Relationships - That is life. Real. Deep. Lasting. Committed relationships. Relationships that give. That sacrifice. That are not at all in it for themselves. They seem to have a neverending supply of love and grace for others. They are strong in that they are always honest. But there is a humility about their honesty. They speak not to be right, but to tell the truth in love. If we know our place before God and what we have been given by Him, we cannot be puffed up.
So Paul commands us. “Let us not become conceited, provoking one another to anger.”
The word “conceited” in some of the older translations is ‘vain glory’. The Greek word is κενόδοξοι literally meaning “empty of glory”, or “no glory.” To be “empty of glory” means that you are desperate for recognition and affirmation - desperate to prove yourself. You are empty of any glory, and so you seek out other human beings to fill that hole, and make you feel better about yourself.
We all know there is such a person as an insecure person, but this word takes that to a theological level. In Romans 1 and 2 Paul says we were made to serve God alone, in all that we do. We were made for him. We were created to hear the words from God, “Well done good and faithful servant.” That is what we need! Humans need affirmation, we need recognition. Every fiber of our being was designed to please God and receive his affirmation, “Well done, Good and faithful servant!” But we rejected God, we turned our back on him and since then we have tried to get it somewhere else. We go away from Him and enter into relationships that profit us.
We even talk about relationships that way, we ‘invest’ in them. As if we are always looking for returns. Is it worth it? What happens then is, we begin to provoke one another and envy each other. Provoking means I can beat you. I am better than you and I am going to show it. It is all about your greatness, and people better not stand in the way.
Envying is the inferiority complex that we don’t have what they have, and we want what they have, and so we envy each other. When we go into relationships with this kind of attitude we always ask, “How does this help me feel better about myself? How does this help me fill the emptiness?” We use and exploit people. This is what Paul warns against when he says, “Don’t become conceited, provoking one another to anger.”
Let us not become conceited, provoking one another to anger.
- The Christians love
- The Christians harvest
The Christians love
In verse 1 we read, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch out or you also may be tempted.” Here the word spiritual does not mean some special elite group of Christians, but simply means you who are filled with the Spirit. So if you have a right attitude about yourself, if you are humble, and gentle, and have the fruit of the Spirit and you see someone that is caught in a sinful cycle, you should correct him or her. Maybe they are always blowing up relationships because they are abrasive, or seem to bounce from job to job because of some character flaw. You must restore him gently.
The conceited person would say, “What am I getting out of this? There is nothing here for me. This person is going to do nothing for me.” All I do is give, give, give; I mean I have my own commitments and goals. Again, you go into it with the logic of the market. We do some cost benefit analysis. Is this person going to help me meet other people I want to meet? How can I bolster my fragile sense of being a good person? This could be why a conceited (or empty of glory) person gets into a relationship like this. So he can constantly rescue them and make himself feel better.
But Paul is calling for a relationship that takes a unique sort of identity, one that has been healed of the need for vain glory: One that does not go into a relationship looking to see what you can get out of it, looking how you can boost your self-esteem, and your fragile sense of self. One that is not exploiting or using others. But one that is satisfied in the gospel and has a remade identity in Christ – one that is filled already with the glory of heaven through the Spirit of Christ. In him alone can we hear the approval of our God, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” In Him alone can we truly carry each other’s burdens as verse 2 says, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
We follow our master, the great burden carrier. “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart” Jesus Christ is the burden carrier of his people; he carried our crushing weight to the grave, and buried it forever, so that in his resurrection we too may rise to a new life, a life where we can be truly free to share all of ourselves with whoever would cross our path, so that we might share each other’s burdens.
We do this wonderfully in the way we do home visits. You are able to share your burdens with your shepherds. I am thankful for that. But here too we can always grow. We are here to carry each other’s burdens. A great way of doing this practically is having an accountability partner, or someone that you regularly pray with and regularly asks how your life is going. Not on a shallow, ”how’s it going kind of level.” But on a deep spiritual level. How is it going with your devotional life with God? How is it going with your marriage? How are you doing with the sins of life? Like the pride of life or the lust of the eyes. How are you doing with work? Where can you grow? Imagine if every one of us had a relationship like this outside of our immediate family, how much we could still grow!
Marriage partners, you too can seek out another couple that you can trust, that can help you to grow. Younger people don’t be afraid to ask an older person if they would be willing to sit down with you for an hour a month and talk about spiritual things, to mentor you. Older people let’s take initiative and ask the younger ones among us. The bottom line is: We need each other.
If I have a 100 kilogram load that I cannot carry and you come to help me. What happens then is that we both carry fifty kilograms. You see, you cannot enter into a relationship without picking up that burden, but when you pick that burden up it becomes lighter so to speak.
Jonathan Edwards writes a number of answers to objections that people have for helping the poor. One of them was, “I can’t afford it.” He says, if you never give unless you are not burdened, “how is that rule of bearing one another’s burdens fulfilled?” We should be willing to suffer with our neighbor, and take part of his burden on ourselves. If you never want to be burdened with other people’s problems then it is hard to be a Christian. Because the whole reason Christ came was because he made your problem His, so that we could have a relationship with God, not to seek his approval (we have it) but to enter into relationships with each other.
Verse 3 says, “If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” In Luke 11 Jesus is teaching his disciples about prayer, and somewhere there he says, “If you, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts…” He calls his disciples evil. If you, though you are evil… That is half the gospel: we are nothing. What a wretched man I am, Paul says about himself. Say that about yourself a few times. Say that out loud sometimes. Makes you feel about this small. But that is the one side of the gospel.
The way to overcome that is not to get into a relationship that makes us feel good. That is what you will do if you are conceited, then you are empty - empty of glory.
It is humility that is the way to the cross. And in that constant humility you find your growth, your exaltation. The nearer you come to the cross, the more we will see this, and the less we will compare with others.
As verse 4 and 5 explains, “Each one should take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load.” All of us must take stock of where we are in our understanding of the Gospel. Each one must take a good look in his own heart and see whether the fruit that he is bring forth is real Spirit empowered fruit, or more like fake Christmas ornaments tied onto the tree. How easy it is for someone that thinks they have made it, be it an elder or an older member, or lifetime member, and look down on someone else as “less spiritual.” And the opposite is true too, how easy it is for someone that is really struggling to say ‘if only I was like that person and did not have all this baggage’.
Dear brother, dear sister God put each and every person in this building on their own unique path in life with their own set of challenges, heartaches and temptations. There is not one of us that walks the same path in life. All of us were called to walk our own unique path in life, to bear our own load, and test our own actions. So quit comparing yourself with each other. And walk the path that God in his wisdom has marked for you.
Please note, load here is not the same world as burden in verse 2. Load here is kind of like the suitcase with life events that God gave you. May we who grew up in the church never dare to look down on the one that is struggling and who just came to faith from a life of drugs, or alcohol. A life told by the tattoos on his skin. At the end of John, Jesus is talking to Peter and basically tells him he will be killed for Jesus. Peter sees John walking by and says, “what about him?” And Jesus replies, “What is that to you, you must follow me.” We are all called to simply follow at whatever stage we are at. Bringing us briefly to the last two points
The Christians harvest
In verse 6 we read, “Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor.” You know what encourages a Pastor or elder more than anything? When they hear about the effects of the word of Christ living in the Congregation! When you are conceited you think you have a right to criticize, and be cynical, and hold yourself back. These sorts will always have negative things to say about the church. But the one filled with the Spirit will rejoice and overflow with what the Word has done for them. Not only in words, but they will be willing to put their money where their mouth is.
So on home visits, don’t first of all think about what is wrong with the church, and what you don’t like, but think about how Christ has worked in you, how you have grown, and share that. The elders and pastor will leave deeply encouraged. I have been so blessed to hear about the blessings of Bible study groups, of those who have started being intentional about prayer, about those who have been generous when others have been in need. I glorify God because of this. These are people that sow to reap the Spirit and will reap eternal life.
As we read in verse 7 and 8, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked, a man reaps what he sows. The one that sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” This sounds almost like a threat. But it is not. It is simply a truth statement. “God cannot be mocked” You can’t kid God, God sees everything, and knows everything. If you want to sow to the flesh and think, “what’s God going to do? I am going to keep using my relationships to benefit myself, rather than enter into them giving of myself.” Then we sow to the flesh, we sow only for this world, and God will judge us. We are not thinking long term. i.e. with death and eternity in mind.
If we live for this life then we will keep biting and devouring each other, and be destroyed. And we will leave a trail of betrayal, and broken relationships where we go. But the other side is also true. If we have been crucified with Christ, and he lives in us with his Spirit then we sow not to please ourselves anymore but the Spirit of Christ who lives within us. It is not about us pleasing ourselves, but God – and so we will reap eternal life. And we will hear that voice of the judge echo through the hallcourts of the universe, with the voice of affirmation for which our heart yearns, “well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the rest of my Father.”
Dear Church, holiness is a harvest – it all depends on what you sow, that is what you will reap. It is the most basic principle of farming. If you sow wheat you will get a wheat harvest. Some Christians habitually sow to the flesh and wonder why they don’t reap a harvest. As John Stott says, “Every time we allow our mind to harbor a grudge, nurse a grievance, entertain an impure fantasy, or wallow in self-pity, we are sowing to the flesh. Every time we linger in bad company whose insidious influence we know we cannot resist, every time we lie in bed when we ought to be up and praying, every time we read pornographic literature, every time we are angry, straining our self-control, we are sowing, sowing, sowing to the flesh. Some Christians sow to the flesh every day and wonder why they do not reap holiness. Holiness is a harvest, whether we reap it or not depends almost entirely on what and where we sow.”
As the saying goes, “Sow a thought, reap an act, sow an act, reap a habit, sow a habit reap a character, sow a character reap a destiny.” Christianity is all about doing the small things right. How you react to traffic, how you act after a long day, your prayer life, how you read the Bible, saying ‘I love you’ to your wife. Is it easy to develop these habits? Does a harvest come in automatically? Any famer will say its hard work – and the gospel road is not any different. But it’s worth it. Every single one of us in this building will reap what we sow. What are you sowing?
So let us not become weary of doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Don’t give up. You will get tired. But it’s like any good race. No pain no gain. Run the race. Lay down your life for others. Enter into their space to serve them, to say, “here let me take the other side of that burden, let’s carry it together.” Believer, it will not be easy to keep saying no to your selfish, sinful nature. Especially when the world is on sins side.
The world says do what’s best for you! The Bible says consider others better than yourself. The world says don’t be vulnerable, the Bible says confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you may be healed (James 5:16). The world says don’t give away too much time and money, the Bible says die to self (John 3:3-7).
Therefore, as we have opportunity let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. There is the summary. If 5:26, was the negative summary of this sermon here is the positive one. Let us do good to all people. A Christian is a person who does all kinds of good to all kinds of people. Doing good means meeting peoples’ needs, where they are. It means tutoring the ignorant, picking up trash, it means watching out for your neighbor, and helping your community, helping with neighborhood watch. It means praying for people, and sharing Jesus Christ with them. Doing good means doing every good thing it is possible to do while walking the life path you have been put on. The good things are to be done both inside and outside the church. But especially to those who belong to the family of believers. The fact that we take care of each other is an amazing testament to God’s grace. Let’s grow in this!
One commentator says this, A Christian has a far stronger claim on my feelings, my labor, my property. He is my brother and my sister, equally interested with myself in the blood and love of the Redeemer. I expect to spend eternity with him in heaven. He is the representative of an unseen Savior, and Jesus considers everything done for the sake of my brother as done to himself. For a Christian to be unkind to a Christian is not only wrong. It is monstrous.”
By not doing good to people in this church we abuse the body of Christ, by loving others here and doing good we honor it. Do good to all people – this is the gospel lived out.
The heart of redemption is this: my life for yours. Sin says: your life for me. Your needs for mine. By sowing to please the sinful nature we try to fill the ocean of Gods affirmation with a tablespoon of man’s acceptance, and it will dry up.
But Jesus says: my life for you. I sacrifice for you. All real love is substitutionary, self emptying. Love is not love until you give it away. Try it, and you won’t be disappointed. Be patient, be diligent. Live the gospel. Live it and hear the voice of God Almighty, well done good and faithful servant.