“Carry each other’s burdens and, in this way, you will fulfil the law of Christ” (v2). Now consider: “…for each one should carry their own load” (v5). How do we explain these two potentially contradictory verses? How does it explain a great deal of this chapter?
The subtle balance between corporate and individual salvation is a key factor in biblical doctrine. The mission of God is not ultimately simply to make disciples, but to create a Bride for his Son (see Revelation 21). It is true that the most effective way is for disciples to make disciples. But the danger of 1-2-1 discipleship is that it does not necessarily emphasise the Body of Christ – the church – in the way that other methods and models do. We certainly do want to make disciples who are increasingly like Jesus himself, but the outcome that Heaven seeks is that together we become one – a Bride worthy of her heavenly Bridegroom.
Therefore, learning to relate to one another is as vital as learning to relate to God himself. You cannot truly love God if you do not demonstrate love for your brother or sister in Christ. Neither is it honourable to seek to rescue the lost – by discipling them – if you treat them badly as soon as they make a commitment to the Lord. Our Christian walk is an ever-expanding ‘trilogy’ of working at improving our relationships to God, to our fellow believer, and to the unsaved person in our environment.
It is easy to become weary in all this. It is only human to become discouraged by short-term results – or a lack of them! But the truth will out in the end. If we sow to please God, then eternal life will result (vv8,9). And let us make sure that we take every opportunity to do good to all, especially to those who are already included in the Bride (this is what those controversial verses in Matthew 25:40 are pointing to).
Coming back, then, to the question raised by verses 2 and 5: we are to help one another with moral burdens or weaknesses (one person’s strength assisting another where they are weak), relying on each other’s different gifting and character strengths (see Romans 15:1). But we should also ‘pull our own weight’ and ensure that we have done everything that Christ has asked of us as an individual – ready to stand before him at the Great Final Day and to give an account of our lives.
Paul ends the chapter and the letter with a couple of very powerful statements: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (v14). To be crucified was to die – to be separated from every aspect of your life. Paul is saying that he has put to death all worldly desires and ambitions now that he has been saved – they are cut off from him as though he were physically dead. (Similar statement in Galatians 5:24.)
The second statement is: “Let no-one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus”. The word used for ‘marks’ were literally the branding mark of a slave, identifying who was his master. Paul’s physical sufferings, caused by persecution, were a sign that he belonged to the King of Kings. So don’t delay him in his duties!
ISAIAH 49, 50, and 51
It is truly difficult to know where to start when describing today’s and tomorrow’s readings: each of the chapters 49, 50, 51, 52, and 53 are works of prophetic genius in their own rights. Each could be dissected and preached on for many consecutive weeks. And yet all the first four are completely overshadowed by Chapter 53, which stands like a gigantic redwood tree of prophetic literature, completely dwarfing the rest in terms of poetic passion and prophetic power.
The second ‘servant song’ of Isaiah is found in 49:1-6 (or maybe 1-13). You can imagine Jesus describing his pre-incarnation existence and the relationship he had with His Father in Heaven. He was then launched from there like a shining sharp arrow in the hand of God, coming to earth at the speed of light to rescue not only Israel, but the Gentiles too: “I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth” (49:6). Jesus will come at the time of God’s “favour” (a reference to the Jubilee year) and he himself will be the covenant, guaranteeing restoration of man’s lost inheritance, freedom for captive souls, and kindness and compassion for the wayward. There will be an ingathering of all nations – those chosen people of God – into his Kingdom. “See I have engraved you on the palms of my hands…” (49:16)… this has strong pointers for us of the Crucified Saviour who was then still to come.
And one day, there will be a vast multitude – beyond counting – that inhabit our spiritual land; God will beckon to the nations and make sure that the Lamb Who Was Slain is glorified with a bride who is worthy of him.
God is a divorcee! Check this out in Isaiah 50:1. Israel had been the cause of the broken relationship and God then initiated the divorce proceedings on grounds of adultery. (See Jeremiah 3:8 also.) Yet, again and again, God tried to win Israel back, sending prophets to speak words of both judgment and of encouragement – the stick and the carrot! Finally, he sends his Son: the third servant song is 50:4-9 (or 4-11). God’s people treat the Son with the same contempt they treated the prophets; it speaks of the sufferings that Jesus endured before and at the cross. God will vindicate his faithful servant: “It is the Sovereign Lord who helps me. Who will condemn me?” (See also Romans 8:34.)
Then, in chapter 51, the Lord reminds Israel to look back to their roots, to Abraham and Sarah who founded the entire nation. It encourages the nation to emulate the faith and the faithfulness of their forefathers.