1. Sometimes the divisions into chapters interrupts the flow of Paul’s thought and this is, I think, a good example of that. He is not starting a new thought in the first verse of Chapter 6 but continuing what he has been saying in the last several verses of Chapter 5.
“Those who belong to Christ have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. Therefore, if someone falls prey to any of these things then those who are walking in step with the Spirit should restore them gently.”
So, I think Paul is addressing shortcomings and not the intentional and engrained sins of immorality, debauchery, idolatry, hatred, fits of rage, selfish ambition, and others. These are serious and long term. What Paul is talking about in verse 1 of Chapter 6 are not deliberate sins but what we would call slip-ups. People have been entrapped or overcome.
We all have those, don’t we? Have you ever found yourself saying just a little too much because you could not help yourself? You regretted it later and it was not vicious but it was more than needed to be said. Or, we were snared by the envy of someone’s success. We might have made a little too much of our own success or we took a little delight in stirring someone up and hitting one of their hot buttons on purpose. These are not deadly sins. They are not like gratifying the desires of the sinful nature. They are slip-ups and stepping across a line. They could become more serious but for now they are not habitual and soul-destroying.
A snare is a very particular thing. It is not like a minefield. A minefield is simply hidden destruction. A snare is not an overwhelming force. A snare is a well-designed trap designed for the nature of the prey.
”Traps or snares placed on a trail should use channelization. To build a channel, construct a funnel-shaped barrier extending from the sides of the trail toward the trap, with the narrowest part nearest the trap. Channelization should be inconspicuous to avoid alerting the prey. As the animal gets to the trap, it cannot turn left or right and continues into the trap. Few wild animals will back up, preferring to face the direction of travel. Channelization does not have to be an impassable barrier. You only have to make it inconvenient for the animal to go over or through the barrier.”
Did you catch that? You only have to make it inconvenient to avoid.
That is why Paul says those who are “spiritual” and can do it gently are the ones to take the person aside and have a word with them. Only those who have dealt with these issues in their own lives are likely to have the maturity to help someone caught in the snare. Otherwise, it is too easy to demonize the person, overreact, make it more than it is or play it down completely. The goal is not to overwhelm the person with criticism or to let them off the hook completely but to speak the truth in love. This is not the case with the issues of immorality, idolatry, hatred, fits of rage and the like. Paul is talking here about the restoration of someone – the word is the one we use for mending nets in order to make them useful again. It is helping them see the snare into which they have stumbled. This is very low-level confrontation. It is done with kindness and not by denouncing or hurting them. Is it hard? I think so and that is why Paul says “those who are spiritual” or those with the maturity required to do it. It is what he calls elsewhere the gift of correction or exhortation and having the best interests of the person in mind.
John Calvin wrote:
“But hardly less injury is frequently done by unseasonable and excessive severity, which, under the plausible name of zeal, springs in many instances from pride, and from dislike and contempt of the brethren. Most men seize on the faults of brethren as an occasion of insulting them, and of using reproachful and cruel language. Were the pleasure they take in upbraiding equalled by their desire to produce amendment, they would act in a different manner. Reproof, and often sharp and severe reproof, must be administered to offenders. But while we must not shrink from a faithful testimony against sin, neither must we omit to mix oil with the vinegar.”
I’ve experienced it and it does no harm – only good. I’ve had mature believers take me aside and in the kindest possible way help me understand something I am doing or communicating that is harmful to others or to myself. You know the verse “A gentle answer turns away wrath” in Proverbs. That is what it is like. Or, “Do not be wise in your own eyes, fear the Lord and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and strengthen your bones.” That is what a word from a wise believer can do. The intent and the effect is to repair, to mend, to bring strength and not merely to criticize or rebuke.
2. “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Sometimes people get confused by what follows in verse 5: “for each one should carry his own load.” It might look like Paul is contradicting himself but he is not.
He uses two different words. In verse 2 he uses the word for heaviness or circumstances in life that have created hardship for someone. It is something that weighs them down. We don’t relieve them of the burden. We cannot but we can listen with empathy. We can help in ways that make them know they are loved and cared for. That is what we do here, don’t we? We help lighten the burdens and heaviness that our fellow members carry around with them.
By doing this we fulfill the law of Christ. How simple is that? We have made it so much more complicated by making everything part of fulfilling the law of Christ. How many times do we hear people say, “Here is the only Christian position on this” or “You cannot be a Christian and vote for that candidate or support that party.” We keep adding definitions and qualifiers to what it means to be Christian and Paul says in bearing the heaviness of other’s lives we fulfill the law of Christ and declare to the world that we are a peculiar kind of people.
But, in verse 5 the word is not heaviness. It is the word used for a ship’s cargo or a soldier’s pack. It is the weight for which we are responsible. It is personal and not transferable. It is the burden of duty and doing what is required of us. It is the burden of our calling. It is our legitimate cargo that comes with our work and relationships. It is what Paul means when he says in 1 Thessalonians 5:11: “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” In that way as well, we show the world that we are peculiar people. We bear each other’s heaviness but we also live with the responsibilities and burdens that are rightfully ours.
3. “If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself without comparing himself to somebody else…”
Bill Haslam, the Governor of Tennessee, was with us at the last conference in September. He said, “If you want to truly know yourself – run for office.” You clearly have to promote yourself and make bold statements about what you will or will not do once you are elected. You have to show the best side of yourself and play down what are perceived as weaknesses. But, perhaps, there is a fine line between that and falling into the trap of believing your own press or allowing a strong ego to become a tyrant. I might rephrase the verse to say, “If anyone thinks or presents himself as more than he is then he is deceiving himself first and then others.” It doesn’t mean we are to think of ourselves as nothing or worthless wretches. It means we are to have a healthy and realistic sense of ourselves. After all, true humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less. It is not deceiving yourself in another way by denying gifts and abilities God has given. It is working to have a true evaluation of ourselves and allowing others to tell us the truth in love when we start to wander or open ourselves up to snares. Each of us has to answer that question for ourselves in the end.
But, here is one way to know. We can test our actions and not just our opinions or who we say we are. What we actually do is the best evaluation for who we think we are. As Dizzy Dean said so well, “It ain’t braggin’ if you can do it.” False humility or holding back for fear of looking prideful is as unhealthy as pride and arrogance. No one is helped.
When we do that and have a genuine sense of who we are then we can take a permissible pride in that. It sounds contradictory, doesn’t it? It is not because the word here is not pride in the sense of promoting yourself without having the substance or actions to back it up but it is the word that is sometimes used for rejoicing or even joy. We can rejoice in what we have done. That is why I love Ecclesiastes 5:18-20:
“This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot. Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart.”
And the only way to have this kind of pride that we can actually enjoy is to refuse to compare ourselves to others. Yes, we can aspire to emulate those we respect. We can hold up others as examples of qualities we would like to have in our own lives but the death of joy is comparison. That is why it creates a particular kind of pride or a particular kind of envy. “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man…It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition is gone, pride is gone.” C.S. Lewis
Peter Greer has written a book titled “Rooting For Rivals” that encourages churches and ministries to resist comparing themselves to each other and competing with each other or trying to outdo the other to attract more people or donors. All it does is create more competition that eventually becomes rivalry. Everyone is hurt by it. “Part of getting freedom from envy is to celebrate others and find contentment with what God has given us.” Contentment is the key to enjoyment. God gave some more and some less but I will not be caught up in the trap of comparison.
4. “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.”
This comes at the end of a passage where Paul is talking about reaping and sowing – and the natural cycle of cause and effect. There is no season for doing good. It is a constant sowing but there is a season for reaping the results of doing good. We talked a few weeks ago about one of the joys of having been a teacher is to hear from former students and their telling you what you had meant in their lives even though you did not know it at the time you were worn down by discipline, grading papers late into the night, angry parents and low pay. Somehow, those words thirty years later make it worth it. Or, to hear a thank you from one of your children when they are adults. I know Jesus wondered about the nine lepers who did not return to thank him but he was grateful for and impressed by the one who did.
Do not become weary. The word does not mean tired or even exhausted. It means despondent or having your spirit broken. It means not allowing ourselves to become cynical or embittered by not seeing the results or doing good. Do not be broken by ingratitude. Do not be hardened by not seeing any progress. Someday there will be a harvest if we do not give up and quit.
So, continue to do good at every opportunity. That does not mean we are to obsessed with doing good or trying to fix the world. It does not mean being a slave to the problems of everyone but it means when there is an opportunity. How do you know when there is an opportunity and not just guilt or an unhealthy obligation driving you? An opportunity is a situation that can use whatever you have to offer – large or small. An opportunity is a situation that might well improve with your particular contribution. It is not a black hole. It is not one more request for a donation or time. It is something that just fits – and not every need is an opportunity.
5. So, what have we said this morning?
Be understanding and kind but don’t leave people to become useless.
Help people with the heavy things in their lives that can be shared but don’t take on their duties.
Be honest with yourself and allow others to be honest with you for your own good.
Don’t get distracted from your own calling by comparing yourself to others.
Doing good can be tiring but don’t let it kill your spirit. There will be a harvest.
Do the kinds of good that are responses to opportunities.