We are living in tempestuous times. The Seventh-day Adventist Church is not immune to the tide of decreased membership, spiritual atrophy and disillusionment that is sweeping sectors of Christianity. If the church is to survive, it needs to be open, relevant, and inclusive in its presentation of the gospel to the world. The local church is key to the task of fulfilling the Great Commission of Jesus in Matthew 28. Go into all the world and preach the gospel, teaching, and baptizing means allowing the Holy Spirit to use us to draw others into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. The church is God’s agent, His community that not only stands for truth, but receives and imparts the rich blessings of life lived with God, for which Christ died. If the church gets hung up on the hook of legalism and a Christ-less gospel message, it could remain a small, insignificant religious sect with little to no impact on the world. How we treat one another in the midst of day-to-day life in our Christ-centered communities is vital. In Galatians chapter 6 Paul counsels how the Galatians are to practice their Christianity toward one another. His advice is helpful and timely for us today.
Bearing One Another’s Burdens
For many people, pointing out sin is both uncomfortable and dangerous. What right does anyone have to point the finger and suggest that somebody else has messed up? It’s simply not polite, nor politically correct to draw attention to another’s faults. Facebook and the media provide endless exceptions to the rule on digging into others. In Scripture however, for those who are overtaken in any trespass, Paul in chapter 6 advises, “you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted” (Gal. 6:1). Paul recognized that in churches where a rabid form of legalism was being practiced that there were those who were overtaken in sin. This makes perfect sense as Paul has already explained to the Galatians that they had become estranged from Christ in their attempt to be justified by the law, having fallen from grace (Gal. 5:4). In this condition, those who are spiritual should restore those who have fallen in a spirit of “gentleness.” This is one of the fruits of the Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5:23. The sense of being “overtaken” here is not referring to planned or habitual sin, but rather to someone who finds themselves caught in a mistake, or a fault. They are caught under a burden.
The goal is to restore those caught, knowing that we ourselves are prone to sin and therefore could stumble at any point. Helping others should never lead to pride, but rather humility. It may be tempting as Paul says in Galatians 6:3 that “if anyone thinks himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” After all, we are sinners saved by grace and have no immunity to making mistakes. It is necessary at times to share our griefs and burdens with others even if it makes us a little uncomfortable. For the sake of our mental and spiritual health, God has created Christian community for a purpose. The big picture if you like, is to win people into God’s kingdom. For now, we are the church while awaiting God’s future glorious kingdom. This should be our happy place, living life to its fullest with Christ as the center and Lord of our lives. Life with family and friends, giving and receiving support is as important as extending ourselves beyond the walls of the church to fulfill Christ’s mission.
What is needed is to find the right balance between the external and the internal as receivers of God’s care and love. In God’s household, we are all members of the body of Christ. Paul writes that believers are to bear one another’s burdens. What does he mean by this? Christians are to help lift and support one another through the hard times of life. We are not supposed to carry our burdens alone. In some circumstances, prayer might be all we can do to help someone who is hurting. If we are in a situation where we can help in some practical way beyond listening and praying, we should. To do so is to “fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). This is the only reference to the “law of Christ” in the entire Bible. Turning to John 13:34 we find Jesus talking to His disciples about His future glorification and impending death. In the midst of this discourse He gives them a new commandment: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:34). Love fulfills the law (Gal. 5:14) and should be evident in every local church body.
How are we to love one another if we don’t know one another? Reaching out for friendship and help is easy for some people, yet more difficult for others. Picking up the phone or planning a date with a friend to chat about life might be a regular occurrence in your life. Some people have a good support network for doing this. But for many, this is not the case. Moving to a new area, fear, isolation, or introversion means that some people miss out on the vital friendships and support that they need to live functional and healthy lives. Even Christians suffer from loneliness. It’s a well-established fact that suicides are higher around special holidays, the times typically when families get together such as Christmas, New Year’s, or Thanksgiving. Over the course of their life, the number of active friends a person has often dwindles and it can be difficult to make new friends. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every church could be a place where Spirit-filled, (broken) persons loved each other deeply? Where friendships and support came naturally? Loneliness would disappear. Spiritual atrophy would cease.
Sowing, Reaping, and Sharing
John Stott made the observation that, “So Paul may be saying to them, in effect, that instead of imposing the law as a burden upon others, they should rather lift their burdens and so fulfill Christ’s law.” Structuring life according to a strict set of rules can make a person feel safe. Some people may even enjoy the practices of religious life as a series of ordering rituals. There is nothing wrong with enjoying and seeking order. I believe it is part of God’s universe to experience order and some simply thrive on it in their personal lives. There is another law at work, Paul explains. The law of sowing and reaping.
“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart” (Gal. 6:7-9).
Christians are not only called to bear, but to share. We are to lift one another up, to help carry other people’s loads. This may include listening to their stuff (with boundaries) and helping out where we can. But that is not enough according to Paul. We must share the good things we have received from God, and from others so that everyone can enjoy the blessing. This may include monies, or physical items.
The principle of sowing and reaping implies that whatever we pour our time, energy, and talents into will have consequences. What are you pouring yourself into? In Galatians 6, Paul invites us to think carefully about our lives: “Let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For each one shall bear his own load” (Gal. 6:4-5). Doesn’t this contradict what Paul just said about bearing one another’s burdens? No. The text here is referring to the fact that we must first personally and primarily find joy in our own walk with the Lord. Sharing in one another’s burdens doesn’t mean we go around ‘dumping’ on everyone. Continual venting can strain any relationship. We must be ready to bear our own stuff, taking our heartaches, worries and fears to Christ. At the same time, and in a Christ-like way we are to bear one another’s burdens. It goes like this, carry your own backpack but be willing to help others who are struggling carry theirs, don’t dump: share!
Do Good to All
Paul’s advice to the Galatians on how to treat one another in chapter 6 closes with this important statement: “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10). Going back to what I said at the beginning of this article about the church living in tempestuous times, it is important to be generous. This applies to our words, our actions, our time, and monies. Being generous is a Christian way of living. The term, ‘do-gooders’ has had a bad rap for a long time and has been the basis for taunts in the school yard. Yet this is exactly what the world needs, and not only the world, but the church. The antidote to individualism, to selfishness, to lonely and unhappy Christians is to discover Christ and the blessing of Christian community. Like a big, functional, happy family, the local church is called to practice the principles Paul outlines in Galatians 6. This may take a huge overhaul for some. It’s time to take a good hard look at ourselves. To summarize, these include:
1) restoring those who have fallen with gentleness;
2) bearing one another’s burdens and fulfilling the law of Christ to love one another;
3) examining our own life and work (and not get bogged down in finding fault or comparing ourselves with others);
4) being willing to carry our own load while looking to assist others with theirs;
5) sharing the good things we have received;
6) exercising care over that we sow, investing our energy in the Spirit rather than the flesh;
7) not growing weary in doing good, but doing good to all, especially to other Christians.
Practicing this type of care in our faith communities could bring us a long way towards manifesting the type of love Jesus wants to reveal through us to the world.
 Paul outlines the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-24 led by the chief virtue of love. Contentions and jealousies between the members of the churches of Galatia had obviously been hampering their walk with the Lord. Hence, Paul’s warning not to provoke or envy one another in Galatians 5:26.
 John R. W. Stott, The Message of Galatians, Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014.