Galatians 6:1 – 18
Should I get involved?
The Weekend Australian Magazine used to run a regular feature called “Modern Dilemmas.”
A “social problem” of some kind would be presented, and 3 different people, with 3 different worldviews would give their opinion on the right way to address the dilemma.
So there’d be someone with a legal background,
One person was a humanist, that is, they’re concerned with the values and the intrinsic worth of humans,
And usually they had an ethicist as well.
And these people would give their take on the issue that some reader had written in with, something like:
“A 4 year-old guest at my house has bad manners, can I tell them off?”
Or “My best friend’s husband is having an affair with another woman., Should I tell my friend?”
And on the whole, the answers that were given, particularly from the humanist perspectives, tended to say things like:
“You don’t have the right to tell someone else how to behave, even in your house, and even if they’re 4”
“Don’t get involved in somebody else’s life, even if you see it crumbling around them, ”
“Don’t help someone until you’ve been asked to help, and even then, be a very wary, and somewhat withdrawn, if you want to be a true friend.”
Week after week, that was the kind of advice that was given. But every time I read it, I just thought, surely there’s more to my relationships, than standing at arms’ length when things go badly for my friends.
Because some of those modern dilemmas were real issues.
Think of the same sorts of things that we might face:
You discover that one of your Christian 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 goes to a church down the road, but you discover that every day, they take something from the office home with them, just little stuff, paper, pens, blank CDs, stationary.
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 church falls way short of the purity demanded by the gospel.
Maybe someone is being overtaken by greed.
Perhaps they’ve abandoned the gospel and the good news about Jesus Christ, and, like in Galatia in the 1st Century AD, they’ve fallen into the trap of relying on rule-keeping and religious performance to try and earn God’s favour.
Is it more important to intervene, in a situation like that, than if someone’s downloading music illegally off the internet?
How do I work out at what point I should step in?
And, who’s responsibility is it anyway?
The Pastor? – He’s paid to have those sorts of conversations with people, isn’t he?
Someone who’s a leader in the church,
At least an adult, maybe?
But is it even worth, risking a friendship? Because after all, if you tell someone they’re doing the wrong thing, you might not be very popular for a while,
Your relationship with that person is likely to suffer for a time, perhaps a long time.
This getting involved, is starting to sound pretty complicated isn’t it?
If we think about stepping in, when we see someone caught in sin, are we only setting ourselves up to get yelled at, or to lose a friend?
Truth be told, it’s a whole lot easier to stay on the sidelines, and keep quiet when our Christian friends are disobeying God.
Watch out for others
Galatians chapter 6 reads a bit like the end of a postcard where someone’s trying to fit in everything they haven’t got around to yet and they’re writing up the side and around the stamp and everywhere, but we’re really just going to stay in the first few verses, asking the question, what does life together as God’s people look like?
And in short, Galatians 5 says to us, if we’re Christians, staying silent and uninvolved not an option for us when brothers or sisters are caught in sin.
Verse 1, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.
Who came to mind, just then, when you read those words you who are spiritual?
Perhaps that phrase brings to mind some wise, older Christian, one of those people who just always seems to know the right thing to say and do, and many of us, have been fortunate to have been on the receiving end of wisdom, and grace, and insight from people like like.
Maybe you think of a Bible Study Group Leader,
Maybe someone who discipled you,
Maybe the person who first introduced you to Jesus.
But if you have your Bible there, look up just a few lines, at the 2nd part of the previous chapter. This is the section we looked at last week.
We’re presented with this contrast between on one hand, people who live according to the sinful nature, they put their broken humanity of autopilot and just follow that wherever it leads, and the other category of people, the only other category of people in the world, is people who are living by the Spirit, literally walking in step with the Spirit of God,
People whose lives are characterised by the fruit that the Spirit bears.
The chapter break with the big number 6 doesn’t come from Paul.
The chapter divisions in our Bibles only date from the 13th Century, and a man named Stephen Langton who went on to become Archbishop of Canterbury and draft the Magna Carta, among other things.
So you who are spiritual, follows straight on from what Paul’s just written. The spiritual ones are people who walk in the Spirit, who are led by the Spirit, and keep in step with the Spirit.
That is, it’s just Christian people!
It’s not talking about the pastor, not just the elders, not just those very experienced Christians who have been around forever and have seen it all.
All Christians have been freed from sin in Christ,
All Christians have the Spirit of God,
So all Christians can bring the grace of God to brothers and sisters who are caught in sin!
If you went home from last week, encouraged that on reflection, yes, actually, you can see the Spirit of God bearing fruit in your life,
Maybe a little bit,
Maybe a lot,
Maybe not as much as you wish, because of the constant struggle with your broken human nature, but the fruit is undeniably there, then you’re the kind of person that the Apostle Paul says should step in, when someone in your church, for example, is caught in a sin.
And the language here includes all sorts of different situations where someone is living as if God doesn’t exist that’s sin.
Sometimes people unintentionally fall into sin.
Sometimes people are not as discerning as they ought to be, they make bad choices.
Sometimes people struggle and struggle with the same sin, the same temptation,
Each one of those situations is a situation that Paul expects, Christian brothers and sisters will step into.
And with his talk about “restoring” that person, he’s imagining a Christian who is caught in sin.
He’s not talking about confronting someone who’s not a Christian with their sin.
The language of restoring is the language Matthew uses in his gospel when he describes James and John repairing their fishing nets, restoring their nets, chapter 4 verse 21.
It’s a picture of restoring something to its proper condition, returning it to its former glory we might say.
The new offices we’ve just moved into, our landlord had an old broken-down 1920s truck on the property. To look at it, you can see that it used to be a truck, but you can’t drive it down the street.
You can’t put stuff in the back of it.
It’s not fit for its intended purpose.
It’s definitely not as Henry Ford or whoever designed it imagined it would be.
But one day, Rob’s going to restore it, return it to its proper condition and former glory, and then it will be a shining example of everything it was intended to be.
That’s how we ought to think about restoring people who are caught in sin.
Carry each other’s burdens
Now, we’ll come back to the 2nd part of verse 1 in a moment, because Paul almost inserts that phrase But watch yourself in brackets, and then continues with the same line of thinking that he was on.
So did you see what he says in the second verse? Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
Having made such a big point all through the letter, of showing that Christianity is all about being freed from law, and from religious rule-keeping , what on earth does Paul mean when he talks about fulfilling the law of Christ?
Pretty sure he’s not saying he wants us back in bondage to rules and regulations, so what’s he on about?
Well, Jesus said a few things about rules and commandments during his earthly ministry,
John 13:34 , A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.
In Matthew 22 he 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. All the Law and the Prophets, hang on these two commandments.”
If we’ve been the recipients of such amazing love,
If we’ve come to understand such amazing love,
Then of course Paul could say in chapter 5 verse 14,
The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
The law of Christ, that is, the obligation on anyone and everyone who has been a recipient of measureless love, is to love!
To act out of love.
Love is a verb, DC Talk used to sing in the 80s, it’s a doing word.
Jesus’ teaching wasn’t just about love, but the kind of love that Jesus commands and demonstrates by dying in our place while we were his enemies, sums up, shows the working out, of his teaching.
And the way we fulfill this law of Christ, according to Paul, is to carry one another’s burdens, and grammatically, we know he means, “in an ongoing way”, “keep on carrying one another’s burdens.”
There’s a difference between stopping and picking up something that someone 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.
The word Paul uses here is just your average every day word for a heavy load, and there are all sorts of heavy loads that people carry in life, aren’t there?
You know the burdens, that you carry,
You know the burdens of others around you,
Christian people, those who are walking in step with the Spirit of God should willingly carry the burdens of those around them,
Whether they be the struggles of faith,
The temptation to fall back into the weak and miserable religion of rule-keeping and performance,
The burden of financially providing for those who teach the Word of God, as Paul goes on to speak about in verse 6,
The burdens of sickness, relationship breakdown, we might add, the struggle to find employment,
The difficulty at times, of raising children,
And of course, the burden of ongoing struggles with sin.
When I was a kid, the Good News Bible I had, had a picture on this page, a line of stick figures, each with a burden, a bag or a load of some kind over 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 load.”
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’s just an insight into the way my mind worked as a young child, it is kind of the picture that Paul has in mind of the church.
See If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.
Paul’s not saying, you’re worthless, you’re rubbish, don’t get uppity and start thinking above your station.
But to think that you’re entirely self-sufficient and that you have no need to engage with anyone else, is not a sign of strength, but a sign of pride.
If you think your religious efforts count for something before God, you’re sadly mistaken.
God carries our burdens through the work 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,
Don’t the Psalms promise rest from God himself?
Aren’t we invited to cast our cares upon him?
And the answer is yes, of course! That is exactly what God offers and promises to those who come to him, and accept the forgiveness made possible through Jesus’ death.
But part of the way that God himself carries our burdens, is through the ministry and care and compassion of other people.
Listen to the way Paul describes his experience of being seriously burdened, and how God provided for him.
2 Corinthians chapter 7 verse 5, For when we came into Macedonia, this body of ours 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,
Paul had seen the risen Lord Jesus, face to face, once before,
On another occasion he was caught up to heaven in some kind of miraculous vision,
There’s no shortage of communication between God and Paul,
And yet how does God bring comfort to Paul in this situation?
Through the coming, the ministry, the words, no doubt the ears, and the prayers, of Titus.
See nowhere in the Bible do we find a self-sufficient Christian.
There’s no such thing as a self-sufficient Christian
That’s actually an entirely un-Christian idea.
But it’s not new, the Roman philosopher Seneca who was writing at the time of Galatians, he wrote, “The primary sign of a well-ordered mind, is a man’s ability to remain in one place and linger in his own company.”
That was the mantra of the Stoics, become an island,
That was their highest intention for life.
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 might be tempted to do at times, with the burdens that some brothers and sisters come to us with, but carry each other’s burdens.
No doubt carrying one another’s burdens will look a lot like exercising the fruit of the Spirit in other people’s lives,
Speaking the Word of Christ into the situations of life,
Praying for others, as if their burdens were our own,
Doing what we can, practically, to provide for their needs, and to help keep them walking in step with the Spirit as he leads us to Christ.
Imagine what that 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 is a danger, When we seek to restore people who are caught in sin,
And it’s not the danger that the Weekend Australian Magazine would warn us about, broken friendships, furrowed brows, social ostracism, although all those things may happen!
The greatest danger is that the Christian person who isn’t caught in this particular sin, gets involved in the situation and finds themselves facing the same temptation and succumbs themselves. 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 the second part of verse 1, watch yourself, or you also may be tempted, or verse 4, Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else,
Paul changes his language halfway through that first verse,
He switches from the plural, “brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in sin”, to the singular, watch yourself.
He’s changing focus from the collective responsibility of the whole church, to the individual responsibility of each person.
Yes . restore a brother or sister caught in sin,
Yes, watch out, get involved, take an active interest in the lives, especially the spiritual lives of those around you, but the primary responsibility for the extent to which you’re walking in step with the Spirit, lies with you.
Now, Paul doesn’t contradict himself, when we get to verses 4 & 5, Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, 5 for each one should carry his own load.
The words in the original, as in our NIV Bible, are different. Burden is something big and heavy, the word for load describes a person’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 Andy Buchan”, or “Compared to Ben Walker, I’m really pretty good!”
As for how I have chosen to use the freedom that Christ won for me on the cross, I have to carry that myself, no one else can stand before God and do that for me.
As John Stott the British pastor says, “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, it’s her fault!”
I heard once about a meeting of the pastor and elders of a particular church, except, one of the elders wasn’t there, because he had fallen into sin, behaviour that the Bible was very clear, was not appropriate for a Christian.
The pastor wanted to take one of the other elders with him to go and talk to this person about the situation he had got himself in, and how to help him be free of it.
So he asked his elders, “If you had been faced with this particular temptation, what would you have done?”
And one by one the elders said, “I would have prayed about it,”
“I would have resisted the temptation”, until one of the elders there said, “Well, if I’d been faced with that temptation, I quite possibly would have fallen just like he has, ” To which the pastor replied, “then you’re the one, who’s going to come with me, to talk to our brother who’s caught in sin.”
Now that’s a sort of a warm fuzzy story, and you can take it too far, but it makes an important point.
When we see other people who have fallen into sin,
Or who are struggling with some ongoing sin in their lives,
It’s 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, who was for many years the principal of Ridley College in Melbourne 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 “spiritual people”, people walking in step with the Spirit, to display the fruit of the Spirit.
“If your brother sins,” Jesus said, “go and correct him” (Matt 18:15).
The Apostle James says in chapter 5 of his letter, “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death!
Which part of that don’t we understand?
Which part of “save his soul from death” do we think is less important than the danger 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?
Yes, we might be accused of interfering.
It might be that our friend doesn’t like hearing about their sin.
People might think we’re trying to impose our view and our moral standard on someone else.
But 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,
And also in how we respond when someone points out sin in our own life.
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, ” 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 does that to me, puts their finger on some sin, my first response is to get angry!
But if you come to me, in love, because I’m caught in sin, 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 disregard 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?
So back to our situations, where our friends are caught in a sin.
Whether it’s what people think is little stuff, Illegal downloads, or bigger stuff, sexual purity, whatever, The question we need to ask is the same.
What does love look like then?
What is it to be loving to your Christian friend, who has got caught up in this wrong behaviour?
On my bookshelf I have a book on Christian ethics, actually it was my ethics textbook when I was at theological college, and it’s called “The How and Why of Love.”
The author says, as Christian people, we should be seeking to live in what he calls “mutual love relationships.”
When I need to make a decision about how I relate to someone,
What I do to them, or for them, my first question should be, what course of action will reflect the love that I have for them in Christ.
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,
That’s what love is like!
This morning we welcomed Laney, recognising her as a fellow disciple of Jesus, will you love her, like this?
As she grows and takes her place in this community, will you let her love you, like this?
Will you, love me, like this? I’m not immune.
And will you let me, and your brothers and sisters here, love you like this?