By Jay McCluskey
Pastor, North Cleveland Baptist Church, Cleveland
Focal Passage: Galatians 5:13-15, 6:1-5, 10
“Liberty is being free from the things we do not like, in order to be slaves to the things we do like.” — Ernest Bean
In Galatians, Paul calls on believers to celebrate their freedom from the legalistic path prescribed by the Old Testament laws. In this passage he describes a high and noble use of this freedom:
“For you were called to be free, brothers; only don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love” (Galatians 5:13 HCSB).
While we often proclaim freedom as our entitlement to pursue a path for our own gain, Paul writes of a more holy use of freedom for these Christians: service to one another. As the passage continues, Paul describes the characteristics of this service.
Christians sometimes have a reputation for “shooting our wounded.” Instead, Scripture calls us to gentle restoration: “Brothers, if someone is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual should restore such a person with a gentle spirit” (Galatians 6:1a HCSB).
Remember, only a few verses earlier Paul had listed “gentleness” as one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Here is a practical application of gentleness: restoring a fallen brother or sister.
The Greek word for “restore” evokes the image of a dislocated limb that needs to be reset. While such dislocations often are repaired with a violent, sudden, and quick snap into position, in the communal life of the church and the spiritual life of the soul, such a quick solution is seldom possible. The pain is so great, that extreme gentleness is required.
Our treatment of such persons too often can be anything but gentle. Frequently we are harsh and uncaring. A good rule of thumb says, “Do not use a hammer where a feather duster will do the job.”
When someone is medically ill, health care professionals take precautions so that they do not pick up the germ/infection. That is why they wear gloves, gowns, and wash their hands diligently. John Wesley considered a similar contagiousness to sin in this statement: “Temptation easily and swiftly passes from one to another; especially if a man endeavors to cure another without preserving his own meekness.”
Thus Scripture warns us to use caution regarding the spread of sin: “…watching out for yourselves so you also won’t be tempted” (Galatians 6:1b HCSB).
This gentle service should be tempered with mindful caution so that the one helping does not become tempted by the same sin that put the other person in a bad situation. Henri Nouwen observed, “If, in order to defeat the beast, we become the beast, the beast has won.”
“Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2 HCSB). The Christian life is a shared journey upon which we help others carry their loads. The challenges of life easily cause us to be fixated upon our own burdens. But mature Christians share one another’s burdens, easing the weight for all. Ironically, it is by serving others in their difficulties that we find strength in the face of our own sorrows.
In many wedding ceremonies I conduct I say that sharing life in Christian marriage enables “our joys to be multiplied and our sorrows to be divided.” The same dynamic is true for sharing life in a loving congregation. While we still experience sorrows, they are less heavy because the church family carries them collectively.
Every point in a tennis match begins with a player serving the ball to another. Quality tennis players know that they must have a good serve to excel at the game. Professional players can serve a tennis ball at speeds in excess of 120 miles per hour! Mature Christians also know that the serve is key to living an effective Christian life.
Our study reminds us of what we often hear around the tennis court: “It’s Your Serve.” Rather than using your freedom in Christ as opportunity to serve yourself, choose the higher way of service to others.
— McCluskey is pastor, North Cleveland Baptist Church, Cleveland.