To Bear or Not To Bear… And How Many Is a Few?
Galatians 6:2 says, “Bear one another’s burdens,” and Galatians 6:5 says, “Let each man bear his own burden.” How do these relate?
Also, Jesus said, “Straight is the gate and narrow is the way that leads to life, and few there be that find it.” Why are there only a few, and how many is “a few”?
Galatians 6:2 reads, “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ” (NASB). The word translated burdens (baros) could be used to describe something difficult to bear, like a 12-hour day in the blazing sun (Matt. 20:12), or, outside the NT, an insupportable burden, whether the pain of a wound, of shame, of sorrow, or other difficulties (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament).
Since Paul says this right after admonishing those who are spiritual to help restore the brother who is caught in a trespass, it seems reasonable to understand the burden he has in mind includes, but is not limited to, the weight of restoring a fallen brother. When we help fellow believers with their difficulties, we are fulfilling the law of Christ, that is, we are loving one another as He has loved us. Galatians 6:5 reads, “For each one will bear his own load” (NASB).
Outside the NT, the word translated “load” (phortion) can refer to a soldier’s pack (Xenophon, Memorabilia, 3.13.6). Jesus uses this word when He says, “My yoke is easy and my burden (phortion) is light” (Matt. 11:30).
In the previous two verses, Paul warned the Galatians against thinking they are “something” because they are better than someone else. Each person must “examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another” (Gal. 6:4 NASB). Verse 5 gives the reason why we should each examine our own work: “each one will bear his own load.” We each must bear our own pack.
John Stott seems to capture the idea of these two verses well: “So 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” (The Message of Galatians, 159–60).
In Matthew 7:13-14 Jesus did, indeed, say that there are “few” who find the narrow way that leads to life. To help us understand Jesus’ meaning, let me juxtapose the picture of the redeemed we find in Revelation 7:9-10.
It says, “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands” (NASB). So, the “few” that find the way that leads to life are a “great multitude which no one could count.”
The fact that John uses the number 200 million (Rev. 9:16) suggests that an innumerable multitude must be more than that, perhaps in the billions. But how is this “few”?
Let me appeal to a conversation C.S. Lewis imagines between Aslan (the Christ figure) and Lucy in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader for an analogy. Just before he vanishes, Aslan tells Lucy, “‘Do not look so sad. We will meet soon again.’ ‘Please, Aslan,’ said Lucy, ‘what do you call soon?’ ‘I call all times soon,’ said Aslan.” Just as all time may be “soon” to God, so any number less than “all men” for whom Christ died is “few” (1 Tim. 2:4; 1 John 2:2).
God, who is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (2 Pet. 3:9), finds the innumerable company of the saints too few. It is fewer than the “all” He wanted to save.
Jesus’ point may also be that followers of the narrow way are a minority in any age.