Summary: Paul’s Charge to Heavenward Hikers: rescue the lost; shoulder each other’s burdens.
If you are planning on hiking up Hawk Mt. in Jasper National Park let me say this: stay on the goat trails; you’ll save a lot of time and energy! Last year when climbing that mountain Sarah and I wasted a good hour following a man-made trail that took us back down the mountain instead of up like we wanted. A couple weeks ago I went back to Hawk Mt. with the TCW team and although we didn’t climb to the top we watched another team of hikers attempting to do so. Like Sarah and me last year, they wasted a good hour following that man-made trail down the mountain. So I say again, if you are planning on bagging Hawk Mt. stay on the goat trails!
Of course if you don’t ever plan on climbing that mountain the advice I just gave is meaningless. That’s not the case, however, with the words the Apostle Paul shares with us this morning. Paul has something to say to us heavenward hikers. No, he doesn’t tell us how to get to heaven since he’s already done that in the first part of his letter to the Galatians, instead he tell us what we should be doing on our hike to heaven. Paul’s charge to us heavenward hikers is this: 1) Rescue the Lost, and 2) Shoulder Each Other’s Burdens.
One of the first things that you learn in wilderness training is to keep an eye on your hiking partner. Paul gives the same charge. “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently” (Galatians 6:1). If your hiking partner slips off the trail and falls into a crevice would you walk past him saying, “That’s what he gets for not looking where he’s going.” Or “This is none of my concern. In fact he probably had a good reason for stepping off the trail and falling into that crevice.” Of course not! You would stop and do all you could to rescue your partner, and if you were unable to help you would find someone who could.
In the same way Paul explains that when one of our fellow Christians falls into sin we will want to do all we can to rescue him. If we don’t, our brother runs the risk of losing his saving faith in Christ. While this should be obvious to us Christians the world wants us to believe that the life-style another chooses to lead is none of our concern. Society says that if a couple wants to mess around and play house before marriage, let them. If someone wants to engage in same sex relationships who are we to care?
Such an attitude shows a misunderstanding of how devastating sin is. Impenitent sin leads to the unquenchable fires of hell. Just think of how painful a little sunburn is, now multiply that pain by a million without the hope of any relief – that’s what hell is. Is that where we want our fellow Christians to end up? No, therefore it is our responsibility to call to repentance those who have fallen into sin. Remember Jesus’ attitude towards the straying. In the Parable of the Lost Sheep he described how the shepherd left his flock to track down one lost sheep. We too need to show concern for every soul that wanders from the truth.
Of course there is a right and a wrong way to go about carrying out this rescue operation. Paul warns us, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.” The Greek verb Paul uses for the word “restore” is a medical term describing what a doctor does when he sets a broken bone. Just as a doctor will first plan how he wants to set the bone and then go about it as gently as possible, so we should handle a fallen brother in the same way. We need to be gentle and patient when confronting someone with their sin. We should first learn the circumstances that led to the fall into sin before we begin “preaching” about the horrors of sin. Only after carefully listening can we begin to apply God’s Word accurately to the situation.
For instance if someone has been away from church for a long time we certainly wouldn’t want to start our conversation with, “Where have you been? You know it’s not right to despise God’s Word by missing church!” At that point we don’t even know the circumstances that have lead to a person’s absence. Maybe they have been sick but no one bothered to check on them. Perhaps they were out of town on business or vacation. If we are truly concerned about an individual’s soul then we will first want to diagnose what the problem is before we apply a cure. Don’t get me wrong, we do need to speak plainly about sin and its consequences but we don’t want to do it in a self-righteous manner. What would we gain by that? Wouldn’t that just turn our brother off to the message that they need to hear? Wouldn’t we then fall into the sin of pride for which we would need to repent?