During a graduate class I'm taking, my professor held a discussion around Galatians 6:1–2. He asked the class what Paul meant by saying we "fulfill the law of Christ" when we carry others' burdens. Further, he asked us if we considered carrying others' burdens central to the Gospel or more of a peripheral duty.
His questions got me thinking. What does it mean if a central part of kingdom living is carrying others' burdens? What does it say about evangelical Christianity's emphasis on personal prayer and Bible study? And what about corporate worship? How often do we attend in order to hear from God or experience him for ourselves instead of connecting with others there?
Carrying others' burdens was central to the early church. We read in Acts 2 that early Christians "had everything in common" and provided for one another so no one would be in need. Paul also wrote often about not being a burden unnecessarily (see 2 Corinthians 12:14, 1 Thessalonians 2:9, and Hebrews 13:17). And he had plenty to say about bearing with one another by putting on compassion and patience (Colossians 3:12–13, Ephesians 4:2).
We also have God's example in carrying other's burdens—namely, our own. Psalm 68:19 says, "Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens." And in Matthew 11 and Galatians 5, Christ is painted as the one who frees us from heavy burdens.
So, it appears that carrying others' burdens truly is central to following Christ. But what does that look like? And how can small groups help fulfill this?
Last week I sat in a coffee shop near my home reading, when a man who seemed fresh out of high school asked to sit at the table with me. I was surprised by his request, and a bit irritated as I wanted to sit by myself silently enjoying some coffee and a book. A couple of times he tried awkwardly to start a conversation as I read my book. I gave him quick answers before returning to my reading.
Then I realized this was an opportunity, to get to know this person who is created in the image of God. So I tried awkwardly to start a conversation. I asked him questions about his day, his job, and his drink. It turns out, he was lonely. He wanted some human contact. He just wanted to have a normal human conversation with someone. And for whatever reason, I seemed safe. We talked for nearly an hour that day about aquariums and schools and movies, and I realized in my heart what I'd known in my head for a long time: questions can minister to others. They can show that we care, that we see them as real, living, breathing humans who deserve love and respect, and who have something to offer the world.
So, my first thought on carrying others' burdens is this: perhaps a great place to start is simply to be with the person, asking questions, getting to know them as another human being, helping to carry their loneliness, fear, or doubt.
What do you think? Can questions in themselves minister? How have questions ministered to you? How have you ministered to others by asking questions? Share with us below.
Check back over the next few months as I continue to flesh out the idea of carrying others' burdens.