Intensive Care

September 17, 2018

Text: Galatians 5:26-6:10

 

Date: 16 Sep 2018

 

Preamble

 

Writing in his commentary on Galatians, Steve Brady mentions a comment made to him many years ago that “There’s often more fellowship found in a pub than in a church”[1]. Think about that for a moment and you may well agree with the sentiment. I’ve long felt that apart from selling alcohol pubs often act as a Community Centre, a place where people, particularly lonely older people, can gather for some fellowship and companionship with others. Many do offer the sort of fellowship that is all too frequently missing in modern churches. I say that as a comment and not a criticism as I do appreciate that it is not always easy for a small church to provide the type of fellowship found in a pub.

 

What Paul is trying to do in these few verses is to encourage the growth and drawing together of the fellowship so that the Galatian believers can all pull in the same direction by sharing with one another and helping one another.

 

Introduction

 

In the previous passage, 5:13-25, we saw Paul tell us to avoid the “acts of the flesh” and seek the “fruit of the Spirit”. The former are associated with our lives and lifestyle before we came to know Christ whilst the latter are the attributes that we should be displaying as a result of coming to faith in Christ and our daily walk with Him. The closing verse of that passage is absolutely clear, “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (5:25). It should go without saying that all who follow Christ should move away from the “acts of the flesh” and live in the Spirit; perhaps not always easy although we do have the Holy Spirit to help us.

 

Now, in these next few verses Paul comes across very much as the Pastor, someone who truly cares for and loves his flock. He is anxious to give them as much advice as possible on how they should live as followers of Jesus Christ and how they should live together as a Christian fellowship.

 

Infighting

 

We need to remember that Paul is writing to the Galatian believers to try and combat the influence of the Judaisers and the way that they were trying to undermine the faith of the Galatians. Whatever else the Judaisers had or hadn’t achieved, they most certainly stirred things up in the fellowship such that there was undoubtedly some division and disagreement between the believers. Paul had touched on that in 5:15 when he told them, “If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other”. He continues that thought in 5:26 when he urges the Galatians to “not become conceited, provoking and envying each other”. As Christians we should be seeking to help each other and build each other up in our faith in Jesus Christ. We should most definitely not be fighting amongst ourselves as that helps nobody and certainly doesn’t represent Christ in the right way.

 

In the remainder of this passage Paul goes on to offer advice and guidance to these relatively new believers to help them follow a fruitful Christian lifestyle.

 

Help

 

In 6:1-6 Paul offers sound advice on four areas of life. Firstly he deals with anyone who is “caught in a sin”. Secondly he talks of helping each other with one another’s burdens. Next he talks of not thinking of ourselves as being special or above others. And finally he talks of those who receive instruction in God’s Word sharing the good things with their instructor or teacher.

 

As Christians no matter how hard we try we may still be prone to sin and therefore it is quite likely that we may be caught out by that sin. The NEB puts this verse slightly differently to the NIV and perhaps more helpfully when it says, “If a man should do something wrong, my brothers, on a sudden impulse, you who are endowed with the Spirit must set him right again very gently.” It seems to me that the key words there are “sudden impulse” and “very gently”. I’m sure that few Christians set out to commit a sin, it just happens and may be as the result of a “sudden impulse”. Dealing with such problems requires tact and diplomacy and depending on the nature of the sin, confidentiality. That means that the person helping to restore the sinner needs to do so “very gently”, with extreme care and most importantly with the help of the Holy Spirit. This can be a very difficult situation to deal with and may well cause problems for the helper, which is why Paul adds the warning, “watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted”. Being exposed to someone else’s sin brings with it the danger of being seduced by that sin and thus being tempted to follow suit. Such a move should be avoided at all costs and that is why the presence of the Holy Spirit is so important; He is there to help and strengthen us at all times and if we rely on Him then we can avoid being tempted by another person’s sin.

 

Becoming a Christian doesn’t mean that we are freed of life’s burdens; possibly quite the opposite since we frequently acquire more! What Paul is urging here in 6:2 is that we are to help one another with those burdens; we aren’t simply to stand by watching as someone struggles with a burden but rather to help them in any way that we are able. Paul suggests that if we do that then we “will fulfil the law of Christ”. Since Christ gave a number of commands which Paul frequently refers to as laws, we need to think which one he means. The obvious command that springs to mind is to love one another just as Jesus told His disciples; “A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:34-35).

 

I’m sure that down the years we’ve all met people, Christians included, who think that they are a cut above the rest; they think very highly of themselves! Paul’s response to them is simple, “they deceive themselves” (6:3). This isn’t a new problem since the prophet made a similar comment in Isaiah 5:21 when he said, “Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight.” I think that sums it up very nicely! You may recall that recently in the news there was a bit of a kerfuffle over the awarding of honours by HM Queen, with those who have dubious tax records being quietly forgotten. In connection with that a recent letter writer to The Times said this, “anyone who says they deserve an honour does not"[2]. Rather than claim to be above the rest Paul suggests that “each one should test their own actions” (6:4). This is very similar to what the Apostle has to say to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 11:28 where he talks of the Lord’s Supper and adds the thought, “Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup.” Whilst that verse refers specifically to our actions at the Communion Table, I believe that it is sound advice for all Christians at all times; we always need to “test our own actions” and ensure that they are in accordance with and reflect our faith in Christ. Paul’s comment in the second part of 6:4 seems to suggest that it isn’t totally wrong to take pride in ourselves provided it is for the right reasons. On that issue Paul spoke of himself and the work that he had been doing when he wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:10, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them — yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” On the surface it may seem that Paul is singing his own praises, that is until you get to those closing words, “yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me”. We never serve God in our own strength, it is always through His grace and the power of the Holy Spirit that we are able to do anything and we should do that to the best of our ability. Then, and only then, can we take some pride in what we have done. However, we should always avoid comparing ourselves to someone else; our concern should only be for our own actions, and I would earnestly suggest that if we are really looking for a role model then we should look no further than Christ Himself.

 

Paul’s fourth and final piece of advice in this section comes in 6:6 and deals with those who receive any form of instruction in the word. This is one of those verses that can be quite difficult for a Pastor or a Preacher to explain since it concerns their own material welfare. The NEB translation probably gives a clearer meaning when it says, “When anyone is under instruction in the faith, he should give his teacher a share of all the good things he has”. In other words, the person doing the teaching should be supported financially so that they may continue in their work of sharing God’s Word with everyone. In 1 Corinthians 9 Paul talks of the rights of the Apostle and suggests that the labourer involved in bringing in the harvest is entitled to share in the proceeds of that harvest. Similarly Paul argues that the person involved in sowing the seeds of God’s Word should also share in the material wealth of his hearers. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 9:11: “If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you?”

 

Sow and Reap

 

In the final four verses of this passage Paul adds a few thoughts on how our lifestyle should change now that we are “in Christ”. He begins with a harsh reminder that “God cannot be mocked” (6:7b). Once again the NEB possibly reads slightly easier when it says, “God is not to be fooled”. We may be able to fool ourselves with our poor or sinful behaviour and convince ourselves that we aren’t doing anything particularly evil, but we cannot fool God. Never forget that God, amongst many things, is all knowing and all seeing, and if we are doing the wrong things and not living how we should then He will be the first to know! The consequences of living in the way that we want rather than the way that God wants are not good to contemplate. As Paul makes clear, such activity will “reap destruction” (6:8) and I would suggest that Paul may be thinking here of the “the fiery lake of burning sulphur” that John refers to in Revelation 21:8.

 

On the other hand, if we live to please the Holy Spirit then through the Spirit we will “reap eternal life” (6:8b). The question has to be, how do we live to please the Holy Spirit? The answer to that may be simpler than you think! If we work on our daily walk with Christ, serve Him in the way that He calls and draw nearer to Him then we will keep on growing spiritually. We should also think carefully about what Paul had to say in 6:2 about carrying each other’s burdens. We know that good deeds of their own volition will never lead to salvation but as Christians helping one another we can certainly enhance our spiritual lives. James had it right when he said, “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:17). If we follow Paul’s advice we will slowly but surely exhibit the fruits of the Spirit that he spoke of in 5:22-23. What we must avoid doing is following what Paul described as “acts of the flesh” in 5:19-21 since they will only lead to destruction when we should be really looking to grow in Christ and thereby “reap eternal life”.

 

Paul’s closing comments in 6:9-10 may well link back to 6:2 where he has told us to “Carry each other’s burdens”. Now in 6:9 he urges us not to “become weary in doing good”. Doing good can include carrying each other’s burdens; helping others in their time of need. On becoming a Christian there are many who wonder how they can serve the Lord without moving into some sort of full time ministry. The answer is right here; do good for others. I frequently speak at the BCM Care Centre where street dwellers, hostel dwellers and those in need can have something to eat and find someone to talk to. Apart from the Manager and one other BCM employee, the evenings at the Centre are run by volunteers. They serve Christ and do good by helping those who are less fortunate. Whilst there is always a need for volunteers there are many who have been helping for a number of years; they have “not become weary” and seem to enjoy what they are doing.

 

In the final verse Paul offers his final word of encouragement; “as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people”. There will be opportunities that present themselves if only we look for them. There are many charities who rely on volunteers and I mentioned a moment ago the work of volunteers at the BCM Care Centre. I get the feeling from these few words that Paul may be suggesting that if we wish to volunteer we shouldn’t just sit back and wait but seek opportunities to serve the Lord in this way. The first part of the verse implies that there should be no exceptions to those we seek to help; Paul says “to all people”. However, in the second part of the verse he suggests that we do good “especially to those who belong to the family of believers”. That thought reminds me very much of Luke’s description of the early church in Acts 2:42-47. In Acts 2:44 Luke tells us that “all the believers were together and had everything in common.” And then in Acts 2:45 he adds, “They sold property and possessions to give to everyone who had need.” Those verses suggest to me that the members of the early church were doing good to one another some time before Paul suggested it to the Galatian believers. Luke and Paul were obviously like-minded in how believers should apply their faith by helping others, both within and outside the community of believers.

 

Conclusion

 

As we approach the end of this amazing letter, Paul moves away from his argument with the Judaisers and on to more pastoral matters. In these eleven verses he offers a lot of advice to the Galatian believers on how they should conduct themselves now that they are Christians. It is all sound advice and it is advice that applies to us just as much today. I would earnestly suggest that we study these verses very carefully and follow Paul’s advice. If we do that then we will reap what we sow and we will reap the promise of eternal life that comes from having and applying the faith that we have in Jesus Christ.

 

 

 

 

[1] Brady, Steve, All You Need is Christ – Galatians, Authentic Media: Milton Keynes, 2007, page 162

 

[2] Futter, Royston, The Times - Letters to the Editor, 04 Sep 2018, page 32

 

 

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