A Commentary by John Stott
Galatians 6:1 3c). How it should be done.
*You who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Look to yourself, lest you too be tempted*. The same Greek word for ‘gentleness’ (*praotes*) has occurred in 5:23 as part of the fruit of the Spirit, for ‘gentleness’, writes Bishop Lightfoot, ‘is a characteristic of true spirituality’. One of reasons why only spiritual Christians should attempt the ministry of restoration is that only the spiritual are gentle. Paul then adds that we are ourselves to be watchful, lest we also are tempted. This suggests that gentleness is born of a sense of our own weakness and proneness to sin. J.B.Phillips paraphrases: ‘Not with any feeling of superiority but being yourselves on guard against temptation.’
We have seen, then, that when a Christian brother is overtaken in sin, he is to be restored, and that mature, spiritual believers are to exercise this delicate ministry gently and humbly. It is sad that in the contemporary church this plain command of the apostle is more honoured in the breach than the observance. Yet if we walked by the Spirit we would love one another more, and if we loved one another more we would bear one another’s burdens, and if we bore one another’s burdens we would not shrink from seeking to restore a brother who has fallen into sin. Further, if we obeyed this apostolic instruction as we should, much unkind gossip would be avoided, more serious backsliding prevented, the good of the church advanced, and the name of Christ glorified.
We come back to where we started. Those who walk by the Spirit are led into harmonious relationships with one another. Indeed, this reciprocal ‘one another’ is the word which gives cohesion to the paragraph we have been studying. There is to be ‘no provoking of one another’ and ‘no envy of one another’ (5:26), but rather are we to ‘bear one anther’s burdens’ (6:2). And this active Christian ‘one-anotherness’ is an inevitable expression of Christian brotherhood. It is not an accident that Paul addresses his readers as ‘brethren’ (verse 1). In the Greek the first word and the last word of Galatians 6, apart from the final ‘Amen’, is the word ‘brethren’. Bishop Lightfoot quotes the old Latin commentator Bengel: ‘a whole argument lies hidden under this one word.’
Just as the apostle argues about our Christian liberty from the fact that we are God’s ‘sons’, so he argues for responsible Christian conduct from the fact that we are ‘brothers’. This paragraph is the New Testament answer to Cain’s irresponsible question ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ (Gn.4:9). If a man is my brother, then I am his keeper. I am to care for him in love, to be concerned for his welfare. I am neither to assert my fancied superiority over him and ‘provoke him’, nor resent his superiority over me and ‘envy’ him. I am to love him and to serve him. If he is heavy-laden, I am to bear his burdens. If he falls into sin, I am to restore him, and that gently. It is to such practical Christian living, brotherly care and service that walking by the Spirit will lead us, and it is by such too that the law of Christ is fulfilled.
Tomorrow: Galatians 6:6-10. Sowing and reaping.