MESSAGE FOR JANUARY 11, 2009 FROM GALATIANS 5:22-26
This week, we return to our study of Paul’s letter to the Galatians as we begin chapter six. In order for us to get the message from today’s text, we must see it in its context within the letter. It’s very common to assume that because there is a new chapter beginning here, that Paul has moved to a completely different subject. He hasn’t. He is still talking about life in the Spirit as that is seen in the local church. Paul writes his section on what it means to live by the Spirit and not by the flesh in response to what was happening in these Galatians churches. He says in 5:14, “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.” It’s clear there were some nasty interpersonal conflicts occurring in the church, the broad answer for which was love--which fulfilled the law.
Paul tells the Galatians that the way to live out God-like qualities like love is to walk by the Spirit so that they would not gratify the sinful desires of their selfish flesh. He then explains what that means by detailing the difference between walking by the Spirit and walking according to the sinful flesh. He first gives a list of characteristics associated with the flesh—things like fits of anger, rivalries, envy etc…and then a list of characteristics of a life governed by the Spirit—love joy, peace and gentleness, etc… Paul concludes that part of his teaching on the Spirit by saying in verse 25, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.”
Paul is writing to churches that had fallen prey to their fleshly, fallen desires to bite,
devour, become conceited, envy and provoke one another.
Paul is calling these believers—who have the Holy Spirit, to allow the Holy
Spirit, not their flesh dictate their behaviors and attitudes.
As we come to chapter six, all of those truths are the backdrop for what
Paul says here. In this chapter, Paul begins by applying this call to walk by the Spirit to a specific situation
where they were especially vulnerable given their tendency to be conceited and envy and bite one another. He cites a situation
that involves relating to one another because that’s where they had been having problems. Specifically, Paul tells the Galatians how they are to respond to someone who has been
overtaken by sin and calls them to live that out in this context of life in the Spirit.
Beginning with verse one he writes, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” We see the connection to the previous section in two places in this verse. First, he addresses this to “you who are spiritual.” He’s not talking to an elite group of people--as if only certain select, spiritual giants could address sin in another believer’s life. He’s saying—you who are spiritual—who have the Holy Spirit and who I have just reminded to walk by the Spirit. He also ties this section to the last one in how he tells them they should treat this sinning believer. He says it should be done “in a spirit of gentleness.” Again, he has just mentioned four verses earlier that gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit. Their response to a believer trapped in sin should be driven by the Holy Spirit as seen in their gentleness. Paul continues with this treatment on the Spirit-driven response to another believer’s sin. “Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. 2Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. 3For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. 5For each will have to bear his own load.”
In some ways, we need to see this teaching in even the broader context of what Jesus says about how to deal with fellow believers who sin. Paul here elaborates on what Jesus says on this topic in Matthew 18. There, Jesus gives the broad checklist of how to deal with a fellow believer in sin—go to the offending brother and confront him, if necessary, next bring witnesses, then if necessary, bring him before the church. That’s the structure—that’s the skeleton of how to deal with a brother or sister in sin. Here, in Galatians six, Paul puts flesh on those bones. To apply this to Jesus’ earlier teaching in Matthew chapter seven, Paul here explains what is involved in pulling the speck from an erring brother or sister’s eye—what it looks like to pull the log out of your own eye. This is delicate work requiring divine, Holy Spirit assistance and Paul tells us how this must be done. We mustn’t miss the irony of how Paul treats this topic. That is--in a text telling us how to respond to a fellow believer in sin, two thirds of Paul’s treatment is directed toward how we are to think about ourselves and our own vulnerability to sin. That’s very consistent with what Jesus taught about first getting the log out of our own eye.
Now that we have looked at the text with a telescope, let’s get out the microscope and see what is specifically involved in ministering to someone who is caught in sin. What specifically is Paul’s concern here? He states it like this, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression…” The situation in view involves someone who is caught—that is “overtaken” or “entrapped” by a sin. In a careless moment or season of their life, the believer gives into sin, perhaps to their own surprise and end up being entrapped by it. Jesus says in John 8:34, “…Truly, truly I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” Sin enslaves—it’s much easier to get into sin than it is to get out of it. In this hypothetical situation Paul writes about, the sin of this believer is not something they can easily leave and repent from so as to be free. It has them and they have in some way given themselves over to it. It is probably an overt act or pattern of behavior, but it could also be a bad desire or attitude that others see expressed outwardly.
How do we deal with that situation? It’s probably good to remind ourselves first how we do NOT respond to someone trapped in sin. We do not ignore it. This is perhaps the most frequent response in the church—to turn your head and pretend not to notice it. We may wish that we never come to know about it, but we are not free to neglect our brother or sister who is trapped. You’ll notice it does not say, “Wait till the pastors discover it and they will deal with it.” That’s not there. Pastoral leadership may need to be involved at some point, but this is an issue to be addressed first by members of the body—those who have the Spirit and are in that sense “spiritual.” Second, we do not gossip about it. The response of the Holy Spirit is never to say—“now that you know this, you need to go out and tell a bunch of other people about it.” There may be a need for others to know at some point, but gossip is not a Spirit-driven response. Finally, we do not condemn the person. We’ll see that more clearly as we move into the text. Those are all fleshly responses to sin. I find four responses Paul gives to this situation that are consistent with what he has said about living in the Spirit.
First, as we respond to a fellow believer in sin, we must see it as a ministry of restoration. For anyone caught in any transgression Paul says “those who are spiritual should restore him…” The word “restore” means to “fix” or “rehabilitate.” It’s used in the gospels for mending torn fishing nets. That may look differently in different situations. In a person who is genuinely grieved by their sin and looking desperately to be free but just needs encouragement, this may mean only reminding them of the promises of the gospel and guiding them through a process of repentance. In a person who is in denial of their sin—who is trying to justify it or run away from the church, it means helping them in love by prayer and the word so that they will by God’s grace come to see how evil their sin is, how much God hates it and how it is destroying them. The intervention may be different in each case, but whatever the situation, the Scriptures are adequate to teach us what is required. We should not be looking to the world for answers here. They don’t have them. Whatever the specific response, the goal and the spirit behind this is to bring about the believer’s restoration. We must see ourselves in this situation as those sent by God on a rescue mission for this person’s soul.
The gospel should always direct our behavior toward everyone and that is certainly true of one caught in sin. Think about the gospel. Jesus never punished our sin—he became the punishment—he took the punishment for our sin. Jesus never condemned us for our sin—he took our condemnation upon himself. Jesus never judged us for our sin—he took the just judgment for our sin upon himself. That’s the gospel. If Jesus didn’t punish us or condemn us or judge us (and as God he had every right to do those things,) then how can we, as fellow sinners be right in doing those things to someone else? The gospel dictates that we minister to fellow sinners with the grace that we have received.
This may mean being very direct and confrontational with someone about their
sin—giving grace is not the same as being “
Sin is wrong. It is lawlessness, but their offense is first and foremost against God, not you. He has a right to condemn, but he has chosen to allow that condemnation to be taken by his Son. If all we have to say to a fellow believer caught in sin is, “that’s wrong” then we are only giving them half the truth and are not bringing them to restoration. That’s not the way people who walk by the Spirit respond. As we respond to a fellow believer in sin, we must see it as a ministry of restoration. Related to this is the prepositional phrase that follows the verb “restore.” We are to restore them “in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you be tempted.” In the original language there is no break in sentence between “gentleness” and “keep watch on yourself.” Literally, it reads, “restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, keeping watch on yourself.” The two truths can’t be separated. A second response we are to have toward those who are caught in sin is: we must be gentle as we acknowledge our own fallenness.
The point is that the gentleness we are to show in restoration is directly related to our own understanding that we too are vulnerable to sin. If you look at a fellow believer in sin and say to yourself, “I would never, ever, ever do that” you’re not only self righteous, you won’t be very gentle to those trapped by sin. We see this dynamic with soon-to-be parents all the time. Most people know much more about parenting before they actually have children than they do after they have been at it for a little while. Personally, before Michele and I had kids, I was downright encyclopedic in my understanding of the parental role. I was a veritable fountainhead of parental wisdom. I remember sitting on an airplane directly in front of a screaming baby and thinking all sorts of unworthy thoughts about those irresponsible parents who wouldn’t shut up their kid—as if the child came equipped with some sort of on-off switch. Likewise, when I heard stories of kids who strayed from the fold, I was lightning quick to pass judgment on the parents. Now that I have my own teens and pre-teens, I have become a self-proclaimed ignoramus in the parenting department and now, when I hear of a family that is experiencing problems with their kids, my heart is much more like to break in pieces for them than to stand in judgment over them.
Even though gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit, Paul indicates that something that spurs on gentleness in bringing restoration to a person caught in sin is the reminder that we too are weak and vulnerable. The expression, “There but by the grace of God go I” is not a pithy expression. It expresses a profound theological truth that we must always keep in mind. The Psalmist says of God in Psalm 103:14, “For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” Not only does this hearken back to our creation from the earth, it also testifies that we are not impressive beings. We are dust. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:7, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” We are extraordinarily ordinary and very breakable.
We are jars of clay. There are no steel-reinforced believers. When we come to Christ, we do not become spiritually bullet proof. We are equipped with the Holy Spirit and given everything we need for life and godliness. We don’t want to undermine the power available to us through the Holy Spirit—that would undermine chapter five. But we are also full of sin. That’s the tension of the Christian life in between Christ’s first and second comings. Paul writes autobiographically in Romans 7:15, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” Our indwelling sin is always there and we must be ever-vigilant so that we do not fall into sin.
We must understand—we must take complete ownership of the truth--that the only thing keeping any of us from the most scandalous sin is the grace of God. Do we really believe that? All that needs to happen for us to commit the most destructive sins to ourselves, our families, our church is for us to be in the middle of one of our many profoundly weak moments in a weak area of our spiritual life, at the same moment that we are confronted with a powerful temptation in that weak moment within our weak area. If that happens, we will fall. And the ONLY thing that keeps our profoundly weak moments and a powerful temptation from regularly converging and bringing us down is the grace of God.
That is truth we must all internalize for the good of our souls generally, but we must also live this out if we are to be gentle to those who are caught in any sin. “Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” That Spirit-driven attitude opens the door to a spirit of gentleness. That attitude will help insulate us from gossip, too. If we are convinced it could happen to us and we feel that vulnerability, we will be far less likely to want to run out and spread the dirt because that could just as easily be OUR dirt! This understanding of our own vulnerability will keep us from a condemning heart because if we truly believe that “there by the grace of God go I,” then condemning someone else would be like condemning ourselves. In relation to a fellow believer trapped in sin, we must be gentle as we acknowledge our own fallenness.
A third response to those in sin is in verse two. Paul writes, “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” As we respond to a fellow believer in sin, we must view this as part of our responsibility to one another to be burden bearers. Most of the time when we hear that we are to bear one another’s burdens, we think of things like prayer ministry or helps ministry or encouragement ministry or financial assistance ministry and all of those things are legitimate applications of bearing someone’s burden. It’s interesting however that here, where the expression is actually used; the context is about bearing a spiritual burden—bearing the burden of someone else’s sin. Christ bore our burden redemptively on the cross as our substitute—he bore the penalty we deserved. But here, we get to be like Christ, not in bearing the penalty of their sin, but by bearing it in the sense that we can help each other overcome the pain and destructive power of our sin.
When a believer is caught in the live-trap of sin, they often cannot get free without help from someone else. Someone needs to take that burden of sin through things like prayer and encouragement and gentle admonishing and rebuke. The Christian life is simply not an individual event—it’s a team sport. Paul writes about spiritual maturity in Ephesians chapter four. He says, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” We grow into Christ who equips the church so that the body grows as it builds itself up in love. But that is dependent upon “speaking the truth in love” and “each part working properly.” Our maturity is dependent in part upon the body doing its part. Speaking the truth in love and each part working properly is part of what Paul means by burden-bearing in the context of a believer who is trapped in a sin.
Often, we are so weakened by our sin—so full of shame or so completely deceived by it, that we need others to come and pick us up in some way. Again, the specific expression of this will differ from case to case. It may include excommunication if it is done for the purpose of restoration. That is a burden to be borne by the church, but we must do it when it is necessary for restoration. Paul says in verse two, when we do those burden-bearing things we “fulfill the law of Christ.” Earlier in the series, we mentioned how Paul could use the phrase “the law of Christ” in a letter filled with teaching on our freedom from the Law. This law of Christ is not the Mosaic Law to be obeyed in order to be saved as the false teachers taught. This is the fulfillment of the law we saw earlier in 5:14, “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love fulfills the law and when we bear one another’s burdens we are showing NOT condemnation or a judgmental spirit. If we work to restore the sinning believer in a spirit of gentleness, we are loving them. When we confront a believer caught in some sin, we must view this as part of our responsibility to one another to be burden-bearers.
A final response is seen in verses three to five. Paul says, “For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. 5For each will have to bear his own load.” It’s easy to wonder how these verses relate to the previous ones, but we know they do because of that connective word “for” that begins verse three. Paul is warning us of a particular temptation that comes in contexts where someone else has been caught in sin. That is—we must not allow others’ sin to compel us to conceit through comparison. Again, Paul knows that removing a speck is delicate work and for one prideful, redeemed sinner to restore another requires the grace of humility. What he is basically saying here is, “You are nothing spiritually apart from grace, so don’t allow the occasion of someone else who has sinned to cause you to think you are something. That’s a lie—don’t be impressed with yourself because you haven’t sinned as they have. Don’t compare yourself with them—test your performance on the basis of what God has called you to do—not in comparison to this brother’s failure. You will be evaluated by God on what you have done, not on a comparative basis with someone else’s sin.”
Our pride is so diabolical. We can easily use the sin of others to make ourselves feel good about ourselves, when in truth we are nothing apart from God’s grace. Satan loves to multiply his deception. He deceives one believer and they are caught in sin. Then, he takes that deception and he works to parlay it into multiple deceptions—“That’s too bad about so-and-so. Aren’t you glad you’re not like that?” Paul cuts the cord to that prideful impulse by saying something like you mother’s say to your children. One child fails or disobeys and their sibling feels the duty to come and express to you their manifest moral superiority, “Aren’t you glad I don’t do that?” At that point, part of your response should be, “Don’t worry about your brother; you’ve got your own sins to worry about, missy.” That’s the gist of the message here. Don’t allow the sin of someone else to lull you into a sense of your own spiritual superiority.
This is easy for us prideful people to do, so we need to realize the temptation before we get into this situation. This is part of taking the log out of your eye before you remove the speck from our brother’s eye. This matter of church discipline can manifest all the offices of Christ within the church. By that I mean that Christ has three offices—Prophet, Priest and King. As his church, we are to manifest his prophetic office by speaking the truth to those in sin. We must also at times show his Kingly authority, by placing those who are unrepentant outside the church. But from Galatians six, we see that the priestly office of Christ should also very much be seen. The priest is one who brings sinners to back to God through sacrifice and prayer. That’s what Paul is talking about when he speaks of restoration and bearing one another’s burden and doing it all in a spirit of gentleness and humility. When the church does this correctly, Christ is seen very clearly, his children are restored, the church is purified and God is honored. May God give us the grace to live this out in all of our relationships with believers—not shrinking back from our responsibility to one another and to God.
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