Galatians 6:1-16 CEB
Brothers and sisters, if a person is caught doing something wrong, you who are spiritual should restore someone like this with a spirit of gentleness. Watch out for yourselves so you won’t be tempted too. 2 Carry each other’s burdens and so you will fulfill the law of Christ. 3 If anyone thinks they are important when they aren’t, they’re fooling themselves. 4 Each person should test their own work and be happy with doing a good job and not compare themselves with others. 5 Each person will have to carry their own load.
6 Those who are taught the word should share all good things with their teacher. 7 Make no mistake, God is not mocked. A person will harvest what they plant. 8 Those who plant only for their own benefit will harvest devastation from their selfishness, but those who plant for the benefit of the Spirit will harvest eternal life from the Spirit. 9 Let’s not get tired of doing good, because in time we’ll have a harvest if we don’t give up. 10 So then, let’s work for the good of all whenever we have an opportunity, and especially for those in the household of faith.
11 Look at the large letters I’m making with my own handwriting! 12 Whoever wants to look good by human standards will try to get you to be circumcised, but only so they won’t be harassed for the cross of Christ. 13 Those who are circumcised don’t observe the Law themselves, but they want you to be circumcised, so they can boast about your physical body.[a]
14 But as for me, God forbid that I should boast about anything except for the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. The world has been crucified to me through him, and I have been crucified to the world. 15 Being circumcised or not being circumcised doesn’t mean anything. What matters is a new creation. 16 May peace and mercy be on whoever follows this rule and on God’s Israel.
Comparisons. We make them every day. We compare prices, we compare quality. We even find ourselves comparing ourselves to others. How do we stack up? It seems that most of the time comparisons are a comparison “upward”. No one ever looks at a day-laborer or someone in an unemployment line and says, “I’m just as good as they are.” We tend to look at the corporate mogul or the owner of a company and say, “I’m just as good as they are.” Sometimes it is envy. Other’s just wishful thinking. Often it is a low self-esteem that leads us to compare. “I’m just not as good a Christian as old what’s-their-name.”
I invite you to hear Galatians 6:1-5 in The Message by Eugene Peterson. “Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out. Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived.
Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.”
I love what Paul says in the 4th verse, “Don’t be impressed with yourself, and don’t compare yourself to others.” Self-worth and self-esteem are powerful motivators when present. Yet, they are probably humanities greatest struggle. For instance, we look at Paul and say, “Wow, I wish I had his confidence!” He always seemed to look “God-Good!” [Of course, any time we get to thinking too much that way we need to go back and re-read Romans 7 and Paul’s struggle to do what is right and refrain from doing the wrong things!] Charles Cousar, who wrote the volume on Galatians in the series, Interpretation, in a reference to verse 14, says, “Though crucified to the world, [Christians] are not immune to doubts and fears, to the anguish of uncertainty, to questioning their own commitments.” Am I following Christ the way I should?
To that tendency, add people around you who are pressing you to fit in with their view of Christianity and we see a bit of what caused Paul to write to the Galatian church. The presenting issue that Paul is addressing. There were Jews following Jesus, and now there were Gentiles following Jesus as well. Faith is an accumulation of learning and experience throughout a lifetime, and there were Jews following Jesus who believed that every new convert had to follow not only Jesus’ ways, but had to conform to the laws and practices of being a faithful Jew. After all, Jesus was a Jew. The more extreme they were in being a good Jew, the more they wanted Gentiles to fully conform with their way of thinking. It got to the point that circumcision, for instance, became a prerequisite to salvation. Paul has had it! Jesus had been pointing to matter of far more importance than rituals and old symbols. In 6:17 Paul says, “From now on, no one should bother me because I bear the marks of Jesus on my body.” Eugene Peterson says it this way, “Quite frankly, I don’t want to be bothered anymore by these disputes. I have far more important things to do—the serious living of this faith.” He is so tired of them, he takes pen from his scribe and writes in his own handwriting staring in verse 11 – with big letters no less. Uncertain Gentiles were confronted with Jews trapped in the letter of the Law – the old covenant - found themselves trying to look good in other’s eyes. Those law-bound Jews were trying to look good as well by boasting of their lineage.
So, what does it take to look “God-good?” … to be seen and recognized as a follower of Christ? Paul would possibly reduce what he has said to three words: ACTIONS, MOTIVE, and SOURCE
ACTIONS: Our living, looking God-good, involves our actions being other’s centered. So often Jesus was trying to get his followers to see that faith is not about living for yourself, worrying only about your own salvation. Instead it is about living for others, beginning with God and spreading out to those around us. Paul starts this passage with the example of restoring a fallen one. Right now, they might need forgiveness more than critical comments or judgements about their mistakes. We are to embody a spirit of gentleness. He speaks about carrying each other’s burdens. We are to help each other carry the burdens of difficult times. We are not meant to exist in isolation from one another. I do want to mention what seems to be a contradiction between verse 2 and verse 5. In verse 2, Paul says, “Carry each other’s burdens and so you will fulfill the law of Christ.” It is an imperative statement leaving little room for debate. Then, in verse 5, he says, “Each person will have to carry their own load.” One understanding is that verse two talks about daily life as a part of the community of Christ. And that in verse five, Paul is referring to the load of living out what God has created us to be. We are each to develop the gifts and grace that God has given us, becoming the “best me I can be.” We are each responsible for building our own relationship with God – living into our own salvation.
Paul continues this idea of our actions making us “God-good.” This time he speaks about what we plant in life. If we plant selfishness we will harvest devastation. Peterson says, “Don’t be misled: No one makes a fool of God. What a person plants, he will harvest. The person who plants selfishness, ignoring the needs of others—ignoring God!—harvests a crop of weeds. All he’ll have to show for his life is weeds! But the one who plants in response to God, letting God’s Spirit do the growth work in him, harvests a crop of real life, eternal life.” Weeds or real life?!
It seems that every time we turn around there is another talent reality show. For contestants it is all about how will a “Judge” perceive you, respond to your talent. What does a person with talent look like? Movie star quality? Young? Do you remember Susan Boyle? She did an audition in 2009 for Britain’s Got Talent. Simon Cowell’s face said it all. She walked on stage and Simon did the little eye roll. It seemed to say, “you have no business being on this stage.” Then she opened her mouth to sing “I Dreamed a Dream” The result was jaw dropping! She said later in an interview, “I know what they were thinking, but why should it matter as long as I can sing? It's not a beauty contest.” She put herself out there knowing the gift she had to offer!
Second, Paul speaks about MOTIVE. In verse12 Paul says, “Whoever wants to look good by human standards will try to get you to be circumcised, but only so they won’t be harassed for the cross of Christ.” Again, The Message doesn’t mince words. “These people who are attempting to force the ways of circumcision on you have only one motive: They want an easy way to look good before others, lacking the courage to live by a faith that shares Christ’s suffering and death. All their talk about the law is gas. They themselves don’t keep the law! And they are highly selective in the laws they do observe. They only want you to be circumcised so they can boast of their success in recruiting you to their side. That is contemptible!” Their actions were self-centered and self-motivated. They might go about restoring one who has fallen into sin, but it is for their sake not that of the sinner. It is not about another “notch in our cross”, “another one saved.” [Though counting the “fruit” of our labors is good as a way of remembering God’s faithfulness.] We are not to fit the pattern of the world. Romans 12 says, “Be not conformed to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Putting other people’s well-being at least equal to our own is a motive for looking God-good.
Finally, what is our source? Years ago, I was invited to rethink self-sufficiency. The writer I was reading suggested substituting “Christ-sufficiency” for “self-sufficiency.” Paul, as he wrestled with his “thorn in the flesh” speaks of the sufficiency of God grace to sustain him. Gods power is made perfect in my weakness. It changed the way I viewed myself and drew me closer to God.
In verses 14-15, Paul states clearly that Jesus Christ and the cross have set him “free from the stifling atmosphere of pleasing others and fitting into the little patterns that they dictate.” [Peterson] God is the source of his confidence and motivation and actions. The closer we are in our relationship with Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit the better we will be able to live triumphant lives, centered lives, fulfilled lives. Looking God-good I experience myself as a creation of God, sufficient for all I will face in life through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul’s closing prayer is in verse 18 in The Message sounds like this. “May what our Master Jesus Christ gives freely be deeply and personally yours, my friends. Oh, yes!