Bible Studies for Life
Galatians 5:13-15, 6:1-5, 10
One of the realities that occurred to me over the last several years is this: serving others is the new influence currency.
Our culture is deeply skeptical of institutions, and the church is included in that mistrust. One of the most obvious (and biblical) ways of connecting people to the Gospel is by demonstrating authentic care for them. I know people are wary of “the social gospel.” But Jesus clearly viewed people holistically and Scripture is plain that if we say that we love people, but send them away without caring for them, our love is a farce (James 2:16).
The churches in the region of Galatia had been affected by erroneous teaching. Paul’s tone to them quickly became severe because they were entertaining “another gospel” (1:6). They were diminishing the completed work of Christ and redefining grace.
Later in the Epistle, he clarified that though the grace of God in Christ liberates His followers, it does not set us free from the ethical requirements of the “the law of Christ.” Thomas Erskine said, “In the New Testament ‘religion’ is grace and ethics is gratitude.”
We may disapprove of the term “religion,” but Erskine is right. Grace unfetters us from rigid legalism while simultaneously binding us to the law of love.
Show your love by serving the other person
Freedom has a different meaning for a follower of Christ than others. Romans 6:1 asks, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” The answer: “By no means!” Salvation cannot be earned, but that does not mean there are no ethical obligations that are incumbent upon us.
Because our confession is “Jesus is Lord!” (Romans 10:9-10), we have committed ourselves to obey Him. Our freedom pertains to being released from our past bondage and our current ability to choose to use our lives to serve Christ and others. Is this a paradox? Of course. And the Bible is full of these kinds of tensions that we must navigate. As we grow in Christ we should get used to wrestling with nuance and complexity.
It’s interesting here, too, that the Bible warns against an all-too-frequent reality: infighting among Christians as a misuse of freedom. Often the energy for service is consumed by the pettiness of congregational sniping.
Serving others means helping to carry their burdens
This passage encourages us to do something that is antithetical to our impulse as humans, which is to restore “anyone caught in any transgression.” It’s unusual to approach the fallen this way. Often, we are quick to judge and condemn, but not to actively restore. We forget that “there but for the grace of God go I.” Restoring a fallen brother or sister distinguishes our Christlikeness.
Think of Jesus with Peter (John 21:15-19). Jesus tenderly exemplified compassion for Peter, who had outright denied Him. Peter’s shattered dreams and broken promises of faithfulness were the cracks where Jesus’ grace got in. We must put ourselves in the other person’s position. What if this was me, walking through the fallout of failure and shame? Would I be helped by having condemnation heaped on me?
This passage contains a second paradox: it tells us to “bear one another’s burdens” and adds “each will have to bear his own load.” Basically, it means that we can and should help each other now, but that ultimately each individual will be answerable for his or her own life. We are responsible for one another, but in the end each individual bears the most responsibility for his own life as a servant to Christ.
So both things are true. I am my brother’s keeper, and each one must appear at the Judgment seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10). I can’t stand there for you, but my care for you can help you stand there unashamed.
Seize every opportunity to serve
“While we have this opportunity, let us work to do good.” The attitude of servanthood is like a threshold that we cross over. Biblical leadership is identical to servanthood. Now is the only opportunity we will ever have to live purposefully for God’s Kingdom.
In his commentary on Galatians, R. Alan Cole states that the “good” that Paul is urging to be done was most certainly in the giving of alms (Cole, Galatians: Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, 1993, 231). So, generosity ought to be understood as being central in this idea of service.
Live it Out!
Often the people it is easiest for us to serve are those closest to us. How are you serving your family?
If service really is the new influence currency, how is your local church serving your community?