“Why We Do The Things We Do”
Pentecost 7 (Proper 9), July 3, 2016
Why We Do the Things We Do
Text: Galatians 6:1–10, 14–18
Picture this scenario: The Sunday Services are over. The organist is busy putting away music. The altar guild is attending to the Communion stuff. The elder of the day is taking care of his assignments. The ushers begin to close up the church. Part of those responsibilities is going through all the pews, picking up discarded bulletins, straightening hymnals, and the like.
Suddenly, the sound of young voices fills the sanctuary. Little heads are bouncing up and down as they race between the pews. Their goal is to collect as many bulletins as possible and present them as a prize to their father, who is an usher. They do this for the joy of it. It is not work. It is not a burden. They do this knowing they’ll receive an approving smile from their father. It’s a golden opportunity to show their love to the one they call “Dad.” The smiling faces and the arms extended upward with hands full of used bulletins tell the story. There’s no secret here as to why they did the thing they did.
What about us? Why Do We Do the Things We Do? Do we do the things we do because we feel some sort of obligation, or do we do them out of joy for someone? (I think you already know where I am going to go with this, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.) Do we do the things we do because we think we HAVE to do them or because we GET to do them?
Our text describes one of the things we do as Christians: we are commanded to bear one another’s burdens (vv 1–2). You know, I was reading in the commentary you all bought me that one of the things that Paul stresses in this letter to the Galatians is that all of us who are in the church are family! When you look at our mission statement, that is Biblical, we are growing God’s Family here. We are a family, literally brothers and sisters in Christ. We are not supposed to think of ourselves as individuals or as a subset of the bigger group. Dr. Das wrote, “An ‘isolated Christian’ is a contradiction in terms.”
Paul says that we are to bear one another’s burdens. Now this is not in the sense that we are to “put up” with each other but we are to help each other out even if it is inconvenient or if it requires some effort on our parts. Bearing burdens was the task of a slave. That is supposed to be our mindset for one another.
So it is that the members of the Body of Christ have burdens. Our brothers and sisters in Christ fall into sin. Feeling guilty about our sins can certainly be a burden. When we have wronged our spouses or our kids. If we have undermined someone at work to our benefit. If we have cheated on a test or a paper for school. Sins bring guilt, and guilt is a burden. Struggling against sin can be a huge burden of guilt.
Our brothers and sisters, our fellow Christians struggle with other burdens too. We are in need of support and encouragement when we have troubles at home, or if we are having problems at work or have lost our job, or when we have to deal with an illness. I think you all know what I am talking about here.
Paul tells us what we are supposed to do if we find out that someone in our “family” is going through something like that. We are to restore these fellow believers in “a spirit of gentleness” (v 1; Phil 4:5; Col 3:12). What does this mean? (That is such a good Lutheran question, right?) That means forgiving them of sins. When someone sins against us we do not hold a grudge but by God’s Grace we forgive them. We are to stand by them in those times of suffering. If we know someone who is hurting, we are to embrace them and pray for them and help them in any way we can. We are Christians. We are family. This is what we are supposed to do.
Obviously, bearing one another’s burdens is a very good thing! It’s “the Christian thing to do.” But why do we do it? Do we bear one another’s burdens because we think it’s what we have to do as a good Christian or to be a good Christian? That is, do we see bearing one another’s burdens as one big burden to us? Do we do it because we think of it as a required fulfilling of the Law? (v 2). Do we do it because we think it ensures we’ll reap a rich harvest of payback? (vv 6–10). Or maybe do we do it because carrying others’ burdens makes us feel good about ourselves. You know, the idea that “We’re the strong ones. We don’t have problems (temptations, family troubles, unemployment, health issues) like they do.”
If any of those things is the reason why we try and help someone else out, then what we do is not only for the wrong reason, but it also receives a stern warning (vv 1b, 3–5). We are not to help each other out because we have to or it might get us onto heaven.
Okay, so we still agree that bearing one another’s burdens is the Christian thing to do. We all know it’s what we should do. But we want to do it for the right reason. What is the right reason?
We know why we should do what we do for someone else, don’t we? We should bear another’s burdens not for our benefit but for that of the other person. We are to forgive our neighbor because we want them to be free of guilt. We are to listen, to comfort, to counsel because we want them to live in joy and peace of mind. That is, our works for others are not to lead us to sinful pride but to humble service (Eph 4:2; 1 Pet 3:8).
But the fact is the only way we can do what we do for someone else is because of Someone Else. By nature, we care only about ourselves, accounting for ourselves, keeping the Law. Thinking we’re really something. Feeling pretty proud of the way we bear our own load, pull our own weight, don’t need anybody else’s help. Earning yourself a reward—or avoiding punishment—by fulfilling what we think must be that “law of Christ.”
But that Someone Else, Jesus Christ, has freed us from thinking about ourselves (v 14a). That really has been Paul’s point all the way through Galatians, and now it reaches its climax. We are by nature slaves to sin and the Law, and trying to keep it, to beat our sin by whatever good things we try to do—even caring for our fellow believers—is hopeless. We discussed this every Sunday in June.
But Jesus Christ has fulfilled the Law for us so that now we don’t have to worry—or even think—about ourselves. We focus on the cross of Christ. The cross was considered a place of defeat (Is 52:13–53:12; Heb 12:2), but Jesus turned the cross into a place of victory over sin, death, and the power of the devil (Rom 8:37; 1 Cor 15: 54–57; Gal 2:20). We do what we do for someone else (our fellow believers) because Someone Else (Jesus Christ) has done what He did for us.
We end with this: Ken Klass wrote this week about Patrick Henry. You know him, he is the dude who said 250 years ago, “Give me liberty or give me death.” It may surprise you to hear that he didn’t think that our individual freedoms, as important as they are, were the most important thing in life, by far.
In his will, Patrick Henry wrote something interesting. He wrote, “I have now given everything I own to my children. There is one more thing I wish I could give them and that is Christ. Because if they have everything I gave them and don’t have Christ, they have nothing.” I would say that Patrick Henry understood what Paul was talking about in Galatians. He knew that there is one thing in life that is the key to all of life: Jesus Christ. Indeed, faith in Jesus Christ alone is that key.
Therefore, as you do what you gotta do this week, take some time to think about the ways that knowing Jesus Christ by faith, knowing Him through His Word, think how that might impact everything you are, everything you say, everything you do. For when you know this in here and in here, you realize that Jesus is not only the key to life, He’s the key to your life — that makes your life worth living no matter the challenges. That makes people worth loving no matter the struggles, and that makes work worth doing no matter the obstacles.
With Jesus in here, the crucified and risen Jesus, the one who died and rose for our sins, we get to (not HAVE TO) help each other out, carry each other’s burdens, because we GET TO love each other as Jesus first loved us. We do what we do because of Someone Else, because of what Jesus Christ has done for us in love. In love and empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are crucified to the world and made alive to Christ. We GET TO help each other out, in a spirit of gentleness.