True Freedom: Free to Care

True Freedom: Free to Care

Galatians 6:1-10

While hurricane Harvey hit Texas last week, other storms continued to blow across our nation, storms of protest and counter-protest, storms of hate, potential violence, division, and name-calling. Much of what we see, read, and hear is what the apostle Paul terms in the book of Galatians. “biting and devouring one another,” provoking one another. Sadly, these types of attitudes and actions can infect God’s people in various ways. But as we all know the church is called to be a something different, to be a place of love and care. This is what we want to talk about this morning in our last study in the book of Galatians.

Next week we’ll begin a four-week series on key family values here at PBCC that inform how we function. We will also have a week devoted to Freedom Sunday at the end of September as we consider the ministry of IJM and others involved in the issues of sex trafficking and other forms of enslavement. But today we will conclude our summer series, #free2live, where we have focused on living under law as opposed to living in freedom.

In Galatians, Law is associated with slavery, immaturity, sin, flesh, and control, while freedom is associated with Christ, promise, gospel, grace, new creation, and Spirit. For the first few weeks, we talked about Paul’s theological arguments, which he traced through Israel’s story, along with the promise of Christ, and the work of Christ that has given us the gift of being the beloved of God. But in the past couple of studies we have focused on Paul’s practical applications of freedom in chapter 5. Here is how Paul began chapter 5: “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Gal 5:1 esv). The yoke of slavery is the law, living the Christian life by external rules and regulations. Paul then goes on to say in verse 13:

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Gal 5:13–14 esv).

Love is the goal for which we have been set free. Love is what fulfills the law. Christ has not set us free to do anything we want but rather to live a shared life with others.

Paul then addresses the means by which we carry out love, which is through the Spirit and not the flesh. The flesh is unable to produce loving relationships. Flesh and Spirit are opposed to one another. We can’t fulfill the law through self-effort and performance. But since we are in Christ and indwelt with the Spirit, we are to walk in the Spirit, be led by the Spirit, live by the Spirit, and keep in step with the Spirit. We are to manifest the fruit of the Spirit, and, as we will see today, sow to the Spirit. As God’s people, we are set free from the ego self, the prideful self, and empowered by the Holy Spirit to cultivate fruit-bearing community where we don’t bite and devour, provoke and envy.

Now, as we come to chapter 6, Paul expands on what love looks like in a Spirit-controlled community. Basically, after Paul talks about the Spirit, he picks up on 5:13 and describes love in action. Love is not just a vague feeling. True freedom is the freedom to care, the freedom to serve, love sacrificially, regard others as more important than yourself, and be a self-denying servant like Jesus. With freedom come responsibilities and opportunities. Paul addresses several things. His first orders of business are restoration and forgiveness.

Restoration and Forgiveness

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. (Gal 6:1)

The situation is that a fellow believer has been caught in transgression. The word “caught” doesn’t imply that they were was found out. Rather, he or she was surprised, taken hold of, overtaken by sin. Paul doesn’t identify the sin. It could be any transgression. Sin is simply sin without categorization.

How does the community respond to this person? Not by excluding or excommunicating the person, which is often the response of religious people. Rather, the one who is spiritual, i.e. the one who is walking and living in the Spirit, seeks to restore this person. The word “restore” is used in the gospels in reference to mending fishing nets. In the book of Ephesians, it is the word translated “equip” when Paul talks about certain spiritual gifts being given to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. In other words, restoration carries the idea of putting something to useful service or to its intended purpose. When we restore furniture, or a piece of art, or a vehicle, we make it fit, return to an original condition.

The way this happens is with gentleness and humility. Gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit. We are not to be forceful or pushy. We act humbly, because we know that anyone can be tempted and fall into sin, including ourselves. We don’t view ourselves as better than another.

Early in my Christian life, I was not keeping in step with the Spirit. Two brothers came to at different times. The first came forcefully, and it had no effect. The second came gently, and I changed the situation immediately. All I needed was a gentle nudge.

“Forgiveness is an immensely creative act. Condemning is simply reactionary, responding in kind to an offense. Condoning is simply lazy, avoiding the difficulties of dealing with what is wrong in the world or in persons.”1 The church is to be a place of healing and forgiveness, rather than condemning and judging. The church is not a country club, filled with perfect people, but a hospital, where broken people can find help in mending and becoming whole. In fact, the word “restore” was used in secular Greek to refer to setting a broken bone.

The fact that Paul starts here tells us something about God. Forgiveness is at the very heart of God. We see this in Jesus when a woman who experiences forgiveness anoints his feet with tears (Luke 7), and again when he forgives a woman caught in adultery and condemns the religious authorities who were judging her (John 8). God is in the restoration business, and this is a top priority for the church as well.

John Stott writes: “If we obeyed this apostolic instruction as we should, much unkind gossip would be avoided, more serious backsliding prevented, the good of the church advanced, and the name of Christ glorified.”2

Bearing Burdens

The second exhortation is to bear burdens.

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. (Gal 6:2–3)

Bearing burdens includes acts of restoration, but certainly extends beyond that. Freedom carries with it the responsibility to help others shoulder their loads. No one is above this. If we think that, then we are deceived. We can’t go through life as an individual. Whether we like it or not, we are “one another,” and we are called to get our hands dirty in the mess of life. This runs totally against the grain of our culture, where people are often oblivious to others while earbuds hang from their ears.

The truth is that people need help. At times life can be too much, the burdens too heavy. God has set us free so that we won’t be absorbed in our little world and can lend a helping hand. The body of Christ functions well when needs are made known and people step up to meet those needs.

These don’t have to be dramatic undertakings, but can be small things that can make a huge difference—going to the grocery store for an elderly person, cooking for someone who is ill, or babysitting for a single mother. Many people have heavy burdens in Texas and Louisiana after this week. Each of us can help to carry those burdens, even though we are not there. Freedom in Christ allows us to care for others, not just ourselves.

At PBCC we often use the phrase, “body life.” This is what bearing burdens is all about. When I first came to PBC in the 70’s, the host of the service would tell people to take $10 out of the offering plate if they needed a little cash. Of course, that would be a lot more now. Someone would stand up during an open mic time and share a need; a little bit later another person would stand up and say that they could meet that need. Our deacons are wonderful, and help bear burdens in so many ways. But this is to be the work of the entire church.

When we bear burdens, we fulfill the law of Christ. Now, there is much debate as to the meaning of this phrase. The most common interpretation is that it refers back to 5:14 and the law of love—the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But since Paul refers to Levit 19, some would say that the law of Christ also fulfills the moral norms of the OT law, which is summed up in the law of love. This is possible now because Christ fulfilled the entire Torah, thus the promise of the Torah is given to us in Christ, and we are empowered by the Holy Spirit. This is why, after a lengthy argument on freedom, Paul can give us exhortations to love and care.

Responsibility for Self-Care

Third, Paul gives a word about managing your own life well.

But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load. (Gal 6:4–5)

The word for “load” in verse 5 is a different Greek word than “burden” in verse 2, but there’s not much difference in meaning. This might seem to contradict what Paul just said about bearing one another’s burdens, but Paul here is talking about taking responsibility for your own life.

Boasting in ourselves seems odd, but here Paul is drawing a contrast to the agitators, who take pride and boast in getting the Galatians to live under the law; “they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh” (Gal 6:13). Paul is saying we should tend to our own business, and not take pride in what we accomplish in others.

This is a great point to consider for a couple of reasons. First, we can’t always expect people to help with everything. Some people have this expectation. They always feel burdened, and think that if people really loved them they would help. Each of us have to deal with the pressures and surprises of life that always seem to happen. We have to learn to trust God and walk in faith through difficult times.

Second, we can’t absorb ourselves in other people’s problems to the neglect of our own. I have seen this with many Christians over the years. They take pride in always helping others, even though they themselves are unhealthy and uncared for. Therefore, Paul is urging balance between bearing the burdens of others and our own burdens. We are to care for ourselves, but not be afraid or too prideful to ask for help.

Supporting Teachers

Next, Paul talks about caring for teachers. “Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches.” (Gal 6:6)

Here we have a very specific application of care. If someone feeds us spiritual food, then we are to care for them with physical needs. We are to be generous and share all good things. The word “teaching” is not the normal word we see in the New Testament. We get our word “catechism” from this Greek word. The teacher provides instruction in the life of faith. Sharing is an act of koinonia, fellowship, holding things in common. We don’t pay for clergy, but we share in ways that will allow them to feed the flock.

The principle is clear that “the minister should be set free from secular wage-earning in order to devote himself to the study and the ministry of the Word, and to the care of the flock committed to his charge.”3

I don’t really have to say much about this verse. Our body here at PBCC has been extremely generous over the years. We have never had to twist arms or make people feel guilty. We simply make needs known and trust that God will move to meet those needs. And whenever we make known the needs for a mission’s trip or service project or a need for one of our missionaries, you have been incredible. But in many places in the world, this doesn’t happen. Pastors eke out a living and are barely able to get by.

The broader principle is that true freedom is the freedom to give. Hoarding is living selfishly. A Spirit controlled community is a generous community sharing in financial needs, sharing all good things.

Responsible Choices

Next Paul gives us a powerful principle to motivate us to walk in the Spirit rather than the flesh.

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 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. (Gal 6:7–8)

It might seem that Paul is shifting gears, but he is returning to the contrast between flesh and Spirit that he talked about at the end of chapter 5. He is encouraging his readers to walk by the Spirit as they live out the law of Christ and love one another. Here Paul employs a farming metaphor. Whatever seed one sows, that will he also reap. John Stott writes:

If a farmer wants a harvest he must sow his seed in his field; otherwise, there will be no harvest. Moreover, the kind of harvest he will get is determined in advance by the kind of seed he sows. This is true of its nature, its quality and its quantity. If he sows barley seed he will get a barley crop; if he sows wheat seed he will get a wheat crop. Similarly, good seed will produce a good crop. Again, if he sows plentifully, he can expect a plentiful harvest, but if he sows sparingly, then he will reap sparingly as well…It is not the reapers who decide what the harvest is going to be like, but the sowers.4

Paul is saying we are not to be deceived into thinking that since we are free from the law we can do anything we want. We might be able to fool people, but we can never fool or outwit God. If we think that, then we mock him or treat him with contempt.

Our choices have consequences. Sooner or later we will sit down to a banquet of results. What we do in private will eventually become public. The kind of seed we sow will grow and produce a crop. The flesh produces a crop of corruption. The Spirit produces a crop of eternal life. This is a sobering principle; we reap what we sow. “Sow a thought, reap an act; sow an act, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.”5

Living in the flesh means being self-absorbed and self-promoting, living for self instead others. We sow to the flesh by pandering and coddling selfish attitudes and actions, feeding lustful desires, harboring resentment and hatred. And all of these things produce crops.

The result is a morally decayed life, a life that runs downhill from bad to worse; “a life of self-love, self-pleasing, self-improvement and self-serving can only end in corruption. It is unhealthy. It is diseased”6

On the other hand, sowing to the Spirit produces a fruitful life, namely the fruit of the Spirit. Paul is not talking about eternal life in the future, but here and now. We experience a process of moral and spiritual growth. Spiritual fruit does not come through self-effort and keeping the law. It can only come through the Spirit and against such things there is no law.

Sowing to the Spirit means setting our mind on the Spirit, cultivating the mind of Christ. We nourish ourselves with spiritual food through the Scriptures, prayer, and worship. We contemplate the life of Jesus and how he emptied himself for our sake. We engage in the things Paul has just mentioned—restoration, bearing burdens, and sharing all things.

Now it is easy to get discouraged in this business of sowing and reaping. We fall down, we fail by sowing to the flesh, we feel weak and in adequate, and we go through seasons of not seeing results, even when we sow to the Spirit. So, Paul wants to give us an encouragement by reminding us of another reality of sowing and reaping. One does not get instant results after sowing seed. Farmers have to be patient.

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. (Gal 6:9)

There can be long stretches of waiting between the time we sow the seed and the time we reap the harvest. We can grow impatient and give up. But Paul encourages us to nurture, weed, water, and sow other seeds. We go to bed and let the seed do its work. We can’t hurry it along by staying up all night and watching the soil. The reality is that in due time there will be a harvest. Sowing to the Spirit will have eternal results. We give ourselves to a long obedience in the same direction.

Good to All

Paul now concludes this section by summing up what he has been saying:

So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Gal 6:10)

This is the third time we have seen the word “good” in the last five verses. We are to share all good things, not grow weary of doing good, and now we share the good to all, not just to some. Doing good is especially important in the local church community. In other words, caring for others starts at home, with the people who are next to us. While we care for needs around the world, we enter into the mundane work of caring for the person in front of us. And often this is the difficult task. Eugene Peterson gives a challenging insight:

Giving from a distance requires less of us—less involvement, less compassion. It is easier to write out a check for a starving child halfway around the world than to share the burden of our next-door neighbor who talks too much. The distant child makes a slight dent in my checkbook; the neighbor interferes with my routines and my sleep.7

Paul’s point is that whatever comes our way, we keep doing what is right without trying to control the outcome, loving and caring for others as well as ourselves. We sow to the Spirit and trust the work of the Spirit.

And so, we conclude our studies in Galatians. We have taken a journey from law to freedom. We have seen that Christ has set us free from the law, from external rules and regulations. The law was only a temporary measure to lead us to Christ. Christ has fulfilled the promise of the law, and now the Spirit replaces the law. A preoccupation with the law is a dead end. The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

How has God been speaking to you this summer? Hopefully you have realized areas where you are living under law, through self-effort and performance. Hopefully God is giving you freedom in these areas. The question we can ask ourselves is the question that Paul asks in chapter 3: “Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Gal 3:3).

Our relationship with God started through the work of the Spirit. We must continue to trust the work of the Spirit to finish the process. The road to freedom is not easy. Sometimes it is easier to trust in rules that find acceptance and approval from others. But this will lead to slavery, not freedom. Freedom comes from knowing and trusting that we are the beloved of God. Freedom comes from the Spirit, which can lead us into a fruitful and loving life.

1. Eugene Peterson, Traveling Light, (Colorado Springs, Helmers & Howard 1988), 169.

2. John Stott, The Message of Galatians, (Leicester, England Inter-Varsity Press 1968), 162.

3. John Stott, 168.

4. John Stott, 165-166.

5. Ralph Waldo Emerson

6. Eugene Peterson,178-179.

7. Eugene Peterson,181-182.