Commentary on Galatians, 6:1-5 (Humility)

Galatians 6:1-5

“Brethren, if anyone is overtaken in any transgression, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; considering yourself, lest you too be tempted.”

“overtaken” (Gr. prolambano – 4301)

To take before, to anticipate, sudden temptation.

Vincent: “Surprised by the fault itself, hurried into error.”

Overtaken has the idea of being suddenly faced with temptation, and then giving in to it. This is to be distinguished from pre-planned sin, a decision to commit an act of sin, or to follow a course of sin. This indicates that Paul’s understanding of the normal Christian life was one of willing obedience, a surrender of one’s life to walk according to the will of God. To choose a life of habitual sin is not normal for the Christian.

“transgression” (Gr. paraptoma – 3900)

Trespass, a false step, a fault, to fall beside, a deviation from uprightness and truth.

Vine’s: “The reference is to the “works of the flesh” (5:19), and the thought is that of the believer’s being found off his guard, the “trespass” taking advantage of him.”

Always refers to that which deviates from obedience to the will of God.

“restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness”

Paul just finished listing several sins of the flesh in Gal 5:19-21, and so that is probably what he has in mind as he’s writing this. A question arises, why does Paul limit “restoration” to those who sin as a result of sudden temptation? Don’t Christians who deliberately stray, who choose to follow a path of disobedience, need to be restored? Surely they do. In fact, most of the sins that Paul describes as “works of the flesh” are the type of sins that one must plan for, and not sins that catches one by surprise. He even refers to the guilty as “those who practice such things.” I confess this is a bit bewildering to me.

Perhaps Paul’s thinking is, that it’s important to deal with a sinning Christian right away before he becomes so entrenched in sin that it becomes very difficult to “restore” him. The longer a person stays in sin, the more of stranglehold it has on him. Once we become “used” to sin, it takes a lot of prayer and exhortation, and perhaps some hard lessons, to lead someone back to the path of obedience. When an otherwise obedient Christian “falls” into sin, his conscience is still sensitive, and that is the time to restore him or her back to fellowship with God.

The longer a person stays in sin, the less sensitive the conscience becomes. At that point, justifying and rationalizing our sins becomes easy. Sin begins to “feel right.” It begins to feel “normal.” Without conviction, there’s no way back. It takes a lot of prayer by faithful Christians to bring about conviction of sin so that they’re able to repent.

Thus I think Paul is saying, restore the sinning Christian right away before sin takes deep root. It’s a lot easier to uproot a tree with short roots, than to uproot a tree with roots that run long and deep into the ground.

“you who are spiritual”

A sinning Christian cannot be led back into fellowship with God by another sinning Christian. That can only be done by a Christian who is “walking by the Spirit” (Gal 5:16,25). It takes the “fruit of the Spirit” to “restore” a sinning Christian. It takes love and kindness and patience and gentleness to lead someone back to obedience. It takes wisdom and sensitivity. It takes humility. A Christian who is lacking the character of Christ may easily come across the wrong way, and actually push the person further away. We need to be gracious in our dealings with our fellow-Christians. Sinning Christians need to be encouraged by someone who is being “led by the Spirit” (Gal 5:18), not condemned by someone who has a self-righteous attitude.

This phrase, “you who are spiritual,” indicates that Paul was aware that there were Christians in the churches of Galatia who had not been deceived by the Judaizers that had infiltrated their assemblies. They had remained faithful to the truth. In doing so, they revealed true spiritual discernment. Therefore, those are the one’s whom Paul is addressing.

“considering yourself, lest you too be tempted.”

We must never approach a brother or sister in Christ with a prideful attitude. We must do so in a spirit of humility. Paul said:

“Therefore let him who thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall.” (1 Cor 10:12)
God only gives grace to the humble (1 Pet 5:5). Therefore, pride will cause us to fall. As soon as we think we’ve “arrived,” that’s when we let our guard down. We must continuously walk in humility before God, in full dependence on His grace and power, realizing that in our own strength we too can be easily tempted, and fall. If you’ve been a Christian for awhile, you may have at one time looked down upon another Christian for something he or she did, only to find yourself, later on down the road, guilty of the very same thing. As the saying goes, “never judge a man till you’ve walked in his shoes.” Thus we must maintain true humility, knowing that we’re weak and susceptible to the same sort of sins as others.

“2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

We as Christians all belong to the same family. We’re all members of the family of God. Families stick together and support one another. Burdens become much lighter when shared by someone else. To bear one another’s burdens means to be empathetic. We come along side of each other with sincere understanding, as though we were in the same boat. This pertains to sins and to anything else that causes a burden. We pray together and for each other. We listen and we share our hearts with one another. We share Scripture and encourage each other in the Lord. The opposite would be to scold and condemn, to be harsh and insensitive, to preach at. That is not the way we “bear one another’s burdens.”

“and so fulfill the law of Christ”

Paul said in Gal 5:14 that “the whole law is fulfilled in one word, in this: ‘You will love your neighbor as yourself.’” A sincere love for each other, which is a result of a sincere love for God, is the “fulfillment of the law of Christ.”

Many of the Galatian Christians had been trying to live according to the law of Moses. But Paul is telling them that when we live according to genuine love, we fulfill the law of Christ (under the New Covenant), who said:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” ESV (John 13:34)

Peter said:

“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” ESV (1 Pet 4:8)

When we walk in love, we will not sin against others, or against God. When we walk in love, we will only seek the good of others, and never harm. Love for others can only come from a love for God. Thus when we walk in love for God, we fulfill the will of God as it pertains to personal holiness and service, and to how we treat others. Love equals obedience, just as Jesus said:

Love for God results in a love for others, and a love for God fulfills the commandments of Christ.

“He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me, and he who loves Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him, and will manifest Myself to him.” (John 14:21)

“3 For if anyone thinks himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.”

Again, this refers to pride. Humility understands that we are nothing apart from the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Humility understands that on our own we’re very vulnerable to failure and sin. Furthermore, those who think they’ve “arrived,” exhibit a false humility….they are merely deceived in thinking so. True humility realizes that we never arrive, but are always a work in progress, that it takes a moment by moment reliance upon God for His power to walk in His will.

“4 But let each person test his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in comparison to someone else.”

At first it appears that Paul is contradicting himself about pride. But he never does that. He is not advocating taking pride in ourselves as if we serve God in our own strength. Hear what Paul says later in the chapter:

“But far be it from me to boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Gal 6:14)

He also says elsewhere:

‘In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God. For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience–by word and deed.” ESV (Ro 15:17-18)

What Paul is teaching in these verses is that we’re never to compare ourselves with other people, for that only puffs us up. Pride is at the root of such comparing. Jesus is the one we’re to measure ourselves by. When we keep our eyes on Christ, we live with the constant awareness that we don’t measure up to His perfect character. Such awareness keeps us humble, and keeps us moving ahead in reliance upon the Holy Spirit to do for us what is impossible for us to do in our own strength.

When we “test our own work,” it’s always according to the Word of God and the perfect character of Christ. Thus our boasting is in the Lord for what He accomplishes through us.

Therefore, I think the main point Paul is making, is that when we’re dealing with a brother or sister in Christ who has been “overtaken” by sin, we’re not to compare ourselves to them, and think “I would never do that,” or “I’m a more faithful Christian than this person.” As Paul implies in verse 3, we’re nothing apart from Christ. We are what we are, the good that we are, only because of the grace of God working in us. Thus we must maintain a proper perspective about ourselves when dealing with Christians who have fallen into sin.

“5 For each person will bear his own load.”

Meaning, every one of us must bear our own responsibility before God. We must all give an account of our lives to Him (Ro 14:10-12; 2 Cor 5:10). We have enough to think about when it comes to our own life, that we shouldn’t be condemning the shortcomings of others, as though we’re the standard by which others are to be measured by.

However, that doesn’t mean that we’re not to consider what goes on within the body of Christ, whom we represent in this world. We should be deeply concerned about what goes on in the church. We shouldn’t close our eyes to the false teaching and worldliness and compromise and sin that we see in the church today. We must examine the Word of God carefully, and sound the alarm where needed.

This is especially applicable for pastors, Bible teachers, and church leaders. The purity of the church is all-important, and it’s a mistake to simply ignore the impurity of it. We must be praying diligently and working faithfully to bring the church into harmony with the will of God, using whatever means and opportunities that God gives to us. But again, it must be out of sincere humility, and out of a zeal for the holy name of Christ:

10 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying:
11 “Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned back My wrath from the children of Israel, because he was zealous with My zeal among them, so that I did not consume the children of Israel in My zeal.
12 Therefore say, ‘Behold, I give to him My covenant of peace;
13 and it shall be to him and his descendants after him a covenant of an everlasting priesthood, because he was zealous for his God, and made atonement for the children of Israel.’” NKJ (Num 25:10-13)