The book of Galatians has been about one gospel. Paul has been trying to demonstrate how the gospel is a gospel of grace, and is so significant that it shapes and affects every area of life. In Gal 1:6, Paul was also astonished that anyone would depart from this glorious gospel.
This study continues to trace the effects of the gospel, this time in terms of the relationships of the Galatians. Before we go on, it is worth thinking about how much of your relationships reflect the gospel you believe in, and compare and contrast with what Paul is saying here in Gal 6.
(A) General principle of gospel relationships: bearing one another’s burdens, mindful of your own load (Gal 6:1-5)
In Gal 6:1, Paul calls them “brothers” and this flows from the verse before. In Gal 5:26, Paul is describing the community life and this “one another” environment is assumed in Gal 6:1 and was previously mentioned also in Gal 3:26-29. What this means is that if you are in Christ, you are no longer your own, and no longer a solitary unit in the universe. If you are in Christ, you are family. Does this strike you as strange? There is no other religion in the world like this. No other religion says that it is possible to rise above skin color and ethnicity, economic class, and be part of something that is not a biological family. This is the family that Christians are called to! We did not stumble upon it, but Jesus picked us out to be part of His family. Isn't this amazing?
In just this one word, Paul calls us to think about who we are in Christ, and therefore what we owe each other. We are not our own. We cannot make decisions on our own. We are the people who forfeit our autonomy because we are part of the family. By saying “brothers”, Paul is referring to both the men and women as those with the inheritance. Paul has already argued that everyone, regardless of gender, is part of the gospel (c.f. Gal 3:28). Many of us come from circles that say that our inheritance in Christ awaits us in the future. But, our inheritance is also the person next to us in our churches. As brothers (and sisters) in Christ, we are not strangers or even mere friends. We are family, and owe each other more than we are comfortable to give.
Paul goes on to give 3 instructions for his audience. To the one caught in any transgressions, they are to "restore him in a spirit of gentleness", and at the same time "keep watch on yourself" (Gal 6:1). The main principle was to "bear one another's burdens" (Gal 6:2). We see here that the problem is that those in the family could be trapped in transgression; but the one helping the other could also be trapped and tempted. The solution is to restore him in a spirit of gentleness while keeping a watch on the self. Paul says this as an unequivocal command for brothers. But why are they to do all these? Paul also lays out the priority and purpose of these actions. It’s not about intimacy and being nice. This is about a restoration to holiness! It’s really about living Spirit-filled holy lives. He is primarily concerned that the brothers walk with Christ and walk with holiness. This is the what the church comprising of those who live Spirit-filled lives and those who walk by the Spirit should do!
How does bearing one another’s burdens fulfill the law of Christ, as Paul says in Gal 6:2? It is important to follow Paul's logic in this book closely, because what Paul has taught before will empower this. Paul calls them brothers, and applies the concept of freedom that comes from the gospel to Gal 5:13-14. The gospel is not just about going to heaven. It is about grace not law, and a freedom that comes. This freedom is not about having the license to do whatever we want, but is meant to be used to love, and in doing so, we fulfill the law. The law was not possible for us to obey on our own! Yet, living a life of love as Jesus models allow us to fulfill the law. This burden-bearing is an act of love, and only the gospel can produce this supernatural, law-fulling love.
The next verses in Gal 6:3-5 seem to contradict his earlier verses. Paul switches to talk about bearing and testing their own work (Gal 6:3-5). But is there really a paradox here? Paul is painting for us a very different worldview here. Who are you tough on and who are you easy with? We are called to be tough on ourselves and
easy on others, but it is easier to do the opposite. It’s quite unlike what work and school is like, where we (or those around us) may be tempted to push the work to someone else so that we (or them) can bear a lighter load. But what does the gospel require of us in our relationships? We are actually called to approach people with burdens and bear it for them, while also aware of our own temptations. God is so clear about the righteousness He demands of us! This is not just for those that are perfect! It's for all, even those who could be tempted themselves. Are you quick to go to another and be willing to bear their load, saying “my life for yours”? How does this change your dating relationships, or how you interact with family? Do you realise that your parents (if they are Christians) are also your brothers and sisters in Christ?
These verses teach and remind us that the gospel makes us generous and kind because we who have been given so much have the resources to do so! A life of burden-bearing is only made possible by a gospel of grace. A gospel of the law will not produce this fruit. It’s not about telling yourself to live according to Gal 5! It’s about soaking in the gospel and drowning in it’s depths that bring about the Spirit-filled fruit. Remember and rehearse this daily, that while we were yet sinners and enemies of God, He came to bear our burdens. The challenge and aim for the Christian should not be how much we can accumulate and achieve, but really how much of ourselves we can give away. "We are called to be God’s people, showing by our lives His grace" is a line from a hymn that describes for us what a community living Spirit-filled lives look like, and what our priorities will be.
Does this describe your life? Is this your community, dear brothers and sisters?
(B) Specific application for gospel relationships: do real, practical good for others, especially for the household of faith (Gal 6:6-10)
Paul then moves to specifics in his instructions to do good given in Gal 6:6-10.
Firstly, he calls them to share good things with the teachers of the word (Gal 6:6). He has been warning them about false teachers, so here, he's contrasting their response to the good teachers compared to the false one. What will it look like practically for us? It will involve caring for and encouraging those who teach! It could be a simple word of thanks, or taking practical steps to provide for their needs. It could also mean coming out of your comfort zone and being transparent with the one who teaches. What is God calling you to do today?
Secondly, he encourages the Galatians to not grow weary of doing good (Gal 6:9). He assumes that they are already doing good. He is encouraging them to press on in faithfulness and to keep it up while waiting for a reward! To us too, he calls to persevere, and not to get tired because we don’t see any fruit yet. God
has a timing for faithfulness so don’t give up on ministering to another and loving another.
Lastly, he also exhorts them to do good to everyone, especially the household of faith (Gal 6:10). They are to be be people that look for realistic opportunities in the course life. They are to do good to all, with special focus on those who are Christians, so that those who are called to others can enjoy the grace and ministry that comes through your life.
In Gal 6:7-8, Paul uses a metaphor to help the Galatians think about doing good. In these 2 verses, Paul is almost certainly talking about the teachers. He is basically saying that those who teach error will reap error. But at the same time, Paul is also warning us that as we do good, we need to be careful, lest we deceive ourselves. He clarifies the truth of our universe, that if you sow X, you will reap X. In the same way, those we sow the gospel will reap gospel fruit. This is a reminder not to confuse the fruit with what is sown.
What does this mean for us today? To the teacher of God’s Word, these verses call us to press on, persevere, sow rightly and do not give up. Fruit will come in due time. For all Christians who believe in the true gospel, Gal 6 tells us that the gospel changes relationships and we don’t remain the same. Our heart changes, and those who love by the Spirit and walk in step with the Spirit look for opportunities to serve and you bear fruit. Bear one another's burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.
The next logical question to ask is, do you see this fruit? Can those around you point to evidence of fruit? If not, there are 2 possibilities. You may have unplugged yourself from the gospel and shifted from it. You may be building your life on a false gospel and the gospel is not giving you life and vitality. There is a second possibility: You may not be a Christian and the gospel has never sunk into your heart, and the grace of Jesus has never gone into your heart. It doesn't matter where you are, or what you feel like today. Even if you fall into either categories, the same gospel is made available for all. God does not care about what you have done, nor what you can do and can do for Him. He has set His heart on you before the world began and He has provided His Son to do for us what we cannot do ourselves. Gal 6 contains a charge to bear burdens of those around us and do good, but the power and strength to bear the burdens of another is only found in Christ, who first bore not only our burdens but our sins and the consequences of it.