Galatians 6:1 – 18
The bystander effect
March 27th, 1964, the headline of the New York Times screamed, “37 Who Saw Murder Didn't Call the Police.”
2 weeks previously a young woman named Kitty Genovese had been brutally murdered outside her apartment block. It had taken her attacker more than half an hour to brutalise and murder her.
During that time he was scared off twice, by his victim’s screams, and lights appearing in nearby windows as people wondered what was going on,
But twice the killer returned, despite the presence of those nearby, and after the 3rd attack, Kitty Genovese was dead.
This story is told to every first year psychology class, which is where I first heard it! the arch-typical example, of what’s known as “the bystander effect”; The reluctance of people to step in and get involved, when someone else needs help.
Eventually Kitty Genovese’s killer was found, and when asked by the police, why he dared commit such a crime in an area so populated with witnesses, he replied, “I knew they wouldn’t do anything. People never do.”
It’s a pretty sombre way into our topic this morning, and I don’t mean to distress you, but I do want us to feel the weight, of this, bystander effect.
Because it doesn’t just apply to violent crimes, the bystander effect is at play in areas right across our lives.
If you’ve ever wasted 5 minutes reading the advice column in a newspaper or magazine, this is the overwhelming message you’ll hear;
“Don’t get involved,
Stay out of people’s lives,
Don’t help until you’ve been asked, and even then, be vary wary of really getting involved.”
And it even extends to our Christian life.
The bystander effect is alive and well among Christian relationships today.
There is a very real temptation, for us to stand on the sidelines, even if we see things that we know are not going to be helpful for people,
Even if we can see the logical or likely consequences of people’s actions,
Even if, sometimes, we can see that some chosen course of behaviour is going to have an impact on other people.
But the Apostle Paul’s words in Galatians chapter 6 call us out of our by-stander-ing, because sometimes, our Christian brothers and sisters need us to get involved.
Christian people sometimes get caught in sin
Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin,
Paul’s talking about rebelling against God,
Of putting ourselves in the position of deciding what’s right and what’s wrong.
To be caught in a sin, doesn’t necessarily imply being caught in the act of sinning, caught with your hand in the cookie jar, so to speak, it can also have the sense of being trapped, overtaken by sin.
So have a think about some of the sorts of situations where a Christian person might find themselves caught in a sin,
And where we might be caught in the dilemma of the bystander effect.
There’s, well, what might seem to us to be fairly innocuous,
You discover that one of your friends is copying software on the school computers.
What do you do?
Or maybe you’re at work, and you know that one of your colleagues is a Christian, but you also become aware, that they’re regularly swiping stuff from the office, or maybe not being entirely honest with their tax.
They’re breaking the law, but , it’s only little stuff, what do you do?
Is it worth saying anything?
Or, what if it seems bit little more serious?
Maybe stealing money, or stealing from a shop?
Perhaps you find out that that the sexual behaviour of someone in our church falls a long way short of the purity demanded by the gospel.
Maybe someone you sit next to here on Sundays, is being overtaken by greed.
Perhaps they’ve abandoned the gospel and the good news about Jesus Christ, and, just like in Galatia in the 1st Century, they’ve fallen into the trap of relying on rule-keeping and religious performance to try and earn God’s favour, they’ve started promoting a different gospel.
Maybe the message they want people to hear is not Christ crucified, like we heard from Paul last week, but your efforts. , Be good enough.
Is it more important to intervene, in a situation like that, than if someone’s downloading movies illegally off the internet?
How do I work out at what point I should step in?
And, , who’s responsibility is it anyway?
Is it the Pastor? – He’s paid to have those sorts of conversations, isn’t he?!
Someone who’s a leader in the church,
A Bible Study Group leader,
At least an adult, maybe?
But is it even worth, risking a friendship? Because, let’s face it, if you tell someone they’re doing the wrong thing, you might not be very popular,
Your relationship with that person is likely to suffer for a time, perhaps a long time.
This , getting involved, can really be quite complicated, can’t it?
We know these kinds of things all happen, don’t we, and yet, it’s a whole lot easier to stay on the sidelines and keep quiet when our Christian friends are disobeying God.
Don’t stand by when Christians sin
Galatians chapter 6 can feel a little like Paul’s written a postcard, and he’s running out of space at the end, so he ends up writing up the side, and around the stamp as you do when you’re trying to cram in all the different things you want to say!
He says a number of different things, but we’re going to spend our time in the earlier verses, thinking about what Paul says about our Christian life together, particularly, he says, “Don’t stand by, when Christian brothers and sisters sin”
Verse 1, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently.
Who came to mind, just then, not someone caught in sin! But when you read those words you who live by the Spirit? Or “you who are spiritual”, as your Bible translation might say.
Who do you think of?
Some wise, older Christian,
Maybe a Bible Study Group Leader,
Maybe someone who discipled you,
Perhaps the person who first introduced you to Jesus.
But if you have your Bible there, look up , just a few lines, at the very end of chapter 5. And of course this is the danger in tackling the Bible topically, as we are at the moment, as opposed to working our way systematically through a book as is our usual pattern, we haven’t just looked at these verses previously, and so we can miss the connections.
But in chapter 5 there’s a contrast between people who live according to the sinful nature, that is, living with no regard for God,
People wanting to decide for themselves what’s right and wrong,
And then on the other hand, is category of people, who, Paul says, belong to Christ, verse 24 of chapter 5, that is Christian people.
And Christian people, he says, verse 25, live by the Spirit.
If you belong to Christ, you live by the Spirit.
Now, our Bibles have then got a chapter break,
A big number 6,
A paragraph heading,
But none of that comes from Paul.
The paragraph heading was just put there by the publishers of the NIV to help us find our place, and the chapter divisions date from the 13th Century, when they were inserted by a man named Stephen Langton, maybe related to David and Michele!
His other claim to fame was that he drafted the Magna Carta!
The point is that you who live by the Spirit, follows immediately on from what Paul’s just written about people who live by the Spirit.
He’s simply talking about Christian people, those who belong to Christ.
It’s not talking about the pastor,
He’s not talking about Ministry Area Leaders,
Not just those very experienced Christians who have been around forever and have seen it all.
All Christians are in a position to bring the grace of God to brothers and sisters who are caught in sin!
When the Methodist movement first started, some churches kept records of their people in 3 columns. The pastor would evaluate people who turned up to church, and allocate them either as seekers,
Or as saved,
Or as sanctified!
You’ll be pleased to know we have no such system at Trinity, and neither did Paul! He’s not talking about a subset of Christians, the top 10% or anything, but all of God’s people.
If you’re a Christian. If you know that Jesus took the penalty you deserved for your rebellion against God, then you’re the sort of person that Paul says should step in, when someone , in our church, for example, is caught in a sin.
And the language here includes all sorts of situations where someone is living outside God’s pattern for life.
Sometimes people unintentionally fall into sin;
Christian people are not always as discerning as they ought to be, and they find themselves caught in a sin.
Sometimes people struggle over and over with the same sin, falling for the same temptation, time, after time, after time.
Whatever it is, Paul expects Christian brothers and sisters will step into those situations.
But let’s be clear, Paul’s talk is of restoration.
He’s speaking about a Christian person who is caught in sin.
He’s not talking in this instance about confronting someone who’s not a Christian.
This is about how we relate to each other, not how we relate to people who don’t know Jesus.
And to help us get sense of this, this is the language Matthew uses in his gospel account to describe James and John repairing their fishing nets, restoring their nets.
It’s a picture of bringing something back into its proper condition.
So that’s how we ought to think about the life of a Christian person who is caught in sin.
That for a Christian person to be engaged in sinful behaviour, is to be in need of restoration,
We mustn’t think it’s OK, for Christian people to continue in sin.
Restoration is required.
This word, restore, was also the word used to describe setting a broken bone.
Now, the bystander effect doesn’t kick in when you break your arm, does it? You don’t look at it swinging limply there and think, “Oh it doesn’t really matter,
It’s not affecting the rest of my body.”
Clearly a broken arm requires restoration, it cannot be left like that.
Friends, clearly a sinful Christian requires restoration.
We can’t leave someone, who belongs to Christ, walking down a path of rebellion against Christ.
And Paul charges every single one of us, with this responsibility.
Carry each other’s burdens
Now, we’ll come back to the 2nd part of verse 1 in a moment, but see where he ends up. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ
Now, if you know much about Paul’s letter to the Galatians, you’ll know that the great theme of the letter is that Christianity is all about being freed from law, and not submitting to religious rule keeping as a way of relating to God.
So what on earth can Paul mean when he speaks of fulfilling the law of Christ?
Well, have a think about some of the things that Christ himself said about laws, and commandments, and what we might consider to be the law of Christ.
So in John 13:34 , just before Jesus goes to his death, he says to his disciples, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
Jesus is about to demonstrate just how costly, his love for his people is, it’s going to cost him his life!
And he says, “Now, I command you, to love each other with that kind of costly,
Other person centred,
The command of Christ is that his followers love each other, even when that love costs,
And no matter what that love costs.
Or we could go to Matthew 22, where Jesus says, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
So it’s no wonder that Paul can say up there in chapter 5 verse 14, have a look at it with me, For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
The law of Christ, is to love.
To love, not with the “you make me feel good, at this moment”, kind of love that we see around us a lot,
The law of Christ is to love with the costly, other person centred love, demonstrated by Christ, that seeks the best for someone, regardless of how far it puts me out,
How inconvenient it might be for me,
Despite the reaction that I might anticipate.
As a Christian, I do from time to time, have conversations with people that I would very much prefer not to have. I’d much prefer to be a bystander.
But if I allow myself to stand on the sidelines, I can’t claim to be loving people the way Christ loved me.
And one of the ways that as Christians we demonstrate this love is to Carry each other’s burdens. Paul’s grammar implies an ongoing carrying, “keep on , carrying each other’s burdens.”
There’s a difference between stopping and picking up something that somebody drops in the street, and walking with them, carrying it for them, isn’t there. Well this is that kind of walking with, carrying other people’s burdens that Paul has in mind.
Now there’s nothing kind of super-spiritual about Paul’s language. He’s not trying to narrow down to a particular type of burden. His eye is just on all the different kinds heavy loads that people carry in life.
You know the burdens, that you carry,
You know some of the burdens of those around you.
The things that weigh people down, the cares they face,
The individual struggles that make some days harder than others, or that make every day a struggle to get through.
Christian people, those who live by the Spirit, should willingly carry the burdens of their brothers and sisters in Christ,
Whether they be the struggles of faith,
The temptation to fall back into the weak and miserable religion of rule-keeping and performance,
The burdens of sickness,
Relationship breakdown, the struggles of difficult employment, or lack of employment,
The difficulty at times, of raising children, of knowing what to do, how to respond, how to raise my children as disciples of Jesus.
And of course, the burden of ongoing struggles with sin.
Carry each other’s burdens.
The instruction to Christian people here is to get involved, that if there’s something you can do to ease somebody’s burden, you should do it.
And I’m pretty sure the point is not for us to sit around and make a list of “approved burdens”, the particular circumstances in which it’s OK to get involved in someone’s life. I think the point is, if it looks like it’s a burden, and you’re able to help them with it, through your time,
With your money,
With your wisdom,
With the lessons you’ve learnt from carrying similar burdens in the past, then do it.
When I was a kid, the Good News Bible that I had, had a picture on this page, a line of stick figures, each with a burden, a bag over their shoulder, or some kind of load their back, and all the way across the page, each person was reaching out and helping to carry the load of the person in front.
And two things went through my mind every time I saw that picture, first of all, I thought “It would be great to be the guy in front, because you’d have someone to help carry your load, but there’d be no one in front of you, who you’d have to help!”
And equally, I thought, “I wouldn’t want to be the guy at the back, who has to carry somebody else’s load with no one to help with his.”
And so I always imagined this kind of , circle of people, no beginning, no end, all carrying someone’s load and with someone carrying theirs.
And while that perhaps tells you more about how my mind worked as a child, it is kind of the picture that Paul has in his mind for the church.
See If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves, Paul’s not saying, “you’re worthless, you’re rubbish.”
But to think that you’re entirely self-sufficient, And that you have no need for anyone else, no need to engage in the Body of Christ of which you’re a part, is not a sign of strength, but a sign of pride.
If you think that the degree to which you’ve got it all together counts for something before God, you’re sadly mistaken.
God carries our burdens through the efforts of others
Now someone might say, “Well, hang on, don’t we rely on God to help us with our burdens?
Doesn’t Jesus say, he’ll give us rest,
Doesn’t the Old Testament point us forward to rest that comes from God himself?
Doesn’t the Apostle Peter invite us to cast our anxieties on God because he cares for us?
And the answer is yes, of course! That kind of care is is exactly what God gives to those who accept the forgiveness and relationship that Jesus offers through his death in our place.
But one of the ways, in which God himself carries our burdens, is through the ministry, and care and compassion of other people.
And we know that Paul himself experienced this.
Here’s one example, of Paul describing the experience of being significantly burdened, and knowing God’s care for him in the midst of that.
This is from 2 Corinthians 7 verse 5,
For when we came into Macedonia, we had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn—, conflicts on the outside, fears within.
6 But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us, how?, by the coming of , Titus
Now, let’s remember who we’re talking about!
Paul had seen the risen Lord Jesus, face to face,
On another occasion he was caught up to heaven in some kind of miraculous vision,
When Paul wrote letters, they were received, and still considered today, as the very Word of God.
There is no shortage of communication between God and Paul!
And yet, how does God bring comfort and support and encouragement to Paul in this tremendously difficult period of his life in Macedonia?
Through the coming, the ministry, the words, no doubt the ears, and the prayers, of Titus.
Nowhere in the Bible, not even in the Apostle Paul, do we find a self-sufficient Christian.
There’s no such thing as a self-sufficient Christian
To be self-sufficient was what the Stoics longed for.
The Roman philosopher Seneca who was writing around the same time as Paul wrote Galatians, he once said, “The primary sign of a well-ordered mind, is a man’s ability to remain in one place and linger in his own company.”
But God’s intention for the community of his people is that we would together shoulder each member’s burdens.
And the word isn’t tolerate,
Put up with,
Grumblingly accept, each other’s burdens! Which perhaps we’re tempted to do at times,
carry each other’s burdens.
No doubt carrying one another’s burdens will involve speaking the Word of Christ into someone’s life,
Praying for people, as if their burdens were our own,
Doing what we can, practically, to provide for their needs, and to help them keep walking in step with the Spirit as he leads us into Christlikeness.
So to whom might you be, the Titus?
Who might God comfort, through you?
Whose burden might God carry, through your hands,
Or your time,
Or your teapot,
Or your godly wisdom and understanding of the Scriptures.
Now, we don’t know what was going through Titus’ mind in this situation, but I’d hazard a guess a that he didn’t turn up thinking “I’m going to solve all the Apostle Paul’s problems! He’s going to be so thankful I’m here!”
He was God’s person, and he was available, and obedient, and Paul’s ministry, his well-being, and the cause of the gospel benefitted.
Friends, can we be Titus?
Can we carry each other’s burdens?
Sometimes we contribute to each other’s burdens. That’s entirely the wrong way around.
But imagine what this looks like, from the outside looking in,
Imagine what that says to someone who doesn’t know Jesus, about the kind of transformation that Jesus offers.
If you’re here this morning and you’re not a Christian, isn’t that the kind of community that you’d like to be a part of?
Watch out for yourself
But there are dangers, When we seek to restore someone caught in sin, and it’s not just the bystander effect.
So a Christian person who isn’t caught in this particular sin, might get involved in the situation, find themselves facing the same temptation and they themselves might fall.
Or, that same Christian looks at the person who is struggling with sin and gets all self-righteous and says, “I would never fall to that level, how awful, how do they even call themselves a Christian?”
Look back at that part of verse 1 that we skipped over, watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted,
Or verse 4, Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else
Paul actually changes his language halfway through that first verse. Unfortunately it’s not obvious in this new edition of the NIV, but he switches from the plural, brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, to the singular, watch yourself.
There’s a collective responsibility we all share, restore a brother or sister caught in sin,
But the primary responsibility for the extent to which you’re living by the Spirit, lies with you.
Each one should carry their own load, verse 5.
Now, he’s not contradicting what he’s said earlier,
The words in the original, as in our NIV, are different. Burden is something big and heavy. The word for load is the word for someone’s backpack. Yes you’ve got to carry it, but it’s not so heavy that you can’t carry it on your own.
And in fact this load, is our responsibility to God when we stand before him on the last day.
We have to test our own actions Paul says.
See when we stand before Jesus, I won’t be able to compare myself to others and say, “Well God, when you think about it, I did a lot better than Richard Muhlack”, Or Compared to Nathan Watts, I’m really pretty good!”
When it comes to the question of have I obeyed the law of Christ? Have I kept in step with the Spirit, 5 verse 25, I have to carry that myself, no one else can stand before God and do that for me.
John Stott the British pastor once said, “On that day, you cannot carry my pack, and I cannot carry yours.”
The command to you, to carry the load of your own accountability before God, doesn’t get me off the hook, for helping you with the burdens of life.
And conversely, I can’t blame you, when I give in to temptation.
That was Adam’s problem, wasn’t it?
In the Garden of Eden, when God asks, have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?
“The woman you put here with me” he says, “it’s her fault! Or your fault for sticking her here with me.”
Years ago I read about a pastor who was looking for one of his elders to go with him to meet with another elder, who had fallen into sin.
And so he asked each one, “If you had been faced with this particular temptation, what do you think you would you have done?” And one by one they all answered, “Well, I would have prayed about it,”
“I would have resisted the temptation”,
“I would have been strong”, until one man said quietly, “I imagine if I’d been faced with that temptation, I’d quite likely have fallen just like he has, ”
To which the pastor replied, “then you’re the one, who’s going to come with me, and seek to restore our brother who’s caught in this sin.”
Now it’s kind of a warm fuzzy story, but it makes an important point.
When we see other people’s sinful behaviour,
It is the easiest thing in the world to start feeling superior,
To think that, faced with the same circumstances, we wouldn’t be that sinful.
But Leon Morris, a very wise Australian theologian, once said “Fallible sinners”, that’s us, “Fallible sinners, must never assume that they will not do something as bad as the sin they discern in other people.”
But more often than not I think that is our assumption, that we would be different.
The restoration of someone who is caught in sin, is not an opportunity for gloating or finger pointing, or displays of self-righteousness,
It’s an opportunity for Christ’s people, to restore one of Christ’s people.
The Apostle James says in chapter 5 of his letter, My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, 20 remember this:, Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death!
Which part of that don’t we understand?
Which part of “save them from death” do we think is less important than the possibility of a frayed relationship,
Or the danger of being told we’ve overstepped the line of social norms,
Which part of “you who have the Holy Spirit should restore him or her gently” do we think applies to someone else?
Wouldn’t it be just wonderful, to be part of a community that was known, for its love,
And for that love to be evident in the way we look out for each other, when someone is struggling with sin.
Put on love, everyday
Some of you who grew up in Sunday School or went on Beach Missions will remember the song , “put on love every day, do not hide your love away, don’t save love for a special day, ”
Well, that’s fulfilling the law of Christ.
I’d love to see us take that seriously.
And in terms of how we respond if someone , in love , points out sin in our own life,
When someone puts their finger on some sin, I don’t like it!
But if you come to me, in love, because my behavior is sinful, you’re doing that to fulfill the law of Christ.
If I then get angry at you,
Or say you shouldn’t have done that,
Or I just totally ignore what you’re saying,
What am I doing?
I’m setting myself up in opposition to the law of Christ,
I’m saying, “don’t bring that law of Christ over here!”
“Don’t do what Jesus told you to do , near me!”
How could we be so foolish?
Is it loving, to let someone continue in sin?
Is it loving to let someone go down a path that is only ever going to lead them away from God, never towards God. Never more like Christ.
Or is it loving to say, “I’m concerned about this area of your life.”
I’m concerned that you seem to be disobeying what God has said in his Word.
Please tell me how I can help you be free from this sin.
Friends, let’s put on love every day!
In the years after the Kitty Genovese killing, there have been various attempts to explain away that headline of 37 who did nothing.
Some have said that number was way off, that there wasn’t anywhere near that many people present,
That those nearby didn’t choose not to get involved,
Some have claimed it’s more myth than reality.
Which, maybe it is. And yet 10 years later, in an apartment building overlooking the spot where Kitty Genovese was stabbed, another young woman was murdered on Christmas morning. Neighbours later said they’d heard screams and the noise a fierce struggle, but admitted they did nothing.
The bystander effect strikes again.
Wouldn’t it be awful, if, 10 years from now, someone were to look at us, and discover that we were no more likely, to get involved, to love a brother or sister caught in sin, no more likely than before we heard God speak to us today?
Will you, love me, like this?
And will you let me, and your brothers and sisters here, love you?