In Galatians 6, Paul shows us how the grace of God operates in the life of the church family as we live for others, bearing one another’s burdens. Although it can seem difficult and so is often neglected, this is an important part of Christian fellowship. Is this how your church family helps one another?
Brothers, if someone is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual should restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so you also won’t be tempted. Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Gal 6:1-2, HCSB).
Paul is talking about someone who is caught in a sin. The image is of someone who is caught in a trap, struggling between living their way and living in light of the grace of God (cf. Gal 5:19-21). And since we know that those who live in sin do not inherit the Kingdom of God, what are we to do as those in Christ’s family when someone is sinning?
Paul’s answer is: we who are spiritual should restore the one caught in a sin, in a spirit of gentleness. That is, the Christian brother or sister caught up in a sin should be brought to repent and be given the help, love and support needed to change to begin living for Christ. And this is not just a job for the clergy. That is not what Paul means by spiritual. Earlier in Galatians he makes clear that anyone who has faith in Jesus is a spiritual person (cf. Gal 3:26, 4:6).
And notice how we are to restore people. Literally, in a spirit of gentleness. While gentleness is not to be confused with weakness, the restoration of someone who is caught in a sin is not to be done arrogantly, or roughly, or in a spirit of self- righteousness. It is a messy business. It is hurtful and difficult. It is personally costly. And when it is done wrongly, it is extremely damaging. I take it that the difficulty involved in restoring someone caught up in sin is the reason why it is so often neglected. It is hard to rebuke people in love and help them to repent in a spirit of gentleness.
So, who can restore a person gently? One who knows what it is like to have been restored gently by God. You see, God has not been rough, arrogant or brutal with us. No, God has been gentle. And if that is how God has treated all of us, we are to act with the same Spirit as God, the Spirit who is in us. However, attached to all of this is a warning to watch ourselves and make sure we are not tempted by the same sin we are restoring others from. Even more, Paul is asking us to be careful about falling into the sin of being pompous, arrogant and self-righteous. That is how he ended chapter 5: “Since we live by the Spirit, we must also follow the Spirit. We must not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” (vv.25-26) Having clearly heard Paul’s warning, we see that loving one another means we will not shrink back from restoring those who have fallen into sin.
Interestingly, Paul doesn’t give us any more details about how to restore someone from sin. We are able to glean principles from the Bible (eg. Matt 18:15-20), but we are not given a series of rules. It takes wisdom and courage. What Paul is very clear about is that when someone has fallen into sin, we do not neglect them. No, we who are spiritual are to restore those who are caught in sin. And what makes it seem even harder, is that we are to do this even though we ourselves may be burdened with depression, insecurity, sickness, suffering and broken relationships (to name a few).
In this context of life’s burdens, we are to rely on the grace of God. Unlike our society which can be self-centered, worried about its own rights, seeking comfort and temporary pleasures, the community of God who have understood the grace of God is called to be different. It should not be about self-interest or competition with us. We do not have to prove ourselves. In fact, that would be the opposite of grasping God’s grace. If we know we are loved by God, we do not have to prove anything to anyone. Instead, in selflessness we are to share one another’s burdens.
And the reason we support each other, making sure that the Bible, the word of Christ, dwells with us richly all the time is because of the law of Christ (Gal 6:2). The law of Christ is a new way of relating to people. It does not mean we can be busybodies, but rather that we are willing and glad to share in the burdens that life brings us. And this is because the burden of condemnation has been lifted from our shoulders by God through the Lord Jesus Christ. The law of Christ –the gospel –is our teacher and our model.