This past week we celebrated our independence from the British Empire. So I thought it might be good to spend some time this morning thinking some about our interdependence with one another in the kingdom of God. The Apostle Paul had a somewhat touchy relationship with the followers of Jesus in the province of Galatia, and I’m pretty sure that if they were given the chance, that they would have declared their independence from him. They didn’t like him very much, and they probably would have been pleased to have been done with him. Paul had this pesky habit of calling the folks in Galatia to account for their aberrant Christian views and their sometimes decidedly un-Christian behaviors.
And yet, while the relationship between Paul and the Christians in Galatia might not have been as mutually satisfying as Paul might have hoped, he still loved them dearly and had great affection for them. Love and affection for his readers was something that Paul excelled in. He had it mastered. In knowing Paul, and in knowing the Galations, this gift of love and affection was something that clearly came from God.
And so in chapter six, he opens his remarks by calling the Christians in Galatia, “My friends.” At least that’s what our pew Bibles say. But that’s not quite good enough. Nowadays, when someone calls you “friend”, it usually means that you are not. One really famous but irritating media preacher does this all the time. When he says “friend”, he’s always referring to someone who is not a follower of Jesus. He is always referring to someone who is outside of the family of God. Don’t call me “friend” unless we have a mutual relationship. Friends are friends and that’s fine, whichever way it goes, but the original Greek says, “My brothers.” That’s what Paul wrote and I don’t know why the translators of our pew Bibles didn’t put in “My brothers and sisters.” “My brothers and sisters” is so much more powerful than “My friends.” “My brothers and sisters” speaks strongly of the relationship that we have with Jesus Christ as the children of God. And in this context, it speaks profoundly of the connection of interdependence that we all have with one another because of the strong bond that we have with Jesus Christ. Paul is affirming his eternal relationship with the Christians in Galatia, and friends just doesn’t cut it. We are far more than that to each other.
And so here’s some good things to be doing that re-enforce the profound connections that we share and the interdependence that we have with one another.
People mess up. We are only human after all, and we are prone to sin. And when one of us messes up, the call is not to reject that person or to ostracize them, but rather to restore them with gentleness. This is hard work, because the very nature of sin is to separate us from one another. Sin damages our relationships with one another, but it needn’t destroy them. The connections that we have with one another are far more powerful than the damage that sin can cause. Very few people realize this and they will accept, or give in to broken relationships far too easily. Paul says, “Take care that you yourselves are not tempted”. In this context, that means don’t allow someone else’s failures to create a wall of separation between us and the ones who fail. We’re still powerfully connected to one another in spite of our failures. We ought not be running away at the first sign of failure.
We ought also to be bearing one another’s burdens. This has wide implications in terms of our interdependence on one another, but this morning I’m thinking of lightening each other’s loads. In every congregation there is a small percentage of folks who do most of the work, while the rest complain about not much work being done. Doing our part will ease the burden others bear. Encourage one another, and above all else, pray for one another, and God’s purposes will be accomplished.
It turns out that none of us is more special than anyone else. Better to think of ourselves as nothing, as Paul says, than to think of ourselves more highly than we ought. We all have different gifts and abilities, but that only makes us more interdependent than ever on one another.
Pride in our work is a funny thing. We often compare pride to boasting, and boasting is usually a bad thing. So Paul says that all must test their own work rather than their neighbor’s work. Because of sin we have this habit of testing our neighbor’s work and comparing ourselves to one another, which usually results in boasting. Or, if we compare ourselves negatively to others, that could lead to feelings of inadequacy and failure. The sense here is that each of us ought to be doing what God has called us to do, and find satisfaction in that. Seeking God’s approval is always much more comforting than comparing ourselves to others, anyway.
The Apostle Paul is a strange dude when it comes to money. He is always advocating adequate compensation for pastors and teachers, and yet he refused any and all compensation for himself. Go figure. So here he simply says, “Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher.” Its a clear reference to compensation, and compensating our pastors and teachers is a good thing, so just do what is right, and do it with joy.
Oftentimes when we hear that we reap what we sow, we hear it in negative terms, and the negative side of it is certainly present here in our passage this morning. And it can sound threatening, to say the least. It even sounds like punishment. But sometimes we find ourselves wishing for punishment for others, and in context of this passage, that’s not really what the Apostle Paul has in mind. In these verses Paul is encouraging all of us to do good things, not comparing ourselves to others. The truth is still there, though. If we plant weeds, we’ll get weeds. If we plant good things, we’ll get good crops of good things.
One of the frustrating troubles of doing good things and encouraging others to do good things is that we don’t always see a positive response. Last week when your mission team was in Puerto Rico, on arriving, we were divided into two separate work teams, and sent to two different parts of the city. Both crews quickly discovered that there was far more work to do than we could possibly accomplish in our allotted time. And that was of course, very frustrating. In the people to whom we were ministering, we experienced both the joy of having someone to help them, and on the other hand the hopelessness and despair that comes from deep and profound loss. Both emotions are very active in the people of Puerto Rico.
Finally, Paul sums it all up by encouraging us to not let ourselves grow weary in doing good things. There’s reward and satisfaction in doing good. Especially for the family of faith. And here we are right back at the beginning again. We’re family. We’re more than just friends. We’re brothers and sisters of one another, and we’re the children of God. And God is good, and so there are some good things that we ought to be doing to honor God.