Should Christians Always Bear the Burdens of Others?

QUESTION: Hey Rick! questions…… I feel like I tend to be the “white knight” in a lot of relationships in my past… some find their way to codependent relationships with me and others are just a season and then the person can mend their wound and walk on their own. I feel like I always thought this was the Christian thing to do because we are called to “bear with one another and help when people ur weak or hurting”. I feel like maybe I’m wrong in this. I’ve been challenging my thinking in this area. Thoughts?

p.s. I’ve been reading “boundaries” by Cloud and Townsend. LOVING it!

RESPONSE: Well, glad you found that book already because I would send you straight to “Boundaries” if you hadn’t. I can’t add much more to that good message…

Except to underline the importance of finding the balance between saving and serving.  Only one saves, Jesus. We are called only to serve. And the Bible says serving is sometimes best done by bearing a burden and other times by stepping back from developing dependency on you as the “White Knight”.

The best Scripture to underline this balance is –

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 won’t be tempted also. 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 is deceiving 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. For each person will have to carry his own load. HB

Gal 6:1-5

The most obvious question about this passage is the juxtaposition of two similar words in 5 short verses.

What’s really cool is when you look at two Greek words which are translated here as “burden” (verse 2) and “load” (verse 5). The old KJV, with its very limited vocabulary, translated them both with the same English word, “BURDEN”. And that sort of created a dichotomy or contradiction for Christians. How am I supposed to carry my brother’s burden but then we’re all supposed to carry our own burdens?

The answer is that these are two different KINDS of burdens.  The first is the word for that kind of burden that is a crisis that no one can carry by themselves. The root idea is “weight”.  Something too heavy for one person to bear.  The second word (vs 5) is for that kind of burden that is more like cargo or freight. Something we all have to carry day to day.

So the impact of these verses is this: “help carry the burdens for each other that are too heavy to bear alone, and let no one expect others to carry the responsibilities and duties that are his alone.”

Now, this will take discernment to implement for surely it’s a sliding scale which burdens fit into which categories. For children, it’s a moving target. What was a burden too heavy to carry this year, will be responsibility they must carry themselves next year.  Parents are wise to see that their “interventions” in burden-bearing are moving gradually less and less as the child ages.  (This is, I think, more demanding a call to moms than dads!)

But then, with friends, seasons of loss, grief, crisis or tragedy put them into a mode where some of the simplest responsibilities which they ought to always take on themselves (making food, finding shelter) are too heavy for them, and the law of Christ calls us to step in.

So, use discernment.

But what this passage says in no uncertain terms is that is it NOT a blanket Christian response to others in any kind of need, that we rescue, help, pick up after or save. Yes, compassion, and servanthood should be our calling cards, but sometimes “helping hurts” (the title of a GREAT book!) – so we are called by Scripture to avoid that, for “love does no harm to its neighbor”.