Galatians 6 - IVP New Testament Commentaries
Freedom to Fulfill Responsibilities
"So where do we go from here? What practical steps can we take to resolve this crisis?" The couple asking these questions had taken a long time just to understand the crisis they were facing in their marriage. But now that they had gained some insights into the reasons for their conflict, they were ready to work to put things right.
So far Paul has led the Galatian believers to understand the historical and theological background for the crisis in their churches and given them general principles about life in the Spirit. Now he spells out specific responsibilities for those who are led by the Spirit so that they can rebuild their broken relationships.
The responsibilities of those who are spiritual (v. 1) are directly related to the problem of division in the Galatian churches. We have already noted that when Paul describes the problem in the churches, he speaks of "biting and devouring each other" (5:15) and "provoking and envying each other" (5:26). The false teachers' campaign to force all the Gentile believers to become Jews would have divided the churches into hostile groups: the Jewish Christians who zealously campaigned for the necessity of circumcision and observance of the Mosaic law, the Gentile believers who zealously pursued the goal of living like Jews, and the Gentile believers who were not willing or able to live by the Mosaic law. Paul's list of responsibilities in this section shows how those who are truly led by the Spirit can bring healing and unity in their divided churches. The responsibilities include both the believers' corporate responsibilities to one another and the individual believer's personal accountability before God. Our public care for one another must be matched by integrity in our private walk before God. Note how corporate responsibilities and individual accountability are woven together in this section:
1. corporate: restore him gently
2. individual: watch yourself
3. corporate: carry each other's burdens
4. individual: each one should test his own actions . . . each one should carry his own load
5. corporate: share all good things with his instructor
6. individual: do not be deceived . . . a man reaps what he sows
7. corporate: do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers
The first responsibility of those who are spiritual is the restoration of one who has sinned. Paul's conditional clause, if someone is caught in a sin, is framed in such a way as to point to the high probability that members of the church will sin. Sin in the church is not a hypothetical possibility, it is a reality. Paul and his readers both knew of believers in the church who had been trapped by sin. The kind of sin in view here is not specified by Paul. It could be any one of the "acts of the sinful nature" (5:19-21). Paul is more concerned about the manner in which sinners in the church are treated than in the sin itself.
Moral failure in the church should not be a surprise, nor should it be considered fatal to the life of the church. What is important is the church's response when such failure occurs. The church may respond with harsh condemnation under the law. That response will crush the sinner and divide the church. That seems to have been what was happening in the churches in Galatia. The zealots for the law were merciless to sinners. But Paul wants to show that the occasion of sin is the opportunity for Spirit-led people to display the fruit of the Spirit in order to bring healing to the sinner and unity in the church.
In order to bring healing to the sinner, we must have a compassionate view of the one who has sinned. Paul does not define the kind of sin, but he does describe the consequence of sin. He views the sinner as one who is caught in a sin. When a person sins, other people are hurt; other people are victims of that sin. But we must remember that sinners themselves are also in some sense victims of sin. Abusers have also been abused. They have been overtaken, ambushed and seized by sin. Paul is not excusing the sinner of personal responsibility. But he is recognizing the terrible captivating force of sin. Just as Jesus said, "Everyone who sins is a slave to sin" (Jn 8:34), so now Paul says that the one who sins is trapped by sin. When we view moral offenders as those who are enslaved and entrapped, we have a compassionate attitude toward them. We will want to help them break the bondage of sin over their life.
Paul appeals to those who are spiritual to help the one who is caught in a sin. The spiritual are not some elite leadership group of spiritual giants. All the way through the letter Paul has been emphasizing that all of his converts in Galatia have received the Spirit (3:2-5, 14; 4:6, 29; 5:5, 16-18, 22-23, 25). All of those whom he addresses in 6:1 as brothers (by which Paul also means to include sisters, according to 3:28) are spiritual, since all who are the children of God have received the Spirit of God, according to 4:6. In other words, Paul is calling on all who have believed the true gospel and received the Spirit to be actively engaged in the ministry of restoration. One way to "keep in step with the Spirit" (5:25) is to restore one who has been trapped in sin.
Paul's directive to the spiritual is to restore the sinner. The verb restore could be used in physical or material contexts to signify resetting a broken bone or mending a torn net (see Mt 4:21; Mk 1:19). In spiritual contexts it meant perfecting in spiritual maturity and equipping for service (2 Cor 13:11; Eph 4:12; 1 Thess 3:10; Heb 13:21). In 1 Corinthians 1:10 Paul uses the same verb to express his desire that the divided church in Corinth "be perfectly united." The church had been broken and torn by divisions; it needed to be reset as a physician would reset broken bones and mended as a fisherman would repair torn nets. Here in Galatians 6:1 the verb restore calls for spiritual therapy so that a broken member of the body can once again work properly and perform its vital functions for the benefit of the whole body.
As long as any member of the body is broken, the whole body suffers. If the broken member of the body is amputated, the whole body suffers the loss. What is needed is restoration. The goal is the recovery of Christian brothers and sisters who have sinned so that the whole body will be healthy and productive again.
The exact methods of restoration are not described by Paul. They will vary according to the individual circumstances. But Paul does specify the manner of restoration: restore him gently. Literally, he says, restore "in a spirit of gentleness." "Gentleness" is one aspect of the fruit of the Spirit (5:23). Gentleness is not weakness; it is great strength under control. When gentle Christians see someone caught in a sin, they do not react with violent emotions or with arrogance. Even when sinful actions are scandalous and harmful, the emotions of the gentle person are under control, and the will of the gentle person is devoted to loving the sinner all the way to total recovery. Only the Holy Spirit can empower a person to respond in such a "spirit of gentleness."
Gentleness is not only consideration of the needs of others but also humility in recognition of one's own needs before God. So Paul moves from his command for restoration in the plural form, addressed to all, to a command for self-examination in the singular form, addressed to each individual. Corporate responsibility must be undergirded by the personal integrity of each individual before God. But watch yourself, Paul commands. Close observation of the inner life is necessary because everyone is vulnerable to temptation: you also may be tempted.
Awareness of my own vulnerability to moral failure not only puts me on guard against temptation but also enables me to respond with a spirit of gentleness to someone trapped in sin. The specific temptation in view here seems to be the temptation to react with arrogance and anger to the sin of the offender. Both 5:26 and 6:3-4 speak directly to this temptation. It is understandable that the Galatians' desire to live under the law (4:21) had produced moral watchdogs who were pouncing on sinners, "biting and devouring each other" (5:15). Their sins of conceit (5:26) and their "fits of rage" (5:20) were just as serious as the sin of the offender whom they were so harshly condemning.
In contrast, those who are led by the Spirit are aware that they are "only sinners saved by grace." All their responses to other sinners are guided by the personal insight of their own weakness and their total dependence on the redemptive love of God.
Paul turns again to the corporate responsibility of all Spirit-led Christians: Carry each other's burdens. To "serve one another in love" (5:13) means to bear each other's burdens. After all, bearing burdens is the work of servants. The term burdens may refer to all kinds of physical, emotional, mental, moral or spiritual burdens: for example, financial burdens, the consequences of cancer or the results of divorce. The list of burdens crushing fellow Christians could be extended indefinitely. And no doubt the command to carry each other's burdens covers every conceivable kind of burden and calls for us to be sensitive enough to perceive even the unseen burdens that our brothers and sisters try to hide.
But in the context the command seems to be directed primarily to the burdens of sin referred to in 6:1. Sin always has a kind of domino effect in a person's life. The consequences of one moral failure can be multiplied almost indefinitely. For example, the sin of fornication, sexual union before marriage, may seem natural in the heat of passion. But then the young woman finds out that she is pregnant. And the burdens caused by a moment of sin start to multiply. My wife spends time each week with such young women. Without condoning the sin, she walks with these friends through their emotional turmoil and constantly reassures them that she does not reject them and God does not reject them. She tries to lead them to understand what got them into trouble in the first place and how they can walk in moral freedom. She demonstrates her loving acceptance not only through her warm, affectionate attitude toward them but also by getting involved in their lives. She helps them in many ways to get ready for the birth of their children. She is often called upon to be a mediator between them and their angry, upset families. When the call comes in the middle of the night that her friend is in labor, she goes to the hospital to encourage and comfort. In many ways she bears their burdens.
When we carry each other's burdens in this way, we will fulfill the law of Christ (v. 2). Paul's reference to the law of Christ here establishes a striking contrast between fulfilling the law of Christ and keeping the law of Moses. Keeping the law of Moses was the preoccupation of the law teachers and all who followed their message in the Galatian churches. But their focus was on how the observance of the Mosaic law separated God's people, the Jewish nation, from "Gentile sinners" (2:15). Circumcision, purity and dietary laws, and sabbath and festival regulations were boundary markers established by the law of Moses to preserve the unique identity of the Jewish people. Maintaining the ethnic identity of the Jewish people by observing these boundaries was viewed as a fulfillment of the purpose of the law of Moses. All who lived within these boundaries would certainly enjoy the blessing of God; all who lived outside of these boundaries by neglecting to observe them were under God's curse. The law teachers insisted that the Gentile believers had to live within these boundaries to be reckoned among the people of God. Their zeal for the law made them intolerant of all nonconformists to these standards.
Paul knew from his own experience in Judaism before his encounter with Christ how destructive such zeal for the law could be (1:13-14). His conflict with "false brothers" in the Jerusalem church (2:4-5) and with Peter in the church at Antioch confirmed how quickly zeal for the law could divide the church by classifying Gentile believers as "Gentile sinners" and excluding them from the people of God. And now the zealous teachers of the law are inciting Christians in the Galatian churches to bite, devour, provoke and envy each other. Ironically, their preoccupation with keeping the Mosaic law resulted in breaking the central commandment to "love your neighbor as yourself."
In contrast to this attitude, Paul says that the law of Christ is fulfilled when his people carry the burdens of sinners! Serving sinners in the church, not separating sinners from the church, is the way to fulfill the law of Christ. There are two striking parallels between this reference to the law of Christ in 6:2 and the quotation of the love commandment from the law of Moses in 5:13-14. First, both "laws" are prefaced by parallel references to mutual service: "serve one another in love" and carry each other's burdens. Second, in both places Paul uses the term fulfill to describe what happens when mutual service is performed: "the entire law is summed up" (literally, "fulfilled") and you will fulfill the law of Christ.
These parallels in 5:13-14 and 6:2 indicate that despite the great contrast between keeping the law of Moses and fulfilling the law of Christ, there is also a close connection between Moses' law and Christ's law. Some have thought that this close connection indicates that the law of Moses and the law of Christ are one and the same. Others suggest that only the command to love, apart from any other external principles, is the law of Christ. Still others say that the love commandment defined and clarified by Christ's words and example is the law of Christ. The simple equation of the first interpretation does not work, since at least some aspects of the Mosaic law (such as dietary laws [2:14], sabbath/festival regulations [4:10] and circumcision [5:1-3]) are clearly not applicable to the Gentile churches. The second interpretation is too reductionistic, since both Jesus and Paul do define and apply the command to love in terms of external principles. The third interpretation is not entirely adequate either, because Paul does not simply substitute one code of precepts, the Mosaic law, with a new collection of rules based on Jesus' words and illustrated by Jesus' works. He does not simply replace the Mosaic law with a Messianic law. What such an interpretation misses is the centrality of the cross and the Spirit in Paul's ethical teaching.
The law of Christ is not so much the law taught by Christ, though of course he did teach and apply the love commandment. But when he taught the love commandment, he directed attention to himself: "Love each other as I have loved you" (Jn 15:12). The law of Christ is the love commandment fulfilled, confirmed and heightened in the life, death and resurrection of Christ. He loved sinners and gave himself for them (Gal 2:20); on the cross he bore the terrible burden of the law's curse against them (3:13); he set them free from the burden of the yoke of slavery under the law (5:1). Hence all who are united with Christ and are led by the Spirit will also fulfill the high standard of love established by the life, death and resurrection of Christ: like him, they will love sinners and carry their burdens. Serving one another in love in this way expresses Christ's love and so fulfills Christ's law.
And here is a delightful surprise: those who have received the Spirit and have been set free from the Mosaic law actually fulfill the requirements of the Mosaic law (see Rom 8:4) summed up in the single command "Love your neighbor as yourself"! Christlike, Spirit-empowered love fulfills the law.
Paul turns back again to the need for personal evaluation. Self-evaluation is necessary since there is always the danger of self-deception (v. 3). Personal evaluation must be made on the basis of a careful examination of one's own work, not on the basis of comparison with others (v. 4). Personal evaluation should clarify one's God-given mission in life (v. 5).
The warning against self-deception (v. 3) enlarges upon the warning against conceit (5:26) and temptation (6:1). The most serious spiritual danger of all is the self-delusion of pride: someone who thinks he is something when he is nothing. In the immediate context, Paul's rebuke must be aimed at those who thought so highly of their own status that they were unwilling to take the role of servants to carry the burdens of others. The Jewish Christian law teachers were so impressed with the importance of their mission of imposing the Mosaic law on Gentile believers that they had no time or interest to bear the sin-burdens of "Gentile sinners" who had come to Christ. The Gentile Christians were so intent on coming under the yoke of the law to establish their status as full members of the favored Jewish people that they did not lift a finger to help carry the burdens of their fellow Christians.
These zealots' pride in the law kept them from serving one another in love. And so, thinking themselves to be something, they were in fact nothing. For as Paul says in another letter, "if I . . . have not love, I am nothing" (1 Cor 13:2). Instead of loving one another, these zealots for the law were provoking one another (5:26). Their arrogance caused them to react in angry condemnation toward those who sinned, rather than to help restore sinners by carrying their burdens. No wonder then that Paul interweaves this warning against the self-delusion of pride with his call to service. Only those who are freed from delusions of their own importance will be able to serve others in love.
The only way to prevent self-deception is to examine the value of one's own work: each one should test his own actions (v. 4). The term Paul uses for test means to examine for the purpose of determining true worth. As the jeweler examines a precious stone under a magnifying glass in very bright light to determine its worth, so each Christian should scrutinize his or her actions to determine their true worth before God. The standard used for this evaluation is the law of Christ: the love of Christ expressed in his life and death and produced by his Spirit in all who believe in him. Paul has said that "the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love" (5:6). In other words, to examine one's work is to evaluate whether one's faith in Christ is expressing itself in Christlike actions of love.
If a Christian's careful examination of his life indicates that at least to some extent the love of Christ is being expressed through his actions, then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else (v. 4). At first reading these words seem to contradict what Paul has just said. If he has just warned against the self-deception of pride (v. 3), how can he now say that a Christian can take pride in himself (v. 4)? The NIV translation is a paraphrase of words that could be translated more literally as "then he will have a reason for boasting in himself and not by comparison with someone else." What Paul is doing here is contrasting two kinds of boasting. These two kinds of boasting are clarified a few verses later where Paul says, "They want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your flesh. May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ" (vv. 13-14). The law teachers were boasting on the basis of comparisons between the circumcised and the uncircumcised. They were the circumcised, the faithful people of God; the uncircumcised Gentile sinners were despised and excluded. But such boasting on the basis of a comparison of national differences or religious practices was all passe. "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value" (5:6). Paul vows never to boast in his own standing as a pedigreed member of the Jewish nation or in his zealous devotion to the Jewish traditions. But Paul the Christian continues to boast: he boasts in the cross of Christ (v. 14). That is his boast in 2:20, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." Paul boasted in the cross because the cross was the ultimate display of the love of God for sinners. When we are united with Christ in his death and resurrection, that love of God for sinners can be expressed through us by the power of the Spirit. And that is the reason for Christians to boast!
It is important to stress that the boasting of Christians is not in the "flesh" (v. 13)--racial superiority and religious practices. Such boasting is like that of the Pharisee who said, "God, I thank you that I am not like other men--robbers, evildoers, adulterers--or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get" (Lk 18:11-12). Notice how his boasting is based on the kind of comparison with others which Paul expressly forbids in 6:4. The boasting of Christians is paradoxical: it is a boasting in something considered shameful by the standards of the world. That the Messiah should suffer on a Roman cross was shameful. But by his cross "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us" (3:13). That Christians should serve each other by carrying each other's burdens was also considered shameful from the perspective of the world's values. But when the self-sacrificing love of Christ is seen in the actions of Christians, there is reason for boasting. Christians should celebrate that they can love because of their experience of the cross of Christ and the power of the Spirit.
When we engage in this kind of self-evaluation, we are renewed in our commitment to our own God-given mission: for each one should carry his own load (v. 5). Each of us has been called by God to carry our own load. There is no contradiction here with verse 2, which calls for Christians to carry each other's burdens. In fact, Paul uses two different Greek words to make a clear distinction between the burden (baros) and the load (phortion). Though these two words are basically synonymous in other contexts, the change of nouns in this context indicates a change of reference. Verse 2 refers to the need to come to the aid of others who cannot carry the crushing burden of the consequences of their sin. Verse 5 refers to work given to us by our Master, before whom we will have to give an account of how we used the opportunities and talents he gave us to serve him. It is because we desire to fulfill our God-given mission in life that we learn how to carry the burdens of others. In other words, as Christians examine their actions to see if they reflect the love of Christ, they are at the same time led by that self-evaluation to consider how to serve others in love.
My father is a Christian businessman who constantly seeks to use his business as a way to serve others in love. All my life I have heard him pray and seen him work for opportunities to be a witness for Christ to his business associates and his customers by the way he serves them. He and his partners call their business ServiceMaster, which means "servants of the Master" and "masters of service." For me he will always be one of the best examples of one who serves the Master by serving others. In Paul's words, he carries his own load by carrying the burdens of others.
Paul's challenge to fulfill one's God-given mission in life (carry one's own load) is now balanced by a recognition that some who are fulfilling their God-given mission in the church by teaching the Word need special support from the whole church. Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor (v. 6). Here we see an extremely practical application of the fruit of the Spirit. The love empowered by the Spirit is expressed in "goodness." In practice, that means sharing good things with our teachers.
This simple instruction to support teachers opens a window for us to see some important aspects of the life of the early church. First, we learn that formal instruction in the word was going on in the churches of Galatia. The title catechist is derived from the Greek word translated instructor, and the title catechumen is derived from the Greek word translated anyone who receives instruction. In other words, the early church had a catechism: formal instruction in basic Christian theology. In our day there is often a negative reaction to any attempt to communicate doctrine or theology in the church. Of course academic speculation unrelated to the problems of everyday life is unprofitable. But Christian growth is dependent on sound biblical teaching. Paul saw the need for instruction in Christian theology and sought to encourage it by this practical guideline.
Second, Paul's guideline to support teachers indicates that Christian teaching was a full-time occupation that precluded the opportunity to earn money in some other profession. We know that Paul did at times support himself by his tentmaking. But he considered himself to be an exception to the rule. He thought that teachers in the church should work hard at their job of teaching and be well paid for it (1 Cor 9:14; 1 Tim 5:17). Sometimes full-time Christian teachers are made to feel inferior because they do not have a "real job." But why should those who work hard at teaching the Word of God feel that they are doing something less important than others who sell computer chips, unless the value of work is measured by the amount of money earned? That is surely a questionable measuring stick to use for determining the ultimate value of work. Paul places great value on the work of teaching the Word. It is the basis for strong churches and healthy Christians.
Third, we learn that when teachers faithfully give the Word to the churches and the churches give back good things, there is unity in the church. The command must share is a translation of an often-repeated Greek word: koinonia, "fellowship" or "partnership." Undoubtedly Paul was concerned to encourage this kind of partnership in the Word because he knew that this letter alone could not bring about a complete resolution of the crisis in the Galatian churches. If the churches were to be united and strong again, there had to be a full-time teaching ministry in the church. Gifted teachers needed to devote themselves to an accurate interpretation and application of the "truth of the gospel." In order for them to do that, they needed to receive enthusiastic, generous support for their work of teaching. The same is true today.
The responsibilities listed so far present two opposite ways of life: the way of the Spirit and the way of the sinful nature. The absolute contrast between these alternatives has been developed throughout Paul's ethical appeal. Now it is the hour of decision. Now his readers must consider very carefully the consequences of choosing one way or the other. They cannot drift; they cannot remain neutral; they must decide whether they are going to walk by the Spirit or gratify the desires of their sinful nature. Since each individual must decide for himself or herself which way to live, Paul puts his challenge in a singular form.
Paul introduces his call for decision with a solemn warning based on an agricultural principle: Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows (v. 7). When people think and act as if they will not reap what they have sown, or as if they will reap something different from what they have sown, they are deceiving themselves and mocking God. But since the inexorable law of reaping what is sown has always been proved true, the proverbial statement of warning God cannot be mocked is also true: no one can mock God and get away with it.
Yet there is a common tendency to think that there is one exception to this universal principle: "Though it proves true for everyone else, it is not true for me. I will not have to reap a harvest from the seeds I sow. I can sow whatever seed I want and still expect a good harvest." This common line of thought only proves the words of the prophet Jeremiah, "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure" (Jer 17:9). Our capacity for self-deception is frightening. It is amazing how blind otherwise brilliant people can be to their own spiritual direction in life. In fact, the more brilliant people are, the more skilled they are at developing rationalizations to deceive themselves and to hide from God. The story of Adam and Eve's hiding from God behind their skimpy clothes and even skimpier excuses is our common human experience. Paul's warning needs to be heard, and to be heard often, to warn us against our most brilliant self-delusions.
Paul then applies the agricultural principle of reaping what is sown: The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life (v. 8). Here we are faced with a decision, a decision that determines our destiny. We are not victims of fate, bad luck or even predestination. Our destiny is determined by our decision: shall we sow to the sinful nature or to the Spirit? The old proverb is true: "Sow a thought, reap an act; sow an act, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny."
Those who are sowing to please the sinful nature are destroying relationships with others: they are biting, devouring, provoking and envying others (5:15, 26). In their arrogance they are seeking to pressure everyone to conform to the same ethnic customs and traditions. Churches are being torn apart and destroyed by ethnic rivalries and social competition. Sowing to please the sinful nature will always result in a harvest of destruction, a destruction of relationships with others and with God.
Sowing to please the Spirit means "serving one another in love" (5:13), restoring one who has been caught in sin (6:1), carrying the burdens of others (6:2), giving generously to those who teach in the church (6:6) and doing good to all (6:9). Sometimes sowing to the Spirit has been defined in terms of private, personal holiness, as if it were something done in a closet by oneself. But sowing to the Spirit in the context of Paul's teaching here involves building love relationships with others. Sowing to the Spirit cannot be done in isolation or separation from others. Carrying the burdens of others requires in-depth participation in their pain and sorrow. As we see in verse 9, sowing to the Spirit means doing good to others. If sowing to the sinful nature means selfish indulgence, then sowing to the Spirit means selfless service. The harvest of sowing to the Spirit is eternal life. The meaning of eternal life must be understood within the "already-not yet" structure of Paul's thought in this letter. From Paul's perspective, Christians have already been delivered from the present evil age (1:4) and are already in the new creation (6:15). But the battle between the Spirit and the sinful nature is not yet over (5:17). In Christ we already have new relationships with God and with one another: we now relate not as slaves but as children who call God Father (4:6-7); and we relate to one another not as people divided by racial, social and gender barriers but as people united in Christ (3:28). But since the battle between the Spirit and the sinful nature continues, we do not yet experience total harmony in these relationships. Those who continue to grow in these relationships by the power of the Spirit will ultimately experience the fullness of eternal life--perfect harmony in relationship with God and others.
Growth in our relationships does not happen automatically; growth takes effort. Hard work is required if broken relationships are to be rebuilt. In these two verses Paul simply encourages Christians to keep on working at building their relationships: Let us not become weary in doing good (v. 9). To say that Paul's emphasis on faith means that he was against works is obviously an inaccurate interpretation. Although he warned against relying on the works of the law as the basis of blessing (3:10-14), he clearly taught that true faith expresses itself through love (5:6) and in the hard work of serving one another (5:13) and carrying each other's burdens (6:2).
One of the greatest obstacles to rebuilding broken relationships is simply fatigue. We can easily lose heart and run out of strength when we come up against the same problems over and over again as we deal with others. Even Paul sounds discouraged when he talks about his efforts to rebuild his relationship with the Galatian believers: "I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you" (4:11). Paul recognized that fatigue and discouragement might cause Christians to throw in the servant's towel and quit. So he presents two incentives to keep us from giving up when we grow weary of serving others in love. First, he assures us of a reward for doing good: at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up (v. 9). Sometimes the harvest is experienced in this life. When we sow acts of love, we reap a harvest of love in return. When we give generously and sacrificially to the needs of others, we reap a harvest of gratitude as those needs are met. When we sow the seed of God's Word in needy lives, we experience the joy of response. But we must remember that reaping a harvest almost never happens on the same day as sowing the seed. We may not even see a harvest in this life from what we have sown. Nevertheless, we must never give up, because we know that at the proper time our Master will return and reward those who have been faithful servants.
Second, Paul motivates perseverance in service to one another by reminding us that we are part of a great family: Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers (v. 10). Although there are no limits placed on the scope of our service to all people, our priority is certainly to serve the family of believers. Here Paul picks up a central theme of his letter. All believers are children of Abraham by faith in Christ, the seed of Abraham (3:6-29). All believers enjoy the full rights of the children of God (4:4-7). All believers are the true children of the free woman; the heavenly Jerusalem is our mother (4:21-31). These great truths about the family of believers should motivate us to keep on doing good to our brothers and sisters in Christ. We belong to one another in one family, since we belong to Christ.