by David Thompson
NASHVILLE, TN – There are two statements made by the apostle Paul in the same paragraph that seem to be almost contradictory. In the last chapter of his letter to the Galatians, Paul says “bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Then he says something that seems quite the opposite when he states to the believers that “each one should bear his own burden.”
Which one is it, Paul? Or is it possible that both are true at the same time. Let us consider where to find the balance in this journey we call the Christian life.
Question: what does it mean to bear your own burden? One thing for sure is that we are to take complete responsibility for our own actions and be prepared to deal with the result. The result is always better when we follow the advice of Jesus who said, “be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” I love pastors— but even pastors need to follow their own advice.
This summer, a bishop in Brooklyn, New York was preaching. The sermon was being broadcast live on the Internet. In the middle of his homily, three masked gunmen walked in and everyone got on the ground at the preacher’s request. The gunman forced the bishop to the pulpit’s floor and removed $1 million worth of jewelry from his person and left. From my humble perspective, that is not being wise as serpents and harmless as doves. No other person but he himself should bear the burden of choosing to wear $1 million worth of jewelry live on the Internet and not expect someone to take notice.
Yes, sometimes it is good to bear one’s own burden. Parenthetically, you should always be ready to help bear the burdens of another soul. I like this idea from Marcus Aurelius, “Be tolerant with others and strict with yourself.” You need not look very far to discover that there is always someone who is having a bad day and that person might need you. A half century ago, a band called the Hollies sang a song that still rings true today, “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.”
A young mother of five beautiful children and a friend of mine, was just diagnosed with advanced breast cancer. I told her of my prayers. She replied back that she can actually feel the prayers and that those prayers are making an incredible difference and giving her courage and confidence. Certainly, there are one million ways to bear one another’s burdens, prayer is not only one of the simplest, but the most powerful.
Question: does one person‘s influence really make a difference? Alexander the Great said,” Remember upon the conduct of each, depends the fate of all.”
God has actually equipped you to not only bear your own burden, but to alleviate the burden that others carry. God will give you what you need when you need it! He also expects you to learn and grow in the process. It was the late Eleanor Roosevelt who humorously quipped, ”Learn from the mistakes of others. You cannot live long enough to make them all yourself.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. David L. Thompson holds an undergraduate degree from Belmont University in Psychology and Religion, a graduate degree from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Education, and a doctorate in Counseling and Pastoral Psychology. He has served as a chairman of the Church Planting Group and Executive Committee Chair at the North American Mission Board for 10 years. He has been a Police Chaplain since 1991 and served as a Corporate Chaplain to the Coca Cola Bottling Company in Nashville, Tennessee where he resides with his wife. He has six children and five grandsons.