Bear the Burden St Mark’s Bassendean Isa 53:1-6;Ps 32; Gal 6:1-6; Matt 22:33-40
As we have been discussing for several months the Galatian Christians were being strongly tempted to take on keeping the Old Testament Law as a means of pleasing God. God’s Law was never designed to empower us to live holy lives; this is the role of the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:2-3). Those who practice religion of do’s and don’ts, and this is how non-Christians see Christianity, always conform to Jesus’ criticism of the law preachers of his day; “They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.” (Matt 23:4). In this section of Galatians Paul teaches us about the difference between a Christ centred community rather than one based on a set of rules. Where many modern Christians never connect with fellow churchgoers spiritually or practically the Church for which Jesus died is a body of people who support each other in the most intense way. As we go through Paul’s inventory of how a Christian community should behave we will find that in some areas we are doing quite well as a church but in other areas really struggling. Let’s start with an area that for most people is a great challenge.
v.1 Brothers and sisters, 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.
“if anyone is caught in any transgression” includes everyone of us. The language of being “caught in a transgression” means the sin in question is not deliberate or premeditated. It is however a result of not “keeping in step with” the Holy Spirit which Dale spoke about last week. Who here has ever felt like you’ve failed Jesus in some way and you feel bad about it…? This is a sign of being spiritually alive but it is also a sign that you need help. Someone called me the other day who has ongoing issues with pornography saying, “I’ve noticed every time such and such happens I fall.” I am called to restore him “in a spirit of gentleness”. Gentleness is one of the fruit of the Spirit and an expression of the life of Christ (Gal 5:23; 2 Cor 10:1). When a woman caught in adultery was prosecuted by the Pharisees according to the Law of Moses Jesus gently said, ““Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”” (John 8:10-11). That lady went home with the peace of sins forgiven. I remember being angrily attacked by someone who was convinced there was sin in my life this proverb came to mind, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov 15:1). When I answered him with gentleness he settled down amazingly quickly. Gentleness flows from empathy but harshness with sinners is sign of personal insecurity (Heb 5:2).
The word “restore” here is used for putting a broken bone back into its natural place. Bringing back people into full fellowship with God and other Christians is like that, it involves causing pain for a greater healing. One of the reasons why most Christians find it too hard to talk to other believers about their sin is that we are afraid to cause them pain because this makes us uncomfortable. This is hardly the way of Christ.
To “walk in the Spirit” and restore others gently to God has nothing to do with an attitude of spiritual superiority or needing to put people right. Jesus told a parable about like a Pharisee who went up to the temple to pray and who looked aside at the tax collector nearby and said, “‘I thank you God that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.”” (Luke 18:11; 1 Cor 14:37). Real “spiritual” people Spirit and know that any victory they have over sin is through God’s power alone (cf. 1 Cor 2:13, 15; 3:1).
Whilst we should never try to correct another Christian without praying about it first in a healthy church anyone can correct anyone else. You don’t have to be a Bible scholar or an older believer to do this. One of the really good things about St Mark’s is its honesty; as I said to a pastor the other day, “If the people don’t like you’ll know it.” Or, to quote a more recent member of the Church, “The people here are not like most Christians, they’re real.” The natural honesty and reality of the St Mark’s people does however need to become more openly Christ-centred. Few churches get the balance between polite political correctness and Bible based confrontation right. We can’t go back to the moralistic self-righteous spirituality of the past but today a fear of giving offense seems to have taken hold. Take this conversation.
Interviewer: “in Australia we are now dealing with the issue of same sex marriage… How do you address issues like that as a leader in a church?” Pastor: “Well I think it’s very vexing and very challenging. The moment you get asked the question…you’re going to lose people. You’re either going to lose people on the one side or you are going to lose your constituency on the other side. And if you say nothing, you lose everybody. And so it’s one of those questions where there’s no great answer…” That’s the conclusion this pastor came to and it is deeply wrong, why…? (He left out Jesus!!) There is something deeply wrong when the pastor of Australia’s largest church cannot talk about the commands of Jesus as recorded in scripture without being afraid of losing people (Matt 19:4-5; Mark 7:21). At the end Jesus pretty much lost all his friends but God raised him from the dead, that’s the gospel! Get the conversation to Christ ASAP e.g. JY with man on street 5.30 a.m. Saturday.
Paul is tremendously balanced about all this, “Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” Spiritual pride sets you up for a fall (Prov 16:18; 1 Cor 10:12-13). Living in Queensland at the time I clearly remember when the leader of a prominent Christian community which made strong public utterances about morality through the media was exposed as a serial adulterer. Unfortunately other cases like it come quickly to my mind. Reading the newspaper or watching TV news you might be tempted to think, “I could never do that….” If so the counsel of the English Reformer John Bradford should come to mind, upon seeing evil-doers being led to execution, he uttered, “There but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford.” Sometimes when I hear the life story of a heavily addicted person I am deeply reminded that if the things that happened to them had happened to me I could easily have responded to life’s pains as they have.
v.2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.
A couple of examples of bearing the burdens of others came to me this week. I was talking to a lady who recently broke her arm, and she remarked that the support of the church has been incredible, “I haven’t had to cook and my freezer is full of meals.” Then ten minutes later I heard this story. A young man who was wet and bare footed came in off the street seeking prayer. After some people had prayed someone asked what his shoe size was, when it turned out that it was the same size of the person asking they went straight home and came back with some shoes for the stranger. This is the sort of practical support that St Mark’s does well in (meeting the needs of Peter; Hilary). But what exactly does Paul mean when he says burden bearing fulfils “the law of Christ”?
Let me use an example of what he doesn’t mean. When I started going out with Donna her devout mother would often say to us on the way out of the house, “Be good.” We knew that she really meant, “Don’t have sex.” There is no way a law keeps you from sin, only the Spirit of Jesus is powerful enough to keep you from sin (2 Cor 3:6). The “law of Christ” is centred on person of Christ and makes available the power with which he carried the burdens of all the needy people he met and finally bore our sin on the cross (Matt 12:28; Heb 9:14). Most people think God is too different from human beings to really understand the burdens of life. But God in Christ understands the need for burden bearing better than any of us. As I was out praying this morning I could sense the Spirit carrying Jesus to the cross, his friends bearing him down from the cross and his Father carrying him out of the tomb in resurrection life. Jesus understands.
The Bible is big on bringing our burdens to God; “Give your burdens to the Lord, and he will take care of you. He will not permit the godly to slip and fall.” (Ps 55:22 cf. 1 Pet 5:7). God deeply desires to receive our burdens and commands us to bear the burdens of others because that’s what love does. Love makes a burden no burden; a burden shared is a burden halved. Paul has already taught us in Galatians; “the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”” (5:14).With utter simplicity and clarity Jesus had summarised God’s law by commanding us to love God with our whole heart and love our neighbours as ourselves. Then he said, ““On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”” (Matt 22:36-40). Law was always designed to be an expression of love. Jesus alone has perfectly fulfilled love as the requirement of the Law and every Christian knows exactly how he did that….
He is the one “who took up our pain and bore our suffering…He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross,”; he is the one who inspires us to help others find release from every useless burden (Isa 53:4; Matt 11:30; 23:4; 1 Pet 2:24). But Jesus is not an inspiration in the same way that perhaps Ghandi or Martin Luther King or Mother Teresa are. Christ sends us his Spirit to share his power to lift up the burdens of others with a strength that is not our own but his. And we can only share the burdens of others to the extent that we have allowed Christ to release us from the burden of trying to keep God’s law in our own strength. Never try to be godly. Switching focus Paul now has a jab at arrogant Christians.
v.3 For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.
I like the way the New Living Translation puts this verse; “If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.” (NLT). Self-important people don’t notice the needs of others. Needy people will not open up to you about their deepest hurts and fears if they sense you think you are better than them. I don’t think however that’s a problem many St Mark’s people have. Our problem is more like we don’t think we are spiritual enough to help others; well we are not spiritual enough, but Jesus will help us to help others if we ask him.
v.4 But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbour.
This is not an exhortation to try to sort yourself out on the inside by using your own self reflection. (I tried that 40 years ago and it led me to such a deep depression that I knew in the end only Jesus could save me.) Human beings can’t stop comparing themselves with one another, this is not wise (2 Cor 10:12). It is too easy to feel good about ourselves if we are surrounded by selfish people and feel bad about ourselves when we are surrounded by gifted or godly people. Christian self-examination is done in the light of what has God done for us in Christ (2 Cor 13:5). Paul has the right perspective; “In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God. 18 For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me” (Rom 15:17-18). It’s really easy to pick up where people are coming from; i.e. how their egos work. After Dale’s talk at the men’s breakfast last week people asked him questions for quite a long time. When I remarked to him how unusual this was he immediately pointed to the Lord. Learn from this brothers and sisters; the next time anyone complements you on some act of kindness don’t shrug it off or keep silent, point them to…Jesus.
v.5 For each will have to bear his own load.
In explaining this verse Tim Keller makes an important point; God has given each person a different load to carry, “If we see life this way…we will be non-judgemental and generous…. if we see someone irritable, we will think, “I don’t know what pressures that person is facing, nor what level of emotional self-control he began with. Maybe he is actually obeying God better than me today!” (Keller). God won’t compare us to others on Judgement Day (2 Cor 5:10). Our responsibility is to be committed to Christ whatever others may or may not do.
v. 6 Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches.
By “good things” Paul is referring to material blessings, like money (Rom 15:27; 1 Cor 9:11). Financial return for pastors and preachers is very biblical. Jesus said, “the labourer deserves his wages” (Luke 10:7; 1 Tim 5:18 cf. Matt 10:10) and Paul commented, “the Lord commanded those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel” (1 Cor 9:14). The word Paul uses for “share all things” is the biblical term for fellowship (koinonia). In the early church it was never a matter of matter of contracts or salaries but loving fellowship (Rom 15:26; 2 Cor 9:13; Heb 13:16). God doesn’t tax his people and the clergy are not paid professionals remunerated for providing services. Despite common practice today I cannot see anywhere in the New Testament where ministers of the gospel ask for a “fee”. Between pastor and people it should always be as Jesus said; ““Freely you have received; freely give.”” (Matt 10:8).
No human being was ever designed by God to carry the burdens of life that sin has brought into the world, and certainly no was called to carry them alone. But I lie. One human being was designed and called to bear the full weight of all of our burdens alone and in our place; this was the destiny of Christ. The good news is that Jesus not only carried every burden but conquered every burden when he rose from the grave and he calls us to image his victory through the power of the Spirit enabling us to bear burdens together. In an increasingly lonely world where people are left to carry themselves the stand out feature of the Church must be that we are a family that bears one another’s burdens and so fulfils the law of Christ. I think most of the people here at St Mark’s sincerely desire to do this, and in practical matters do pretty well. In restoring sinners however, and the deepest burdens of life are the guilt, shame, fear and anxieties sin brings, we struggle. The Lord surely wants to increase our opportunities to help one another and those outside the family with the burden of their sins. But I am familiar enough with where we are as a Church to know that here and now that calling sounds like too much of a burden to carry. What can we do? Only the Spirit of Christ can take us back to the place where even the burden of bearing other’s burdens was borne. From the cross Jesus said, ““It is finished.””; he has conquered and invites us to share with him the task which apart from him is impossible (John 19:30). He can do it, and he can do it through us.