Free to Love
July 20, 2003 © 2003, J.W. Carter
www.biblicaltheology.com Scripture quotes from KJV
Paul is bringing this hard-hitting letter to the Galatians to a close. He has just contrasted the acts of sinful nature against the fruits of the spirit, declaring that those who belong to Christ have put the sinful nature to death. He leaves them with instructions regarding relating to one another.
One of the patterns of Paul's writing style is that he first exposes a problem, usually quite graphically and states his position pertaining to the problem. Then he gives detailed instruction on how to deal with and overcome the problem. Often these latter portions of his writings offer excellent advice on Christian living. The sixth chapter of Galatians is such a segment of scripture.
1Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.
What are we to do when a Christian has committed a sin in the past, and has both confessed and repented of it, that is, admitted to it before God and stopped the sinful act? We are to forgive them as God has, restoring fellowship with them completely. God has given to Christians a Spirit of Reconciliation through the Holy Spirit, a spirit that should inspire the restoration of a fallen soul to full and meaningful fellowship with believers. How do Christians typically react to another Christian who has been through this experience? Often we see condemnation, finger-pointing, rejection and condemnation. Note that the key to this discussion is the forgiveness that comes with confession and repentance.
This verse in Galatians refers to one who has not yet confessed and repented. We have a tendency in such a situation to bring condemnation and criticism upon the one "overtaken in a fault." However, it is instructive to remember Paul's statement in Ephesians 6:12, "We battle not against flesh and blood ..." When dealing with conflict among Christians, the enemy is never one another. The enemy is Satan, and the spirit of disunity and disobedience that he engenders. Satan succeeds when he can get Christians bickering among one another.
In the case of one who has not confessed and repented what should we do, according to this verse, to avoid falling into Satan's snare? Christians are to respond in love, restoring the fallen one in a spirit of gentleness. Note the word that is translated meekness. This refers to strength brought under control, such as the taming of a horse, archaically referred to as "meeking." Christians are always to act in love. Often Christians react very harshly to one who is committing a sinful act. Any time we see such a response it can be clearly understood that such action is wrong, and sinful in itself. The scriptures teach us to go to the one who is sinning, taking another Christian with us and meet with the one, offering restoration through confession and repentance. Note the warning: we are to be careful not to be tempted. We should not compromise the truth to either meet the sinful act half-way, or to accept it or submit to it completely.
Rather than expose one another's faults, the world's culture has come to embrace one another's faults as acceptable behavior in the name of humanist "tolerance," using euphemisms to put a pretty name on ugly sins. It is tempting for the church to follow in the same path as the culture within which it lives, embracing sinful lifestyles in the name of love and tolerance, turning upside down God's plan of forgiveness and grace. Christians must be vigilant to maintain the truth of the Gospel, that we are all sinners in need of God's forgiveness, a forgiveness that is His response to our repentance. Brandishing our sin before God with no intent of repentance serves only to solidify our rebellion against Him. Therefore, when a Christian is in relationship with another who is overtaken by sin, it is appropriate that action is taken to bring that person to repentance and forgiveness so that the joy of their salvation and their relationship with God can be restored.
2Bear ye one anotherís burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
What does it mean to carry one another's burdens? What is the Law of Christ? Christians are to do all in love: the unconditional desire for the welfare of others, if necessary to our own sacrifice. If that sacrifice is to share a burden, then do it. Never forget: shared love multiplies our joys and divides our griefs. That burden may also be the sins of verse 1. When one is ensnared by an addiction to sin, we help bear that burden when we help that person to repent as also stated in verse 1. Often, when a Christian is dealing with a sin burden, rather than receiving love and help from friends in the faith, those friends turn their back on them when their love is needed most. Bearing burdens is not limited to a select set of burdens, but is rather inclusive of all of the tribulations that one suffers.
3For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself. 4But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another.
One of the dangers Christians fall into is the act of "finger-pointing", or condemning others for their acts. This philosophy of "I'm better than you" is both incorrect, and a sin in itself. We are called upon to test our own actions. By what measurement are we to make such an evaluation? The purity of our motives is measured by the purity of God. The proof of our actions is measured by God's Word. Before we take pride in ourselves, we must examine ourselves in the light of what God has required of us. An honest self-examination is required here. What will we find when we examine ourselves honestly? Without fail, we will uncover incorrect attitudes and actions, improper relationships with God and man, improper actions toward our spouses, friends, acquaintances and others. We will find sinful acts we have refused to confess and repent of ourselves. The end of such a self examination should be an attitude of humility and repentance. Verse 3 makes it clear that, though we might think of ourselves highly, when true introspection is engaged, we find ourselves to be nothing deserving of anything but separation from a just God. It is easier to follow the advice of verses 1 and 2 when we appropriate the understanding of verse 3.
In short, an honest appraisal of our own lives is most apt to reveal unconfessed and unrepented sin, leaving us in no position to point fingers at others, or feel that we are better than we are. When we take pride in ourselves, within the context of God's Word, to whom are we to compare ourselves? The appropriate comparison for a Christian is the image that God has revealed that he expects of us: Christlike behavior. What happens when we compare ourselves with another person? This reveals another problem which we fall into: comparing ourselves with one another to determine our value, a rather vague standard when no person truly knows the heart of another. Where does our personal and intrinsic value come from? God values us beyond all of His creation, and from that is sufficient value for life. What happens when we compare ourselves with others? Not only are we trying to reach an unknown standard, since all people continue to sin, the standard set of any person is still far below the standard that God sets.
5For every man shall bear his own burden.
Not only are we to bear one another's burdens, we are also responsible for our own. What kind of load to we carry? In the context spoken of here, we alone carry the responsibility for our own actions. Often those actions affect others, and we carry the responsibility for what we have done to them. How much illness is the result of overindulgence in unhealthy consumption? How many relationships are broken because of pride, prejudice, or other forms of selfishness?
6Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things.
Here is a verse Bible teachers love. Why, do you suppose, we must share all good things with our teachers? Such a show of appreciation serve to encourage them and improve relationships with them. Also, by doing so, the student is encouraged by identifying those things which are good. The instructor can be a resource for help in times of need of restoration. Who better to share spiritual difficulties and joys than a Christian leader? How often does a teacher wonder if he/she is making a difference? Are the hours of prayer, study, and preparation worth the effort? Silence on the part of those of use who are under another's teaching only serves to reinforce those doubts.
In Galatians 1-6, several imperatives have been presented: restore sinning Christians gently, carry each others burdens, be modest, measure yourself by God's standard: not against others, share with instructors who lift you up.
Consider the church to whom this was written. Members were rejected and persecuted for viewpoints variant with the church leaders. The leaders were imposing additional burdens on the members. The church leadership was prideful and self-fulfilling. Does this sound like churches today?
Though these were written to churches in Paul's day, they certainly apply today. They were penned for churches which were having internal conflict because some leaders were making demands on believers which were not within the context of God's Word or His Love. Today, churches struggle over a wide variety of issues with people highly committed to variant viewpoints. These imperatives can help bring peace in these fellowships.
7Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. 8For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.
Time and time again, Paul has returned to contrasting the sinful nature with life in the Spirit. He gives it one last emphasis in these words. Verse 8 makes the choices clear. Choose the law which releases the power of the sinful nature, and you get destruction. Can a Christian commit sinful acts? (Of course). What is the result of those sinful acts? (Loss of fellowship with God and His people, spiritual depression, damaged relationships, damaged health, loss of possessions, etc.) Christians always experience the consequences of sinful acts regardless of the fact that they will not be condemned for eternity for them. One cannot fool God who knows the heart. Those who are in rebellion of the Spirit will reap the reward for their actions.
Choosing the Spirit is not a one-time decision. People choose the Spirit when they listen to Him and consider His lead when all decisions are made - when they consciously attempt to do good to and for other people as well as themselves. We face choices constantly in every action we face.
Ultimately, the choice is between destruction and eternal life. This decision is a one-time choice to either accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, or reject him. Before this point, our sins were exposed by the Law, and we were all found guilty. If the law exposes our sin before the choice for salvation, who exposes our sin after the point of salvation? The Holy Spirit serves to expose the sin of the believer. We again, face the choice of following the prompting of the Holy Spirit to confess and repent, or reject. Acceptance restores the joy of our salvation and renewed fellowship with God and the church. Rejection alienates us from both.
9And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. 10As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.
Can "doing good" be a burden in itself? Many Christians are involved in ministries that are difficult and find in them a burden to bear. This often takes the form of sincere ministry that is confronted with opposition, indifference, or rejection by those who are being ministered to. Following the lead of the Holy Spirit can be a burden any time it requires sacrifice, or loss. Often honesty will cause our personal income, or the amount of our possessions to be less, for example the refusing to accept bribes, integrity in taxes, etc. Integrity may cause us to reject activities which might be very gratifying to our flesh, for example opportunities for sexual misconduct or in appropriate vehicles for personal gain.
Do you sometimes think that living a life of Christian Integrity causes us to finish last in the race? The ungodly people around us seem to have so much fun, are at peace with themselves, and seem to be very worldly gratified. What does verse 9 state about this? Christians who are striving for integrity should never give up. The good harvest will ultimately be reaped.
When a farmer plants a field, he does so in labor, driven only by the faith he has that the harvest will come. This was an even greater act of faith 2000 years ago when there was little or no understanding of agricultural science. We can look at our Christian life as planting those same seeds.
Mat 6:19-21. Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: 20But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: 21For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. 22The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.
There is also a certain peace that comes from a pattern of integrity in the Christian life. There is never a worry of guilt, or of being exposed and having to answer for sin. Many Christian leaders who have been exposed in their sin could not experience this peace. Often exposure brings relief because of this. Let us never be in a position of fear. Maintain integrity in your Christian life.
Also, note that as we have opportunity, we are to do good to all. Look for opportunities to do good. Probably most of the opportunity for Godly Christian living is never taken because we do not take advantage of those opportunities. It is easier to look the other way and do something else. We do not have to look far to see people who would profit from the expression of the love God has given us. Here is a challenge: As you start each day, think about those whom you know could use a caring touch from you. Plant a seed. As you meet people each day, look for opportunities to show them a caring touch. Again, plant a seed. God has told us that we will reap a bountiful harvest.
11Ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with mine own hand.
Why did Paul insert this very personal statement? Paul generally used an amanuensis, or a scribe to write the letters he dictated. Silas did this for him. Paul is stating that what he is saying is so important that he is writing this himself. The point of the use of large letters adds defense to those who argue that Paul's "thorn in the flesh" was some form of blindness, the large letters being proof of his own visual difficulty. Paul had been quite severe in this letter. By ending the letter in his own handwriting he is adding a personal blessing.
12As many as desire to make a fair show in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ.
The first point he makes in his ending is that those who are attempting to get the men circumcised are motivated by pride. The pride issues from both an unwillingness to be persecuted for the cross, and so they can claim great leadership because they have been able to influence others in such a significant way. The leadership is sitting on a fence between the truth of the gospel and the demands of the world. As Jews, they are not willing to commit themselves fully to Jesus Christ, but rather, keep the traditions that will also protect them from persecution. This same attitude is prevalent today as the mores of this world culture have been embraced by the church. Today, one of the rites of circumcision is, as heretofore mentioned, humanistic tolerance. Churches are willing to compromise the integrity of the gospel to avoid persecution by the world. Words are carefully chosen so that "no one will be offended." If you are in a fellowship like that, it might be instructive to note that the world was offended by Jesus Christ. The religious leadership and pagan culture were both offended by Paul. Those who follow Christ find persecution for the cross of Christ.
One danger of leadership is the "fair show", the pride that comes with the exercise of influence. It is wise to recognize the way we influence others, and limit it when it is possible to do so without eliminating work God has called us to.
13For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh. 14But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. 15For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.
The second point is that physical things like circumcision don't count for anything. Being a new creation is what counts. He had previously defined the new creation as a person living in the Spirit. This is the central teaching of the whole letter. When those religious leaders experience the pride of their position, they glory only in themselves. Paul, one of the most influential Christians who ever lived, saw such an attitude as sinful. He did not pride himself in his ability to influence others for Christ. He reserved his Glory for the Cross of Christ alone. When we observe the attitude of a Christian leader, do we see one who has pride in himself over pride in Christ? Is their glory in the power of their position, or do they continually point to Christ as the only one worthy of praise? Paul would never bask in his leadership but rather desired to bask in the love of God.
Certainly, we do not fall under a law of physical circumcision, but we do come in danger of the trap of legalism. We are called to live in the Spirit, doing and abstaining as we feel the spirit leads us personally. We are not called to do and abstain as required by any other authority. However, this freedom in Christ carries a lot of responsibility because we and others must live with the result of our decisions. For example, it is often proper to abstain in the presence of abstainers, or to do in the presence of doers, choosing as the Spirit leads in order to maintain true peace and love.
16And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.
Who is the Israel of God? Paul teaches that the body of believers in Jesus Christ is the Church: the total of all people who have been and will be redeemed by the Blood of Christ for all ages. This includes Jews and Gentiles who have accepted Jesus as Lord.
17From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.
Paul has experienced much persecution because of his stand for Christ. Who is it that has, without exception, persecuted Paul? Paul received his persecution by the hand of the Jews, either directly or indirectly through the Gentile court system. In addition, this verse describes the persecution he would experience through the hurt he would receive at the hands of the Galatian church by their rejection of him and his message. He has suffered for Christ, and would hope that the Galatian church would not contribute to those stripes. Obviously this statement is important to him since it is the last thing written immediately before the benediction.
As we live with persecution and sacrifice at the hands of the ungodly world around us, we should not be in fear of being hurt by those in our own fellowship. It is unfortunate that we are usually hurt more by the latter than the former. To be hurt by our own Christian family leaves us alienated from the very love and fellowship we require. It is no wonder that so many who join the fellowship fall away when they experience trouble in their lives.
18Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.
This is the shortest benediction Paul writes in any of the letters. He names no one to receive his particular notice or blessing, and ends the letter quickly. However, he does refer to the readers as brothers, at least. he closes by praying that Jesus' grace would be with their spirit. Paul was angry with them. He was disappointed with them. He felt betrayed by some of them. Nevertheless, he closes by calling them brothers. We can all learn a lesson from Paul at this point: when all is said and done, Christians are brothers and sisters in Christ. Ours is a ministry of reconciliation.
We are to live a life in the Spirit, expressing the law of Christian liberty by sensitivity to the Spirit in all we do, expressing that Spirit to all whom we have contact. Only then can we root out bad teaching, see ourselves honestly, live a life of integrity, and plant seeds that will reap a promised bountiful harvest.