Today is perhaps my favorite of this series. If you’ve been with us, you know we’re in a series called “Why Church?” in which we are stepping back and asking the question, “Why do we do what we do? What is this all about?” So far, we’ve had Why Preach, Why Pray, Why Equip, Why Sing, and Why Disciple? We only have two more weeks of this series before our Missions Week starts up on the 21st. So, today is “Why Fellowship?”
Now, in churches we use the word “fellowship” in many different ways, including for the name of this room we have right over here called a “fellowship hall.” So, a fitting question might be, “What is fellowship?” The word itself in the Bible means sharing in something. We share together in something. Or we participate together in something. What is it that we participate in? Ultimately, we share in the gospel. We each have partaken in the benefit of Jesus’ death and resurrection to pay for our sins and claim victory over death and sin.
But with that, there is a whole lot more sharing implied. We see in the Bible language like “fellowship in the ministry to the saints,” which would be a sharing in ministry needs and responsibilities, and “the fellowship of Jesus’ sufferings,” which would be the suffering that Christians, together, experience. There are all kinds of sharing and fellowship going on as Christians, all ultimately under the umbrella of the gospel, which is sharing in Christ’s death and resurrection.
That’s why, today, I wanted to go to a text that doesn’t use the word “fellowship” explicitly, and yet clearly lays out some of what fellowship looks like. You may have caught what J.I. Packer said in the video: “It’s enormously important for the church to be doing its stuff.” So, today, the question is: What is some of the stuff that the church is to be doing? We’re going to look at the first 10 verses of Galatians 6, but before we read this I want to give a bit of a background on Galatians, so you can know where we’re at before we read.
Galatians is a letter Paul wrote to the churches at Galatia. Paul had proclaimed the gospel in Galatia, and God moved! The Holy Spirit convicted hearts, and many had believed in the gospel. But now, the church had been infiltrated by a group called the Judaizers. These Judaizers taught a false gospel that mixed the teaching of the apostles with the Jewish faith. In other words, they were teaching that these Christian Gentiles, even though they were Christian, still had to be circumcised and do other Jewish things. They were adding works to the gospel, and they were doing this to appease the Jewish leaders outside the church.
This is why there is such a strong theme of freedom in this letter. He speaks directly to these confused Christians, telling them that they are free in Christ: Christ’s death and resurrection has inaugurated the age of the New Covenant. To follow Christ, Gentiles do not have to become Jews or conform to any outward requirements of the Mosaic law. Christ has set you free! And in that freedom, that doesn’t mean that all of a sudden these Gentiles can do whatever they want, and live however they want. Freedom in Christ means we have the power to live as God desires for us to live.
So, just before the text we’re about to read, Paul speaks of walking by the Spirit, living like children of God who have found freedom in Christ. And in these 10 verses we’re about to read, the question is this: for these Spirit-led believers in Jesus (like you and me!), what does it look like when we come together? What does it look like practically in our local fellowship? That’s the question these first 10 verses of Galatians 6 answer. So, Michelle, would you come and read for us, Galatians 6:1-10? Again, what does this life in the Spirit look like as a fellowship? What does this shared life in Christ look like? MichelleM, take it away.
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. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. 5 For each will have to bear his own load.
6 Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. 7 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 8 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. 9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
To use Packer’s terminology: Five things that make up the “stuff” of church fellowship, what Spirit-led believers share in coming together in Fellowship.
- Gentle Accountability (1).
This comes from verse 1: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” Part of church fellowship is real accountability. Honestly, this is part of why we have covenant membership, to be clear up front what some of this accountability looks like. This is accountability not only from a leadership perspective, but really this is an accountability we all have to one another, including and maybe even especially the leadership.
We’re to lovingly address each other when there is sin. Being a grace-centered church doesn’t negate loving correction. In fact, it really undergirds it! One of the most gracious things we can do for one another is restore and even rescue each other! And that’s what we’re doing when we correct! I love James 5:19-20- “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” Do you hear that language?
It is a big deal to help one another when we sin! This is part of the “stuff” of the church! But notice who does it and how it is done. Who does it? “You who are spiritualshould restore him.” That means those who are walking by the Spirit, who are growing in their faith, and have no blatant unrepentant sin. This doesn’t mean you have to be perfect; don’t see a loophole here excusing you from not being part of this. The point is that we check ourselves.
In fact, Matthew 7 comes to mind: Jesus himself says this: “How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Notice: Jesus doesn’t say that to paralyze us into never being part of correcting and restoring others. Don’t use this as an excuse never to do anything. But, check your own heart and life before you do it. That’s the point here. Remove the log, so you can see clearly to help your brother. That’s the who: those who are walking by the Spirit. What about the how?
“In a spirit of gentleness.” The fact that we are all sinners in need of a Savior, we are all saints only by God’s grace, should compel us toward gentleness. Harshness does not fit the fruit of the Spirit listed in the chapter before this: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Maybe the easiest thing to help us be gentle is not only by realizing who we are, fellow sinners and children of God only by God’s grace, but also to remember the goal of this accountability: What’s the goal? Restoration!
It’s not our job to punish; that’s not what we’re doing when we hold each other accountable, or at least it better not be. Our goal is to restore! Even in Matthew 18:15-17, when Jesus lays out this process for one-on-one correction, then a few involved, then bringing it before the whole church, the goal is always restoration. We need to ask ourselves, “Is our goal to edify, to build up, to restore?” If not, we may not be the best ones to go. If yes, then we must go. Edify! Build up! Restore!
He gives one warning with this at the end of verse 1: “Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” As we see to this gentle accountability, there are two main ways that we can be tempted: 1) we can become prideful. We can start thinking of ourselves as the spiritual police; we’re the self-righteous ones who make all the best decisions, and everyone else hasn’t quite arrived like we have. The other temptation is potentially to fall into the same sin that we’re trying to help them with! In seeing sin, and being exposed to it, our flesh can pull us toward it! So, we have to watch ourselves, and be aware of those temptations. But even with those dangers, gentle accountability is the stuff of the church. What else is? Number 2:
- Bearing Burdens.
This is one of my favorites. Look, first, at verse 2: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” The law of Christ is a pretty obvious reference to Jesus’ command to love your neighbor as yourself in Matthew 22. We fulfill that command when we bear one another’s burdens. Now, what does it really mean to bear one another’s burdens? Let me put it this way: bearing one another’s burdens means more than just trying to feel their pain. Empathy is good, and empathy can be part of bearing burdens, but I think Paul has something more in mind here.
In 1 John 3:18, John writes this: “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” In other words, yes, speak. But, if you’re able to do more, then do it! If you’re able to give a ride to someone who needs it, or provide a meal for someone who just got out of the hospital or had a baby, or you’re able to pitch in in helping someone move, or whatever it is that someone is going through—if you’re able to actually bear part of a burden, do it! This is what Paul is getting at! This love we’re to have for one another—it cannot merely be emotional or felt! It must turn into action. The question is: how can you practically display the love of Jesus?
I think sometimes the problem is that we think we’re too busy, or have other priorities, or frankly, people just aren’t that important to us. Now, obviously, we have our priorities, but we need to take Paul’s words seriously in verse 3: “For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” This is one of the biggest reasons that can keep us from truly bearing one another’s burdens: pride! We would never say this, but sometimes we think we’re above helping people. If you think about it, even busyness as an excuse can reveal pride: “my time is just too valuable.” There’s a staunch warning here from Paul. Look at verse 4: “But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not his neighbor.”
In other words, stop feeding your pride by constantly comparing yourself to the people around you. Usually, we will think our time is too valuable to help others when we’re comparing ourselves to others. When, ultimately, we should look at our own time and efforts and lives and compare them to God’s desires for us! What is his desire for us? The law of Christ! In the body, especially, we’re to love one another. So, don’t think, “Well, I do my fair share; I do more than him!” Instead, think: “How can I best use my time and energy to bear the burdens of others, especially in the body? No matter what others are doing!” This is the stuff of fellowship right there.
Now, verse 5 may seem to contradict what Paul just said about bearing burdens. He says: “For each will have to bear his own load.” So, wait a minute? Paul says bear one another’s burdens, but then here says that each will have to bear his own load. Well which is it? Well, the answer is that the two words here are different. The word for “burden” in verse 2 is baros, which is a very heavy or weighty load. Ok, then in verse 5, the word for “load” is phortion, which is almost like a backpack, or man’s pack. So, verse 5 is fitting with what Paul is already saying: He’s saying that each man has the responsibility, the backpack, the “load,” of bearing the burdens, the heavy or weighty load, of others when they are able. That’s what he’s getting at. This is for every one of us. It’s a responsibility, a load, that he’s called every one of us to bear the burdens of others. So, again, how are you, practically, with your hands and feet, bearing the burdens of others? Number 3:
- Biblical Teaching.
This comes straight from verse 6: “Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches.” Now, this verse may seem a bit random, but let me clarify: “share all good things” is a Christian euphemism for supporting the teacher – including financially. If you’ve ever wondered whether paying pastors and teachers in the church was a biblical practice, here’s some evidence for that. There’s certainly nothing wrong with bivocational or even volunteer pastors, but Paul, especially, emphasizes that it’s a good thing, if able, to support teachers who can devote themselves to teaching and shepherding. 1 Corinthians 9:14 is another example of Paul clarifying this.
But my point with biblical teaching here is actually to make sure that biblical teaching is what the teacher is doing. Because the verse says, “let the onewho is taught the wordshare all good things with the one who teaches.” To me, there is a natural accountability here. I am very grateful for the financial support we get from this church, and I love that I get to devote my life to this. However, when I stop teaching the Word—lovingly, gently, correct me, and if need be, let me go. For your sake and for mine, biblical teaching is part and parcel of Christian fellowship. You cannot have true Christian fellowship when the leadership and teachers, especially, are not devoted to the apostles’ teaching, as Acts 2:42 describes. Gentle Accountability, Bearing Burdens, Biblical Teaching, and then number 4:
- Personal Holiness.
This is part of the “stuff” of church fellowship. Look at verses 7 and 8: “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.” This part is really where it all hinges, to be honest. I mentioned already that Paul had been speaking of walking in the Spirit in chapter 5, and pursuing and exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit.
And so, now, in the church fellowship, he brings a clear statement against thinking that we can coddle the flesh, and just consistently give in to the flesh, and still really be an active part of God’s people! He puts it as forcefully as he can, right off the bat: Do not be deceived! God cannot be mocked! You can’t just pander to the flesh, and do whatever your flesh wants you to do, and pretend that somehow you’re walking as a child of God, in the Spirit! Do we think we can trick God? Paul’s point: Of course we can’t!
If we sow to the flesh. If we give in to lust and greed and pride and vain conceit and selfish ambition, we will reap corruption. That’s what will come of it. But if we sow and invest our efforts and minds and hearts to the Spirit: joy, love, peace, gentleness, patience, goodness, then we will reap from the Holy Spirit, particularly we will reap eternal life. Paul isn’t saying that by pursuing holiness and these fruit of the Spirit we earn God’s favor. He’s saying this is what it is to have the Spirit within you, which comes by turning from sin and trusting in Jesus. This is what it looks like—not that we don’t struggle, but that there is a pursuit, a sowing to the Spirit. So, here’s the question we must ask: Are we sowing to the Spirit? Are we pursuing personal holiness? As believers in Jesus, having been washed clean by his blood, declared righteous and victorious by his resurrection—are we now pursuing reflecting that in our everyday lives?
Because this is the “stuff” of Christian fellowship. If you have no desire for Godliness and being Spirit-led as opposed to just controlled by your flesh: you will reap what you sow. You probably don’t have the Spirit in you. You haven’t repented and believed in Jesus alone for salvation. Christian fellowship, truly having fellowship with God and even with God’s people, means that you have been regenerated. You are a new person. We all have a long way to go, but, if you’re life is marked by doing whatever your flesh desires, you need to check your heart. You can attend church services every week of your entire life and not know Jesus, and instead be sowing to the flesh the whole time, marking off your checkbox of religious activity. But do you know Jesus? Do you have Spirit living in you? Because if you do, you’ll want to pursue him. You’ll want to grow to be like Jesus. Number 5:
- Persistent Goodness.
These last two verses are so good. Verses 9 and 10: “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.”
These two verses mean that, as followers of Jesus, we’re called to do good to all. Another way to translate: we’re to “work for the good of all.” So here’s my question right off the bat: In what ways can you do good this week to your coworkers, neighbors, family members, and others in this church? Week in and week out, do we have in mind persistently working for the good of others? I mean, Paul says, “Don’t grow weary in doing good.” This can get tiring, yes? For those of you who really try and do good for others, you know: it can be exhausting. But it’s good.
We must be working for the good of all. I cannot help but think there is this temptation, or perhaps for some of us this a habit already: This politically ablaze culture that we’re in, especially right now: When something comes to our attention—something happening in our country, or culture, or anything—do we first judge it by whether or not it fits within our political party? Or do we first judge it by whether it is for the good of all people? Whether or not it will help people in a meaningful way? Sometimes I can’t help but think our minds go first to whether or not something is good for our party or for our section of the political spectrum, rather than whether or not something is good for people. It’s like our ultimate concern is the good of my party rather than the good of all people.
This must be a strong emphasis for Christians, not just living in our bubble, comfortable and serving maybe in our very tight-knit social circles. We must do good to all in our path. And yes, especially to those in the household of faith. How can you help with the 6, 7, 8 babies being born in the next 6 months? Or how can you help with the Hyatts who are looking to adopt? How can you help in small ways with the older man or woman who can’t mow their lawn? Or the family that just has a whole lot hitting them all at once? As I mentioned earlier: yes, pray for them, and yes, articulate your empathy. But then, do something if you are able. Do good!
Let me be as clear as can be, kind-of pulling all these together, all this stuff of church fellowship: Gentle accountability, Bearing Burdens, Biblical Teaching, Personal Holiness, and Persistent Goodness. You can, technically, attend a worship service every single Sunday and never really be part of the fellowship of the local church. That’s possible. This is so much more than experiencing a planned program of things happening up here. This is why we so strongly emphasize small groups, and one-on-one discipleship, and leave 30-35 minutes between services for brunch, and encourage at least some interaction even in our planned time for corporate worship. Because we want you to see and share in the “stuff” of fellowship.
We want to hold each other accountable and challenge each other. We want to bear one another’s burdens, and I so hope you desire that as well. We want biblical teaching where we hear from God, and not merely from a man. We want to pursue personal holiness, an ever-increasing reflection of the positional reality that God has made us holy in Christ. And we want to work for the good of all, especially for those in the household of faith. Are you part of this? That’s my question. What are some specific steps you as an individual can take to share, or fellowship, with us?
As we move into observing the Lord’s Supper together, think about this: Ultimately, Jesus is the perfect example of all of these aspects of fellowship. As we remember and recalibrate around Jesus and what he accomplished for us: his death, in which he bore our sin and shame, and his resurrection, in which he declared victory for us over death and sin.
As we remember and recalibrate, think of Jesus: the perfect example of persistent goodness, personal holiness, the great teacher, and, especially, the ultimate burden-bearer. He didn’t just share our burden of sin. He didn’t come alongside of us to help us. He lifted the burden off of us, this crushing burden of sin that we could not rescue ourselves from. He rescued us, and placed that burden upon himself. Wow. For those of you who have turned and believed in Jesus alone for salvation, please come and partake in this visual symbol of fellowshipping, or sharing, in the benefit of Christ’s death and resurrection.