You Reap What You Sow (Gal 6.1–10)

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).

The “law of Christ” is only men­tioned explic­itly twice in the New Tes­ta­ment.3 Paul also uses in 1 Corinthi­ans 9 when describ­ing his moti­va­tion and free­dom to con­tex­tu­al­ize the Gospel:

“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 (βάροÏ?)8 is used, but in verse 5 the Greek word for “load” phor­tion (Ï?ορÏ?ίον).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? (καÏ?ηÏ?έÏ?)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!

Foot­notes

  1. F.F. Bruce, The Epis­tle to the Gala­tians: The New Inter­na­tional Greek Tes­ta­ment Com­men­tary (Grand Rapids: Eerd­mans, 1982), pg. 259. [Back]
  2. Phillip Gra­ham Ryken. Gala­tians (New Jer­sey: Pres­by­ter­ian & Reformed Pub­lish­ing, 2005), pg. 247. [Back]
  3. 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]
  4. See Thomas Schreiner, The Law and Its Ful­fill­ment: A Pauline The­ol­ogy of Law (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993), pg. 33ff. [Back]
  5. 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]
  6. Bruce, pg. 261. [Back]
  7. Ryken, pg. 248. [Back]
  8. Strong’s G922. [Back]
  9. Strong’s G5413. [Back]
  10. Ryken, pg. 252. [Back]
  11. Strong’s G2727. [Back]
  12. Ryken, pg. 253. [Back]
  13. Bruce, pg. 263. [Back]