Reading: Galatians 6

What is God’s intention for his people, for his church, for St Christopher’s?

Two weeks ago, Richard B asked us the question “What is God’s intention for your life?” We saw from Galatians 5 (the 2nd half) that God intends us to “live by the Holy Spirit” (v16), to be “led by the Spirit” (v18), to “keep in step with the Spirit” (v25). In other words, we are to continually “be filled with the Spirit” (Eph.5:18).
And Galatians 5 describes the result of that: our selfish nature will be crucified, and we will bear the fruit of the Spirit, such as love, joy and peace. That is the evidence of a Spirit-filled person. That is God’s intention for us individual Christians.

And what is God’s intention for his church, for St C’s? That we are to be a Spirit-filled church!
Is St Christopher’s a Spirit-filled church? How would anyone know? Some people judge a church to be Spirit-filled or not by the sort of music and songs they have, or by the level of noise or quietness, or by the number of church members, or by the age of the congregation, or by the length of the sermons, or by the quality of the coffee, or….! But what is the Biblical evidence for a Spirit-filled church?
Our passage today, Galatians 6 points us to three vital marks of a Spirit-filled church. Three words beginning with B: Bearing, Benefiting, Boasting.

v2: “Bear one another’s burdens, & thus you will fulfil the law of Christ.”
“One another” is a key New Testament phrase for the relationships between fellow-Christians. Forgive one another (Eph.4:32); Submit to one another (Eph.5:21); Bear with one another (Col.3:13); Teach one another (Col.3:16). These are summed up by the simple command “Love one another.” Jesus told his disciples “As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34). That is “the law of Christ” to which Paul refers when he says that bearing one another’s burdens fulfils the law of Christ.

This burden-bearing is not usually spectacular or heroic; it is mundane, every-day actions. But it isn’t always easy. Remember one of the sayings of Charlie Brown: “I love mankind: it’s people I can’t stand!” We are not just to bear the burdens of people we like.

What sort of burdens? Paul gives an example in v1: “If someone is caught in a sin…restore him or her gently.” Burdens include temptations, worries, doubts, fears, sorrows.
But someone may say, “The Lord bears my burdens – I don’t need anyone else.” Indeed, Psalm 68:19 says “Praise to the Lord, to God our Saviour, who daily bears our burdens.” And the Lord Jesus gave that wonderful invitation “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt.11:28).
But God often uses people to share burdens and bring comfort. Even the apostle Paul experienced this: he writes “When we came into Macedonia, this body of ours had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn – conflicts on the outside, fears within. But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus” (2 Cor.7:5-6).

I have a dear friend (James). He lives about 100 miles away in Surrey, but a few weeks ago he asked to come and see me to talk over some things that were troubling him. So  we were able to listen and chat and pray about his concerns. That was a real blessing to both of us. Burden-bearing is like that.

Just a word about v5, which seems to contradict v2: “Each one will bear his own burden.” That probably refers to our personal responsibility to God, which cannot be passed on to someone else. “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due to him or her for the things done…” (2 Cor.5:10)

Is St C’s a burden-bearing church? Not just superficial polite smiles on Sundays, but genuine care and concern. Phone calls, text messages, emails, practical offers of help, visits, face-to-face conversations about sorrows and joys, praying for one another….

A Spirit-filled church is a burden-bearing church.

The principle is clear in v7. In agriculture, the harvest depends on what is sown. In life, the harvest depends on what is sown. We have a choice, according to v8. It’s as if there are two different fields: one is our selfish nature, the other is the Holy Spirit. We can choose in which field we’ll sow seed. The harvests will be very different. Paul has described them in chapter 5 – either “the acts of the sinful nature”, or “the fruit of the Spirit”. Now he writes of the ultimate harvests: sowing to the sinful nature leads to destruction; sowing to the Spirit leads to eternal life.

“Sowing to the Spirit” is simply doing what is right and good: vv9-10. In other words, it means benefiting others. As a church, we have opportunities to benefit our neighbourhood – for example through toddler groups, children and youth groups, families work, Wednesday Friendship. We are to be as salt and light in our community – not isolating ourselves in a kind of “holy huddle”, but living in the world as followers of Jesus. And we are to benefit others further afield through our praying and our mission giving and serving.
In the well-known words of William Temple, ” The Christian Church is the one organisation in the world that exists for the benefit of non-members.”

Paul urges the Galatians, and us, not to grow weary or lose heart. Reaping does not happen on the same day as sowing! We are to benefit others long-term.

A Spirit-filled church is a benefiting church.

In v11 Paul takes the quill from his secretary and writes with LARGE letters, because he wants to emphasise his final words to the Galatians: THIS IS CRUCIAL! He refers twice to boasting, in vv12-14; two very different sorts of boasting.

a) Boasting by the “Judaizers” (vv12-13)
Do you remember what led Paul to write chapter 1:6-7? False teachers who wanted to ADD to the gospel. They were saying “It’s good to have faith in Jesus, but you need more: you must be circumcised, and keep the Jewish laws.”
Paul gives two reasons why the false teachers say this:
i) v12b: “…to avoid being persecuted because of the cross of Christ.” In Gal.5:11 Paul writes about “the offence of the cross”. The message of Christ crucified is offensive to proud human nature, because it shows us that we cannot save ourselves: we depend entirely on God’s grace and mercy.
ii) v13b: “…that they may boast about your flesh.” So they could say “Look how many we’ve had circumcised!” (Not counting heads, but counting foreskins!)
This boasting by the Judaizers was all about outward show.
Very different from the

b) Boasting by Paul (v14)
Far from being offended by the cross, Paul glories in the cross of Christ. The cross was the subject of his preaching, and the object of his boasting. Why? Three statements in this letter to the Galatians explain why:
i)   The Lord Jesus Christ “gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age” (1:14)
ii)  “The Son of God…loved me and gave himself for me” (2:20)
iii) “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (3:13)

So as a church, is our attitude more like the Judaizers’ boasting? “Look how many people we’ve had baptized, or confirmed! Look how big our Electoral Roll is! Look how much we give!” (In other words, ecclesiastical statistics!)

Or is our attitude like Paul’s? To boast in the cross is not only to proclaim a cross-shaped message, but to live a cross-shaped life.
“Forbid it, Lord, that we should boast
save in the cross of Christ our God.
All the vain things that charm us most,
we sacrifice them to his blood.” 

A Spirit-filled church is a boasting-in-the-cross church.

Loving Father, please grant that we may be increasingly a church where we bear one another’s burdens, a church which benefits others, and a church which boasts only in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, for your glory. Amen.

Category: Sermons , The Bridge

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