Explore the Bible Series
July 12, 2009
Background Passage: Galatians 6:1-18
Lesson Passage: Galatians 6:1-18
About a year ago I read a book entitled, Unchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity… and Why It Matters, by David Kinnaman. This monograph explores the religious attitudes of the “Mosiacs”, young Americans born between 1984-2002, about twenty-four million people. According to Kinnaman’s research, these people remain, like previous American generations, intensely interested in issues of faith; however, they differ from their predecessors in their rejection of institutional Christianity. As you might anticipate, this generation is abandoning traditional church structures in large numbers. This isn’t terribly unusual—young people often rebel against their religious moorings, only to return when they mature. Kinnaman, however, predicts that most Mosaics will never return to formal church structures.
Though Mosaics evidence a strong “tribalism” (emphasis on broad relational networks), they also possess a fierce individualism and soaring self-confidence. They are profoundly cynical about social institutions and public leaders. Many (about 40%) have very negative impressions of Christianity, and, as a result, may seek religious connections in nontraditional ways.
For many years I have taught a course at a regional state university, a class entitled, The History of Religion in America. As Kinnaman might anticipate, the class has a large enrollment, and the students have an intense desire to understand the role religion has played in our nation’s history. However, I observe that most have very negative impressions of religious leaders and institutions. A large percentage of my students, over the years, have self-identified as atheists (and that number has grown significantly, over the past few semesters). Others have retained their faith, but they simply reject formal ties with the church. Many express profound disappointment with the religious impressions left on them by childhood experiences.
I am much older than the Mosiacs (much older!), but I understand their disillusionment with church institutions. Frankly, I wish I could accept their position on the church, but the Bible knows nothing of “lone wolf” Christianity. In the last chapter of Galatians Paul described some of the responsibilities that the Galatian believers had to their brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul could never conceive of a Christianity that did not include community, formal bonds among those who profess faith in Christ.
One final introductory point, Paul loved these people in Galatia. In the early chapters of the epistle, sharpness characterized the apostle’s message. He, no doubt, was angry and deeply offended by the attacks of the Judaizers. These strident chapters may leave the impression that Paul did not love the Galatians, but, in fact, he cared deeply for them. I think his love provoked his angry response to their defection from the faith. Chapter Six leaves no doubt of the apostle’s affection for his friends in Galatia.
*Kinnaman uses the word “Mosiac” to describe American young people, born between 1984 and 2002. As I understand his terminology, he uses this term to reflect the fabric that makes up the way these folks think. Because of their access to electronic media, these young people have woven together a complex and ambiguous world-view, a philosophy of life that does not prize logical consistency. The Mosaic, then, borrows ideas from a broad range of sources and fits this disparate pieces into a chaotic system of thought.
I. The Restoration of Fallen Brothers (vv. 1-5): Note the tender address, “brothers”. This term demonstrates Paul’s compassion for the Galatians. As a brother, the apostle asserts their responsibility to restore fallen brothers.
A. “restore such a one” (v. 1): Spiritually-minded believers must restore brothers who are overtaken by any trespass. Vaughan suggests that the verb form indicates a person caught in the very act of sinning. “Restore” translates a word that the ancients used to describe the setting of a broken bone. Here’s the point. Christians should be very slow to “write off” people; instead, we have a responsibility to restore and rehabilitate. Please understand, Paul did not condone the sinful behavior; rather, he encouraged a renewal of holy behavior. Believers must exercise great caution in restoring fallen brothers.
1. “in a spirit of gentleness”: an attitude of humility and meekness
2. “considering yourself lest you also be tempted”: No one stands beyond the possibility of falling into serious sin. Those who restore the fallen brother must remember their own liability to sin.
B. “bear one another’s burdens” (vv. 2-3): This verse builds on the previous idea. Part of restoring a fallen brother relates to understanding the forces that contributed to the brother’s trespass. Perhaps some great burden fostered weakness that caused him to stumble. The failure of a brother may indicate a failure of the whole church, if brothers did not help the staggering brother. Bearing one another’s burdens helps to protect the church against scandalous sin. Pride prevents a person from bearing the burdens of others (See v. 3).
C. “let each one examine his own work” (vv. 4-5): Proper self-examination promotes humility. As the spiritual believers seek to help a fallen brother, they should consider their own lives. Their awareness of their own shortcomings will produce the meekness and gentleness necessary for restoration.
II. The Loving Support of Christian Ministers (vv. 6-10): There is no harder job in the world than pastoring a church. The demands can crush a man if the congregation does not place certain safeguards around the pastor.
A. “share in good things with those who teach” (v. 6): These verses certainly include providing for the physical needs of the minister and his family. Pastors should not indulge in a spoiled, opulent life; neither, however, should they live in poverty. Also, this message of this section is not limited to the financial obligations of the church. In a sense, the minister stands alone. No one else in the congregation may really understand the pressure this man deals with daily. He is in a uniquely vulnerable position, and he bears everyone’s burdens, including his own. The minister keenly feels the weight of responsibility for the spiritual wellbeing of everyone under his charge. In general, Christians should bear one another’s burdens, and this responsibility extends to the pastor. Look, basically there are two types of persons in the church: those who bear the pastor’s burdens and those who are the pastor’s burden. Which are you? I have found that those who add to the pastor’s burdens are often those who most delight when he stumbles under the weight. Clearly, Paul took a dim view of such people.
B. “whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap” (vv. 7-8): Don’t separate this verse from the previous statement. Those who add to the burdens of a minister will, in time, reap what they have sown.
C. “do not grow weary in well doing” (vv. 9-10): Teachers and church members alike may grow discouraged in the difficulties of community living. Church life proves very challenging, and anyone who commits himself to the corporate life of the church will grow weary under the constant pressures.
III. Concluding Concerns (vv. 11-18)
A. Paul’s deeply personal concern for the Galatians (v. 11): At first glance, this reference to Paul’s handwriting may seem strange. Remember that the apostle often utilized an amanuenses to pen his letters, but, in this case, he wrote the words himself. Furthermore, he wrote in large letters characteristic of his handwriting. Some think the large letters reflected a serious eye disorder from which Paul suffered, and, if this is the case, the Galatians would have recognized Paul’s distinctive hand. Vaughan believed Paul wrote in large letters to emphasize the importance of his message. Whatever the situation, the apostle authenticated this letter by pointing out that he penned it himself.
B. A summary of the epistle (vv. 12-16): One last time, Paul reminded his readers of the serious nature of the theological dispute in Galatia. As he saw it, the insistence on circumcision eroded the theological importance of the cross, and Paul could tolerate nothing that undermined the glory of Christ. Furthermore, he concluded that the Judaizers insisted on circumcision because they wanted to escape the offense of the cross (See v. 12b).
C. An appeal for peace (vv. 17-18): Paul had wearied of the debate about circumcision, and he longed for peace on the matter. The Judaizers claimed they had the mark of the covenant in their flesh (circumcision), but Paul bore marks too, the scars of persecution. Stonings, beatings, and imprisonments had left their marks on the apostle, and they bore witness to the genuineness of his gospel.