There is no question that the Apostle Paul had a somewhat touchy relationship with the followers of Jesus in the Province of Galatia. At one point in this epistle he calls this readers “fools”. I am sure that that did not endear them to him, but the apostle is well known for calling his readers to account for their misguided views and behaviors, particularly if those misguided views and behaviors do not glorify our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
In spite of all of this, though, the Apostle Paul still loved the folks in Galatia dearly, and had great affection for them. This was one of the apostle’s gifts. Even when Paul and his readers did not get along, he still maintained an unabated love for them. Knowing the situation between Paul and the believers in Galatia, Paul’s love for them is something that clearly, can only have come from God.
And so in chapter six, Paul opens his remarks by calling his readers in Galatia, “my friends.” This is clearly not the case. They are not his friends, and the fault lies partially with our pew Bibles. Nowadays, when someone calls you “friend”, it usually means that you are not. One really dead and really famous, but really irritating media preacher does, (or did) this all the time. When he says “friend”, he is 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. And it is clear that Paul and his readers do not have the kind of relationship whereby they can be called “friends”. They do, however share a relationship that is far more important, and far deeper than that of mere friendship. Even if we are talking about the very good sense of the word “friendship.”
Paul and the believers at Galatia are brothers and sisters in Christ. And when Paul wrote this epistle, that is almost exactly what he wrote. In the Greek, he wrote, “my brothers”, 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 meaningful and far more powerful than “friends.” “My brothers and sisters” speaks strongly of the relationship that we have with Jesus Christ. As brothers and sisters, we are the beloved children of God. We are more than friends, even if we cannot always be friends. Paul is affirming his eternal relationship with the followers of Jesus in Galatia, and friends just doesn’t cut it. We are far more than that to each other.
And so to help us to become better brothers and sisters to one another, here, in this passage, are some good things that we can do for each other.
People mess up. We are only human, after all, and we are bound 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. We do not always realize how powerful the connection is between brothers and sisters in Christ, and we often settle for, or give in, to broken relationships far too easily.
Paul says, “Take care that you yourselves are not tempted.” I am convinced, that 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. Even at the very best that wall of separation is completely artificial, because it is one that we created ourselves in defiance of the brothers and sisters relationship that defines us.
We ought also to be bearing one another’s burdens. This is one of the ways in which we take care of each other. Corporately, we have the power to lighten one another’s loads, whatever those loads may be. This may be as simple as making sure that we help out around the church more than we do now, or it could be as involved as buying someone a house, or a car. 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. We are all merely the children of God, nothing more, nothing less. 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 on one another more than ever.
Pride in our work is a funny thing. We often compare pride to boasting, but boasting is always a bad thing, unless we are boasting about the majestic works of God, and not ourselves. So Paul says that we must test our own work, rather than our neighbor’s work. Because of sin, we have this habit of testing our neighbor’s work, and comparing ourselves to one another. If we decide that our work is better than their work, we boast. If we decide that their work is better than ours, we will struggle with feelings of inadequacy. The sense here is that each of us ought to be doing what God has called us to do, and find our satisfaction in that. Seeking God’s approval is always much more rewarding and much more comforting than seeking it elsewhere, especially by comparing ourselves to others. This is what Paul means when he says, “for all must carry their own loads.” I would simply modify that by saying all must do what God has given them to do.
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.” It is a clear reference to compensation, and compensating our pastors and teachers is a good thing, so just do what is right and do it cheerfully and 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 in this morning’s passage. And this can sound rather threatening, and it can sound a whole lot like punishment is involved. But sometimes we find ourselves wishing for punishment for others, and that is not, at all what the apostle has in mind. In these verses, Paul’s theme is encouraging all of us to do good things, remembering that we are all brothers and sisters of one another and the children of God. But the truth of reaping what we sow is still there. If we plant weeds, we will get weeds; if we plant good things, we’ll get good crops of good things. And good crops of good things glorifies God. “So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.” One of the neat things about the Apostle Paul is that he can say things better than I can. I like that about him. I really admire it.
There is reward and satisfaction in doing what is good and what is right. And that reward, or as Paul puts it, that harvest, is especially satisfying when we work together as one, in the family of faith. And here we are right back at the beginning again. We are family. We are more than just friends. We are brothers and sisters of one another, and of Jesus Christ, and we are the children of God. There is no greater bond than this. And God is good, and so today we have heard some good things that we ought to be doing to glorify the God who has created us to be this way.