by J.D. Greear
In Galatians 6:2, the Apostle Paul calls us to “carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (CSB). For Paul, this is simply an obvious application of the gospel. If you understand the gospel, you will enter into the burdens of others, even burdens brought on by their own sinfulness. The way we often say it around the Summit is that those who believe the gospel become like the gospel—overflowing with grace.
Paul points out that carrying each other’s burdens actually fulfills the law of Christ. You may know the Golden Rule (do to others what you want them to do to you), but here Paul upgrades it to the Platinum Rule (do to others what Jesus did for you). The law of Christ is that you love your neighbor by voluntarily sharing in their burdens.
Think about the metaphor of a literal burden. If someone is struggling to carry a duffle bag that weighs 100 pounds, how do you help them? You take one end, and they take the other. Now, no one is carrying the 100 pounds by himself; each one is carrying 50 pounds. In other words, in order to help that person, some of the burden has to fall upon you. This is precisely how we should relate to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Most of us, however, want to give to others without it really costing us. We want to give without being burdened. We think we’ve earned our burden-free life, and we’re reluctant to step into any situation that puts weight back on our shoulders. But that’s not what people who have experienced the power of the gospel should look like. So here’s my challenge to you: Think about the burdens you are carrying right now. How many of them are the burdens of others? One of the signs you’ve really encountered Jesus is the willingness to share in the burdens of others.
There are many ways to apply this principle—sharing in financial burdens, emotional burdens, relational burdens. But I want to apply this principle in a way that I think is timely for us—racial reconciliation.
For those of us in the majority culture, carrying each other’s burdens is one of the most important responses in situations of racial tension. We need to make every effort to bear the burdens that many of our brothers and sisters of color are carrying. These are burdens that most of us have never had to experience. And often, sadly, our brothers and sisters of color are carrying the weight of these heavy burdens by themselves. Racial reconciliation involves quite a bit more than simply sharing burdens, but it never involves less than this.
The obstacle that lies in front of many white Christians isn’t always ill will. It’s inertia. It’s simply easier to avoid thinking about things that don’t affect us. But if we’re gospel people, we will be aware of the pain others are going through. We will be aware of the privileges we experience that others don’t have. And we will use any position of privilege or strength that we enjoy to serve others. We are called to share the burdens that our brothers and sisters of color live with as if they were our own.
So the next time a public conversation begins, threatening to pour fuel on the fire of racial strife, take a breath. Remember that when it comes to things like kneeling for the flag or protesting after a controversial shooting, others feel like they do because of the experiences they’ve had. And, to be frank, if you had experienced the same things, you’d probably feel the same way. Our experience isn’t where the conversation ends, but it should certainly shape how the conversation begins. Listen to others in your community, trying to see things from their perspective. Listening is, after all, the first stage of sharing a burden. All of us can—and should—do this.
By the way, to listen to someone else, you actually need to know them. We can’t listen to people we aren’t in community with. For many of my majority culture readers out there, your first step is to get in community with people of color.
When we realize that our fellow believers are each carrying unique burdens, it changes the way we engage with them. As Paul points out in Galatians 6:4-5, “Let each person examine his own work, and then he can take pride in himself alone, and not compare himself with someone else. For each person will have to carry his own load.” Our burdens, Paul says, aren’t created equal. How foolish, then, for you to feel proud that you aren’t struggling like another person. Of course you aren’t; you don’t have the same burden they do! The absence of struggle in your life may be due more to the fact that you’ve been given a different load to carry. It’s not because you’re better than that person in any way. So don’t compare your struggles to someone else’s.
If God has been gracious to me, then who am I to look down upon any other person? The measure to which you understand the gospel is shown by how well you relate to broken and needy people.
We all tend to judge others for struggles that we don’t share. Whether those are struggles arising from the color of another person’s skin, from the mistakes a person has made in his past, or from something else altogether, it’s alarmingly easy to see someone else’s struggles and respond with pride and condescension. But if we’re going to be gospel-shaped people, we need to remember that each of us has a different load to carry. And every last one of us is dependent upon God’s grace to help us do so.
J.D. Greear is the pastor of The Summit Church, in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina. Pastor J.D. Greear has authored several books, including Gaining by Losing: Why the Future Belongs to Churches That Send (2015), Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary (2011), Stop Asking Jesus into Your Heart: How to Know for Sure You Are Saved(2013), and Jesus, Continued … Why the Spirit Inside You Is Better Than Jesus Beside You (2014). Pastor J.D. completed his Ph.D. in Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, writing on the correlations between early church presentations of the gospel and Islamic theology. Seeing Muslims come to faith in Christ has long been a burden of his, a burden that led him to serve in Southeast Asia with the International Mission Board. Pastor J.D. and his wife Veronica live in Raleigh. Together they are raising four ridiculously cute kids: Kharis, Alethia, Ryah, and Adon.