A Commentary by John Stott
In verse 1 the apostle gives his readers a particular example of burden-bearing: *Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Look to yourself, lest you too be tempted*. To ‘overtake’ somebody in the act of sinning is a not infrequent occurrence. The best-known instance in the New Testament is the woman whom the Pharisees brought to Jesus and described to Him as having been ‘caught in the very act of adultery’ (Jn. 8:4.NEB). But we have many other, less sensational experiences when somebody has been surprised or detected in a sin. The apostle gives instructions for such a situation. He tells us first what to do, secondly who is to do it, and thirdly how it is to be done.
a). What to do.
*If a man is overtaken in any trespass,…restore him…*’ Theverb is instructive. *Katartizo* means to ‘put in order’ and so to ‘restore to its former condition’ (Arndt-Gingrich). It was used in secular Greek as a medical term for setting a fractured or dislocated bone. It is applied in Mark 1:19 to the apostles who were ‘mending’ their nets, although Arndt-Gingrich suggest a wider interpretation, namely that after a night’s fishing, they were ‘overhauling’ (NEB) their nets ‘by cleaning, mending and folding (them) together’.
Notice how positive Paul’s instruction is. If we detect somebody doing something wrong, we are not to stand by doing nothing on the pretext that it is none of our business and we have no wish to be involved. Nor are we to despise or condemn him in our hearts and, if he suffers for his misdemeanours, say ‘Serves him right’ or ‘Let him stew in his own juice’. Nor are we to report him to the minister, or gossip about him to our friends in the congregation. No, we are to ‘restore’ him, to ‘set him back on the right path’ (JBP). This is how Luther applies the command: ‘run unto him, and reaching out your hand, raise him up again, comfort him with sweet words, and embrace him with motherly arms.’
We are not told here precisely how we are to restore our fallen brother, but we can learn this from the more detailed instructions of Jesus in Matthew 18:15-17. We are to go to our brother and tell him his fault, face to face and privately. Jesus also made our object positive and constructive. We are to seek to ‘gain’ him, He said, as Paul here says we are to ‘restore’ him.
b). Who is to do it.
*You who are spiritual should restore him*. Some commentators have thought that Paul is here being sarcastic. They have conjectured that there was a group of super-spiritual people in Galatia who were calling themselves the ‘spiritual’ party. But there is no evidence that such a party existed and no need to see sarcasm in Paul’s words. He is referring to ‘mature’ or ‘spiritual’ Christians, whom he is later to describe more fully in 1 Corinthians 2:14-3:4, and whom he has already begun to portray in Galatians 5:16-25. All Christians are indwelt by the Spirit, but ‘spiritual’ Christians are also ‘led by the Spirit’ and ‘walk by the Spirit’, so that ‘the fruit of the Spirit’ appears in their lives. Indeed, this loving ministry of restoring an erring brother is exactly the kind of thing that we shall do when we are walking by the Spirit. It is only the ‘spiritual’ Christian who should attempt to restore him.
We may not, however, seize upon this as an excuse to evade an unpalatable task. We may not say ‘that excuses me; I’m not spiritual’. Verse 1 is certainly an admission that not all Christians are in fact ‘spiritual’ Christians, but then all Christians should be, and as such have a responsibility to restore a sinning brother.