in what ways are we called to bear the burden of our sisters and brothers in Christ? Simply: in their freedom in Christ and in their sins that abuse that freedom. Each of us in Christ are free in Christ, bound only by our obedience to him. Bonhoeffer writes:
The freedom of the other person includes all that we mean by a person’s nature, individuality, endowment. It also includes his weaknesses and oddities, which are such a trial to our patience, everything that produces frictions, conflicts, and collisions among us. To bear the burden of the other person means [tolerating] the created reality of the other, to accept and affirm it, and, in bearing with it, to break through to the point where we take joy in it. (Life Together, p. 101)
We can’t bear the burden of an other unless we allow them to be other—to be different from us, distinct from us, disagree with us so long as they don’t disagree with the Lord. They belong to the Lord, and only because they belong to him do they belong in any sense to us. But we all know that people do not always use their freedom in the Lord in ways that honor the Lord. We know that because neither do you nor I. And so we not only have to bear a brother or sister’s freedom, but also from time to time have to bear their abuse of their freedom—their sin. And sin is harder and heavier to bear because it costs something immense to those who carry it. For Jesus to bear it cost him his life; for us, it can seem to cost nearly as much. To bear another’s sin is not to excuse it or make light of it. We don’t ignore sin or pretend like it isn’t sin. We don’t affirm it or encourage it to continue. But as we follow Christ, we acknowledge the horrible reality of what sin is and then we offer God’s forgiveness and gently invite them to repentance restoration. Going one verse back up in Galatians 6:1, Paul describes this aspect of bearing the other’s burden of sin by writing, “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted” (NIV11). Bearing another’s burdens is not cheap grace or a tolerance borne of indifference. We honor others in their Christian freedom because we know the freedom we have received in Christ. We are able to bear the burden of forgiving their sins because we know how much they, too, must forgive our sins, and how much Christ has forgiven all of us (p. 103). A church-community that offers freedom and forgiveness to all in Christ reveals the power of the gospel and changes the world. In fact, Paul teaches in Ephesians 3 that a church drawn into unity through the gospel of the Lord Jesus from groups that have only known animosity proves to the spiritual powers of evil in our world that Christ’s death and resurrection and enthronement in the heavenly places has handed them a decisive and eternal defeat. This kind of reconciled relationship is the “eternal purpose [of God] that he has realized in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Ephesians 3:11). We’ll probe the depths of this mystery that God has revealed through his Word in our Grow Groups on Sunday. On Zoom or in the room, we’ll see you there.