Summary: Sowing to the flesh versus sowing to the Spirit
WALKING IN THE SPIRIT
‘If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit,’ said Paul towards the end of the previous chapter (Galatians 5:25). The Greek word translated here as ‘walk’ speaks of our deliberately ‘getting in line with’ the Holy Spirit’s leading in our lives. Then to round off that chapter Paul effectively warns us of the danger of getting out of step with the Spirit: ‘Don’t be conceited,’ he says (which is ‘vain glory’); ‘don’t provoke one another (which is to trip one another up); and don’t envy one another’ (Galatians 5:26).
“Brethren,” he literally continues in Galatians 6:1a, “even if a man be taken in some offence ye, the spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of meekness.” If we are ‘spiritual’ we will not stand in self-righteous judgment like the scribes and Pharisees in John 8:3-5. We will rather keep in line with the ‘meekness’ which is listed among the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:23) and is demonstrated by Jesus in John 8:10-11. The aim all along is, after all, to “restore” the offender.
This is just one example of “bearing one another’s burdens, and thus fulfilling the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2; cf. John 13:34; John 15:12; Galatians 5:14). Furthermore, we must do this without any feeling of superiority, lest we also be tempted (Galatians 6:1b). Neither must we think this is beneath us, deceiving ourselves by thinking more of ourselves than we should (Galatians 6:3; cf. Galatians 5:26a).
It is in this sense that we are to “bear our own burden” (Galatians 6:5). Not by measuring ourselves alongside others, which was the problem of Galatians 5:26, but by proving each our own work (Galatians 6:4). The word translated “burden” in Galatians 6:5 is not the same Greek word as the heavy burden of Galatians 6:2 but is rather a light burden capable of being managed by just one person, and it represents our responsibility before God, and is ours alone to bear (cf. Matthew 11:28-30).
In the next paragraph Paul begins by insisting that catechumens (those who teach the word) should be supported in their ministry (Galatians 6:6). Paul insists upon this (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:11; 1 Corinthians 9:14), even though he never himself accepted a stipend (cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:9). This introduces the theme of sowing and reaping: “Be not misled; God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man may sow, that also he shall reap” (Galatians 6:7).
The theme of sowing and reaping is next carried over from the subject of financial support for the ministry to the subject of Christian holiness. There is a sowing to the flesh (which reaps corruption) versus a sowing to the Holy Spirit which from the Holy Spirit reaps eternal life (Galatians 6:8). The flesh is that which Christians ‘have crucified with its passions and desires’ (Galatians 5:24), but there is still a temptation, even for Christians, to “sow to the flesh” in thoughts, words and deeds. This does not mean that we lose our salvation thereby, but such behaviour does hinder our growth in holiness meantime.
“Sowing to the Holy Spirit” is to ‘set our mind on’ the things of God (cf. Colossians 3:1-2). We begin to reap in this life through communion with God. “This is eternal life,” says Jesus, “that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3).
The third use of the theme of sowing and reaping relates to well-doing: literally, “In well-doing we should not lose heart” (Galatians 6:9a; cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:13). The encouragement follows: “for in due season we shall reap”; and its little caveat: “if we do not faint” (Galatians 6:9b). “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10).
As Paul takes the pen into his own hand (Galatians 6:11), he emphasizes once more the issue between the Judaisers and himself. The motives of his opponents are suspect: to make a good showing in the “flesh” they try to force Gentile believers to be circumcised; but only so that they might not themselves suffer persecution for the cross of Christ (Galatians 6:12). Even though they, the circumcised, do not keep the law, they desire to have others circumcised that they may (possibly by keeping stats) boast in their “flesh” (Galatians 6:13).
All that is outward, fleshly, but Paul’s response is inward, spiritual: “God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision avails anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation” (Galatians 6:14-15). In other words, outward ceremonies count for nothing: ‘you must be born again’ (John 3:7).