September 16, 2018
Or, Bearing Burdens and Boasting in the Cross
This is the shortest, the warmest, and the last chapter in Paul’s letter to the Galatians. It’s almost a surprising finale in light of the anathema he pronounced at the beginning of the epistle. Paul loved the gospel of Christ and God’s saving work of grace, and he also loved the believers in Galatia, even those who shouldn’t have been listening to the circumcision circus leaders.
In chapter 5 he reminded them that their freedom in Christ didn’t fit with submission to old laws; returning to righteousness by works is submitting to a yoke of slavery. Neither does freedom in Christ fit with slander of brothers in the church; serving one’s neighbor through love is the opportunity of freedom. In Christ we are free from law and free to love. We are free by faith to walk in the Spirit not in the flesh.
In chapter 6 he gives more specifics on how to treat one another.
There are four imperatives connected to each other in this paragraph.
First, Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. This single verse could provide its own series of sermons. We are talking about transgression, any violation of moral standards. This is crossing a line that was drawn. It could be anyone in the body who committed any offense. Paul assumes that such sin actually occurred, that the brother wasn’t out of it yet, he was caught. The sinning is known to more than just the sinner, hence why it’s a discussion at all.
What happens when you see someone stuck in sin? A whole bunch of things usually happen. Usually the sin is seen by others, and then often the see-ers act surprised, and then they act irritated and want to distance themselves from the sinner.
Most men seize on the faults of brethren as an occasion of insulting them, and of using reproachful and cruel language. Were the pleasure they take in upbraiding [fault-finding] equalled by their desire to produce amendment, they would act in a different manner. (Calvin)
How put out we show ourselves to be by sinning brothers. It’s as if we see ourselves in the judge’s seat and are too tired for yet another case to be brought before us. In fact, we are not wearing the judge’s robe but the doctor’s coat.
The imperative requires us to get involved, while also describing both what our approach and our goal should be. The ones who must get involved are you who are spiritual. This is the qualification to offer correction. We know what it means to be spiritual because of verses 22-23 in the previous chapter. You cannot confront and correct the caught one because you are annoyed, or angry, or upset. You are equipped to correct when you are full of love, joy, peace, patience, and so on. Of course, when you are full of peace and patience, you may not be as provoked by the other person’s transgression. To be qualified you must be motivated by love for the other person not venting your (fleshly) irritation against him.
The approach should also be in a spirit of gentleness. Gentleness is listed as part of the fruit of the Spirit in 5:23 anyway, but this explicit reminder emphasizes that our attitude needs to be one of “not being over impressed by a sense of [our own] self-importance” (BAGD). Your mom might have simply said, Be nice.
Which fits with the goal: you who are spiritual should restore him. What we’re aiming for is reconciliation and restoration, not punishment and retribution. We want the sinner to come back not just feel bad, which is why harsh accusations aren’t just unspiritual, but counterproductive. “The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:20).
Being “caught in any transgression” is not like unsettling brothers by requiring circumcision for salvation. Paul wished those sinners to “emasculate themselves” (Galatians 5:12). To anyone who preached a contrary gospel Paul said, “let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8, 9). You don’t break up concrete with a toothpick, and God’s Word is a sword and a hammer. But we who know God’s Word so well (as evidenced by our recognition of the brother’s transgression) have the more accountability to build up those in trouble.
The second imperative accompanies the first: Keep watch on yourself lest you too be tempted. We are never more than one decision away from becoming what we think is the worst. It’s been said, give a man an inch and he’ll take a mile. We might also say, give a man a correction stick and he’ll never stop whacking. Sometimes the truth-lovers get over-aggressive in hunting transgressors. It is a necessary and perilous place to be, telling others that they are transgressing. Remember that the only reason it isn’t you who is caught is by the grace of God.
The third imperative is: Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Because of the context, and because of how similar verse 3 is to the second half of verse 1, these burdens may include not just suffering and heavy labors, but suffering brought on by one’s own sin. The law of Christ is to love your neighbor, and while there are a lot of applications for this love, isn’t loving them out of disobedience the most like Christ? Burdens include whatever is weighing a brother down; come alongside, grab a handle, and lift.
Why don’t Christians do it? Isn’t it mostly because we think we’re better? Yet Paul explains why we should help others in verse 3. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. There is more hope for a fool than for a man who is wise in his own eyes (Proverbs 26:12).
The fourth imperative relates to the previous three: 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. At first read it seems as if this contradicts verse 2. Do we bear one another’s burdens, and expect that others will help us, or do we bear our own burdens and expect that it’s up to us? Load is a different Greek word than burden in verse 2, but I don’t think the answer is in the vocabulary.
In verses 1-3, when we see a brother caught and struggling under the burden of sin, we are supposed to be spiritual and not superior. When we act by the Spirit we come to the sinner and seek to restore him and help him off with the burden. But when we act superior, we only come alongside the sinner to make ourselves feel better. We judge that we are better than him, and we boast by comparison. But if our own work was truly good, we bear our own load and not by belittling our neighbor.
Christians are to do good to those caught in sin and to those who are carrying heavy burdens. Christians are also to do good to those who teach God’s Word. One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches. Why is this instruction here?
The Galatians had been accepting false teachers and had been questioning, if not criticizing, true teachers. Some had come into the church after Paul began preaching the law and circumcision, and perhaps those (few?) who kept teaching the gospel were unappreciated. Instead of giving attention and support to the false, give all good things to the truth teachers.
Verses 7-8 are an inescapable principle. They first apply to any who would make excuses about obeying verse 6, but they have greater extension than just how to treat Bible teachers. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. Because God made the world one way and not another, growing things takes time. He made seed small. He made seed to be buried and unseen for weeks at a time. And He made the unseen-to-us processes happening to the buried seed to require waiting. During the months between sowing and reaping, we might forget that the two go together.
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 receive eternal life. There are two seeds and two fruits, and you don’t get the fruit of love when you sow selfishness, and you don’t get the fruit of death when you sow love. You might have to wait to see the fruit of love when you sow love, but don’t stop sowing love. When you sow self, you will harvest ruin, even if it comes slowly. Take warning. And take heart, you who sow your sacrifices in the power of the Spirit, you will see eternal life.
Don’t give up because it’s March. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. This doing good is every lawful activity you can do in the Spirit that blesses others. Teaching a class, grading essays, making lunches for your kids or making a meal for someone who is hurting, texting an encouraging word, weeding gardens, lending a vehicle, praying for/with a friend, these are all good things.
You will be tempted to grow weary, to “lose your motivation in continuing a desirable pattern of conduct” (BAGD), to “lose enthusiasm, to be discouraged.” In 2 Corinthians 4:1 and 16 the ESV translates the Greek word for weary as “Do not lose heart.” Endure. Persevere. Being tired and exhausted is not the same as believing that it is worthless. Those who wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall run and not be weary. You are in a season, but it may not yet be the due season. Beloved, autumn will come.
So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. The word opportunity is basically “time,” in context a time that is fit, a time that there is need. You can’t buy a calendar or a to-do app that comes pre-installed with time for you to do good, you are to look for the open windows and do good. That is an investment that always reaps profit because it’s an investment in God’s ways. The good isn’t limited to church people, but the household of faith is a great place to start.
Paul usually dictated his letters to an amanuensis to write down. To the Galatians he took things into his own hands. See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand. This was extra personal to him because the gospel was of first importance to him.
It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. In order not to be cut off from the “in” crowd, certain teachers required others to cut off things. To avoid the pain of being persecuted they wanted others to endure the pain not only of circumcision, but the pain of submitting again to the whole law. Men do things for show in order to avoid the “shame” of being connected with the cross of Christ.
For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh, which is sort of a sick boast. John Calvin compared these teachers to those in the Catholic Church.
They pay no more regard to any decisions of the Roman see than to the braying of an ass, but they take care to avoid personal risk.
Paul’s approach was the opposite. But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. There is no salvation without the cross. We glory in the cross. We boast in the cross, which is as unworldly and anti-fleshly as could be. And in Christ, our relationship to the world has been undone; by [the cross] the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. We died with Christ, so the world has no hold on us and we have no hold on the world. The relationship has been severed so that the relationship could be saved. Now that the world is not our god, we can receive it from God and use it for Him.
That happens by faith, which is the only way we can be in Christ, for neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. No one creates himself, and no one recreates himself. Creations are made by God, and a new creation is God’s gracious work. The external marks don’t matter for that; nothing man can do can change that. The problem with circumcision isn’t that it’s religious; circumcision was commanded by God Himself. The problem is when men think that they can manipulate salvation.
Instead of the law of Moses, it is the law of Christ. Instead of the rule of ritual, it is the rule of new creations. And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. Here is a blessing, with the final benediction to come in verse 18.
Who is the Israel of God? This phrase is one of the reasons I chose last summer to study and preach Galatians.
Those who have studied Greek know that kai means “and” and that it sometimes means “even.” They might translate verse 16, “all who walk by this rule…even the Israel of God,” and therefore defining these rule-walkers as Israel. In other words, Christians (those who are new creations) could be called “Israelites,” the Church could be called collectively (the new or spiritual) “Israel.” If this is the correct understanding, Paul means to give two descriptions to only one group and emphasizes the continuity between them.
Or, there are two descriptions because there are two groups. There is some overlap, but not complete overlap (some discontinuity). There are those “who walk by this rule…and the Israel of God,” some of whom are walking by this rule. If this is the correct understanding, Paul means to say that there are new creations from among the uncircumcised and from among the circumcised (the Jews), so there are those who are physical and spiritual Israel unlike the false teachers who claimed to be the true descendants of Abraham.
For all his demoting of the law and the customs, Paul held good hope of the ultimate blessing of Israel. They were not all keeping in line with ‘this rule’ yet, but the fact that some Israelites were doing so was in his eyes a pledge that this remnant would increase until, with the ingathering of the full tale (πλήρωμα) of Gentiles, ‘all Israel will be saved’. (F.F. Bruce)
So we sing (and mean it the whole eschatological way, not just in a redefined “spiritual way”),
Blessed is everyone who fears the LORD,
who walks in his ways!
The LORD bless you from Zion!
May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem
all the days of your life!
May you see your children’s children!
Peace be upon Israel!
(Psalm 128:1, 5–6)
In Galatians 6:16 Paul echoes the blessing upon Israel in the last verse of Psalm 128 (and the last verse in Psalm 125). His hope is not merely in applying a symbolic name to a mixed group, but that at the proper time elect Israel will be grafted back into Christ by faith and know His mercy and peace.
For this good news in Jesus Christ Paul had already been paying the price. From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. The marks of Jesus are the wounds Paul suffered in Jesus’ name. Those stripes, though, are seeds that will reap eternal life.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen. The benediction is not surprising, but grace is life-giving.
If 1 Corinthians is about wordliness in the church, Galatians is about legalism in the church. To the Galatians Paul writes that self-righteousness is the opposite of freedom, it is the enemy of grace, and it is the antithesis of the gospel. Men love it, God damns it. The law never has done, and cannot do, what God’s Spirit inside of us does. And what the Spirit does is cause us to serve others through love.
Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.