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March 29 - Galatians 6 - "(Over?) Confident Christians"
MPC 29th March 2009.
According to the Courier Mail, it was a passion for reptiles that enticed 34-year-old Malcolm Biggs to try to pick up an injured red-bellied black snake on a Logan street last week.
He says, "I couldn't stand to see a snake hurt and that's why I thought I'd try to get him off the road. But when I tried to help him he went for me."
Malcolm was bitten three times on his hand and suffered a violent reaction to the venom. After he was rescued by a friend and treated in hospital, Mr Biggs said being a fan of Steve Irwin had perhaps given him an over inflated sense of confidence. "I thought I could do it because of Steve Irwin," he said. "I've now told my 5 year old son to stay away from snakes. And from now on, I'll be more wary myself."
With some things, you just can't be too careful.
With some things you just can't afford to get over confident.
Snakes are one of them.
And Christian living is another. You'll remember last week we saw that Christian living is not defined by Old Testament laws and regulation. There's a huge freedom that comes in what Paul calls living by the Spirit. But here in Galatians chapter 6 we're being alerted to four dangerous ways that Christians can get overconfident. And the consequences that follow.
In verse 1 there's a very clear warning. Paul says, watch yourself. Or you also may be tempted. You think the sort of things others get caught in just can't happen to you. Verse 3 there's another warning. Against thinking too much of yourself. Which is kind of similar. Verse 7 there's a third warning. Against kidding yourself that you won't reap what you sow. And in verse 9 a final warning. Against getting tired. And giving up. Which we're going to step through and take a look at.
The first great danger is the complacency that says, it can never happen to me.
It's interesting that verse 1 opens with the prospect of a brother who's caught in a sin. But will you notice Paul's warning isn't actually for the brother caught in the sin, whatever the sin might be. The warning is for the rest of us. It's about the way we handle the failures of somebody else.
Pick it up in verse 1 and notice Paul doesn't say "If someone is caught in a sin, act all shocked and criticise him." Or "If someone is caught in a sin, make sure he knows he's done the wrong thing." He doesn't say "If someone is caught in a sin, act as judgmental and pious as you can and act as if you could never be caught up in something so shameful yourself." What he does say... is if someone is caught in a sin, you who are Spiritual should restore him gently. But here's the warning against over confidence. But watch yourself. Or you also may be tempted. Never say, "It could never happen to me."
It's humbling, isn't it? Paul's been talking about being free from the law and keeping in step with the Spirit in chapter 5. But you need to know that doesn't mean you're suddenly infallible. It's a long walk. With pitfalls along the way. It's a constant tussle between the Spirit and the flesh. And when you realise that, you're not going to say it could never happen to me. Watch yourself. Or you also may be tempted.
Because of the way our sinful nature works, stepping in to help someone else with their problem can very soon become your problem. So the guy who thinks he's helping out a female friend with her marriage problem is so very often at risk of ending his own marriage and taking off with the friend that he's helping. Not that he meant to. But that he's underestimating his own human nature. Don't be overconfident. Because in the words of proverbs, the man who digs the hole so often falls into it.
Deal with one another's sins gently. Because you're very aware that it could have been you. Deal with one another's sins carefully. Because you're very aware if you're not careful it still could be you.
Paul puts it more positively in verse 2. We're meant to bear with each other. We're meant to share each other's burdens. Which Paul says isn't so much written into Israel's law - but it's living under what he calls the law of Christ. Loving one another. Carry each other's burdens, verse 2, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.
Now the question is can you do that, can you share one another's burdens and struggles... without taking pride in yourself? Paul says, if you're in the habit of comparing yourself, then stop it. If you're in the habit of saying, I could never fall for that sin, then stop it. If you're in the habit of saying, I'm really something... you need to pull your head in. Which leads us to the second symptom of dangerous overconfidence; which is thinking way too much of yourself.
Look, I'm very much afraid the way Paul puts this doesn't leave any room at all for anyone who wants to be self satisfied. So if you're here this morning and you're feeling pretty smug and you're feeling pretty good about yourself and you're feeling pretty much that everyone should be admiring you and giving you pats on the back because you're so very very impressive and you've done so well in your career and you've got the Spirituality thing pretty well worked out... Paul says, if anyone, verse 3, "if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing he deceives himself. So each one of you should test his own actions." Don't go looking at everybody else. "And then he can take pride in himself without comparing himself to somebody else. For each one should carry his own load." One person's got one set of challenges. You've got another. test yourself. And keep it to yourself. And stop boasting as if you've got it all together.
Which is what Christians just don't seem to be able to get right. Can we?
David Kinnaman from the Barna Research Group surveyed a group of American non-Christians aged 16 to 29, and found nine out of ten outsiders found Christians to be "hypocritical" and "judgmental." Which is telling, isn't it? We just can't get the hang of testing our own actions before we go picking on somebody else. To our great peril.
It's overconfidence. And it's dangerous.
The Spiritual Christian is the one who humbly and gently bears with the struggles of a brother or a sister, and keeps quiet about their own successes.
It's on to danger number 3. The kind of overconfidence that says, I won't reap what I sow. It's tempting to think, having heard what Paul's said in Galatians, that God somehow doesn't care any more. That with Israel's law fulfilled, that God's saying sin doesn't matter. That being free from the law means you can do what you like with no consequences. Paul says, that's as just as foolish as picking up a snake by the tail. The fact is, sin is deadly. Which is why he's told us back in chapter 5 to put the sinful nature to death. And not mess with it. And certainly not appease it.
Because ultimately, you'll reap what you sow. And if you want to say, well, I'm a Christian, I'm not under law, I'm going to live how I want, Paul says, you're sowing for destruction. When you should be planting for life.
Sin matters. And if you're telling yourself it doesn't, the truth is that you're mocking God. Follow in verses 7 and 8. "Don't be deceived. God cannot be mocked. A man reaps... what he sows." See, you don't plant prickles and expect to grow strawberries. "The one who sows to please his sinful nature - verse 8 - from that nature will reap .... destruction. The one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will receive eternal life."
When you hear Paul saying, we're not under the law, don't get the impression he's saying sin doesn't matter. It's a matter of life and death. So the question is are you going to put to death your sinful nature, or are you going to sow to please it? It's a terrible over-confidence to think you won't reap what you sow. Sow to please the Spirit.
The Christian life is not a life under law. It's a life that's free. Free to serve. Free to be gentle. Free to love. Free to do good from the heart. And yet if you use that freedom to go back to what you did before, to go back to who you were before... the same destruction is waiting.
There's one final warning. And it's the warning against being so overconfident as a Christian that you'll be taken by surprise when the going gets tough. And you'll too easily give up.
Which is the ultimate trap for young players, isn't it? Paul says, you'll reap what you sow. So make sure you keep on sowing to please the Spirit. But that's not the end of the story. Once you sow, you've got to press on to harvest time.
When it comes to gardens and growing things, it's hard to be patient, isn't it? Well, I find it that way. Our avocado tree, it's taken nine years to get a decent crop. And now they're hanging there on the tree but month after month they're still hard as rocks. And I'm tired of waiting.
Maybe you're tired in other ways. You've served and you've served and you've served and nobody's noticed. And you're tired. You've been Godly in all kinds of ways and you've maybe suffered for it. Maybe you've been fighting with temptation. Struggling to stay Godly. For year after year. And you're just tired of it. And it's no wonder you're feeling weary.
But Paul says in verse 9 and 10, you've got to press on to harvest time. "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we'll reap a harvest... if we don't give up."
It's a good thing patience is one of the fruits of the Spirit, isn't it? Because what we need to do is press on patiently. And keep on looking for every opportunity you can to do good. Because that's a fruit of the Spirit as well. So therefore, verse 10, as we have opportunity; it's literally, therefore, in season... let us do good to all people... especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
Friends, I hope you're not tired of doing good yet. I hope you're getting a glimpse of what it means to be called to be someone who because you follow Jesus is committed to doing good for all people.
It's timely, isn't it? when we've just finished our growth group service weeks. Some members from the McClenahan's group went in to Fortitude Valley on Friday evening. Helping out a team from another church that puts on a BBQ for street people around McLachlan Street. The Williams group got into some home help for people around church. A couple of Latechurch groups helped paint a room for the high school chaplain. The girls from WoW put together toiletry bags for abused mums. There's all sorts of great stuff going on.
Trouble is, we get weary at it, don't we? We so easily get tired and give up. Got to say though it was inspiring talking to Lyn who's one of the ladies who runs the street outreach in the Valley at the end of the night, and she wasn't tired. She's done it week after week after week. And at the end of the night she said, "Isn't it fun?" Isn't it terrific to be able to do something that helps?
Paul says don't become weary in doing good. "As we have opportunity, let us do good to all people. And especially those who belong to the family of believers." Doing good to your church family. And every other chance you get.
I guess if you're complacent, I guess if you're overconfident, you forget that it's going to be tiring. And so you'll too quickly give up. What we've got to do is keep looking for opportunities. And keep taking them when they come.
You need to be under the Old Testament law to do that? To be kind hearted and to be putting that kindness into action? Of course you don't. And yet this is the stuff that makes up the Christian character. That marks us out as different. Like Jesus said. They'll know you're my disciples.... by the way you love one another.
Following Jesus and keeping in step with the Spirit means doing good every time you get the chance. And not giving up.
The Christian life as Paul paints it is all about being confident. But not being over-confident. It's all about being Christ like in character by the work of the Spirit. And not giving in to arrogance or pride or complacency or of too easily falling aside.
Look, I've really majored on the negatives so far this morning. I've gone through and I've picked out the dangers Paul lists for overconfident Christians. But let's not overlook the positives. Let's go back to the start of the chapter and look at the upside of what Paul's been saying, so we can finish on the positive. There's a danger in being overconfident Christians. But let's look at the balance. And some reasons when we get things right not just to be confident... but to celebrate.
Verse 1; as a Christian you'll be among people who'll restore you gently if you fall. At the same time as they're being careful not to be tempted themselves. Friends, that kind of gentle restoration is a beautiful thing.
Verse 2, as a Christian, you'll be with brothers and sisters who are ready to share your burdens. Who'll walk with you and share your load. Because they're fulfilling the law of Christ. And what a privilege that is to be part of a church family like that.
Verse 6, as a Christian you'll be supporting the teaching of God's word. By caring for those who teach it. Interesting, isn't it? See, a lot of Christians seem to want to say that with all Paul's emphasis on keeping in step with the Spirit and not being under the law that we don't need to be taught the word. Whereas in Paul's mind, nothing could be further from the truth. I heard about a Bible College where the principal said "We're a very balanced college, because some of our lecturers emphasize the Spirit and some of our lecturers emphasise the word." Which makes out that God's word and God's Spirit are somehow at odds with one another.
For Paul, the key to walking by the Spirit is to be instructed in the word. And he wants those who receive instruction in the word to share all good things with their instructor. Which he says in black and white in verse 6. Which is a reminder if you're a Christian who gives to support ministry, that's what you're ultimately giving for. That you're sharing all your good things with those you've called to instruct you in God's word. Not because they're binding you by the law but because they're encouraging you in the gospel. Paul says, if you're supporting the teaching of the word - it's worth it! And if you're a Christian and you're not supporting the teaching of the word, you should be.
And I do want to say thanks at this point for the way you as a church actually put this into practice. In a way that means that those of us who labour at teaching you the word actually do feel supported by the way you share the cost and share your good things.
Instruction in God's word is the tool the Spirit uses to reshape our lives and hearts. It's a great investment. So just as an afterthought, do make double sure the ones you're supporting are instructing you in the word. As their number one priority.
There's one more big positive. And that's in understanding who you really are. Which is the point that brings the whole letter to a close.
Verse 11, Paul's signing off, the scribe's done the writing and now Paul takes the pen and writes with his own big messy writing. "See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand." And let me make my point just a few more times before I go. He says, I've been telling you about people who say trusting Jesus isn't enough. I've been telling you about people who say you need to take on Jewish ways before you can be a Christian. That you need to be circumcised. The time honoured way to be initiated as a Jew. Which as we've seen just opens up the whole issue of the law again. Which only brings curse.
Paul says, I've been telling you it's the cross of Jesus that sets you free. I've been telling you that it's what the Spirit does on the inside that's what counts. And yet these other guys keep telling you it's the outward stuff that matters. Like circumcision.
They want to make a good impression on the outside. But I want you to be new on the inside. He says, the only reason they do it is they want to play it safe. And not rock the boat with the Jews. They want to keep fitting in. When it's time for us to stand out. And take the heat for following the crucified Christ. He says, they think they're the true Israel of God because they're circumcised and go on about the law all the time. But I'm on about A whole new creation that starts right at the heart. By God's Spirit at work with yours.
It's not popular. It's not nearly so safe as just blending in with the Jews and bending to their religious rituals and keeping all their rules. And certainly not an arrogant over-confidence. Just a calm determination to focus on the cross. "May I never boast, verse 14, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which... through which the world has been crucified to me... and I to the world." May I never boast about me, may I never boast about my Jewishness, may I never boast about my religious track record. May I never become complacent, or boastful or self sufficient or proud. May I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus.
Because now neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything. Whether you're a Jew or a Greek or whatever else.... what counts... is a new creation. New on the inside. By the Spirit of God.
Galatians has been a letter all about who's in and who's not. Remember where we started? Those Judaisers who were saying Christians Jews couldn't eat with Christian Gentiles? That even Peter was leaving the table? The whole debate we've seen about whether Gentiles like us need to take on the Jewish law?
Here's Paul's final word on the matter. You want to know who the true Jew is? The true Jew, the true Israel of God, is the ones who boast in the cross of Jesus like Paul does. Who bear the marks of rejection and beatings and persecution like Paul does. Who realise that what counts isn't circumcsion or law... but a whole new creation by the Spirit.
We'll finish by reading from verse 15. "Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything. Doesn't matter who you are. What counts is a new creation. Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule... even to the Israel of God."
Friends, that's you and me. So the grace of our Lord Jesus be with our Spirits brothers. Amen.