Posted: 20 Mar 2011 12:00 AM PDT
IN AN EARLIER MEDITATION (vol. 1, September 30), I reflected on the flow of thought in Galatians 6. Here I want to focus on elements of Galatians 6:1–5.
On the face of it, there is a formal contradiction between Galatians 6:2, "Carry each other's burdens," and Galatians 6:5, "for each one should carry his own load." One could guess at a pastoral resolution. Christians should be concerned to help others; at the same time, they should not invert this concern and so depend on the help of others that they become nothing but freeloaders. In other words, Galatians 6:2 makes abundant sense when it is understood to forbid isolationism and to mandate compassion; Galatians 6:5 makes abundant sense when it is understood to forbid sponging and to mandate personal responsibility.
But the context of the paragraph in which both sayings are embedded enables us to go a little farther. The passage begins by exhorting Christians to restore, gently, a brother or sister who is caught in a sin (Gal. 6:1). More specifically, Paul says that "you who are spiritual" ought to undertake this task. In light of the preceding verses (see yesterday's meditation), those who are "spiritual" are Christians who manifestly "keep in step with the Spirit" (Gal. 5:25) and thus produce the fruit of the Spirit. This responsibility is laid on all Christians, but obviously some Christians are a little farther along in their fruit-bearing than others. So Christians who produce the fruit of the Spirit, as mandated of all Christians, should take primary responsibility for gently restoring a believer caught in a sin.
This should be a gentle restoration, not least because thoughtful Christians will recognize how they too may be tempted by this or some other evil (Gal. 6:1b). By helping one another in this way—with encouragement, prayer, moral support, companionship, accountability, whatever—we thereby "carry each other's burdens" (Gal. 6:2). This, of course, is equivalent to fulfilling the law of Christ, who not only taught that the greatest commandments are to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself, but gave us his "new commandment"—to love one another as Jesus himself loved them (John 13:34–35).
In such a regime, self-promotion is ugly, futile, and self-deceiving (Gal. 6:3). Pride goes before a fall. It vitiates the quiet self-examination that is ruthlessly and patiently honest (Gal. 6:4). Community-destroying, soul-deceiving pride is displayed when Christians compare their service records in order to put the other person down. Honest self-evaluation engenders a godly thankfulness and a legitimate pride that never puts another person down, for "each one should carry his own load" (Gal. 6:5).
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