Galatians 6:1-10 (Seventh Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 9—Series C)
“Do Good to All”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
July 3, 2016
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Epistle lesson recorded in Galatians 6:
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. 5 For each will have to bear his own load. 6 Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. 7 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. 9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
Last Sunday, we learned from Galatians 5 that freedom means to be forgiven by Jesus Christ, released from the power of sin and the Law. Freedom means to be made children of God by faith in Christ who now produce the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Freedom in Christ means that you and I joyfully serve our neighbors in love and with love. That’s how we are called to use our freedom in Christ.
In our Epistle lesson today, St. Paul continues to reveal to us how we live out our freedom in Christ in ever more concrete ways. It’s one thing to say, “I’m a Christian and I serve my neighbors in love.” But it is a whole other thing to do it and live the way of love. So before we go any further, let’s be clear about two things. First, who is our neighbor? Our neighbor is anyone to whom we can show mercy and love, whether they live next door, across town, across the country or globe. Anyone and everyone to whom you can show mercy and love is your neighbor. Second, what is love? It is not a mushy, feel-good emotion. The word “love” that God uses in His Word regarding our neighbor is agape. This is a self-sacrificing love that considers another person ahead of one’s self. This is the love with which God so loved the world that He gave His one-of-a-kind Son to put our need for rescue from sin, death, and the power of the devil ahead of Himself. “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 Jn. 4:10 NET).
Jesus stood in our place and turned away the wrath of God from us. Jesus went to the cross to suffer the full and complete punishment of God against our sins of self-love, selfishness, and self-centeredness. He demonstrated the greatest self-sacrificial love ever, laying down His life for His friends (John 15:13). Jesus endured the damnation of sin and suffered our death on a cross to save you and me from them. All your sins of selfishness and self-love stand forgiven through the blood of Jesus which purchased and won that forgiveness for you.
So that you might receive that forgiveness of sins personally, God has poured the Holy Spirit into your hearts through the blessed waters of Holy Baptism. He declares the forgiveness of sins to you in the Word of the Gospel. He offers, gives, and seals forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation to you in the Lord’s Supper as He also strengthens your faith in Him and empowers your love toward one another. Through these Means of Grace God produces the fruit of the Spirit in your lives. The Holy Spirit Himself, through Word and Sacrament, cultivates love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Christ has saved you from sin and death so that you might be enabled to love your neighbor as yourself. These fruits, the gifts of God the Holy Spirit, empower you to fulfill the law of Christ in self-sacrificing love toward others.
What does it look like, then, to live out the promises of the Gospel in agape love to our neighbors? How do you and I go about living the way of love in response to the Gospel of our forgiveness and salvation? Our Epistle lesson today shows us.
“Brothers, if a person should be overtaken in any sin, you, the spiritual ones, restore such a person in a spirit of gentleness, watching out yourself lest you also should be tempted.” Sometimes our sisters and brothers in Christ, as well as our neighbors, fall into sin. Inadvertently, they find themselves in wrongdoing, or you and I find them in that predicament of sin. To love that person is to show them their sin so that they might come to know the sin, repent of the sin, receive the forgiveness of God in Christ, and amend their ways to live the Christian life again without that sin. But we do this gently. We do this not as, “I’m better than you,” or “Look how evil you are, sinner,” but with agape love that says, “I care about you so much that I want you to know that you have fallen into temptation and sin and don’t realize it. I want you to come to repentance and receive the Lord’s forgiveness so that you do not bear the burden of this sin any longer. I know that I am not immune to such temptations and sin and would want my brother or sister in Christ to love me in this way as to restore me to right living through repentance and forgiveness.”
In this way, we “carry one another’s burdens.” We stand alongside our fellow sinners and saints in Christ. We speak in love the Words of God’s Law that shows our sins; we speak in joy the Gospel of forgiveness in Jesus Christ to those who repent. We hold each other accountable to the Word of Christ, encouraging each other in our lives of faith and love. We “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15 ESV).
By the power and grace of the Holy Spirit we do not think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think (Rom. 12:3). We don’t allow ourselves to think we are something when we are nothing. We’re not in competition with one another—“look how good I am compared to you!” In humility we are enabled to count others more significant than ourselves (Phil. 2:3). In this way we are able to love our neighbors as ourselves. What a difference it would make in the lives of others if you and I showed to them the same care and concern, help and support that we give to ourselves! We’re very good at loving ourselves. In Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we become better, we grow to be very good, at loving others in His name.
We do this by sowing in the Spirit. The seeds of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control were planted in us through our Baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection. Through the Gospel Word and the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood, the Spirit grows and nurtures these fruits in us that we, in turn, share with and plant in our neighbors as we love them in word and deed. We cultivate the fruit of the Spirit as we show the love of Christ to our neighbors by putting their needs ahead of our own. That includes telling them about Jesus Christ who died to save them from their sins and rose again to give them eternal life. The unofficial “motto” of our congregation seeks to show this: “We Serve Because Jesus Loves You.” In other words, “We, the people of God in Christ, love you, because Jesus loves you.”
So let us show our neighbors that agape love—by giving food and drink, clothes and shoes, shampoo and toothbrushes. Let us show that love with a prayer for them and praying with them, giving them a prayer shawl as a concrete reminder that we are bearing their burdens with them in love as we pray. Let us show the love of Jesus in helping our brother or sister, mom or dad, a classmate or friend, a coworker, perhaps even a stranger at the store, “just because,” without being asked.
Each and every day we are presented with opportunities to love our neighbors. We have been filled with the Holy Spirit, who has produced His fruits within us, so that we are able to love in word and deed and not grow weary or give up. Remember, it’s one thing to say, “I’m a Christian and I serve my neighbors in love.” But it is a whole other thing to do it and live the way of love. But that’s how we are called to use our freedom in Christ. “So then, as we now have opportunity, let us do good to all, and especially to the household of faith.” God grant it, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.