Galatians Part 13: Doing Good to All

Galatians 6

What better way to describe God’s grace in us! Four simple words, which is the heading for Galatians 6 in the NIV:  Doing Good to All.

Jesus plus nothing changes everything. To know that God loves and accepts us unconditionally and forever means that we are free to love others unconditionally and forever. This is the practical outworking of God’s grace in us.

In contrast, Jesus+something always draws a line in the sand. It’s a point of division, because the “something” inevitably stands between me and others. This is why Paul, when he wrote to the Corinthians who were divided about many things, declared, “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified (italics mine).”

Jesus plus something is always, in the end, divisive.  Jesus plus nothing—”nothing … except Jesus Christ” pushes the non-essentials aside and heals our broken relationships.

Christians believe wholeheartedly that Jesus is the only truth, the only life, the only way for sinners to get right with God.  Jesus has to stand between us and the perfect God.  He’s the only way we can be reconciled to the Father.

What Christians are not quite so clear about is that Jesus is also the only way we can be reconciled to one another, especially when there are irreconcilable differences, when forgiveness is humanly impossible.  Listen to this incredible statement:

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace (Ephesians 2:13-15).

Here Paul isn’t writing about getting right with God.  He’s talking about how people with extreme differences need to get right with each other, and Jesus makes this miracle possible.  Jesus is our peace. He’s made the two wildly divergent groups one, in this case Jews and Gentiles, circumcised and uncircumcised.

I’ve always marveled at this statement:  Jesus “has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.”  We don’t have dividing walls of difference.  Difference is good, because that’s the way God made us: male and female, black and white, rich and poor.  Differences are God-created, God-ordained.  But without Christ in us, without God’s unconditional love and grace in our relationships with one another, our differences become dividing walls of hostility.

Not surprisingly, in this same passage, Paul refers to the terrible downside of “commands and regulations,” because they are inevitably the source of division and hostility.  When Jesus died, he took away our sins, but he also destroyed the stranglehold of the law, all the big and little things we add to Jesus that lead us to judge others.

Remember, Paul’s message of grace in Galatians is for believers, not unbelievers.  Galatians is not about getting saved, but what it means to live saved, and a huge part of that is how living by grace will transform how we relate to others.

Treating others well, even those who don’t deserve it

This takes us right into Galatians 6:

1. Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.

How do we relate to people who have been overtaken by sin?  By grace!  Paul commands, “Restore them gently.”  Why?  Because it could be you! I like the King James Bible here:  “restore [them] in the spirit of meekness.” In other words, never think you can help a sinner because you’re slightly less of a sinner than they are, because you think you are a little or a lot better than they are. You can only help them knowing that you are both sinners together, and that no one is anything before God without Jesus.  So “watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.”

It’s the old adage, “But for the grace of God, go I.”  This common confession is attributed to English martyr John Bradford (1510–1555).  While imprisoned in the Tower of London, he saw a criminal on his way to execution.  It’s believed that he exclaimed, “There, but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford.”

Grace-filled people not only are gentle when they correct others, they also are willing to bear their burdens.  Paul writes,

2. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

The law of Christ is not about rules, but relationship, where love abounds and legalism is non-existent.  Love covers a multitude of sins.  It also carries the burden of that sin.

Bearing others’ burdens—and their sin

I spent some time with a pastor friend who’s facing internal problems in his church.  He’s in pain, and I feel for him. I too have suffered the pain of serving others, sometimes so deeply that, like Paul, I’ve despaired of life (2 Corinthians 1:8).

I told my friend that his suffering, however, is redemptive. It’s not about him. It’s about how, as a Christian leader, he’s following in the footsteps of Jesus, who carried our sin.  So I urged him to be steady, faithful and full of grace when others are full of themselves. His patient love will bring the presence of Christ into his church trouble.

Like children, many adults are selfish and myopic.  To put it more bluntly, they’re sinful, and their sin causes others a lot of pain.  It happens all the time, everywhere in our fallen world.  I may willingly bear another’s burdens by giving to the poor, caring for the sick, crying and praying with those who are suffering.  That’s all good.

But I also, at times, will be called on to bear the unwanted, unexpected burden of my brother’s sin, like kids whose parents divorce.  Like Jesus, they suffer for somebody else’s failure.

Fallen pastor Ted Haggard once preached a landmark sermon he titled “How Much Is Your Sin Going to Cost Me?”  Ironically, his sin caused immeasurable pain for countless people, especially those closest to him in his family, in his circle of friends and colleagues, in his church.

We can’t save anybody’s soul, but like Jesus, we can carry their burdens.  Sometimes we do it willingly, other times the consequences of the sin of others are heaped on us suddenly.  We scream, “I don’t need this in my life!”  But we have to remind ourselves that, but for the grace of God, go I.

So then,

3. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves.

Anything you do to elevate yourselves above others, or diminish someone else because of something about them that’s negative in your mind, is self-deception. You are no better—and no worse—than anybody else.  Each of us has unique gifts, some more or less than others.  Some are wealthy, some are poor.  In the sight of God, though there are differences, there are no dividing walls of hostility.  In Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, bond nor free (Galatians 3:28).

Jesus plus nothing is all good, always good.

Jesus plus something is always not good—and sometimes really bad.

Therefore,

4 Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else.

Jesus plus nothing eliminates every point of comparison. Jesus plus nothing changes everything. Jesus+something gives us endless opportunities to put ourselves and others in the pecking orders of life.

So you have a problem with somebody else? You know someone who drives you crazy? Or has caused you enough pain for you to want to kill them?  Consider this:

5 Each one should carry their own load.

It’s about that speck-in-your-brother’s-eye story.  In other words, you have enough problems of your own to worry about. Let God do his work in you first. The Greek term translated “load” is different from the word “burden” in verse 2.  That term is baros, which means  “heaviness, weight, trouble.”  It’s the speck, so to speak. In contrast, the word in verse 5 is phortos, a load, the cargo of a ship! It’s the plank in your eye!  Whatever burden I bear for others is good.  And even though own burden is unbearable, it’s good, too, because my personal impossibilities take me right to Jesus.  As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12:9,

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

This next verse in Galatians 6 is a kind of aside, it seems:

6 Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor.

Teachers (like me!) should be treated well. Yet this verse has the broader application:  be especially good to those who are good to you. Through it all, never forget that grace in your life doesn’t mean you are free from the consequences of sin and other self-destructive behaviors.  Like the father of the prodigal son, God’s love for you is unremitting.  He loves you forever, but he won’t always protect you from the consequences of your own stupid behaviors.  Grace-man Paul is really clear about this:

7 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8 Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.

In contrast to sowing to the flesh, Paul brings us back to doing good to all:

9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

There’s an interesting distinction here.  Yes, we should love everybody and do them good, but as we all know from personal experience, each of us has a special love for those who are close to us.  God sent his Son because he loved the whole world, yet the Father promises special things for his children.  It may not be a new car or a bigger house, but who can put a price on this:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid (John 14:27).

Not Circumcision but the New Creation

Paul inserts this unusual verse:

11 See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!

This has been interpreted to mean that Paul was nearsighted, or even had an eye disease.  Maybe.  But perhaps he’s just writing large to make a point, like all caps in an email.  Remember from my comments on chapter 1:  Paul is writing an angry letter, and he comes back to the core of his message—and his distress—in the final verses of Galatians:

12 Those who want to impress people by means of the flesh are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 Not even those who are circumcised keep the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your circumcision in the flesh.

Oh man, do I have to explain this again?  How much more clear could Paul make it?  When you have rules, Jesus+something, you have pride. Your pride blinds you to all the things that are not so right in your own life, those ship cargos of stinking stuff.  Not even the “best” people, the ones who are circumcised—and do everything else they can to live a holy life—actually live up to the standards of God. The only way that happens is for you to get born again, get a new nature, and have the very nature of Christ embedded in your soul. Christ in me is my hope of glory, not Jesus plus something (Colossians 1:27).

On Christ the solid rock I stand.  All other ground is sinking sand.  So,

14 May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation.

Again, the only thing that matters is whether or not Christ is in us, whether or not we are a new creation through rebirth.

16 Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule—to the Israel of God.

What’s the rule to follow?  The law of Christ.  Grace.  Jesus plus nothing.  When we’re firm in this rule, we’re free from judging and scorning others.

17 From now on, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.

If anyone has suffered, Paul has.  If anyone has the right to teach about God’s grace, Paul does.  His rich Jewish heritage coupled with his obsession to obey the law makes him an expert on grace.  His very real sacrifices and sufferings for the gospel, which he calls “the marks of Christ,” are the seal of God’s calling on his life. Paul is referring to literal scars, like the nail piercings and cat-o-nine slashes on the crucified body of Jesus.

What a great way for Paul to end his letter:

18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen.

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