Summary: A look at fellowship among Christians, especially in light of Paul’s discussions of Christians’ role within the church to God, to each other and to those who have not yet come to Christ.
“He Ain’t Heavy…He’s My Brother”
Galatians 5:14, 6:1-10, 14-18
Stephen Becker, M.Div.
St. Peter’s Lutheran Church
Sixth Sunday After Pentecost, July 8, 2007
One of the songs that the 1960’s is best known for is a song by The Hollies known as “He Ain’t Heavy…He’s my Brother.” Back in the 60’s, songs were often released on a small vinyl record known as a 45 (now for anyone under 30 here tonight, a 45 was a type of record that held one song on each side and it was called a 45 because it spun 45 times in a minute). On these 45’s, the song hit would typically be on one side and the a “B” song would be on the other. Most people thought of the “B” song as filler space on the back of the record because, well…something had to go there. And that’s the interesting thing about one of the most well known songs of the 60’s that still carries meaning for us today…”He Ain’t Heavy…He’s my Brother” was one of those “B” songs that the producers never thought would amount to the hit that it was. One of the explanations of the origin of the name of this song came from a well known Vietnam War photo where an American solider is carrying a Vietnamese man on his shoulders. A journalist had asked the soldier if he’d been carrying the man far, and the soldier smiled at the camera and said, "He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother." There’s other stories about where the name of the song came from, but they all point to one thing, bearing each other’s burdens. As members of the Church of Jesus Christ, we are all brothers and sisters through faith, and being brothers and sisters in Christ, God wants us to help each other—in good times and in bad—to help each other stay focused on Jesus as our Way to eternal life. “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Over the course of the past month or so, we’ve been working our way through Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. Remember, the reason Paul wrote this letter to the Christians there in Galatia was that some of them had infused a false teaching into the Gospel of Jesus Christ, insisting that people perform certain works, especially circumcision, in addition to believing in Jesus in order to “earn” salvation. There were some of the leaders of the Church in Galatia that even tried to discredit Paul as a real apostle of Christ. Galatians is one of Paul’s most emphatic and heated letters, where he even calls some of these Galatians foolish because they didn’t fully trust Jesus’ work on the cross. To this idea of works-righteousness, Paul explains that we are saved entirely by Jesus’ work, and we receive Christ’s merit, through God’s grace, by believing in Jesus. In other words, we are saved by Grace through faith. Now as we come to the end of Galatians, Paul addresses a tough situation: what about members of the Church who profess Jesus as Lord and as Savior, but yet still continue to sin? In our lesson last week we looked at how Jesus taught that when we come to faith, when we become a disciple of Christ, we leave our old lives behind because if we don’t, it’s like putting your hand into the plow…your hand is going to get cut off. Paul explains this same teaching, explaining that we are free in Christ to serve Him, not ourselves. So as we come now to the last chapter of Galatians, chapter 6, Paul addresses this very issue of people who say they follow Jesus, but continue to sin. What are we to do with them? Is it “their” problem and not ours? Or is this a problem for the entire body of Christ?
Paul doesn’t beat around the bush when he says, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, restore him gently.” Now who is this “someone” that Paul is referring to? He is specifically addressing a person who has already professed Jesus as His Lord, who has come to faith in Jesus as Messiah. If this person wasn’t a Christian, there would be no need for Paul to say “restore” him because there is nothing in the Christian faith to restore in a person who has never believed. But in “restoring” a brother or sister in Christ who continues to sin, Paul is very careful in reminding us not to put our own hand back into that plow, that old life that could end up plunging us back into a sinful life. Paul says, “watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.” What’s important to remember is that temptation itself is not a sin; in fact, Jesus Himself was tempted. It’s when we give in to that temptation that sin is committed. So when we “restore” a brother or sister in the faith who continues to sin, we may also be tempted by the ways of the world that this brother or sister are living in; we’re getting really close to the fire again. Also, Satan will tempt us equally, especially when we put ourselves in a position to see un-Godly ways. But just like that soldier who carried his Vietnamese comrade, we still have to care for each other…but we are to do it carefully, with God’s Spirit guiding us. Just as a solider will never leave another solider behind, we as Christians can never ignore the needs of another Christian brother or sister in the faith, whether that person needs food, shelter or in this case, gentle reprimanding because of sin. Listen to Paul’s words here in verse 2, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Remember, “the entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”