I think the point of drawing attention to the fact that Paul is writing this with his own hand is to emphasise his personal relationship with the Galatians and how important it is to him that they hear his message. He’s not just some far off academic scholar pontificating on an obscure theological point that doesn’t really matter too much if they take it or leave it. Paul really cares about the Galatians, and the message of this letter is really important. He also writes in large letters to emphasise how important this message is. From what Paul has heard about the Galatians, it sounds like they’re turning away from Christ, which would be disastrous, so to make sure they take this letter seriously, he wants them to know that he’s not just dictating it to a scribe, he’s signing it himself. So we should have that in mind as we go on to look at Paul’s conclusion to this letter. It is absolutely vital that we understand and take on board what Paul is saying.
So the sowing that Paul is talking about here includes what we fill our minds with. We should invest in the teaching of the word that we’re going to receive, and pay attention to what we hear. But Paul also connects sowing to the Spirit with doing good. “Let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Sowing to the Spirit is not just about taking in the word, but about doing as well.
If we don’t give up on doing good, we will reap. What will we reap? We’ll reap what we sow. If you sow doing good, you’ll reap goodness. Paul mentioned in chapter 5 v22 that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness…” If we sow to the Spirit, we’ll reap the fruit of the Spirit.
It won’t always come naturally to do good, but the more we sow doing good, the more we’ll reap the fruit of goodness. If we don’t give up, but keep doing good even though it’s difficult sometimes and it costs us, we’ll gradually get into the habit of doing good, and it will become more and more natural to us; goodness will become part of our character. When you start to feel weary of doing good, think of the harvest you will reap eventually.
I think it’s also worth asking what is the harvest you’re hoping to reap by doing good to others? Perhaps you keep doing good to one person in particular in the hope that they’ll eventually respond in a certain way. That’s not the harvest we’re expecting here. People might never respond in the way we would hope as we keep doing them good, but that doesn’t mean it’s fruitless to keep going. As we keep practising doing good, sowing to the Spirit, we’ll produce the fruit of the Spirit – we’ll become good.
“So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone”. There’s a lot of needy people in the world. If Paul had said “So then, let us do good to everyone”, that would be an impossible task. No one here has enough money to be able to feed everyone in the world who is hungry. God doesn’t call us to try to do that. He says “as we have opportunity” we are to do good to people.
In some ways it’s easier to do an occasional grand gesture for those in need. To donate a large sum of money to charity, or go on a mission trip or something, and those are not bad things to do. But Paul is not here challenging us to go out and perform grand gestures, he’s talking about the everyday opportunities we have to do good to the people around us. You might have opportunities to do some big, significant good things for people occasionally, but most of our lives are taken up with more mundane everyday things, and it’s those everyday things that form our character. Paul wants to encourage us to keep sowing those little seeds.
I wish Paul had explained why we are to do good “especially to those who are of the household of faith”. I could suggest some possible reasons, but Paul doesn’t say the reason, so I won’t try to guess it. But I think it’s worth considering that phrase “the household of faith”.
While I can’t say exactly what the reason is that we’re to do good especially to other Christians, I can say that it’s certainly not that they deserve it. Paul doesn’t say “do good… especially to those who are of the household of the morally upright.” The defining feature of this household is our faith. We haven’t earned our place in here. We’re here because of Christ. We’ve stopped trusting in our own performance for our justification before God and put our faith in Christ instead.
And we’re a household. It sounds kind of cheesy, but we’re like one big family. In fact we are a family, we’ve all been adopted into God’s family. If you belong to a household, you will naturally want the household as a whole to prosper. So Paul reminds the Galatians that they are part of the household of faith so that they will do good to their brothers and sisters because they want to see the whole household flourish.
God is not mocked. The gospel is not a joke. We inherit eternal life by grace alone through faith alone, but if you sow to your flesh (and we saw the works of the flesh back in chapter 5 v19-21), you will not reap eternal life. Not because you don’t deserve eternal life. None of us do. But because, if you’re continuing to sow to your flesh, you clearly haven’t understood the gospel. If the gospel of salvation by faith alone meant you could carry on indulging your sinful desires and expect God to just let you off, it would indicate that sin is not really a serious thing; God’s holiness would be a joke. To continue sowing to the flesh and expect to reap eternal life is to act as if God’s holiness is a joke and to mock him. God will not stand for that. The one who continues sowing to the flesh will reap corruption.
Paul says “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked”. Apparently there were people in Galatia teaching that this gospel Paul preached did indicate sin is not really a serious thing – that you could carry on sowing to your flesh and expect to receive eternal life. I’m not sure whether people were actually promoting that message, or whether the legalists were misrepresenting the gospel. I think in the context of the letter as a whole it’s more likely that Paul was concerned with legalists who were making out that the gospel of truly free grace encourages people to sin. They would warn of the danger of antinomianism: “if you preach that people are really saved by grace alone, they will think it’s ok to carry on indulging their sinful desires, so we need to make sure they know they need to work for their justification”. Paul says “do not be deceived”; the true gospel does not make light of sin. You may well find that some people hear about grace and think they can carry on living however they like, but the answer to that is not to qualify God’s grace with a bit of justification by your own effort; the answer is to keep preaching the true gospel as clearly as you can.
“Whatever you sow, you will reap”
I already mentioned in connection with v6 that if we sow sharing all good things with the one who teaches us the word, we’ll reap the benefits. As in Mark 4 where Jesus told his disciples that with the measure of attention they pay to hearing the word the benefits will be measured to them, the more we invest in listening to God’s word – reading the word itself, listening to the word preached, reading books that explain Biblical truth – the more benefit we will get from it.
“Whatever you sow, you will reap”
It’s certain. Not “you might reap”, you “will reap”. “In due season”. We would love to get immediate results. In the 21st century when we can pretty much look up anything on Google immediately on our phones, and just pop down to Tesco to buy all kinds of things, or otherwise order it from Amazon and expect it to arrive in a couple of days, we’re not used to waiting for things for very long. Whatever we sow, we will reap, in due season. That was another of Jesus’ points in Mark 4: a man scatters seed on the ground, he sleeps and rises night and day, the seed sprouts and grows, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear, and then, when the grain is ripe, he puts in the sickle for the harvest has come. There’s a period of waiting between sowing the seed and harvesting. Likewise there might be times where we’ve tried sowing to the Spirit and don’t feel like we’ve noticed any benefit from it. Don’t give up. You will reap in due season.
In chapter 5v17 Paul talked about the battle going on within us between the Spirit and the flesh. I heard an illustration once that suggested this battle within us is like having two dogs fighting. If one dog represents the Spirit and the other represents the flesh, which dog will win the fight? The one you feed more. If you sow to the Spirit (feed the spiritual dog), you’ll end up reaping eternal life. If you sow to the flesh (feed the dog of the flesh), you’ll reap corruption. If you feed on God’s word, you’ll reap good fruit. If you fill your mind with things that appeal to the desires of your flesh, you’ll reap the kinds of things Paul mentioned in chapter 5v19-21.
If there were people in Galatia teaching that the gospel of grace means as long as you claim to trust in Christ for your justification you can carry on indulging the desires of your flesh and still expect to inherit eternal life, they were dead wrong. It’s a fearful thing to sow to the flesh. Those who do sow to the flesh, and do those works of the flesh in chapter 5v19-21, will not inherit the kingdom of God. Whatever you sow, you will reap.
More on Galatians 6v6
I think v6 tells us something about the one who teaches, and something about the one who is taught, and something about the relationship between them.
The one who teaches the word. I think this says something about what to prioritise as we look for a pastor. Obviously this isn’t the only qualification for a pastor, but it appears to be the primary role that they are to fulfil: teaching the word. The pastor isn’t responsible for managing all the ministry in the church. Ephesians 4v11-12 says God provides the pastor to equip the congregation for ministry, and he does that by teaching them the word.
I think it’s worth clarifying the word teaching. To teach means to transfer understanding. If I understand something and someone else doesn’t understand it, then to teach them means to transfer my understanding to them – to communicate my understanding in such a way that the other person comes to understand too. I could talk at people, articulating what I know perfectly accurately, but if they still don’t understand, then I’ve failed to teach them. We’re looking for a pastor to teach the word.
We like a sermon that stirs our emotions and makes us feel inspired to go out and live boldly for Christ. And if the word never stirs our emotions, there’s surely something wrong. But it’s also perfectly possible for a man to give a stirring and inspiring talk using quotes from the Bible but without actually transferring a proper understanding of the word to the congregation. It’s not really the preacher’s job to stir us up; it’s his job to teach us the word, and then, when properly understood, the content of the gospel will stir us up and motivate us to love God and love our neighbour.
The one who is taught the word. Does that describe us? Are we ready to be taught the word? Are we ready to be taught, and is it really the word that we want to hear?
When we listen to sermons, are we listening for what the word says, or are we just waiting for some of the preacher’s helpful illustrations and practical advice that applies to our daily lives? Of course the Bible is relevant to our daily lives, but I think one of the big things I’ve come to understand in the last 5 years or so is that this book is not really about me; it’s about God. It seems kind of silly when I put it like that. I’ve grown up in a Christian home, going to church every week since birth, but in my twenties I had this big revelation: the Bible is all about God. In hindsight I would say I used to read the Bible through a self-centred lens. Rather than reading God’s word to get to know God better, I was just looking for how it applied to me. We can do a similar thing with sermons. Do we want to be taught the word of God, or are we really only interested in hearing about ourselves?
As usual, it’s easy to think of people out there in other so-called “churches” that don’t really listen to the word of God; they take the “judge not” part, but leave the parts that don’t fit with their own ideas. But as usual, I think we need to keep watch on ourselves at least as much as we keep watch on those other churches. After many years of listening to sound teaching in this church, are we still teachable? If someone has thoughts about how things should be done in church that differ from what we think, are we willing to listen to how they’ve reasoned from the Bible and perhaps even change our minds, or do we think “I’ve been a member of ________ Church for x no. of years; I’m sure I know better than this person”?
The one who is taught the word should share all good things with the one who teaches. It’s a good thing for teachers to be able to devote themselves to teaching without having to do other work to earn money to support themselves. Apparently this was an issue in Galatia. The congregation was expecting the pastor to work for free. Of course it can go too far the other way too. When you hear of a preacher with a private jet, something’s wrong. If a man goes into Bible teaching for the money, there’s a problem. But the congregation should provide for the pastor’s material needs. However, it’s not just about writing a cheque. It’s about sharing. We’re not just paying the preacher for his services that we consume. There’s fellowship between the teacher and the one who is taught. Don’t just sow money into the collection, listen to the sermon and go home again, pursue a relationship with the teacher.
So I think Paul is building on what Jesus said about paying attention to what you hear and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Paul is saying it’s not just about listening to preaching. The more you sow into sharing all good things with the teacher, which includes giving materially yes, but also building a relationship, the more you will reap rewards from their teaching.
I unexpectedly found help in understanding this verse from a sermon I heard on Mark 4.
Mark 4v24 helped me see the connection between Galatians 6v6 and v7-8. v6 seems a bit random in its context. In v1-5 Paul has been talking about bearing one another’s burdens, and in v7-10 he talks about sowing and reaping, and not growing weary in doing good to those around us. What is this part in the middle about sharing all good things with the one who teaches us the word doing there?
Is this just one of those good deeds for us to do, making sure you pay the preacher? I think there’s more to it than that.
In Mark 4v24, when Jesus says “with the measure you use, it will be measured to you,” he’s talking about paying attention to what you hear. That illustration “with the measure you use” was an illustration from the marketplace. Say you’re selling flour on your market stall and you measure the flour out generously to your customers, the suggestion is that the person you buy your fruit from will be similarly generous in measuring out the portion you receive. If you give generously, you will receive plenty back. But Jesus used this illustration in telling people to pay attention to what they hear. This was just after he had explained the parable of the sower, which was about how people receive the word of God, so I think it’s fair to assume that in v24 when Jesus said “pay attention to what you hear”, he meant pay attention when you hear the word of God. With the measure of attention you give to hearing the word of God, your reward will be measured to you.
And that’s not a mercenary reward; if you’re diligent in hearing the word of God in the hope that you’re earning material rewards, you’re going to be disappointed. It’s more of an organic cause and effect: the more you pay attention to God’s word, the better you’ll get to know God, and there can’t be any better reward than that. Galatians 6v7: “whatever one sows, that will he also reap”. If you sow attention to God’s word, you’ll reap knowledge of the God who breathed out that word.
Hence in Galatians 6v6, the one who is taught the word should share all good things with the one who teaches. It’s a good idea to invest in Bible teachers. If we sow sharing good things with Bible teachers, we’ll reap Bible teaching, and Bible teaching is good because as we hear God’s word, we get to know God himself better.
The alternative to bearing one another’s burdens and restoring the brother or sister caught in transgression in a spirit of gentleness would be to distance yourself from them and look down on them; perhaps looking at someone who’s got themselves into a mess and saying: he’s made his bed, he can lie in it.
v3 explains why someone might think like that. It begins with the word “for”, indicating a connection with what came before. The reason you might avoid bearing other people’s burdens and restoring them in a spirit of gentleness is that you’ve deceived yourself into thinking that you’re something, when in fact you are nothing. v4-5 show us how to avoid that kind of self-deceit.
In v4 we’re each to test our own work against the law of Christ rather than other people.
Paul is targeting people who boast of being more religious than their neighbour, like the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable in Luke 18v11: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men”. I’m sure none of us would boast out loud about being better than other people, but it’s very easy to slip into the trap of trying to gauge how well we’re doing in our Christian walk by comparing ourselves to other people. That’s what Paul wants the Galatians to stop doing.
It’s all too easy to find faults in other people and make ourselves feel good because we’re better than them, but that gives us a distorted image of ourselves. We think we’re something when we’re nothing. God doesn’t grade us on a curve. We need to test our own work against God’s law and then see whether we have reason to boast. It may be that Paul is being sarcastic here, because when we test our work against the law of Christ, we’ll see how far short we’ve fallen and clearly we won’t have any reason to boast in ourselves. But he could also be making a more positive point, because hopefully, when we test our work over a period of time, we will be able to see progress and growth in Christlikeness, which would give us good reason to be pleased with what we see in ourselves, although of course we would have to recognise that God gets all the glory for making us more like him.
v5 seems to conflict with v2. Are we to bear one another’s burdens, or will each have to bear his own load? Apparently there is good reason that the word used in v5, “load” has been translated differently to the word “burden” in v2. A “burden” is heavy weight that’s difficult to carry, while a “load” is a kind of backpack like a soldier would carry. While we are to help others with their burdens, we’re each responsible for our own load. Christians come from all kinds of backgrounds, and God gives us different sets of gifts and puts us in different situations. We each have our own load to carry, and they vary from person to person. We’re not to rate ourselves in comparison to how other people are doing with their loads and look for reason to boast that we’re doing better than our neighbour. Concentrate on testing your own work. What have you done with the load God’s given you to carry?
Alistair Begg links this with the parable of the talents in Matthew 25. If you have 5 talents, don’t compare yourself to the person who has 1 talent, God’s going to ask you what you’ve done with your 5. Likewise if you have 1 talent, don’t compare yourself to the person with 5, God’s going to ask what you’ve done with the 1 that he gave you.
See also Romans 14:10-12.
Paul’s been banging on about grace, insisting that we’re saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, and anyone who modifies that message with works for us to do is accursed, but he’s not antinomian – being saved by grace alone doesn’t mean it’s ok for us to carry on in sin. If someone is transgressing the law, we should restore them. But the gospel of grace affects the way we restore someone who’s transgressed. We do it humbly. We do it gently. And we restore, rather than judge.
This is one of the ways we through love serve one another, so when Paul says to restore a brother who’s “caught” in transgression, he doesn’t mean we point out every little fault (1 Peter 4v8 says “love covers a multitude of sins”), but where someone is caught, or “overtaken” in the NKJV, in a sinful tendency that they need help to escape from, then we should restore them. If we love that brother (or sister) we will do what we can to get him or her out of that destructive sinful pattern.
If we’re walking by the Spirit, we’ll want to restore them – apparently the word translated restore is the word that would’ve been used to put a dislocated bone back into place; it will hurt, but the aim is to bring healing – that will be our aim, to restore them, rather than judging them for being worse sinners than we are.
Paul says “Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted”. It’s possible that in drawing close to that brother or sister with the intention of restoring them, we could be drawn in and tempted by the same sin that they’re caught in – we mustn’t arrogantly think we’re immune. But perhaps the more likely issue is that we’ll be tempted to pride/conceit/feeling superior to that brother because we haven’t fallen into that particular sin. We need to keep watch on ourselves for that. This section, v1-5, is a warning, not to those who have been caught in transgression, but to those who are to restore them.
That might put us off wanting to get involved in restoring those caught in transgression; it’s a serious responsibility and there’s a danger of getting caught in sin yourself as you do the restoring. We might be relieved that Paul lets us off the hook in v1 when he says “you who are spiritual” should do this work of restoring – phew! that counts me out – I’ll leave the work of restoring to the more spiritual people in the church. But that’s not what Paul means; “you who are spiritual” doesn’t refer to a few elite Christians on a higher level of spirituality than you or me, it’s anyone who’s walking by the Spirit rather than under the law, which is all Christians. We’re all responsible for restoring a brother or sister if they’re caught in transgression.
And if we’re walking by the Spirit rather than under the law, we’ll be bearing the fruit of the Spirit in chapter 5v22-23, and since the fruit of the Spirit includes gentleness, if we’re walking by the Spirit, we should be able to restore that brother or sister in “a spirit of gentleness”. I can only assume Paul felt compelled to include that phrase “in a spirit of gentleness” because sometimes we won’t feel like being gentle in restoring someone. Perhaps because we’ve been personally hurt by their transgression, we’ll be tempted to hurt them back, but walking in step with the Spirit will enable us to deal with them gently, seeking their restoration rather than our revenge.
In v2 Paul refers to this as bearing one another’s burdens. We would usually think of “bearing another’s burden” as being there for them in their illness or bereavement or something, but Paul here uses the phrase in the context of restoring someone who’s been caught in sin. You could just take v2 in isolation and it makes a nice quote: “bear one another’s burdens and so fulfil the law of Christ”, but I think this section from chapter 5v25 to 6v5 is all meant to be considered together, and it’s about how we respond when other Christians sin. Paul’s building up a picture of what it looks like to keep in step with the Spirit in a church full of sinners, and this phrase “bearing one another’s burdens” is part of that picture.
He says that by bearing one another’s burdens we will fulfil the law of Christ; the law that Jesus both taught and exemplified.
Remembering that the overall point of the letter to the Galatians is to overturn the teaching of the Judaisers, the legalists, who had been teaching the Galatians that they needed to obey the law for their justification, Paul is explaining here how to properly obey the law of Christ. Jesus similarly criticised the Jewish lawyers in Luke 11:46. The Judaisers load people with the burden of earning their justification by their obedience, while back in Galatians 6v2 Paul says those who walk by the Spirit do the opposite; instead of loading people with burdens, they bear their burdens for them.
That’s how we fulfil “the law of Christ”. In John 13v34 Jesus said: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another”. We love one another by bearing one another’s burdens. And Jesus exemplified that for us, as we see in Isaiah 53 (v4-12). Of course we won’t bear anyone else’s guilt in the way Jesus did for us, but we may have to bear some grief caused by someone else’s sin, and we can look to Jesus’ example to help us in that.