Galatians 6:1-10; 14-16


The preacher can hardly do justice to this text in one sermon. We have at least three, if not more, texts here. The preacher will have to make a choice.

Verses 1-5: A test to determine whether we are walking in the Spirit.

A spiritual person tries to restore the fellow-Christian who is overcome temporarily by the lusts of the flesh. And, furthermore, this spiritual person lives a responsible life of repentance and faith toward God. Two thoughts underlie these five verses: The total sinfulness of human nature and the total adequacy of the Gospel.

Koehler: The Apostle admonishes us to do two things which are natural to the Spirit and to the mutual brotherly relationship: Restore the weak and look to yourselves. . . This becomes a mutual bearing of burdens. . . . This the Apostle calls fulfilling the law of Christ.

There is no Gospel in these verses. Here all is sanctification, constant repentance. In these verses the individual tests his view of justification.

Galatians 6:1 Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.

Note that Paul calls the Galatians "brothers." Unless your parishioners are deliberately living in mortal sin you must consider them brothers.

"If" could mean "even if." "Caught" means either "overtaken" or "caught," "trapped." Whether this means that he is surprised by his sin or that you surprise him in detecting it, in any case he is aware of it but he needs your help. Paul is evidently speaking about a penitent sinner who is trapped by his flesh.

The "spiritual" are those who have faith toward God and love toward their neighbor. They are not of a superior attitude. Compare what Christ says of Himself in Matthew 11:28-30. Christ does not assume a superior attitude when the penitent sinner comes to Him.

Luther: Anyone who weighs the apostle's words carefully will see clearly that he is not speaking about heresies or about sins against doctrine but about much less important sins into which a man falls, not on account of deliberate malice or on purpose but out of weakness. . . It is as though he were saying: 'What is more characteristic of a human being than to be able to fall, to be deceived, and to err?'

Just one other thought from Luther:

Luther: We can well understand that the forgiveness of sins should not prevail in the area of doctrine, as the Sacramentarians maintain, but in the area of life and of our works.

Galatians 6:2 Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

This is not an entirely new thought but wider in application than verse 1.

"Burdens" are "troubles," "heavy loads." Christians do not live in a vacuum. They need the help, forgiveness, restoration, and encouragement of other Christians. Look at John 13:34.

"The law of Christ" means that which Christ wills and which He graciously bestows.

Luther: The Law of Christ is the law of love . . . . In the church faithful pastors see many errors and sins which they are obligated to bear. . . . In the family many things happen that displease the householder. But if we are able to bear and overlook our own faults and sins, which we commit in such great numbers every day, let us bear those of others as well.

Galatians 6:3 If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.

Here is an explanation. It is an explanatory warning, attached to verse 2. It says: "Woe be to the person who vainly considers himself superior to the Christian who has burdens to bear. He is deceiving himself." The sinful flesh is constantly tempting us to look down upon, to despise, our fellow Christians, as inferior.

The whole sentence is a devastating picture of vain glory, mentioned in 5:26.

A Christian who assumes a superior attitude toward fellow Christians is totally deluded and becomes ineffective so far as truly loving his fellow Christians is concerned.

Galatians 6:4 Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else,

The verse needs very careful exegesis. Several observations by Luther are applicable:

Luther: One who carries out his office correctly and faithfully does not care what the world says about him; he does not care whether it praises him or blames him. He has his boast within himself, which is the testimony of his conscience and a boasting in God . . . For it does not depend on the judgement of others; it depends on one's own conscience. . . Everyone should know that his work, regardless of the station of life in which he is, is a divine work, because it is the work of a divine calling and has the command of God.

Verse 4, if properly heeded, is a foretaste of God's final judgment of the Christian. He has a good conscience toward God and his neighbor. Read 2 Corinthians 10:17-18; 1 Corinthians 15:10, and 2 Corinthians 1:12.

Verse 4 is the very antithesis to Luke 18:11 where the Pharisee thanks God that he is not like other men. Here we are talking about one's entire conduct. The test is to see whether something is genuine or phony. The verb here is the one used to distinguish counterfeit from true money. Not until one has examined his own conduct, subjecting it to the Law of God, can one go on to the next step.

The Christian is constantly finding shortcomings in his life. He is constantly drawing on the mercy of God in Christ.

About boasting compare Matthew 25:20 and 22. The individual joyfully presents the Lord with the gain that His grace has worked. Also look at 1 Corinthians 15:9-10. Paul could forthrightly say that he worked harder than all the rest and yet it was not he but the grace of God which accomplished it.

Galatians 6:5 for each one should carry his own load.

Verses 4-5 are the very antithesis of Luke 18:9-12. In verse 2 Paul speaks of a forgiving spirit. In verse 5 he speaks of a responsible spirit. In verse 2 it is "each other's burdens." In verse 5 it is "his own load." The meaning of verses 4-5: "If the Christian examines himself, he finds so many sins and shortcomings that all boasting toward self ceases. He responsibly bears his burden of confession to God and lives in repentance at all times. This is his boast."

Lenski: What makes us tender and helpful, meek and kindly toward others, is the realization that we ourselves are nothing, and that we too need our brethren . . . What Paul says is that this tester will get no wrong estimate by pitting himself against the other person and deciding that he is better than that other person.
Expositor's Greek: Any conceit of our own strength or goodness is a vain delusion, for we are nothing. Let no man compare his own with other's work; this will only feed his vanity; but let each scrutinize his own work. Then, if he find there ground for rejoicing, it will be in the ability that has been given by God's grace to such a one as he is; for each will have his own burden to bear of conscious guilt and shame.
Luther: At the Last Judgement each man will have to bear his own load; therefore the praise of others will not do him any good there.

In summary, verses 1-5 say that there is a sense in which we bear each other's burdens. But there is also a sense in which each one bears his own load.

Verses 6-10: Sowing and Reaping.

The word "good" occurs in verses 6 and 10. In both cases it means "that which is beneficial." As to the meaning of "good" and the recipient of these good things, five different interpretations of these verses have been offered:

1) Luther: The verses speak primarily of contributing for the pastor's earthly needs.

2) Nestle: Verse 6 speaks of contributing for pastors, verses 7-10 are general.

3) Koehler: Verses 6-8 speak of charity toward teachers, verses 9-10 are general.

4) Lenski: Verses 6-10 speak of fellowship in spiritual matters only and have nothing to do with physical things.

5) Hendriksen: Verse 6 speaks of contributing for pastor, verse 7 looks back to verse 6 but applies to all, Christians and heathen, verse 8 the difference between unbelievers and Christians, verse 9 looks back to verse 6 but also ahead to verse 10.

Perhaps Luther over stresses the physical needs of pastors as compared with the needs of Christians in general. Lenski surely has a blind spot here. Perhaps Hendriksen's scheme is the best of the five.

The fact that Christians need to be told to provide for their church worker's physical needs, to be warned about not trying to outwit God, that their harvest will correspond to their sowing, that they should not cease to do good, and that fellow Christians should be the special recipients of their charity, all of these imply the deep depravity of human nature. Don't be naive about the sinfulness of the flesh and the danger of license to sin. De be patient in urging the new man to do the Lord's will.

Galatians 6:6 Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor.

AAT: "If someone teaches you the Word, share all your good things with your teacher." Here "word" is the Word in general, both Law and Gospel.

Luther: This is not to be taken to mean that everyone should share all his possessions with his preacher. No, it means that he should provide for him liberally, giving him as much as is needed to support his life in comfort.

Look at Luke 10:7 and 1 Corinthians 9:14.

Bruce: The teacher relieves the ignorance of the pupil; the pupil should relieve the teacher of concern for his subsistence.

Galatians 6:7 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.

"Mocked" is a very strong word. Literally "turn up the nose at." Figuratively "treat with contempt." Some suggest "outwit." This verb is found only here in the New Testament. The second sentence in this verse begins with an explanation in the Greek. This part of the verse is an axiom, a general truth, understandable to all.

"Man" here is not just a farmer. It is any man, woman, or child.

Galatians 6:8 The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.

This verse is an immediate application and expansion of verse 7. "Sowing to please his sinful nature" is the use of liberty for license to commit sin, using neither faith toward God nor works toward the neighbor. "Sowing to please the Spirit" denotes the proper use of Christian liberty in the interest of the neighbor, using faith toward God and fervent love for the neighbor.

Does the word "spirit" here denote the new man (spirit) or the Holy Spirit (Spirit)? All the English version apparently take it to mean the Holy Spirit.

"Sinful nature" means the fallen human nature. TEV gives the wrong meaning by translating "natural desires." A healthy appetite of the stomach or sex, in themselves, are not sinful. They are natural desires. But because of the fall these natural desires easily degenerate into sinful desires.

This verse eliminates salvation by works. Only God can give the increase after sowing has taken place. But this verse plainly stresses the necessity of good works in the life of a Christian.

Galatians 6:9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

This verse implies that there will be periods in the life of the Christian when it seems that his good works go for naught or that God has forgotten and does not care. Christians are like little children. They so easily grow weary and so quickly become discouraged. They must be prodded. Take a look at 2 Corinthians 4:1 and 16 and Luke 18:1.

The question is implied: "In what respect?" and the answer: "if we don't grow weary."

Both Luther and Bruce are of the opinion that 9b is eschatological. In view of the last part of verse 8 this appears to be the correct explanation.

Galatians 6:10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

A conclusion is drawn. "Therefore" points back to the previous section. The rest of the verse points ahead. This verse is key to this section. It covers contributing to the pastor's salary, sowing to the Spirit, and not growing weary in doing good. Never let an opportunity slip away.

But there is a specialty. Hendriksen aptly observes that as parents have a duty toward neighbors, nevertheless their first obligation is toward their own children, so Christians have a duty toward all men but their first obligation is toward fellow Christians. Most version read "household of faith." Several have "family of believers," or "family of faith." My congregation and my denomination are my first responsibility. We should not be afraid to preach on the stewardship of money.

Gal 6:11 See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand! Gal 6:12 Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. Gal 6:13 Not even those who are circumcised obey the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your flesh.

Glorying Only in the Cross of Christ

In verse 11 Paul assures the Galatians that he loves them dearly. In verses 12-13 he uncovers the false teachers' true attitudes. They are concerned only about their own sinful image. They don't even care about the Law, much less the Gospel. Their sole object of boasting and glorying is the physical circumcision of the misled Galatians. Verses 14-16 stand in sharp contrast to verses 12-13.

Galatians 6:14 May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

"But, as for me" says Paul. "Far be it from me," or "may I have boast, etc."

This is a negative wish. It implies that Paul allows for the fact that his flesh does not boast correctly.

"Cross." Luther understands the cross to mean the affliction which the Christian suffers because of Christ. Others interpret it as the symbol of salvation. In either case, this is offensive to the world.

"World" denotes all extra-Christians glory and confidence. In this "world" sin, death, and the law are dominant forces, the sting of death being sin and the strength of sin being the law, 1 Corinthians 15:56.

Once and for all time and eternity the power which is opposed to God has been crucified so far as Paul is concerned and vice versa. Because of what Jesus did and suffered all association between the world and Paul have ceased. They are dead to each other.

Luther: Paul says 'I curse all the righteousness, the doctrine, and the works of the world as the venom of the devil. The world, in turn, curses my doctrine and my deeds and judges me to be a dangerous man, a heretic, a seditionist, etc.

Galatians 6:15 Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.

Paul is neither condemning nor advising either circumcision or its lack. He is saying that justification before God and sanctification before men is based on neither circumcision nor its lack. Anything that stands in the way of the Gospel is dangerous.

The last phrase begins with a word in Greek that means "quite to the contrary." Laws, both divine and human, are good and necessary but do not produce a new creature, a new creation, a new birth, a new life. The Christian is still the same person after conversion but there has been a change in relationship to God, man, and self. The new creation covers the whole Christian's life, both justification and sanctification.

Luther: A new creation is a work of the Holy Spirit, who implants a new intellect and will and confers the power to curb the flesh and to flee the righteousness and wisdom of the world. This is not a sham or merely a new outward appearance, but something really happens. A new attitude and a new judgement, namely, a spiritual one, actually come into being, and they now detest what they once admired.

Galatians 6:16 Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God.

"Now peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, namely to the Israel of God."

"Rule" originally meant "a measuring stick." Then it got the meaning "rule," in the sense of "principle."

The "all" here are the new creation. The peace and mercy of God rest on those who are a new creation. Both faith and works are indicated in this verse.

It must have been a jolt to the Judaizers to hear Paul call the true believers "the Israel of God." Paul turns the tables on them.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series C Epistle Texts, Sundays After Pentecost, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1985, pp. 34-38. Used with permission.

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