Vol. 10 — No. 39 September 28, 1969
If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another. Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself. But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For every man shall bear his own burden. Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teaches in all good things. Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.
In Christ Jesus, who would have us march through life according to tunes played by the Spirit of God, Fellow Redeemed:
“If we live in the spirit, let us also walk in the spirit!” That exhortation governs our text, the following verses spelling out just what it means to “walk in the spirit.”
In this entire section you will find that St. Paul speaks of two opposite and contrary forces within a Christian: “flesh” and “spirit.” Our “flesh” is the natural tendency that all of us have for evil, that attraction for false doctrine that is so natural for man, and that inclination towards all that is contrary to the law of God. Our “spirit” is a countervailing force, created in us by the Spirit of God. It is the man of faith, the new creature that delights in the law of the Lord, that rejoices in righteousness, that makes us children of God. “Flesh” is the common denominator of all men; only children of God have in addition “spirit.”
“Flesh” and “spirit” are relentless, uncompromising enemies that keep seeking nothing less than total victory over each other. That means that the life of each child of God is a battleground: “For the flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.” Paul spells out the works of the “flesh,” then the works of the “spirit.” Of the child of God he writes: “And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.” To crucify and keep on crucifying the flesh is one part of Christian living; to live in and walk in the spirit is the other side.
“If we live in the spirit, let us also walk in the spirit!” The word that Paul uses for “walk” does not imply a casual walking, a sort of aimlessly wandering along, as that of a child or of an adult out on a stroll. It’s rather a directed walk. That is why one translation renders it in this way: “Let us be guided by the Spirit,” and another: “Let the Spirit also direct our course.” Guided or directed walking is marching, which we commonly think of as being accompanied by music of a definite rhythmic beat. It’s directed. What does it mean to march according to the direction of the Holy Spirit? St. Paul unfolds part of that in the verses of our text:
The unity in the Congregations of Galatia had been disrupted by false teachers. They had sought to change Paul’s gospel of salvation by grace through faith without the deeds of the law to salvation by Faith in Christ plus certain deeds of the law, as observing “days, and months, and times, and years.” (4:10) These false teachers gave the impression that they had greater spiritual wisdom and insight into the way of salvation than did Paul. This is spiritual pride. It’s always there whenever there are doctrinal controversies in the church. Those who defend the truth of the Lord are accused of spiritual pride—of thinking that they are the only ones who know the Word and Will of the Lord, while those in error are in fact the victims of that very pride that they attribute to others. It’s amazing how people with little education and with but a meager knowledge of the Scripture will defend their own personal ideas and opinions in spiritual matters in the face of clear passages of the Word and the testimony of the confessions of the church. Paul pleads: “Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another.” The glorying of a teacher or preacher whose teaching is out of line with the Word of the Lord is “vain glory.” His provoking or challenging of others is disruptive of true unity.
Notice that Paul says, “Let us not be desirous of vain glory.” He includes himself, for he knows the power of his own flesh. Doctrinal controversies so easily degenerate into personality clashes. One won’t give in to the other. The person in the right may gloat over his “rightness.” The person in the wrong may refuse to back down because he doesn’t want to lose face. All of this is spiritual pride which destroys unity in a congregation and church body. Spiritual pride is not a product of the Spirit-guided and directed “spirit” of a child of God. It is a product of the flesh, and as such it is to be combated. As we take issue with every appearance of spiritual pride in our lives, we promote true unity within our congregation and within our fellowship.
One of the products of spiritual pride is that a person tends to gloat over the sins of a brother. That is walking out of step with the Spirit, for marching by the Spirit includes also—
“Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” St. Paul is not speaking of the wilful sinner, of the person who has sold himself to unrighteousness, who rejoices in iniquity” Neither is he speaking of the false teacher, the errorist, who causes divisions in the church by teaching otherwise than God’s Word teaches and who by his false doctrine creates death-traps that can destroy another’s faith. He uses different language over against such—language that may even shock us a bit. In a previous verse (v.12) in chapter five Paul exclaimed: “I would they were even cut off—mutilated, castrated, made eunochs—which trouble you.” In the opening verses of his letter Paul wrote: “If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.” (1:9) Strong language, indeed!
But here the apostle is speaking of a brother who is “overtaken in a fault.” He may have sinned in ignorance or in weakness—the victim of a sudden attack of his flesh. Don’t gloat over his fall—in a “better than thou” or “it can’t happen to me” attitude. No, restore such a one in the spirit of meekness. If he has sinned from a lack of knowledge, instruct him patiently and meekly in the right doctrine, as Priscilla and Aquila instructed Apollos. (Acts 18:24-28) If he has violated some moral law in his conduct or behavior, plead with him to understand that he has grieved his God and if he is penitent, assure him of the grace of divine forgiveness. This one should be doing for his brother, and in so doing one helps himself. For spiritual pride is so frequently and so easily a prelude to a fall. Anyone who becomes sure of himself spiritually is sure to fall.
Pursuing these same thoughts further Paul defined marching by the Spirit also as—
“Bear ye one another’s burden, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” To despise a brother overtaken in a fault, to gloat over his fall, to belittle him, to conduct oneself as spiritually superior is to add to the burden of the brother. This is out of step with the promptings of the Holy Spirit, with His marching tune. Fraternal admonition, sympathetic understanding without condoning the sin, patient and loving instruction, a helping hand, the assuring and re-assuring of the forgiving love of our heavenly Father in Christ—this is bearing another’s burdens. And it is at the same time fulfilling the law of Christ, which is nothing more or less than that royal law of love, the great commandment that we continue in our lives to think, to act, to conduct ourselves as did Christ who loved us and gave Himself for us.
Marching by the Spirit also includes—
Paul wrote: “But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For every man shall bear his own burden.” When any child of God seeks to evaluate or judge himself by comparing himself with another, he cannot but go wrong. This was the error of the Pharisee with his: “I thank Thee, God, that I am not like others.” Each one of us is to test and retest his own life. Have I been thinking, speaking, acting, judging, evaluating things according to the flesh or according to the spirit? When we so test ourselves, we may find occasion for rejoicing over the Spirit’s achievements in our own lives. We may be able to say with St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians: “But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” (I Cor. 15:13) When you or I achieve a spiritual triumph, which rightly fills us with joy, it is always due to the grace of God. Each one of us has his own burden to bear when he realizes how often and how much he has fallen short of the Spirit-established goals. Again and again we must confess with Paul: “The good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.” (Rom. 7:19)
Paul now moves toward a very practical matter. Inasmuch as the Galatians came under the influence of false teachers, so much they withdrew support from the teachers who were bringing them the Word of truth. This is one of Satan’s tricks: Freeze out the true preachers of the Word. Paul instructs the Galatians that marching by the Spirit also includes—
“Let him that is taught in the word communicate—or share—unto him that teaches in all good things.” This is the simple truth that the laborer is worthy of his hire—also the preacher and teacher of the Word of God. In this area of the country many preachers support themselves by part-time work, but this isn’t the best way. Secular employers do not want the interests and time and energy of their employees divided. It’s a difficult thing to be occupied secularly and then shift one’s mental gears to preach or teach the Word of the Lord. Experience teaches that the church needs full-time men in the local congregations, also at colleges and in mission stations. This calls for support from those who benefit from their labors. True it is that in our day many ministers are more concerned with their salaries, parsonages, and fringe benefits than they are with the service that they render. But it certainly isn’t difficult for a congregation to learn whether its pastor is seeking to give of his time, his talent, his training in serving or whether he is just out to get whatever he can and as much as he can.
So important is the handling of one’s personal finances, the use of one’s money and property, that Paul adds a special warning: “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.” Reaping follows sowing, and the reaping is determined by the sowing. He who sows “wild oats” reaps of the same. He who uses his material wealth for the satisfaction of his flesh shall reap corruption eternally. He who uses the wealth, property, and earning power that the Lord gives shall have at the end many fruits or works that will testify of his faith.
So the final mark of the child of God motivated, guided, and controlled by the Spirit of God is—
“As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” We have exercised ourselves in this truth this morning by making a special effort to help those who have been stricken by Hurricane Camille. Another’s need is always our opportunity to show forth our love. Let us not weary in well doing. So also the needs outside of our local congregation, the needs of our wider fellowship, of Immanuel Lutheran College, of our mission stations, and so on are opportunities for us to do good. The flesh would have us be selfish—looking out only for ourselves. The Spirit cries out: “Be not weary of well-doing!” Let us march through our lives according to the Spirit. Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.