Today we’re coming to the last chapter of Galatians, and one of the issues we have to deal with is what it looks like to be transformed by the gospel.
Paul has been hammering us with the gospel. Let me give you his message so far in two nutshells:
First, Jesus plus nothing equals acceptance with God. That’s it. Salvation by faith alone, through grace alone and through Christ alone. Never add anything to Jesus. That is the gospel.
Second, when you get the gospel, you’ll be free. But freedom isn’t living however you would like. Freedom is living in the power of the Holy Spirit to love and serve God and others.
Today we live in a very narcissistic culture. Narcissism is radical individualism, or infatuation with the self. There has always been a narcissistic tendency in our culture, but we are now entering an era of radical selfishness and unbridled individualism. What is new is that being self-centered is now considered a virtue. According to Robert Schuller, “Self-love is, or should be, the basic will in human life.”
When people think this way (as many people do), they feel justified in doing whatever seems to be in their self-interest, without showing much compassion or giving much consideration to their neighbors, co-workers, employees, spouses, or children. We live in a culture of takers, not givers.
But the gospel is counter-culture and radical. The first and great evidence of our walking by the Spirit or being filled with the Spirit is not some private mystical experience of our own, but our practical relationships of love with other people. It is some of these which Paul now unfolds. He tells us how, if we are walking by the Spirit, we shall and shall not relate to or treat each other.
1. How Christians Should Not Relate to or Treat Each Other (verse 26, 6:3)
26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
Let us not become conceited. Conceited means have a wrong or empty self-image. When we have a wrong image of ourselves our relationship with others will be tempered. There are two possible outcomes:
You provoke or challenge others because you think you are more superior than others.
You envy them because you think you are inferior to others.
Both are the problems of not knowing ourselves.
This Paul says in vs 3 “For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself”. That means that not only is conceit a false honor, it’s also delusional. We aren’t thinking about ourselves correctly. This is because we are trying to find worth, glory, honor or security where it cannot be found, in ourselves, or in the praises of others.
Paul says this will result, in either provoking one another - literally challenging one another to a contest; or to envying one another. Which is jealousy.
Relationships are very subtle. When you challenge or envy others your relationship is already affected. When we challenge or envy others out of selfish reasons, we are building walls between one another. We all have experienced the separation after a big argument with someone, but provoking and envying are subtle poisons to relationships.
One who has a healthy self-image, he won’t consider himself as superior or inferior, because he knows God creates each of us uniquely and we are all precious in God’s eye. We know God loves us by sending Jesus to die for us on the cross. There is nothing we need to prove.
Everyone of us deals with this. Either we have a superiority complex or we have an inferiority complex, and some of us have both. Always comparing ourselves whether to make ourselves feel better about ourselves or never feeling that we are good enough, smart enough, strong enough, pretty enough, etc. But the work of the gospel takes away this self absorbed state.
The gospel creates a whole new self-image which is not based on comparisons with others. Only the gospel makes us neither self- confident nor self-disdaining, but both bold and humble.
The gospel takes away all self confidence (pride) because we realize that before God we are guilty of sin and deserving his just wrath and judgment. It humbles me before anyone, telling me I am a sinner saved only by grace. I was so sinful that Jesus had to die for my salvation.
But it gives me courage before anyone, telling me I am loved and honored by the only eyes in the universe that really count. I am so loved by Jesus that he was willing to die for me. That’s the gospel.
So the gospel gives a boldness and a humility that do not eat each other up, but can grow together.
Ask yourself, do you provoke or envy anyone? If so, chances are you do not really know yourself. If all of us have the correct self-image, and do our duty, stop provoking and envying, we may live out a life of love.
2. How Christians Should Relate to or Treat Each Other (verses 1-2, 4-10)
A. By Restoring those who sinned (v. 1).
Verse 1 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.
To be ‘caught’ somebody in the act of sinning is a not infrequent occurrence. The best-known example in the New Testament is the woman whom the Pharisees brought to Jesus and described to Him as having been ‘caught in the very act of adultery’ (John. 8:4). But we have many other, less sensational experiences when somebody has been surprised or detected in a sin. The apostle gives instructions for such a situation. He tells us first what to do, secondly who is to do it, and thirdly how it is to be done.
What to do
Verse 1 “if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him”. To restore him. To restore is like putting a dislocated joint back into place, which the process itself can be painful but will bring a beneficial result.
Notice how positive Paul’s instruction is. If we detect somebody doing something wrong, we are not to stand by doing nothing on the pretext that it is none of our business and we have no wish to be involved. Nor are we to despise or condemn him in our hearts. Nor gossip about him to our friends in the congregation. No, we are to ‘restore’ him, or to set him back on the right path. This is how Martin Luther applies the command: “run unto him, and reach out your hand, raise him up again, comfort him with sweet words, and embrace him with motherly arms.”
Who is to do it
“you who are spiritual”. He is referring to ‘mature’ or ‘spiritual’ Christians. All Christians are indwelt by the Spirit, but ‘spiritual’ Christians are also ‘led by the Spirit’ and ‘walk by the Spirit’, so that ‘the fruit of the Spirit’ appears in their lives. Indeed, this loving ministry of restoring a sinning brother is exactly the kind of thing that we shall do when we are walking by the Spirit. It is only the ‘spiritual’ Christian who should attempt to restore him.
How it should be done
“You who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Look to yourself, lest you too be tempted”. The same Greek word for ‘gentleness’ occurred in 5:23 as part of the fruit of the Spirit. One of the reasons why only spiritual Christians should attempt the ministry of restoration is that only the spiritual are gentle. Paul says this gentleness will only come if you “Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” (v 1). This is difficult, but practical, advice. We won’t be able to winsomely confront someone if we think we are not capable of similar or equal sin. If we do feel we are above the person, our air of superiority will come through and we will destroy, not restore.
B. By Bearing each other's burdens (v. 2)
Verse 2 Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
Notice the assumption which lies behind this command, that is that we all have burdens and that God does not mean us to carry them alone. Some people try to. They think it a sign of fortitude not to bother other people with their burdens. Such fortitude is certainly brave. But it is more stoical than Christian.
Human friendship, in which we bear one another’s burdens, is part of the purpose of God for His people. So we should not keep our burdens to ourselves, but rather seek a Christian friend who will help to bear them with us. That’s why we encourage in New City Imphal to be in discipleship-relationship where you are able to bear each other’s burden.
To be a burden-bearer is a great ministry. It is something that every Christian should and can do. It is a natural consequence of walking by the Spirit. It fulfils the law of Christ.
C. By Remembering our own responsibility (vv. 4-5)
Verse 4 But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. 5 For each will have to bear his own load.
In other words, instead of scrutinizing our neighbour and comparing ourselves with them, we are to test our ‘own work’ for we will have to bear ‘our own load’. That is, we are responsible to God for our work and must give an account of it to Him one day. Moreover, when we are Christians, redeemed by God through Jesus Christ, we shall still not compare ourselves with others. It is these comparisons which are so disgusting and dangerous, as the apostle goes on to say.
So we are to bear one another’s ‘burdens’ which are too heavy for a man to bear alone, but there is one “burden which we cannot share and that is our responsibility to God on the day of judgment. On that day you cannot carry my pack and I cannot carry yours. ‘Each man will have to bear his own load.”
D. By loving others financially (vv. 6-10).
Verses 6 to 10 say:
6 Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. 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. 9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
The main idea of these verses is captured in verse 10: let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. This sounds good until you realize that the good he’s talking about is to support others financially, caring for their practical needs in everyday life.
Paul says in verse 6 that we’re to do this with our teachers and preachers, those who preach the gospel, so that they can be set free from having to raise money and instead can invest their time and energy in ministry. Just as teachers share the spiritual gifts God has given them with the learner, so the learners share the financial gifts God has given them with the teacher.
So we should give generously to our churches’ staff teams. We should not be “consumers”, who come to a church and simply plunder the benefits of it, without doing significant giving to that church. But this giving needs to be accompanied by the right attitude.
Paul says three things here.
First, In verse 7 he says, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked”, which means God isn’t fooled by spiritual pretenses. This is really where the gospel has to free our hearts. God knows the motivations of our heart when it comes to money.
Second, verse 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. He says that this is an issue of sowing and reaping. There are two ways of living. One is to sow to the flesh. This is about living in a way that’s selfish and stingy, and the result is that we reap corruption. The other way is to live according to the Spirit, freely loving and serving others, and if we do this we’ll reap generosity and spiritual life.
Third, he says that we will be rewarded. Verse 9 “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up”. One day we’ll receive God’s well-done for how we’ve used our resources to help others.
In farming or gardening, Paul appears to want us to see at least two aspects to it. First, whatever you sow, you will reap. If you sow tomato seeds, you will not get corn, no matter how much you want corn to grow! Second, whatever you sow, you will reap. Though the seed may lie in the ground to no apparent effect for a long time, it will come up. It is not the reaping that determines the harvest, but the sowing.
Which one do you want in your life? Whatever you sow, that’s what you’re also going to reap.
The gospel, Paul says, frees us to help others financially.
There are really only three attitudes that a person can take toward material possessions or money.
The thief says, “What’s yours is mine; I’ll take it.”
The selfish person says, “What’s mine is mine; I’ll keep it.”
But the caring person says, “What’s mine is really God’s, and so I’ll share it.”
And that is exactly what Christians did in the first century. They made a radical commitment to Christian community, which included a willingness to give time and money to meet one another’s needs: “44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common.45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” (Acts 2:44–45). We read further in chapter 4,
32 Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common....34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.(Acts 4:32, 34–35).
This is a remarkable testimony to God’s grace in the church. The first Christians had one heart and one mind. They had a deep sense of spiritual unity that was based on their common faith in Jesus Christ. This made them willing to sell their property and share their possessions to meet the needs of the poor and each other.
You can’t fake this. Only the Spirit can take our hearts and change us from the inside out so that we’ll want to live this way. It’s only when we see the gospel and are transformed by the gospel and are joined with Christ that any of this is even possible.
The Christian community, rightly and truly understood and experienced, is an outpost of heaven on earth, where we are all brothers and sisters with the same Father, all restored by the same Savior, and all seeking to restore each other. May we, New City Imphal, be increasingly a part of, and foster, a grace-filled community and a gospel-centered relationship.