Read Galatians 6:1-10
If you watch the news or read the periodicals, then you can’t help but be wrapped in this discussion of privacy as a part of our personal liberties that we enjoy in this country. The question comes down to how much does the government have a right to know about us for our own good.
Should they listen to phone conversations?
Should they read our emails?
Should they watch us on our computers and televisions?
Some of these seem farfetched and perhaps even close to science fiction, but it’s not. In fact, the practice of reading other people’s mail has gone on for some time.
As we ingest these 10 verses, we must realize that we are reading other people’s mail. This was a letter to believers in Galatia. In many ways it was very personal. Paul wrote some harsh things to these people who have long since departed this earth and who received this letter in an entirely different language that we read it in today.
But even in this first century, this letter was shared. Perhaps it circulated from congregation to congregation. Perhaps someone copied it before it was sent on. But even so, it was surely not addressed to 21st Century believers living in the western world.
Or was it?
We believe that all scripture is God-breathed. We believe that this simple, sometimes pointed letter to a single geographic region is very much living and active and has meaning beyond its first intended audience.
There were some things that Paul wrote to the Galatians that don’t mean much to us. This whole business of Jewish Law and circumcision is not a hot topic in 2014.
But at the beginning of this 6th chapter we find counsel that could have been written more for this century than any of those that have gone before. In these first 10 verses we find 14 solid guidelines for how to live as followers of Jesus who trust in God’s own Spirit.
I will arrange them into 4 categories: Managing our own lives, living in community, consequences and sequels, and wisdom.
So let’s examine this short pericope topically.
Managing our own lives
Carry your own load. We are supposed to use the gifts and talents that God gave us and be productive. We are to produce a return on our Master’s investment in us. From the beginning, humankind was sent into the world to bring order to it. We are to use what we have to do the best that we can to bring godly order and produce good fruit for our Master and the Body of Christ.
Take pride in your accomplishments, not where you placed among others. The only standard that we should apply to what we accomplish is how it compares to the abilities that God gave us. Are we working at what we do as if we are working for the Lord and not for men? If we go back to the 10 Commandments, we find that God tells us not to covet what belongs to others. We should only be concerned about pleasing our Master.
Watch out that you are not tempted. We are sent into the world. Much of that world is an unbelieving world but we go nonetheless because we are commanded and commissioned to go and because we are compelled to share the good news that is within us. But we must go into this godless world being as shrewd as snakes and as gentle as doves. We are on the lookout for all of the world’s tricks but won’t play their games.
Living in community
Gently restore the one who has strayed. As we go into the world, sometimes we trip and fall. Confession is a wonderful thing, but sometimes we fall so much that like Adam and Eve in the garden, we want to hide from God. Like Jonah, we might try to run away from God. We could wimp out here and just say that a person’s faith is a personal thing, but we are called to live in community. And when bad company does corrupt good character our first course of action is to gently rescue the one who has been corrupted. Much in the way that Marines, Rangers, and SEALS indoctrinate their own, Paul would teach us the same. Don’t leave a man or woman behind. Rescue them.
Carry each other’s burdens. And we come to what may be the central part of this scripture—Carry each other’s burdens. You might think this stands in contrast to what Paul said earlier, that we carry our own load. But we must understand that a burden is something heavy. It is more than one person should carry on their own. A burden is something that people transferred to animals for long trips, hence the term, beast of burden. But you can’t give pain or an emotional burden or the hurt of losing a loved one to donkey or a pack mule. Only another person can help carry these burdens. That is exactly what Paul is telling us to do—carry one another’s burdens.
Share the blessings that you have, especially with those who bring you God’s wisdom and understanding. Paul is saying, support your local Sunday school teacher, Bible study leader, pastor and others who mentor you in the way of God. Here it is in down to earth terms that most can understand. The people who lead the Wednesday night studies don’t need to be cleaning up after the meal. Somebody else needs to step up and carry that part of the burden, not the teachers. If enough people step up, it really isn’t a burden. In other words, many hands make light work. Share your blessings with each other and don’t forget those committed to God’s service.
Do good to all people. All people may not be seeking God’s Kingdom and some don’t give a hoot about his righteousness, but this instruction is about us. We must have no evil in us and surely not respond to anyone with evil. Peter joins Paul in telling us to repay evil with good. Wisdom tells us not to give the wicked and fools much of our time, but whatever time we do afford, our efforts must be to produce good.
Be especially good to those who are of the family of faith. Consider your congregation. Consider your friends that you have in other denominations. Consider the newest believer. These are all your family and we go the extra mile with them without them even having to ask. Most of the people who come to see me for help don’t belong to a church. Some may have professed their faith at some point and even been baptized, but they don’t know the Christian community, the body of Christ, the family of faith. Cumberland Presbyterians like the term Covenant Community, but by whatever name, we are family and we treat each other very well. People looking for help are not ready for theology but they understand what I am saying when I say, “You need to belong to a family that knows you, loves you, and would never leave you alone to hurt this much.”
Consequences and Sequels
You reap what you sow. You harvest what you plant. Simply put, choices have consequences. Wisdom has been woven into the fabric of the universe. Choices have consequences. The proverbs speak highly of obtaining wise counsel before making decisions. Not all consequences are bad. Bad choices bring undesirable results. Good choices often bring prosperity and a life of character.
Sometimes those choices bring on things we might not be ready for:
· Children having children
· Broken families
Paul reminds us that our decisions produce consequences and sequels.
Sow in selfishness: Harvest destruction. If our decisions are “all about us,” then we should not expect God’s blessings in our harvest. If you are planting goat heads and grassburss, you are not going to harvest peaches and plums.
Plant what pleases the Spirit: Harvest eternal life. And while there is a part of eternal life that is beyond this life—it’s out there, it’s waiting on us, it is reward central; our participation in this firmly established relationship with God is underway now. As we respond to the Spirit that is within us and walks beside us and is truly God’s own Spirit left as that good deposit for the here and now as we eagerly hope in the fulfillment of all that God has promised, God is pleased and we are rewarded. That reward is life—real life. It is life lived the way God designed it to be lived. It is a life that pleases God and equips us to enjoy God as he enjoys us. This is a life of joy even in our present circumstances and especially in those to come.
Test you own actions. We could discuss this under the heading of managing our own lives, but there is wisdom in the counsel of others. We can test our actions against what God’s word says and we can seek the wise counsel of others.
One of the benefits of belonging to a family of faith is that many have experiences and lessons learned that may help you make a good decision without paying tuition at the school of hard knocks.
Sometimes we just need to be still and let God’s own Spirit speak to us, but in every case what we are talking about is living on purpose.
Our decisions are not whims but purposeful choices. If we make a bad choice we recognize it, reverse course, seek forgiveness from those whom we may have harmed, and resume living for God.
Never give up. While Paul gently weaves this concept into this pericope; it amounts to not giving up, staying the course, hanging in there one more day or even one more hour.
It is to sing Standing on the Promises even when there seems to be endless turmoil on the premises.
It is to quote Winston Churchill: “Never, never, never give up.”
It is to trust God and God’s wisdom and God’s timing and know that all of his promises will be realized.
Just stay the course.
Do not be deceived. God cannot be mocked. There is no formula that is contrary to the way that God established the universe that is going to prevail. There is no plan other than that emanating from God’s divine heart that will prosper.
The person that sports the bumper sticker or Facebook post that says, “Heaven won’t take me and hell is afraid I’ll take over” should get zero likes and millions of comments that say, “That dog don’t hunt.”
Frank Sinatra might be able to sing it, but it just won’t work out if we try to live it. I did it my way makes a great song and lousy theology.
We prosper only when we do things God’s way.
To believe that anything else will prosper is a lie. All ill-gotten gain is short lived and when it seems that somebody is getting away with living by the rules of the world and raking it in, we remember that the wealth of the wicked is stored up for the righteous.
God will not be mocked. We can do things his way and prosper or defy him and know that any gains we might enjoy will be short lived.
God will not be mocked.
So as we conclude reading someone else’s mail, let us take heart of some counsel intended for every believer.
Managing our own lives
· Carry your own load.
· Take pride in your accomplishments, not where you placed among others.
· Watch out that you are not tempted.
Living in community
· Gently restore the one who has strayed.
· Carry each other’s burdens.
· Share the blessings that you have, especially with those who bring you God’s wisdom and understanding.
· Do good to all people.
· Be especially good to those who are of the family of faith.
Consequences and Sequels
· You reap what you sow. You harvest what you plant.
· Sow in selfishness: Harvest destruction.
· Plant what pleases the Spirit: Harvest eternal life.
· Test your own actions.
· Never give up.
· Do not be deceived. God cannot be mocked.