We Christian fundamentalists (in the 1909 sense of the word) and conservative evangelicals are right. We are right about the inerrancy of Scripture. We are right about the virgin birth. We are right about the deity of Christ. We are right about the substitutionary atonement. We are right about the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are right about the validity of biblical miracles.
It is so hard to be humble when you are so right.
That is why it is hard for us to manage the situation when one of us does something wrong. This brings us to our text for this study:
Brothers, 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. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load. Galatians 6:1-5 (ESV)
Set aside for a moment the scandalous things Christian leaders have done to make headlines. What about the Christians you personally know who have behaved sinfully? You know their names. You can see their faces. You may still see the fallout that resulted from their sin. How have you responded when you have seen these things? If you could go back in time, what do you wish you had done differently?
Consider this scenario: You have a Christian friend, Dan, who is very bright and who has done well for himself financially. He has been somewhat aloof from you and from the church for a few months, but he comes often enough that you chalk it up to the natural ebb and flow of relationships. You would rather not offend him by asking if there is a problem.
You receive a phone call one night from Tammi, his wife, who informs you that Dan, the Bible study leader who would never have darkened the door of a casino, has been staying up all hours of the night at Internet gaming sites. Dan has developed an online gambling habit. He has landed the family in so much debt that they may lose their home. Now an uncharacteristic emotional explosion by Dan at work has cost him his job. Tammi says that Dan now claims to be repentant but she thinks it is too late for their marriage. She says she is leaving him and moving out of state with the children as soon as arrangements can be made. She reports that Dan is an emotional wreck and is so depressed that he won’t even eat. No one else at church knows and she requests that you not embarrass the family by telling anyone.
What do you do in that situation? Does the Bible say anything about this? You do not have any “lifelines.” Surveying the audience, phoning a friend and 50-50 are not options. You know you want to do what pleases God, but you are likely afraid of what might happen.
If you would call this story fictitious, you would be correct, but I can tell you true stories even more heart-breaking about professing Christians—including pastors—who have messed up their lives with drugs, alcohol, pornography, immorality, shoplifting, uncontrolled anger, poor financial stewardship and untamed tongues. Everyone has a response when faced with situations like this, but the most common responses include the extremes of either ignoring the problem or over-reacting to it.
You need to do something and you need to do it the right way. Going about the messy business of restoring a fallen saint is usually time-consuming and often heart-breaking, but it is never useless. Will there be some people you try to help who are not truly repentant or who will not want your help? Yes. But your obedience to the commands of God’s word should never be hindered by your fears that some people will not like what you are doing.
Observe some key words from this text and see what actions please God in the face of brothers or sisters who, like Dan, are trapped by their own sin.
Paul speaks in verse one about being “caught” in a transgression. This has been translated “trapped,” and carries the idea of being surprised. That is not to say that Christians who sin are passive victims. It is to say that people like Dan never intend for things to go as far as they usually do. Dan did not sit down at his computer one day and think, I plan to gamble so much online that I lose my job, my house and my family.
People who are caught in sin are certainly responsible for their own actions and are reaping the consequences of their sin. Does that disqualify them from your mercy?
Next comes your part. Paul says you are going to have to help. He uses the word “restore” as a command. This word was used in Matthew 4:21 and Mark 1:19 of Jesus’ disciples mending their fishing nets. It was used in New Testament times of setting a bone.
Restoring a fallen Christian is a procedure that requires as much gentleness as you would want your doctor to have if you broke your leg (see Galatians 5:22-23 to see that “spiritual” people are “gentle”). It calls for as much patience as you would need to untangle a fishing net and bring it back to working order.
The business of restoring requires you to touch the one who is broken. This may mean you spend a lot of time on the phone, at a restaurant or doing detective work to track down your running friend. This may mean you get much more information about the situation than you ever wanted to hear. This may mean emotional pain as you see the dreadful consequences of sin. Restore them anyway. It is your responsibility. Stay spiritually minded. Do it gently.
There is a warning associated with this business. To “keep watch” means you are to pay close attention to yourself. This word was used of “noting” or “marking” the example of people, good or bad (Romans 16:17; Philippians 3:17). In this case you are the one who needs watching.
Taking on the role of “spiritual person” does not mean you have become immune to the malady from which your friend suffers. It is possible to get sucked into the same pit from which you are trying lift your fallen comrade. “That’s why I stay away from those situations,” some say. “It’s not worth the risk.” But do you remember all the “one another” commands of the New Testament? Your responsibility is not to avoid sinners, but to avoid sin. Serve others aggressively. Just watch yourself while you do it.
You are best equipped to take on the role of a helper in this situation if you are unsure of yourself—that is, aware of your own weakness. With that humble attitude, you will approach your friend with the gravity you both need.
Maybe you don’t even have a computer and would say that you could not do what your friend Dan did. This is where your pride brings you down. You may not have a computer or even know how to get on the Internet, but that was not Dan’s sin. Dan wanted something that promised to satisfy his desire for wealth. This was not about online gambling but about coveting. You are weak in that area. Watch yourself.
The word “bear” simply means to “carry.” It is used in many ways in the New Testament, including bearing children, carrying sandals and holding anything from a pitcher of water to a funeral bier.
One use of the word fits well with the application we are making here. This word was used of Jesus carrying his cross (John 19:17) and of his call to his disciples to bear their cross (Luke 14:27). The burdens of others are ours and the ultimate example of burden bearing is Jesus, who bore our sins in his body on the cross.
People like Dan need brothers and sisters who to follow the one who was the perfect example of being other-focused and who carried their sins.
A “burden” is simply a weight. We like to forget what it is like to be guilty and know it. Living in the land of “look behind” is a miserable existence. Proverbs 13:15 (ESV) says, “Good sense wins favor, but the way of the treacherous is their ruin.” The KJV says, “the way of the transgressor is hard.”
When your brother is hurting—even if he is hurting because of his own sin—you should be hurting. Help him get up. People who can remember the release of sins forgiven are the best ones to help people weighed down by sin.
So how does that attitude look when it is applied to the “Dan” scenario?
There is no contradiction in calling the spiritual person to bear the burdens of others while at the same time bearing his or her own load. It is only our selfishness that wonders if that is fair. Ours is not to find others to bear our loads. Our is to carry our own and—if need be—theirs too. It’s kind of like the sign beside the green at the golf course that says, “Fix your own ball mark and one other.” Simple math tells you that you are being asked to take responsibility when someone else did not.
Ours is to look for burdens to bear. That is the other-focus so prominent in the New Testament, particularly in the “one another” texts.
It is easy to fall into one of two extremes when you see other believers in sin. One is to secretly take pleasure when they reap the consequences of their actions. The other is to do nothing because you are afraid of being called a meddler. There is a much better option. If you desire to please God, you will desire to lift up the fallen, to bear their burdens. In summary, here is how you can become God’s kind of burden-bearer:
- Spend yourself, helping those who are in trouble because of their own sin.
- Watch yourself, knowing you are susceptible to the same sins.
- Manage yourself, paying more attention to your own responsibilities than to the responsibilities of others.
God supplies what he requires. Remember that the ultimate burden-bearer was also serving people trapped in sin. Make your ministry to sinners a sinner’s response to being rescued.