Gal 6:1-18 – What Matters Most

Paul has talked about Christians bearing the fruit of the Spirit. He said “If we live by the Spirit, let us walk by the Spirit” (Gal 5:25) after he has listed nine characteristics of the cluster of spiritual fruit. This is not an exhaustive list, but it summarizes what a Christian who is led by the Holy Spirit looks like.

He then ends by showing that this will be demonstrated in our attitudes to each other: “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another” (Gal 5:26). Paul writes something similar in his letter to the Ephesians: “Be filled with the Spirit” (Eph 5:18). This includes “addressing one another (Eph 5:19) and “submitting to one another (Eph 5:21).

The point he is trying to make is that bearing the fruit of the Spirit is not some isolated, mystical experience, but it manifests itself in practical outworkings of love and care that we should have for each other. It is easy to talk about love in a detached, isolated way. In this section, Paul shows that love has to be displayed in real, practical ways.

Bear One Another’s Burdens (Gal 6:1-5)

It is the Loving Thing to Do

Paul says “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2). The immediate assumption is that we all have burdens, and we are not meant to carry these burdens alone.

Some people try to bear them alone. They think it is a sign of strength and fortitude. But this is more stoical than Christian.

Others think they should only take their burdens to the Lord. They think of verses like “Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you” (Psa 55:22), and that Jesus invited those with heavy burdens to come to him (Matt 11:28). True, Jesus can carry all our burdens and we are to cast our burdens on Him for He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). But we should not forget that one of the ways God cares for us is through human friendship.

It Fulfills the Law

Human friendship in which we share each other’s burdens is part of God’s purpose for His people. So we should not keep our burdens to ourselves, but seek to share it with other believers, who can bear the load with us. By this kind of burden-bearing, we “fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2).

In doing so, Paul is making a side swipe at the Judaizers. They were adding to their burdens. Paul is saying that true Christians do not add to other’s burdens but carry it alongside them. Jesus gave his disciples a “New Commandment” that they “love one another” as He loved them (John 13:34). Loving one another is not some heroic form of self-sacrifice most of the time. Rather, it is the everyday, mundane task of walking alongside other Christians and sharing their burdens. Similarly, we need to be humble enough to share ours with others as well.

It Demonstrates Humility

Paul goes on to say: “If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, deceives himself” (Gal 6:3). The thought is, that if we think that bearing others’ burdens is beneath us, then we are deceiving ourselves. The truth is, that we are not something. We are nothing. This is not an exaggeration. We ourselves deserved to experience the wrath of God and condemnation to eternal torment in hell. Our salvation was a free gift that we did not deserve. That is the heart of the gospel. So we are never superior to any of our Christian brothers or sisters who get tripped into sin. We are no better. So in humility and gentleness, we can seek to restore them without judging them. We saw in our last study, that the opposite of love is to “bite and devour one another” (Gal 5:15).

The transgressions Paul is referring to may not be obvious sins. Possibly the transgression the believer falls into is faltering faith. Perhaps the heavy burden makes them doubt the goodness of God. By coming alongside the struggling believer and bearing their burden, we are also helping them see the goodness and the faithfulness of God.

Paul points out that the restoration needs to be done “in a spirit of gentleness” (Gal 6:1). Paul adds, “keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Gal 6:1). Perhaps we can also be tripped up by the same sin, but it is also possible for us to be tripped up by the sin of self-righteousness and pride. We need to be aware that we are no better, and only then can we truly come alongside a fellow believer and restore them. This takes a whole lot of love as well as courage. Jesus compares it to eye surgery (Matt 7:1-5)

A Practical Way to Fight Against Conceit

Paul then gives us a practical way to fight against becoming conceited. He says we should not compare ourselves with one another, but rather, “let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone, and not in his neighbor” (Gal 6:4). 

The reason we become proud (or sink into despair) is that we tend to compare ourselves with others. Paul here gives us the practical advice – “don’t do that”! We have the Word of God, and we have the Holy Spirit. So let us judge ourselves by God’s standards, without comparing ourselves with other people. When we see how far we keep falling short, that will keep us humble. Paul concludes this thought by saying “for each will have to bear his own load” (Gal 6:5) – meaning, each of us is accountable to God for our actions alone, not those of others. (Note that this verse does not contradict verse 2. This is like a small back-pack – our accountability before God. The other is like a burden that is too heavy for us to bear, and we are to share that with others).

Sowing and Reaping (Gal 6:6-10)

The Law of Harvest

Paul now talks about a fundamental principle. “Whatever one sows, that he will also reap” (Gal 6:8). This is a principle of order and consistency that exists in all of life. A farmer sows during seed-time, and reaps in the harvest. If he sows barley seeds, he will get a barley crop. If he sows rice, he will get a crop of rice. He cannot sow wheat and expect a crop of grapes. Similarly, if he sows good seed, he can expect a good crop. If he forgets to sow, then come harvest, there will be nothing to reap. If he sows plentifully, he can expect a plentiful crop. If he sows sparingly, he can expect a small crop (see 2 Cor 9:6).

It is not the reapers who decide what the harvest will be like. It is the person who does the sowing, who determines what the harvest will be like! Hosea warned his contemporaries, “those who sow the wind will reap the whirlwind” (Hosea 8:7).

This is a fundamental law of nature. Paul makes his point clear with a command “Do not be deceived” (Gal 6:7) and a statement “God is not mocked” (Gal 6:7). The possibility of being deceived is mentioned several times in the New Testament. After all, Satan is a liar, and the father of lies (John 8:44). There are many who think there will be no consequences for their actions. They think they can get away with it. That is why Paul points out that God will not be mocked.

So there are three kinds of sowing that Paul talks about here. The point he is making is that by sowing the right things, we will reap a good harvest, so ultimately we will be the ones with the greater blessing!

Take Care of Those Who Feed Us Spiritually

The first thing Paul talks about is to sow into the ministry of our local churches. Our pastors and church staff need to be supported, and it is our duty to provide for their needs. As they nourish our souls spiritually, we should provide support to their physical needs.

Yes, this will bless the minister. But actually there is a bigger blessing for us! This is what Paul explains to the Philippians. “it was kind of you to share my trouble. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit … And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:14-19). The Philippians had provided for Paul to “share his trouble” (Phil 4:14), and these seeds that were sown, as it were, would cause fruit to increase to their credit! This caused Paul to “rejoice in the Lord, greatly” (Phil 4:10).

Sow to the Spirit and Not to the Flesh

The next thing Paul mentions is sowing to the Spirit, or in other words, to fight the battle for holiness. 

The Bible makes it clear that we are not helpless victims of our nature, temperament and our environment. Who we become tomorrow is shaped by how we behave today. So the Holy Spirit is likened both to the path that we walk as well as the field where we sow. How can we expect to reap the fruit of the Spirit if we do not sow into the field of the Spirit?

This saying is true:

  • Sow a thought, reap an act
  • Sow an act, reap a habit
  • Sow a habit, reap a character
  • Sow a character, reap a destiny.

In our last study, we saw the works of the flesh. Sowing to the flesh is to pander to the desires of our flesh rather than crucifying it. Every lingering bad thought we have, every time we are in bad company, every time we decide to sleep and not to pray – all of these are seeds that we are sowing to the flesh. Some Christians, myself included: sow to the flesh every day, and wonder why they are not becoming holy. Paul says, “God is not mocked”. Holiness is a harvest. Whether we reap it or not depends entirely on what we sow.

On the other hand, to sow to the Spirit is the same as to “set our mind on the Spirit”, or to “walk in” or “keep in step with” the Spirit. Again, we sow with our thoughts and our deeds. The books we read, the music we listen to, all of this can be sowing to the Spirit. We are to “set our minds on things above, not things of the earth” (Col 3:2).

The two harvests come from two sowings. The results are logical. If we sow to the flesh, we will “from the flesh reap corruption” (Gal 6:8), but if we sow to the Spirit, we “will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Gal 6:8).

Do Good to Others, Specially Believers

Then  Paul talks about doing good to others. He says we should do this “as we have opportunity” (Gal 6:10). This earthly life is full of opportunity. 

Our first responsibility is to those “who are of the household of faith” (Gal 6:10). This means other fellow-believers. As the saying goes, “charity begins at home”. Christians claim our first loyalty.

However, this then extends to everyone else. We are even commanded to “love our enemies” (Matt 5::44).

Do Not Grow Weary

And as Paul winds up this section, he reminds us that much patience is required. He knows that we will be tempted to get weary. So he exhorts us “let us not grow weary in well-doing” (Gal 6:9). Active Christian work is tiring, and we are tempted to give up and to “slack off”.

So Paul gives us an incentive with a promise. “In due season we shall reap if we do not give up” (Gal 6:9). The seed that we plant does not bear fruit immediately. There are seasons of waiting. Paul tells us to stick with it. We need to “wait on the Lord” (Isa 40:31), for His harvest in His time. And the promise is, that harvest is coming! Our patience is evidence of saving faith.

The Cross is All that Really Matters (Gal 6:11-18)

Until now, Paul has been most likely dictating his letter. But as he does in most of his letters, he ends the letter with a few words by his own hand. Sometimes it is just a final greeting or a signature. The reason Paul did this was to guarantee his letter against forgery. In this case it is several sentences.

Some Boast in the Flesh

The Judaizers “boast” in the flesh. Paul says several things about them.

  1. They are braggarts. forcing the Galatians to become circumcised in order to “make a good showing in the flesh” (Gal 6:12). They were more interested in numbers and statistics than the souls of the people.
  2. They are compromisers. Another reason Paul gives is that they want to avoid being persecuted (Gal 6:12)
  3. They are persuaders
  4. They are hypocrites – they themselves do not keep the law (Gal 6:13).

The key point is that they are doing these things to exalt themselves. Paul goes on to talk about his motivation. It is not himself, It is the cross of Jesus; i.e., it is the work that Jesus did on His behalf that he wants to proclaim from the roof-tops.

We Should Boast only in the Cross

Paul says “far be it for me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal 6:14). He goes on to say that the cross is “by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal 6:14). This reminds us of what he wrote in Gal 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me”. As far as Paul is concerned, the cross of Jesus shattered every confidence he used to have in the flesh. He was willing to “crucify” it all for the sake of his relationship with Jesus Christ as a part of Abraham’s lineage of faith.

Application

So here are some ways we can evaluate our own faith.

Is our faith inward or outward?

Paul says: “for neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision” (Gal 6:15). The point is that circumcision is an outward symbol. Yes it is meant to signify something. But it should never be exalted to the position of a required “work”.

In our world today, the critical issue may not be circumcision. But for example, thinking about baptism and nit-picking how it is to be done or to whom it is to be done, or worse still, thinking that baptism is a necessity for salvation, brings all the issues that Paul is so strongly opposed to in this letter. Yes, baptism is an important part of a Christian’s life. But it can never be a requirement for salvation. If anyone says it is, then they are nullifying the work of Christ on the cross for our salvation, for precisely the same reasons that Paul says the Judaizers are. So we need to be careful to put baptism, and every other tradition we may practice, in its right place. What really matters for salvation, is that we become children of God, through faith in the completed work of Christ for us on the cross. Everything else is secondary. That is why Paul is willing to boast only on the cross.

Paul says “I bear the marks of Jesus” (Gal 6:17), meaning, he has scars from all his suffering for Jesus, that proves that he is not self-serving and is willing to sacrifice his very life for his faith.

Is our faith human or is it divine?

Paul also goes on to say “neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation” (Gal 6:15). The new creation is the new birth that we experience when we put our trust in Jesus. It is being “born of the Spirit” or “born again”, as Jesus put it. Ultimately, that is all that matters. Am I born again? Is the Holy Spirit living in me? That determines everything. That is how I bear the fruit of the Spirit mentioned in Galatians chapter 5, and that is how my new life in Christ grows.

Paul concludes: “And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them and upon the Israel of God” (Gal 6:16). As children of God, peace with God and mercy follows, and we are the “true” Israel of God. The spiritual Israel. The spiritual descendants of Abraham! Paul’s final benediction is “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen” (Gal 6:18).

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