1 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 (Galatians 6:1-5 ESV).
The heart of church discipline: Spiritual believers are to restore transgressing believers because burden-bearing is commanded by Christ.
I have already posted on the first of four vital Scripture texts that describe the role of church discipline in the life of the local church, Matthew 18:15-20. Now we’ll examine the second, Galatians 6:1-5.
There are two instructions that govern this text: restore transgressing believers, and bear one another’s burdens. I say that because “keep watch” (1d) is literally “keeping watch,” describing the Manner of how believers are to restore other believers caught in a transgression, and “test his own work” (4a) is part of a Negative-Positive construction that is part of the Ground for the second instruction.
When I say “transgressing believers,” I’m not referring to any believer who commits any sin. Paul describes such believers as being “caught.” This could refer to serious sins, or to a pattern of sin. For example, one sin of adultery is very serious. And even though a single outburst of anger isn’t as serious, when it becomes a pattern of life, that is a very serious thing.
Now, how do verses 2-5 connect with verse 1? Choosing Ground was a difficult choice, because verse 2 isn’t connected to verse 1 with a word like “therefore” or “because” or anything. I’ll explain my progression of though in the next few paragraphs, and hopefully that will prove helpful to some of you!
Each of us has “burdens” (v. 2a). We all have problems, physical and emotional, and sins we struggle with. And the Lord tells us here to put our shoulder underneath the load of other people in our church. We are not to pay attention only to our own problems, but to be outwardly-oriented, actively trying to help each other with our problems.
This means that helping each other should be the motive behind the work of restoration. It should be the atmosphere we breathe every Sunday at church. We shouldn’t ignore each other until someone sins grievously and shockingly, and then jump in; rather, we should seek to help each other all the time. After all, Christ has commanded it!
So we could call 2-5 the Manner of the Action commanded in verse 1, but then I thought that Idea-Explanation may even better because it is less specific, since there is no connector between 1 and 2-5 to make the relationship explicit. But as I tried to write a Main Point Summary, I struggled with connecting the big ideas of 1 and 2-5 with an Id-Exp relationship.
Then I noticed Paul’s Result of bearing each other’s burdens: fulfilling “the law of Christ.” That statement, together with the Ground for it about our responsibility to help each other, looked like a motivating statement for verse 1. That could be an Ac-Pur, or a Ground. I chose the latter because 3-5 isn’t so much a statement of our goal in restoring other believers as a logical explanation of why we should restore others.
This passage reveals the motive and the manner behind church discipline: it is not punitive at heart, but restorative. We are not trying to harshly punish sinning believers, but graciously restore them to the path of righteousness. If we miss this heart as we carry out Matthew 18:15-20, we have missed the core of church discipline.