A BIBLICAL THOUGHT – 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. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.” —Galatians 6:1–5 (ESV, emphasis supplied)
In our last biblical thought we discussed the difference between a life of selfishness (flesh) and a life in the Spirit (unselfishness). In our text today Paul continues explaining what a life in the Spirit looks like. Keep in mind that Paul has already taught us in the previous chapters that one of the characteristics of the fruit of the Spirit is gentleness, and that to love one’s neighbor is the true fulfillment of the law. These elements will be important in understanding today’s text.
Now that we know that a life in the flesh is a life of pure selfishness, and a life in the Spirit is a life of pure unselfishness, how do we deal with people who fall into sin? How do we treat those who fell into selfish desires and were caught? Paul shows us that we should approach this individual with a Spirit of gentleness. The individual who fell into sin is broken. And how do we deal with our own broken things? With gentleness. Isn’t it interesting how sometimes we end up approaching our broken things (phones, cars, or other goods) with more gentleness than we do when approaching broken people? This would be problem number one—thinking that punishment, distance, or some sort of discipline is a more beneficial approach to those who fell.
But Paul will mention a second problem—a problem we all have faced in our spiritual journey at some point. It is the problem of finding comfort and spiritual pride in ourselves through the fall of the other. In other words, when we see the other fall, we feel, deep down, the good feeling of knowing we did not fall, and therefore, we come to the false realization that we must be in a much better standing before God. And this is only an issue to those who still subscribe to human religion, the religion based on what we do for God (rather than what God does for us). The human religion of human performance feeds itself with comparisons, because if the other fell and we didn’t, then, in some way, we are in a better standing than them.
But Paul is not about human religion, or the alternative gospel; he is all about the gospel of grace in Jesus, the only gospel that truly transforms us into spiritual beings. And within this framework, there is no space for comparisons, because we have all sinned and fallen short. While in the human religion of comparison we are unwilling to help the other because the fallen condition of the other must exist so that we might enjoy the pride of our own religion, in the biblical religion we approach the broken with gentleness. The pain of the other is my pain; the joy of the other is my joy.
And here is the irony: only when we “carry one another’s burdens” do we truly keep the law of God. In other words, when we treat our fallen brother/sister with disdain and indifference and believe we are the true “keepers” of the law, we deceive ourselves and become exactly the opposite of what God expects.
Some of us live and do church within the framework of human religion. We treat others unjustly because deep down, we also treat ourselves harshly and unjustly. If we do not perform, or rise to some unattainable standard, we feel horrible and we carry the guilt.
In the same way, if others do not perform, we offer them our silent or even vocal judgment. But Paul’s call for the church in Galatia is a call to all disciples of Jesus today: let us live and walk by the Spirit. When we see a brother or sister who is carrying the heavy load of sin and guilt, let us approach them in a spirit of gentleness and offer to carry their burden. This is what the body of Christ looks like. Church is a place where we assume people will fall, because we are all human, and fragile. Church is not a place where we create an environment only appropriate for those who seem to not sin or stumble.
My dear readers: gentleness, gentleness, gentleness. And as you experience the joy of the relationship with the Jesus who removes burdens, may you also live to remove the burden of the other by carrying it with him.
A BIBLICAL THOUGHT – 2
“One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 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. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”—Galatians 6:6–10 (ESV, emphasis supplied)
In this text Paul compares the work of gentleness and compassion to a field, to a garden. He says that those who sow to their own selfish self will reap corruption. This is not only future (last days) corruption, but present corruption (this life). At the same time, those who sow to the Spirit, in the rhythms of the fruit the Spirit generates, will reap eternal life. And again, this is not only future eternal life (last days), but present eternal life (this life). In other words, those who live by selfishness will experience the consequences of their choices now. They will anticipate their future of death and meaninglessness into the present. But those who live by the kingdom, anticipating the future of love, kindness, and faithfulness now, will also experience the beauty of the future today. They will have a foretaste of the future, now.
But there is an elusive lesson in the comparison between how we live life and with sowing and reaping: the lesson of the importance of patience.
We live in such a fast-paced society. We do not like lines or having to wait; we want fast service, fast food, fast internet, and fast results. And this modern revolution in the way we experience time and social relations affects everything, including spiritual things. We pray and we expect God to answer quickly. We want to see fast signs of growth in life when we learn something new in church. When we are hurt, we expect those who offended us to act on it as soon as possible. But life in the Spirit requires patience. When we plant a seed it does not grow into a tree overnight. And so it is with the things of God.
BUT LIFE IN THE SPIRIT REQUIRES PATIENCE. WHEN WE PLANT A SEED IT DOES NOT GROW INTO A TREE OVERNIGHT. AND SO IT IS WITH THE THINGS OF GOD.
The religion of the Pharisees expected change overnight. This is so because they expected a formal, external, objective change: be circumcised, follow the laws, appear holy externally, and all will be well. But the work of the Spirit is internal, and takes time.
So Paul’s counsel is: until the last day comes, until we arrive at eternal life, let us do good toward all people, especially those who are of the household of faith. Here we find at least two important ideas.
The first: do good to all people. The life of those who are born of the Spirit is marked by goodness. As they become attached to Jesus, the source of life, they too will be a reminder of Jesus, a reminder of life, a reminder of goodness. And as Jesus, we are not to determine who deserves this life and goodness; we offer it to all.
The second: do good especially to those who are of the household of faith. How can we invite others into our community if we treat each other poorly? How can we claim to be in Jesus and wait for the coming kingdom of God, where we will have eternal fellowship with God and one another, if we do not live that reality now?
In this last section Paul is just pointing out the problem of having a false community, a community that has the external intention of worshipping Jesus, but that does not live up to what it actually means. We are to extend goodness and love to all, beginning with our brothers and sisters of the faith. This way we will know the Spirit is working in us, and through us.
My dear reader, may you trust in the work of the Spirit in your life, and in our church community. And until we can actually see fruit, may we do good to all people, including those around us.
Tiago Arrais, PhD, is a district pastor in Santa Fe, NM, USA.