This is the second chapter of the “practical” section of this letter (chapters 5-6). It follows a chapter that discusses the practical walk of a believer in the liberty of Christ under the power and leading of the Holy Spirit.
Paul begins this portion of his letter by calling his readers “brethren”. Much of his letter has been concerned with establishing whether or not his readers truly were brethren in Christ. If they are truly walking in the Spirit (5:22-26), then they will be living in right relationship with one another as brothers and sisters in Christ (see especially v. 26). One aspect of that “right relationship” is a proper care for one another when it comes to each other's “burdens” in life.
Here, in these verses, we find excellent instruction on how we—as brothers and sisters together in Christ—are to minister care to each other in difficult times.
I. A SPECIAL CALL: Restore the overtaken (v. 1).
A. We are called here to care for anyone who is “overtaken in any trespass”. The word for “overtaken” means “to to be taken unexpectedly”or “to be taken by surprise”. It describes a situation in which someone is caught in a sinful situation where they find themselves over their head and unable to free themselves. The type of sin isn't specified —it's simply described as any “stumbling aside” or “false step”.
B. The command with respect to that person is to “restore” them. The word used here is one that was used in reference to mending nets (Matthew 4:21; Mark 1:19). It means “to knit together” or “to put in order”. God places the ministry in our hands of restoring that fallen brother or sister—to come along side and help them back on the right path. Here, Paul assumes that we are qualified and capable of doing so in the body of Christ.
C. This ministry is entrusted to those “who are spiritual”. This describes the condition or qualification of the restorer. He or she is “spiritual” in the sense of being a person who is under the influence of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18; Gal. 5:16, 25, 25); and who operates with true biblical insight (1 Corinthians 2:13-15). A clue to the intention of this word is found in the description of the fruit of the Spirit contained in Galatians 5:22-23!
D. This ministry of restoration is to be done is “in a spirit of gentleness”. We are not to be harsh or ruthless in the ministry of restoring the fallen brother or sister. Nor are we to simply look on from a distance and shake our heads, or to scowl and criticized. We're to be realistic about sin; but we're also to handle the matter with gentleness and dignity.
E. We are warned to watch ourselves, lest we also be tempted. The power of sin is great; and many who were unspiritual who sought to restore a fallen brother ended up getting caught in the same trap of sin. We must always be on our guard!
II. A GENERAL CALL: Bear one another's burdens (vv. 2-3).
A. We are called upon to bear one another's “burdens” (v. 2). The Greek word that is used here for “burden” is one that refers to any weight that is heavy and grievous to bear (Matthew 20:12; Acts 15:28; Rev. 2:24). There are burdens in life that are beyond our ability to bear ourselves. We are encouraged to cast such burdens upon the Lord (Psalm 55:22; Matthew 11:28; 1 Peter 5:7). One of the ways that God provides for the carrying of such burdens is our brothers and sisters in Christ. He very graciously comforts us in our trials so that we can pass the comfort on to others (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
B. In doing so, we are to understand that we thus fulfilling “the law of Christ” (v. 2). The law of Christ was hinted at in Galatians 5:14; where we're told that to love one another is to fulfill the law. The law of Christ is His great “new” commandment: “that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35; see also 15:12). We obey Jesus' command in a practical way when we bear one another's heavy burdens.
C. And none of us are to exclude ourselves from this “one another” ministry. We are to be careful to think rightly about our own importance (v. 3). One of the greatest hindrances to God's call to bear one another's burdens is pride (Romans 12:3; 15:1-2). We “deceive” ourselves when we think that we are “something” when we are really “nothing”. This can show itself in one of two ways: (1) We can either think ourselves to be too important to help one another; or (2) we can think that we are too strong to need the help of others. God's call to us is to be so “like-minded” that we esteem one another as “better” than ourselves, and look out for one another's interests as if they were our own (Philippians 2:1-4).
III. A PERSONAL CALL: Examine your own work (v. 4-5).
A. When considering the call to care for one another, we are to examine our own work (v. 4). Each of us must personally give an account for how we have lived before God (1 Corinthians 5:10). And so, we should not be using one another's burdens—or struggles with those burdens—as a measure by which we assess ourselves. Who are we to judge the servant of another (Romans 14:4)? Each of us will give an account of our own before God (v. 12). They who measure themselves by each other in this way are not wise; but should instead measure themselves within the limits of the sphere God has appointed to them (2 Corinthians 10:12-13).
B. By doing so, we will “rejoice” in our ourselves, and not in another (v. 4).. We will be measuring our own progress before God; and will have cause to rejoice in what He has done in us.
C. This is important to remember, because we each must bear our own “load”. This is a different word that is used in verse 2. There, the word referred to a heavy and grievous burden; but here, the word refers to a light one. Think of it as if we all wore backpacks as we strolled along the journey of life in Christ. Along we come to a brother or sister who also had a backpack; but who was also forced to drag along a heavy laundry bag. We should help them with their bag; but not forget that we—and he—must also carry our own backpacks at the same time.