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Boasting in the Gospel

July 23 2023

Series: 200 Proof Grace

Book: Galatians

Scripture: Galatians 6:6-18

Caleb did a really excellent job last Sunday with the first part of Galatians 6.

He summarized verses 4-5 well – don’t compare yourself to others and boast in your own works. Don’t gain your confidence by how you measure up to anyone else.

In the end, God will not be concerned with our opinion about our own efforts. We will each be judged by His standard. We will be found in Christ, or we will be judged by the flesh. Union with Christ is safety. Standing alone in the flesh is death.

And today, we will finish Paul’s letter to the Galatians, beginning with verse 6.

6 Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches.

There’s a missing conjunction in English. Verse 6 begins with the word “but” in Greek. He adds this statement as an exception to verse 5. Bear your own burdens but share the burden of your teachers. The word share is most often used financially.

It’s very uncomfortable for me to talk about this, to be honest. But this is a very common command in the New Testament. It was not meant to be abused, but the early church was expected to help support their pastors.

Pastors are expected to labor in ministry of the Word and the church is expected to help provide for them. Elsewhere, Paul compares the pastor to an ox and a workman, toiling in the Word and working hard to shepherd his flock.

This may seem out of place, but Paul has said so much in this letter about false teachers, he doesn’t want to discourage the ones who are actually doing a good job. And as a side note, I want to say thank you for the way you care for my family.

7 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.

We’ve all heard this quote. You reap what you sow. Right?

We use this quote, in general, to say that someone is getting what they deserve. You play with fire; you’re going to get burned. You reap what you sow. It comes from this verse, but it’s a concept used many times in Scripture.

Paul uses it here in the middle of a section explaining our responsibility to the church community. Caring for pastors. Bearing the burdens of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

You reap what you sow. The type of seeds you plant will determine the type of fruit you harvest. We talked about this in Galatians 5. Paul repeats the idea here, for emphasis.

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.

He’s still talking about the works of the flesh versus the fruit of the Spirit. One will harvest diseased fruit, the other will harvest life-giving fruit.

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.

This is an important, but slightly confusing message – so pay close attention.

What kind of seed must we sow? Verse 9 tells us. Good works. That’s the answer. But hasn’t Paul been urging us not to focus on our own works?

Remember from Galatians 5, there were two lists. The first list was a list of sins. The second list was the fruit of the Spirit.

Remember that both lists were highly relational. Sin is never a victimless crime. Our sin always hurts people. Likewise, the fruit of the Spirit is not something we produce alone. It’s something we harvest in community.

This chapter is nothing more than an application of what we learned in chapter 5. Paul is not now urging us to focus on producing good works apart from the Spirit – that would be a return to works-righteousness. Instead, he is encouraging us to be what we are in Christ!

And please notice the language… he’s encouraging tireless effort! Do not grow weary of doing good! Do not give up!

Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking that faith in the Gospel eliminates the need for effort. That’s foolish. We are expected to work. The question is WHY do we work?

It is not to gain standing with God, nor is it to compare ourselves to others. As Caleb rightly explained last week, comparing ourselves to others only produces pride or shame. So, what is the purpose of this Christian effort?

Think about the illustration Paul uses. This paragraph is an agricultural metaphor, something that most of us can’t relate to very well.

While in Africa, I saw a lot of farming. Most people outside the cities are subsistence farmers. They eat most of what they plant, or the community shares and barters. One person grows corn. Another grows potatoes. Someone else grows the greens. Every village had cows, goats, and chickens running around. All together, the village has what it needs.

What I realized is that most of the world does a lot of work just to eat! And now, these verses have taken on new meaning for me – because that’s closer to what people did in ancient Rome. If you want a harvest, then you better work. If you want to share in the blessings of the village, then you better have something to offer.

And that is the context of these good works. In Christ, it is no longer about religious effort. It’s about the community! It’s about the village! I’m not working for myself. I’m working for my family – the body of Christ.

If you separate the concept of good works from those relationships, then you’re back to square one – selfish works-righteousness. And that kind of effort only leads to division and discouragement.

So, whenever the Bible encourages good works, think of it in the context of your relationships. Or, as Paul says in Galatians 5 – it’s faith expressing itself through love.

11 See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand.

I love the personal touch. Paul says pay attention to what I’m saying!

12 It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ.

This false teaching is not rooted in a concern for Christ or his church. It’s selfish! It’s prideful! And it’s cowardly!

13 For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh.

In other words, you are being used.

This is always the problem with works-righteousness. People tend to reduce the law to a list of things they personally find easy to keep. And then they judge everyone else by their list. But they’re not keeping the whole law – and that makes them hypocrites.

This is a problem for everyone – both religious people and non-religious people. It’s not just a church problem. All of us prefer our own brand of ugliness. Religious people tend to look at outsiders and judge them for their worldliness. Non-religious people tend to look at church people and judge them for their pride.

And both groups are making the same mistake – thinking they are better than others. “I’m glad I’m not like those pagans… I’m glad I’m not like those churchy people.”

The root problem here is the same. No one wants to believe they really have a sin problem. And so we boast in our own works to feel better about it.

And now we come to Paul’s beautiful summary of the entire letter.

14 But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

15 For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.

What’s Paul saying? He’s saying that the cross levels the playing field. It eliminates competition in the flesh. We no longer boast about what we do or don’t do. We anchor our self-worth to the cross – an external point of reference.

To put it bluntly, there is no competition between circumcision and crucifixion. Crucifixion is a wounding of the flesh far more severe.

The new reality for the Christian is a righteousness available to us only in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Compared to that, our works are like monopoly money. They have no real value.

Verse 15 is the coup de gras. These churches are debating the merits of circumcision and Paul rips the rug out from under the entire debate.

How many of us would take the time to clean the toilets in a condemned house? Would you change the tires on a car with no engine? If you got fired from work tomorrow, would you go back on Tuesday to finish the project you were working on?

That’s the foolishness of works-righteousness. It takes pride in something that has no value.

Together, we find our value in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

16 And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.

He’s talking about the whole church – one group of people together walking by this rule – the rule of faith, the teaching of the Gospel. He’s giving the Gentile Christians the same value as the Jewish Christians by saying that we are all children of Israel by faith.

17 From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.

Paul had suffered persecution for his faith, and he probably had many permanent scars to show for it. Just as the physical suffering of Jesus proved his love for the church, so also the scars of Paul proved his commitment to the Gospel.

18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.

And that’s the book of Galatians. Pure grace. Untainted by any notion that we can add something to the finished work of Jesus. Every other religion is about personal effort. Every other religion is death.

There was a Mosque located one block away from our hotel in Tanzania. Five times a day, a man would begin chanting over a loudspeaker – the Muslim call to prayer. It’s a religion of duty. It’s a religion of tradition. The word “Islam” means submission to the will of god. The ultimate goal of the Muslim is to bring their entire community under the submission of their god. That’s why they broadcast their prayers to the whole city.

Otherwise, I saw little evidence of good being produced by the presence of Islam. In one of the villages we visited, most of the elders were Muslim.

But it was the Christian church that brought a water well to the village – so that women didn’t have to walk more than 3 miles to get water every day, carrying it back on their heads.

It was the Christian church that offered training on agriculture and business that dramatically raised the quality of life for the entire village.

It was the Christian church that helped establish a health clinic and a school in their village.

It was the Christian church that empowered women to take start contributing more to the local economy, which had the side effect of breaking generational abuse.

And I got to hear testimonies from some of the Muslim leaders who said they are proud of what the village has accomplished, and they confessed that they know it was because of the Christians.

God’s grace changes lives. It motivates us to work differently… to live differently… to love differently. I have even more faith in this truth today than I had a few weeks ago.

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control – all the good things we want to see in our lives, in our marriages, in our communities – these things come by grace, through faith, in Jesus.