Sunday School Lesson for July 20, 2003
Background Passage: Galatians 6:1-18
Focal Teaching Passage: Galatians 6:1-10
Be Responsible in Bearing Burdens (6:1-6)
This concluding chapter of Paul’s epistle serves as a direct and practical example of how his previous exhortation in 5:25 should be evidenced in the life of the church. Those who are, indeed, living and walking by the Spirit must show forth the power and reality of the Spirit by being responsible members of the body of Christ. This is especially true in matters of church discipline.
In the first verse the apostle addressed how the congregation should handle those who become "caught in any trespass"—that is, how believers can demonstrate responsibility by helping others bear the burden of sin. The exact nature of such a trespass is not clear, but is likely connected to the "deeds of the flesh" in 5:19-21. When a member of the believing community becomes entangled or trapped in a sinful behavior, the "spiritual" ones are to initiate a process of gentle restoration.
- By "spiritual" Paul probably had in mind those individuals in the congregation who possessed a greater degree of Christian maturity, practical wisdom, and knowledge of the faith. In essence, he called upon those who considered themselves to be led by the Spirit to prove it by becoming responsibly involved in the care of a wayward member. It is, then, "a straightforward appeal to the unfallen Galatians to assist the fallen" [Cole, 224].
- The spiritually mature members of the church were commanded to "restore" the offender (v.1). This word, from the ancient world of medicine, indicates something like the mending or setting of a broken limb. It essentially means to put something back in order, or to return something to its former condition. Thus, the ultimate aim and spirit of all church discipline is redemptive, not punitive. The sinful member is to be lovingly directed toward confession and repentance of his sin.
- Those who are involved in the process of restoration, however, must be diligent to operate in the "spirit of gentleness" (v.1). As we saw in last week’s lesson, "gentleness" is a manifestation of the fruit of the Holy Spirit. It is a distinguishing mark of those who are truly indwelt and led by the Spirit of God. Thus, one’s words and actions throughout the process of discipline and restoration should be characterized by a persistent Christian love—a love motivated by the grace of God in Christ.
- Another responsibility to be shouldered by the "spiritual" ones in the process of redemptive discipline is that of humility. Paul commanded that those who administer restorative discipline should carry out their ministry while "looking to" themselves in order to avoid being "tempted" (v. 1). In other words, the honest realization of "one’s personal vulnerability to temptation should prevent self-righteousness in the treatment of those who have yielded to it" [Bruce, 260].
Next, Paul provided another practical way that Christian maturity is made evident within the body of Christ. It is displayed by humbly and generously assisting those within the fellowship who are suffering hardship—that is, by helping others bear the burden of practical needs. Paul commanded his readers to "bear one another’s burdens" (v. 2). This seems to describe the willingness to help a brother or sister in Christ shoulder a heavy load—the various kinds of hardships and difficulties all men face at one time or another. When such a gracious spirit of concern and care for others characterizes the church, Paul declared that the "law of Christ" is fulfilled. That is, by manifesting sensitivity and responsiveness to the needs of others, the teachings of Jesus, especially regarding sacrificial love for others, are brought to practical expression and fulfillment. Thus, we should understand Paul’s phrase "law of Christ" as referring to "the whole tradition of Jesus’ ethical teaching, confirmed by his character and conduct, and reproduced within his people by the power of the Spirit" [Bruce, 261]. Note, however, that there is both a warning and a responsibility associated with the apostle’s call to bear one another’s hardships:
- The warning (vv. 3-4)—Paul cautioned his readers to remember that such a ministry to the body demands absolute humility. Giving care to others with a spirit of spiritual superiority and selfish pride will only result in harm to Christ’s church. Paul may have actually had in mind the prideful behavior of his legalistic opponents—those who believed they were really "something" with their outward show of good works. However, Paul taught that a self-righteous, prideful person is, in reality, self-deceived about the degree of his own strength and righteousness. For this reason, each member of the body should conduct an examination of "his own work" (v. 4). The standard of measurement that should be applied to all Christian service and labor is "the mind of Christ revealed in Holy Scripture" [George, 417]. Thus, the kind of self-examination Paul commanded is one that should be conducted "in the light of the law of Christ—especially the law or standard which is embodied in the person of Christ" [Bruce, 262]. When this is done, all "boasting" will bring glory and honor to Christ and His infinite grace, and not to human achievement.
- The responsibility (v. 5)—Next, Paul reminded his Christian brethren to be dependable in the shouldering of their own God-given responsibilities. The word "load," a different term than that used in v. 2, describes the basic responsibilities each believer in Christ has before God. Such "loads" are multifaceted, and are expressed in a variety of ways within the faith community. As Paul implied here, these are the types of burdens one cannot share with others. Each person must shoulder those tasks assigned by God with the full awareness of direct accountability to Him.
Finally, Paul provided one additional avenue for the expression of spiritual maturity. Those in the body who are the beneficiaries of the ministry of God-called teachers—those who are "taught the word"—should be willing to "share all good things with him who teaches. That is, they should help bear the burdens of full-time Christian service. This is a way of saying that the members of the body of Christ have the responsibility of providing for the financial needs of those who serve the body with gifts of preaching and teaching (cf. 1 Cor. 9:14; 1 Tim. 5:8). As Bruce explains, the teacher "relieves the ignorance of the pupil; the pupil should relieve the teacher of concern for his subsistence" .
Be Responsible in Doing Good (6:7-10)
In this section of the chapter Paul’s exhortations centered on the importance of manifesting Christian maturity and responsibility by doing "good" to others. We should keep in mind that the Christian notion of good is far superior to that found in other ethical systems. Goodness, first, reflects the character of the God whom we serve (Ps. 106:1; 136:1; Jer. 33:11). Secondly, Christian goodness is based upon the moral and ethical standards set forth in God’s Word. That which is good is that which corresponds to His will as expressed in Holy Scripture. Finally, goodness has been perfectly modeled for us in the life of our Savior. He is the "good Shepherd" whom we have been called in grace to follow (John 10:14).
Four exhortations related to the theme of goodness are evident:
- Remember the law of the harvest (vv. 7-8)—This basic principle of farming—that one reaps what is sown—is profoundly relevant in the world of beliefs, morals, and ethical conduct. This law cannot be violated in either the physical or spiritual realms and, consequently, God cannot be "mocked." Sowing to the "flesh" leads to "corruption"—the manifestation of the physical effects and consequences of man’s sin against God. Yet, sowing to the "Spirit" leads to "eternal life." Those who are led by the Spirit, obediently following God’s will, can depend upon the enjoyment of the manifold blessings of God’s grace in this life and in the life to come. Those who attempt to mock God in their pride and disobedience can expect only pain and death.
- Remember to keep on keeping on (v. 9)—Christian discipleship requires endurance and perseverance. Here Paul encouraged his readers to work hard as faithful Christian servants, knowing all the while that "in due time" God will fully bring to pass "the consummation of all things in accordance with the good pleasure of his own will" [George, 424]. With the reality of Christ’s final triumph ever before us, we can avoid loosing "heart" or growing "weary."
- Remember to make the most of every opportunity (v. 10a)—Diligent followers of Christ, however, must not assume that there will always be plenty of time to do God’s will. Paul cautioned the Galatians against such a presumptuous mentality. Rather, believers must do God’s eternal business with all haste, while there is "opportunity."
- Remember to care for your brothers (v. 10b)—While making the most of the God-given opportunities laid before us, we must "do good to all men." Yet, in so doing, we should not forget that we have a special obligation to those in the "household of the faith." True Christianity, expressed in sacrificial love and service, begins at home. If it is not real in the community of faith, how can it be authentically displayed in the world?
Major Themes for Reflection and Application
One: Love and discipline—This passage reveals that real Christian love is demonstrated through accountability and discipline within the body of Christ. Why is discipline so neglected today? What are some of the factors that make biblical church discipline so controversial? How can a local congregation become more faithful in this duty?
Two: Burdens and maturity—Verse 2 indicates that Christians have burdens too. That is, we see that believers are not immune to the difficulties and hardships of life. This raises some significant questions about the nature of the Christian life. For example, are hardships always caused by disobedience or sin in a person’s life? Are burdens evidence of God’s love or disfavor? How can hardships, difficulties, and needs foster the development of spiritual maturity?
Three: Goodness and evangelism—Think about what it means, in practical terms, for believers to be engaged in doing "good to all men" (v. 10). You might want to first define what a good Christian is. Remember how good is defined and exemplified in Scripture. How can doing good become a powerful tool for the proclamation of the gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Christ?