Galatians 6:1 says, Brothers and sisters, if someone is overtaken in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual, restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so that you also won’t be tempted.
Paul is addressing believers in the church, who are aware of someone in their faith family who has become entangled in sin. I believe there are four specific temptations we face when we encounter this situation. Four ways that we can ignore or twist the instruction that Paul gives to us in verse 1.
Ignore it and hope it goes away
Those who fall to this temptation, reword verse 1 to read… Brothers and sisters, if someone is overtaken in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual, should just be indifferent, and ignore the situation for it is none of your business.
Paul addresses that temptation in verse 2 when he writes, Carry one another’s burdens. Burdens would include sickness, suffering, financial stress, loss of a loved one, etc. But it also includes our struggle against sin and the flesh. So you and I can’t say and somehow justify it as a Biblical response, ‘Well, that is their sin, that is none of my business.’ If we stick our head in the sand, we are ignoring the command to carry one another’s burdens, and we are ignoring our identity as fellow brothers and sisters who are called to love one another. When we ignore, we are missing the opportunity to be the hands and feet of Christ, and reflect the fullness of His grace and truth to both the person entangled and our own hearts. We are missing the opportunity to see the grace of God transform not only the one overtaken, but us, as we come alongside.
Some believers ignore, because they take Jesus’ words of ‘do not judge, so that you won’t be judged’ out of context. Read those words in their context…
Matthew 7:1-5: Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged. 2 For you will be judged by the same standard with which you judge others, and you will be measured by the same measure you use. 3 Why do you look at the splinter in your brother’s eye but don’t notice the beam of wood in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ and look, there’s a beam of wood in your own eye? 5 Hypocrite! First take the beam of wood out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the splinter out of your brother’s eye.
In that passage Jesus is not saying believers should avoid making moral evaluations or discernments. Or that we are not to judge or evaluate what is true and false, and what is in line with or contrary to the Word of God. Jesus is also not saying that as His people, we never tell someone they are wrong. Jesus told plenty of people they were wrong. For instance, later in the very same chapter Jesus is telling people that not all will inherit the Kingdom of God. That there is a right and wrong path, a right and wrong foundation to build your life on, and right and wrong prophets. Jesus is also not saying we should avoid all hard conversations.
So what IS Jesus saying in these verses? What He’s calling us to reject is the attitude or approach of a Pharisee when we see someone overtaken by sin. The Pharisees were never ones to receive the truth themselves, so they would ignore the beam of wood in their own eye, trying to get the speck removed in others.
DA Carson said this regarding these verses…“Jesus does insist that when they follow his instruction and make evaluations and judgments, they must do so without cheap criticism of others – a notoriously difficult requirement. There must be no condescension, no double-standard, no sense of superiority, no patronizing sentimentality. Christians are never more than poor beggars telling other poor beggars where there is bread. This humble tone ought to characterize all Christian witness.”
Excuse and justify the sin
Those who fall into this temptation, reword verse 1 to read…Brothers and sisters, if someone is overtaken in any wrongdoing, you should help them by finding a reason or excuse for their sin.
So we say…’Well, have you see how broken their marriage is. Adultery was bound to happen.’ Or ‘It is no wonder they are bitter toward one another.’ Or ‘They’ve had such a hard upbringing, it is no wonder they have become addicted.’ Or ‘They’ve experienced such hurt in life, it is no wonder they are unloving toward others.’ And so what happens here is we join them in helping them shift the blame onto someone or something else.
I’m not trying to minimize difficult and devastating circumstances. I’m not implying that our experiences don’t have a potentially profound effect on our hearts and lives. But at the end of the day, you and I are accountable for our own actions and choices. At the end of this life, we can’t point the finger and pretend we are blameless. We can’t pull an Eve and say, it is the serpent’s fall, or an Adam and say, it is her fault. We also can’t somehow imply that our great God is somehow unable to transform and radically change the human heart.
Nor can we justify our lack of engagement with a brother or sister, because of our own sin. We might say, ‘Well, I’m not perfect either, so I’m not really in a position to engage with them.’ You and I will always have remaining sin in our lives. None of us will be perfect this side of Heaven. None of us will be an exact reflection of the fullness of truth and grace like Jesus in this life. Those truths are not an excuse to not grow in holiness and Christlikeness by any means, but it is the reality that we live in, on earth. We shouldn’t ignore the beam of wood in our eyes and be a Pharisee, but we should also not wait until we reach some mythical land of so-called perfection, before we engage with a family member who is entangled.
Are you a brother or sister? Are you fully aware of your own need for God’s grace? If so, go and seek to restore.
Gossip about it and go sideways
Those who fall into this temptation, reword verse 1 this way. Brothers and sisters, if someone is overtaken in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual, should tell other people who are spiritual and ask them to pray and mutually share your sadness for the person’s situation.
Gossiping about someone’s sin, has NEVER led to someone’s restoration with the Lord and with the Lord’s family. It has never led to the mending of someone’s life, but only further destruction.
Matthew 18:15 specifically says, that the first step in engaging in someone’s life when we see sin or have been sinned against, is to go to them directly and privately.
We must not cloak our gossip in prayer requests. We must not somehow excuse our inaction with the entangled brother or sister, with the action of gossip with those who are not part of the problem or the solution. We are called to love one another, and as a result, we must reject the temptation to gossip and slander or listen to it when it comes our way.
Condemn the sinner with a harsh and haughty tone
Those who fall to this temptation, reword verse 1 to read… Brothers and sisters, if someone is overtaken in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual, should condemn them with a spiritually arrogant tone and assume there is no hope for repentance.
And that is the approach of the Pharisee that Jesus is calling out as sinful back in Matthew 7. The Pharisees were prone to give unwarranted, unjust, unmerciful statements and as a result, their words brought condemnation, rather than a Godly conviction. Their motivation in confronting someone was not love, but actually conceit and vanity. It was to puff themselves up, as if they would never fall to such an entanglement of sin. The person who comes with the attitude of a Pharisee is not aware of their own need for God’s grace. They are not humbly aware that their own flesh is weak, so they don’t engage with a gentle spirit.
- May we be members of God’s family who, when we see a fellow brother or sister overtaken by sin, we move toward, pursue, and engage.
- May we reject the temptation to ignore, justify, gossip or condemn.
- May we engage in relationship and conversation, in a spirit of gentleness, that seeks to speak the truth in love.
- May we live fully aware that we are fellow believers in need of God’s grace and are, ourselves, being transformed by His truth.
- May we live interdependently, surrounding ourselves with brothers and sisters who love us enough to engage us when we have become blind to our own sin.
- May we lay aside the sin that can so easily entangles us, and fix our eyes on Jesus who is the One who has done the work to rescue, redeem, and restore us.