The law of Christ would be well known to most of us, particularly if you’ve been in Church for a long time (you may have sung it). Although Jesus expounds on this topic in other places, there is no greater foundation than when a Jewish Scribe approaches Him in Mark chapter 12, asking Him this question:
‘Which command is the most important of all?” Jesus replies, “Listen, Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other command greater than these.’
There is no greater foundation for the law of Christ than this answer. Even though Jesus fulfills the Old Testament law, there are still some teachings that are for us today. This is one of them. But that’s Jesus. We’re in Galatians 6: Paul expounds the law of Christ in three ways here, and he gives it a little flavour by adding a third dimension to it all.
1) Love God
2) Take care of each other
3) Judgment is coming
“The law of Christ.” – Galatians 6:2
What does it mean to love God? Without the starting point that God loves you I’d say that loving Him is a truly hopeless endeavour. So let’s talk about God’s love for you. In fact, let’s go back to Galatians 2:20 to see how Paul speaks of God’s love:
1) God’s love is personal. When Paul speaks of God’s love he says Jesus loved me… Jesus gave Himself up for me. It’s the same for you. It’s personal. God loves you. God gave Himself up for you. Let it sink in: the Creator, the Almighty, the Sovereign, loves you. In fact, we see how personal this love is by what it achieves: Christ now lives in you.
2) God’s love is helpful. Where are we without God’s love? Where do we stand? This world may not realise it but John chapter 3 has more verses than “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son...” Take, for example, the last verse of that very same chapter, verse 36: “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” That is where we were before we believed in Jesus: the wrath of God, the just anger of God, resting upon us because our sin and His holiness is the cause for separation and estrangement. In other words, we were helpless. In fact, this is the most helpless state mankind is in. God’s love is a help to us. Believing in God’s Son, Jesus Christ, gives us eternal life.
3) God’s love hurt Himself. The day Jesus Christ died, God felt pain. It hurt. Here we have the eternal God; Father, Spirit, Son. For all eternity, He’s lived with perfect happiness within Himself. When we consider who He is in essence (an eternal, perfect, happy, God), we see how painful it was when the Father crushed His son as a sacrifice for us. Because of His love, God gave His son… and it hurt.
When we see how much God first loved us, it opens our heart to love Him back. And, indeed, Christianity is not a one-way street of love (see Romans 8:28 for the proof that we love Him back). You and I, sinners by nature, have a love-relationship with God, which was purchased by the death of Jesus, taking away our sin. When we see how much God first loved us, it makes the law of Christ seem dismal in comparison: God painfully sent His son to die for you that you might escape His wrath and be in a love-relationship where, oh by the way, He now lives in you. Now He wants 2 things:
1) Love Him back.
2) Take care of each other.
Take care of each other
“We must not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. Brothers, if someone is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual should restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so you also won’t be tempted. Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone considers himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But each person should examine his own work, and then he will have a reason for boasting in himself alone, and not in respect to someone else.” – Galatians 5:26-6:4
Before Paul moves on to the topic of carrying each other’s burdens, he brings up three problems: conceit, provoking, and envy. These problems must be dealt with before real Christian fellowship can take place in the Church. And what we notice in verse 26 is that, “We must not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another,” which is to say this: conceit leads to provoking and envy. The problem isn’t necessarily provoking or envy but rather conceit, which is the root of both sins. So, then, what is conceit?
The Apostle Paul makes it really plain and really harsh. Focus in on 6:3 - “If anyone considers himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” The idea is this (it’s not a very nice idea but let’s go with it): we are nothing… but along with the genetics we receive at birth, the environment we’re fostered in, the decisions we’ve made, the clothes we wear, the job we have, the friends we keep, the car we drive, and the money we’ve got, if we bundle that all up it makes sense that at the end of the day we’d think we were something. That makes complete sense.
God says that’s an illusion, and we’ve deceived ourselves.
The only “something” to be got in this world is Jesus Christ. Everything else is nothing. A lot of philosophy-inclined people love the Book of Ecclesiastes. A lot of great philosophy is about how life is meaningless. And you would get that kind of impression from Ecclesiastes, but that’s not the point of the book. The point is this: life is meaningless… without God. And the point I’m making is not that you are nothing and will always be nothing… but that you are nothing without Jesus. In order to have Christ in you right now it means at some point in your life you recognised how you were nothing without Him.
We’re like Adam and Eve: sinning against God and hiding our nakedness, our nothingness, with fig leaves, with something… well, those leaves were an illusion, Adam and Eve deceiving themselves. God found them, sacrificed an innocent animal, and clothed them with its garments of skin. He gave them something.
But the problem is, as life goes on, we forget our former state. We forget how we once were nothing. Conceit creeps back into our lives and then two things begin to happen:
1) We provoke one another
2) We envy one another
Conceit leads to provoking: you provoke one another because you’ve forgotten your former state. You were nothing. God gave you Jesus. You’ve forgotten this. And now, you are competing with others for self-worth, for something. You’ve forgotten your worth in Jesus.
You know what’s interesting about self-worth? We made it up. We made up what it means to have self-worth. And then we fight over it. We’re provoking one another over things that are imagined! It comes in many forms: for some it’s a car, a pair of shoes, a new dress, making people laugh, your job, the amount of friends you have… the list can go on and on. Whatever the self-worth is for you, you will compete with others in order to attain it (and you will provoke them in the way of getting it). For some people, this is devastating. Because if you don’t have self-worth, you’re fighting with others for it, and when you don’t get it, it leads to envy.
Conceit leads to envy: you envy one another because you’ve forgotten your former state. You were nothing. God gave you Jesus. You’ve forgotten this. And now you seem to have no self-worth. You’ve forgotten your worth in Jesus.
Someone else has a better car, better shoes, better dress, better job, and more friends. Whatever it is you’ve made up in your head that has worth, you don’t have it. You envy others for it. One of the things I like doing is making people laugh, that’s a form of self-worth that I’ve made up in my head. And I can really tell that it’s an issue of self-worth. I remember how much it pained me when someone did something or said something funnier that I wished I thought of first. Gah, it used to kill me (sometimes it still does).
So, naturally, you can see why Paul brings up this problem before he gets to the law of Christ. If we don’t deal with these issues of conceit then, in the Church, provoking and envying one another is all that’s going to happen. The law of Christ will not be outworked in the Church. He ends the issue by stating that “each person should examine his own work, and then he will have a reason for boasting in himself alone, and not in respect to someone else.”
The idea is not to boast about your self-worth in respect to someone else. That’s conceit. But to examine what worth you have for boasting at all. That’s Christ and Christ alone. Apart from Jesus, we are nothing.
It’s amazing (and quite frightening, really) how so much internal groundwork must be done before we can fulfill the law of Christ. We need to watch our conceits on our daily basis. Know yourself. Know your problems. Be aware of where it is you find self-worth. Know the things that make you a provoker. Know the things that make you an envier. And remind yourself, again and again, that Christ now lives in you. He is your worth alone. If we fail to do this we will never be able to do what Paul wants: “Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
The Law of Christ
I love that Paul uses the word “carry” here: to “carry one another’s burdens.” It tells us everything we need to know.
If you’re carrying something heavy, what’s more helpful to you? Do I yell instructions at you from the mountaintop? Do I give you wise advice and motivational clichés? Make you feel #InstaGood? Or do I get close enough, shoulder-to-shoulder, and carry the burden with you in this season of life?
These burdens are sometimes outside of us… painfully they are sometimes inside of us. It’s called sin. This is why Paul writes in 6:1 - “if someone is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual should restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so you also won’t be tempted.”
When you carry each other’s burdens, side-by-side, shoulder-to-shoulder, the one who is in sin needs to rest and the one by their side must take them to Jesus. This is how you treat one another with a gentle spirit. We Christians still have a natural tendency to condemn each other when sin is found out. That is not restoring someone with a gentle spirit. This is why you immediately take the fallen person to Jesus. It stops you from being tempted to sin in the same way they have, and it’s only in Jesus we have this great truth:
Romans 8:1 - “No condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus…”
Judgment is coming
I think Paul adds a third dimension to the law of Christ. It’s found in the last verse of this passage: “For each person will have to carry his own load.” – Galatians 6:5
1) Love God.
2) Take care of each other.
3) Judgment is coming.
Real love has eternity in mind. Real burden-carrying love has eternity in mind. The stark reality that every human being, every soul, that exists will end in heaven or hell is enough cause to let the flimsy things of this world go; things like conceit, provoking, and envy. Judgment is coming, so take care of each other.
The burdens we carry in this life are different to what we take to God on the Day of Judgment. As you can see, the English words are different in the text: verse 2 says “burdens” and verse 5 says “loads.” This is because the original Greek that the Bible is translated from has different words too. Verse 2 refers to a heavy, burdensome, load. That’s life. The Greek word in verse 5 refers to a lighter load, something like a shoulder pack. Recall Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:28-30:
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
: The imagery of a yoke is that of two animals who are attached together with a contraption, side-by-side, shoulder-to-shoulder, in order to carry something heavy. The yoke keeps them together, and is necessary to carry the heavy load.
The idea of Paul is that we, as a Church, can be yoked to one another in order to carry each other’s burdens in this life. But Jesus says His yoke is light and the ultimate rest for our souls are found in Him. I’ll end with the words of John Stott from his commentary on Galatians:
“We are to bear one another’s ‘burdens’ which are too heavy for a man to bear alone, but there is one burden which we cannot share—indeed do not need to because it is a pack light enough for every man to carry himself—and that is our responsibility to God on the day of judgment. On that day you cannot carry my pack and I cannot carry yours. ‘Each man will have to bear his own load.”