The Spiritual Life and Care of the Church (Gal 5:26-6:5)

We have been in Galatians for 5 months now.  Methodically walking through one of the masterpieces of the Canon.  If you recall one of the first quotes I gave about Galatians was from Martin Luther.  He said, “It is my Catherine.” I hope that as we have explored the simple message of the Gospel these 5 months that you have been encouraged to hold fast to the Faith.  I pray that Christ is your one savior and that all other saviors pale in comparison to his life, death and resurrection.  I trust that Peter’s life served as a warning that falling from the present experience of Grace is disastrous, and legalism is treacherous.  I assure you that the gift of being a child of God is of inestimable value.

Now these past few weeks we have been learning that Christian faith brings freedom, the freedom to love and the freedom to bear fruit: Fruit that lasts, fruit that is ripe and juicy, tasty and filling.  I hope that you are encouraged that every true believer is a fruit bearing tree, every believer, albeit in various quantities and qualities bears the fruit of God’s Spirit.  Doesn’t this give us great hope?  Can’t we fall in love with this letter, just like Martin Luther fell in love with Catherine?  I hope you have fallen more in love with it, for this letter testifies to the goodness of Jesus, just as all Scripture does.  In fact fall in love with the letter, but be totally enraptured with the person to whom it points.  Jesus is amazing, and nothing less.

This morning Paul moves into some practical advice for the Christian. He gives some wisdom about living and some injunctions about church life.  So given the context of the letter, that Faith trusts in Christ alone, and also that faith is fruitful, for Christ is a living tree and not a dead one, lets jump in.  The first words Paul gives us are Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other (Gal 5:26).

This is the natural way people behave, is it not?  We go through life with exaggerated claims of indispensability, we carry messiah syndromes, and we constantly compare ourselves to others in order to establish our value and worth, so that in the very next breath we can tell others about how great we are.  Max Lucado has an excellent little book about Wemmicks who carry boxes and balls, or who get painted various colors and then refuse to even pay attention to their countrymen and women who aren’t as “with-it” as they are.  I encourage you to read it/ because conceit is dangerous stuff, in fact the Word records that Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall (Prov. 16:18).

Paul reminds us that from conceit or pride comes the provoking and envying of others.  There is no need to provoke someone if you respect them, but if you deem them less than yourself; if they are below you then it is perfectly acceptable to treat them with hostility, to identify their weaknesses and unfruitfulness and to pick on it until they are angry or envious of what everyone else has but they don’t. Instead of rejoicing in another’s gifts, which is the proper Christian response to God’s grace at work in a believer, our natural response, all too often, is to desire them for ourselves and wish they didn’t have them any longer.  All three of these responses: conceit, provocation and envy come from the natural man, and all of them lead to death and destruction.  They are selfish instead of selfless, they are of the world instead of being from God.

If our natural inclination is to be conceited and self-focused, then how should we live?  What is the Christian life to look like in the church and out of it?  Instead of doing those natural things, look around and be unnatural.  Look around and love, be selfless, be giving, and be redemptive.  Look around and be Jesus to the world.  That is essentially what it boils down to.  Here’s how.

If someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently (Gal 6:1).  I love the words Paul uses.  First, they are addressed to everyone.  He says brothers, but implied in the meaning is men and women, boys and girls.  Everyone.  Why do I say that? Because every Christian is spiritual.  Every single believer in the Lord Jesus Christ has been born both of water and of the spirit.  Christians are by definition, spiritual people, spiritually alive, spiritually enlivened, spiritually cognizant.  We are the very handiwork of God’s spirit.  In fact, Romans 8:9b-10 makes the statement, if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.

So generally every believer is addressed.  We all have this responsibility that is coming up, but especially those believers who are ripe with producing fruit, those people who have grown in love to such an extent, those people who have grown in joy, and peace and patience.  That is a big one, how can you restore one if you aren’t patient, and willing to labor alongside a fellow sinner.  Those people who have grown in kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control will be needed to help those in sin.  There are at least 2 reasons why this is true.

First, sin catches people and only those who can see sin plainly and understand that it can easily trip you up will be able to respond in grace and gentleness.  Second, it takes gentleness to remove a wounded animal from a snare; otherwise it may turn on you.  It may turn on you either way, but gentleness improves your chances of success.

About a month ago, I heard the birds in my yard just go nuts.  I couldn’t figure it out.  There were suddenly 5 ravens making a racket.  After a few moments, I went to the back to investigate.  Actually, I went back there with a stone in my hand to throw at the birds.  What I found was a raven with his foot caught in a rat trap.  The bird was stuck, hanging upside down, every once in a while flapping hard trying to get away, then in exhaustion, dropping upside down.

That is what Paul is talking about when he writes if someone is caught in a sin.  Sin is like that snare that seems to have an uncanny ability to catch us and hold us, even when we don’t want to be caught, we end up like a fish trapped by its gills, or a bird caught in a trap and It takes a skillful person to get both out.  You can’t just start ripping at the fish, or the net, for one or the other will be damaged, you have to carefully unwrap the animal. Paul could have used any of the other terms defining the fruit of the Spirit.  And to be sure, it takes love, peace, patience, and all the rest, but more than anything it takes gentleness.  Gentleness in the approach, gentleness in the words, gentleness in the extrication, gentleness in the mending.  Gentleness is the key to helping people out of sin.  Imagine if I had come at the raven yelling and moving quickly with a stick in my hands.  The bird would never have believed me a friend.  The fact is, I had to move slowly, speak softly and work at the right time, in the animals exhaustion, in order to be effective and to free my winged friend.

The same is true with humans.  Imagine if you had fallen down a pit and on the way to the bottom you broke some bones, got scratched up and were generally in a bad mood.  You are stuck at the bottom, in pain but no one comes for a long time and so you begin to think this is home.  Life is as it should be, then one day someone offers to get you out of the pit and mend your deformed body (mind you, the bones have set themselves).  At first you aren’t going to want to go, especially not if the first thing they do is to take out a lead pipe and break your bones again in order to reset them properly.  That wouldn’t be gentle, it would cause provocation.  So it is when we approach the sinner, the first thing we do shouldn’t be to offer help and then pull out our pipe and beat them for their own good. First, we need to approach them in gentleness and humility with the gospel, identifying with their sin and ours, but inviting them to a better place.  We can’t ignore the sin, for we must restore them, it is our charge, but we must do it gently.  How often do sinners feel like we identify with them in their plight?  How often we share our own struggles as we help them out of theirs?

There are no hard and fast rules governing gentleness.  The situation dictates the means.  Sometimes fast and speedy extrication makes the most sense, but more often than not slow and methodical is what is needed most.  When I was 20 my Intervarsity staff worker pulled me aside and said, “Scott, here are the sins I see in your life.  What are you going to do to deal with them?” I knew they were sins and I knew I needed a mentor to help me out of them, so I said, would you be willing to meet with me to work on this, to which he replied, “No, I don’t have the time.” That wasn’t gentle.  It was fast and speedy, but not gentle.  Had he told me he would have met with me, the whole picture would have changed, the fast and speedy is what I needed to be uncaught, but with help, not left alone in the net, on the shore, without any oxygen to breathe.  I spent 4 years with serious anger and frustration issues because of that interaction.

And Paul goes on, watch out or you may also be tempted (Gal 6:1b).  Sin is tricking stuff, and it keeps sneaking up on us to trap us.  We may be tempted to judge our brother, we may be tempted to enter into his or her sin with them; after all, they may have a great reason why they are sinning, that makes “perfect sense.” Never mind the fact that sin makes us stupid and impairs our thinking and reasoning skills.  We may be tempted to fall into unspiritual attitudes of legalism or license.  In fact there are countless things we could be tempted by, we must keep that on our radar and guard against each and every one of them as we serve our downed family member in Christ.  Just as firefighters are told to take precautions on entering the fire so that they don’t become one of the victims, so Paul is urging us that our work is dangerous, take precautions.

In verse 2, we find the reason why we are to aid our brother.  Carry each other’s burdens and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. When we carry their burdens, not for them, but away from them.  When we restore our brothers and sisters to Christ and his message of liberation from sin, then we give them the freedom to love.  Not only that, then we do truly love, just as Christ loved us.  For if you recall, it is Jesus who bore the burden of our sin on the cross, carrying it as far away from us as the east is from the west.  Christ stood up under the weight of crushing separation from God.  Christ bore our sin with great patience as he hung on the cross. Indeed God bears with great patience the objects of his wrath (Rom. 9:22), and he bears with even greater patience those whom he loves and calls and sanctifies.  Why?  Because God loves to bear the sinner away from the sin. It is Christ-like to invest yourself in the work of redeeming one from the shackles of death.  In fact it is this love, sacrificial love, characterized by the words law of Christ, which sets me free from the law of sin and death (Rom. 8:2).

The final piece of advice, Paul relates from the mouth of God is this: Don’t deceive yourselves. Test your own actions…without comparing yourself to others (Gal 6:3).  Look at your own life; take stock of your own sin, your own needs and your own failings.  Recognize how utterly destitute you are without Jesus and his life-giving Spirit Then you will be in a position to help other sinners like yourself.  Then you will be humble, not prideful, loving not provocative, gracious not envious.  O may we not accept others sins, may we not ignore their sin, or even grudgingly tolerate it, instead, may we in humbleness serve our fellow Christians and the world by carrying them from death, to life, just as the paralytics friends bore him to Jesus and even dug through the roof in order to get him released from his infirmity (Mark 2:1-12). Such is what it means to gently restore the one caught in a sin…fulfilling the law of Christ (Gal 6:1-2 parts).

Conclusion:

  1. Gently restore sinners
    1. Identify with them, take time
    2. Help them, don’t coddle them
  2. Watch out not to sin while helping…bear sin away, don’t carry it along with them
  3. Why?  B/c to do above two is to love
  4. Test self in comparison to Christ not others
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About Scott Roberts

pastor of Hope in Christ Church, Bellingham, WA
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