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Galatians 6: (1-6) 7-16.

Community Living

Driving down Interstate 40 east of Memphis I always think about the car accident that changed my life. I can still visualize the moment of impact when my mother hit the car stopped in front of us waiting to make a left-hand turn. On that day in late November 1964 we had just started down the old highway from my aunt’s house on our return trip to Little Rock. From that moment nearly everything changed as I went to live with my father and stepmother. Today I am a Nazarene instead of a Southern Baptist because they attended Little Rock First Church of the Nazarene where I became a member 51 years ago this May. I recently looked at the certificate of membership. A warm caring atmosphere drew me into the life of the local church. Wednesday night suppers, Sunday school class, spirited worship services, softball and basketball games, youth trips to Six Flags and General Assembly, district camps, and activities led by our new youth minister filled the years before I left to attend Bethany Nazarene College. For years I observed the close relationships between church members of my parents’ generation and appreciated the interest they expressed in my life when I returned for a visit. In v. 2 of our lectionary passage, Paul calls the Galatians to “fulfill the law of Christ,” to be understood in light of 5:6 “the only thing that counts is faith working through love” and 5:14 “for the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” I cannot travel down I40 without thinking about the accident and the love I found in my new church.

In Galatians 6:1-5 Paul gives some clues as to what it means for communities to live on the basis of love. First, he calls them to restore those caught in sin “in a spirit of gentleness.” Next, they should share each other’s burdens. However, Paul’s letter reveals the negative as well as the positive of community living in v. 12-13. Caring for each other with gentleness goes a long way in creating an atmosphere of love. Finally, Paul balances his concern for helping others carry their heavy burdens with an admonition to carry our own load, described as a soldier’s pack in v. 5. We should be faithful to our own responsibilities.

Paul identifies one of those obligations as sharing with your teacher, v.6. We are to share our wealth. In the New Beacon Commentary on Galatians, George Lyons explores issues of wealth and stewardship that could flow from the passage. Do we share our wealth with those in need? What is the priority of our spending? Do we indulge our appetite for entertainment of the flesh more than supporting the ministry of the Spirit through giving to our Church? Paul cautions us about growing weary in doing good and reminds us of the coming harvest: “we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up, v.9.” When we have the opportunity we should work for the good of all people, v.10. Lyons explores Wesley’s admonition of gaining, saving and giving found in his sermon “The Use of Money.” A writer in the Methodist Review of 1914 used a similar analogy in his article “Serving in Earning Money and in Giving Money.” Those who give to charity should first examine how they make their wealth. For an example, he cited how a manufacturer giving to the YMCA had “great numbers of the workingmen in his plants … toiling twelve hours a day, seven days in the week, with dark periods of unemployment, under working conditions both harmful and dangerous, and at wages scarcely provid[ing] a decent standard of family life.” He concluded that men and women “ought always first to serve in earning the money; and after that in the giving of it.” What harvest will come from both the earning and giving of our wealth?

In closing remarks found in v. 11-16, Paul restates his main theme that one is a Christian because of the grace of God and not through one’s efforts or status. Yet, for a tradition that emphasizes salvation by faith through grace Paul often calls believers to action. Remember in 5:6 he stated “the only thing that counts is faith working through love.” Furthermore, we are to live and be guided by the Spirit, v. 25. In 6:4 “all must test their own work” so it “will become a cause for pride.