Paul wrote his letter to the churches of Galatia because they were listening to people who told them that to be saved they had to be circumcised and obey the law of Moses in addition to believing in Jesus Christ. He asserted that Jesus Christ himself had called him to be an apostle to the Gentiles and revealed to him the gospel that he preached to them–that they were saved by faith in Jesus Christ and not by works of the law–and thus that their listening to the Judaizers (the name we give to the false teachers) was actually a deserting of the gospel rather than an assuring of it.
In my last post I considered Galatians 5:13-26 in which Paul responded to the Judaizers’ charge that the freedom from the law which he preached would result in disregard for moral standards. He claimed that instead it would result in holiness before God if believers would let themselves be led by the indwelling Holy Spirit, proclaiming that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (5:22-24, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV).
Paul closes his letter by illustrating life in the Spirit (6:1-10) and making a final warning (6:11-18). I’ll consider the former in this post and the latter in my next post.
Bearing One Another’s Burdens
1 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. 5 For each will have to bear his own load.
The King James Version has “if a man be overtaken in a fault” (if anyone unintentionally commits a sin) instead of “if anyone is caught in any transgression” (if anyone is detected committing a sin) and many commentators take it that way. Whichever Paul intended, he encourages the individual’s fellow Christians, who should be walking by the Holy Spirit (see 5:16-26), to restore the person “in a spirit of gentleness.” This is in contrast to his telling the church elsewhere to deal harshly with certain Christians who have sinned, even putting them out of the church (1 Corinthians 5:1-5). Here he recognizes that many Christians who have sinned may be set right again through gentleness and encourages the church to empathize with the individual who has sinned by reminding them that they could fall in the same way (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:12).
This empathy for other Christians should lead not only to dealing gently with them when they sin but also to sharing their other burdens. Paul observes that when we bear the burdens of others we fulfill “the law of Christ.” Although some identify “the law of Christ” with the law of Moses as interpreted by Jesus, in view of Paul’s emphasis that Christians aren’t under the law of Moses others identify it with something distinct from that law, suggesting Jesus’ identification of love of God and neighbour as “the great commandment in the Law” (Matthew 22:36-40), his ethical teachings, and/or his example. For example, Richard N. Longenecker identifies it as “those prescriptive principles stemming from the heart of the gospel (usually embodied in the example and teachings of Jesus), which are meant to be applied to specific situations by the direction and enablement of the Holy Spirit, being always motivated and conditioned by love” (Galatians, Dallas, Texas: Word, 1990, pages 275-76).
Before commenting on verses 3 to 5, Douglas J. Moo gives this summary of them, showing that although they aren’t tied closely together they work together to show the need for Christians to examine themselves: “Reflective of this emphasis is a shift from the pronoun allelous, one another, in 5:26; 6:2 to hekastos, each, in vv. 4, 5 and heauton, himself, in vv. 3, 4. Each believer, Paul argues, should avoid the pride that comes when they do not truly understand themselves (v. 3). Any sense of pride should be based on critical self-reflection and not on a comparison with others (v. 4). This is because, on the day of judgment, each believer will need to answer for themselves alone (v.5).” (Galatians, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 2013, page 378)
Moo notes that the above summary depends on a particular interpretation of some disputed texts in verses 3-5 and goes on to explain his interpretation of those texts. I’ll comment on only verse 5, “For each will have to bear his own burden.” Moo assigns this bearing of one’s own burden to the day of judgment, appealing to the verb’s being in the future tense. However, as he concedes, the future tense may just state what is usually true. In that case, though, the verse seems to conflict with Paul’s exhortation in verse 2 to “bear one another’s burdens.” A common way of resolving the apparent conflict is offered by James Montgomery Boice: “The word in v.2 is bare, which means “heavy burdens”—those that are more than a man should carry. The word in this verse is phortion, a common term for a man’s ‘pack’” (”Galatians in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, volume 10, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1976, page 502). However some understand the two words to be synonyms. James D. G. Dunn suggests that if they are Paul’s point in the two verses is that “one should take responsibility for one’s own sins, but be willing to interpret the failings of others in a generous spirit” (The Epistle to the Galatians, Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1993, page 326).
Sowing and Reaping
6 One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches. 7 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. 9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
In verse 6 Paul provides a specific example of mutual burden bearing, supporting the church’s teachers with “all good things.” This is in accordance with his insistence elsewhere on the right of the preacher to live by the gospel, telling the Corinthians that “the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:14; see also 1 Timothy 5:17-18). This raises the question of why Paul himself waived this right, telling the Corinthians, “But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision” (1 Corinthians 9:15; see also 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-8; Acts 20:34). He told the Corinthians that the reason he waived the right was to “refrain from burdening [them] in any way” (2 Corinthians 11:9; he gave the same reason in 1 Thessalonians 2:9 and 2 Thessalonians 3:8). F. F. Bruce adds that Paul also wanted to provide an “example to his converts not to live at the expense of others (2 Thess. 3:6-13) and, where necessary, to stop the mouths of those who would ascribe mercenary motives to him (2 Cor. 11:7-12)” (The Epistle to the Galatians, Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982, page 263).
With “Do not be deceived” Paul introduces a general principle, “Whatever one sows, that will he also reap,” that reinforces verse 6. Ernest De Witt Burton explains the connection thus: “If they are unreceptive to spiritual teaching, and, undervaluing it, are unwilling to support their teachers, preferring to spend their money on themselves, they are sowing to (for the benefit of) their own fleshly natures, and the harvest will be corruption. If, on the other hand, recognizing their need of teaching and its value, they are of receptive mind towards those who are able to instruct them and willingly contribute of their goods that such teaching may continue, they are sowing to (for the benefit of) the spirit, and the harvest will be eternal life” (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on The Epistle to the Galatians, Edinburgh: Y. & T. Clark, 1921, page 339). However Burton goes on to suggest that Paul probably also wanted to bring the principle before his readers for its own sake and not simply to reinforce verse 6 (page 340).
Sowing “to his own flesh” is practicing the “works of the flesh” listed in Galatians 5:21-23, and sowing “to the Spirit” is cultivating the “fruit of the Spirit” listed in Galatians 5:22-24. The two life styles yield completely different results, “corruption” and “eternal life” respectively. Although “corruption” may refer to decay (physical, moral, and spiritual) in this life, the contrast with “eternal life” suggests that here it refers to the physical death and disintegration from which, for those who sow to the flesh, there is no resurrection to eternal life. On the other hand, those who sow to the Spirit will rise to eternal life.
“And let us not weary of doing good” provides a practical conclusion to the warning of verses 7 and 8. Although “doing good” includes everything a Christian should do and thus is identical to the sowing to the Spirit of verse 8, here it probably refers in particular to restoring the fallen (verse 1), sharing one another’s burdens (verses 2-5), and providing for the church’s teachers (verse 6). Paul encourages the Galatians not to slacken in doing such good by reminding them that “in due season we will reap” both spiritual blessings in this life and eternal life (verse 8).
Paul goes on to remind them that just as there is a time for reaping, there is a time for sowing and thus that they should sow or do good whenever the opportunity presents itself. He also notes that while they should do good to everyone, they should do it especially to “those who are of the household of faith”; that is, to fellow Christians. This is in line with Jesus’ telling his disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).
“We have now come to the end of Paul’s formal arguments, and we have seen that Paul ended with some practical exhortations about what the Galatians ought and ought not to be doing….They are to restore erring Christians, bear one another’s burdens, support their teachers, and indeed do good to all, especially to Christians. In all of this they are following the pattern of life and teaching of Jesus, which Paul calls the Law of Christ.” (Ben Witherington III, Grace in Galatia, Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998, page 435)