We start the final chapter of Paul’s letter to the Galatian Christians. This letter is full of continued application which Paul started in the previous chapter. He hits subjects such as how the Christian community should relate to one another, and he also talks about the fact that what you do will have an eternal consequence.
“Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.” (vs. 1)
Paul starts this discourse in an endearing fashion. He calls the Galatians “brethren” as opposed to “foolish” back in chapter 3 (vs. 1). You can feel in the tone of the writing that Paul is taking the very attitude that he is about to exhort the Galatian Christians to. He starts his instruction by saying that if “anyone is caught in any trespass” they are to restore one another. He calls on “those who are spiritual” to restore those in transgression. Paul is giving us the meaning of true spirituality; true spirituality loves, bears, and restores one another. F.F. Bruce says: “Mutual help is the hallmark of the community of faith. Gentleness, not arrogance, is the way of Christ.”1
This is a good reminder for each of us on how we relate to one another in the body. It is often easier to find something wrong in someone else and point that out then to lovingly restore them to faith. This point is important, because there will be a time that we will need other members of the Christian community to restore us in our transgression. Jesus reminds of us to be careful of judging one another in transgression: “Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye?” (Mat 7:3).
In the previous chapter Paul describes gentleness as one of the fruits of the Spirit (vs. 23). He exhorts us to remember that gentleness is the most Spirit-led way of restoring our brother or sister. Paul does warn us to watch ourselves “so that you too will not be tempted.” Restoring a struggling believer can often entice us to sin ourselves so we must use prudence when helping to restore in a spirit of gentleness. In particular, the sin of pride in restoring a fallen brother or sister can be devastating. Phillip Ryken visualizes this teaching of Paul:
“In some ways, restoring a sinner is not all that different from setting a broken bone. The process is bound to be painful, no matter who does it. But the more deftly the bone is set, the sooner the healing can begin. In the same way, someone who tends a sinner’s wounds must do so with gentle kindness.”2
“Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.” (vs. 2)
An even more difficult task to do for a brother a sister is to bear their burden. We often feel as though we have enough of our struggles that we couldn’t possibly due it for another believer, but Paul here says that to bear another’s burdens is to “fulfill the law of Christ.” God Himself tells us in His word that He bears the burdens of His saints. This was done by Christ carrying our eternal burden of sin to the cross to the Psalmist saying: “Cast your burden upon the LORD and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken” (Psa 55:22).
“To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law.” (1 Cor 9:20-21)
This passage sheds light on Paul’s definition of the “law of Christ.” The laws (nomos) include commands given by God Himself.4 He gave it to Moses and Israel at Sinai, and the Messiah came and delivered His law. Isaiah saw this when he said in a Messianic prophecy: “He will not be disheartened or crushed Until He has established justice in the earth; And the coastlands will wait expectantly for His law” (Isa 42:4). It’s important to establish that the Law Christ delivered is not fundamentally different from previous expressions of God’s Law; but Christ, in His teaching, has fulfilled the Law of Moses. That is why Paul can say that he is not under the Mosaic Law (“not being myself under the Law”) but that he is under “the law of Christ.” Paul, and Christians today, are not bound by the law delivered to Moses but that the Messiah delivered to us.5 This is important, because Paul established back in chapter 3 (vs. 24-25) that the Mosaic Law had a temporal, pedagogical role in the life of Israel; but now that the Messiah (“faith”) has come the Mosaic Law is no longer necessary.
I feel as though Paul had in mind the ethical teachings of Jesus when describing the law of Christ and not that Jesus was simply regurgitating the Law of Moses. After all, Jesus did tell the Church to go to the nations “teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Mat 28:20, emphasis added). I also believe that the Law of Christ also includes the ethical instructions of the Apostles themselves as the writers of the New Testament and being given by Christ the “keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven” (Mat 16:19). I like the commentary provided by Bruce on the law of Christ:
“It may be that Paul speaks of the law of Christ here as a contrast to the law which his converts were being urged to accept: the law of Christ is a ’law’ of quite a different kind, not enforceable by legal sanctions…In fine, the ’law of Christ’ is for Paul the whole tradition of Jesus’ ethical teaching, confirmed by his character and conduct (cf. Rom. 13:14; 2 Cor. 10:1) and reproduced within his people by the power of the Spirit (cf. Rom. 8:2)”6
We cannot, however, miss the point Paul is trying to make in this passage. He is saying very clear that bearing one another’s burdens is to fulfill the very commands of Christ, and it is for every believer. Ryken adds this great quote: “Every believer is called to be one of God’s bellhops, always ready to pick up someone else’s baggage.”7
“For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” (vs. 3)
Of all the passages in this section, this is by far the most convicting. Oh how often do I love to think of myself as “something” when really I am “nothing!” It is true that the believer, through God’s predestining work, “has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph 1:3); but without Christ we truly are nothing. Jesus came so that we “may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). We should heed Paul’s exhortation to flee from spiritual pride. He would later tell the Corinthians a similar lesson: “If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know; but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him” (1 Cor 8:2-3).
“But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. For each one will bear his own load.” (vs. 4-5)
Even though the NASV is more literal, I like the NIV’s rendering of verse 4: “Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else.” It is easy to compare yourself to one believer and either find yourself having pride in that you are more spiritual then them, or you can go to the other extreme and be disheartened because you feel as though you’ll never be as spiritual as another. The point Paul is trying to make is that that is not the point; the point is to measure your own work by God’s, and not man’s, standards. The Pharisee made this mistake in one of Jesus’ parables: “God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector” (Luke 18:11). The tax collector on the other hand was broken realizing his state before an infinitely holy God, and he cried out “God, be merciful to me, the sinner” (Luke 18:13). Jesus says that the tax collector went home justified, because “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14). There remains the point that when comparing to God’s standard that no one will have “reason for boasting in regard to himself alone.” Paul also tells the Corinthians:
“For we are not bold to class or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves; but when they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding. But we will not boast beyond our measure, but within the measure of the sphere which God apportioned to us as a measure, to reach even as far as you.” (2 Cor 10:12-13)
Paul does say that “each one will bear his own load,” but how does that fit in with the teaching that we are to bear one another’s burdens? The Greek words used in each verse give us a contrast. In verse 2 the Greek word for “burdens” baros (Î²Î±ÌÏÎ¿Ï?)8 is used, but in verse 5 the Greek word for “load” phortion (Ï?Î¿ÏÏ?Î¹ÌÎ¿Î½).9 The “burden” described in verse 2 is a weight that is to heavy for one to carry alone, but the “load” in verse 5 is of a much lighter variety that can be carried by one person. “When the Scripture says that everyone must carry his own weight, it has this lighter burden in mind.”10
Each Christian will be accountable for themselves on judgment day and will be judged by the deeds that had done in the flesh (Rom 2:6; Rev 20:12). This is important to remember when we are to “bear [our] own load.” Each person is individually responsible before God.
“The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him.” (vs. 6)
The Greek word behind “taught” is kateÌ?cheoÌ? (ÎºÎ±Ï?Î·Ï?ÎµÌÏ?)11 which is what we get the English word “catechism” from which is oral instruction in Biblical truth.12 This passage’s meaning isn’t very self-evident. Paul’s instruction is that those who are involved in the teaching of the world should be relieved of worldly stresses such as finances. This is another way of saying: “the laborer is worthy of his wages” (Luke 10:7).13 This serves as a reminder that we are to help those who help us as we are to bear one another’s burdens.
“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.” (vs. 7)
Paul is not yet done teaching about personal responsibility. We are not to “be deceived, God is not mocked.” We cannot scuff at the living and holy God. We cannot sin and think we will not be held responsible for what we do in the flesh, because “whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.” Paul’s teaching is that you will receive the consequence of our actions’be it positive or negative.
“For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” (vs. 8)
In chapter 5 Paul contrasts the flesh (our sinful nature) and the regenerate believer (life in the Spirit). There were the deeds of the sinful flesh (19-21) and the fruits of the Spirit (22-23) which are completely antithetical in the mind of Paul. If we “sow” or plant according to our sinful flesh then we will “reap” or harvest corruption which means “decay.” Even though sin might “feel good” for a short time, it is short-lived and will ultimately provide negative consequences. But the one who sows to the Spirit (planting/doing the fruits of the Spirit) will gain something far more precious than a fleeting moment of sin–we will inherit eternal life.
This lesson in agriculture should teach us where we should be planting our “seeds of deeds.” We should plant good, spiritual fruit and not corrupt seeds. To do the former will entail eternal life, but to do the latter will only reap destruction, decay, and separation from God.
“Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.” (vs. 9)
Paul knew that doing good by sowing to the Spirit is more difficult than sowing to the flesh, but it is worth the effort: “for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.” It’s almost as if Paul was telling the Galatians that the road before them is difficult, but don’t grow weary because their inheritance is eternal. This admonition for perseverance is not unusual in Paul’s writings; he told the Corinthians: “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win” (1 Cor 9:24).
“So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.” (vs. 10)
When we have the opportunity to do good to others we should, but he makes a delineation between those inside and outside of Christ. While helping all people is beneficial and is Christ-like, to care for those who are of the “household of faith” is especially important. This includes the admonition to help our teachers financially (vs. 6) as well as bearing on another’s burdens (vs. 2). It is not something that is to be done occasionally but every time that “we have opportunity.”
So let us let down our spiritual pride (to which I am most guilty) to bear the burdens of our brothers and sisters, support those who support us, and sow eternal, spiritual “seeds of deeds” to please our Father in heaven!
- F.F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Galatians: The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), pg. 259. [Back]
- Phillip Graham Ryken. Galatians (New Jersey: Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing, 2005), pg. 247. [Back]
- I believe this passage and Galatians as a whole has a profound impact on how we understand the relation of the Mosaic Law to the New Covenant believer. While I can’t expound my complete thoughts on this issue, I would direct the reader to the article ‘How Does the Christian Relate to the Law of Moses?’ for a good summary of my position (http://www.covopc.org/Papers/Christian_Moses.html). [Back]
- See Thomas Schreiner, The Law and Its Fulfillment: A Pauline Theology of Law (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993), pg. 33ff. [Back]
- Phillip Ryken strives to establish that, in the mind of Paul, that the law of Christ is the ‘moral law’ which Ryken says is the Decalogue. Ryken says that all of the ethical instruction Jesus gave included the Decalogue. Is this the truth? Did Jesus teach that the Decalogue is the eternal moral law of God? I find it interesting that when Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was in the law He says that it is to love God with all our heart, mind, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mat 22:37-40) neither of which are in the Decalogue. It would seem that Jesus would see this principle as being the eternal moral law of God, because ‘On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets’ (Mat 22:40). [Back]
- Bruce, pg. 261. [Back]
- Ryken, pg. 248. [Back]
- Strong’s G922. [Back]
- Strong’s G5413. [Back]
- Ryken, pg. 252. [Back]
- Strong’s G2727. [Back]
- Ryken, pg. 253. [Back]
- Bruce, pg. 263. [Back]