Support One Another, 1-10
6:1 Brothers and sisters, if a person is discovered in some sin, you who are spiritual restore such a person in a spirit of gentleness. Pay close attention to yourselves, so that you are not tempted too.
Restore – Thomas Watson comments:
‘The Greek word is ‘put him in joint again’. If a bone be out of joint, the surgeon must not use a rough hand that may chance break another bone. But he must come gently to work, and afterwards bind it up softly. So if a brother be through inadvertence overtaken, we must not come to him in a fury of passion, but with a spirit of meekness labour to restore him.’
The following passages deal with church discipline: Mt 18:15-18; 1 Cor 5; 2 Cor 2:5-11; Gal 6:1; 2 Thess 3:6-15; 1 Tim 5:19-20; Tit 3:9-11.
6:2 Carry one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. 6:3 For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 6:4 Let each one examine his own work. Then he can take pride in himself and not compare himself with someone else. 6:5 For each one will carry his own load.
Carry each other’s burdens – ‘Notice the assumption which lies behind this command, namely that we all have burdens and that God does not mean us to carry them alone.’ (Stott)
Burdens can include duties, responsibilities, weaknesses, deficiencies, and afflictions. We can ‘carry’ each others burdens by helping those who labour, comforting those who sorrow, and patiently bearing with those who are mentally or morally weak. At the same time, we should use all reasonable means for correcting in love the faults and deficiencies of others.
No doubt, the spirit in which this burden-carrying is performed makes a great difference: it can be done reluctantly, half-heartedly, out of a sense of bare duty or outward compulsion; or it can be done willingly and lovingly.
If we cannot remove entirely a brother’s burden, we can at least share it. We can contribute to the needs of the poor. We can stand alongside the person who is wrongfully accused or criticised.
But it is particularly mental and moral infirmities that the Apostle has in mind here, as is clear from v1.
‘Instead of despising and hating one another on account of their respective prejudices, mistakes, and faults, and find in these food for self-conceit and vain glorying, they are to assist one another, and to promote one another’s happiness and improvement’.
‘To bear the mistakes and faults of our fellow- Christians does not by any means imply that we flatter them in their erroneous opinions or improper habits; but it does imply that we, cherishing a deep felt sense of our own intellectual and moral deficiencies and improprieties, bear patiently the inconveniences which their mistakes and faults occasion to us, and in a truly friendly disposition do everything in our power to remove these mistakes and faults’.
According to Chrysostom, this includes an element of ‘bearing with’ others’ burdens:
‘He who is quick and irritable, let him bear with the slow and the sluggish; and let the slow, in his turn, bear with the impetuosity of his fiery brother: each knowing that the burden is heavier to him who bears it than to him who bears with it.’
Most churches have little emphasis on bearing one another’s burdens. Indeed, the people do not know one another’s burdens even exist, let alone be concerned enough to bear them. (Erwin W. Lutzer)
The law of Christ –
Load – The word is different from the one used in v2. There, is refers to burdens that are too heavy for one person to carry on his own. Here, the thought is of a pack that a man would carry on his back, and the sense is that each of us has to bear responsibility before God on the day of judgement: no one else can do that for us.
According to Geisler, N.L. & Howe, T.A., When critics ask : a popular handbook on Bible difficulties:
‘The word for “burden” is different in each case. In the first passage, Paul urges sympathy for others. In the other, he is speaking of taking responsibility for ourselves. There is no conflict between being accountable for our own lives and being helpful to others.
6:6 Now the one who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with the one who teaches it. 6:7 Do not be deceived. God will not be made a fool. For a person will reap what he sows, 6:8 because the person who sows to his own flesh will reap corruption from the flesh, but the one who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life from the Spirit. 6:9 So we must not grow weary in doing good, for in due time we will reap, if we do not give up. 6:10 So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who belong to the family of faith.
God cannot be mocked – The underlying picture is of turning up one’s nose at something or someone, and thus expressing sneering contempt. We show such contempt for God when we ignore the rule of sowing and reaping.
‘God’s justice stands forever against the sinner in utter severity. The vague and tenuous hope that God is too kind to punish the ungodly has become a deadly opiate for the consciences of millions. It hushes their fears and allows them to practice all pleasant forms of iniquity while death draws every day nearer and the command to repent goes unregarded. As responsible moral beings we dare not so trifle with our eternal future.’ (A. W. Tozer)
Let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers – Tim Keller comments on our respective responsibilities towards various groups:
‘Our first responsibility is to our own families and relations (1 Timothy 5:8), and our second responsibility is to other members of the community of faith (Galatians 6:10). However, the Bible is clear that Christians’ practical love, their generous justice, is not to be confined to only those who believe as we do. Galatians 6:10 strikes the balance when Paul says: “Do good to all people, especially the family of faith.” Helping “all people” isn’t optional, it is a command.’ (Generous Justice, p50)
Here is a distinction, then, that ought not to be pressed too far:
‘The New Testament shows a certain “in-group” mentality by making a distinction between members of the household of faith and outsiders. (Gal 6:10) But the writers never press this distinction, and they often make the point that Christian friendship should not appear only within Christian circles. While Paul, for example, encourages special concern for believers, he does so in connection with encouragement to “do good to all.” (Gal 6:10) Jesus encourages his followers to invite needy strangers, not friends, to their tables, (Lk 14:12-14) and in the parable of the Good Samaritan he extends the concept of neighbor to include anyone in need.’ (Lk 10:25-37) (EDBT)
Final Instructions and Benediction, 11-18
6:11 See what big letters I make as I write to you with my own hand!
My own hand – cf. Rom 16:22
6:12 Those who want to make a good showing in external matters are trying to force you to be circumcised. They do so only to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. 6:13 For those who are circumcised do not obey the law themselves, but they want you to be circumcised so that they can boast about your flesh.
To avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ – It is possible that Christians were suffering persecution at the hands of Jewish zealots, and that this would have been eased if they had accepted circumcision. See the discussion in NAC.
6:14 But may I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 6:15 For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that matters is a new creation! 6:16 And all who will behave in accordance with this rule, peace and mercy be on them, and on the Israel of God.
Because it is:-
- The measure of man’s guilt, Acts 3:13-15.
- The manifestation of God’s love, Rom 5:6-8.
- The means of salvation, Jn 3:14-15.
- The mark of separation, Gal 6:14.
- The motive of service, 2 Cor 5:14-15.
- The melody of heaven, Rev 5:8-10.
May I never boast in the cross – ‘Boast’ is kauchasthai, ‘to boast in’, ‘to glory in’, ‘to take pride in’. Stott writes that:
‘Our kauchema is our obsession. It engrosses our attention, it fills our horizons, it dominates our mind. For Paul this was the cross. The cross of Christ was the centre of his faith, of his life and of his ministry; it should equally be the centre of ours. Let others be obsessed with money, success, fame, sex or power; those who follow Christ should be obsessed with him and with his cross.’ (Evangelical truth, 81f)
The cross of our Lord Jesus Christ – By this Paul means the message of Christ’s atonement for sins. This is the subject he loved to preach about, 1 Cor 15:3. It is a subject he loved to dwell on in his writings. It is something he lived all his life, Gal 2:20.
Followers of Christ have ample reasons to glory in their Saviour’s cross:
‘Wonder not then that all the true followers of Christ, the saints of every age, have so gloried in the cross of Christ, have imputed such great things to it, have desired nothing so much as to be partakers of it, to live in constant union with it. It is because his sufferings, his death and cross, were the fulness of his victory over all the works of the devil. Not an evil in flesh and blood, not a misery of life, not a chain of death, not a power of hell and darkness, but were all baffled, broken, and overcome by the process of a suffering and dying Christ. Well, therefore, may the cross of Christ be the glory of Christians!’ (William Law, The Spirit of Love)
The cross was central not only to the mind of Paul, but to the mind of Christ himself. He repeatedly predicted his passion, Mk 8:31 9:12,31 10:34,45 etc. He spoke of the time of his death as the ‘hour’ for which he had come to the world, Jn 12:23,27 etc. He gave instructions for a memorial service that would focus on his broken body and shed blood.
The church might have chosen any of a number of options as symbols for Christianity – a crib (symbol of incarnation), a carpenter’s bench (symbol of the dignity of manual labour), a boat (symbol of his itinerant preaching), a towel (symbol of humble service), an empty tomb (symbol of his resurrection), a throne (symbol of his sovereignty), a dove, wind or fire (symbols of the Holy Spirit). But, rightly, it chose a cross. (See Stott, Evangelical truth, 82f)
All the major writers of the NT bear witness to the centrality of the cross, Rom 5:8; 1 Cor 15:3; Gal 1:4; Eph 1:7; Heb 10:19-22; 1 Pet 3:18; 1 Jn 4:10; Rev 5:9.
J.C. Ryle remarks on the cross of Christ as the foundation of biblical faith:
‘If you have not yet found out that Christ crucified is the foundation of the whole volume, you have read your Bible hitherto to very little profit. Your religion is a heaven without a sun, an arch without a keystone, a compass without a needle, a clock without spring or weights, a lamp without oil…Beware, I say again, of a religion without the cross.’
Through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world – It is evident from this that we glory in the cross not only as our means of acceptance with God, but for our daily walk with him. John Stott points to this idea of one cross, but multiple crucifixions:
‘Notice that, although Paul mentions only one cross, he refers to three crucifixions on it. First, there is of course the crucifixion of Jesus. Secondly, “the world has been crucified to me.” Thirdly, “I have been crucified to the world.” Thus Jesus Christ, the godless world and we ourselves have all been crucified on the same cross.’ (Stott, Evangelical truth, 96)
The crucifixion of self has already been mentioned in Gal 2:20 and Gal 5:24. The Christ who dies as our substitute also died as our representative. Paul is here echoing the command of Jesus to take up our cross and follow him, Mk 8:34.
‘This teaching is extremely important today, because the church has a constant tendency to trivialise Christian discipleship. People think of it as if is means nothing more than becoming a bit religious, and adding a thin layer of piety to an otherwise secular life. Then scratch the surface or prick the veneer, and underneath is the same old pagan. Nothing fundamental has changed.
But no! Becoming and being a Christian involves a change so radical that no imagery can do it justice but death and resurrection with Christ, namely dying to the old life of self-indulgence and self-will, and rising to a new life of self-control and self-giving, in which the world has been crucified to us and we have been crucified to the world.’ (Stott, Evangelical truth, 97f)
Peace and mercy – ‘Almost deafened by the babel of voices in the contemporary church, how are we to decide whom to follow? The answer is: we must test them all by the teaching of the apostles of Jesus Christ. “Peace and mercy” will be on the church when it “walks by this rule.” (Gal 6:16) Indeed, this is the only kind of apostolic succession we can accept – not a line of bishops stretching back to the apostles and claiming to be their successors (for the apostles were unique in both authorisation and inspiration, and they have no successors), but loyalty to the apostolic doctrine of the New Testament. The teaching of the apostles, now permanently preserved in the New Testament, is to regulate the beliefs and practices of the church of every generation. This is why the Bible is over the church and not vice versa. The apostolic authors of the New Testament were commissioned by Christ, not by the church, and wrote with the authority of Christ, not of the church. “To that authority (sc. of the apostles),” as the Anglican bishops said at the 1959 Lambeth Conference, “the Church must ever bow.” Would that it did! The only church union schemes which can be pleasing to God and beneficial to the church are those which first distinguish between apostolic traditions and ecclesiastical traditions and then subject the latter to the former.’ (John Stott, Authentic Christianity, 287f)
All who follow this rule – ‘The Greek word for ‘rule’ is kanōn, which means a measuring rod or rule, ‘the carpenter’s or surveyor’s line by which a direction is taken’. So the church has a ‘rule’ by which to direct itself. This is the ‘canon’ of Scripture, the doctrine of the apostles, and especially in the context of Galatians 6 the cross of Christ and the new creation. Such is the rule by which the church must walk and continuously judge and reform itself.’ (Stott)
The Israel of God – On the question of who, or what, constitutes ‘the Israel of God’, see the following note.
6:17 From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear the marks of Jesus on my body.
I bear on my body the marks of Jesus – It would entirely contrary to Paul’s thought to suppose, as some in the church subsequently supposed, that these ‘marks’ (stigmata) were visible marks on his body, corresponding to the wounds of Christ. It is likely that Paul is alluding to the branding that would distinguish a slave as belonging to a certain master. These marks were the scars resulting from various beatings (cf. Acts 14:19; 2 Cor 11), and which marked him out as belonging to Christ (in contrast to circumcision, which marked a man out as a Jew).
6:18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen.