The Spiritual Life in Detail
As Galatians closes, from the sweeping overview of the Christian life we saw in Galatians 5:13-26, Galatians 6 presses that vision down into the details. What does true spirituality look like down in the details? Doing good to everyone, especially to those of the household of faith.
Galatians (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), Tom Schreiner
Galatians (Geneva Commentaries), John Brown
Galatians (Crossway Classic Commentaries), Martin Luther
Galatians For You, Timothy Keller
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Today we’re concluding our series of sermons through the book of Galatians, and as we do, Paul, the author, starts to get into the details of what it looks like to live life in the Spirit. We just spent 8 Sundays doing a deep dive on the fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23, and those were each big, abstract concepts: Love, joy, peace, and so forth. They’re glorious concepts, but if they were all we had, it would be easy for us to live all sorts of ways and assume we were keeping in step with the Spirit, as long as we felt “spiritual” in doing so. So many today live radically different lives from one another, but still describe themselves as “spiritual”. To get at true spirituality then, life produced by the Spirit of God himself, we have to get down into the details. That’s what Paul does in the first 11 verses of chapter 6, and then he closes with a contrast between the way of life of the false teachers, and the way of life in the Spirit. So what is the way of life in the Spirit, down in the details? What does true spirituality look like in the day to day? The basic answer of Galatians is do good to everyone, especially to those of the household of faith. Do good to sinning brothers and sisters, do good to faithful pastors, do good to everyone with whom you have opportunity, and finally, do good because it is those who do good, rather than those who appear good, who will be blessed in the end.
Do good to sinning brothers and sisters
Our passage begins with an address concerning the situation where a brother or sister is caught in a transgression. That connotation of being “caught” in a transgression is to be taken by surprise in it, like an animal wandering through the woods whose foot gets “caught” in a trap. So the situation envisioned here is not a brother or sister stubbornly persisting in sin. Think more so of David, who was a faithful king, and then bam, in the middle of 2nd Samuel, there’s one chapter in which he doesn’t go out to battle at the normal time, commits adultery, and has the husband of the woman with whom he committed it killed. That is serious, observable sin, and while there were serious consequences for David’s sin, the prophet Nathan restored him in a spirit of gentleness. The apostle Peter was generally a faithful follower of Christ. Yet as the crucifixion of Christ approached, Peter denied him three times. That is a serious, observable sin. Jesus said if you deny me before men, I will deny you before my Father in heaven. And yet, Peter was caught in that transgression, he did not stubbornly persist in it, and Jesus restored him in a spirit of gentleness.
So here, “those who are spiritual” are commanded to restore a brother or sister caught in any transgression in a spirit of gentleness. Those who are spiritual is not some clearly defined group within the church. There is a teaching out there in Christian churches today that there are two kinds of Christians: carnal Christians and “those who are spiritual,” and the way to go from being a carnal Christian to a spiritual Christian is to have a post-conversion, second experience of grace, sometimes called the baptism of the Holy Spirit or filling of the Spirit. That is false and dangerous. Galatians is clear throughout that all those who believe receive the Holy Spirit by faith alone the moment they believe (e.g., Gal 3:1-6, 14; Gal 4:6). But then in Galatians 5 we also read that we who have the Spirit have a responsibility to keep in step with the Spirit. Those who are spiritual, then, in Galatians 6:1, are those who, in general, are keeping in step with the Spirit. And it doesn’t take long being a member of a church to recognize that even within the church, not all are spiritual. There are some who aren’t living in the works of the flesh described in 5:19-21, who sincerely profess faith in Christ and desire to follow him, but who you don’t really see around church much, and you get the distinct impression as you get to know them that the fruit of the Spirit in their lives is being hindered by an inordinate fixation on things of the flesh like career, money, and travel. Such people are not the ones commanded to restore a brother or sister caught in a transgression in this passage, and we can imagine why: Generally if they try to, and then they hear that brother or sister defending their sin, they’re likely to start thinking, “Maybe they’re right after all. Maybe it’s not so bad.” And that’s not an excuse; if you sense you may not be spiritual, repent and get back in step with the Spirit yourself, so that you can do good to sinning brothers and sisters.
So there are those who are not spiritual, but then you meet others, and typically they’re the majority in a healthy church, and I would say you are the majority in this church, who seem to really be keeping in step with the Spirit, and it bears fruit. In Romans 14-15, they are labeled the “stronger” and “weaker” brothers and sisters. And the Bible notes such a distinction precisely so that those who are spiritual will not use their comparative spiritual strength as a reason to look down on others. Notice verse 26, just before our passage: “Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” So also here, when those who are spiritual notice a brother or sister caught in a transgression, it is most definitely not to be seen by them as an opportunity to exalt themselves, or to pray as the pharisee did, “I thank God that I am not a sinner like them” (Luke 18:11). Rather, it is an opportunity for them to use their comparative spiritual strength to do good to a sinning brother or sister by restoring them in a spirit of gentleness. We talked about gentleness just two weeks ago when we looked at the fruit of the Spirit, and there we defined it as a tender posture toward others that communicates favor and welcome, even when love requires correction. So you who are spiritual should adopt that posture toward any brother or sister caught in a transgression.
And, you should adopt a humble posture. Verse 1 ends with this command to those who are spiritual: Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. This is why you can’t think of “those who are spiritual” and “those caught in a transgression” or the “weaker” and “stronger” brothers as static categories: You who are spiritual could also get caught in a transgression and become carnal! The restoration a weaker brother or sister needs today may be the restoration you need tomorrow. Any spiritual strength you have comes from God the Holy Spirit, not from your flesh, and you are never free of that flesh in this life. This being the case, we shouldn’t obsess over identifying who is spiritual and who isn’t, or try to develop some list of each, like Santa’s naughty and nice list. Recognize your own and everyone else’s liability to fall out of step with the Spirit, and focus on keeping in step with the Spirit yourself.
To you who are spiritual, though, what does this kind of restoration look like in practice when you have reason to believe a brother or sister is caught in a transgression, then? A helpful first step I would commend to you is to prayerfully prepare your heart for the conversation. Talk to God before you talk to others. Examine yourself to see ways in which you have been guilty of the same transgressions, ways the seeds of the same sin are present in your heart, and repent of them before the Lord. Jesus calls this removing the log from your own eye before judging the speck in your brother’s (Matt 7:1-5). That generally helps you approach them in a spirit of gentleness, and reminds you to take care, lest you too be tempted. From there, the first step is to make the brother or sister aware of their transgression. Make your observation: “Hey, the other night when we were over I noticed you really raised your voice to your kids. That made it seem to me like you were discipling them out of anger, not out of love. Do you think that’s what was going on?” You may have genuinely misinterpreted the situation, and you should be open to that. But this text is dealing with a situation where a brother or sister is really caught in a transgression, and so assuming you’re interpreting it rightly, if they repent, restoring them then means assuring them of God’s forgiveness of their sins, assuring them of your love for them, helping them in ways appropriate to your relationship to repair any damage their sin caused, and to walk toward obedience. If there are others they sinned against or in the presence of, you want to help them think through how to repent to them as well, for example.
Does that feel like kind of a burden to you? Like man, if a brother or sister is caught in a transgression, I have to do all that? Well, look at the next verse: Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Here’s the thing to realize: If a brother or sister is genuinely caught in a transgression, if this is someone who genuinely loves our Lord, the sin they are caught in is a burden to them! They don’t want to hold on to it! So although doing the hard work of restoring them in a spirit of gentleness burdens you, in willingly bearing that burden, you are bearing the burden of your brother or sister with them. Of course, it’s possible they’ll despise or ignore your attempt at restoration, but that just demonstrates they weren’t actually “caught” in the transgression; they want to hold on to it, or that they are so caught in it that you won’t be able to restore them on your own, in which case it will take 1 or 2 others, or even the whole church (Matt 18:15-17). But never assume that about one another! If we’ve received someone into the membership of the church, we’ve all said together that we believe this is someone in whom the Holy Spirit dwells, and the remaining sin in their flesh is a burden to them, one which we must bear with them by restoring them in a spirit of gentleness when they are caught up in it. In doing this we fulfill the law of Christ, the law of love! That’s how you do good to a sinning brother or sister. Before we move on to talk about doing good to faithful pastors, a word on both our responsibility and our limitations for sinning brothers or sisters in verses 3-5.
The responsibility of everyone, whether caught in a transgression or those who are spiritual, stronger or weaker, carnal or not, is, verse 3 to not think of yourself more highly than you ought. There it says if anyone does, he deceives himself. All of us are nothing in our flesh. So if you think you are above needing correction yourself, you are deceiving yourself. If you think you are so spiritually strong in comparison to others that you shouldn’t have to bear their burdens and restore them, you are deceiving yourself. What then are we responsible to do? Let each, whoever you are, test your own work, for in the judgment day, each of us will have to bear his own load. This is where we see both our responsibility and our limitations. If you are caught in a transgression, it is ultimately your responsibility to repent. You cannot appear before the judgment seat of Christ and expect to say, “But those who were spiritual didn’t restore me in a spirit of gentleness” as a legitimate defense. And you who are spiritual, recognize that you cannot force anyone to repent. You can be faithful to carry out the biblical steps for restoration in a spirit of gentleness and humility, but you are not ultimately responsible for someone else’s obedience to God or lack thereof. And if you start thinking you are, you’ll either develop a savior complex and be constantly anxious trying to control things you can’t, or you’ll give up on the restoration process entirely because “it’s not working”. It’s not your job to “make it work”. It’s your job to faithfully carry it out in a spirit of gentleness and humility, so that you can stand before God and boast in yourself alone and not in your neighbor, to use the words of verse 4. Now, on to faithful pastors.
Do good to faithful pastors
Verse 6 tells those who are taught the word to share all good things with the one who teaches. This is interesting in the context of Galatians, because Galatians was written in part to combat false teaching by false teachers. But sometimes in sports it’s said the best defense is a good offense. So how do you protect the church from false teaching? Not only by removing the false teachers, but by supporting good teachers, here called “sharing all good things with the one who teaches.” That word for sharing there is the word sometimes translated fellowship or communion, which throughout the Bible has the connotation of having fellowship in material goods (e.g., Acts 2:42, Rom 12:13, Rom 15:26-27, 2 Cor 8:4, Phil 4:15). That combined with the language of reaping and sowing in the following verse, clearly used by Paul elsewhere to refer to giving money (2 Cor 9:6-7), the Old Testament background of Israel being responsible to financially support the priests, and the command of Christ (Matt 10:10, 1 Cor 9:13-14), verse 6 means that those who are taught the word in a particular church are responsible to financially support the one teaching the word. In the Bible, those who hold the teaching office in the local church after the apostles are called pastors, elders, or overseers (e.g., Eph 4:11-16, 1 Tim 5:17), so the command in verse 6 is to do good to pastors who teach the word, or what I’d call faithful pastors, by sharing your material goods with them.
The most basic way to do this, and therefore a way of vital importance, is to faithfully give financially to your particular church, according to your means. In this particular church, as I am the one you all have set apart to teach the word, my salary and benefits are taken from what you give to this particular church. And it’s easy to gloss over that like church attendance: “Ah yes of course anyone can throw money at something, but what’s really following Jesus like?” Certainly following Jesus is more than giving your money away, but it’s not less. Jesus himself had a lot to say about giving your money away to God (Luke 12:21) and to those who teach the word (Matt 10:10, 1 Cor 9:14). And if you’ve ever tried to give regularly, joyously, and sacrificially as God requires, you know how much your flesh fights against it. That kind of kindness and goodness is a fruit of the Spirit, not our flesh (Gal 5:22). And can I just say by way of personal testimony, as the one set apart to primarily teach the word here, how thankful I am for it? I give God the ultimate thanks, but don’t miss that when you give to God by giving to this church, and he then gives his money to me, that enables me to feed and shelter myself and my family, as God requires of me (1 Tim 5:8), and even to enjoy other good gifts God made to be received with thanksgiving (1 Tim 4:1-5). Down in the details of life in the Spirit, that is a significant way you do good. Do not minimize it.
And you all have done more good than that to me! Sharing all good things with the one who teaches the word isn’t less than giving faithfully to your particular church, but it is more, and you all have done more. I think of Tom and Maggie, who had us over into their home and cooked my whole family brunch, even accommodating my kids’ multiple allergies, after church a couple weeks ago. I think of Ted and Anna, who are letting the elders use their beach house for our elders’ retreat for free next month. I think of Jack and all of you who organized the initiative to write cards and give an extra monetary gift not only to me, but to the other elders, deacons, and staff. I think of Kaley, Gareth and Jess, Meghan, Keith and Dana, Jack and Christine, Tom and Maggie, Anthony and Sydney, Angel, Kevin, Cait, Allie, Rachel, and others I’m probably forgetting who have given of their time to babysit our kids. I think of Derlis and Sofia giving of their medical expertise to give me advice on caring for my kids, and even offering to help pay for the ER visit. And there’s a lot more I could share, but I thank God for the goodness and kindness he’s shown me through you all. And I trust you all also show such goodness and kindness to Michael and Mark, your other pastors, who give less of their time to teaching the word, but who do still do so, and who squeeze it in around the other jobs they work to provide for their own families and also contribute generously to this church. Remember them as you consider this verse; I can attest first-hand that they are faithful pastors.
And, Lord willing, this church will one day have another Preaching Pastor, because we hope by God’s grace this church will outlive me, or because the Lord may call me elsewhere in this life. Let’s make sure we financially support that pastor, and Lord willing, if he grows our church, let’s make sure we financially support more paid pastors, in such a way that they can happily devote themselves to the ministry of the word and prayer (Acts 6:4) without having to worry about feeding their family, clothing their kids, going to the ER if need be, or fixing the roof in the only run-down house they could afford because we pay them so little.
Of course, the flesh does resist such generosity, but the very act of giving is a way we can sow not to our flesh, but to the Spirit. So verse 7 warns us again not to deceive ourselves: Whatever one sows, that will he also reap. The one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption. Sowing to your own flesh obviously means, in this context, spending your time and money on the works of the flesh of chapter 5:19-21. Those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God, and so if you give your time and money to such things, you will reap from them corruption. In other words, you will perish with them, under the judgment of God. Our world today tells us to express whatever we feel, but what it misses is that expressing a desire doesn’t just express such a desire; it also strengthens it. So if you feel the desire to give more of your time and money to improving your house because you envy those with a nicer house, and then you act on that desire, you haven’t just expressed it; you’ve strengthened it. And if you keep doing that, then from it you will reap its God-ordained consequence: Judgment. If you find the fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, etc.) are lacking in your life, look at how you spend your time and money, and if you’re sowing it to your own flesh, don’t expect to reap from the flesh the fruits of the Spirit.
On the other hand, if you sow to the Spirit, not “to your own” flesh, then from the Spirit you will reap eternal life instead of corruption. Our sowing does not merit or earn eternal life, but keeping in step with the Spirit is the path from our initial justification by faith alone to our final inheritance, eternal life, which will also be given to us as a gift received by faith alone. Giving your money to those who teach the word does nothing for your flesh; that’s why your flesh resists it. But it too not only expresses a desire; it strengthens it. You feel a desire for goodness and kindness from the Spirit, and you want to support the teaching of the word because you love the Word, and want to see it taught, not only to yourself, but to others. Acting on that desire by giving will not only express it; it will strengthen it, until it reaches its end: Eternal life. But we learn next that as this principle of reaping and sowing is broader than our finances, so also those to whom we do good are more than faithful pastors and sinning brothers or sisters.
Do good to everyone with whom you have an opportunity
So verse 9 makes this transition: Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. That promise of eternal life is given only to those who do not give up in doing such good as restoring a brother or sister caught in sin, or financially supporting those who teach them the word. And then in verse 10, we come to the conclusion thus far, and we see the scope of our well-doing expanded: So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. So to whom are we to do good? A brother or sister caught in a transgression? Yes. Faithful pastors? Yes. Is that it? No. Who else, then? Everyone. That seem too broad to you? It is too broad to our flesh. But the love, the kindness, and the goodness the Spirit works in you is so expansive that it longs to do good to everyone, and is limited only by opportunity. So our text tells us to do good to everyone as we have opportunity.
First and foremost, this means we are to do good to everyone while we’re still alive. The day of judgment is coming, each must bear his own load, and it is those who sow to the Spirit in this life who from the Spirit will reap eternal life. But it’s also reasonable to recognize that we simply do not have the same opportunities to do good to everyone. In biblical times especially, it was hard to even know what was happening to people in other parts of the world, let alone find ways to do good to them all at once, and even in our increasingly globalized age of the internet and mass media, try as we may to fight it, each of us are still finite beings. You cannot do good to everyone at the same time in the same way, and if you try to, or try to convince yourself you are, you probably will end up not doing much good to anyone. To do good to anyone, you must start with some particular people in some particular place at some particular time, and God, in his inspired word in Galatians 6:10, tells us to start with the household of faith.
Notice he doesn’t tell us to start with those who are spiritual. It is all those in the household of faith, weak and strong, with whom we are to start. And what is the household of faith? It is the household of those who have faith, most obviously, and it is clearly an identifiable group, or else the command wouldn’t make any sense: “Do good especially to this group of people who you have no way of identifying.” And obviously not everyone is in the household of faith, or the statement “do good to everyone, especially to those of the household of faith” would be totally redundant: “Do good to everyone, especially to everyone.” So if it isn’t everyone, but it is an identifiable group, how do you know who is in it and who is not? You must know to be able to obey this command, but how do you know? There are a lot of ways people answer that question, but they can all be summarized in two general categories: Either you can take it upon yourself to individually judge who is of the household of faith and who isn’t, or you can submit to the judgment of something bigger than yourself as to who is of the household of faith and who isn’t. If you’re at all familiar with the Bible, wouldn’t you already intuitively guess that the first of those options probably isn’t the better one? Frankly, it’s arrogant to assume that you individually have the right and competency to decide for yourself who you will recognize as a member of the household of God and who you will not. That would be like someone in a house of 4 roommates deciding on their own to recognize a new roommate and give them a room.
But it turns out there is an institution to whom Jesus himself gave the keys of the kingdom of heaven, to open and shut the door, like a door to a household, and thereby to recognize who is a member of the household of faith and who is not, and he calls that institution the church (Matt 18:17-20). Indeed, in 1 Tim 3:15 Paul even identifies the church as the household of God. Therefore, if we want to do good to those who are of the household of faith, we should start doing good to those who are members of a particular church. They are those who have been recognized by a particular church as belonging to the household of faith. And since our clearest opportunities for doing good will generally be with those who are members of the same particular church we are, we should start with other members of our particular church. At this particular church, we’ve tried to make that even simpler by also having Citygroups, where the members of our church can get started with a few other members and get to know them well enough to learn how to do good to them. To whom in the household of faith could you do good this week? If you don’t know, what step could you take to get to know others in the household of faith well enough learn how you could do good to them? Sometimes simply asking the question is the best next step. You’re at Citygroup one night and you hear about something difficult going on in another member’s life. Consider texting a few other members after the group and just asking, “any ideas for a way we could do good to them in this hard time?” “What if we did a Citygroup babysitting night and watched their kids for them?” “What if we took her a meal?” “What if we pitched in and got him a gift card?”
And then, from there, consider where either you individually or you and others in the household of faith have opportunities together to do good to those outside the household of faith. Often your neighbors, co-workers, and families present the most direct opportunities. Adam Bruckner at Helping Hand Rescue Mission encouraged me, you may not have an opportunity yet to start an after school program, but what if you became a big brother (and he didn’t mean volunteering with big brothers/big sisters, though that’s great too) to a few kids on your block? What if you took them to a Sixers game? That’s a more direct opportunity. Where is God giving you opportunities to use your time and money to do good to everyone? Do so, because in the end, it is those who do good who will be blessed.
It is those who do good, rather than those who appear good, who will be blessed in the end
And so we come to the end of Galatians, and in closing, Paul returns to the big issue that prompted the letter in the first place: There are those who do not do good, but who rather, according to verse 12, “want to make a good showing in the flesh.” Instead of doing good, they want to look good, and instead of bearing their own load, they want to put a burden on the Galatians to be circumcised and keep the Mosaic law, so they can look at the Jews who would persecute them and say, “See! We aren’t breaking the law of Moses. Our converts get circumcised!” But Paul sees through it. He says they don’t even keep the law! Sure, they get circumcised and observe the holidays, but they don’t fulfill the essence of the law: love. That’s one way to live. It’s a way that looks good, but doesn’t do good.
Then Paul says there is another way that he’s chosen to live, and which he’s commending to the Galatians, that he begins to describe in verse 14: But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world. What enables you to go from living a life in which the fundamental concern is to appear good in the eyes of the world, to a life where the fundamental concern is to do good to everyone, especially to those who are of the household of faith? The answer is the cross of Christ, by which we are crucified to the world and the world to us. On the cross, Jesus doesn’t look good to the world at all. He did not make a good showing in the flesh, in the words of verse 12. Instead, he was despised and rejected by men, he had no form of beauty that we should desire him, and he became as one from whom men hide their faces. On the cross, by the standards of the flesh, in the eyes of the world, Jesus looks like a total loser. He didn’t look good, but he was doing the ultimate good, dying for the sins of the world, such that whoever believes in him, though they have not done good, will not perish, but will receive from him eternal life. And on the cross he especially did good to those of the household of faith, not only making their salvation possible, but truly becoming a curse for them, ensuring that they would be justified by faith alone, and kept for the day when from the Spirit they would reap eternal life.
And so now the door to the household of faith is open to everyone, and Jesus is the door! Receive and rest upon him, and though you have not done good to everyone, he will forgive you, and give you a place among those who are united to him by faith. Then you can stop trying to appear righteous, because God will have already declared you righteous in Christ. Then, in the words of verse 15, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision will matter at all to you, but living as the new creation God has made you. You can stop trying to appear good and get to work doing good. And, verse 16, it is those who walk by that rule, not the rules of the law of Moses, who will receive peace and mercy from God, and who are accounted the true Israel of God.
As Galatians closes, and as we close, we are presented with these two ways to live, and they aren’t the two you might expect. They aren’t simply the sinful way and the holy way. They aren’t simply breaking the rules vs. keeping the rules. They’re keeping one set up of rules, the rules of Moses, vs. walking by a new rule, the rule that was always at the heart of God’s law, even as it was given through Moses, the rule of love, which seeks to do good to everyone, especially to those of the household of faith. And the only way to walk by that rule is to first renounce all confidence in your own rule-keeping, and instead put all your hope for righteousness before God in Jesus Christ and his work on the cross. Then, declared righteous in Christ, fully accepted in God’s sight by faith alone in Christ alone, do good to everyone, especially to those of the household of faith, whether the sinning brother or sister, the faithful pastor, or any other church member, and the peace and mercy of God will be upon you until the day you reap eternal life from the Spirit.