Paul’s letter to the Galatians was prompted by a controversy over what someone had to do to be saved. In Acts 13 and 14, we read that Paul spread the Good News and planted churches in the region of Galatia. Evidently, some Jewish Christians had come after Paul left and attacked Paul’s authority, denying that he was an apostle. They told these new believers that to be saved they must believe in Jesus and keep the Jewish law. They needed to be circumcised, keep the Sabbath, and follow the Jewish food laws. Paul wrote this letter to proclaim that the gospel is the good news of what God has done for us in Christ, not what we do for Him. We are saved by His grace, not by law; by faith, not by works.
This type of salvation leads to true freedom. Because the cross has once-and-for-all canceled our sins, our consciences are clean. The law that once condemned us now has no power over us. We are not slaves to guilt and shame. We are not prisoners of our past. We no longer have to live in fear of disappointing God, since He knows all the sin we are capable of and chooses to love us just the same. We no longer have to live in fear of falling short, but can stand tall and live in FREEDOM through Jesus! We are totally and truly free!
As Paul concludes his letter, he then invites believers to walk in the freedom by keeping in step with the Spirit and gives some practical instructions on how to live free. We don’t use our freedom to indulge the flesh; instead, we use it to serve and love others. The Apostle makes this abundantly clear in Galatians 6:1-10. He presents three counter-cultural truths that should guide the lives of freed believers. Because we have nothing to prove anymore, we are empowered to live radical lives that run against the grain of the world in which we live.
Counter-Cultural Truth #1- In a cancel culture, we restore the fallen.
Galatians 6:1 (NIV)- Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently.
We are presented with a scenario of someone who is “caught” in sin. The word “caught” was sometimes used for an animal caught in a trap. It describes a believer who has been suddenly overcome by some temptation. While it does not mitigate individual responsibility for sinful actions, we must realize that we have a real enemy who is always on the prowl.
He has several tried and true snares: The snare of temporary pleasure lures individuals with immediate gratification with no regard for future consequences. The snare of the fear of missing out deceives believers into thinking that saying “no” to temptation might rob them of an opportunity that they would really enjoy and might not get again. The snare of secrecy baits believers into engaging in sinful behavior by promising that no one will ever find out. As we have all witnessed over the last several years, Satan and his snares are effective. Otherwise, good people often find themselves in a trap.
Most of our attention focuses on the person who is trapped, but Paul’s concern is on the response of believers to the trapped person. What will you do when you hear your brother, your sister, crying for help? Will you walk away? Will you condemn them? Will you say, “That’s what they get?” Will you claim that you always knew something wasn’t right about them? Will you go get others to come glare at them as they flail in the trap? Or will you come and help them?
Paul makes it clear what spiritual people will do. In a convincing rhetorical move, Paul defines the response of the spiritual. We generally associate “being spiritual” with being flawless, above reproach, and morally pure. We would then expect those spiritual people to respond harshly to the fallen. Let’s be honest- the most spiritual people we know aren’t always the most understanding people that we know. But Paul writes, “You who are spiritual, restore them.”
Spiritual people will restore the fallen, and they will do so gently. The word “restore” was used for setting a broken bone. If you’ve ever had a broken bone, you know how painful that can be. And if the doctor doesn’t treat you gently, he can make your pain much worse, even as he tries to help you heal. When a brother or sister is down, you don’t announce it to the world. You don’t try to ruin his reputation. You don’t cancel her. No, you go to his aid and do what you can to help him or her recover. Build people up. Don’t beat people up.
This verse ends with a stern warning. While we are helping, we should be careful that we don’t fall into a similar trap. I believe that Paul is warning against two threats here. First, the enemy might prey on the spiritual pride of the judgmental person. We should never be deceived about the extent of potential evil in our hearts. Eugene Peterson brings out this nuance in The Message’s paraphrase of Galatians 6:1, “If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out.”
There is a second danger in restoring the fallen. When restoring others, we are sometimes tempted to minimize their sins and overlook their transgressions. “Yeah, he slept with her. But, men have needs after all.” “Yeah, she reacted toxically. But, she has to deal with so much.” Paul’s concern is that minimizing the sins of others usually leads to minimizing your own sin. The more you empathize with their plight, the more tempted you become to indulge in your own desires. You’re only human, after all!
We live in a culture that loves to either coddle or cancel. The counter-cultural middle ground is gently correcting and restoring the fallen. Because we have been freed by Jesus, we are available to bring His grace and mercy to those that need it the most.
Counter-Cultural Truth #2- In an inwardly-focused culture, we bear the burdens of others.
Galatians 6:2-5, 2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. 3 If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. 4 Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, 5 for each one should carry their own load.
The burden of this verse refers to an overwhelming load, baggage weighing you down as you stagger along the journey of life. The last few years have been heavy years. Pastors and leaders are all too aware of trying to meet the needs of others while also managing their own heavy burdens. Interestingly, Paul does not identify the nature of the burden or from where it might have come. What matters is that when you see someone staggering under a heavy load, you drop what you are doing and go help them bear that load. Instead of judging them, you help them by doing whatever you can for as long as you can.
This will certainly slow you down, which is quite discouraging if your goal is to get to the finish line first. But, if freeing the captive and helping the hurting is part of your understanding of Christian discipleship and leadership, then you will be quite content to delay your own journey, so that you can help someone else on theirs. When we help others, we fulfill the law of Christ, according to Paul. Theologians debate this verse, because, in this very letter to the Galatians, Paul has said, repeatedly, that we are not under the law. Yet, here, we are instructed to “fulfill the law of Christ.” We are not under the Law of Moses, but we are under the Law of Christ. The Law of Christ is summarized by Jesus’ words that we are to love God and to love others. Believers are constrained by the Law of Love. Because I love you, I can’t look the other way while you struggle with a heavy burden. As a side note, I believe Paul is being a little sarcastic here. Paul has combated legalistic Judaizers who advocated keeping the Mosaic Law in order to curry the favor of God. Now he says: “Ok. You want to follow the Law? Fine. Here is a law you can follow! Not the Law of Moses, but the Law of Christ!”
I want to draw your attention to one other tension in these verses that I think is particularly relevant for those of us that lead in churches. We are supposed to bear others’ burdens (v. 2), but carry our own loads (v. 5). If everyone carries their own loads, then why would they need help carrying their burdens? The word for “burden” used here refers to an impossibly heavy weight, while the word “load” represents something that is difficult, yet manageable, to carry. Here is what Paul is teaching us. There are things that are too heavy for us to carry alone, and we need people to come alongside and help us carry them. There are other things that are light enough for us to carry alone, and we need to handle it without burdening others. Christian leadership requires us to help people carry their burdens, while teaching to handle their own loads.
Bearing someone’s light loads leads to codependency. “Can you pray for me?” “Yes, but you can also pray for yourself.” “Can you help me with my rent this month?” “Let me see what I can do, but are you willing to take a course on budgeting and stewardship?” “Can you call me this week? I need some encouragement.” “Absolutely, but may I ask what you are doing to encourage yourself in the Lord?” I can help you carry your boulder, but you need to learn to carry your own backpack.
Paul’s instruction, once again, runs counter to our current culture. Plenty of people ignore the plight of others, in the race to advance themselves. Plenty of others pamper others by blaming their inability to cope with life on a myriad of outside factors. Paul provides the counter-cultural middle ground. Carry the burdens of others. Carry your own load.
Counter-Cultural Truth #3- In a culture of bias and prejudice, we do good to all people.
Galatians 6:6-10, 6 Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor. 7 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8 Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. 9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
Free people know how to both give and receive. They know how to receive the Word. They know how to share with the teacher. Someone who only gives and never receives is prideful. Someone who only receives and never gives is greedy. God’s people should not share in all good things with him who teaches because it is good for the teacher. They should do it because it is good for the one who is taught and shares, and the principle of reaping and sowing demonstrates this. When you sow generously, you reap generously.
This doesn’t just apply to your finances, but to every area of your life. A farmer reaps the same as he has sown. If he plants wheat, wheat comes up. In the same way, if we sow to the flesh, the flesh will increase in size and strength. Do not be deceived. Don’t think that you can plant apple seeds and pray for a puppy.
Everything we do in life either sows to the flesh or to the spirit.
The admonition to not grow weary comes from the reality that we will experience seasons where it will seem like we are always sowing, but never reaping. We are always bearing others’ burdens while having to carry our own. Always giving, but never receiving. Paul reminds us, though, that we will receive a harvest as long as we don’t quit. This frees us to do good for all people. I can love someone who doesn’t love me back, because I know that I will reap love from God if I don’t give up. I can give to those who can never repay. I can serve those society has cast aside. I can afford to serve anyone and everyone, because my reward is coming if I simply don’t quit.
Our culture has codes about who we are supposed to love and who deserves our good deeds. They say, “Do good to those who agree with you. Belittle those that differ from you.” “Love your political candidate, but hate all of the other ones.” “Give the benefit of the doubt to those who look like you, but denounce wrongdoings committed by those who don’t.” But, Jesus says in Matthew 5:43-45, 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[i] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
You have heard culture say, “‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy,’ but I say to you. Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. Do good to ALL people. So that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” God, our Father, is generous and gracious to both His children and to His enemies. Both sunshine and rain were essential in a farm-based society. God did not just give rain and sun to those who followed Him, but He gave it to everyone equally.
But, you may ask, does God have enemies? Romans 5:10 states, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” That’s right. You and I were once enemies of God, but those of us who have placed our faith in Jesus have been reconciled to God by the Cross of Christ. But even while we were still enemies, God was good to us. He gave us rain and sunshine. He gave us breath and life. He gave us family and friends. He gave us shelter and safety. Most of all, He gave us His only Son, Jesus. God gave His greatest gift to those who were His enemies.
Jesus shows us that we can love and be generous to all people, even our enemies, because God is responsible for the harvest. If we keep sowing, we will reap. So, let us keep restoring the fallen, carrying the burdens of the weary, and doing good to all people.
Landon Galloway is Destiny’s Director of Education, and serves as a campus pastor of Grace Church in Tomball, TX.
He is married to Sarada and they have two daughters, Vanna, and Zarra.