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Living in a community of Freedom

Galatians  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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We live in a community and so we need to look out for others so that together we can all become more Christ like, but this needs to be done with extreme caution of our own lives.

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Better Together

I think that we all instinctively know that we are all far better off when we work together. There’s a lot of reasons for this. Having a few minds on a problem can help think of a better solution. Many hands make light work. Then there’s the mutual encouragement.
Some of you know that in the last few weeks I’ve occasionally gone and had a few workouts with Dillon. That’s a prime example. I can exercise on my own. There is nothing stopping me, yet when I’m by myself I can find the slightest excuse to not go - and believe me, I’m really good at finding excuses to not exercise.
It’s the reason that occasionally we arrange working bees at the church. We can all come up to the church individually to help, and at times this is the most appropriate, but when we come together, this is when we begin to see big things happen.

Our individual focus

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But despite me arguing that we know this instinctively, there is a subversive push throughout our culture which shifts the focus back onto the individual. It’s not necessarily that we deny the benefits of working together, but sayings such as - if I don’t help myself, no one else will; and, the most important person is you - really resonate with us.
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So much so that we manage to put a Christian spin on these sayings, so that we get this notion of: God helps those who help themselves. You get the impression that it is one of the most popular verses in the Bible, except that of course it’s not even in the Bible.
Can this work?
Now immediately we come up with a problem. We know that working together is going to be best, but because of the individual focus, and also knowing that working with others can end in conflict, we prefer to just keep things to ourselves.
Now in some areas of your life, that might be fine, but the big problem is that this sort of attitude has moved into our way of thinking about our Christian life.
I’m mean, how many times have you heard a statement to the effect of: what I do in my own time is my own business.
We’ve just had the release of the same-sex marriage survey, and while I don’t want to get into that debate now, one of the values that many in the ‘yes’ camp hold is: what happens between two individuals is their own business.
Certainly I’ve heard the refrain: just keep religion out of it - said quite a number of times.
And while I’m on the idea of religion getting in the way, I’ve noticed during the last decade or so even a lot of Christians wanting religion to move out of the way.
Now this sentiment is actually based on a truth that is written about in which includes the statement: “their religion is worthless”. The people who express this view quite rightly note that all that matters is our relationship with Jesus. And I want to affirm that this is actually correct. You see, religion doesn’t save, only faith in Christ - this is after all exactly the message that is so clearly articulated in the first half of Galatians.
And while it is necessary for each of us to have our own individual relationship with Jesus, the problem that can easily evolve is that we focus on the individual and forget that God made us to live in community with one another.
This is where I started, we know instinctively that we’re better together but yet when we place the focus on the individual, we lose the richness of what we can gain together.
And so that is what I’m going to focus on today. If you were here last week, we saw the practical out workings of Paul’s teaching, which showed that we have two ways to live - we can go the way of flesh, which is self-absorbed and ultimately leads to destruction, or the way of the Spirit which is based on love and leads to eternal life.
It’s one thing to think about this in terms of ourselves, but we’re not islands, we’re in this together, so now Paul’s focus turns to the way in which we can do this together.
Now I’m going to pick out 5 different things from this final chapter of Galatians. In some ways, as we read the chapter, Paul seems to be making almost unrelated remarks, but I believe we each of them can help us how we can help each other in community to live a life worthy of our calling.

Restoring Others

Well it starts with something that I believe goes against the grain of our individual society - and that is correcting our brother or sister when they sin.
Verse 1 says: “if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently”
We’ve just had the results of the same sex marriage survey released, and while I’m not going to get into that debate now, but an underlying value of many in the ‘yes’ camp is the same idea: what two people do in their own time is their own business.
Now unfortunately I think that we very rarely see this done well. In my experience, if we see one of our fellow Christian brothers and sisters who are behaving in an ungodly manner, we tend to ignore it on the basis that it isn’t our business.
Certainly I’ve heard the refrain: just keep religion out of it - said quite a number of times.
Although depending on our personality, after ignoring it for some time, if we feel the behaviour really is bad enough, we then confront that person in an authoritative way telling them how poor their behaviour is and that they really need to shape up.
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The problem with the latter response is that, even if the person doing the confronting thinks they are doing it in love, it is generally not seen as such, and therefore it ends in an unhelpful conflict.
However, while this problem might be more obvious, the problem of the former, that is, to just ignore the poor behaviour in our brother or sister, can be equally as damaging. Our lack of response could be seen as tacit approval and only further encourage the behaviour which exacerbates the situation.

What sin?

Now before I continue, it’s probably worth clarifying what behaviour I’m talking about, because I’m not talking about some of those little idiosyncrasies that your friend does, like when they add “alright?” to the end of every sentence for example. You may choose to deal with that if you wish, but that’s not the behaviour we are talking about.
Rather, if we go back to last week when we looked at what Paul described as the acts of the flesh. You can find them in verse 19 to 21 of the previous chapter. Now as we saw last week, some of the listed acts might be quite easily dismissed as something we just don’t struggle with - take witchcraft as an example. Unfortunately there was a whole bunch that I suggest we all struggle with from time to time - take, hatred, jealousy, selfish ambition, envy.

Approaching the soft sins

As I discussed last week, these sins are often overlooked as not being important, but they can be very destructive. But how do we approach these sins that we might call ‘soft sins’? When was the last time that you pulled someone up for having selfish ambition?
Well, in verse 1 Paul gives us some very valuable advice regarding the way in which we should do this.
If we follow this advice then you won’t be jumping up after this service and rushing to that person who you know needs bringing into line and giving it to them.

Those living by Spirit

Well, the first thing to note in this verse is that it is directed at those who live by the Spirit. This doesn’t mean you have to have everything together, but it does mean that you should be seeking the Spirit’s leading. This means it should be done prayerfully. This generally means stopping and praying about it, and as a result not jumping to action the moment you notice something. Having a delay in this way is generally a good idea.

Gently

The next important word to pick up on is: gently! Sometimes we just feel that someone needs to be brought back to size, and what better way to do that then giving them a roasting - but usually when we do that, it is much more about asserting our own authority rather than helping the other person.
We need to remember, particularly when we’re talking about the type of sins listed by Paul as the acts of the flesh, that we are all struggling together, and so when we restore another it is actually mutual encouragement from a fellow sinner. This should be reason enough to go in gently.
Our aim is not to bring the other person down, but rather to lift them up.
If someone refuses to be restored, the next course of action is not to get angry, rather we can follow some of the advice of Jesus in which describes taking the matter up with church leadership. At all times our actions should be characterised by gentleness.

Watching yourself

But verse 1 contains one more piece of very important advice for anyone thinking that it is appropriate for them to help restore of brother or sister - and that is that we need to be very careful to watch ourselves.
I think there are two sides to this. Firstly, following on from the advice to be gentle, we need to recognise our own sinfulness. We don’t restore someone from the position of perfection, because none of us are even close to this, but we are restoring someone as a fellow member of the community who recognises that we are better off together.
But the other side to this is that we can easily be tempted ourselves into sin as a result of trying to help another. This could come from the selfishness of wanting to be right. Or the temptation could come from whatever the situation you’re trying to help the other from.

Being careful

I find restoring others a very difficult task. We know it is fraught with danger, and for this reason we generally stay away from it, but when done well it can really help us to move forward as a community of believers.
It is very important though that it is done prayerfully and gently. Without this, our attempts to restore others can actually be more destructive.

Carrying the burdens of others

In verse 2, we then come to the next comment that Paul makes about how we can help each other in being better - and it’s another tricky one to figure out how we should do it properly.
Verse 2 says: “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ”.
The big question here is: what burdens is Paul talking about?
Well in many ways the burdens Paul is talking about can be quite varied. In fact it can include financial burdens, mental burdens such as our worries and concerns, or possibly even physical burdens.
Now at times this can be fairly straight forward. When one of our brothers and sisters are in need, we chip in and help them out.
It’s always a beautiful thing when you see a family or individual go through a tough time and people bring around dinner for them to help them through that certain period.
I know that in the time immediately following the birth of our children, we have had some wonderful people provide us meals in this way.
The tricky part comes when we are not in such obvious times of needing help.
And this is tricky from two perspective, firstly from the perspective of the one needing help, and secondly from the one who has the potential to help.
You see, something that I believe stems from our individual focus, is that we also have the tendency to become fiercely independent. The idea that we need help flies against this independence, but in rejecting help, or in even not seeking out help, ignores that God made us to work together.
The flip side to this is the person who has the potential to offer help, and I know that it can be tricky to know whether it would be appropriate to offer help or not, because what if you offended the person, particularly if you come across as being condescending.
Well this is where Paul’s earlier advice of gentleness again becomes important, because when we practice gentleness, the risk of offence is greatly reduced, and we are much more likely to be beneficial to our community.

Fulfilling law of Christ

Now you might notice that verse 2 ends with a statement that if we bear one another’s burden’s then we will be fulfilling the law of Christ. This might initially seem a strange link to make, until you realise that the law of Christ can be summed up as loving the Lord your God, and to love your neighbour as yourself. In other words, it’s about loving one another, therefore, in helping our brothers and sisters out, we are fulfilling the very law of Christ.

Not being above help

When we come to verse 3 it’s not entirely clear what Paul had in mind, but it would seem that he is carrying on a similar idea, only that he is thinking why someone might not want to help another. The NIV skips the word “for” which is in the original Greek and links this clause with the previous verse, but if we add that “for”, it says: “for, if anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves”
It would seem that Paul is anticipating the objection that you wouldn’t help your brother or sister because it is beneath you. Perhaps you fancy yourself as a bit of a big player, someone whose time is very valuable and are too preoccupied with making big decisions to stoop to the depth of offering to mow their lawn when they are unable to do so themselves.
Well, Paul’s advice is to take a good look at yourself, and stop comparing yourself.
Actually, it could seem that Paul is contradicting himself in verse 5 when he adds that each should carry their own load. You see in verse 2 he says to carry each other’s burdens and then in verse 5 to carry your own. In fact, he isn’t contradicting himself, but rather looking at it from a different perspective.
The call to help each other is not so that one person can be lazy, rather we should all work hard, but when you are in need of assistance, then let’s use the community that God has given us.

Final three comments

Now, I’ve spent a bit of time looking at the first two comments Paul makes about how we should live in community, but don’t worry, because I’m going to go a little more quickly through the last three I want to pick out. Not because they are less important, but because in some regards they are a bit more straight forward.
And in fact, I think we can see a common thread through them, which is sowing and reaping. If you know much about farming, then it will be a very familiar theme, but it is one that works really well when it comes to thinking about community.
You see, to understand community we need to understand the complexity of it, in that it is made up of a bunch of complicated individuals. When we try to help someone, the community doesn’t suddenly go through a massive transformation immediately - rather any sort of transformation happens gradually, like it does in a farm when you sow a crop.
So for the final three comments about how to do community, I want to look at three different things we can sow into the community.

Sowing the word of God

Firstly, from verse 6, we need to sow the word of God. Sometimes God’s word, the Bible, can seem to many to be outdated - certainly this is what the world would have us believe - but it is truly the living Word, and it is what changes lives.
It is what guides us and keeps us straight. So, as Paul says in verse 6, if you receive instruction in the word, then share it. Let other’s know how God has been speaking to you through the Bible.

Sowing into our own lives

Secondly, we need to sow into our own lives the things that please the Spirit.
Now this might seem a little odd when the whole time I’ve been trying to argue that we’re talking about doing this in community and not as islands, but it is certainly a good reminder that as much as this is about doing things together, we still have that individual obligation. In fact, I’d suggest that it is easy to become so focussed on other’s that we lose focus on our own lives.
But it is so important that we sow into our lives the things that please the Spirit.
In this verse 8, Paul is feeding directly back to the previous chapter when he listed the acts of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit.
We have a choice, we can sow one or the other. Depending on which one we choose, it will become obvious what the outcome will be.
If you sow what pleases the flesh, you will reap destruction.
If you sow what pleases the Spirit, you will reap eternal life.

Sow into the lives of others.

Finally, we sow good into the lives of others, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
In some ways, you could say this is actually a summary of the whole thing. As we do good to others, we will reap a harvest in our community.
What does it mean to do good?
Well in part, it is doing what we’ve just been speaking about. It is restoring our brother or sister when they fall into sin. It is carrying their burdens. It is sharing with them the word of God.

Conclusion

There is so much that we can achieve when we do all of this together.
We can easily go through the scriptures on our own and seek God out on our own. With God’s help we might get so far. But that’s actually not how God intended it. He actually gave us the church for a reason.
Fellowship is not just something we do on the side, you know, after we do all the important Christian things, rather it is central because in fellowshipping together, we lift each other up and make the journey so much easier and more enjoyable.
It is not always easy to do - partly because we have become so ingrained in our individual way of thinking. But like Paul says in this last chapter of Galatians:
We can, (1), help restore our brothers and sisters when they are caught in sin;
(2) Carry each other’s burdens
(3) Sow the word of God into the lives of others
(4) Sow what pleases the Spirit into our own lives
and (5) Sow what is good into the lives of others.
God wants us to work together, and it is usually in this way that God tends to do big things.
It is only as we work together that we wil
Let’s pray...
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