There are 8 species of bear in the world: (1) North American Black Bear; (2) Brown Bear (Grizzly); (3) Polar Bear; (4) Asiatic Black Bear; (5) Sun Bear (Honey Bear); (6) Panda Bear; (7) Sloth Bear; (8) Andean Bear.
While living in Alaska, we frequently saw Black Bear and Brown Bear. We were cautious. We tried to make noise when walking in the wilderness and even on walking trails in the city. We didn’t want to surprise one. They are big (Black Bear can be 5-6 feet in length and weigh 500-600 pounds. Brown Bear can be over 9 feet in length and weigh up to 1,500 pounds). They are fast (up to 30 m.p.h.). There is an old joke: “You do not need to outrun the bear, just the one (human) with you.” They can kill (In 2003, Timothy Treadwell and Amie Huguenard were killed by Brown Bear in Katamai National Park, Alaska). You do not want one of these bears to get you.
However, there are some bears that should get us. Let’s notice 3 bears from the book of Galatians.
1. The Helping Bear “Bear one anothers burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).
Christianity is not to be lived alone. “One another” (allelon) occurs 100 times in the New Testament. 59 of these occurrences concern Christian relationships (Mark 9:50; John 13:14; John 13:34×2; John 13:35; 15:12; 15:17; Romans 12:10×2; 12:16; 13:8; 14:13; 15:7; 15:14; 16:16; 1 Corinthians 11:33; 12:25; 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; Galatians 5:13; 5:15; 5:26; 6:2; Ephesians 4:2; 4:32×2; 5:19; 5:21; Philippians 2:3; Colossians 3:9; 3:13×2; 3:16×2; 1 Thessalonians 3:12; 4:9; 4:18; 5:11×2; Hebrews 3:13; 10:24; 10:25; James 4:11; 5:9; 5:16×2; 1 Peter 3:8×2; 4:8; 4:9; 4:10; 5:5; 5:14; 1 John 3:11; 3:23; 4:7; 4:11; 4:12; 2 John 5). We are to help one another.
In context, this passage is about helping one another overcome sin (Galatians 5:1-2). If we are spiritual (guided by the Spirit, Galatians 5:16, 18, 22a cf. Galatians 6:1), then we should seek to help restore a brother overtaken by sin. This is an expression of love (Galatians 6:2 cf. 5:14).
2. The Responsible Bear. “For each shall bear his own load” (Galatians 6:5 NKJV) “burden” (KJV)
The wording is different. In Galatians 6:2, the word “burden” is baros, meaning “a weight” (Vine’s). In Galatians 6:5, the word “load” is phortion, meaning “something carried” (Vine’s). What’s the difference? Vine’s says, “The difference between phortion and baros is that phortion is simply “something to be borne,” without reference to its weight, but baros always suggests what is ‘heavy or burdensome.’” Wayne Jackson comments, “Phortion is found in Acts 27:10 of the ‘cargo’ which a ship was designed to carry” (Wayne Jackson, Notes From the Margin of My Bible, Vol. 2, p. 93).
Here is my explanation. (1) Galatians 6:2. In this life, we should try to help one another. In context, we should help restore one another (Galatians 6:1-2). (2) Galatians 6:5, ultimately we each have responsibilities before God. We are accountable to Him (2 Corinthians 5:10). This is true whether others help us in this life, or not. Furthermore, in context one does not become a saint by another’s sins (Galatians 6:3-5). Stop comparing yourself with others. They are not the standard.
3. The Genuine Bear. “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus” (Galatians 6:17).
Slaves and soldiers were often marked. Thayer says of the word “marks” (stigma), “A mark pricked in or branded upon the body. According to ancient oriental usage, slaves and soldiers bore the name or stamp of their master or commander branded or pricked (cut) into their bodies to indicate what master or general they belonged to, and there were even some devotees who stamped themselves in this way with the token of their god.” Paul was marked. How so? Thayer comments, “The marks of (the Lord) Jesus, which Paul in Galatians 6:17 says he bears branded on his body, are the traces left there by the perils, hardships, imprisonment, scourgings, endured by him for the cause of Christ, and which mark him as Christ’s faithful and approved votary, servant, soldier.” Remember the hardships which Paul had endured in service to the Lord (2 Corinthians 11:22-28; Acts 13:50; 14:5-6; 14:19-20; 16:19-24; 21:30-36; 22:22-29; 2 Timothy 3:10-11, etc.). Paul was willing to be identified with Christ and pay the price for it.
Why does Paul mention the marks in his body? (1) It is not that he felt that these marks merited salvation (cf. Galatians 6:14; Philippians 3:8-9). (2) It is because his integrity had been questioned. The book of Galatians is primarily a defense of Paul’s apostleship. Some may have even considered him a man-pleaser (Galatians 1:10 cf. 1 Corinthians 9:19-23).
Have these three bears gotten you? (1) The Helping Bear. Do you care enough about your brothers and sisters in Christ to seek to restore them, helping them out of sin when needed? (2) The Responsible Bear. Do you understand that you are ultimately responsible for yourself before God? It does not matter what others do or do not do. (3) The Genuine Bear. Are you willing to pay the price for following the Lord? Does your life bear evidence that you identify with Him, and are committed to His cause?