Throughout the New Testament, the phrase “one another” appears over ninety times and is associated with over thirty-five different verbs, which identify activities in which Christians are to be engaged as part of the body of believers. Implicit in these “one another” passages is the expectation of community.
Last week, we began a series of articles intended to investigate some of these “one another” commands in an effort to identify our responsibilities to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. As we continue this series, we turn our attention to Galatians 6:2 where Paul wrote, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Based on the context of Galatians 6, bearing one another’s burdens is the process of one disciple helping another disciple overcome that which interferes with his or her spiritual progress. Thus, this particular “one another” command establishes the expectation of accountability between brothers and sisters in Christ, but what does accountability entail?
1.First, accountability means that I care about your hurts.
When Jesus was on this earth, He was frequently moved with compassion toward people in need (Mark 1:41; 9:35-36; Matthew 14:14; 15:32; 20:34; Luke 7:13), and, as we saw in last week’s article, we are instructed to love the way that He loved (John 13:34). Therefore, if I am going to love like Jesus loved then I must possess His sense of compassion for others. It is easy to get frustrated with people because people can be very inconvenient. They can interrupt our schedule, they can get in the way of our plans, and they can create unnecessary stress on our lives. However, as followers of Christ, we must wear compassion-tinted glasses like Jesus so we see people with problems rather than see people as problems.
This is especially true of brothers and sisters in Christ since, as members of one another, we are to suffer when another suffers and rejoice when another rejoices, according to 1 Corinthians 12:26. In other words, there should be such an intimate connection between us that your pains hurt me, your joys uplift me, and vice versa. I think Peter summarized this aspect of accountability well when he wrote 1 Peter 3:8-9, which says, “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.” In other words, Peter instructs us to be sympathetic, tender hearted, and humble toward each other so that we can be a source of blessing to one another. However, such a blessing can only happen when we sincerely care about and are intimately aware of what is going on in each other’s lives.
2.Second, accountability means that I correct you when you err.
Throughout the Bible we see examples of individuals who needed to be corrected. Apollos needed correction from Priscilla & Aquila when his teaching was based on the limited knowledge of John’s baptism (Acts 18:24-26). Simon the sorcerer needed correction from Peter when his greedy heart caused him to sin (Acts 8:13-24). Peter needed correction from Paul when he behaved hypocritically (Galatians 2:11-14). These examples reveal an unfortunate reality. They reveal that there are times when people need to be corrected.
Regardless of that reality, Christians often avoid correcting one another because they are afraid of how the person being corrected will react or because they fear pushing the other person away, but these concerns drastically pale in comparison to saving a soul from eternal condemnation. We must remember that James presents corrective action as a heroic endeavor. In James 5:19-20, he said, “if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” Therefore, we must not hesitate to correct our brothers and sisters in Christ when we see that they are erring.
In fact, Paul indicated that correcting each other is our responsibility when he wrote Galatians 6:1, which says, “if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” Therefore, if we recognize that one of our brothers or sisters is erring, then we have the responsibility to pursue their restoration. However, it must be noted that this verse places a condition on our efforts. It indicates that we must pursue corrective action “in a spirit of gentleness.” That means our motivation must be from love rather than pride, or, to say it another way, our corrective action must be motivated by our love for their souls rather than our love of being right.
3.Finally, accountability means that I confess to you when I err.
Confession to others is a practice that is largely ignored by Christians. Why? Because confession forces us to be transparent rather than private. The thought process is, if I can maintain my spiritual privacy, then I never have to be accountable to you. However, Scripture does not authorize independence and privacy for the individual Christian; instead, Scripture repeatedly authorizes dependence on and transparency within the community of Christ for the sake of your soul. Notice what James 5:16 says, “Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” We are quick to point out the power of prayer to which this passage alludes, but we are also quick to ignore the expectation of confession that this passage instructs.
What we need to realize is that confession is a necessary step in overcoming sin because it is the means through which we not only identify but also take ownership of that which is interfering with our spiritual progress. By instructing us to confess our sins to one another, God identified one of the avenues He has given us to aid in overcoming sin. He intends for us to share our spiritual struggles with the community of believers because it is filled with people who are familiar with sin themselves and, as a result, they are people who know what we are going through, people who will go to God on our behalf, and people who might just be able to help show us the way of escape that we have not been able to find on our own (1 Corinthians 10:13).
As we conclude this examination of what it means to bear one another’s burdens, consider the Giant Sequoia trees of California. These trees can grow to an average height of one hundred and sixty-seven to two hundred and seventy-nine feet. Additionally, they can reach an average diameter of twenty to twenty-six feet. Needless to say, these trees are massive. Surprisingly, they have a relatively shallow root system that only descends about twelve to fourteen feet into the ground. How do these massive trees, with trunks twenty-five times taller than the depth of their root system, avoid toppling? It is because sequoia trees grow in groves and expand their root systems horizontally for two to three hundred feet. As a result, these trees entangle their roots together so that, when the winds blow, they hold one another up. That is the basic idea behind the instruction to “bear one another’s burdens.” It is accountability for the purpose of holding one another up through the storms of life.