Galatians 6:1-10 In every human relationship—marriage, family, church, the workplace and school-- there are going to be times when someone sins—and someone gets hurt by that sin. A spouse commits adultery. Angry words are spoken between family members about a will. A fellow employee takes credit for our work. Gossip destroys a friendship.
The temptation is to wash our hands of that person or to give back just as good as we got. We have a terrible human capacity to carry around grudges for years and lash out in anger. But that is the way of the world. What are to do as Christ’s disciples when sin has hurt a relationship? The Bible says:
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him…
Like so many things in the Kingdom of God—this is counter-intuitive. When we have a conflict, we expect the one who was wrong to come to us and try to make things right—preferably on their knees. “I’m not going to her—she’s gotta come to me!” But Jesus says it’s to be just the opposite with his disciples: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.”
As God’s people we are called to work for the sinner’s restoration—to bring them to that place where they can be reconciled to those they have hurt and reconciled to God.
That reconciliation always begins in the same place—with the hard truth about the sin and the sinner revealed in the Law. That is why Paul tells us that we are to restore those who have fallen into sin with a spirit of gentleness.
It is a painful thing to see the truth about ourselves when we’ve sinned. None of us enjoys having our failures pointed out. That is why we are to be gentle with others when they fall short of what God expects them to be so that they can come to the place where they can say: You’re right. I’m sorry. What I did was wrong. Please forgive me.
At that moment, the most powerful words that we will ever speak are spoken: “I forgive you”. Jesus promised his disciples that if they forgave the sins of anyone—they were forgiven—not just on earth but in heaven.
That promise of powerful forgiveness was not just for the twelve- and it is not just for pastors- but the call to forgive is for all of Christ’s people because those words find their power in the cross of Jesus Christ where all forgiveness is found.
When Christians say “I forgive you” to those who have sinned we assure them that our relationship with them- and their relationship with God- has been restored by the atoning death of Jesus on the cross. And in speaking those words to others we remind ourselves that we too need the forgiveness of Christ. The Bible says we are to:
Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted-for if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.
When someone has sinned and there has been a conflict we like to tell ourselves “that of course we would never treat someone that way”—“I’m not that kind of person”. But we must not kid ourselves that we are somehow magically immune from the failures of our fellow human beings--we are in this sin-mess together with all people. That is why Paul tells us that we are to Bear one another's burdens…
There are all kinds of things that people use to identify themselves as true Christians. In Galatia it was circumcision and keeping the Mosaic Law. Today it’s worship style—denominational affiliation—clothing—school choice—personal piety--and so on that people mistakenly use to identify themselves as Christians.
But there is one thing that is a sure sign of whether or not we are Christ’s people: whether or not we are people of forgiveness. It is in our willingness to forgive that we show true Christ-likeness because forgiveness is the story of our own salvation.
Our heavenly Father looked upon a world full of people that were alienated from him—a world full of people that sinned against him—and He loved them and longed for their restoration as his children.
He sent his Son Jesus into this world of sinners and he carried our sin burden to the cross where it was forgiven in his shed blood--speaking the words that changed our lives for times and eternity: “Father, forgive them” spoken to every person into the world whose sins burdened him and brought him to the cross that day.
“Forgive them.” That is how we do good to all people—that is how we bear one another’s burdens—that is how we fulfill the law of Christ.
The word “law” in this verse does not mean an oppressive command that must be obeyed but an example that is followed by Christ’s disciples. And so the question for us this morning is this, “How are we doing showing the forgiveness of Christ to others”? The Bible says: Let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor.
When we test our lives in this (in forgiving others just as Christ forgave us) how do we measure up? Do we still carry some ill will in our hearts towards someone that has wounded us? Are we constantly bringing up some past hurt that we have told someone has been forgiven? Are we still bearing some grudge against this person or that?
If we are, it does US no good to say: “Well, they made me mad” or “It’s all their fault” or “They shouldn’t have done that or said that.” The Bible says that “Each will have to bear his own load.”
That means that it is we, and we alone, who bear the responsibility for the anger and bitterness in our heart. Yes, that other person genuinely hurt us and sinned against us. Yes, they have a responsibility to repent and confess and seek God’s forgiveness. But all of that is between them and the Lord. We are the ones who have to deal with our own spiritual life and what we have in our hearts.
When we measure our lives as Christ’s people against the pure standard of our Savior’s forgiving love—when we try to fit our actions and attitudes into the mold of the cross--we can’t help but see that we haven’t always followed Jesus’ example.
We have carried grudges—we have kept others at arm’s length—we have looked for opportunities for revenge—we’ve put the worst construction on what others have said and done.
Today is the day to be done with that—to confess it for the sin that it is and to seek Christ’s never-ending forgiveness and the Spirit’s help to began again as his people to live out his life in this world.
It is not easy to do—this forgiving thing-- and we would never even begin to realize that we needed to do it if the Holy Spirit did not speak to us about it in God’s Word. That is why the Bible says that the “One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches.”
What a blessing it is for me to commend this congregation in the way that you gladly fulfill this apostolic command in sharing with your pastor and so there is nothing self-serving in my pointing out how important the office of the Holy Ministry.
Left to ourselves we have a terrible capacity (even when it comes to our own private study of the Word of God) to seek out those words that validate our own behavior and those words that judge the behavior of others.
That is why we need the office of the Holy Ministry—so that we can hear that Word of God that is outside of us—maybe a word of rebuke that we would just as soon have avoided—maybe a word of forgiveness that we would have never dared to apply to ourselves—but we needed to hear it for what it is—a Word from the Lord--because what’s at stake in our spiritual lives is serious and eternal. The Bible says:
Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
These words of Paul point us to the Last Day when there will be a final judgment for the living and the dead—with eternal life or eternal death as the judgment-- and when it comes to conflict and hard feelings between ourselves and others that is a helpful thing to remember because what we sow in this life we will reap in eternity.
What does our fussing and fighting and feuding with one another in our marriages, homes, friendships, and congregations look like in the light of eternity but a bunch of petty, childish silliness? Now picture this in the light of eternity: a life of Christian love spent doing good to others, bearing their burdens, and forgiving their sins.
There is nothing easy about the Christian life. It is not an accident that Jesus likes it to taking up a cross because this kind of life requires us to die to ourselves and live for Christ and others. But we have the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us and is strengthened in us today through God’s gifts of Word and Sacrament.
And so we begin again today to live lives of forgiveness, doing good to all because our hearts have been transformed by the cross and our eyes are fixed on the Last Day when all of Christ’s faithful people will receive the reward of eternal life. Amen.