Bearing burdens

INDEX

Read Galatians 6:1-10

Paul had spent a lot of time with the churches in Galatia, getting them set up and teaching them about "The Way". He particularly went to great lengths to help them understand the difference between the old covenant law of Moses (under which those of them who were Jewish had lived previously) and the freedom that they now had from putting their faith in Jesus Christ.

Virtually as soon as he had left one area, those who had a vested interest in retaining the old traditions of Judaism arrived and began to undo all the teaching that Paul had established. These people suggested (amongst other things) that it was all very well to become a Christian and to follow the teachings of Paul in some areas, but the established traditions of Judaism and all its ritualistic practices were still required in order to live as a "true believer". So, for example, they taught that circumcision was still necessary.

This teaching was wrong then and any ritualistic practices continue to be wrong today. Paul had been dogged by these people throughout his first evangelistic (or missionary) journey. They had subjected him to physical and verbal attacks, even while he was preaching at Antioch in Pisidia. Then, at Lystra, he had been stoned and left for dead. (Acts 14:19-20)

Only one gospel - only one way

When the non-Jewish (Gentile) people heard Paul's message about Jesus, they saw it as good news and were really glad about it. Many of them wanted eternal life and openly declared their faith in Jesus. "So God's message spread all through that region. Then the Jewish leaders stirred up both the godly women and the civic leaders of the city, incited a mob against Paul and Barnabas and ran them out of town. But they shook off the dust of their feet against the town and went on to the city of Iconium. And their converts were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit." (Acts 13:48-52)

Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch in Syria (which had also been visited by these Judaisers) and delivered to the church there a full report of how their "missionary journey" had gone. As a result, the church decided to send them on to Jerusalem, to seek advice from the leaders of the original church there. These included James, Peter and other apostles. James was the leader and had also been Jesus' half-brother. (James’ father was Joseph, whereas Jesus’ father was God Himself. See Luke 1:26-38.) James and Peter brought all the believers together to discuss the matter and it was agreed that Jesus had Himself fulfilled all the obligations of the old covenant law. To follow the new "Way" (of Christ) nothing more was required than to put faith in Christ alone. It was agreed that a letter should be issued, clarifying this point of doctrine (teaching), and circulated to all the new churches that were being planted.

Paul’s letter to the Galatians takes up this point and, additionally, builds on the teaching that Paul had given to them when he was with them. In it he declares that there is only one "gospel" - the one that he, Paul, had already explained to them. This is an important and distinctive claim when it comes to considering what is said by many, different religions. Jesus said to Thomas (one of His disciples): "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) There is no other way to God than through Jesus. We should not be misled by anyone claiming that "all paths lead to God". There is only one path: Jesus.

An ongoing process

Now we come to chapter six of Galatians. Paul wants us to understand that hearing the "gospel" and responding with faith in Jesus Christ will produce a radical change in our lives. Of course, we will not be perfect while we continue to live on earth, but the Bible does teach us that we are continually being made more like Jesus. It is an ongoing process. (Romans 8:28-30) Paul encourages us to "not be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, that we may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." (Romans 12:2)

We should also recognise that, because we are not yet perfect, we may fall into sin from time to time. Our enemy - Satan - actively encourages us to rebel against our Father as often as possible and, from time to time, we all succumb. It is one of the consequences of living in a world where, for the moment, Satan is constantly fighting for control. When it happens, there is a way to deal with the situation. "Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted." (Galatians 6:1)

Restoration

The operative word here is "gently". Yes, there are times to be firm, but gentleness (in this sense) does not negate firmness. The danger for Christians, who are desperate to live a "good Christian life" themselves, is that they then judge others harshly. When we start trying to "be good" in our own strength (instead of "walking" with the Holy Spirit), an element of independence raises its head. We start to fall back on living by rules and regulations and a hardness (often accompanied by pride) can creep in, making us unapproachable to others who just want to sob out their problems to us. The Holy Spirit is often represented as a dove - an embodiment of gentleness. When we "walk" with Him, we have to be equally gentle. As members of Christ's body (the church), our job is to set others on their feet again, with the help and direction of the Holy Spirit.

A significant danger in carrying out this rôle is the temptation to pride. Our enemy is extremely subtle. Even as we help others, we can start to think that we are somehow better than them and, before we know it, we have been engulfed in the same sin that we are trying to help our brother or sister in Christ overcome. Fortunately, the Holy Spirit is there to point us back to Jesus. "In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And, being found in appearance as a human being, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death - even death on a cross." (Philippians 2:5-8)

An ongoing battle

As believers, we are in a battle. Light is arrayed against darkness, truth against lies, deception against God's revelation of Himself. The final outcome of this battle has already been decided. Jesus' offering of Himself on the Cross as a sacrifice for sin was accepted by His Father - as demonstrated in Jesus being raised to life again. But the enemy refuses to give up the territory that he holds and continues to fight against those who now acknowledge Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. He will attempt to keep as many of the human race as possible in spiritual darkness and chains until the "Day of the Lord" when Jesus will return to judge this world. Until then, we must follow James' advice: "Resist the devil and he will flee." (James 4:7)

As we saw in the previous session, we also have the spiritual armour that God provides for us (as described by Paul in Ephesians 6:11-18) This is for both defence and attack but, like all personal protective equipment, it's no good to us unless we use it! We have to learn to reinforce it daily and practise using it so that, when the time comes and we really need it, we are accustomed to its weight and feel and skilled at using it.

Living fruitful lives

We may be in danger of mixing our metaphors here, but soldiers not only need to win ground from the enemy, increasingly they need to win "hearts and minds" as well. At one time, battles were fought mostly by two opposing armies. Nowadays, we are more familiar with battlegrounds where civilians are also present. Let's not forget that our battle is a spiritual one. It is not about gaining pysical territory but is a battle for the eternal souls of human beings. And God fights battles in a very different way. He does not set out to kill and destroy; He sets out to heal and to create. Jesus spoke to His disciples about being a vine: a plant that produces sweet, luscious fruit. He said to them: "I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) We need to understand that, it is only through Jesus that we can achieve anything!

So, we need to be soldiers, but we also need to be farmers. To create something new, you have to begin by giving something. A farmer sows seed that grows and multiplies. Paul says that we reap what we sow. If we throw our resources into independent, carnal living, we shall reap destruction. But we can also invest our resources as the Holy Spirit directs us. When we do that, we reap eternal life. And Paul says that we need to be generous in our giving and persistent - not giving in to weariness and exhaustion.

We can be partners in the sharing of the good news, in mission work at home and abroad. God has given us limited resources but not as "pocket money" to spend on ourselves. He gives us more than enough to be generous to others as well. In his letter to the church at Philippi, he reminds the believers of how they had gone into partnership with him, providing him with material support so that he could take the good news about Jesus to others. (See Philippians 4:14-19.)

It is when we give, that we can know that God will meet our needs. Today, we have ample opportunity to give, even when we think we have very little. Bank accounts do not represent the be-all and end-all of our resources. We can use whatever is in our hand to the glory of God. We have time, skills and abilities, friends and contacts and, perhaps, the gift of inspiring others by our own example. All of this can be used in God's service.

Overcoming weariness

Paul reminds his readers that "walking" with God is not something to be undertaken lightly. We cannot play at this. He has already talked about the choice that we have to make between living for ourselves or living for God. If we put our faith in Jesus, we are signing up as soldiers. This requires commitment and perseverance.

"Do not be deceived, God is not mocked [He will not allow Himself to be ridiculed, nor treated with contempt, nor allow His precepts to be scornfully set aside]; for whatever a man sows, this and this only is what he will reap. For the one who sows to his flesh [his sinful capacity, his worldliness, his disgraceful impulses] will reap from the flesh, ruin and destruction, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Let us not grow weary or become discouraged in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap, if we do not give in. So then, while we [as individual believers] have the opportunity, let us do good to all people [not only being helpful, but also doing that which promotes their spiritual well-being], and especially [be a blessing] to those of the household of faith (born-again believers). (Galatians 6:7-10 Amplified version)

As in many things, we have a choice. Putting time, effort, finances and desires into the things which are not of God will only produce a harvest of dead ends. They will cause decay to the things that we prize most and may end in ruin and destruction. Paul puts it this way when he writes about where our thoughts (and, therefore, our actions) should be: "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things." (Philippians 4:8)

If these are our goals, our hearts will surely follow. We see that faith is not just a state of mind, it requires action! As Paul writes, "faith without works is dead". We will find that, as we fill our minds with these good things, we will want to get involved in them, whilst those things that are the opposite will fall away. If we are in any doubt as to what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely or admirable, try this self-examination: "Would I tell Jesus what I have done today, or would I like Him to come with me while I do it?"

One of Jesus' best-known parables is about a farmer sowing his crop. Matthew's gospel describes Jesus first telling the parable to a large crowd, but then explaining its meaning later to His own disciples.

"Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: when any hear the message about the kingdom and do not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their hearts. This is the seed sown along the path. Those who received the seed that fell on rocky places are those who hears God's word and, at once, receive it with joy. But, since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution come because of the word, they quickly fall away. Those who received the seed that fell among the thorns are those who hear God's word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. But those who received the seed that fell on good soil are those who hear God's word and understand it. They produce a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown." (Matthew 13:18-23)

We need to keep out of our lives, those who would try to damage our walk with God. The result, if we allow them and their plans access, will be to cause us harm. This will prevent the positive effect of the good news in our lives and in the lives of others as well. We need to guard our hearts. (Proverbs 4:23)

Consider what farmers do. They go out in the autumn and prepare their ground. They plough it up, aerate it, harrow it - splitting the clods down to a fine tilth. Then, when all is prepared, they sow the seed. After that, they walk away and leave it. They certainly don’t come back the next day and dig it up to see whether or not it is germinating. They leave it and only visit occasionally to make sure that the birds are kept off it when the green shoots start coming through. Meanwhile, they get on with all the other work they have to do.

Eventually, one fine, spring morning when they go out, there is a green haze over the field and they know that the seed has germinated and, before long, they will have a crop. They water the ground, kill the weeds and wait. The crop grows – plenty of stalks but no grain! Then, one day, the stalks sprout and there are ears on the stalks, there is still no grain yet, but the place where it will grow appears. Finally, the grain itself begins to grow.

At none of these stages of growth do farmers say that the process is not working and give up in disgust. They are content to wait, even when they cannot see anything. This is faith in action. We all use faith, all of the time, even if we don’t call it that and don’t realise what it is. "Will this chair hold me?" "Is this food nourishing me?" The question is: "what is our faith in?" We believe, by faith, that we are children of God and that we cannot do anything to make Him love us more; neither can we cause Him to love us less. His decision to love is all based on Jesus: what He has done and who He is.

The crop turns from green to gold and, finally, from gold to white. For our farmers, the wait is over. They get all the help they can and go out into the field to harvest the crop, separating the grain from the stalks and the weeds. The crop is complete. That which was sown and for which they waited in anticipation over many long months is finally brought home, amidst great rejoicing. But it didn’t all happen in a day!

So it is with us and our work in God’s kingdom: gradually He transforms us. One day, all that He has worked in us, to make us more like Jesus, will bear fruit and yield a crop. We don’t know when that will be, but we do know that it will happen. That with which God entrusted us will yield a harvest. When the cry of "Harvest Home!" goes up, God will turn to us and say, "Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord!" That is the time when it will all be worth it! Our responsibility today is "not to become weary in well-doing, but to focus on Jesus as our reward and to take every opportunity to do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers." (Galatians 6:9-10)

If you were put on trial tomorrow for being a Christian, would there be sufficient evidence to convict you? Do your friends and neighbours see Love Himself coming from your every conversation and action?


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