“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. . . . But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For each one must bear his own load” (Galatians 6:2,4-5 NKJV).
Brenda cooks our meals at Khulna Bible College in a tiny kitchen over a two burner gas cook top. When she cooks omelets or pancakes for our breakfasts, she cannot do one serving at a time. In order to eat those meals hot, therefore, I will usually go ahead and start eating my food while she is cooking hers. I am often almost finished before she is able to sit down. We have started referring to these times as “eating alone, together.” Though we are in the same room and involved in related activities, we are not exactly sharing the same thing at the same time. But that is okay. Neither are we isolated, without company or support.
Is that not a metaphor of Christian fellowship? To share the community of belief with other Christians does not mean that we are always in an assembly of worshipers, nor does it mean that we are constantly doing the same thing at the same time with someone else. For example, I may pray for a sick friend in America while I am in South Asia. Other Christians in America, Europe, Australia, or Africa may pray for that same person. We are engaged in a fellowship of prayer together, though we may never see one another or even know each other’s names.
We often have the idea that fellowship means being together, whether in worship, eating a meal, or doing some Christian work. But the term means far more than that. In Galatians 6, fellowship involves helping one another resist and recover from sin. When someone sins and it is known to the church, mature, caring Christians should visit and encourage so as to restore the erring one to repentance.
But at the same time, all must remember that we are responsible for our own decisions and actions. No one can complain to God at judgment; “No one came to restore me, therefore I am not accountable for my lack of repentance.” While Christians are to bear one another’s burdens, we are also to bear our own burdens. We have a fellowship of righteousness in which we are “alone, together.” Every person is accountable for himself or herself, but every person is also to help others whenever and however it is possible.
Paul did not speak in riddles or contradict himself. The apparent paradox is simple to understand. Every Christian needs others to “consider (him) to stir up love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24). But each one of us needs to be fully aware that “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10).
We will face God and Christ solely responsible for our actions. But we will have had much company while seeking to walk the “straight and narrow way.”