One of the marks of a family is that you help each other out. You stand by one another when others might walk away, and you look out for one another, keeping each other safe. If a member of your family was in an accident, you’d drop everything and do whatever you needed to do for them to get better. God designed families this way, and most of us feel that kind of commitment at least to the people living in our own house, and probably to everyone in our family.
In our passage this morning, the Apostle Paul reminds us that the Church is a family as well. And living a life led by the Spirit means that we will seek to protect, assist, and care for the others in the family of Christ. Sometimes it’s messy and it’s often hard work, but like any family, we stick together because we love and care for one another.
It is important for us to remember the context of these verses. They immediately follow Paul’s discourse on the fruit of a life lived according to the sinful nature as opposed to the fruit of a life lived by the Spirit. This passage continues that teaching. You can think of these verses as the practical application of the Fruit of the Spirit in the life of the Church. It is likely that he wrote this section to address some specific problems in the Galatian church, but his advice still resonates with us today.
Help Those Caught in Sin
The first application Paul gives to living life in the Spirit has to do with the sin of other believers.
Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. (Galatians 6:1, NLT)
The first thing to notice is that Paul addresses this section to his brothers and sisters. He is reminding us that the Church is supposed to be a family. We should care for other believers as we would members of our own family. That certainly includes those who attend our church, but it doesn’t stop there. We should care for and rally around every believer: in our church, in the church down the street, or on the other side of the world because we are all part of the same family.
His instruction in this verse is that we should care for other believers by helping to restore those who are caught in sin. We read these words and struggle with how to apply them. We don’t want to make people mad, and we don’t want to hurt people. We feel like we are in no place to point fingers at others, because we know we have our own sins to deal with. And we don’t want to become people who are constantly picking at others as though we are the Spiritual Police. But Paul does tell us that we have a responsibility to help out other Christians when we see them overtaken by sin. So we need to examine just how we are supposed to do that.
If you’re like me, you may first be drawn to who Paul addresses this command to: “you who are godly.” Most of us feel like we don’t fit that description (and if you think you do, you probably aren’t very godly!) But we need to remember the context. Paul has just been describing to us what the life of a Christian should look like. All Christians should demonstrate the Fruit of the Spirit. We won’t be perfect, but the Holy Spirit works to make us into the kind of people He wants us to be. This command is given to Christians, those who are seeking to grow in the Lord. We don’t have to have everything together in order to offer help to a brother caught in sin. We do, however, have to have the right attitude, which is what Paul is really driving at.
We are all familiar with the wrong attitude aren’t we? We see it all too often in our churches. The wrong attitude is the source of the most common complaints people have about Christians. People say Christians are judgmental, that we enjoy attacking others, and that we like to kick people when they are down. It is a sad truth that someone has once said that, “The Church is the only army which shoots its wounded.” All too often in the church, we seem to rejoice in the failings of others. Somehow we seem to think that when someone else falls into sin we move up in the rankings. We often take a perverted pleasure in seeing others fall.
Paul says we must have a different attitude. We must not view each other as competitors, but as family. We shouldn’t take joy in seeing others fall into sin, we should desire to help them. The word Paul uses (which the NLT translates as, “help the person back onto the right path”) is the word that was used to describe a doctor setting a broken bone or putting a dislocated joint back in place. The idea was one of making the person whole again, of putting them back the way they were before. This should be our goal—we should come alongside those who are ensnared by sin rather than pointing fingers, attacking them, and kicking them while they’re down.
So what does that process look like? There are several steps. First, we need to identify the problem and decide to take action. This means that we have to recognize when a person is caught in sin. We must be careful here. Everyone sins. We don’t want to become the kind of people who jump on every mistake of others (just as we don’t want others to do that to us). However, when we begin to see a pattern of sin in the life of a fellow believer, we should take action to turn them back on the right path before they get hurt.
When we see a fellow believer starting down a destructive path we have two options: we can do nothing, or we can do something. We are often tempted to do nothing. It’s easier, there’s less risk involved for us, and we might argue that it’s none of our business what others do with their lives. But it is if we care for them! If you saw smoke pouring out of your friend’s house, wouldn’t you let them know? Wouldn’t you want them to take action before their house was destroyed? You wouldn’t just sit back and say, “It’s none of my business if their house is on fire”, you would try to spare them from the destruction that a fire can cause. The same is true with addressing sin among our Christian family. Doing nothing may seem loving in the short term, but when we see someone walking a dangerous path and do nothing to stop them it is anything but loving.
So, if we are to do something, how do we do it? This is the second step; we must examine our own hearts. Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, told us that before we try to take the speck of sawdust out of our brother’s eye, we need to deal with the plank in our own eye. This doesn’t mean we have to be sinless before we can warn another about their sin, but it does mean we need to have the right attitude. We must banish any attitude of superiority or any desire to “put that person in their place”. Our goal must be to bring healing, not to make ourselves look better, or feel better, or any other selfish motive. Paul tells us to guard our own hearts to make sure that we don’t fall into sin as well. That’s because it is easy to fall into the trap of feeling superior or prideful, so we need to tend to our hearts before we concern ourselves with theirs. We must ensure our motives are pure and that we remain humble and loving.
Step three is to talk to our brother or sister in Christ about their sin. This is different than the approach we often take—we often talk to other people about the sin we sin in another. But that’s the wrong approach—we should talk directly with the person, not talk about them to others. Paul reminds us that we must have the right attitude; we must be gentle and humble. We should treat them the way we would like to be treated. Practically, this means we should talk to them in private. It’s hard to hear criticism; it’s even harder to hear it in front of other people. We show respect for our Christian brother or sister when we try not to make them look bad in front of others. Proverbs tells us that wounds from a friend can be trusted, so we need to help them to see we are coming to them as a friend, not as an enemy. We need to demonstrate love, even as we confront them with their sin.
The fourth step is to help them get back on the right path. Assuming we get this far, we usually stop at step three. We’ve made the other person aware of their sin, and now the ball’s in their court. But that’s not what Paul tells us to do. He doesn’t tell us to just point out the sin of others, he tells us to help restore those caught in sin. Our responsibility to our Christian family continues—we are to help them as they seek to get back on the right path. Part of what makes this hard is that we can rarely flip a switch and change our pattern of behavior. Often a change takes time. We need to continue to love and care for the person we have confronted as they work to make changes. We must not pull away from them as though they have suddenly become “dirty”. We need to stick by their side and help them move forward. Look for progress and tell them when you see it. Offer them a listening ear if needed, and do what you can to help them keep going.
What often happens in churches is that when someone falls into sin, everyone pulls away. People look down on them and make them feel like they aren’t welcome anymore. Paul says that is not to be our approach. We are to treat our brothers and sisters with the same grace that God gives to us. When we see someone repent and start moving in the right direction again, we should rally around them, encourage them, and help them to know they are loved.
Let’s look at some practical examples:
- For the person with an addiction, we need to lovingly confront them, but then we need to help them to break the destructive pattern they’ve been in. This may mean taking them to meetings, it might mean hanging out with them so they have an alternative to their old pattern, it means praying for and with them, and being a listening ear for them. It also means we don’t give up if they fall—we try to help them get back up and moving in the right direction again.
- For the person who struggles with gossip, it means giving them some specific examples of how their gossiping is hurting others. It means encouraging them to stay away from situations where they are tempted to gossip about others, and it means encouraging them when they try to keep quiet when others are gossiping.
- For the person who is engaged in an immoral relationship, we need to lovingly tell them that what they are doing is wrong, and warn them about the dangers of continuing down this path of disobedience to God. It might mean trying to give them other options (like a place to live), or supporting them after they end a destructive relationship. It may mean being there to pick up the pieces after things fall apart, without saying I told you so.
- For the person who has been absent from worship, Sunday School, or youth group, it means gently reminding them of how important these things are. It may be as simple as a phone call to say you’ve missed them and hope you’ll see them this week. When they do come back it might mean inviting them to sit with you (if it’s been a long time), and it certainly means that we encourage them and tell them we’re glad they’re back.
There are many situations where we can help others get back on the right path after they have fallen into sin, but I think the key to doing it with the right attitude is to look beyond ourselves. Try to put yourself in their shoes and imagine how you might feel. Imagine how you would want to be treated, and then endeavor to treat them the same way. As Christians, we must not give up on one another, and we can’t simply do nothing. We should come alongside each other in our times of weakness and help each other walk on the path of righteousness.
Carrying Each Other’s Burdens
The second element of Paul’s instruction on how to care for one another is found in verses 2 and 3,
Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. 3 If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important. (Galatians 6:2-3, NLT)
Paul says that we should share one another’s burdens. He says when we do this we obey the law of Christ (to love one another as He has loved us.) Everyone has times in life when things seem overwhelming. It’s amazing how a simple act from someone else can make life seem a little more manageable. Paul tells us that we should be alert for ways that we can offer that kind of help to others. We should be alert to those who seem to be weighed down by the struggles of life and look for ways we can help lighten the load. When we do this, we show Christ’s love.
Now this is not saying that we should become lazy and expect other people to take care of us. Quite the contrary, Paul goes on to say that we should take care of ourselves even as we try to care for others.
4 Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else. 5 For we are each responsible for our own conduct. (Galatians 6:4-5, NLT)
I think Paul is telling us not to fall into the trap of focusing on how other people should be helping us. We have a tendency to judge our burdens to be much heavier than the burdens of others. Paul is telling us not to compare our burdens to other people’s burdens, but to simply focus on carrying the load He has given to us while looking for ways to help lighten the load for our Christian brothers and sisters.
This is part of why I think Paul says that we can’t think of ourselves as too important to help others…because that’s exactly the trap we often fall into. We find ourselves competing with others for who has the greater burden to bear. Have you ever had one of those conversations? “My back hurts. “So does mine, and my neck hurts too.” “Well I was only able to get 6 hours of sleep last night.” “I wish I could sleep that much, I only get 4.” And on and on. Why do we do this? We are trying to convince the other person of our own importance. We are trying to show that we don’t have time to help others, because we have too much on our plate already. But understand the message we are really sending: you are not important enough for me to care about.
This is not a Christian attitude. We have to learn to look beyond ourselves to the needs of others. Yes, our lives are often busy. Yes, we need to tend to our own needs. But we also need to see the people around us. We need to recognize that we are not the only person who has a load to carry. And we need to show others that they matter by seeing their burdens and finding ways to help. You might be surprised at how something simple can help to alleviate the burden someone else is carrying.
Practically speaking it might look like:
- Helping someone out financially who has had overwhelming medical expenses
- Helping out the person whose spouse left them and the kids all alone (financially or with babysitting, teaching them how to do things (repairs, cooking, etc.), or something else)
- Offering help to the person who unexpectedly lost their job (this is different than the person who refuses to work or even look for a job)
- Offering comfort to the person who is overcome with grief at a loss they have experienced
- Helping the person whose body is failing them and is unable to do some of the tasks they need to
- Offering to give a ride to the person who doesn’t drive or doesn’t have a car
We don’t want to teach people to be lazy, but we do want to show people that we see them and that we care for them. We have to learn to look beyond ourselves and to see the burdens that others carry. We must combat the temptation to view ourselves as too important to share the burdens of others.
Paul tells us that we are part of a family. As part of a family we are to look out for one another. We need to actually see each other instead of being so focused on ourselves. Let’s be honest, this doesn’t come naturally, we like to think that the world revolves around us. We like to believe that we are more important than everyone else. But this passage reminds us that the key to living as part of the Christian family is humility. It is learning to see others, to take an interest in their lives, and to do what we can to help them.
Sometimes we need to help people by trying to restore them from sin. It requires confrontation, but it also requires persistence and a desire to help the other person to walk the path of godliness. We are to help each other to keep walking in the right direction. Sometimes we are to help each other by trying to lighten the load of others. It means we have to look beyond ourselves and see the needs of those around us, and then do what we can to meet them.
This should be the attitude that marks the Church. Not an attitude of arrogance and self-righteousness, but an attitude of love, humility, and self-sacrifice. We should look out for one another, and try to treat each other with the same kind of gentleness and respect we would want extended to us.
The person who lives by the Spirit is gentle, not harsh. They are loving and selfless, not conceited. They view the Church as their family, not as a group of competitors whom they must overtake. This is the way the Church should look. The question we must ask is do we look like this? You and I can’t change the Church as a whole, but we can choose to change how we function.
So let me challenge you to take some steps toward treating the people with whom you worship as part of your family. Take some time to get to know the people around you. Don’t simply rush in and rush out of church—remember you are not here just for you, you are also here to care for your family, just as they care for you. Start small. Get to know someone you don’t know very well. Learn about their family, find out about their job, get to know their story. Greet them when you see them, whether it’s in church or on the street. Ask about their day, find out how you can pray for them, and then pray!
Here’s my thesis: the more we get to know each other, the more we share together, the more we will come to love each other as God commands us to do. And when we love each other like that, we will find that bearing each others’ burdens comes naturally. We’ll stop competing with each other and start trying to help each other as we walk together down the path God has set for us. In short, we’ll treat each other like family.