August 20, 2012
(Gal 6:1 ESV) Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.
1. “Spirit of gentleness”? Shouldn’t we rather rebuke and condemn! It sounds as though Paul is being soft on sin. Why should we be gentle when it comes to our brothers?
Because we love them. Because harsh rebukes often indicate a sense of superiority — which is forbidden to Christians. Because harshness runs people off. Because harshness is more about our anger than the needs of the sinning brother.
2. What do you suppose Paul means by “you who are spiritual”? In context, what does “spiritual” mean?
Some argue that he is referring to those who claim to be spiritual. That is, if you consider yourself spiritual, then you should be first in line to help a sinning brother repent and return.
However, when Paul uses the same word elsewhere (such as 1 Cor 12:1), he is referring to those things produced by the Spirit. And many commentators take Paul to be saying those who remain under the leading of the Spirit should work to restore those who are grieving the Spirit by their sins.
3. What does it mean to “restore” a brother?
The word translated “restore” means something like “set right.” The idea is to return him to a Spirit-led walk with God.
It’s not that he needs to “come forward” (although that might well be appropriate). The point isn’t so much about obtaining forgiveness as renewing a right Spirit.
(Psa 51:10-12 ESV) 10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. 11 Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.
But, unlike Psalm 51, Paul emphasizes the community-nature of restoration. Sin harms not only the Christian but the entire congregation. The entire congregation is called to restore because we are all accountable to our congregations, and our actions affect our congregations.
One of the most difficult teachings for modern Americans to accept is that we are accountable not only to God but to our congregations and the leadership of the congregation. We want to be autonomous individuals. We want a personal relationship with God only.
We are masters of declaring our lives no one else’s business. And in so doing, we not only contradict God’s word, we lie to ourselves.
We can’t make it alone. We just aren’t good enough. We need each other.
4. What kind of transgression do you think Paul has in mind? Do we need to restore a brother after every single sin?
You have to read the verse in context. Paul is referring to sins that are works of the flesh —
(Gal 5:15 ESV) 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.
(Gal 5:19-21 ESV) 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.
(Gal 5:26 ESV) 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
That’s not to say that Paul has attempted to make a complete list. But he has given us an indication of the kinds of sin that warrant an intervention in a member’s life.
5. Why does Paul warn those who seek to restore the sinner against temptation?
One reading is that the Christian who intervenes to restore a brother may be tempted to commit the very same sin, but this seems an unlikely circumstance.
More likely is the temptation to sin by becoming conceited or provoking the brother (Gal 5:26). It’s easy to be hateful and dismissive of a brother struggling with sin.
(Gal 6:2 ESV) Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
6. Just what kind of burdens is Paul likely speaking of here — in context?
Most commentators take “burdens” to refer to unrepented sins or sins a brother is struggling with. That makes sense.
But a broader reading also makes sense — that Paul is speaking of helping any brother with any problems too big for him to carry alone.
Again, because of our Western radical individualism, we struggle to help our brothers because we know our brothers might resent any interference in their lives — even to rescue them from hell.
But this is not God’s way.
7. What is the “law of Christ”? Is Paul referring to a system of doctrine regarding how to worship and organize the church? In context, what “law” is being referenced here?
The “law of Christ” is one of most abused phrases in the New Testament, as so many argue that this refers to a system of do’s and don’t’s about how to do church. But, of course, that interpretation utterly ignores the context. Paul is simply not discussing how to conduct the worship service or what name to call the church.
No, Paul is surely referring back to —
(Gal 5:14 ESV) 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
This is the law as transformed and fulfilled in Jesus. That makes it the law of Christ. And this is obviously the law that tells us to help our brothers carry their burdens.
(Gal 6:3 ESV) For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.
8. Kind of harsh, isn’t it? Should we really think of ourselves as”nothing”?
Well, yes, but only in the sense that we are utterly unable to save ourselves. If we think we’re so good and holy that God has to save us on our own merits, we’re lying to ourselves. Our holiness is so far beneath God’s that we are nothing when it comes to salvation merit.
(Gal 6:4 ESV) But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor.
9. Does this contradict v. 1? How can I restore a brother caught in sin if I only test my own work?
Paul is speaking of boasting. If I measure myself against my neighbor, then I might just conclude that God must truly be pleased with me, because I’m better than my neighbor. And who can’t find someone out there to feel superior to?
One of the great sins of many churches is to crow about how superior my church is to that church down the road. We enjoy looking down our noses at others. It makes us feel holy to point out the flaws in that other church, that other denomination.
And that is a deeply, wicked attitude.
Paul tells us that we cannot measure ourselves against others. We measure ourselves by no human standards at all, but by God’s standards. And we fail. Badly. Just like that church down the road.
Praise God for his grace! Thank God that he saved based on faith and not how well we measure up to his law!
10. Is Paul saying that it’s okay to boast in ourselves so long as we don’t put down our neighbors?
Of course not. He’ll soon condemn all boasting.
(Gal 6:14 ESV) 14 But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
We just have to get over the notion that we’re saved by our brilliant reading of the scriptures and superior worship services — all the while we’re sinning by measuring ourselves against our neighbors.
(Gal 6:5 ESV) For each will have to bear his own load.
11. Does this contradict v. 2? (“Load” in v. 5 is not the same word as “burden” in v. 2, although some translations use the same English word.)
The discussion has shifted. In v. 2, Paul was speaking of helping our brothers overcome sin. Here he’s speaking of how God will measure us on Judgment Day.
His point is made ironically. The truth is that we cannot bear our own loads. Our own sins are too great for us to overcome by ourselves. It’s by grace or not at all.
(Gal 6:6 ESV) Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches.
12. “Share all good things”? Is Paul saying we should pay our Sunday school teachers?
Yes. Well, he’s saying that the teacher is entitled to payment if his ministry of the word prevents him from supporting himself. This is why we pay ministers today.
(Gal 6:7-8 ESV) 7 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.
13. How do we sow to the Spirit?
Well, we follow the Spirit’s lead. We walk with the Spirit.
But that’s a little vague to American ears, isn’t it? How about: We intentionally submit to the Spirit. In prayer, we promise God that we’re going to try to listen to the Spirit’s leading and honor it.
And then we do just that. Even when it’s hard.
Spend more time in prayer. Spend more time in the Scriptures. Spend more time in group Bible studies. And volunteer for things that are uncomfortable — especially when we feel the Spirit’s gentle nudging.
Sometimes you have to do first and feel second. Sometimes the desire follows the action.
14. How do we sow to the flesh?
Well, we follow the lead of the flesh. When we’re tempted to sin, we yield. Rather than calling a brother to help us overcome, or calling on God through prayer, we give in. Rather than beginning the day with a promise to resist, we figure tomorrow’s the right day to begin resisting. And there are a lot of tomorrows.
(Gal 6:9 ESV) 9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.
15. Why do we sometimes grow weary in doing good?
If we do good for praise or to see others come to Jesus or any other extrinsic reason, well, there are going to be times when we receive no reward in this life. The students may be rude and unappreciative. The elderly we serve may have an entitled attitude. The church may not even realize who took care of that need. And so we get discouraged.
But if our audience is God, everything changes. If we serve to please God and God only, then we know our actions are seen and appreciated, even when the humans we serve are unaware or ungrateful.
And because it’s God we serve, we know that we’ll reap a good reward in the end.
16. How can we avoid this?
See answer to 15.
(Gal 6:10 ESV) 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
15. Why does Paul say “especially to those who are of the household of faith”?
This is a difficult passage, but only if we take it too literally — as though this were some sort of law. It’s true, of course, but it’s a principle rather than a law.
When your town is struck by a major tornado, of course, you’re going to be first concerned with the members of your own church. They’re your brothers and sisters and friends. they’re family! But you can’t be concerned only with your own congregation or denomination!
Indeed, when churches only support their own denomination or only Christians, their reputation in the community is destroyed. Why? Because they preach love and don’t live it.
Therefore, yes, because we love our brothers, they receive a priority. Paul said so. But it’s not an absolute priority that excludes all others. Rather, “let us do good to everyone.”
16. Does this mean that, for example, we should not care for non-Christian tornado victims until we’ve first handled the needs of all Christians?
(Mat 5:44-48 ESV) 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
To be like God is to love and care for those who are utterly ungodly. Your brothers need to be able to count on you, but not to the exclusion of all others.