Galatians 5:26-6:5

Galatians 5:26-6:5

Walking the Walk

My sermon in a sentence is this:  The principal evidence as to whether the Holy Spirit is controlling a believer’s life is seen in how he treats his brothers and sisters in Christ, which in turn is often determined by how he thinks about himself.  That is the conclusion I have come to after the study we have done of the fruit of the Spirit and Spirit‑filled living as found in Galatians 5.  

Did you notice that the fruit we inspected back in chapter 5:22f is very heavily relational in focus–love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control?  If we are walking by the Spirit, every relationship we have will be radically changed.  But there is also a very close connection between how we act toward others and how we think of ourselves.  Our Scripture passage today, which takes us from the last verse of chapter 5 through the first five verses of chapter 6, is going to delve deeply into this topic.[i] As you can see from the outline in the bulletin, we are going to consider: 

how Christians should not treat one another, 

how they should treat one another, 

how they should not think of themselves,

and finally how they should think of themselves.  

I couldn’t really come up with a title that captures all the various elements of these six verses, so I used, “Walking the Walk.”  It’s one thing to claim to live by the Spirit, but it’s something else entirely to live a life that demonstrates the truth of that claim.  Do our lives profess what our mouths confess?  That’s the real question, isn’t it?

Please stand with me as we read our Scripture text beginning in Galatians 5:26 from the NIV:

Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load.  (Galatians 5:26-6:5)

How Christians should not treat one another (5:26)

“Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.”  This verse reveals two common problems in interpersonal relationships that result from the root problem of conceit or pride.  The conceited or boastful person, the one with an exalted concept of his own importance, often challenges other people and provokes them into argument.  His superiority is so important to him that he has to offer his two cents worth in every discussion and must have his own way or know the reason why.

What is interesting is that, while on the one hand the boastful person provokes those around him, on the other hand, he often envies them.  Why is that?  Because beneath the surface, the conceited person is usually very insecure.  He comes across as self-assured and confident, but the opposite is usually the case.  The bravado is often a cover for poor self-esteem.  In actuality he is jealous of the gifts, talents and attainments of others, and this shows up in resentment, apathy, gossip, and envy. 

Years ago I did some consulting with a Free Church in southern Indiana that fired their pastor after less than a year.  He was quite gifted but he demanded his own way constantly.  Underneath his confident demeanor was a person who suffered from major feelings of inferiority, which caused him to challenge anyone and everyone perceived to be a threat.   

But when the fruit of the Spirit is evident in one’s life, relationships with others are governed not by rivalry but by service.  The godly attitude toward other people is not, “I’m better than you and I’ll prove it,” or “You’re better than I am and I resent it,” but “We are both valuable persons because we were made in the image of God, redeemed by Christ, and gifted by the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, it is my privilege to serve you.”  

How Christians should treat one another (6:1-2)

The instructions given here are not intended to tell us everything we need to know about how to treat other people; rather they focus upon relationships that are threatened either by sinful behavior or by overwhelming burdens.  I have attempted to analyze the first 3 verses of Gal. 6 by means of 4 questions:

What are we to do?

Who is to do it?

How should it be done?

Why it should be done?

1.  What are we to do?  Verse one says, “If someone is caught in a sin . . . restore him.”  If we detect some Christian brother or sister doing wrong, we are not to stand by doing nothing on the pretext that it is none of our business, nor are we to condemn him in our hearts, nor are we to gossip about him to our friends in the congregation.  We are not even to report him to the Elders, at least not immediately There are, of course, circumstances under which the spiritual leaders of the church need to be told, for example, when the person rejects all efforts to help (see Matthew 18).

We need discernment here.  Paul is not attempting to tell us how to deal with every sin, but a certain kind of sin, the kind where a person is “caught.”  The term implies he is caught off guard.  Temptation has hit, and in a moment of weakness the person has succumbed.  This is not the same as when one goes against all warnings and against his conscience to deliberately do what he knows to be wrong.  That is sometimes called “sinning with a high hand” and requires a different response.

But in this case our assignment is to “restore him.”  The word used in the original Greek for “restore” means “to restore to its original condition.”  It was used in classical Greek as a medical term for setting a dislocated or fractured bone.  It is used in Mark 1:19 of the Apostles who were “mending” their nets.  We are to try to mend, heal, and restore.  Unfortunately it’s so easy instead to conclude that the person got himself into trouble through irresponsible or sinful behavior, so why should I bail him out?  He made his bed; let him lie in it. 

You know, that’s how legalists think.  Don’t forget that Galatians is fundamentally an attack upon legalism.  In view of that, I believe Warren Wiersbe has hit the nail on the head with this insightful comment:

. . . nothing reveals the wickedness of legalism better than the way the legalists treat those who have sinned.  Call to mind the Pharisees who dragged a woman taken in adultery before Jesus (John 8).  Or that Jewish mob that almost killed Paul because they thought he had defiled the temple by bringing in Gentiles (Acts 21:27ff).  (Legalists do not need facts and proof; they need only suspicions and rumors.  Their self‑righteous imaginations will do the rest).  So, in this paragraph, Paul is really contrasting the way the legalist would deal with the erring brother, and the way the spiritual man would deal with him. . . .  The legalist rejoices when a brother falls, and often gives the matter wide publicity, because then he can boast about his own goodness and how much better his group is than the group to which the fallen brother belongs.[ii]

Believe me, I’ve seen that kind of attitude a lot, even among pastors.  If a leading religious figure goes down the tubes, it is inevitably a hot topic at the next pastors’ conference.  Some conservative churches take pride in their exercise of discipline against sinning members.  It’s almost as though the number of members excommunicated is viewed as an indication of how godly the church is.  How much better would it to be if we could boast about the number of sinners restored to the faith and to the family!

2.  Who is to do it?  “You who are spiritual should restore him.”  Good, you say, that means it’s the responsibility of the pastors and elders.  No, Paul is not talking here about church professionals or church officers or super‑saints, nor is he speaking of people with degrees in conflict management.  His exhortations is to ordinary. mature Christians who are growing in their knowledge of God’s Word and walking by the Spirit.  Now I would hope that pastors and elders fit this category (they certainly should), but they are not the only ones.  Friends, restoring fellow-believers caught in sin should be first and foremost among our priorities as a Christians!

3.  How is it to be done?  “Restore him gently.”  Remember, gentleness is one of the fruit of the Spirit!  Here is one of its most important uses.  As a friend of mine said, you don’t take a two-by-four to wandering sheep; that should be reserved for stubborn mules.  

Now the reason gentleness is needed is twofold.  First, the sinning brother needs it.  If he is treated harshly he may rebel rather than repent, or he may become depressed, even suicidal, overwhelmed by his guilt.   But if he’s treated gently, the love shown may well serve to convict his conscience and bring him to his knees before God.

But the gentleness also serves a useful purpose in the life of the spiritual brother who is trying to restore him.  It indicates that he understands his own frailty and proneness to sin.  That’s why Paul adds, “But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.”  1 Cor. 10:12 puts it this way:  “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.”  Many a Christian who once proudly and confidently stated, “That could never happen to me!” has fallen into the very sin for which he condemned someone else.  

Ted Haggard surely didn’t treat gay men very gently, and that resulted in extra condemnation from the press.  Jimmy Swaggart didn’t treat philanderers very gently, and the same thing happened to him.  I think this is the issue Jesus spoke to in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 7:4-5:  “How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.’”  How much better to restore someone with the same gentleness that we would appreciate if we found ourselves in the same predicament!

John Wesley and a legalistic preacher‑friend were once invited to dinner where the host’s daughter, noted for her beauty, had been profoundly impressed by Wesley’s preaching.  During a pause in the meal, Wesley’s legalistic friend took the young lady’s hand and called attention to the sparkling rings she wore as he spoke to Wesley:  “What do you think of this, sir, for a Methodist hand?”  The girl turned crimson because Wesley’s aversion to jewelry was well‑known.   Wesley simply said, with a benevolent smile, “The hand is very beautiful.”  His choice of words cooled the too‑hot water poured by his friend and made the correction gentle.  The young lady appeared at the evening service that night without her jewels, and professed faith in Christ.  One doesn’t have to believe jewelry is sinful to appreciate the point of the story–correction must be done gently.

Alcoholics Anonymous sets a wonderful example in this area of restoring people gently.  A.A. is a group of ordinary sinners who know what it is to be restored themselves, thus they are gentle with those who are in the process of being rescued from addiction to alcohol.  They know the temptation, they know their own weakness, and they are willing to admit that they themselves are fully capable of falling again.  Christians can learn from this type of attitude of loving restoration of those caught in a trespass.

4.  Why should it be done?  Because Jesus demands it.  Verse 2 states, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the Law of Christ.”  What kinds of burdens are we to share?  Well, in this context it is the burden borne by the person who is caught in a trespass, probably a burden of shame, or perhaps a burden of suffering generated by his sin.  We must be ready to come alongside and share that burden.

That phrase, “the Law of Christ,” may seem a bit odd for Paul to be using in the book of Galatians.  But it really fits beautifully, for the goal of Galatians is to free us from the Mosaic Law and from man‑made religious laws, but not from the Law of Christ.  The NT teaches both the general law that we must love the Lord our God and our neighbor as ourselves and specific, concrete applications given by Christ and the Apostles as to what is involved in loving one’s neighbor. 

But those who have been caught in a trespass are not the only ones who need to have their burdens shared.  All of us have burdens of various kinds, and that’s why verse 2 says, “Carry each other’s burdens.”  Compassionate load-bearing takes many forms–prayer, financial help, preparing meals, taking care of children, opening up our homes, emotional support.  I have seen this Body of believers doing a beautiful job of bearing burdens for Mildred Rice and her family, for Larry and Kim Pankow, for families with special needs children.  I have also seen wonderful examples of bearing the burdens connected with emotional illness, failing marriages, and spiritual depression. Friends, this ministry of burden‑bearing is the proof that our faith is real, that Jesus is Lord, and that the Holy Spirit is empowering us!

I think there is an assumption that stands behind verse 2.  It is that God does not mean for us to carry our burdens alone, nor does He even want us to cast our burdens only on Him.  The Bible, of course, urges us to cast all our care on Him because He cares for us (like 1 Peter 5:7).   And in Matthew 11 Jesus tells those who are weary and heavy laden to come to Him and He will give them rest.  However, the presence of an adequate divine burden‑bearer does not mean that it is a sign of weakness to ask for support from human sources.  As a matter of fact, one of the ways in which Christ meets our needs is through human friendship.  

Let me stop here for a moment and ask this: What characterizes your relationships in the body of Christ?  Are you a restorer or a destroyer, a burden bearer or a burden-ignorer, or even a burden creator? 

Now in verse 3 Paul moves from how we treat others to how we think about ourselves.  But it’s not an abrupt switch, for there is definitely a connection between the two.  I think his point is that restoration and burden-bearing is not practiced as consistently as it should be primarily because our lives tend to be so self-focused and ego-driven.  Here’s how Paul addresses the issue in verse 3:  “If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.”  

How Christians should not think of themselves (6:3)

Do you remember the words of King Nebuchadnezzar?  “Is not this the great Babylon have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?”  The pride oozed out of every word, and because of that pride God humbled him with seven years of insanity.  But is his attitude really so different from ours toward our beautiful homes, our fancy cars, our well-paying jobs, our gifted and talented children, our bank accounts, our athletic trophies?  Do we not find ourselves saying, by attitude if not by word, “Is this not what I have accomplished through my hard work, my astute investments, my shrewd planning, and my carefully cultivated relationships?”

Friends, if such a thought ever crosses our minds we ought to recoil in horror.  In 1 Cor. 4:7 Paul asks, “What do you have that you did not receive as a gift, and if you did receive it why do you boast as though you did not?”  And James tells us that “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father.”  

Paul challenges us here in verse 3 to the effect we are not what we think we are; we are, in fact, a big zero without God.  It was God who created us in the first place, gave us to our parents, allowed us to be born where we were rather than in Cuba or Somalia, gifted us with our native intelligence and aptitudes, gave us strong bodies, and provided us with the opportunities and education and jobs we enjoy.  The person who ignores all that and thinks he’s hot stuff is indeed self-deceived.[iii]  

I remember a story my dad used to tell about a woman who came to the altar at the end of a revival service and confessed with tears that she was guilty of vanity–focusing so much attention on her beauty and charm.  The pastor listened quietly as she poured out her heart and then said quietly, “Ma’am, yours is not the sin of vanity; yours is the sin of imagination.”  Well, all of us do at times imagine we are more than we really are.  

Well, if the Christian must not think he is something when he is nothing, does that mean he should become self-loathing?  No, in verses 4 & 5 the Apostle discusses . . .

How Christians should think of themselves  (6:4-5)

They must examine their own work.  Verse 4 says, “Each one should test his own actions.  Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else.”  The implication of this verse is that boasting is not always or necessarily wrong.  It’s OK to have a certain pride in our work, or a positive feeling about our spiritual progress.  But that must not be based upon how we compare with others.  It’s got to be based upon what we have accomplished with what God has given us.  The reason for this is that God has not gifted everyone alike.  Some have been given five talents, some two, and some only one.  What is required is that each one be faithful with what he or she has been given. 

There’s a common but false doctrine in the church that, for want of a better name, we might call, “the doctrine of holiness by comparison.” It is practiced religiously by those with spiritual pride who are always focusing on other people’s faults or failures as a means of making themselves appear more spiritual.  Or it shows up in competitive attitudes toward the Lord’s work.  When we see words like “best, fastest‑growing, biggest, finest” applied to Christian ministries, who is it that is getting the glory?  This doesn’t mean it is wrong to keep records.  Charles Haddon Spurgeon used to say, “Those who criticize statistics usually have none to report.”  But we must be careful that we are not trying to make ourselves look good by comparing ourselves to others.  

They must carry their own load.  That’s what verse 5 says.  This verse has puzzled a lot of Bible students, because back in verse 2 the Apostle has said we are to carry one another’s burdens.  The KJV really created unnecessary questions because it used the word “burden” in both verses:  “Bear one another’s burdens.  Every man shall bear his own burden.”  Well, which is it?  The fact is the original Greek uses two different words in these verses.  In v.2 the word translated “burden” is best suited for describing the oppressive strain of problems too great to handle.  That kind of load can be lightened by the care of loving brothers and sisters.

The word in v. 5, however, is the common term for a man’s backpack and seems to imply that God has given each of us responsibilities and assignments that are ours and no one else’s.  No one can handle them for us.  We must accept our own responsibility.

Conclusion:  Friends, we too often assume that the church is a place for good people.  The result is that we wear a mask of goodness and we fear desperately that someone at church might become aware of our temptations and failures.  We often try to hide our burdens under a facade that implies we have it altogether.  

But the church is not a museum for saints; it is a hospital–a place where sinful, hurting, depressed and troubled people should be able to find someone who is concerned about them, willing to try to restore them, and able to help carry their heavy load.  May that become more and more the case here at First Free as we walk by the Spirit and allow His fruit to develop in our lives.

Prayer: Father, thank you for the practical teaching we have received this morning about our attitudes toward others and our attitude toward ourselves.  Help us to bear one another’s burdens.  But help us also to realize that burden bearing demands burden sharing.  Help us not to wear the mask that says we have it altogether.  May we be willing to admit that we need one another.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

The Lord’s Table.  It is our privilege on this first Sunday of the New Year to receive the Lord’s Supper together.  In his first letter to the Corinthian Christians, Paul writes to a church of intelligent, prosperous, gifted but ultimately immature Christians.  All their resources had not produced a community of grace and love, but divisions, factions, pride, boasting, envy, and gross immorality.  These Corinthians saw no problem with badmouthing one another and competing with one another, and then coming to the Lord’s table on Sunday to proclaim how much they loved Jesus.

Listen to what Paul has to say about this in 1 Corinthians chapter 11:

“I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you. . . .  As you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else.  One remains hungry, another gets drunk. . . .  Do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? . . .  Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.  A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. 

The Lord’s Supper which we are about to share in a few moments is not just an expression of our union with Christ; it is also a reminder of our communion with one another.  We are not allowed to come to this table proclaiming our love for Jesus if the reality of our lives denies that profession.  Don’t misunderstand me.  God does not ask perfect people to come–just those who are humble and repentant; those who want to keep in step with the Spirit.  I want us all to take a few moments to silently examine ourselves and do whatever business we need to with God.  We are to come to this simple fellowship meal with clean hearts, bearing no malice, harboring no jealousy or pride, looking down on no one.Let’s pray.                                                

[i].  Some of you may have noticed that I skipped a verse when teaching about the fruit of the Spirit.  It was the 24thverse of chapter 5: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.”  This verse is frequently misunderstood.  In Galatians 2:20 we learned that by faith-union with Christ, “we have been crucified” with him.  There the crucifixion is passive; it’s something done to us.  But the crucifixion of 5:24 is active; it’s something we must do.  

Well, when?  The Greek verb is in a tense that indicates this is something we did decisively at the moment of conversion.  When we came to Jesus Christ we repented.  We took our old sinful nature, with all its passions and desires, and (metaphorically speaking) nailed it to the Cross.  That may be metaphorical but it is far from meaningless.  Crucifixion was a very painful kind of death, reserved for the worst criminals.  And while it was a slow way to die, it was a certain death.  Perhaps the point Paul is making is that true believers do not succeed in completely destroying the sinful nature while here on earth, but they have nailed it to the Cross and are determined to keep it here until it expires. 

But I wonder how many professing Christians have ever really done this?  Today evangelism is so often done with little reference to the Cross.  People are told that God loves them and has a wonderful plan for their life, or that Christianity is a fire escape from Hell, or even that health and wealth are the inheritance of everyone who believes.  Who could turn down such a deal?  So people profess faith, join a church, and give very little thought to the issue of sin in their lives.  Instead of crucifying the sinful nature, they learn to coddle it, excuse it, even Christianize it, with the result that many so-called Christians bear little resemblance to fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.  

Furthermore, Jesus indicated that this decisive act of repentance that is a prerequisite to belonging to Christ in the first place must be renewed every day.  Every Christian must “take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).  This reveals another major problem in the church–Christians who did decisively repent at the time of conversion but have reneged on that commitment or have become apathetic and careless in their daily walk.  I suspect there may actually be more people in that camp than in the first. 

Once again here in this passage we see the balance between grace and personal responsibility, between being and doing.  We are saved by believing, not by achieving, yet at the same time God calls us to lives of repentance and obedience.  


[ii].  Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Free, 140-141. 

[iii].  I remember an ad by a world champion running back, “All men are created equal; some just work harder in the preseason.”  Friends, that just isn’t true, because there are a thousand other factors that determine one’s success in life.  If that football player had been born in Rwanda, how much would his hard work count for?  If a brilliant scholar had been born with Downs Syndrome, how much would his mental effort count for?  If Lebron James been born vertically challenged, how much fame would his athletic skill bring him?  If Charles Swindoll had been born with a speech impediment, how much would his brilliant word-smithing achieve?  You see, as much as we like to think we are responsible for our own success, the fact is that every success we have ever enjoyed is a gift from the sovereign of the universe.