“True Spirituality”   Galatians 5:25-6:6                                  August 6, 2006

 

INTRO:  One of the strangest movements in church history

   was a group called the Pillar Saints—during the 5th century A.D. 

The leader of Pillar Saints was a man named Simeon the Stylite (pillar in Greek).

   Simeon built a pillar nine feet tall on the edge of the Syrian desert.

   Got up on top of it and lived there for six years.

 

Many people came to see him and asked what he was doing.

   He explained that this was the way for him to separate himself from distractions,

   and temptations, and get closer to God and become a truly spiritual person.

 

Other people got into the act and built their own pillars

   They became known as the Pillar Saints.

Many people who admired them for their commitment to Christ 

   would bring them food and water, and listen to their preaching.

 

As bizarre and Simeon and the Pillar Saints were—

   they represent a way of thinking about the Christian life that continues to this day.

If you had asked Simeon:

   How can I, as a Christian, live a truly spiritual life?

   How can I live by the Spirit, and keep in step with the Spirit?

 

He would have probably said something like this:

   Focus on your private relationship with God.

The more private you can be, more you can get away from distractions,

   the more you can get alone with God, the more spiritual you will be. 

 

Suppose a young Christian came to you and asked:

   How can I, as a Christian, live a truly spiritual life?

   How can I live by the Spirit, and keep in step with the Spirit?

 

What’s the first answer that comes to your mind?

   Read your Bible. 

   You and God have got to be alone. 

   That’s the number one, important thing.

That’s the way we tend to think.

   That true spirituality is something that takes place in private.

 

Isn’t it curious that that is not what Paul says.

If you had asked Paul:

   How can I, as a Christian, live a truly spiritual life?

   How can I live by the Spirit, and keep in step with the Spirit?

 

He would say: 

   By bringing the Gospel into your relationships with people in your church. 

 

Verse 25:  Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

   Then Paul tells us what this looks like—

   Doesn’t say read your Bible, regularly pull away and get alone with God.

Five instructions concerning your relationships with fellow church members.

   Passage full of terms “one another”  “each other”  “brothers”

 

These five instructions can only be carried out fully

   within the life in the local church. 

You can’t live out these things on a pillar in the desert.

   You can’t live out these things if you have a superficial connection to the regular

   life of your church—even if you spend lots of time reading your Bible. 

 

Obviously you have to read your Bible.

   You wouldn’t even know what Paul says in Galatians if you didn’t.

   You wouldn’t know the Gospel. 

   Wouldn’t have the power for doing these things Paul mentions.

Obviously you have to pray and draw close to the Lord—

   that’s a natural part of the Christian life.

 

But as this passage clearly shows us—the truly spiritual life,

   is life within the body of Christ. 

It’s life with lots of distractions in the form of real people—

   people sitting in the pew with you,

   people in your Sunday school class,

   or in your Covenant Group, or in Youth Group.

 

True spirituality—

   means bringing the Gospel to bear in dealings with one another in your church.

 

Five instructions.  Let’s look at each.

 

MP#1  True spirituality is not provoking and envying one another.

vs. 26   “Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.”

Notice Paul says that both the tendency to provoke and the tendency to envy

   are expressions of being conceited.

This word “conceited” is translated “vain-glory” in the King James Version.

   A literal translation of this Greek word, two words connected, empty & glory.

Being conceited or vain-glorious is to have a perceived absence of glory—

   and therefore the need to prove yourself glorious, to gain honor for yourself.

 

According to Paul, because of vain glory, your relations with other people

   will often be characterized by either provoking or envying. 

   You will size up every person.  Is this person below me or above me? 

 

If you determine that the person is below you—

   then your stance toward that person will be one of superiority, will look down.

That’s what Paul means by provoking.  Challenge.  I’m better.

   You may communicate that in a subtle or not so subtle way, or keep to self.

 

But if you determine that the person is above you—

   then your stance toward that person will be one of inferiority, will look up.

   You will be envious.  Will either criticize or flatter or both.

Both of these responses (inferiority complex, superiority complex)

   are characteristics of a self-absorbed, self-centered person, hungry for glory.

 

The Gospel cuts the root of your vain-glory.

   It humbles you by showing that you are a sinner, saved only by grace.

   It lifts you by showing that you are loved and honored by God Himself.

When you no longer think or function as if earning God’s favor by performance—

   no longer hungry for glory—can approach people without provoking or envying.

 

Paul says true spirituality is using the Gospel to cut the root of your vain glory—

   so that you no longer provoke those below you, envy those above you.

The place you work this out is not in private, on a pillar in desert,

   but rubbing shoulders with “one another.”  In your participation in life of church.

 

In this church there are people who are lower than you and higher than you—

   economically, educationally, and socially.  Some better looking, some not.

   Some more successful in marriage, child-rearing, others not.

It is with one another, in the church, learn to walk with the Spirit, without conceit.

MP#2  True spirituality is restoring one another from sin.

   vs. 1  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.”

Lots could be said about this verse in terms of formal church discipline—

   but let’s stick to the big theme of walking with the Spirit—

   how this applies to all Christians, not just church officers.

 

There will be times when a brother or sister in your church will be caught in a sin.

   Lots of sins we commit we are not caught in—sins of mind, secret sins.

But sometimes a brothers or sister is caught in a sin—known to few or many.

   Paul says that a mark of true spirituality is to be able to restore a brother.

 

Some Christians don’t understand this.  Don’t see the need for restoration.

   Think restoration is judgmental.  All we need to do is forgive and forget.

Read a pastor’s account of woman in his church, volunteer in pregnancy center.

   One day she told staff that she was pregnant out of wedlock.

   Also told them she was sure that as Christians, would not hold it against her.

She was unpleasantly surprised when she learned that she had to be restored.

   Restoration required her to step down, confess sin, give evidence of repentance.

 

The Gospel alone gives you the framework for restoring someone.

   Because Paul says that it must be done gently, and with you watching yourself. 

   Gently because it is so painful.  It’s been compared to setting a broken bone.

The only way you will do it gently, is if you know the Gospel.

   Gospel constantly reminds you of the love and gentleness of Jesus towards you.

John Newton:  “The Lord makes some of his children warnings and examples for others, as he

   pleases.  They who are spared, and whose worse deviations are known only to the Lord and

   themselves have great reason to be thankful.  I am sure I am.”  But nothing to boast about.

 

That goes hand in hand with Paul’s warning to watch yourself, lest you be tempted. 

   There is an insidious pride that creeps in when dealing with people caught in sin.

You cannot help feeling morally superior—unless you know the Gospel.

   Gospel constantly reminds you of your wickedness that sent Jesus to the cross. 

 

Paul says that true spirituality is using the Gospel in restoring brothers and sisters.

The place you do this is not in private, on a pillar in the desert,

   but in the family of God—with brothers and sisters you have known for years. 

Do you want to walk with the Spirit?  You must be involved in life of the church—

   so that when a brother is caught in a sin, you are there to restore him.

MP#3  True spirituality is bearing one another’s burdens.

“Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

 

Once a neighbor asked me to help him move washing machine out of basement.

   He had it on a dolly, but could only get it up a step or two.

   I went down in basement with him, while he pulled on handles, I lifted.

When you help someone carry a physical burden, some things have to do.

   You have to get close to him, can’t shout advice from top of stairs.

   Then you have to put yourself under the burden, so that part of the weight on you.

 

You can apply that to what Paul says in this verse.

Christians have burdens.  Let me list some.

   Sorrow, grief, regrets, worry, doubts, failures, weaknesses, poverty,

   depression, loneliness, illness, divorce, disability.

Burden bearing means that you get close to the person—

   and then in some way put herself under his or her burden—

   so that part of the weight falls on you.

 

This takes many forms, depending on the need.

Remember a number of years ago, family in our church, no longer with us—

   who had a heavy burden that had been on them for a long time.

Husband told me how another family in this church who knew what they were

   going through would invite them over occasionally to cook out.

He said the most encouraging thing was they didn’t talk about their problems.

   We could just laugh and eat with our Christian friends. 

 

Sometimes people do want to talk about problems, and for you to listen.

   That’s the way you carry burden.  Or helping financially, or with children.

Paul says that doing this fulfills the law of Christ.

 

Paul is getting a dig in at the Judaizersremember from earlier chapters?

   Judaizers laid a burden on Gentile believers.  Truly be saved, keep law of Moses.

Paul gives his great argument for the Gospel—for justification.

   Knowing the Gospel means you don’t lay burdens on other Christians, help carry. 

   That’s the law of Christ.  Loving one another so that you bear burdens.

 

True spirituality is being motivated by the Gospel to bear one another’s burdens. 

   You can’t do that in private, on your pillar in the desert—

   but in a church where you get to know people and their burdens.

MP#4  True spirituality is not comparing yourself to one another.

If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.  Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load.

 

This is an interesting verse. 

   Paul first says not to think too highly of yourself when you are really nothing.

   Then he says that you need to take pride in yourself.

He also says that you should carry your own load—

   even though he has just said that we should carry each other’s burdens.

 

The key is the phrase: “Without comparing himself to somebody else. 

Walking with the Spirit means you don’t compare yourself to other Christians.

   You know them so well that you are there to restore them when caught in sin.

   You see their burdens and weaknesses so you step in to bear them.

 

A constant temptation in church life is to compare yourself to other believers.

   I haven’t been caught in that sin—I must be growing spiritually.

   I don’t have that problem—I must be spiritually mature.

   Or even the other direction.  I’ll never be as far along as he is.

It’s a natural response of a self-righteous heart.

   We set standards that we think we can keep and then judge ourselves by them.

   Instead, each one of us is to carry his own load.

 

Listen to the way Tim Keller explains this passage.  Printed in your bulletin.

   “God has given each of us a different set of liabilities and opportunities, a different set of weakness and gifts.  These are our ‘load’—our responsibility before God.  We are therefore not to compare ourselves with others.  We must look at our particular tests and duties and respond to them obediently.  If we see life in this way, we will judge our life-work today against where we have been.  When we see progress, we will take legitimate pride in it, whether or not we are better or worse than someone else.  Also, if we see life this way, we will be slow to judge others as well.  For example, if we see someone being irritable, we will think, ‘I don’t know what pressures that person is facing nor what level of emotional self-control he began with.  Maybe he is actually obeying God better than me today!”

 

If true spirituality were something you achieve in private, this wouldn’t be an issue.

   Just withdraw and read your Bible.  Go out to your pillar in the desert.

But in real church life, being so close to other believers,

   seeing their failures and victories at such close range, tempted to forget Gospel,

   and compare yourself rather than concentrating on God’s work in you.

MP#5  True spirituality is sharing with one another.

   Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor.

The kind of sharing that Paul mentions is primarily the kind that takes place

   between a pastor and his congregation.

Both the minister and the church have something to share.

   The minister shares good, solid teaching from the Bible.

   The people share all good things with him—simply means financial support.

 

Galatians is probably the earliest book of the New Testament—

   so here we see that very early on the church began to develop a paid pastorate.

Paul follows up with this in several of his letters.

   Those who preach the Gospel have a right to make a living from the Gospel. 

   Lots could be said here in terms of church finances, pastoral pay.

 

But let’s stick to Paul’s big theme of walking with the Spirit.

   Sharing with one another, particularly you financially supporting your minister—

   is an essential part of walking with the Spirit.

 

God has established this order. 

   In the church there is to be a relationship between one who instructs in the Word

   and one who receives instruction in the Word.

The minister is the primary instructor, but every church has other instructors.

   Women’s Bible studies, gifted instructors.

   Sunday school classes week after week for children and adults—

     instructors who put time and effort into lessons.

   Youth Group instructed on Wednesdays, plans for more in-depth instruction. 

 

Lord expects those who receive instruction share good things with instructors.

   Financial support when needed, also words of thanks, expressions of gratitude.

   Paul says that this is a mark of true spirituality.

Reason is obvious. 

   Because your sharing good things is an indication of what you hold precious.

   The thing you receive from instruction is nothing less than Gospel itself—

   the Good News of life, Christ and all His benefits.

 

This does not in any way mean that private Bible reading and study not important.

   Tremendously important.  But clear that God’s will for his people is that they

   walk with the Spirit by coming under the instruction of the Word,

   and expressing their gratitude for it with generous sharing.

CONC:     Remember Simeon the Stylite?

   Eventually he decided he was not spiritual enough—pillar only 9 feet tall.

   With help of admirers, built one 54 feet high, 3 feet in diameter—

   and there he lived until his death 30 years later.

 

God blessed Simeon in many ways. 

   People came from far and wide—there are records of conversions.

   People would see him up there, go away determined to live more devoted lives.

 

But if we take God’s word seriously, it is clear that he would have been more

   fruitful if he had climbed down, and lived the spiritual life in the biblical way—

   in the church,

   bringing the Gospel to bear in his relations with God’s people week after week.

 

How do you, as a Christian, live a truly spiritual life?

   How do you live by the Spirit, and keep in step with the Spirit?

By bringing the Gospel into your relationships with people in your church—

   this church. 

 

By using the Gospel to cut the root of your conceit,

   so that you no longer provoke those below you or envy those above you.

 

By keeping the Gospel in mind when you restore a brother caught in a sin—

   allowing it make you gentle and mindful of your own sinfulness.

 

By experiencing the Gospel as the great burden-lifter. 

   Jesus lifting the weight of your guilt and legalism—

   so that you can get close to a brother or sister and help him carry his burden.

 

By seeing the Gospel as God’s claim on your life,

   so that you no longer compare yourself to other believers

   to feed your self-righteousness.

 

By cherishing the Gospel as the words of life,

   so that you share whatever is needed with those people in the church

   God has given you as your instructors. 

 

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.