Week of March 19

Soul Repair Does Not Require a Sledgehammer

Read: Deuteronomy 28-29; Galatians 6
“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.”
Galatians 6:1, ESV


“When God forgives, He at once restores,” once said Theodore Epp, founder and broadcaster of the “Back to the Bible” radio program. Too often the church, however, fails to embrace those whom God has forgiven and restored.

This third section of Paul’s letter to the Galatians focuses on ethics, but it can also be entitled “Life in the Spirit.” Our focal passage provides an excellent point of instruction for church fellowship. We all have likely taken an unexpected fall while walking or jogging. Apart from the surprise, there is embarrassment and possible injury. Paul writes that there are believers who can do the same morally. I cannot overstate the importance of this passage.
The Southern Baptist Convention has been confronted in recent years with the fact that widespread, serious sexual transgressions have occurred by persons in leadership positions. It has been difficult to address adequately the moral failure within the denominational and local church structures. I certainly do not pretend today to be an expert in how to resolve this current, pervasive moral challenge, but I do believe that Paul gives us some sound advice to help us when we must face serious moral breakdowns in our churches.

The Meaning of the Text

Galatians 6:1-10 provides us with Paul’s critical “how to” section on the Spirit-led life as outlined in chapter 5. So, let’s get our “fruit on” (5:22-23) and see how we may apply the truth to the specific circumstance of moral failure.

Paul calls for the “spiritual” believers, who were walking in the Spirit (5:22-23), to minister to these immature Christians who were more concerned with status and self-gratification than with the mind of Christ (NAC). He acknowledges that believers do sin and fail morally at times!
Sin is “detestable” to God and hurtful to church fellowship, so Paul encourages these saints to take up the responsibility to seek “restoration and reconciliation” with those who have been caught in an error (NAC). We have a lot to learn today about this type of spiritual maturity, don’t we? So, let’s consider some first steps to take when such sin surfaces in our congregations!
Steps toward helping those who morally fail
There certainly are more than enough contemporary examples of sinful disaster to go around! Paul uses this focal verse as a way to introduce us to an almost unheard of element in our modern churches—congregational discipline. Notice the steps to success.

First, he addresses the Galatians as “brothers.” This brotherly affection goes a long way toward setting people in the right frame of mind to handle a sudden moral collapse in a constructive way. He can do this because he knows that they were true followers of Christ (see 5:10; cf. NAC). This was not a superficial fraternal plea for their sympathy, but a paternal entreaty based upon a “family of faith” relationship. Sweet empathy, not bitter rivalry, was to be a hallmark of Galatian church community (cf. 5:25-26). We could use the same in our own churches.
Secondly, notice that Paul calls to the forefront the fact that someone had been “caught” or “taken by surprise” in some sin. We’d say, “It wasn’t pretty,” and I do not need to illustrate it for any of us, do I? The benefit is found in the moral guideline he lays down for dealing with such a collapse. He knew how disruptive this situation could be for their relationship with God and for their church fellowship. C. S. Lewis has said, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.”
Paul knew this to be true, so he starts by calling for those who are “spiritual” to act “spiritually” in a responsible and loving manner with the fallen brother and/or sister in Christ (NAC). You and I will often notice these people in our churches. They are nurtured in their actions by the Spirit’s fruit that Paul had written of in the previous chapter—for example, love, peace, goodness, and kindness. These members should take the lead in modeling the proper response to spiritual failure. How is this “fruit” applied?
Paul writes next that these spiritual folks are to restore the fallen gently. The word restore means “to put in order” or, in medical terms, “to set a fractured or dislocated bone.” Fishermen used the expression to mean “mending or overhauling fish nets” (NAC). We may also recall the fractured relationships in Corinth and Paul’s use of the same term to call the church there to lay aside its dissensions so that they might be “restored” to unity and purpose. He shows us that the goal of church discipline should be restorative and not punitive (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:5). We can do this when we realize that we, too, may fall into some sin (6:1b; “Keep watch”).

The Message for Our Lives

I recall an older woman falling during a worship service that I was attending. No one, in that moment, paused to point out the importance of watching one’s step. I heard no one scold her for not being more aware of her surroundings. We all raced to give aid to the dear lady in that moment. There were moments where tender care was provided to ensure that she had not suffered some physical hurt. Our goal was to guard her well-being and to restore her to the fellowship.
Here are some thoughts about our duty to help those who fall into sin. Paul has written of the moral obligation to restore the fallen. Such action implies tender care. We all can swat a fly with a sledgehammer, but that is not necessary or appropriate! Our church discipline should be helpful (corrective) not punitive.
Paul does not want the church to inflict more hurt or those who have already been hit by sin. This means that we are to lay aside any sense of spiritual superiority and to work toward restoring such persons to full fellowship. Oh! And Paul exhorts us to remain vigilant and be constantly on the lookout or we, too, might fall into sin. “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12, ESV).

Lastly, the body of Christ is indeed Christ’s body, and each member is important to the whole. We should treat each person as though the church truly needs them because, in truth, it does. The old truism has long been that “The Christian army is the only army in the world that shoots its wounded.” Sadly, there is too much reality in the statement. Our prayer should be that it falls into disuse because we have put to good use Paul’s instruction here.

For Thought and Action

1. Read again the root that bears the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The Spirit enables all of the fruit to nourish our lives and to enable His Body to flourish. Seek the Spirit’s help to display the fruit of the Spirit in your life.
2. Church discipline fails miserably when the Spirit is not the One leading. The Spirit aims toward forgiveness of sin and restoration. You, who are spiritual, will want to take the lead in this effort.

3. For Families: Sometimes our children, who are not yet mature, will gleefully rejoice when another child is found to be “in trouble” or “gets caught” when that child has made a wrong choice. Our teens can also relate to destructive, reputation-slaying behaviors which their classmates or friends at school sometimes choose.

As parents, modeling restoration can be a more productive approach than punishment. Share with your family how mature believers will intentionally reach out to those who have fallen in order to help them. Modeling forgiveness, restoring dignity, value, and a place within the community, are spiritual acts. Ask your kids at supper if they have ever seen someone fall into some sort of trouble, maybe at school, and watched as another student or teacher helped to restore them. What does that look like? Pray together that your family will be quick to notice the need for restoration and take the lead to help make things right - between each other, and God.

May your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock