Living the Gospel in the Church
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ
Let us not grow weary in well-doing. . . . As we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
Galatians 6:9, 10
Unfortunately, the church in Galatia seems to be typical of too many congregations. Paul has already warned them by telling them not to devour or provoke, and not to envy one another (Galatians 5:15, 26) and by including such things as strife, jealousy, envy, and dissension in his list of the works of the flesh (verses 20, 21). On the positive side, he has begun presenting a solution by claiming that the essence of Christianity is “faith working through love” (verse 6); that the whole law is fulfilled in one word, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (verse 14); and that the foremost aspect of the fruit of the Spirit is love (verse 22).
Concrete examples of living the Gospel
The Galatians obviously had some series problems along these lines. After having told them to walk by the Spirit in verse 25, Paul is now ready to give them some concrete advice on how to do so in the light of the problems developing in their midst as they move from their reliance upon grace to an orientation in which their personal achievements in law-keeping are tilting not only their theology but also their attitudes toward themselves and toward one another in an unhealthy direction. A reading of Galatians 6:1-5 implies that they were no longer acting graciously toward one another (verses 1, 2), they had developed inflated ideas of themselves, probably because of their superior spiritual achievements (verse 3); and had begun comparing themselves with other individuals in the church who were presumably less dedicated to the “advanced” teachings that saw circumcision and observing the Jewish regulations as a way to truly get right with God (verse 4).
Paul has heard enough of such attitudes and actions flowing out of their new theological orientation. He will begin to address them head-on in Galatians 6:1-5, ending up with the fact that ultimately each person comes to judgment before God (verse 5, 7, 8). To put it bluntly, Paul will demonstrate in verses 1-5 that 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.
The apostle’s first practical admonition has to do with those believers who have not done everything right, who have been “caught in a sin” or a fault (verse 1, NIV). The work he selected for fault is an interesting one. It means to stumble on something. The word does not represent a settled course of action but an isolated action. In other words, we are dealing with a church member who has sinned but is not blatantly and unashamedly and continually practicing sin in the sense Paul spoke of in Galatians 5:21, in which he declared that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. That is, the ones Paul is speaking about the Galatians 6:1 are not hardened rebels but sincere Christians who have temporarily fallen.
Now we as fellow church members can relate to those who have made a mistake (even a serious one) in two ways. We can encourage them and lead them to the throne of grace where they can confess their moral failure and be forgiven (I John 1:9), or we can add our condemnation to the weight of their already guilty conscience. That latter course seems to have been what was happening in the churches in Galatia. The zealots for the law were merciless to sinners. For Paul that is part of the tragedy of their new emphasis on the law that had usurped the central place of faith and grace in the gospel he had preached to them. Paul seems keenly aware that a self-righteous posture of prosecutors can cause greater damage to the community than the offence done by a wrongdoer.
Condemning those who have been careless or willful might seem to be quite normal and right – at least from human perspective. But Paul is telling the Galatians and us today that it is not Christian. To the contrary, Spirit – led people – people walking by the Spirit (Galatians 5:25) – will express the love fruit of the Spirit (verse 22), which includes the virtue of gentleness (verse 23), as they deal with those “caught in a sin.” And they need to not only be gentle with such people but must remember who they themselves are. After all, none of us are above falling (Galatians 6:1). And, if we reflect for a moment, we will recall that we have been saved by grace and repeatedly forgiven by the gentle mercies of God. Just as God has repeatedly restored us, so we, if we are Christians, will restore one another rather than condemn. The word restore is a healing work, used especially as a surgical term, of setting a bone or joint. Mark 1:19 employs it for Zebedee brothers mending their nets. Christians are to be healers of those amongst them who have fallen into sin. Therefore, we should not condemn those trapped in sin but bear one another’s burdens and thereby fulfil the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).
The expression “Law of Christ” is an interesting one in Galatians context. It undoubtedly alludes to Galatians 5:14, in which Paul said that the whole law is fulfilled in one work, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” And verse 14 may be based upon such ideas as those set forth by Jesus in Matthew 22:37-40, in which He defines the law in terms of love, and John 13:34, in which He claims that His “new commandment” is that His followers should ”love one another; even as I have loved you” (confer John 12:15).
The tragedy of the Judaizers and many modern Christians is that their preoccupation with the outward laws of the Bible has led them into a transgression of the heart of God’s Old and New Testament LAW – to love one’s neighbor as one’s self (Galatians 5:14; Romans 13:8-10; Matthew 22:37-40; Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18). It is out of the heart of the LAW of love that the more particular commandments (or laws) related to our neighbor flow (see Romans 13:8-10; Matthew 22:40). Central to Paul’s overall teaching is that those who have been freed from Jewish legalism and from using the law as a way to get right with God in the end live out the law as they walk by the Spirit. As Paul puts it in Romans, those who are in Christ Jesus are free from the law of sin and death . . . in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the spirit (Romans 8:1-4).
In Galatians 6:3 Paul turns to the topic of personal evaluation. The most serious delusion faced by Christians is thinking we are something when in fact we are nothing. We begin to assume we are something when we begin to contrast out good achievements with others who may not be as righteous in their daily lives as we are. God, cried the Pharisee, I thank thee that I am not like other men. . . . I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get (Luke 18:11, 12). Oh, how good we appear to ourselves when we compare ourselves to others. But, oh how poor we are when we evaluate ourselves against God, when we remember that He has forgiven us our past sins by His free grace, and when we realize that He even deals gently with us in our current pride.
Paul’s admonition is that we need to examine our own work (Galatians 6:4). In the context of Galatians is, that examination needs to take place in the light of the fruit of the Spirit and the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-23). Are we walking in the flesh when we live with spiritual pride and strife, or are we walking in the Spirit with its love and gentleness? It is, according to Paul, one or the other. What, I need to honestly ask myself, is the guiding principle of my life as I relate to other church members? Am I condemning of those who have sinned, or am I gently serving them in love.?
Only when I walk in the Spirit do I have grounds for boasting (Galatians 6:4). The Galatians indulged into two kinds of boasting. One group lauded their accomplishments through circumcision and other aspects of the law viewed as a way of getting right with God. The other group consisted of those who realized that they had been rescued from the curse of the broken law by the death of Christ (Galatians 3:10, 13), and empowered by the Holy Spirit to walk in the way of the Spirit (verse 25). Such boasting consists of extolling what God has done for us in Christ (see Galatians 2:20). It actually represents humility in that we see that we are nothing without God’s free grace. And it leads to the loving and gentle bearing of one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:1, 2).
But then in verse 5 we come to a surprise: “each man will have to bear his own load.” How is it that we need to share each other’s burdens (verse 2) yet carry our own loads (verse 5)? The answer lies in the fact that we are looking at two different Greek words. The burden (baros) of verse 2 is a crushing one, whereas the load (phortion) of verse 5 is like an individual soldier’s quite manageable pack, from which each is supplied with his own provisions. Thus if we are walking by the Spirit, we will be gently working to help other Christians down the pathway of life, but each of us also remains responsible for daily living personally in the spirit in our journey. Our load is to be in God’s will as we walk. John Calvin is undoubtedly correct when he links each person bearing his or her own burden to God’s final judgment, in which each man for himself and without comparison will render an account of his life. Verses 7 and 8, which deal with the results of sowing to the flesh or to the Spirit, reinforce that conclusion.