Characteristics of a Spirit Led Community
Topic: Galatians Passage: Galatians 5:25–6:5
Characteristics of a Spirit-led Community
After listing the fruit of the Spirit in chapter 5, Paul closes the chapter with an appeal that has both a positive and a negative side to it: the positive side of Paul’s appeal is found in verse 25: If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit and the negative side of his appeal follows it in verse 26: Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. Keeping in step with the Spirit will purify us from the relationship-destroying attitudes of pride and conceit that are second nature to the works of the flesh.
The first 5 verses of chapter 6 then unpacks what relationships in the community of faith should look like when that community of believers isn’t walking by the flesh but is Spirit led. I think it’s fitting that our first message in our new home is about what relationships and care should look like in the church because that’s such an important part of what God has been building over the last 10 ½ years and such an important part of what God will be building in our future. Our effectiveness in reaching our community with the gospel will always be vitally dependent on our relationships within our church community being marked by the fruit of the Spirit. Jesus said the world would know (or recognize) that we are his disciples by our love for one another. In other words, the chief fruit of the Spirit, love, is a key part of our witness to the world.
In the first 5 verses of Galatians 6 we find four characteristics that should be present and growing in a community of faith when it is Spirit-led:
- Spirit-led communities should be a place where those ensnared by sin are gently restored (vs. 1)
I have never been big on the popular phrase, “the church is a hospital” because I don’t think a hospital is all that Jesus meant for the church to be, or even primarily what Jesus meant for the church to be. It doesn’t adequately describe our mission to go into all nations, and it doesn’t adequately describe our fellowship which is to be centered on Christ and the health and joy he brings. Hospitals are great places when you’re sick, but when I’m not sick, or visiting someone who is sick, I really don’t want to spend my time just hanging out in a hospital. So I don’t think the phrase “the church is a hospital” is the best phrase, but Gal. 6:1 clearly tells us that the church needs to have a “hospital ward” – that the church is to be a place where those caught in sin can be restored or healed.
The phrase “caught in a transgression” might sound like it’s talking about someone who is caught red-handed in sin, but that’s not what it means. It’s talking about someone who is ensnared (or caught) by a particular sin. If a believer gets overtaken and overpowered by sin, where a legalistic church would look down in superiority at such a person, and maybe even distance themselves from such a person, and the church given to license wouldn’t address the sin, and maybe not even care about it at all, the Spirit-led church will bring a loving and restoring care to that brother or sister who is ensnared by sin.
The Greek word translated “restore” is a term that was used for setting a dislocated bone back into place. Just as a dislocated bone is out of its proper relationship with other parts of the body, a believer who is ensnared by sin is out of proper relationship with other believers in the body. Like popping a bone back into place, restoration is going to take a painful level of repentance to put that believer back into right relationship, but it’s a healing pain. But it needs to be done in a spirit of gentleness.
Gentleness can easily be confused with weakness but it’s not weakness at all. Gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit, which means it’s a characteristic that comes from God and God has no weakness in Him! Gentleness means to be caring and tender rather than severe and harsh. A strong person can be very gentle, and a weak person can be very harsh. When someone is caught in sin, they are in a spiritually vulnerable place and they need to be handled with care if they are to be spiritually restored. Gentleness doesn’t necessarily mean an absence of pain but it’s to be a pain that is administered with care and for the purpose of putting a precious brother/sister back into right relationship with God and the church.
There was a commercial some years ago where a football player needs medical attention for a dislocated finger. Sitting on the bed next to him is some ordinary, non-NFL-player dude like me and you. The doctor tells the athlete that he’s going to have to pop the finger back into place, which he firmly and confidently does, and the athlete isn’t phased by it at all, but the non-NFL guy passes out and falls off the bed. If I had to pop someone’s dislocated joint back into place I know that my natural reaction wouldn’t be to do it firmly or confidently because I’d be afraid of hurting them (and I’d probably be the one fainting) – and yet timidly trying to pop a dislocated joint is just going to prolong the pain. Quick and firm is the most gentle way of restoring a dislocated joint. And it is the most gentle way of restoring a dislocated brother or sister too. Sometimes we can fear doing the hard thing of confronting patterns of serious sin, and think we’re being nice by acting timidly and not confronting serious sin, but in my experience that usually just prolongs the pain. For the brother or sister overtaken by sin, restoration that can only come through repentance, and we need to call and appeal and press them to that repentance but we are to do it gentleness, not harshness.
The church is made up of sinners. At points in our history, as much as we don’t want to see it happen, there will be those among us who become ensnared by sin and we will need to have the love – and the courage – to help them come to a place of repentance and restoration. But we need to be careful and we need to keep a firm grip on our own need for mercy and grace, because if we get proud and think we could never fall in the way our brother or sister did, not only will that pride come through and make it that much harder for the caught sinner to be restored, but we’re setting ourselves up for a huge fall. Gentle restoration is a product of our remembering our own constant need for grace and mercy. The Spirit led community is to be a place where those ensnared by sin are gently restored.
- Spirit-led communities should be a place where those burdened by heavy loads find help to carry those loads (vs. 2)
Verse 2 says, Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ. Jesus accused the legalistic experts in the law of loading people down with the heavy burdens of religious demands and yet they themselves were not willing to lift one finger to help them. The Judaizers were loading down the Galatian believers with the burden of keeping the law of Moses, but Paul says that the church is to be a place of lifting burdens instead.
Burdens come in a countless number of shapes and sizes. It could be a physical infirmity or a difficult family situation or emotional stresses or financial hardships. And we are to bear one another’s burdens which means that we will all have seasons where our role is to help someone else carry their burden and we will all have seasons where we have a burden that we need help to carry.
To help someone carry their burden we need to get close to them and put our shoulders to the weight they are carrying. To bear one another’s burdens we need to be willing to lift a weight we don’t have to carry in order to lessen a brother or sister’s load that they do have to carry. It’s an expression of love.
In the Lord of the Rings, as Frodo and Samwise get close to the Mountain of Doom where Frodo needs to cast the ring into the fires in order to destroy it, the weight of the ring becomes too much for him to go on and yet he is the only one who can carry it - no one can carry the ring for him. Just as Frodo comes to the point where he doesn’t have the strength to take another step and is about to give up, his loyal friend Sam lifts him up over his shoulders and says, “I may not be able to carry the ring, Mr. Frodo, but I can carry you!”
Sometimes there really isn’t anything we can do to help someone carry their load – their particular burden isn’t something we can lift with them. But in those times, we can draw near and lift them up – in prayer, in encouragement, in care. We might not be able to change their situation, but we can let them know they aren’t alone in it – there are people who care and are standing with them. And that can make such a difference for someone who is struggling under a heavy load.
But this is a two way street – we also need to have the humility to be able to accept help from others when it comes to our turn to stagger under a burden we need to carry. Some of us in this room might find that to be harder to do: to accept help carrying our load. We’re happy to help others but reluctant to accept help. But that’s just pride. We rob others of the opportunity to be blessed by serving us, and we’re setting up a double standard that in essence says, you shouldn’t be embarrassed when I help you…but I am embarrassed to have you help me.
When we bear one another’s burdens we are fulfilling the one law Christ gave us – to love one another. And our model for this is Christ himself who bore our burdens on the cross so that we wouldn’t be crushed by the weight of our sin. The Spirit-led church is to be a place where we are bearing one another’s burdens.
- Spirit-led communities should be a place where believers don’t compete or compare themselves with one another, but all remember their need for Christ’s mercy (vv. 3-4)
I think that Paul’s negative appeal from verse 26, Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another, is on his mind in these two verses. Conceit is when we think higher of ourselves than is merited – and one of the ways conceit shows up in the church is when we compete and compare ourselves to one another rather than love and serve one another.
See, there are two ways that conceit can try to puff us up. One way is that we try to make ourselves look bigger in the eyes of others so that we feel better about ourselves. And the other way is by having us compare ourselves to someone who has messed up, who has been ensnared by sin and whose reputation is hurting, or who is struggling under a very heavy load, and in comparison we feel better about ourselves. In a perverse way, we take pleasure in their misery because their being lower makes us feel higher.
Who here hasn’t been to a prayer meeting where you spend 20 minutes talking about some brother or sister’s problems or sins, and then 2 minutes praying for them. There is a perverse appetite for the bad news That’s why they call gossip the “juicy details” – our mouths water to hear it. We feel better about ourselves because of their misfortune. I wish I could say I have never felt that way, but I can’t. I have felt the temptation to gawk at other’s misery rather than pray. I have felt like I was stronger because someone else was weaker. I know what it is to have that prideful sense that I am higher simply because some brother is lower.
We need to recognize that it is the work of the flesh and it is a serious deviation from the gospel. My sin is juicy enough to condemn me to hell forever – that’s juicy enough. And apart from God’s grace, is there any sin that you or I are not capable of? I would submit the answer is, no. So the community of faith isn’t to be a place where conceit has us comparing and competing with one another – but caring and loving others and recognizing that we each must stand and answer to God for our own lives. Now, the only saving merit by which we can stand before God is Christ – he is our one plea. But having been saved by his grace, we can and should evaluate our own work for the Lord to see if it’s done to the best of our abilities and with true humility and sincerity. Not in any way comparing or competing with anyone else, but by the standards of God’s word and our conscience. And where it falls short we can ask God to help us make the changes we need to make.
We should all want to grow in our service to the Lord – not because we’re comparing ourselves unfavorably with someone else, but simply because through the word of God and the Holy Spirit we’re aware of specific areas we can grow. And on the other side of that equation, we can feel a sense of joy – maybe even a godly kind of pride – where we feel God’s commendation for service that we are humbly and truly rendering to Him without comparing ourselves favorably with someone else. The Spirit led community is where believers don’t compete or compare with one another but we all serve the Lord, thanking God for His grace and remembering our need for the mercy and grace of Jesus.
- Spirit-led communities should be a place where individual responsibility is upheld
At first verse 5 seems like it contradicts verse 2. Paul says we should bear one another’s burdens and then says that each will have to bear his own load. The KJV is even more confusing as it says bear ye one another’s burdens…for every man shall bear his own burden. Huh?
But in the Greek it’s clear that there’s no contradiction at all. The word for “burden” and “load” are two different words. The burden Paul says we should help each other with is baros and it means a heavy, excessive burden. The burden Paul says we each need to carry ourselves is the word phortionand it means a normal weight. It was used for the pack that a soldier would carry on his back. It’s the word Jesus used when he said his burden is light.
Sometimes crushing weights come into our lives, but we all have our own backpacks to carry. While we need to bear one another’s crushing burdens, we also need to be careful to uphold the individual responsibilities that the Lord calls us all to carry. Christian compassion never tries to remove an individual’s responsibility to do what God has called them to do.
So, for example, if someone isn’t working because they can’t find a job even though they’ve pounded the pavement and sent out resumes and interviewed and nothing is opening up, that is a baros – a crushing weight that they need help with and it is appropriate to try and bear that burden with them by buying them groceries or paying a utility bill or some other way of coming alongside them.
But if someone isn’t working because they’re lazy and aren’t looking for a job, or are barely trying, or are refusing jobs cause they’re beneath them – well, then the way to love them is to urge them to get busy and let them go hungry until they do. They need to pick up their backpack (responsibility) and do what God has called them to do. And what we need to recognize is that, in that case, giving them money or groceries isn’t compassionate, it’s hurting them.
We each have our responsibilities before the Lord – backpacks that the Lord has called us to carry, and Spirit-led communities are to be places where individual responsibilities are honored and encouraged. We will each of us answer to the Lord for what He called us to do and for who He called us to be.
Putting it all together, a Spirit-led community, where the fruit of the Spirit rather than the works of the flesh is prevalent, is to be a place where sinners are gently restored, where those with heavy burdens will find help to carry their burden, where believers aren’t comparing or competing with each other, and where the value of individual responsibility is upheld.
It’s a compelling picture, isn’t it? I see that picture in you, church. It’s not perfect, there’s more work to be done, but it’s a joy to see. May God continue to build us into such a Spirit-led community. As we close, let’s each of us consider where the Lord might be calling us to yield our lives to the work of the Spirit. Is there someone caught in sin and the Lord is calling you to have the courage and gentleness to try to restore them? Is there someone who is carrying a burden God wants you to help lift? Are you tempted to compare yourself favorably when someone else is struggling? Do you feel bigger when someone else is smaller? Are there any personal responsibilities that you are shirking? Or helping someone else shirk?
As we pray, let the Lord bring His loving conviction to us.
Closing song: Grace Unmeasured