Written Sermons & Bible Studies

Misgivings of Grace #4, Galatians 6: 1-6

Our Scripture reading today is from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

Galatians 6:1-6

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves.  

Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load. Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor.

Today, we will explore what it means to carry each other’s burdens. How does God want us to carry another’s burdens? What actions are we to take? How far does God expect us to go? When we carry another’s burdens, do we take on the responsibility for a good outcome?

Our Scripture talks about the burdens we carry for each other and the load that we carry individually. The load we bear is the daily struggle of life. It is different than carrying the burden of others. We have our own load to bear, and we need to learn to bear it. We have faith in Christ and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to help us. Ultimately, we are responsible for our own lives, and we are responsible for the decisions we make. We have one load, and no one carries that load for us. Now, as humans, we often fall when our load becomes burdensome. Whether the weight is self-inflicted or from living in a broken world, we have our Christian community to share our burdens and gently restore us. Burdens are not the daily responsibility of living, but the impact of our frailty, sickness, mistakes, failures and even sinfulness. As a community, we ease each other’s pain, we hold each other up in prayer, we help each other with the burdens we face in this life.

We have all had friends whom we have attempted to “restore.” We have spoken into their life in a positive way to gently guide them towards a more productive or healthy way of living. We may have spent time chatting with them about their situation. We may have helped them with tangible support through a rough spot in their lives. Paul would say that we carried their burdens.

My father-in-law Jerry loved to restore vehicles. He owned a body shop as a young man. He restored a Model-T Ford and drove it in the town parades. He enjoyed fixing up a dilapidated WWII motorcycle. He made extra money selling tractors after putting a fresh coat of bright red pain on them and getting their motors running smoothly. He took great satisfaction in taking something worn and weary-looking and turning it into a showpiece. Assuming the burden of restoration and expecting the outcome that we envision is great for vehicles, not so great for human beings. If we are honest, when we commit ourselves to carrying another’s burdens and helping them out, we wish deeply that their circumstances would change. We can envision their best life. We hope for their salvation and complete restoration. The truth is that we can show up for people and serve their needs, but we cannot control the outcomes.

Carrying another’s burdens raises questions about how we separate our actions from the outcomes. Our actions are acts of faithfulness. They express our commitment to loving and serving others. The actions we take to help others are ours to choose. The outcomes, on the other hand, are rarely in our control. The other person must accept the advice and help we offer to them. The other person can fail to hear our words, refuse to accept our help, resist positive change and flat out take actions that harm them. They have free will, and they respond to us with actions that they choose and that we cannot control.

As followers of Christ, we must acknowledge the free will of others and accept the fact that we cannot make their decisions for them. Our Scripture says, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. That verse is referring to our faithfulness and actions toward them. Through our actions and gentle guidance, our hope and prayer are to bring restoration to the lives of others. There are downfalls to focusing on outcomes instead of actions. Despite our good intentions, we may stop serving and overstep. Our methods of correction stop being gentle. We may try to force our decisions on them. We may try to manipulate them to do what we want. Like Paul, we know what good behavior looks like, but we cannot make people do the right thing. Focusing on outcomes can discourage us, steal our hope, disappoint us, and stop us from being faithful to serve others. God gives people free will. God allows people to make bad choices, even those that can ruin their life, the lives of others and their salvation.

In Scripture, we find examples of Jesus carrying people’s burdens while letting people make their own decisions. Perhaps the most profound example is when Jesus was on the cross and conversed with two criminals on crosses beside him.

Luke 23:39-43

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Jesus could have saved both criminals. He could have absolved them right then and there and fully restored them. He was literally carrying their sins on the cross. But he did not interfere in the choices they made while hanging there. Jesus simply gave each man the outcome of his decision. Jesus restored the man who honored him and allowed the other criminal to receive what he chose.

In the Kingdom of God, free will is a high value. God allows people to choose their path. God allows people to make catastrophic and tragic decisions that could be stopped. Do I get it? No!!! I have no idea why free will is more valuable than preventing tragedy and massive pain and suffering. But, as I examine Scripture, it is clearly that important to God.

We have friends and family who have heroically fought against addiction. We were in anguish watching the evil spirit of addiction devour our loved ones. Our one desire was their salvation and restoration. We wondered how to carry their burden. They will tell you that no amount of cajoling, encouragement, force or manipulation will stop someone from drinking or using. The only thing that works is a free will decision by the addict to stop and do what is necessary to get clean and stay sober.

Many years ago, Jan and I took an addict that binged to church with us on Sunday. Some of you may have heard me tell this story, but I think it reinforces the message I want to convey. He was trying to get clean, and we tried to support his sobriety. We would take our kids, they were 4ish and 7ish, with us to pick him up. There were many Sundays in a row where he was on time, and we would take him to church. He was filled with the Spirit. Loved by the whole church. My kids thought he was great. Then, one Sunday he didn’t show—no call, no text. He went on a bender for the weekend. He went back to church several Sundays in a row and once again, he went off the wagon. The continuity of sober weekends began to decline. The kids were very sad, and they got their first experience of addiction. We stopped reaching out and now all the decisions were his. He could call us, and we would pick him up. His decisions at some point no longer included us. He disappeared from our lives.

After many years of struggle, he finally decided to get sober. His story had a good ending for him and his family. He got sober when he wanted to get sober. He got married, he worked for a Christian rehab center for a while. He once again became sold out for Christ, and he is now a pastor with a wife and family.

His life only changed when he decided it needed to change. Our actions with him were faithful. But the outcome failed. Service and carrying another’s burden is not about outcome. Those who receive our help determine the outcome.

I believe strongly in personal responsibility. Individuals are responsible for their own decisions. When I carry someone’s burdens, I do not feel or assume the responsibility for that person’s decisions. I do feel sorrow for decisions that produce bad outcomes. I want to influence people through my advice and actions toward better choices. I rely on the Holy Spirit to instruct me how and when to do that and for gentleness in my approach.

Our faith calls us to serve others, improve their life, share God’s grace with them, pray for them and love them. Today’s passage asks us to share the burdens of others, but it also says that people should carry their own load: for each one should carry their own load. Paul says everyone should carry their own burden, and that means everyone should make their own decisions. We are not responsible for the choices of others. Sadly, they can act against our advice, and it may end badly. When we feel responsible, we feel that we should have overtaken their will and acted for them. We must respect the fact that people have free will.

When we focus on our actions for the benefit of others, we act faithfully. When we focus on the outcome, we focus on something we cannot control. Our faith calls us to trust that God is in control and that God loves the people in our lives more than we can imagine.

When we as Christians enter difficult ministries like homeless ministries, prison halfway houses, drug rehab facilities, it is all about the faithful work of actions. Outcomes are not in our control. Outcomes can be tragic, and outcomes can be victorious.

Our ministry to our family, friends, neighbors, co-workers and church members requires the same approach.

  • When you invite your friend to church, that is faithful. When they do not come, that is not on you. They are free to decide—but do not stop inviting!
  • When you share your faith with children, relatives, strangers and friends, that is faithful. You cannot know whether they will accept Christ.
  • When you carry another’s burden, that is faithful. If they do not receive your assistance or act badly with your gift, know that you have done your part.
  • When you act to protect someone, that is faithfully carrying their burden. If they ignore your help and fall back into a dangerous situation, any harm that comes to them is not your fault.
  • When you give people food through our food pantry distribution, you act to provide for their needs. If a few are taking food they do not need and scamming the system, that is not our concern. A few people who make bad decisions should not change the actions we take to serve others. Paul’s example calls us to help restore those who behave badly. Every time they come, they encounter a large group of people who love them, serve them, care for them and pray for them. Our actions of love and giving are a form of gentleness.

As a Spirit-filled community, a wonderful example of carrying each other’s burdens is the GriefShare program. In living our life, we will experience the devastating loss of loved ones. Grief is too heavy to bear alone. It is hard to function. It comes in waves. In GriefShare, we share our stories. We are transparent and raw. We are gentle towards each other. We hold hands and pray. We are each other’s strength.

Place of Grace Fellowship, let the Holy Spirit guide you to faithful actions and gentle restoration of people in your life. Let us be a church that grows in grace and maturity by carrying each other’s burdens while carrying our own load. Amen.

About Pastor Tim

Tim Holmes

Senior Pastor

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