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 [= in the sense of infirmities – Newberry], and so fulfil the law of Christ. For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself.
D4.1 One body
We have already seen, in Galatians, that one of the characteristics of the Judaisers was to have dominion over the Galatian believers. Such false brethren tend to isolate their prey from true fellowship, and this in turn leads to exclusivity. That is the claim to have the one and only true gospel, and therefore one must have nothing to do with any other group. Then by degree they make their followers like themselves so that they can make people into their own image of what they believe Christians should be. This, as we have discussed before, is done by some form of external legalistic code.
They zealously affect you, but not well; yea, they would exclude you, that ye might affect them.
As many as desire to make a fair shew in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ. For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh.
This is in clear distinction to what was Paul’s teaching. The apostle’s concern for the believers was to see them conformed not to his image, but to that of Christ’s image. He saw himself as a helper in the believer’s walk with God, and not as one having dominion over them.
Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith ye stand.
In his teaching on the body of Christ Paul made it clear that we are members one of another and that we should be concerned for each other, and if one member suffers then we all suffer. This includes the fact that if one brother is weak and liable to stumble then that affects us all.
For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ……
…that there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it. Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.
Being part of one body means that we cannot live to please ourselves, pushing our own agendas and pet doctrines, bringing in divisions and being exclusive; rather we are to live so that we please Christ. This includes caring for each other, and especially the ‘weak’ ones who are liable to stumble.
D4.2 The weak ones
The opening verses of the final chapter of Galatians speaks of those who have been found off guard, and are in need of restoration. We are then encouraged to bear one another’s burdens. The sense here been of infirmities of one sort or another. We are one body and each and every brother and sister is a member of that body, and we need to take care of each other. Just as an injury in one part of the physical body affects the rest of it, so the infirmity of one member of Christ’s body ( the Church) affects us all; we therefore have the responsibility to take care of that member.
Elsewhere in the NT Paul speaks of the weaker believers in another way: this time of the stronger brethren recognising this and acting accordingly in order to prevent, as much as it lies within them, a weaker brother or sister from stumbling and slipping up in the first place. The best known scriptures are as follows.
Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand. One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks. For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living. But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God. Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way. I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean. But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died. Let not then your good be evil spoken of: For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men. Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another. For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence. It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak. Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth. And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin. We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification. For even Christ pleased not himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me.
The key to all that the apostle is saying is this: we then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. In the Galatians verses we looked at those who had slipped, here we are talking of weak believers, those who find certain issues a problem, a stumbling block to their walk with the Lord. Those who are strong are exhorted to bear their infirmities.
Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth. And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know. But if any man love God, the same is known of him. As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one. For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him. Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse. But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak. For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols; And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ. Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.
D4.3 Destroy not him
The issues Paul raises, which were relevant in his day, are food, drink and observations of days. It would appear that in the early church these things caused great trouble. Even today such issues can be the cause of great and sad division amongst God’s people, and not only these but others as well. Whatever the topic the principals are the same. We are not to sin against the weaker brethren to cause them to stumble in the way.
The theme of Galatians is that we are justified through faith in the person of Christ (Gal.2:16) and not by works of the law, and that to continue in the way one must walk in the Spirit and not by works of the flesh or law. So eating certain types of food, drinking or keeping certain days or not do not make us better or worse before God. They do not save us or make us righteous before God; we are not justified by these things.
Although not essential for either salvation or Christian living, these issues can result in stumbling for some believers. Just as the Galatians had a stumbling block placed in front of them so we can stumble others by our own legalistic tendencies, which are really only personal preferences. We have to see to it that we are not guilty of this by making our personal preferences the standard for others.
Do we have liberty before God to eat or drink certain things?
So do those who don’t eat or drink those things.
Do we have liberty before God to keep certain days?
So do those who don’t.
Do we have liberty to hold certain secondary, non vital doctrines?
So do those who don’t hold those same doctrines.
What those, who claim to be strong must do, is to see that one’s personal views and practices do not stumble the weaker ones. And if they do then to voluntary ‘give them up’ in preference to the weaker ones. What is meant by this is not to make them such an important issue before others. Hold them by all means as personal views or preferences, but not to parade them before others so as to make them major points, so that weaker brethren stumble at them. And if necessary, for love’s sake give them up altogether.
This is part and parcel of not living for ourselves but preferring one another in love. We have the duty of care one to another. It means denying self, and that is what the Lord asks of us. To love one another. This is done voluntarily in love and not by the compulsion of legalism. Quite contrary to the ways of the false brethren.
We have to love one another and look out for each other. Helping the weak, after all we are one body with the same aim of glorifying Christ, and this is one very important way of doing that. Why then destroy a brother or sister because of these side issues?
Finally in this section Paul warns of being deceived. Namely those who think themselves to be something when they are not are in self deception. That is led away into error by fantasies. In the context of the passage under consideration we can conclude that a person can think that he is too important, spiritual or whatever to help others. In this case to either help those who have slipped up, or to deny self in preferring a weaker brother or sister.
An example of this is in the parable of ‘the good Samaritan’ as recorded in in Luke’s gospel
And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live. But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour? And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee. Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise
The first thing to note is that this parable revolves around the command of loving one’s neighbour. Clearly the one who showed mercy was neighbour to the poor man who was robbed and so badly treated. We are not told the reasons the priest or Levite passed by on the other side; it could have been that they might be defiled in dealing with the man and so not be able to perform their duties to God (?)- a touch of Corban perhaps. It could have been that they thought themselves too lofty to stoop down and help, or the man wasn’t one of ‘them’ or their ‘set’.
Whatever the reason they passed by and neglected to help a man in great need. How dwells the love of God in such people? The person who helped was a Samaritan someone whom the Jews despised. But for the Samaritan none of these things mattered, someone , a stranger was in great need and he provided for him.
What about us? Are we too high and mighty, caught up in our ministry, or only concerned with our ‘number’, that we miss the bigger picture? If so then we deceive ourselves. We as believers are ONE body and have the duty of care for each other. Whether those believers belong to our particular group or not, whether they follow our preferences, or not let us move in Calvary love and genuinely care for each other.
D4.5 Preferring one another
So then as believers in the same body we to love one another, care for one another and not to think of ourselves beyond our measure. In other words prefer one another. Let all man made divisions be as nothing to us and love others as God loves us.