Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity: Galatians 5:25-6:10

Paul colors this section of Galatians with a number of metaphors.  Having established the conflict between the flesh and the spirit, he goes on to urge the Galatians to walk according to the Spirit, just as they have been called.  Yet the first metaphor he employs is a military one:  “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25).  In its most basic sense, the word translated as “walk in step” refers to an army in formation, either standing in a line or on the march.  Christians are therefore called to march in the Spirit as a well disciplined unit, just as Paul “lives in observance of the law” (Acts 21:24, using the same word).  When we do so, we will not be like braggart soldiers, boasting of empty deeds and provoking one another, but those who have a reason to boast in what God has done.

Paul goes on with this imagery to describe one who has stumbled.  If one missteps while on the march, it is the duty of “the spiritual” to restore him.  The army is not to march roughshod over one who falls, but to lift him up in order to preserve the integrity of the line.  However, in a shift from the plural to the singular, Paul warns each of us individually to “watch yourself lest you also are tempted” (Galatians 6:1). Judgment and restoration belong to the whole church (Matthew 18:17; 1 Corinthians 5:4-5, 6:1-8; 2 Corinthians 2:5-11).  Diligence and vigilance belong to the individual (1 Thessalonians 5:3-11; Mark 13:32-37).

Part of helping up the one who has stumbled is to share his burden.  The metaphor shifts here.  Christians are called to “bear one another’s burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).  These burdens are generally heavy weights, things which draw us downward.  Given the previous statement, it seems that Paul refers to our own personal failings and weaknesses.  “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves” (Romans 15:1).  This fulfills the law of Christ, namely that we love one another just as Christ first loved us (1 John 4:19-21).

After all, “if anyone thinks himself to be something, being nothing, he deceives himself” (Galatians 6:3).  Pride and lovelessness have no place within the bond of peace.  As Paul said in the previous chapter, divisions and dissensions are the fruit of the flesh.  Empty boasting proves nothing.  Such boasting always magnifies the self over the weakness of someone else.  Yet are we so free from danger that we can afford to look elsewhere and condemn our brother (Romans 14:4; 1 Corinthians 10:12; Matthew 7:5)?  We must set our own house in order, for we all have our own “load” to carry.  This load, a different word from before, is like cargo, carried either on an animal or in a ship (as it is used figuratively in Matthew 23:4 and Luke 11:46; and literally in Acts 27:10).  Yet Jesus Himself lays this burden on us (Matthew 11:30), for it is the cross given to each one of us to carry daily (Luke 9:23-24).  Yet the personal discipline of the cross yields the fruit of righteousness (Hebrews 12:7-11).

Paul now moves to another point.  “Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches” (Galatians 6:6).  The student, or more literally the catechumen, should share all good things with his teacher or catechist.  Catechesis, literally “to sound through, i.e. to teach orally,” shows that Christian education is bound up with being a part of the body.  Learning through the written word, while not forbidden, loses something of what God intends, because reading is often individual.  To learn aurally is not merely a practical matter for an illiterate culture, but a reality of what it means to be in the Church.  We are bound to one another, just as we learn from one another.  Those whom God has set to be the “sounders” in the Church should get their living by the Gospel (1 Corinthians 9:14), not because they need to pay for a retirement plan, but because the whole body prospers in the Gospel.

Paul reinforces this point with his final metaphor of sowing and reaping.  God will not be mocked, or in the same sense, we cannot turn up our noses at God.  Whatever you plant you will also harvest.  This is not the false, pagan notion of karma, an impersonal what goes around comes around.  This is a recognition of God’s justice (Deuteronomy 32:35; Isaiah 59:18).  To separate ourselves from the body in empty boasting and pride will lead to our destruction.  We cannot imagine that we have no need for the rest of the body.  Such divisiveness is a fruit of the flesh, not of the Spirit.  If you sow to the flesh, you will reap the only fruit possible from the flesh, which is destruction (Hosea 8:7; Job 4:8).  But if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap the only fruit possible from the Spirit, eternal life (James 3:18).

Therefore, we are called to not be negligent in our task of doing good.  Such good can only flow forth from the Spirit.  Being in Christ, we are called to do good to all men, since Jesus tells us to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:44-45).  Such works will heap burning coals on his head, or even cause him to the Father who is in heaven (Romans 12:20; Matthew 5:16).  Yet more than this, we are called to first build up the Church.  To ignore the needs of the house while taking care of the stranger is to be worse than an unbeliever (1 Timothy 5:8)!  There can be no division within the Church, because we are walking together in Christ, being made like Christ, and finally being saved in Christ as one holy people.