As we come this morning to chapter 6 of Galatians, we need to be reminded that the chapter and verse designations are man's addition. They are very helpful, most of the time, but they are not inspired. Chapter 6 wasn't just dropped out of the sky, and it must not be interpreted that way. We must remember a very important interpretive principle - "context is king." If we are going to understand these verses in chapter 6, we must understand their context.
In the first 12 verses of Galatians 5, Paul summons all his rhetorical power to make one final assault on the Judaizers and their false gospel built around circumcision:
Galatians 4:31 (NASB) So then, brethren, we are not children of a bondwoman, but of the free woman. 5:1 It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.
Paul has established the believer in Christ as a child of freedom by virtue of his identity as a child of the free Jerusalem, whose children come into being by promise.
In the first 6 verses of chapter 5, Paul is addressing the Galatians, the hearers of this false message that had been taught. Then in 5:7-12, he address the teachers of the false message. In both cases, the language is biting and chilling.
Freedom, as expressed in Galatians, refers to freedom from the frustrating struggle to keep the law to gain God's favor. It is the freedom of knowing you are accepted by God, because of what Christ has done.
Paul says in verse 1: "Therefore, keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery." This is a command: "Keep standing firm." Paul is not telling the Galatians to stand firm in holiness or righteousness or love; we would expect that. But he tells them to stand fast in freedom or liberty. It is liberty that they are to guard and defend.
We are to keep standing firm and "not be subject again to a yoke of slavery."
What is the "yoke of slavery"? The yoke of the law is a yoke of slavery, because it places us under the burden of commandments we cannot keep and under curses that we deserve for our disobedience.
The particular yoke of bondage that the Gentiles were being influenced to accept was the rite of circumcision. The Judaizers in Galatia were telling them they had to be circumcised to be fully accepted by God, since they thought God accepted only those who had that sign of the covenant. Having escaped the ritualism of paganism, they were about to accept Jewish ritualism.
Galatians 5:7 (NASB) You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?
The first issue that jumps out at us here is the reality that the Galatians have changed course. So what did "running well" mean to the Galatians? Paul has declared that Christ's actions in our behalf were designed to set us free. He has indicated that it is possible to yield that freedom so that we are enslaved once again to bondage. And he has declared pointedly that the issue of that freedom/bondage struggle rests solidly upon which approach we take to God in light of the actions of Christ. This would mean that to "run well" involves remaining solidly fixed upon the correct approach we take to God, which is grace and not works.
Galatians 5:9 (NASB) A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough.
Leaven is used here to symbolize false doctrine. And in our text Paul is warning the Galatians that if those who have hindered their Christian walk are allowed to keep teaching their grace-plus-works gospel, that false gospel would eventually spread throughout the congregation.
Paul has made it very clear in this text: legalism is no little thing. It takes away our liberty and puts us into bondage. It makes Jesus and His work of no profit to us. It puts us under obligation to the whole law. It violates the work of the Spirit of God. It makes us focus on things that are irrelevant. It keeps us from running the race Jesus set before us.
Galatians 5:13 (NASB) For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
"Opportunity for the flesh" - is the same as saying, "Don't return to legalism." I think Paul is saying the same thing in verse 13 that he said in verse 1: that you have been set free, therefore, don't use that freedom to once again subject yourself to the yoke of slavery, to legalism. After all, what is legalism? Legalism is believing that in my own strength, in my own power, in my own humanity - my flesh - that I can make myself righteous and merit some favor before God.
We have been talking about the flesh versus the Spirit - legalism versus grace. Defining the flesh, as God defines it in the book of Galatians, is that which I can do on my own, in my own strength or my own power. "Flesh" isn't just these sins of the flesh that we typically think of. It is legalism. It is religious rituals. It is whatever I think I can do in my own strength and in my own power to make myself righteous. That is the flesh - that is legalism.
In contrast, walking in the Spirit is understanding that I cannot make myself righteous or holy. I can't make myself like Jesus. Therefore, I am dependent on the Spirit of God to do for me what I cannot do for myself. I also understand that I don't deserve what the Holy Spirit is doing in me. It is not because I have merited something or because I have done this or that. It is purely on the basis of grace that I experience the life of the Spirit in me.
Galatians 5:15 (NASB) But if you bite and devour one another, take care lest you be consumed by one another.
The verbs actually read, if you "continue biting and devouring" one another. In other words, the Galatians are already at each other, because the legalists have come in and convinced them that they have to compete with one another and compare themselves.
Think about this and see if you don't agree: wherever there is conflict, there is legalism; and where there is legalism, there is conflict. It is always going to be that way, because legalism feeds our pride, and pride causes contention.
Galatians 5:16 (NASB) But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.
Galatians 5:25-26 (NASB) If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. 26 Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another.
In Galatians 5:16 we saw that Paul urged Christians to "walk by the Spirit," but in 5:25, although he seems to be issuing the same command, he is not repeating himself. There is an important difference in the Greek words that are translated: "to walk," in both of these verses. In 5:16 he used the common word for putting one foot before the other in the ordinary process of walking. The word that is used here in verse 25, however, means: "to get in line with," "to follow after," as it is sometimes translated. Here Paul views Christians not so much as a group of individuals, each of whom is seeking to walk in the Spirit; rather, here he compares Christians to an army marching in line. Thus, we are not only responsible to care for ourselves, but also for each other; and we will make progress only as we march together. A group of people cannot march properly and successfully as a group if someone in front is stumbling, or someone behind is falling to one side. We cannot make progress unless we are walking together in the Spirit. We are responsible for each other.
One of the ways that we determine whether we are walking by the Spirit or walking according to the flesh is in our relationships. How we determine whether or not we are walking by the Spirit is not really some experience; it isn't some manifestation that we have. It is very practical. It flows out of our relationship. He says in verse 26 that if you are not walking by the Spirit, then you become boastful, which is a term that means: "to have an over-inflated view of yourself." Every legalist is boastful in his or her heart, because what the legalist has said is: "I don't need help from God. I can do it myself."
Legalism is a very selfish way to live. It is selfish, because, by its very definition, it means my eyes must be on myself, because I am constantly assessing how I am doing. How am I measuring up? How do I compare with you? How do I compete with you? It creates a very selfish focus. If I gain an arrogant heart, then I have a challenging heart. I feel like I am spiritually superior to you, and I am going to prove it. Therefore, every time you fail, that's an opportunity for me to exploit that for my own personal gain. That is a way I can say I am spiritually superior to you, and that translates into judgmentalism, criticalness, and spiritual arrogance. If I challenge you, and I don't win the challenge, then I cultivate an envious heart. I become very envious of your position over me, and I am going to watch you. The first time you fail, I am going to pounce on that to regain my superiority.
If that is true, that does not create a lot of harmony in the body of Christ. It does not create a lot of unity. It does not allow us to dwell together in community, because we are boastful and challenging and envious. It's a recipe for disaster, because we bite and devour and consume one another. In Galatians 5:15 we saw that is exactly what was happening in Galatia.
In their desire to maintain at least the appearance of severity toward sin, the legalists of Paul's day had become calloused and even cruel toward those who had stumbled in their Christian walk. It is this problem that is addressed in verses 1-5 of chapter 6.
Legalism has no interest in reducing the burdens that men must bear. Instead, it produces burdens and then refuses to assist those on whom they are imposed. Jesus contrasted Himself with the scribes and Pharisees with respect to burdens:
Matthew 23:4 (NASB) "And they tie up heavy loads, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger.
Matthew 11:28-30 (NASB) "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. 29 "Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and YOU SHALL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. 30 "For My yoke is easy, and My load is light."
Peter rightly criticized the Judaizers when he said:
Acts 15:10 (NASB) "Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?
It is thus altogether appropriate for Paul to address the subject of burden-bearing with respect to the "Galatian problem" and in view of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
As we said earlier, the context of chapter 5 is essential to the proper handling of our text. The contention and strife which characterized the churches was further evidence that legalism, rather than liberty, was the norm (5:1, 13). It was obvious that the strife among the saints was of the "works of the flesh," rather than the "fruit of the Spirit" (5:19-23). Christian liberty used to "serve one another in love" (5:13) is possible only through walking in the Spirit (5:16). I believe that verses 1-5 provide us with a very practical example of how the "walk in the Spirit" was to work in the church life of the Galatian Christians.
The harshness and strife of the Galatian saints toward one another is crucial to a correct interpretation and application of our passage. In Galatians 6 the Galatian Christians, in emphasizing legalism, had become harsh and judgmental, attacking others for their offenses.
Paul lays a situation on the table and says this is the problem:
Galatians 6:1 (NASB) Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted.
Paul begins this section by suggesting a hypothetical situation. It is introduced with a conditional clause - "IF." This is a third class condition, indicating that Paul does not have some specific incident in mind.
The term "brethren" confirms the fact that it is Christians who are to deal with the problem. The "you" is plural and not singular, which emphasizes the obligation of the church as a body to respond to the sin of a saint. It is inferred in this verse that the sinner (the one "caught in any trespass") is a saint. We are thus dealing with the church's obligation to respond to the sin of a saint.
The word "trespass" is a unique word. It is not like the word "transgression," which is used in other places in Galatians. It is the Greek word paraptoma, which means: "to stumble or fall - to drift off the path." In other words, someone is not willfully sinning against God, but that person has stumbled off the path.
There is some doubt as to the precise meaning of the Greek term rendered "caught," but it seems to suggest that the saint was caught off guard. The word caught is aorist passive subjunctive. It describes one who has been overcome. The implication is that he is one who has in the past been demonstrating the fruit of the Spirit, but who has now been overcome by the flesh.
The word "caught" was sometimes used for a bird or an animal caught in a trap. It describes a believer who has been suddenly overcome by some temptation that came upon him unawares. In other words, Paul is not dealing so much with a calculated, premeditated, and habitual sin, but with one which has taken all by surprise.
All Christians experience times when they walk in the flesh and not in the Spirit. We all occasionally become fleshly. When that happens, we can expect those who are walking in the spirit to respond biblically by confronting us.
You may find that you go from walking by the Spirit to being fleshly very quickly. Have you ever finished your devotions in the morning, and five minutes, after you've prayed and read your Bible, you're fighting with your spouse? That's how fast you can go from one state to the other. Did you ever go to a Bible study, spend three hours studying the deep things of God, and then get out in the car and go berserk because someone cuts in front of you? We flip that fast. That's how strong the flesh is.
He tells us first of all who should respond to a brother in sin: "you who are spiritual." Who are the spiritual? What does it mean to be spiritual?
1 Corinthians 2:15-16 (NASB) But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no man. 16 For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE SHOULD INSTRUCT HIM? But we have the mind of Christ.
What does it mean to be spiritual? To be spiritual, according to verse 15, is the same as having "the mind of Christ," in verse 16. The one who is spiritual is the one who has the mind of Christ. Being spiritual, then, means having the mind of Christ, which is the same as walking in the Spirit.
In other words, legalists need not apply for this role. The legalist is of no help to a brother or sister who is drifting off the path, because the legalist is wrongly motivated. The legalist sees this as an opportunity to assert spiritual superiority. It is an opportunity for the legalist to judge and condemn, which then puts them a little higher in the pecking order. The problem is the legalist views himself or herself as spiritual. But let's remember how Paul is defining this. He is saying this is one who is walking by the Spirit. This is one who has yielded control and is under the control of the Spirit of God. If a brother or sister is drifting off into sin, the only ones who can really be of help are those who understand grace - those who are walking by the Spirit.
What do they do? Should they pick up a phone and call a friend and say, "Guess what so and so was doing?" No, that is not really what it says. Should they pick up a phone and call the pastor, because the pastor needs to fix this? No, that is not what it says, either. It says that you who are spiritual are to get involved and restore such a one.
The Greek word rendered "restore" is katartizo; it is used to describe the mending of torn fishing nets (Matt. 4:21). The ancient Greeks used this word for the setting of broken bones. In Ephesians 4:12 the same term is used for "equipping" of the saints. In 1 Corinthians 1:10 Paul uses this same Greek word to describe divisions within the Corinthian church. Clearly, the term has the positive implication of healing and restoration. That word is a very common one for knitting something together or restoring it to its original condition, and that's exactly what it's calling us to. The spiritual are urged to restore believers overpowered by sin. Since the term "restore" is a present imperative, it is not just a particular act that is required, but a process. Restoration does not happen instantaneously.
This restoration is to be done with the spirit of gentleness. This is the same Greek word used in 5:22 of the fruit of the Spirit. When you stumble and drift off course, and the legalists find you, they just make you feel worse. You feel the condemnation and the judgment. It doesn't draw you back onto the path; it pushes you farther away. But gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit. We said that gentleness is "a submissive and teachable spirit toward God that manifests itself in genuine humility and consideration toward others." You can't just go and confront someone who has drifted off the path, get in their face and expect them to get right back on the path. But that is how the legalist does it. The legalist gets in their face and confronts them. And if they don't respond, the legalist feels they ought to be punished; they ought to be out of here.
But the one walking by the Spirit understands that is not how God treats us. God treats us with patience and with kindness. He works us back onto the path, and it's done with a spirit of gentleness. If you broke your leg, you wouldn't want the legalist in the emergency room; he is just going to grab your leg and shake it. You want one who understands grace and resets that bone with the sensitivity that is needed for real healing to take place.
In the last part of the verse, Paul says each one should be "looking to yourselves, lest you too be tempted." What does he mean by that? The risk for me is that I am going to use that as an opportunity to slide back into the flesh and basically exploit that person's failure to convince myself I am spiritually superior. That is what the temptation is. It is at that moment that I am going to become competitive and comparative and think, "I would never do that." I am going to swoop in as the spiritual rescuer, the spiritual hero. Man, are you lucky to have me! All of a sudden, I have reverted to the flesh, and I am seeing this in a way that is revealing the arrogance in my own boastful heart. That is the temptation.
Galatians 6:2 (NASB) Bear one another's burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ.
Maintaining the picture of walking, Paul says that when you are going along the road and see someone who has fallen under a crushing burden too heavy for him, you should get under the load and help him carry it.
When we walk by the Spirit, we bear one another's burdens. The law of Christ is the law of love: Love your neighbor as yourself. He has already told us that in chapter 5. How do we love one another? One of the ways is that we help a person carry their burden or their load.
The problem is, the legalist doesn't help carry the load; the legalist piles more on top of the load. That is what Jesus said - that the legalists don't make the load lighter; they make the load heavier, because they come with condemnation.
It is only the person who understands grace who can help. Grace is understanding that I didn't deserve this; I didn't do anything to merit it. It is purely a work of the Spirit in my life. In other words, I am nothing but a beggar asking for help. I understand my brothers and sisters in Christ are just beggars asking for help - so we are on the same plane.
The "burden" that we must bear is one that the stumbling saint cannot bear himself. Just what is meant by the term "burden"? What is it that we are to help others bear up under? The burden is something that the sinner is not able to bear himself, whether it be the guilt of his sin, or its controlling power. The burden could be sickness, sorrow, poverty or depression. Since Paul will shortly say: "Each one shall bear his own load" (v. 5), this burden must be a load that the brother cannot bear alone.
The bottom line is simply this: We are our brother's keeper. The legalist will deal with sin as the Law of Moses did - by condemning the sinner. However, those who have experienced the grace of God, which delivers men from sin, will manifest grace in response to the sin of others. Only those who know grace can bestow it.
One way in which we can help bear a brother's load is to help provide accountability for them. Let's say that you tell a struggling believer, "If you feel you have a problem in that area of temptation, I suggest that you pick up the telephone and call me, let me carry the load with you." You can bear somebody's burden by staying close to them and holding them accountable.
Another way we can bear a brother's load is through prayer. Faithful prayer is a crucial element
in bearing the burdens of another.
We can also bear the burdens of others through encouragement. Those facing temptation need lots of encouragement. You might consider writing them, or giving them study material that will encourage them.
We, who claim to be followers of Jesus, are called to come alongside of you, pray for you, walk with you, and help shoulder your burden. The sad thing today is that in many churches the burdens of those who are hurting are ignored, because people don't want to get into other folk's business, or they don't know what to say or do. We've come to see the church, and the activities that take place in the church, as the same as the Civic Center or the local sports arena. We believe that the church, like the Civic Center or the sports arena, is a place where we go to be entertained. We just sit back and watch the players while we soak it all in. That is a wrong view of the church.
The church is more like the local hospital than anything else. It is a place where there are sick folks who've confessed their need for help. In the hospital there are also caring family members who've come from near and far to be with their loved ones who are ill and sit with them through the night if needed. There are also doctors and nurses who have been trained to help, and they make their rounds and see their patients. In a hospital everyone has a purpose, nobody is more valuable than anybody else, and all work together.
When General William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, was an old man, he was invited to address a large convention of Army workers and volunteers. When it was determined he was unable to attend, he was asked to send a greeting instead. The message he sent went like this:
"To the delegates of the Salvation Army convention:
General William Booth."
This is what verse 2 is telling us. We are to bear one another's burdens. Paul put it this way in:
Philippians 2:3-4 (NASB) Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.
The word "look" is skopeo; it means: " to fix the attention upon with desire for, and interest in." We are to be looking out for others. How can we fulfill this command to bear one another's burdens if we don't look out for others? If we are so wrapped up in ourselves that we don't know what others need, then how can we fulfill these exhortations?
If we esteem others as better than ourselves, we will look out for their interest, we'll be concerned with their needs. Timothy fleshed this out, Paul said this of him in:
Philippians 2:20-21 (NASB) For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. 21 For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus.
Notice that he doesn't say that others care for themselves and not you, but others care for themselves and not for Christ. To be concerned for other Christians is to be concerned for Christ, to love Christ is to love his people and be willing to bear their burdens.
Paul next mentions a danger we should all consider. When you see your brother or your sister suffering, don't be too proud to get involved.
Galatians 6:3 (NASB) For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.
Attention! It is not a warning against correcting and admonishing and restoring a person; it is a warning against doing it arrogantly. When I think I am something, I can't help carry someone else's burden, because my spiritual arrogance gets in the way. It is only when I have a right view of myself, under the umbrella of grace, that I can help a sinning brother and I can help carry the burden.
It's very easy to look down your nose and say, "They deserve it." "She's so weak." "He just can't
handle the pressure." "I saw it coming." "Maybe they'll listen to me next time." "I don't want to
get involved." "I'm just glad it's them and not me." "I know I would never do something like
that." How quick we are to condemn, to look the other way, to pass by on the other side.
This verse is a wonderful verse on anthropology. Simply stated, man is nothing. That's what it says when you take out all the modifying phrases - we are nothing. In what sense does Paul say we "are nothing"? Is this not devastating to our sense of self-esteem? Paul is speaking morally, here not physically. Of course we exist, and in that sense we are something. What he means is that apart from the special grace of God in us, we amount to a moral zero, because of our sinfulness. "There dwells in me, that is in my flesh, no good thing," Paul said in Romans 7:18. "Apart from me, you can do nothing," Jesus said in John 15:5. Again, in 1 Corinthians 3:7 Paul says, "Neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth." As far as moral capacities are concerned, man without Christ can only say one thing honestly: I am nothing, God be merciful to me, a sinner.
It is the legalistic Christian who is the most condemning of others, especially those who have fallen. This disdain for the "sinner" coupled with a pride in their own self-righteousness was characteristic of the scribes and Pharisees. Paul is thus speaking of the self-elevation of pride that the legalist has in his own righteousness, based on law-works. It is self-righteousness, which causes a man to think he is something special.
Later in the chapter, Paul writes:
Galatians 6:14 (NASB) But may it never be that I should boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
To the Corinthian saints, Paul wrote:
1 Corinthians 4:7 (NASB) For who regards you as superior? And what do you have that you did not receive? But if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?
Grace removes all grounds for boasting, save in God. His grace has given us everything.
The problem with legalism is that its adherents tend to evaluate their personal spirituality in light of the performance of others. The legalist thus rejoices at the fall of another brother, since he appears better in comparison. His response is that of smug superiority and self-righteous condemnation. His judgment makes him blind to his own sins. The scribes and Pharisees were "shocked" at the sin of the woman caught in adultery, but they were aloof about their sins concerning pride, materialism, and their neglect of the widows and orphans, and even of their own parents.
Paul elsewhere soundly condemned the practice of measuring ourselves against others:
2 Corinthians 10:12 (NASB) For we are not bold to class or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves; but when they measure themselves by themselves, and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding.
The solution to the problem of believers measuring themselves by the performance of others is given in verse 4. Paul commands believers, who seek to elevate themselves at the expense of others, to focus on their own responsibility and accountability before God.
How easy it is to respond to the sin of a fellow-saint by feeling smugly superior and by looking down on him (or her). However, this response misses the point of Christianity. On the one hand, we are to bear the burdens of others, rather than to impose burdens on them (such as the burden of condemnation and the rigorous, excessive requirements of legalism).
Galatians 6:4-5 (NASB) But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. 5 For each one shall bear his own load.
Paul says to stop comparing yourself with one another. Just look inside your own heart and assess your own heart, because that is ultimately what you are responsible for. When I stand before God, it has nothing to do with comparing myself with anybody else. I am responsible for my own heart. That is the load I have to carry. You can't carry that load for me; and I can't carry that load for you.
Paul tells us to stop comparing with everybody else and just look inside. In verse 5 he says to carry your own burden. There is no contradiction between verse 2 and verse 5, because two different Greek words are used. In verse 2, it is the Greek word baros, which means: "a burden - a load that is so heavy you can't carry it." But verse 5 is a different Greek word; it is the word phortion, which means: "a soldier's backpack." That is something that I have to carry myself. The reality is that I am responsible for my own heart and that is a load I have to carry myself.
Paul is talking about the practical fleshing out of what it really means to walk by the Spirit. It has to do with how I help those who are drifting off into sin, with my willingness and ability to bear one another's burdens.
There is a message from the Lord today for everyone who hears or reads this sermon. It goes like this:
To my people who are called by my name:
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