Brothers and sisters, if someone is overtaken in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual, restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so that you also won’t be tempted. Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ (CSB).
This world is a place of where everything continually needs repair. Oh, that everything would stay in a “brand new” condition! But cars, clothes, furniture and homes all require repair work.
People, yes, Christian people, need restoration, too. And as a faithful servant of God, the apostle Paul sought to mend the broken churches of Galatia. John Flavel said the following well. “And indeed it is not so much the expense of our labors, as the loss of them, that kills us. It is not with us, as with other laborers: they find their work as they leave it, so do not we. Sin and Satan unravel almost all we do, the impressions we make on our people’s souls in one sermon, vanish before the next. How many truths have we to study! How many wiles of Satan, and mysteries of corruption, to detect! How many cases of conscience to resolve! Yea, we must fight in defense of the truths we preach, as well as study them to paleness, and preach them unto faintness: but welcome all, if we can but approve ourselves Christ’s faithful servants.”
In pursuit of this goal, Paul gives some positive, practical steps the church, meaning the people of God and not an institution, must take, as it seeks to keep in step with the Spirit.
In this post we will consider the first of three qualities of a Christian who mends other Christians.
We need to be gentle restorers (6:1a). The atmosphere in the Galatian church had been that of “law keeping for acceptance”. This produces a harsh and judgmental attitude among people. “It is easy for certain types of religious people to sit in judgment on one who has suddenly yielded to some moral temptation, to make their disapproval manifest, but this is not the way of Christ” (Bruce). Let me be so bold as to put it this way. I wonder if some pastors and teachers have real difficulty understanding why the Holy Spirit directed the apostle to write the last two chapters of Galatians. Patience requires much more than talking to a person once about their “sin problem” and then demanding immediate change. If you truly want to help restore others, you must learn a few “four letter words”, like love, time, hear, care, wait, feel, and pain. This is not a task for someone who wants to resolve everything in thirty minutes like TV sitcoms.
How can people be helped properly (and therefore best) in such a situation?
The gentle restorer recognizes that other believers struggle with sin. His own sins and failures remind him that other saints stumble also (cf. Matthew 7:2-5). “Sin” is a trespass, a stepping aside out of the way, rather than keeping in step with the Spirit (cf. Galatians 5). Shocking as it might sound to the self-righteous and those pleased with themselves, the Lord’s followers can find themselves “caught” in a trespass. It is easy to wander off the right way.
The gentle restorer knows who can help and how they can help. Let’s think of both aspects.
All Christians (“you who are spiritual”) can help (Romans 15:14; 1 Thessalonians 5:14). Certainly, those who are most skilled can help the best. I would not disagree with the concept of training Christians to help others. I have been trained and constantly help train others in my teaching ministry. The idea is not to do an end run around the pastors and teachers that Christ has placed in his church. And we have different spiritual gifts that enable some to do what others can’t do. But too often in a professional therapeutic culture we can miss the big idea that restoration is much more than giving “expert” advice or counsel. It is not a simple matter of the pastor and elders meeting with the one in need of restoration. (By the way, in our time, pastors and elders have more training and interest in leading a “church” in numerical and financial progress than in the wise restoration of believers.) Full restoration of those overtaken by wrong doing requires the input of the whole body of believers. Kind words and actions from new or unskilled believers can be used by the Spirit of God to bring healing to the heart of the one in need of restoration.
Mending is a work for gentle hands. “To gain this object he explains the purpose of godly reproofs, which is, to restore the fallen and make him sound again. This will never be accomplished by violence or a spirit of accusation, or by fierceness of countenance and words. It remains that we must show a calm and kind spirit if we want to heal our brother” (Calvin). In my years of ministry I have encountered many who were grievously injured by harshness when gentleness could have brought about restoration.
It has been said that the church is the only army that shoots its own wounded. Needless to say, this ought not to be. Our model is the Lord himself, not self-righteous leaders who suppose they have some cause or movement or their own reputations to protect. We need to follow the Lord very closely in this matter. He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young (Isaiah 40:11 NIV). A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out (Isaiah 42:3a NIV).
Grace and peace,