Galatians 6:1-10 – Fulfill the Law of Christ

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load. Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor.

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. (New International Version)

Its all about grace. God’s grace. In Christ, lived by means of the Holy Spirit. Its not about hard black-and-white lists of rules or principles to live by. The Law of Christ is to help each other in our troubles, no matter what.

Overwhelming physical, mental, emotional, and/or spiritual burdens can become even more heavy through failing to live up to someone’s or some group’s or a church’s unwritten list of rules. “Keep a stiff upper lip.” “Everything is possible for those who love God.” “Stay positive.” “Just have faith and trust God.” Or worse, silence…. These and hundred other phrases communicate to people with crushing loads that they will have to carry them alone.

The letter to the Galatian believers spells out what is to truly characterize Christian interactions, and what it means to walk in the Spirit. Believers in Jesus are to emulate the behavior of Christ, the ultimate burden-bearer, who came to restore sinners, not condemn them.

We have a responsibility to rescue, renew, and revitalize persons who have lost their way. We are our brother’s and our sister’s keeper.

Someone caught in the crosshairs of a bad decision, or ensnared by making a wrong step, who is now in over their heads, needs help. In such a case, we are to restore, not punish. The person’s wound needs spiritual cauterizing. The broken spirit needs to be set back into place to heal properly.

The tone and the attitude which we do this important work of restoring people is through gentleness (meekness). We are to have a mindset and heart stance which understands there is no moral superiority with me. I could easily be the person in need of restoration.

When we have a gentle spirit, then we discern we are not above falling into the same trouble. We, too, are ethically and morally vulnerable. So, the church has a corporate responsibility to bear one another’s burdens.

There are other people who, through no fault of their own, find themselves in over their heads, too. Their health and mental health challenges, the emotional weight of hard circumstances, and their broken spirits require others to help shoulder the load so that the weighted-down person is not crushed.

Nobody in any faith community is above doing this work of burden-bearing. And it isn’t appropriate for an individual to boast about the burden-bearing work of others, as if it were theirs. You and I are to take responsibility for our own actions and attitudes without taking credit for someone else’s efforts.

A mature spiritual community of people are able to distinguish those loads which individuals must bear for themselves, and those burdens where help is sorely needed. We are accountable to carry our own backpack. And we are also accountable before Christ to share our load with others when it becomes too heavy for us.

If we choose not to allow others to assist us when we need it, then we will reap what we sow – we’ll feel the full weight and consequences of our silence. The planting and harvesting metaphor isn’t just for those who have engaged in wrongdoing. It is also for those who don’t put any seeds in the ground to begin with. They shouldn’t expect a harvest, at all.

Grace lived out in real experiences knows when to get under a load and help carry it. And grace also knows when to be kind to self and share the heavy burden with others who can help shoulder it for a bit. This is Christianity which relies on the enablement of the Spirit, made possible by Christ, who carried our crushing weight of guilt and shame for us.

Our Christian freedom in Jesus is to be stewarded wisely through carrying one another’s burdens, and so, fulfilling the Law of Christ.

God of all comfort, our help in time of need: We humbly pray to relieve and restore persons in need, people for whom are tired, sick, weary, or unable to continue as they are. Look upon them with the eyes of your mercy; comfort them with a sense of your goodness; preserve them from the temptations of the enemy; and give them patience under their affliction. In your good time, restore them to holistic health, and enable them to live their lives to your glory; and may they dwell with you in life everlasting; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

1 Samuel 23:14-18 – Encouraging Others in Hard Times

David stayed in hideouts in the hill country of Ziph Desert. Saul kept searching, but God never let Saul catch him.

One time, David was at Horesh in Ziph Desert. He was afraid because Saul had come to the area to kill him. But Jonathan went to see David, and God helped him encourage David. “Don’t be afraid,” Jonathan said. “My father Saul will never get his hands on you. In fact, you’re going to be the next king of Israel, and I’ll be your highest official. Even my father knows it’s true.”

They both promised the Lord that they would always be loyal to each other. Then Jonathan went home, but David stayed at Horesh. (Contemporary English Version)

Encouraging with Help

There is an old Hasidic story of a rabbi who had a conversation with the Lord about Heaven and Hell.

“I will show you Hell,” said the Lord, and led the rabbi into a room containing a group of famished, desperate people sitting around a large, circular table. In the center of the table rested an enormous pot of stew, more than enough for everyone. The smell of the stew was delicious and made the rabbi’s mouth water. Yet no one ate.

Each diner at the table held a very long-handled spoon – long enough to reach the pot and scoop up a spoonful of stew, but too long to get the food into one’s mouth. The rabbi saw that their suffering was indeed terrible and bowed his head in compassion.

“Now I will show you Heaven,” said the Lord, and they entered another room, identical to the first – same large, round table, same enormous pot of stew, same long-handled spoons. Yet there was gaiety in the air; everyone appeared well nourished, plump, and exuberant.

The rabbi could not understand and looked to the Lord. “It is simple,” said the Lord, “but it requires a certain skill. You see, the people in this room have learned to feed each other!”

We as humans are hard-wired for community. Ideally, we seamlessly move between being providers of help and receivers of help. A healthy life is a balanced life consisting of consistent rhythms of giving and receiving. And where we are all participating together, there is Heaven.

Encouraging through Friendship

For sure, there will be times we become discouraged. To remain optimistic and encouraged, all the time, is difficult. We need help to keep going and not give up hope. Sometimes we just need a darned good friend.

David, a man who seemed fearless, became afraid. And understandably so. I can only imagine what it would be like to be hyper-vigilant, too scared to shut your eyes and go to sleep, wondering if this might be your last day or night on earth. It’s one thing to die. It’s altogether another thing to be hunted like an animal so that another person can snuff out your life.

Of course, David was scared. And in this state of fright, Jonathan enters. The friend par excellence. True friendship is resilient and reliable. Jonathan did what a loyal friend does: encourage. David was emotionally drained and spiritually weak. So, Jonathan came to David’s side, was present with him, and helped him find his faith and strength in God again.

Encouraging by Affirmation

The helpful encouragement came in the form of truth and affirmation. Those are two indispensable elements to encouragement. Real friendship is built upon the solid foundation of truth, with continual overtures of affirming loyalty and commitment.

Two peas in a pod. Fits like a hand in a glove. Littermates. Cut from the same cloth. Whichever way you choose to say it, Jonathan was the warm gravy to David’s cold mashed potatoes. There was no way Jonathan was going to sit on the sidelines, knowing his best friend was on the run from danger. He proactively took action and was there to help feed David when there was nothing but a long-handled spoon to eat from.

Take note of the four encouraging and affirming truths Jonathan told David to help encourage him and strengthen his faith:

  1. Saul will not find you, despite his paranoid persistence. The sovereign God is in control – not King Saul. Your capture is not in the Lord’s plan.
  2. You will be king. You have been anointed as such. It will come.
  3. I will be second to you. I am with you, all the way. I am your humble servant. I am your faithful friend.
  4. Saul himself knows the truth, which is why he’s so zealous to take you out.

Through Jonathan’s encouragement, David gained newfound optimism, fresh hope, with affirmation and confirmation of the truth. And David needed this to face the upcoming cat and mouse games he would be playing with Saul.

Encouraging the Truth

In the New Testament, the verse, Romans 8:28, is still true. Yes, it gets overused by some as a mere platitude which sometimes invalidates a person’s experience and emotions. Yet, it remains nonetheless true:

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.

Romans 8:28, NLT

The year, 2020, was a kick in the pants for a lot of people. For some, it felt like the disease was hunting them down, trying to take their life. And it did, as of this writing, for 3.5 million people worldwide. The economic and social toll is inestimable. Add to this grim reality that all the socio-economic problems, political issues, and other diseases and disasters of the world have continued, unabated, throughout the pandemic.

It can be difficult to see how any of this could work for good. Yet, this is when friendship is found to be at its best – giving incredible encouragement while in the teeth of terrible circumstances.

Ultimately, death and disease do not have the last word. No matter what happens, we are and will remain children of the King. Jesus steps in and calls us “friend,” acting on our behalf. And God’s Spirit is forever with us, vigilant to support us when we can no longer stand.

God of all encouragement, when evil darkens our world, give us light. When despair numbs our souls, give us hope. When we stumble and fall, lift us up. When doubts assail us, give us faith. When nothing seems sure, give us trust. When ideals fade, give us vision. When we lose our way, be our guide! May you help us find serenity in your presence, and purpose in doing your will. Amen.