Most of you know that I taught in a state prison for three months during the summer between my first and second years of seminary. The occasion for this teaching opportunity was unfortunate. A seasoned Christian educator who had many successful years of teaching was unable to control her class. One fourth-grade girl had become the ringleader of a vicious attack on this lovely woman. Normally this teacher was capable of meeting such a challenge, but for some unknown reason, she was not able to control this class. When the teacher’s breaking point became noticeable, the class intensified their attack. I was brought in to complete the few weeks remaining in the school year as she was unable to cope with the situation. Because of my apparent success in squelching this rebellion (I, with the help of a woman teacher, brought the student back under control), consequently I was given a recommendation which enabled me to get a temporary teaching assignment in a medium security prison.
I have always looked upon the response of that fourth-grade class as a unique and unexplainable “turning” against the teacher, intensified by her inability to rally to her own defense. As I read Galatians 5, I find that the behavior of that class might not be as unusual as I first thought. Some Christians have the uncanny ability to turn on one another at the very time when support and encouragement are most needed. In the name of holiness and preserving purity, we can assault brothers and sisters who desperately need affirmation and assistance, rather than attack.
Legalists have the uncanny ability of applying the law more harshly toward others than toward themselves. The legalist concentrates on his strengths and the weaknesses of others. Thus the scribes and Pharisees were ready to stone the woman guilty of adultery (John 8:2-11), yet they were insensitive to their breach of the law by taking advantage of the helpless (Mark 12:40; cp. Jas. 1:27), the neglect of their responsibilities to their own families (Mark 7:10-13), or their persecution of the righteous (Matt. 23:29-39). In their desire to maintain at least the appearance of severity toward sin, the legalists of Paul’s day had become calloused and even cruel toward those who had stumbled in their Christian walk. It is this problem which is addressed in verses 1-5 of chapter 6.
Legalism has no interest in reducing the burdens which men must bear. Instead, it produces burdens and then refuses to assist those on whom they are imposed. Jesus contrasted Himself with the scribes and Pharisees with respect to burdens:
“And they tie up heavy loads, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger” (Matt. 23:4).
“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My load is light” (Matt. 11:28-30).
Peter rightly criticized the Judaizers when he said,
“Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?” (Acts 15:10).
It is thus altogether appropriate for Paul to address the subject of burden-bearing, with respect to the “Galatian problem” and in view of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The context of chapter 5 is essential to the proper handling of our text. The contention and strife which characterized the churches was further evidence that legalism, rather than liberty, was the norm (5:1, 13). It was obvious that the strife among the saints was of the “works of the flesh,” rather than the “fruit of the Spirit” (5:19-23). Christian liberty used to “serve one another in love” (5:13) is possible only through walking in the Spirit (5:16). I believe that verses 1-5 provide us with a very practical example of how the “walk in the Spirit” was to work in the church life of the Galatian Christians.
This harshness and strife of the Galatian saints toward one another is crucial to a correct interpretation and application of our passage. It distinguishes it from the other texts dealing with the subject of discipline. In Matthew 18, our Lord stresses the process of rebuke and restoration, without any specific problem in mind. In 1 Corinthians chapter 5, Paul deals with the subject from a very different perspective. In the Corinthian church, a man was known to be living with his father’s wife, and even the pagans were shocked by it. The Corinthians were not grieved by this sin, but were proud of their tolerance and love. Paul thus addresses the need to preserve the purity of the church, in the light of the polluting impact of harboring such sin.
In Galatians 6 just the opposite is the case. Rather than overlooking serious sin, the Galatian Christians, in emphasizing legalism, had become harsh and judgmental, attacking others for their offenses. The remedy for the Corinthians was to exercise judgment; the Galatians needed to extend mercy. As we consider the matter of our response to sin in the lives of fellow believers, let us remember that this is only one of the texts dealing with the subject, and that it may or may not relate directly to any specific situation which we face. Let us seek to look to the Spirit who inspired this passage so that we might understand and apply it as a part of our walk in the Spirit.
I understand verses 1-5 to fall into two distinct, yet related, parts. In verses 1 and 2, Paul deals with those burdens which Christians corporately must help others bear. In verse 1, this responsibility is summarized as a precept, and in verse 2 it is substantiated in principle. In verses 3-5, Paul refers to those burdens which we alone must bear as individuals. The precept is given in verses 3 and 4; the principle is provided in verse 5. The change in perspective between bearing the burdens of others (v. 2) and bearing our own burden (v. 5) is deliberate. By this tension Paul stimulates our interest so that we will better be able to deal with the sins of others in the light of our own sin.
1 Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted. 2 Bear one another's burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ.
Several observations will help us understand the nature of the problem in these two verses, as well as Paul’s prescription for it.
(1) The problem and the solution should be handled in and by the church. The epistle is written to the Galatian churches, and pertains to the problem they, in common, face (cf. Gal. 1:2, 6ff.). The introductory term “brethren” in verse 1 confirms the fact that it is Christians who are to deal with the problem. The “you” of verse 1 is plural and not singular, which emphasizes the obligation of the church as a body to respond to the sin of a saint. It is inferred in this verse (and stated elsewhere, 1 Cor. 5:9-13) that the sinner (the one “caught in any trespass”) is a saint. We are thus dealing with the church’s obligation to respond to the sin of a saint.
(2) The sin is undefined and unexpected. While the possibility of sin is no surprise, the actual occurrence of it is, both to the stumbling Christian and to the church. There is some doubt as to the precise meaning of the Greek term rendered “caught,” but it seems to suggest that the saint was caught off guard.123 In other words, Paul is not dealing so much with a calculated, premeditated, and habitual sin, but with one which has taken all by surprise.124 Our law, for example, distinguishes between a premeditated murder and murder which occurs in a moment of passion. Both, of course, are sin, but the former is more serious than the latter because of its deliberateness.
The sin of which Paul speaks is therefore very different from that condemned by Paul in the fifth chapter of 1 Corinthians. That man was living with his father’s wife, a willful, continual, violation of the Old Testament Law, of New Testament standards of conduct, and even pagan morality. The church let this sinful relationship drag on, and it would seem that this man and his “wife” were accepted warmly into fellowship. While a whole range of sins are possible in Galatians 6, the sin addressed appears to be sudden and momentary.
(3) The church must respond to the sin which has overtaken the saint. Although the sin is unexpected, nevertheless it has overpowered the believer. This passage is not providing Christians with a license to meddle in the lives of others, but rather is teaching their responsibility to come to the aid of the one who has been overtaken by a certain sin. The stumbling saint must be assisted with his burden because he is not able to bear it alone. There are at least two implications why believers must assist individuals caught up in sin. First the individual may not be able to cope with the sin’s power over him. Secondly, the guilt or the consequences of that sin may be so great that the saint is overwhelmed by it.
(4) The responsibility of the church is to restore the saint. In 1 Corinthians 5, the responsibility of the church was to remove the sinner (1 Cor. 5:2, 5, 7, 13). The responsibility of the saint in Matthew 18 is to reprove the offender (Matt. 18:15). However in our text, the obligation of the “spiritual” is to restore the sinner. The Greek word rendered “restore” is used to describe the mending of torn fishing nets (Matt. 4:21). The ancient Greeks used this word for the setting of broken bones. In Ephesians 4:12 the same term is used for “equipping” of the saints. In 1 Corinthians 1:10 Paul uses this same Greek word to describe divisions within the Corinthian church. Clearly, the term has the positive implication of healing and restoration. The spiritual are urged to restore believers overpowered by sin. Since the term “restore” is a present imperative, it is not just a particular act which is required, but a process. Restoration does not happen instantaneously.
(5) The process of restoration is to be carried out gently. Once again, we see how different the situation described here is from that in 1 Corinthians 5. The Corinthians had been “gentle and gracious” when they should have acted much more forcefully. The man living in incest among the Corinthians did not repent of his premeditated sin. In Galatians Paul is talking about one who is not defensive, but overcome with guilt and self-condemnation for his act. This situation requires encouragement and support, not rebuke and rejection. Gentleness touches the spirit of the sinner, in his fragile and delicate condition.
(6) The restoration process poses a danger for those who are “spiritual.” The doctrine of sinless perfection is devastatingly destroyed as a false teaching by our text. In the first place, the saint is not guaranteed a sin-free existence. Thus Paul sets forth the process and principles for restoration. Furthermore, the “spiritual” believer who seeks to facilitate the restoration process might also be tempted and fall into sin. Paul warns the “spiritual” against falling into temptation by committing a like sin or becoming arrogant and self-righteous. The latter seems to be Paul’s primary emphasis in verses 3-5.
(7) The restoration of a sinning saint is a task for those who are spiritual. The “spiritual” believer has the sensitivity to come to the aid of the stumbling saint when he recognizes his sin. His concern for his brother is motivated by God’s Word and a genuine love. I believe that the “spiritual” are not “Super-Christians,” but the majority of the church.
There is a very practical reason, however, why only the “spiritual” should seek to restore the one overtaken by sin. The “spiritual” are those who “walk in the Spirit” and who thus manifest the “fruit of the Spirit.” Since there is danger for those who seek to restore the sinning saint, only those sensitive to temptation and sin should dare to confront it. Since love, gentleness, goodness, and kindness are required for restoration, these fruits of the Spirit are essential.
(8) Restoration is the outworking of our biblical obligation to bear one another’s burdens. In verse 2 Paul taught that restoring the wayward was fulfilling the law of Christ. Paul’s reasoning is that restoration is burden-bearing and that burden bearing is a part of the “law of Christ” to which we are to be obedient. We are not told precisely what the “law of Christ” is, but it seems likely that it refers to His earthly teaching. While the Judaizers gladly imposed burdens, but never came to the aid of those weighed down with them, Christ bore them Himself, and instructs us to do likewise.
The “burden” which we must bear is one which the stumbling saint cannot bear himself. Just what is meant by the term “burden”?125 What is it that we are to help others bear up under? The burden is something which the sinner is not able to bear himself, whether it be the guilt of his sin, or its controlling power. Since Paul will shortly say that “each one shall bear his own load” (v. 5), this burden must be a load which the sinner cannot bear.
The bottom line is simply this: We are our brother’s keeper. While Satan is the “accuser of the brethren” (Rev. 12:10), we are to assume responsibility for the restoration and recovery of a fallen brother. The legalist will deal with sin as the Law of Moses did—by condemning the sinner. However, those who have experienced the grace of God, which delivers men from sin, will manifest grace in response to the sin of others. Only those who know grace, can bestow it. Just as we love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19), so we are gracious because He has shown us grace (cf. Matt. 18:21-35; Luke 7:36-50).
3 For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. 5 For each one shall bear his own load.
Verses 1 and 2 address those burdens which Christians are to help others bear. Verses 3-5 speak of those burdens which we alone must bear. These two facets of the Christian life are not contradictory; they are complimentary. It is only when we can distinguish those burdens which we alone should bear that we can properly help others to bear their burdens. In effect, verses 3-5 enable us to deal with the beam in our own eye, so that we can help others with the speck in theirs. The humility and gentleness which must be manifested in restoring the fallen saint are derived from our understanding of our own burdens.
The introductory “for” of verse 3 is, I believe, a further explanation of Paul’s warning in verse 1 that the “spiritual” also might be tempted in seeking to restore the fallen. The specific issue is the pride with the resulting haughtiness and high-handedness which the “spiritual” might be tempted to exhibit in seeking to restore the wayward saint. We are greatly self-deceived when we suppose that we “are something,” when in fact, Paul says, “we are nothing” (v. 3).
In what sense does Paul say we “are nothing”? Is this not devastating to our sense of self-esteem? It is the legalistic Christian who is the most condemning of others, especially those who have fallen. This disdain for the “sinner” coupled with a pride in their own self-righteousness was characteristic of the scribes and Pharisees. This attitude is observable in the proud prayer of the Pharisee, who was grateful that he was not a sinner, like the publican (Luke 18:9-14). Paul is thus speaking of the self-elevation of pride which the legalist has in his own righteousness, based on law-works. It is self-righteousness which causes a man to think he is something special.126
Paul says, “he is nothing,” not “we are nothing.” There is a great deal of difference. “He is nothing” who seeks to establish his own righteousness by his own works. “He is nothing” who takes credit for the results of the grace of God in his life. Later in the chapter Paul writes, “But may it never be that I should boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14).
To the Corinthian saints Paul wrote, “For who regards you as superior? And what do you have that you did not receive? But if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (1 Cor. 4:7). Grace removes all ground for boasting, save in God. His grace has given us everything.
The problem with legalism is that its adherents tend to evaluate their personal spirituality in light of the performance of others. The legalist thus rejoices at the fall of another brother, since he appears better in comparison. His response is that of smug superiority and self-righteous condemnation. His judgment makes him blind to his own sins. The scribes and Pharisees were “shocked” at the sin of the woman caught in adultery, but they were aloof about their sins concerning pride, materialism, and their neglect of the widows and orphans, and even of their own parents.
Paul elsewhere soundly condemned the practice of measuring ourselves against others: “For we are not bold to class or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves; but when they measure themselves by themselves, and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding” (2 Cor. 10:12).
The solution to the problem of believers measuring themselves by the performance of others is given in verse 4. Paul commands believers who seek to elevate themselves at the expense of others, to focus on their own responsibility and accountability before God. This same principle of individual accountability is found elsewhere in the New Testament:
Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and stand he will, for the Lord is able to make him stand. … But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God. … So then each one of us shall give account of himself to God (Rom. 14:5, 10, 12; cf. 2 Cor. 5:10).
Why is one to examine his own work, as Paul has instructed in verse 4? I believe that there are two reasons. First, whatever good is accomplished through us is by God’s grace, which causes us to boast in Him: “Therefore in Christ Jesus I have found reason for boasting in things pertaining to God. For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, …” (Rom. 15:17-18a).
But we will not boast beyond our measure, but within the measure of the sphere which God apportioned to us as a measure, to reach even as far as you. For we are not overextending ourselves, as if we did not reach to you, for we were the first to come even as far as you in the gospel of Christ; not boasting beyond our measure, that is, in other men’s labors, but with the hope that as your faith grows, we shall be, within our sphere, enlarged even more by you, so as to preach the gospel even to the regions beyond you, and not to boast in what has been accomplished in the sphere of another. But he who boasts, let him boast in the Lord. For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends (2 Cor. 10:13-18).
Our boasting must be in what God has done, through us. Those who have been used of God know better than anyone else that the good they accomplished was solely of God and thus can give Him the glory. For example, the servants who were allowed to participate in the first miracle recognized the power of God at work in Jesus when he transformed the water into wine (John 2:1-11, cf. esp. v. 9). Those who are instruments of God’s grace know that God produced the results for His own glory. Thus Paul tells us to focus on ourselves, on God’s work in and through us, for this results in boasting in God.
A second reason why believers should examine their own work is that God’s grace is given in different forms and in different measure. We cannot compare ourselves to others because each Christian has been given a different measure of faith and grace, with regard to his gifts and calling. Notice some of the passages which clearly teach this.
For through the grace given to me I say to every man among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. … And since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let each exercise them accordingly … (Rom. 12:3, 6a).
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. And there are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. … But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired (1 Cor. 12:4-7, 18).
But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift (Eph. 4:7).
As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God (1 Pet. 4:10).
Our Lord told the parable of the stewards, each having received a different number of talents for which he was responsible (Matt. 25:14-30). The Master dealt with each steward in terms of what he was given. From this parable we learn that those who are given much are required to accomplish more. Those who are given less, have a lesser level of requirement placed on them. The point is that every believer is given a different measure of faith and a different measure of grace, and thus no one can compare himself to others. We can only evaluate ourselves in the light of the measure of grace God has given us.
How easy it is to respond to the sin of a fellow-saint by feeling smugly superior, and by looking down on him (or her). However, this response misses the point of Christianity. On the one hand, we are to bear the burdens of others, rather than to impose burdens on them (such as the burden of condemnation and the rigorous, excessive requirements of legalism). On the other hand, we should be humbled by remembering that just as God will not judge us in comparison with others, neither do we dare compare ourselves with others, especially those who have fallen into a certain sin (of which we are not guilty).
Our text has many implications for Christians today. Allow me to suggest some of these for your consideration.
(1) The doctrine of perfectionism contradicts the Scriptures and experience. Perfectionism comes in a variety of forms. I am referring to that view of the Christian life which maintains that the Christian, after some kind of second experience (the first being salvation), can enter into a state of sinless perfection, and can expect to live a life free from the inward conflict described in Galatians 5:17. If perfection is possible, why would Paul need to prescribe a process for restoring a saint who has fallen into sin? Even more problematic, if perfection is restricted to the “spiritual,” why, then, does Paul warn those who are spiritual that restoring the fallen sinner may lead them into temptation?
The Scriptures simply do not support perfectionism. They teach, instead, of a constant war, both within (Gal. 5:17) and without (Eph. 6:10ff.). The perfectionist may protest, insisting that any “lower” view of the Christian life only promotes sin. He would maintain at least the hypothetical possibility of perfection in this life. Just the opposite is true. Because this doctrine holds perfection as its goal and ideal, it has little, if anything, to say about the “way back” for those who have fallen into sin. The experience of many who have realized their sinfulness, while believing in perfection, is that they live an almost schizophrenic spiritual existence, redefining their sin or just blatantly denying it. Since they have failed to live up to their own standards, they simply give up all hope of any kind of spirituality.
Once we become aware of the war within, and of our fallibility as Christians, we become more cautious about sin, recognizing how susceptible we are to it. Who lives more dangerously, the one who thinks he cannot fall, or the one who knows how easy it is to fall? The greater our sense of danger, the more cautious we will be concerning that danger. Thus, knowing the saint can (and all too often does) sin, gives him good reason to avoid temptation, and to be suspicious of his every motive and deed. Furthermore, when he does fall into sin, he knows that there is hope for his recovery.
Does the knowledge of God’s graciousness toward sinners incline the Christian toward sin? We must remember that sin is so deceptive that the saint is capable of using Scripture to defend his sinfulness. Thus, even those doctrines which are true can be misapplied. Paul answers “God forbid” to any perversion that grace can be exploited for evil ends (cf. Rom. 6:1-2,15). When we begin to grasp the grace of God, gratitude prompts us to give ourselves fully to Him, living a pure and holy life to please Him (cf. Rom. 12:1-2). Grace not only provides forgiveness for sin, but also produces a gratitude for that forgiveness which inclines the saint to avoid all future sin. The Law does not prevent sin, but only promotes it, and leaves us with guilt, rather than gratitude (cf. Rom. 7ff.).
Have you experienced the grace of God, my friend? The Christian has drunk deeply of God’s grace at the time of his salvation, and will continue to drink of it all the days of his life. Perhaps you have never come to taste of grace at all, and if this is the case, my prayer is that you will acknowledge your sin and will trust in the work of Jesus Christ, who died in your place. He took the condemnation of the law on Himself, so that you might possess His righteousness and live eternally with Him.
(2) The grace which the Christian has received in Christ must also be shared with others. When our Lord sent out His disciples to heal and to preach the gospel He said to them, “freely you received, freely give” (Matt. 10:8). John wrote, “We love, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Thus the grace of God initially apprehended at our conversion is the grace which we must manifest to all men. Since grace is most needed and most evident in response to sin, we must particularly manifest grace when responding to a fallen brother or sister.
Unfortunately, contemporary Christian practice has frequently failed to follow the principle and practice laid down in our passage and taught by our Lord. Stop and think for a moment about who we seek out. We are often searching for the successful so that we can be blessed by them or so that they can contribute to meeting our own needs somehow. We also are looking for those who are committed and who show potential, so that we can “disciple”127 them and thus produce fruitful Christian service. I am not saying that we should ignore those who are successful or who show potential. However, stop and think about the passages which speak of those whom our Lord sought (and seeks) out. Paul reminds us that not many of them (us) are wise, noble, or well-born. The best description is that we are foolish and simple in the eyes of the world (cf. Acts 4:13; 1 Cor. 1:26-31; 2:1-5; 2 Cor. 12:9-10). Think of those whom our Lord sought out, as well as those He “slighted”:
17 And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book, and found the place where it was written, 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, And recovery of sight to the blind, To set free those who are downtrodden, 19 To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:17-19).
And when the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with the sinners and tax-gatherers, they began saying to His disciples, “Why is He eating and drinking with tax-gatherers and sinners?” And hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:16-17).
18 “Behold, My Servant whom I have chosen; My Beloved in whom My soul is well-pleased; I will put My Spirit upon Him, And He shall proclaim justice to the Gentiles. 19 He will not quarrel, nor cry out; Nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets. 20 A battered reed He will not break off, And a smoldering wick He will not put out, Until He leads justice to victory. 21 And in His name the Gentiles will hope.” (Matthew 12:18-21 quoting Isa. 42:1-4).
In the passages just cited quoting the words of the prophet Isaiah, the Messiah is spoken of as being indwelt and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Both passages speak of Him as coming to those (specifically Gentiles in Isa. 42:1-4) who are despised and rejected. Both speak of His coming and His call of those who are battered, weak, and downtrodden. Is there any doubt as to whom our Lord was speaking in the Sermon on the Mount (specifically Matt. 5:3-10), and why the poor and oppressed would so heartily welcome Him as Messiah?
My point is this. If Jesus sought those who were afflicted, fallen, needy, and all too aware of their sin and need of salvation, to whom should we minister? I maintain that Galatians 6:1-5 is not the exception as much as it is the rule. Let us minister to those to whom our Lord ministered while He was on the earth. We are His body on the earth in His absence and we are to continue His ministry.
(3) There is no specific process given by which we are to restore the stumbling saint. I have previously stressed that restoring a fallen saint involves a process—one which may go on for some time. However, a particular process is not elaborated. Let me suggest why this is the case. Since the passage deals with a fallen saint in general and not in specific, the nature of the process is dependent upon the particular case at hand. A general problem cannot be solved by a specific solution. Nor can a specific problem be solved generally. Also, since restoring is the responsibility of the church collectively, each individual must minister individually, based upon their specific gifts and calling. Each case, therefore, must be handled on the basis of the individual who has fallen and on the basis of the individuality of the one who seeks to minister grace.
(4) Rebuke is only required where rebellion is present or repentance is refused. It is sad, but true, that the church sometimes has rebuked and even rejected the repentant, while they have encouraged the rebellious. The text which we must always keep in mind is this: “And we urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all men” (1 Thess. 5:14).
Let us be careful to admonish those who are unruly, but to encourage those who are fainthearted, and to help the weak. It is tragic when the weak are injured with rebuke and rejection which rightly should be exercised toward the unruly (rebellious). The church has often failed to discipline where it is necessary, but let us not overcompensate for disciplining where it is not required.
(5) The principle of bearing one another’s burdens applies more generally than just in the case of those who have stumbled in sin. I believe that Paul addresses the instance of an extreme failure in the life of a saint as the ultimate test of love. If Paul says we are to serve one another in love (cf. 5:13) when another falls into sin, surely we should lovingly serve others who simply irritate us or who differ with us on some matter of preference or conviction. Paul has chosen a somewhat extreme case to stress that we should manifest grace in all our relationships.
(6) This passage does not give the Christian a license to meddle in the lives of others. While verses 1 and 2 stress our obligation to minister to others at a point of need, verses 3-5 caution us to “tend to our own knitting” and not to meddle in the lives of others. If this path is followed we will not neglect those things for which we must give account to God. Let us not miss the stress on examining ourselves as we seek to be more responsive to the needs of others.
123 “The precise force … is uncertain: it may mean that he finds himself inadvertently involved in some wrongdoing, or that he is detected in it by someone else.” F. F. Bruce, Commentary on Galatians (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982), p. 260.
125 It should be noted that the term “burden” in verse 2 is different from that of verse 5. There is a difference between those burdens which we alone must bear and those of others which we must share.
126 From Galatians 2:6, we see a similar expression used with regard to the Jerusalem apostles, whom, the marginal note of the NASB indicates “seemed to be something.” The point is that to “be something” was to be someone special, someone above the level of the hoi polloi. This was the attitude of the legalistic Pharisees (John 7:46-49).
127 There is unfortunately a great deal of sloppy exegesis which is done in support of “discipleship” these days. The first passage which is used is the “great commission” of Matthew 28. Emphasis is placed on the fact that the text does not stress “going” but “making disciples.” What is not pointed out is that this is a command for the church corporately, rather than for each Christian individually. Thus, discipleship has been equated with one man discipling another, rather than with the collective function of the church, which, as a body seeks to build one another up in love. You will note that restoration in Galatians 6:1-5 is also a collective responsibility.
To make matters even worse, Bible teachers move from Matthew 28 to 2 Timothy 2:2, assuming that this passage is also dealing with discipling. I heartily disagree. In the first place, the church (or the disciples collectively) is commanded in Matthew 28, while in 2 Timothy only Timothy is instructed. Secondly, every saint is to be “discipled,” but not everyone is a “faithful man” who is to “teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). Paul is talking about something important here, but he is not talking about discipleship in this passage.