Saturday 26 January 2013

Unnatural people (Galatians 6)

Today is our last study from the book of Galatians. Essentially, Galatians teaches us what the gospel is not. The gospel is not about religion, it's about God's grace. The gospel is not what we need to do, it's what God has done. The gospel is not about us, it's about Jesus.

Even in today's study from Galatians Chapter 6, where Paul talks about us  as the church, he brings the focus back to Jesus. And there are three ways we do this as a church: (1) We carry each other's burdens, (2) We sow to the Spirit, and (3) We boast in the cross of Jesus Christ.

1. Carry each other’s burdens

Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.
Galatians 6:1-2

At some point in time, you and I are going to mess up. That’s what Paul means when he says, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin.” All of us still have a sinful nature inside of us. Until Christ comes again and gives us new bodies and new natures, in this lifetime we will struggle with our sinful nature and there are going to be times when that nature is going to trip us up.

That’s what being “caught” in a sin means. It doesn’t mean that we go around catching people, “Aha! I caught you sinning!” It means that our sinful nature lays traps out for us and if we’re not careful we will get caught in one of these traps.

When that happens to someone here in the church, Paul says that those who are spiritual - those who are mature Christians - should react in a way that is loving and gentle. Your job is not to go around catching people and punishing their sin. The bible says that your number one priority is restoring that brother and sister to Christ and doing this with “a spirit of gentleness” (ESV).

But there's a warning. “Watch yourself,” Paul says, “or you also may be tempted.” Be careful that you don’t end up in the same trap because you also have got a sinful nature. Because the guy you’re talking to might try to justify that sin; he might try and rationalise that sin and you might go, “Yeah, you’ve a good point.” Next thing you know, the both of you are caught in the same trap and someone else has to come to counsel the two of you! Does that happen? Yes it does!

Don’t go alone; Don’t counsel someone of the opposite gender; Have the bible open in front of you and ask, “What does God have to say about all this?” These are a few basic points to keep in mind when we are dealing with sin as sinful people. with the wisdom of God, with the love of God, with the word of God.

But why do we do this? The reason is verse 2, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.” As Christians, we turn to our brother and sister and say to them, “Hey, that looks really heavy. Why don’t you let me give you a hand?” Some things are just too heavy for one person to carry all by themselves.

Some of us come to church as consumers. We think of ourselves as paying customers. We have a list of needs and if this church meets my needs, if this bible study meets my needs, then I’ll stay. Some of us act like consumers in our relationships: If this person makes me feel good, if he buys me stuff, if she keeps looking hot then I’ll stay in this relationship. We do this with our jobs: As along as this job fits in with my career goals I’ll stick around, but as soon as another opportunity comes along with better pay, I’m gone.

The opposite of being a consumer is being in a covenant. A covenant means, “I promise to meet your needs not matter the circumstances.” A covenant is what parents do for their children. Parents can’t turn around and say, “This kid is so troublesome, so smelly, so rebellious - I’m giving up!” No, they continue to love their children, even if they poop all over the place, even if they mess up, because parents are in a covenant with their kids, "I will always be your Dad. I will always be your Mum." A marriage, too,  is a covenant: for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.

And being in a church is about covenant. Coming not just when you feel like it. Coming not just to have your needs met. But coming because this is your family. Coming to help with their needs and burdens.

Now when Paul says, “in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ,” we have to understand that Paul is speaking to a group of people who thought that being a Christian was all about obeying laws in order to please God. These are religious people; these are rule-keepers, who think that if they follow all the rules and get the best exam results, God will say to them, “You’re a good Christian.”

Paul says to them it’s not about regulations, it is about transformation: Living a life that has been changed by Jesus Christ. You were a sinner but Jesus has put his Spirit in you.

That’s why, earlier on, he spoke to those who were “spiritual,” and what Paul didn't say was, “You guys are so gifted.” No, true spirituality is about restoring your brother or sister who has been caught in a sin. Those who are spiritual display the spirit of gentleness when dealing with sin (which is the fruit of the Spirit, as we saw last week), especially the sin of their brother and sister in Christ. The spiritual person is a loving person.

On the other hand, the religious person is concerned with one thing: himself. The only time he turns to looks at his neighbour is compare himself to his neighbour and say to himself, "I'm glad I'm not this loser." Paul calls that self-deception.

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, for each one should carry his own load.
Galatians 6:3-5

The issue here is our identity: Who do you think you are? For many of us today, our identity is a projection of what we want others to think of us, whether it's on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram - we project an image that we have crafted, moulded and photoshopped so that people will “like” us, “follow” us and “friend” us online.

And Paul is asking us: Do you even know who you are? Are you constantly comparing yourself to your neighbour, thinking, “He’s got more friends than me.” What is your life really like? Test your actions, Paul says. What are doing with your time, with your money and with your relationships that God has given you and are you using these gifts to glorify yourself or God?

The way that Paul puts it is to say, “Each one should carry his own load.” Some of you might say to me, "Hang on, didn't Paul tell us back in verse 2, to carry each other's burdens? So which one is it: Am I supposed to carry my own load or to carry my brother's as well?"

Verse 5 is about personal responsibility. The two words for “burden” and “load” are two different words, one is heavy (think of a moving truck) and the other light (think of your backpack). When you’re moving house and you’ve got boxes, furniture and books and you call up the guys to come with their cars and help out, that’s a burden.

But if it’s just your backpack that you left behind at Rock Fellowship, you should just get on your bike and get it yourself, not call up the whole English Congregation and the elders and the council so they can have a prayer meeting about it.

Some things are burdens and some things are loads and we need to be able to tell the difference between the two. Here in verse 5, Paul is talking about carrying our own loads as a way of saying that each one of us needs to be aware of our personal responsibility before God - for our actions and thoughts and motives.

The reason we have both verses here in the bible - “Carry each other’s burdens,” and “Carry your own load,” - is because it’s possible to use our problems as an excuse to shift our responsibilities, it's possible to use our problems to take advantage of brothers and sisters here in church. "I have a problem," we say, "Now it's your job to solve my problem because the bible says you must carry my burden." No, it's a load that you need to bear yourself. You need to be accountable for your actions before God. When we do that, we act like consumers and not covenant-keepers. We burden others; we don’t carry the burden of others.

That’s a helpful thing to keep in mind the next time you are in trouble. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t call me or the brothers for help. I’m just saying, is it a burden or a load? Are you just seeking attention?

Some things we can’t deal by ourselves - the burden of a tragedy, a sin, an illness, a loss - these are burdens we ought to share within the family of God because we can’t deal with them with our own strength. But our own lives, our own actions and our own motives - those are things that we are responsible for in God’s eyes. My question to you is: Can you tell the difference?

2. Sow to the Spirit

Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor.
Galatians 6:6

Last Wednesday, I asked the guys what this verse meant. The answer I got was, “We must pay our pastors.” That’s a good answer!

But it’s more than that. “Sharing all good things” is more than just sharing our money. It includes encouragement. It's actually talking about our lives. The Greek word koinonia meaning fellowship or partnership, and it’s describing how the fellowship of God's people is built on God's word.

When the instructor speaks from God's word, this is a blessing to the hearer; and Paul then says to the person who has been blessed through God's word, "Share your life with him." That is, fellowship with him. At the heart of every fellowship group here in the Chinese Church - Joshua, Rock, Paul, Esther - is the instruction of the word of God. It's what makes these fellowship meetings possible. It's what makes our fellowship sweet and a blessing to those who come and share their lives with one another.

Now, is this verse talking about paying our pastors? Yes and No. Yes, in that the worker deserves his wages. But No, in that the money we give to pastors isn’t first and foremost a salary. We don’t pay pastors to do a job. We free them up from the worry of earning an income to pay the bills in order that they can concentrate full-time of serving God.

The legalist reads this verse and says, “We pay the pastor this much money so we expect him to do this much work. That's his job.” Or the pastor can read this verse like a legalist and say, “I deserve to be paid a salary, I’ve given up so much for these people and this church owes me for my sacrifice.”

But the Christian who understands grace reads this verse reminding him to be generous. As a church, I hope that we will support our workers generously - with money, with prayer, with encouragement and not least, with love. The pastor who understands the same verse graciously will, at times, not make use of his rights by denying payment (as Paul does in 1 Corinthians 9) so that the gospel can be received freely without hindrance.

When you look again at Galatians 6:6, you soon realise that the instructor can be anyone - from the pastor to the Sunday School teacher to the parent at home. It's anyone who teaches God’s word faithfully and clearly with whom we ought to share all good things with. It is sad when a church is willing to pay their pastor a salary but are not willing to share their lives with him. It is sad when a pastor doesn’t know his church and only ever serves them from the confines of his study preparing the weekly sermon. Sharing all good things means building a relationship with our leaders, showing our appreciation to our leaders, because your pastor might just be the loneliest person in your church. He might need your encouragement as much as you need his!

Paul describes this fellowship as an investment. It is one of the best investments you can ever make in your life - loving one another in Christ. And Paul says next, it's an investment with a guaranteed return!

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.
Galatians 6:7-8

To sow means to plant a seed. To reap means to gather in the fruit - after the seed has grown into a tree and the tree bears fruit - then you reap that fruit.

Meaning, it doesn't happen overnight. Like any investment, it takes time. You can’t put an apple seed in the ground today and expect to be baking apple crumble tomorrow. An investment takes time. Still, the principle is this: the kind of seed you plant produces the kind of fruit you’ll end up with. “A man reaps what he sows.” That’s the basic principle. If you plant apples, you get apples, you don't get bananas. The kind of seed you plant results in the kind of fruit you reap.

Paul says there are two different seeds which produce two results. One is the sinful nature, the other is the Spirit. One brings death, the other brings life.

The guy who sows to please his sinful nature will reap the fruit of destruction. The better word for it is decay (or as the ESV has it, “corruption”) that is, it's talking about a destruction that happens slowly over time.

What is he describing? Last week we read that the acts of the sinful nature were sexual immorality, idolatry, anger, drunkenness; so Paul could be saying that if we keep sleeping with our boyfriend or girlfriend, if we keep worshipping our money, if we keep taking our frustrations out on our friends and family, if we keep drinking and staying out late, it’s just a matter of time before the consequences catch up with us. We will be stuck in our sin. We will face God’s judgement.

But that’s reading this verse in terms of the individual, whereas the whole of Galatians Chapter 6 is about the community. Notice how he keeps using the phrase, “each other,” and “one another.” He is talking about our sowing and our reaping as a community, not as an individual. As a church and not just as a Christian.

Meaning, the real question is: What are you investing in here in the church? Here in Rock Fellowship?

If all you do in church is gossip, if you hang out with same group of friends every single week, if you harbour feelings of resentment and envy against your brothers and sisters - that’s sowing to the sinful nature. That is, you are being selfish, but moreoever, you are sowing seeds of your sinful nature. It means that when the harvest comes, it won't just affect you, it will affect the people around you. The destruction/decay that you eventually reap is a church that is fragmented by your own selfish actions.

But “the one who sows to please the Spirit will reap eternal life.” Again if this verse is talking about the community, then eternal life is not describing your own salvation (for you are saved through faith in Jesus alone) but rather it's talking the gospel bearing fruit in the life of the church. Your words of encouragement, your witness, your love and patience are seeds that God uses to grow his church, even to bring others to faith in Jesus Christ.

Isn't this worthwhile? To be pouring your time, your money, your energies, your passions into the church - because God promises you, you will get a guaranteed return on your investment.

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up hope.
Galatians 6:9

I know that many of us here know what Paul is talking about. We're weary. I know the Sunday School teachers are so worn out from serving in a ministry that 100% output with 0% input. I know some people describe coming to the Chinese Church as “tiring.” I know that every single one of your have said to Jesus at some time in your lives, “Lord, I don’t know if I can carry on. This is too much for me to bear.”

Let's be honest. Some of us are just impatient. We want instant gratification. If we don't get immediate results it means that it doesn't work. We tried reading the bible for ten minutes and say, “Nothing happened.” We prayed for a couple of weeks but complain, "God didn't fix my situation." We came to church a couple of times a year - CNY and Mid-Autumn Festival - and say, "I have any friends."

But some of us have been patient, loving, sacrificial and though we feel guilty admitting it, we feel like calling it quits. If that’s you, Paul says, “Don't be weary in doing good.” What he does is encourage us, "Nothing you have done has been wasted, not a single thing."

Notice what Paul does not say. He does not say that things will get easier. He does not say, "Take a break," though there's nothing wrong with that. But ultimately, Paul says the one thing that we really need to hear as weary saints. He says, "Nothing you have done will go to waste." “At the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up hope.” Why does he say that? It's because the real solution to our weariness is hope. Hope produces Christians who persevere. Hope strengthens our assurance in a God who is no one's debtor.

Paul says elsewhere in 1 Corinthians 3:6, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.” Our hope is in the God who gives life; the God who gives us the growth. At the proper time, God will cause our investments to grow to such a point that it will be a harvest. You won’t be munching on seeds, you will be feasting on fruit!

Every lesson to the kids in Sunday School counts. Every invitation to an event where your friends can hear about Jesus. Every prayer for a mum or dad who doesn’t yet know God. Each and every seed counts. Keep planting. Keep planting. The harvest is not yet but it will come; it’s not in your hands, it is according to God’s timing.

It may be that God will see fit to bring about the harvest only when Jesus comes back. It may be that some seed bear fruit sooner. Either way, Paul says to you, “Don’t give up hope,” and “Keep doing good.”

Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
Galatians 6:10

The word for opportunity (kairos) is the same word used in verse 9 for the “proper time.” Our time in this life is given us by God as an opportunity. It’s not saying, “Wait for the perfect time -that perfect opportunity - to help your brothers and sisters in trouble.” No, your whole life is the opportunity that God gives you. It’s this lifetime we have now in which we are to good works to all people. Who are you supposed to help? Paul says, "Do good to all people." It's whoever is next to you. Whoever you meet today. That’s the person God has put in your life to serve. Your neighbour. The kid who sits next to you in class. Your boss. Your colleague. Do good to all people. 

But Paul also says that we have a particular responsibility to our brothers and sisters. “Especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” Tithing is not commanded of Christians; loving your brother and sister in Christ, is. When we take the collection each week, we make it very clear to the visitors and non-Christians, this is not for you, it is a family matter. Even so, as Christians, you are not compelled to give your money. There is no command about how much or how often.

Yet here we have a command in Galatians 6:10 reminding us of our responsibility to love our brothers and sisters as our family in Christ. We should not be embarrassed about putting our church family as a priority. Yes, the same verse reminds us the importance of doing good to all people, to support worthwhile causes, to be active in helping the poor and bringing relief to the suffering. But it is shameful when we neglect our responsibility to our own church community. For those who are giving faithfully and serving regularly, I commend you to continue doing so as an expression of love and commitment, particularly to your family here in the Chinese Church, and to do so not legalistically, but generously, willingly and joyfully.

For some of us, the more fundamental question is: Do you have such a family? Do you have a community - a family of believers - to whom you are accountable to and among whom you serve and provide for?

You might legitimately say to me, “The Chinese Church is not my church family. I’m just passing through.” My question to you would still be the same. Do you have a family of your own?

Otherwise, nothing I have said today will make any sense to you, friend. Every verse in Chapter 6 is about your personal relationship with your Christian brother and sister. Every verse is about your investment in a church family you call your own. Do you have a family in Christ whom you are accountable to, whom you love, whom you serve; who love and serve you?

If you do - whether it’s here in the Chinese Church, StAG, Eden, Christ Church, CPC, St Matthew's wherever it may be -  the bible says to you, Invest in it. Keep sowing to the Spirit. Keep carrying one another’s burdens. Keep doing good.

And in the proper time, God will bring about a harvest because this church is God’s family. It is the body of his Son, Jesus Christ, and he wants it to grow and bring glory to him.

3. Boast in the cross

See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!
Galatians 6:11

If Paul were speaking on a Sunday at church, at this point, he would have pulled the microphone out of the stand and stepped out from behind the podium, to say to the congregation, “Listen. What I’m going to say next is really important.”

That’s what he does here as tells his secretary to stop typing and Paul takes over the keyboard and hits the Caps-Lock key and goes, “SEE WHAT LARGE LETTERS I USE AS I WRITE TO YOU WITH MY OWN HAND!” What's he doing? He's trying to get our attention!

Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ.
Galatians 6:12

In case we forget, this was a church with a big problem. Religious teachers had come into the church. Yes, that is a big problem: To have people teaching Christians how to be religious!

It’s a problem because most people can’t tell the difference between religion and Jesus. It's a problem because Christians are sometimes tempted to choose religion instead of Jesus. And here in verse 12, Paul tells us the reason why: Religion makes us look good.

“Those who want to make a good impression outwardly.” That’s Paul’s description of religious teachers, as people who want impress their followers. Literally, it reads, “Those who want to put on a good face in the flesh” In Chinese, we would say, they wanted us to Pei Min, or to give them face. They want our respect and admiration.

So, a religious teacher might begin talking about Jesus in his sermon, but he ends up talking about himself. There’s a trick to doing this, Paul tells us. It’s by taking up a religious subject and then focusing on it exclusively so as to avoid bringing up the cross. “The only reason they do this,” Paul says, “is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ.”

The issue back then was circumcision. The religious teachers said, “If you are circumcised, then you are really a Christian who follows the law.” But Paul exposes their motives in verse 13.

Not even those who are circumcised obey the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your flesh.
Galatians 6:13

Here is the irony: The religious teachers were telling their followers to do something they didn’t do themselves. “Not even those who are circumcised obey the law.” Yet if they can get you to obey the law, then it gives them a reason to boast. See how many people responded to my sermon and committed themselves to being circumcised!

Like I said, the issue then was circumcision but what would be the issue today? What issue would a religious teacher use to make himself popular, so as to avoid talking about the cross? What would he teach others to do but would himself avoid doing?

The truth is, it can be just about anything in the bible that is good and godly but twisted to make us look good and to avoid talking about the cross of Jesus Christ. It can be making disciples, it can be baptism, it can be church attendance, it can bible-reading. When we tell people to evangelise their friends (but we ourselves don’t talk about Jesus with our neighbours). When we make people feel guilty about not praying enough, not giving money enough, not loving one another enough (but we are stingy, greedy, spiteful and rarely open our bibles and pray at home). When we do this to avoid talking about Jesus, that’s us taking a good and godly teaching in the bible and turning grace into law.

That includes anything and everything I’ve said today about carrying one another’s burdens, doing good to all people, sowing to the Spirit - if I’m saying this just to make myself look good; to avoid doing these things myself; to change the subject from the cross of Jesus Christ - then what I am preaching is not the gospel, it is law; if so, I am a religious teacher and I should be kicked out of the church and never be allowed to teach from this book ever again!

In verse 15, Paul says, “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything.” That’s important because Paul didn’t have a problem with circumcision but he had a big problem when circumcision was used as a way to earn our way to salvation. He has a big problem when circumcision was used to replace Christ.

The religious teachers were boasting in the flesh but Paul would boast only in the cross.

May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
Galatians 6:14

It’s not our church, it’s the cross. It’s not how many people become Christians, it’s the cross. It’s not what programme is coming up for Chinese New Year, it’s the cross. One thing only should we ever boast in: the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

How does that work out practically, though? Does that mean we can’t have a programme for Chinese New Year? Does that mean we shouldn’t praise God when people become Christians?

The way this works out practically is to ground all our boasting in the cross. The word “boasting” is actually the same word used back in verse 4, “Let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbour.” It’s your identity. It’s the basis of what’s making you so happy and thankful. That’s your boast.

And Paul is saying that the basis of who we are and what we do has to be the cross. So, when talking about our church, it’s not just the friends and the food and the fellowship, but when you get right down to it, it’s the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that has paid for the lives of these brothers and sisters and makes it possible even just to get along; in his body he broke down the dividing walls of hostility. Jesus, he himself, is our peace. We are his body, the church. We exist to glorify him, that is our purpose as the church.

When talking about Chinese New Year, it’s Jesus who blesses us with ultimate peace and hope and the promise of eternal life by taking our punishment on the cross and exchanging our sin with his righteousness alone. It’s the grace of God, not our good works. We were dead in our sins and tresspasses, but God was merciful and loving. He raised us in Christ, he seated with Christ in the heavenly realms. He predestined us for adoption as sons in Christ Jesus.

That’s boasting in the cross. For many of us as Chinese, it means this: Not being ashamed. Not being afraid of opening our mouths and saying, “Jesus died for my sin. I am a sinner and Jesus is my Saviour.” I know we are afraid of rejection. Remember the false teachers in verse 12, “The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ.” These false teachers feared man more than they feared God. They were cowards; many of us are cowards when it comes to opening our mouths and talking about Jesus.

Unlike the false teachers, Paul’s boasting was rooted in boldness. He knew that Jesus was God crucified on the cross. He knew his sin was fully paid for. And he knew that in Jesus, he was part of God’s new creation.

Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, what counts is a new creation. Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God.
Galatians 6:15- 16

By the way, that last bit in verse 16, where Paul speaks about the “Israel of God,” he’s talking about you and me. That’s our identity in Jesus - Israel. Every time you open up the Old Testament and read about Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the sons of Israel; every time you read about the Exodus and the nation of Israel, King David and the kingdom of Israel; every time you read about people of Israel, Paul is saying, that’s us. We are his people, not because of race, not because of culture, not because of anything we did but because of what Jesus has done on the cross, we are now his holy people. The church - the Galatian church full of non-Jews, even the Chinese Church today - is the Israel of God.

Finally, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.
Galatians 6:17-18

Paul, unlike the false teachers did not avoid persecution for the cross of Christ. He boasted in the cross and Paul had the scars to prove it. These scars were like medals. They proved that he was the real thing.

The word for “bear” that he uses here - “I bear on my body,” Paul says in verse 17 - is the same word he used in the beginning of the chapter when he calls us to “bear one another’s burdens” and to “bear our own load.” It means to carry something heavy or to endure something that is difficult.

And what he is saying is: these marks prove that we are the real thing. Some of you have these burdens and marks. Some of you have suffered for the sake of Jesus. Don’t be ashamed of them. Be assured because of them, that you have been found faithful by God not only to believe in Christ but also to suffer for him.

The result of such marks of suffering is not bitterness but grace. Paul ends his letter with a blessing, not a curse. “May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be your spirit, brothers. Amen.” Christians who boast in the cross, who suffer as a result of that boasting, who respond with grace and the blessing of the Lord Jesus Christ - they are the real thing.

And far from avoiding such a path I encourage you to embrace it. To so live your life for Jesus that you would risk it all to gain him. Because we are called bear one another’s burdens. Because our sure investment is in the Spirit of God. And because our one and only boast is in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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