Over the past number of weeks we have been looking at Paul’s command to bear one another’s burdens. This command is found in Galatians 6:2, as Paul closes his letter to the churches in Galatia. In the surrounding verses Paul gives us three examples of bearing burdens – restoring brothers and sisters caught in sin (6:1), paying those who teach the word (6:6), and doing good to all, but especially to our brothers and sisters (6:10). This is how Paul envisaged our life within the earthly community known as the church.
The question I want us to answer today is, ‘why should we do any of it?’
We have had four weeks of posts that have challenged our sinful selfishness and offered a number of practical things we can do. But why should we bother? Because, to be honest, doing any of those things is hard work, never mind doing all of them.
The answer I propose is that the church is a creation.
The reason we should want to do these things is because the church is not just instituted, it is created. This is how Ed Clowney describes the church – ‘the church is God’s creation, not simply a human institution’ (The Church, pg. 71). We do not want to expend a lot of energy at our own expense to work within the boundaries of a simply human institution. However, our thinking should be very different when we consider that this entity called the church is God’s creation.
The church is created!
Our first post was entitled Darwinian Christianity, and in it we considered the reality that many Christians function within a Darwinian worldview of ‘survival of the fittest’. If there is a Christian brother or sister struggling, instead of endangering yourself by getting involved with them, we simply step over them. Or even worse, try and kill them off.
As Jesus Christ took his first steps on earth as a child, God in the flesh, he embarked on a life of perfection. He was, is and always will be the Lord of all creation – and yet he humbled himself to live among his creation. Throughout his life Jesus would have had every right, and could very easily, have killed off all those who did not live a perfect life. But he didn’t. Rather, he did the complete opposite.
As opposed to looking out for his own interests he looked out for the interests of others. Instead of worrying about his own comfort he sought the comfort of others. Rather than surviving as the fittest he gave up his own survival for ours. All of this offered us not just survival, but life, and life abundantly.
Jesus’ perfectly obedient life, horrifically brutal death, gloriously triumphant resurrection and hope-generating ascension won for us an abundant life of self-giving.
We are empowered to deny ourselves, bearing our brother’s and sister’s burdens because Jesus denied himself and bore our burdens – the most cumbersome of which was our sin.
Through this death, God chose to redeem unto himself a people. In Jesus, God created the church. Our salvation; our forgiveness of sin, our rescue from darkness, our entrance into light is not merely individual – it is corporate. We do not stand as lone rangers; we live as part of a community: the church, the people of God.
As the people of God we have been given great and precious promises. We have been promised a greater, more beautiful life of comfort with our Saviour Jesus in this world when it has been released from its captivity to sin. Jesus was enabled to give up his life because he trusted in his Father. By doing so he made God our Father. So now we too are able to give up our lives because we too, like Jesus, trust our Heavenly Father.
The grace that has brought us into this community is the same grace that aids us in living within the community. We can restore a brother or sister caught in sin because Jesus has done so for us. We do not gloat in their failure because we are aware that we have been in the same position as them. We can pay our pastor joyfully because we know he is giving to us richly from the Word of God. We do not seek to control our pastor because we know he is a fellow brother in the community. We can do good to all, but especially to our church family, because we know they have been created by the same work that created us in our new lives. We do not serve ourselves because we do not stand alone.
The church is not primarily an institution; it is first and foremost a creation. This knowledge, understanding and awareness not only make it easier to bear one another’s burdens but also make it a joy. We, as the people of God, are in this together because of Jesus’ great self-sacrifice.
As God’s special creation we now sacrifice ourselves by bearing the burdens of our brothers and sisters.