Galatians 6:1-16 (EHV)
1 Brothers, if a person is caught in some trespass, you who are spiritual should restore such a person in a spirit of humility, carefully watching yourself so that you are not also tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if someone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 Let each person test his own work, and then he will take pride in regard to himself and not his neighbor. 5 For each man will bear his own burden.
6 Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with his teacher.
7 Do not be deceived. God is not mocked. To be sure, whatever a man sows, he will also reap. 8 Indeed, the one who sows for his own sinful flesh will reap destruction from the sinful flesh. But the one who sows for the spirit will reap eternal life from the spirit. 9 Let us not become weary of doing good, because at the appointed time we will reap, if we do not give up. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who belong to the household of faith.
11 See what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand. 12 Those who want to look good in the flesh are the ones who are trying to compel you to be circumcised. Their only reason is so that they are not persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 As a matter of fact, those who are circumcised do not keep the law themselves. But they want to have you circumcised, so that they can boast about your flesh.
14 But far be it from me to boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world. 15 In fact, in Christ Jesus circumcision or uncircumcision does not matter. What matters is being a new creation. 16 Peace and mercy on those who follow this rule, namely, on the Israel of God.
Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so we may not boast in anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
The trap goes off and the leg of the animal is caught between the iron jaws of the trap. It howls and whimpers as it investigates its predicament. It tries to get away, but soon discovers it can’t get out by itself. It’s trapped. It’s injured. It’s now at the mercy of those who trapped it, but will it receive mercy?
For many people, the answer might be: “Of course not!” Some may reckon: “Good riddance!” or “Serve itself right!”
But the problem is, it isn’t a pest caught in the trap, but the beloved family dog!
So, out of love for our injured pet, what will we do? How might we approach it knowing an injured animal, even one who knows and trusts us, might snap and snarl when we come close or start investigating its injuries? Yet, because we love this animal, we know we must help it, because to leave it there in its painful trap would be cruel and heartless!
We’ll need to think carefully about how we might approach our trapped pet in such a way we don’t cause more harm or threaten its relationship with ourselves by associating us with causing more pain. So, we gently and calmly approach our injured pet and work toward freeing it, healing it, and restoring it to the family.
This is the picture St Paul gives us in his letter to the Galatians, but the one caught in the trap is one of our own members of the body of Christ.
In this case our brother or sister in Christ might be caught in the trap of satisfying him or herself with pleasure. They’re caught in the idolatry of pleasing oneself which is inconsistent with the self-control of the Christian faith. His or her actions indicate they no longer trust in the words and ways of the Lord.
We might be tempted to think: “Well, each to his or her own!” and reckon it’s got nothing to do with us.
But to leave them trapped in their delusional predicament would be cruel and heartless. Their faith, their witness to Christ by their living, and their eternal salvation, could be in danger! Out of love and mercy for our brother or sister in Christ, what will we do?
How will we express our faith in God as we learn to love our neighbour as ourselves as we approach this person, knowing this person might ‘snap’ and ‘snarl’ at us for seeking to help them? To help a person caught in the trap of satisfying themselves won’t be easy, so, as spiritual people, we’ll need to do it gently if we truly want to restore this person within the fellowship of the Church.
Similarly, if someone’s been hurt by others, and is now responding in a hateful, vindictive, and unforgiving way by spreading rumours, causing division, inciting hatred, or creating conflict, well, any attempt at approaching their fragile and hurting hearts, will also be received with much ‘snapping’ and ‘snarling’. Their pain is raw and currently central to that person’s thoughts, words, and actions.
Again, to leave them trapped in their bitterness and resentment would be cruel and heartless. Their love toward others, their witness about God’s love, and perhaps their faith in God’s mercy for all people, could be at stake.
We love our pets enough to help them, so why don’t we love each other enough to serve them when they’re trapped in their desires for pleasure or in their responses to pain? Out of love for our brothers or sisters in Christ, and as people bearing the fruits of the Spirit, how will we approach our neighbours with the hope of restoring them to forgiveness, peace, and joy?
In this case, St Paul gives us a list of instructions – not so much to prepare the person who’s been caught, but to prepare and warn you and me as the spiritual people who are to gently restore our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ caught in the trap of sin.
Firstly, he tells us to restore them gently.
We’re always more concerned for them, their healing, and their faith in Christ, than for ourselves. We attempt to soothe them with assurances of God’s love, God’s forgiveness, and God’s peace. After all, the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is the greatest healing balm we have access to. We do this patiently, yet persistently.
Paul also knows when we’re seeking to help someone, especially in matters of faith and love, we’ll experience spiritual warfare. We’re not just battling with the person in front of us, but we’re also battling with the ways of the world, the deceptions of the devil, and our own selfish and self-centred nature. This means we’ll also face spiritual temptations.
We’ll be tempted to get caught up in their desires for pleasure or their responses to pain. Out of compassion or a desire for justice and fairness, we’ll be tempted to give approval to their sinful responses and desires, and so become party to their sinfulness. If they’re reluctant to repent and believe, we may also be tempted to give up on them and let them wallow in their state of entrapment.
Paul also tells us to carry each other’s burdens.
This means we’re not to add to their burden or even let them carry it alone. We’re to take an active part in their healing process, especially through listening with the intent to understand, being courageous enough to gently confront sin with the appropriate word of God, but also handing over the burdens of sin, justice, and restoration to God in prayer.
All the time we’re not to get a big head or arrogantly think we’re better than them. Because, if we approach them having with an air of pride because we figure we’ve got better self-control than them, we won’t approach them with love, but with judgment and condemnation.
For this reason, we’re to humbly approach them as a fellow sinner knowing each of us are also in need of God’s grace and mercy.
This humbleness will help us love our fellow sinner and, knowing grace and healing is available at the foot of the cross of Christ, we guide our brother or sister to that same cross – not just for their benefit, but also for our own.
Even if they’re reluctant to go to that cross with us, we may ask God to give us the strength, grace, patience, and wisdom we need so that we may be His spiritual vessel of forgiveness, peace, and grace which God might use to show his love and mercy to this troubed person.
God isn’t to be mocked by the way we and our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ live out our faith. We can’t call ourselves ‘Christian’ and then live in a way contrary to the Christian faith.
Similarly, for those seeking to live the Spirit-filled life, if we truly love our neighbour (as Jesus commands), especially as we love our Christian neighbours, then we can’t sit by and let fellow Christians remain caught in their sinful behaviour. This is because sin isn’t just about doing the wrong things, but it’s also sinful to not do the good thing.
For this reason, the Spirit won’t let us remain indifferent or unresponsive to people’s needs. And if we’re feeling indifferent or uncaring toward our brothers and sisters in Christ, then perhaps we’re already one of those trapped in a state of selfishness, pride, apathy, or worse.
What we discover is that, neither you, nor I, can truly love God the right way. We don’t fear, love, or trust him as we ought, but keep going back to sinful human behaviour which leads to decay, division, despair, and death. We often get caught in the trap of sinfulness and need a Saviour to save us from the sticky quagmire of guilt and shame.
In the same way, you and I have failed to love our neighbours rightly. We’ve neglected to love, serve, and care for them as God commands. Our selfishness, arrogance, and apathy has too often gotten in the way. We’ve judged instead of loved. We’ve failed to act out of fear and misplaced priorities. We’ve criticised, attacked, and condemned instead of seeking to understand, forgive, or lead our Christian brothers and sisters to the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.
So, in the light of St Paul’s instructions, we’re faced with the uncomfortable truth: You and I aren’t good enough and we’ve failed to live the Spirit-filled life.
But this is also part of the point!
You see, no matter how good St Paul was, did you notice what he boasts in?
Even though he gave these great spirit-filled instructions on how to care for our brothers in sisters in Christ, did he boast in actually getting it right? As a fellow sinner who fails again and again like you and me, he knew his only hope, peace, joy, and salvation was in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ!
So, in a strange twist, even though we’re talking about how to care for fellow Christians who are trapped, we all ultimately look to the One who willingly, obediently, and lovingly, became the One trapped for you and me on the cross so that we may be free from our sins.
Our goodness and perfection doesn’t come from avoiding sin and doing everything right, but it comes from trusting our Lord Jesus Christ who, despite living obediently and lovingly while bearing such fruit of the Spirit, ended up on that cross of pain and suffering to pay the full price for all our failures to obey properly or love rightly. Through faith, we all receive his forgiveness, goodness, and perfection as a gift.
Therefore, we don’t boast in ourselves for getting everything right or good, but we boast in the One who willingly allowed himself to be trapped, injured, and killed for you and me so that he would pay the blood price for us through his suffering and death.
We could say that the cross of Christ is the tree where the fruit of the Spirit grows, and we receive the benefits of those heavenly fruit through faith as we hear and trust his words of forgiveness, mercy, and love; as we’re washed and adopted as dearly loved children of God in the waters of baptism; and as we’re nourished with his body and blood in the Lord’s Supper.
By all means, let’s love our Christian neighbours enough to courageously seek to gently restore them in the fellowship of Christ. But also know, when we fail (and fail we will), we’ll need to accompany our brothers or sisters to the cross – that tree of death and life where our Lord suffered and died in order to give us all his forgiveness, goodness, and perfection.
It’s by looking to, and trusting in, the cross of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ in faith that…
…the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.