The Spirit of Brotherhood

May 30, 2015 -- in: scripture

After having previously looked at the works of the Spirit in our hearts and for our salvation, this post examines the effect of the Spirit's work in our hearts on our communities.

This post is a follow-up to Heirs of The Spirit of His Son.

In my previous post, I wrote about some of the amazing gifts that God has given us through the Spirit, focusing on what the Spirit does for us personally. Now that we have him and that he freed us from the slavery of sin, from the bondage of our will to our flesh, what changes does he bring into our communities?

In case you are not acquainted with biblical vocabulary: In the New Testament, flesh usually means what we would now call our nature. It represents everything wrong, so deeply ingrained in us; Every sinful desire, feeling; What we are, left to ourselves. There is nothing good in that whatsoever, as e.g. Romans 1-3 tell us.

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load. Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches.

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:1-10)

Correction With The Spirit of Gentleness

Though the goodness of correction is under assault by contemporary culture, I will not defend it right now. It’s far more important that Christians know how they should apply correction – after all, Christian ethics are not designed for the general public despite having had a substantial historical and cultural impact. The way we treat each other does not (primarily) come from discipline and education. One cannot learn it because it is radically opposed to our flesh. Instead, it flows from the Spirit-given love for God, his purpose, and by extension the people around us.

If we know that close friends or siblings in Christ walk in sin, be that knowingly or unknowingly, we should correct them in a spirit of gentleness (v. 3). Not harshly, with proud disdain, but pitifully and mercifully, gently and humbly winning them back with the soul-cutting power of the Word of God, knowing that we, like they, live solely because of God’s grace and are thereby obliged – and, by the Spirit, able – to be merciful as well.

But it’s really hard to feel genuine compassion as well as the appropriate hate of sin. Even more so without becoming proud, which is why Paul warns us to keep watch on ourselves (v. 3). In other words, be careful! know that your heart is proud by nature. Paul warns the Corinthians in similar fashion (albeit in a slightly different context, idolatry): Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. (1 Corinthians 10:12)

Never forget that the purpose of correction should be to gently nudge our brothers and sisters towards the Word, hoping that it will work in them. Indeed, we are fooling ourselves if we think that we can genuinely change someone. This text is addressed at you who are spiritual. We do not have the power to do that, which is why we must turn to God, humble ourselves before him and be full of the Spirit. He works through us after freeing us from slavery!

Relief With the Spirit of Love

Correction is hard, but bear with me: The next ways in which we should treat each other if we have the Spirit aren’t getting any easier… This one stands out as the one which fulfills the law.

The natural way for us to approach difficult periods is to desire for (and expect) others, especially our close friends, to help and relieve us. We want attention and recognition of how much we are going through, and we want others to be there for us “right now”.

But the way of the Spirit is different: Rather than to focus on our own needs and problems, we are to look to our brothers and their burdens. Instead of feeling bad about our situation, we should open our eyes to the difficulties, trials, and unmet needs of others in the body of Christ (the believing church), to which this passage in particular is directly addressed, which is why I think that these things apply to the Church in itself first, and doesn’t directly extend to the outside world, the relationship with whom the Bible treats more specifically in other passages.

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (v. 2)

We should be completely focused on lightening the load of our siblings. Life was not designed for us to spend alone, even though the extreme individualism of the post-modern age tries to make as believe just that. In fact, this way of treating people and regarding life is how we can fulfill the law of Christ! How so? The previous chapter adds to the picture: … but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Galatians 4:13-14) This sounds a lot like the self-denying definition of Love – capitalization intentional – that we so beautifully see in 1 Corinthians 13.

Our culture is far from this definition of love (and not coming closer any time soon, either), but now we know why: It isn’t actually possible without the Spirit. Like the rest of creation, including it’s basic institutions like work or the incredibly special marriage, it wasn’t designed to be possible without knowing God. Of course, the hard part of this is the self-denial. We might not – in fact, we almost certainly will not – get that investment back. Nevertheless, there is a promise: But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. (Luke 6:35) The reward will not come here, but it will be ours eventually!

As a personal side note, I know from experience that it can be a lot more rewarding to serve than to insist on receiving proofs of love or gratefulness. The strongest lessons I have learned were in dealing with my fiancée in spe. It is mostly a lot better to care for her emotionally and physically than to be unsatisfied with the way she does so (and I am never close to being completely satisfied anyway…). Be it through kind words, understanding her, supporting and sustaining her by being a safe place or cuddling and holding her, I get a lot more out of it than I think I will. It still surprises me, but it’s awesome and beautiful to know that God designed life and marriage that way!

In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)

The Spirit of Humility

By now, you should be able to see where this is going. The underlying pattern of behavior for the previous points is humility. The main principle for our interaction with our brothers in Christ is to humble ourselves under God, recognizing that we are unable to do anything good when left to ourselves.

For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. (v. 3)

Instead of trying to become “better people” by our own strength, we should seek everything from our Heavenly Father, including the traits of character that he promises to give us through his Spirit. If we expose ourselves to his word, seeking to understand and apply it everywhere, he will change our hearts and procedurally turn us into useful servants in his image.

Humility also has a further direct application: But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. (v. 4) We should not compare ourselves to others, which fuels envy or pride – both of which are symptoms of the deep inner pride of our hearts, which not only caused the fall, but every sin since it by putting us above God and making us believe that we are capable to decide of our own fate; And worse, creating the illusion that that will make us happy!

Instead, we should only compare ourselves to and judge our works by the standards of the LORD – which will surely humiliate us – because as he will judge us when the last day comes. And whether or not we were a little better than someone we compare ourselves to will not have the slightest of meanings in that day… The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate. (Proverbs 8:13) Because of that, let us seek the Glory of God alone and with all our heart, soul, might and strength!

One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor. (Proverbs 28:23)

Sow on The Spirit

The next section begins with a warning: Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that he will also reap. (v. 7) You cannot fool the living God. You cannot serve both God and yourself. I have written about Psalm 94:7-11 in a previous post (feel free to read that if you are interested), and it applies here as well – Understand, O dullest of the people! Fools, when will you be wise? He who planted the ear, does he not hear? He who formed the eye, does he not see? (Psalm 94:8-9) Do not expect God to provide for you, let alone save you if what you actually seek is the satisfaction of your fleshly pleasures! He is the LORD, why do you expect him to not see?

Most of us are not farmers, so we do not fully grasp the meaning of the picture Paul uses here, that we “reap whatever we sow”. Translated to our capitalist times, this would be “you will get returns from what you invest in”. In other words, if we spend our time, energy and money to gain fame or futile pleasures, that’s exactly what we will get. God will give us what we want – beware from wanting something else more than him! Romans warns us that The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), and we will get nothing else from investing into our flesh.

Instead, let us invest into the Spirit! Put down the fleeting pleasures of sin, starve your flesh! Seek everything from our Lord Jesus Christ, find comfort in him and his word. It is truly beautiful and restorative to spend time in the Word, trying to learn about him and his will, as well as to seek his presence and assistance through prayer. Make use of that, as Paul teaches in the following passage:

to put off your old self which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:22-24)

Our life is short, time is running out. Use it wisely..!

For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. (v. 8)

The Spirit of Good Works

Paul’s admonition finally culminates in the command to do good. At this point, it should be abundantly clear that we are not capable of fulfilling these commands. The good news is that the Spirit himself works through us: for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:13) If we lean on him, we will find the strength, love, and perspective of the kingdom of God that we need to live out the selfless love God requires from his sons.

Do not worry! We will be rewarded for our works in heaven. Look to Jesus and his beauty, and it will be possible – rarely easy, but possible nonetheless – to be steadfast in good works. And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. (Hebrews 6:11-12)

The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:6-8)

Now is the time to serve our God. It will be too late soon! I have to preach this to myself nearly every day, but now I say it to you: Rethink how you spend your time. Nearly all of us waste a lot of time that we should be spending in the Word of God or serving his people…

As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good. (2 Thessalonians 3:13)