Last week we emphasized the importance of “keeping in step with the Spirit.” Starting in verse 22 of Galatians 5 we read…
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. The law is not against such things. 24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.
Being in step with the Spirit is not just an intellectual exercise. It also requires devotion. We must worship Christ, adoring Him until our hearts find Him more beautiful than anything else. As we grow in that, our old sinful nature is put to death making way for the fruit of the Spirit to flourish.
But keeping in step with the Sprit does more than just transform us, it also transforms our relationships, the way we connect with others.
Now, we probably know we should “love one-another” but what does that mean specifically? What does love look like in our relationships?
We could answer that question in different ways but what we want to do here is look at the way Paul answers it.
And the central thing Paul wants to get across to us is that love in relationships means not being conceited in our relationships.
In verse 26 he says…
Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
So, first of all, what does Paul mean when he says don’t become conceited?
He means “empty of honor.” The usual definition of conceited is “excessively proud or vain” but in this passage it means literally “empty of honor.”
Being conceited, in Paul’s way of thinking, comes from a lack of honor and glory, not from having too much. In other words, the conceited person is trying to fill himself up with what is missing. He or she feels insecure about who they are so they continually compare themselves with others in order to see how they measure up.
Now, Paul is saying that conceit shouldn’t be the basis of our relationships and he describes it in two ways. He calls it either provoking or envying another.
We provoke when we feel superior and we envy when we feel inferior. Those that provoke want to justify themselves, or we could say prove their worth, by putting down others in order to make themselves feel superior.
And those that envy want what others have or at least wish the other person didn’t have it. An envious person might think they deserve whatever it is but you don’t.
Now, what both the envious and the provoking person have in common is making comparisons with others in order to determine their personal value. This is what Paul means when he says don’t be conceited. Don’t make these conceited comparisons because they wreck havoc with our relationships.
This is because both the provoking and envying person are self-absorbed. The provoking person feels superior and looks down on others and puffs himself up. The envious person feels inferior and looks up to others by putting himself down. But both are self-absorbed.
Tying this in with gospel language, the conceited person, whether provoking or envying, is trying to establish his worth by works. Both kinds of people want to justify themselves by making comparisons with others.
But the gospel removes both the need to provoke and to envy. It removes the desire to feel superior and it also removes the need to feel envious of anyone.
In other words, the gospel both humbles us and emboldens us. It humbles by showing our sinfulness but at the same time it emboldens by giving us an immeasurable confidence in knowing we are loved by our Creator.
This is a message we need to continually preach to ourselves if we want our relationships to improve.
One well-known pastor gives this example:
“For example, you find yourself being very defensive around someone, you must use the gospel at that very moment, saying to yourself: What you think of me is not the important thing. Jesus Christ’s approval of me, not yours, is my righteousness, my identity, my worth. If, on the other hand, you find yourself looking down on someone, you need to remind yourself of the gospel: What I think of me is not the important thing. I am just as much a sinner, and just as undeserving of Christ’s love for me, as this person.”
So, if you want godly relationships, don’t be conceited. Don’t look down on others and don’t feel inferior either. Instead,
Secondly, live as brothers and sisters by restoring one another.
6:1 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.
Living as brothers and sisters means being willing to expose wrongdoing. Brothers and sisters in Christ shouldn’t ignore someone’s repeated, habitual sins.
We don’t gossip about them. We don’t go running to someone else to fix them. And we don’t ignore the sin either. Instead we work to restore them.
The verse says those that are spiritual, those that are mature should be doing this. This isn’t meant to be used as an excuse by those that “don’t feel spiritual”. Rather it is a challenge for all Christians who desire to act like Christians.
And, notice, that this restoration is to be done gently. Yes, there is pain involved. In fact, the word for restore literally means to reset as in reseting a bone. And we all know that the resetting of a bone causes pain but it is a necessary pain for healing. Nevertheless, our focus should be upon being as gentle as possible.
And spiritual, mature Christians will be gentle because they are also humble. They understand their own weakness and their own potential for sin which is why Paul adds to “watch out” and not become tempted yourself.
There’s a real temptation for us to think we’ve got it all together as we restore our brother or sister. Watch out. Don’t fall into that trap. Stay humble. Be gentle.
And when you are ready for more specifics on how to restore a brother or sister, Matthew 18 is a good place to start.
So, don’t be conceited, be about the business of restoring your brothers and sisters, and…
Thirdly, carry one another’s burdens.
Verse 2 says…
Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
Of course, only Christ can bear our burden of sin and guilt so Paul doesn’t mean that. But he does mean for us to share our burdens of worries, temptations, doubts, and sorrows with our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
Some may bravely try to carry these burdens alone, but that is not what God desires for us. Sharing our burdens with Christian friends is what God desires.
Rather than imposing regulations and laws on people we fulfill the law of Christ by coming alongside to lift the burdens of our friends. This is what it means to live by the Spirit and to be led by the Spirit in our relationships. Christ didn’t set us free so we burden people with guilt. He set us free to help carry the burdens of others!
Carrying the burdens of others means we listen when people speak. It means we grieve with people when they grieve. It means we let others know they are not alone with our words and actions.
And it especially means we get close to people because we can’t carry a person’s burden from a distance. If we want to grow in our relationships we can’t remain emotionally detached. In order to help carry someone’s burden we have to come along side them.
At one point Paul was so worried about the church in Corinth he couldn’t sleep. 2 Corinthians 7:5 says…
5 In fact, when we came into Macedonia, we had no rest. Instead, we were troubled in every way: conflicts on the outside, fears within.
6 But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the arrival of Titus, 7 and not only by his arrival but also by the comfort he received from you. He told us about your deep longing, your sorrow, and your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced even more.
Paul was troubled. He was fearful. He couldn’t sleep. And how did God encourage him? With others who came along side of him and helped ease his burden.
God means for us to carry each other’s burdens. He means for us to share our deep longing, our sorrow, and our zeal in order to to both give and receive the comfort God desires for us.
Fourthly, there are a couple obstacles to living the way Paul is describing.
One obstacle is thinking too much of yourself. Verse 3 says…
For if anyone considers himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.
It could be that the reason we don’t share our burdens more is because we think too much of ourselves.
It could be the reason we don’t let others help carry our burdens or offer to carry the burdens of others is that we think we are living the good life with few if any problems.
It could be that we don’t have time for the burdens of others thinking they might mess up our perfect life. But it could also be that we are deceiving ourselves.
So instead of being deceived, let the truth of the gospel reveal your sinfulness and humble you.
Another obstacle to having relationships the way Paul describes is the tendency to compare ourselves with others. Verse 4 says…
4 Let each person examine his own work, and then he can take pride in himself alone, and not compare himself with someone else. 5 For each person will have to carry his own load.
Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of us is responsible to Christ for our own actions. We don’t have to give an account to Christ for the actions of others, only for our own.
We have been set free, through the gospel, from the need to compare ourselves with others. We aren’t responsible for the growth in others, only for our own. And there’s a legitimate “pride” that we can have in our accomplishments, and it is a pride based upon who we are in Christ and not upon our comparisons with others.
This godly pride Pauls speaks of isn’t a conceited pride that makes you feel good when surrounded by people perceived as beneath you. Nor is it false “humble pride” of feeling inferior because everyone else around you seems to be so much better.
Instead, Paul is talking abut a pride we have in who God has made us to be and who he is transforming us into.
Because we belong to Christ there is no longer any need to compare ourselves with others. Because we belong to Christ we examine our progress based upon what God is doing in our lives not based upon a comparison with what He’s doing in the life of someone else.
Quoting another pastor,
“For example, if we see someone being irritable, we will think: I don’t know what pressures that person is facing, nor what level of emotional self-control he began with. Maybe he is actually obeying God better than me today!”
Making comparisons with others is pointless. Feeling proud because of what God is or isn’t doing in someone else makes a mockery of Gospel. Instead, be proud of what God is doing in you. That’s what matters.
Now, as a brief aside, it’s important to mention that carrying your own load doesn’t contradict with what Paul said about carrying one another’s burdens” in verse 2.
The Greek words are different so “load” and “burden” don’t mean the same thing. We are to carry one another’s burdens, meaning that we should help each other with our physical, and emotional needs. But we can’t help carry another person’s “load” or responsibility for their own actions. Each person has to do that on their own. When it comes down to it, we are held personally responsible for what we do with the gifts God gives us. No excuses.
In Genesis 4 Cain made excuses for not taking care of his brother. He compared himself with his brother and thought his offering was pretty good and wasn’t getting the credit he thought he deserved.
Cain hated the way God seemed to favor his brother. He was jealous of Able. He was basing his worth on a comparison with his brother not upon his status as an individual made in God’s image.
He killed Able because of how his brother made him feel inferior. See from the very beginning relationships have been ruined because a rejection of God’s grace replaced by a desire to justify ourselves by works.
But being saved by Christ and embracing the gospel message of we are more sinful than we realize by more loved than we can imagine changes all that. The gospel changes our relationships.
Paul’s New Testament answer to Cain’s question “Am I my brother’s keeper?” is, “Yes, if you are being led by the Spirit, and belong to Jesus, you are your brother’s keeper.”
We are to care for our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are not to put on airs of superiority. We are not to be jealous of the success of others. Instead we are to gently restore one another when we stumble in sin and we are to help make each other’s burdens as light as possible.
Doing these things is what it means to keep in step with the Sprit in regards to our relationships. The gospel changes us and it changes how we interact with each other, and it changes our relationships.