What is your expectation of what church should be like? Perhaps you don’t have many? You’ve only just recently starting coming along, you don’t really know what to expect. Perhaps for others, you’ve been coming for a very long time, even here to St. Michael’s and you expect hymns, prayers and a short sermon. Perhaps you come more for the social aspect, hoping to see friends or make new ones?
Perhaps church is just a Sunday thing for you; turn up, and hope it doesn’t go on too long. For others of you, your expectations are much higher. You want a Christian community that keeps you going in your spiritual walk that seeks to live together and be involved in one another’s lives beyond Sunday mornings.
Well in these first ten verses of Galatians 6, Paul lays out for us two expectations of his about church life should look like. These aren’t the only expectations Paul has about what living together as Christians should look like, but there are two in the passage before us today: we are to take sin seriously and we are to do good to all.
1.Take sin seriously
Firstly then, living together as Christians, we should take sin seriously. And we are going to see how we are to take sin seriously in other people’s lives, and also in our own lives.
i) Take sin seriously in others
Verse 1: “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.” So imagine the situation, you’re at your local having a pint with your neighbour when you see a friend from church enjoying one too many. Or let’s say you are chatting with the person sat next to you and they they’d had a big argument with someone else in the church this week and now they hate them, they can’t stand them.
Both of these are examples of sin from chapter 5 last week – of people living by the flesh and not the Spirit. And not just here, but in other parts of the Bible too, it is fairly clear that just because those of us who are followers of Jesus have been given the Spirit, sin is still inevitably going to appear in church life.
So what do we do when sin does come? What do we do when we see someone from church entangled in a sin? How do we act towards that friend from church we see at the pub? Well Paul’s instruction in verse 1 is that we are to “restore them gently”.
Let me state the obvious about what this doesn’t mean: it doesn’t mean that we do nothing. If you find yourself in a situation like the ones I described before, the temptation is to respond: “It doesn’t matter really. Plus, talking to them about it isn’t worth the fuss. Let’s just ignore it and it’ll all blow over.”
See but to have that attitude is actually quite dangerous. It’s an attitude that says sin isn’t a serious issue and that your brother or sister in Christ doesn’t need help. Yet Paul seems clear in verse 1 doesn’t he, that a person caught in sin needs restoring. They are like a shoulder out of joint with the body; it can’t be left alone but needs the help of someone else to put it back in place.
Let me state another obvious point: this instruction to restore gently doesn’t mean we go in heavy-handed. A couple of months ago, Emily and I had a short break away to the south of France. Whilst we were there, we spent the day sight-seeing in Monaco. Along with the boats and Casino Square, we visited the Palace of Monaco. Now the Palace was built in the 12th Century so is very stately and dripping in history; old furniture and artwork. One of the rooms was closed, but we could peer through the window and watch a couple of workers restoring the painted ceiling. The workers were in body suits with hair tied back, face masks on and wearing gloves as they delicately and slowly worked on what looked like millimetres of the painted ceiling at a time. They weren’t there with a hammer and chisel at hand, bashing big chunks off in an attempt to restore the original paintwork but patiently and gently working away to restore.
And I think that’s a really helpful picture of how we are to work with one another. Not aggressive or confrontational, not judgmental but gently at work, caring and loving the individual, praying with them.
Now you might be sat there thinking: “This all sounds lovely, but if you read the verse carefully, you’ll see it says: ‘you who are spiritual’ are to the work of restoring gently. Surely that means Phil or Aaron or maybe even Mike, they’re really the spiritual ones here.” Well that’s not quite true actually. You see when Paul is talking about those who are spiritual, he’s got in mind 5:25; those who have the Spirit, those who live the Spirit, those who are trying to keep in step with the Spirit.
If you are a Christian here this morning, Paul has you in mind to do the job; not just Phil or others you might think of. If you left last week wanting to know how you can live by the Spirit and not the flesh, this passage today gives us a really practical example.
And this whole idea really lays out what Paul expects of church life. It isn’t a picture of people coming on a Sunday and rushing off home, maybe saying one or two hellos. It isn’t a picture of church being confined simply to one morning a week.
No, Paul’s expectation here is that we are involved in one another’s lives. Willing to share our struggles as well as share in one another’s struggles. Willing to love and support fellow Christians in a gentle way beyond a Sunday morning. It’s much more of a picture of family and community.
ii) Take sin seriously in ourselves
With all this in mind though, Paul also warns us to take sin seriously in our own lives at the same time. Verse 1 finishes: “But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.” He goes on in verses 3-4 to warn us against thinking too highly about ourselves. Paul’s instruction for us as we restore a fellow Christian caught in sin is that we must keep an eye on ourselves in case we fall in to temptation.
What is the temptation Paul is referring to here? It’s the sin of pride when we compare ourselves to another. As we see a fellow Christian struggling, the temptation is to think that compared to them, we are doing much better. As we help to carry another Christian’s burden, we are tempted to think we are much better Christian because of it. Perhaps even thinking we are above sin.
Paul warns us against this attitude; we are deceiving ourselves by doing this very act. And verse 5 provides the stark reminder that one day we will all stand before God and on that day, we will not bear anyone else’s loads, or be compared to others in how we have done.
Living together then as Christians means we are to take sin seriously in others’ lives and also in our own lives.
2. Do good to all
I want us to also see that living together as Christians means we do good to all. Read verse 6 with me: “Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor.” And read the instruction in verses 9-10 as well: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”
Paul’s instruction is quite simplistic in reality: do good to all people. The elderly neighbour who struggles to get out, the church missionary that needs financial support, putting on events as a church for the community that help to introduce people to Jesus. Paul encourages us to keep going in doing good.
But he is also frank. He knows it is hard work doing good. He knows it can be wearisome looking after elderly neighbours or relatives, hard to give financially to Christian organisations or missionaries and tiring running community events to introduce people to Jesus in this parish.
So Paul gives us motivation to keep going. Verses 7-8: “A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit will reap eternal life.”
Now if you saw my garden back at home, you’d know I’m not the keenest of gardeners, with yellow grass and weeds growing out of every crevasse possible. So I decide I want to plant a few plants in my garden. I head out to the local garden centre and pick up two lots of seed.
I pick up some dandelion seed, thinking they’ll go nicely in the back corner of the garden. And well you can probably guess that the dandelions don’t contain themselves to one corner and before you know it, I have a whole back lawn full of weeds causing havoc.
But I also pick up strawberry seeds to grow in a small greenhouse. Now the plant takes a while to grow, but I wait patiently, look after it and eventually I get some lovely, juicy strawberries that go very well with some cream.
Two lots of seed sown, two very different outcomes. And that same idea is the motivation behind verses 7 & 8. Last week, Phil taught us about the battle going on in every Christian between our old sinful nature and the Spirit that now dwells within us. With the way that you live, you can either sow to your sinful nature or you can sow to please the Spirit of God living within you.
Now doing good is an example of sowing to please your Spirit but Paul knows it is hard and wearisome to keep going. He knows the temptation for each of us is to give up and become more selfish and inward focused, rather than thinking about others. But Paul warns us that doing this, focusing on ourselves and falling foul of selfish ambition is sowing to our old sinful nature. And Paul warns us were that leads: we will reap destruction.
But with the warning comes a wonderful promise, which encourages us to keep going! Doing good is one way we can sow to please the Spirit, one way, as a church you can keep in step with the Spirit. And Paul reminds us this morning, that although it can be hard to put others above ourselves, to think of others more important than ourselves, look out for other people’s needs, we keep going because in the end, we will reap eternal life.
So we keep on helping out our elderly neighbour or relative because we will reap eternal life. We keep on supporting Christian missionaries because we will reap eternal life. We keep on running community events to introduce people to Jesus in this parish because we will reap eternal life.
As we close though, did you note where our priority should be in doing good? Verse 10: “let us do good to all, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”
Paul wants you to do good to all people, but he encourages us to prioritise one another. He encourages us to primarily look out for those who here in this room, those of us who are Christians. I don’t think this means we never do anything good for someone if they aren’t a Christian, but I think it does have big implications about what we prioritise in our lives, our prayer lives, our friends and also where we give financially.
But I want to come back to that question I began with: is this your expectation of church? Paul’s expectation is that our priority should be the local church. Paul’s expectation of church is that it should be bigger than just Sunday morning, and the people around you should mean more to you than just someone you share a pew with.
Do Paul’s expectations of church match your own? Paul shows us that a church walking in step with the Spirit, a church that is looking to live together, will be taking sin seriously, in other people’s lives and our own, and will be seeking to do good to all, especially those who are part of the church family.