The Law of Love
Tenth in a series
(April, 2003 POL)

Topic: Love
Text: Galatians 6:2

Throughout this entire letter to the Galatians, Paul has emphasized the importance of God’s grace, freely given, appropriated by faith alone. He warns against those who would hold up the Old Testament Law as a standard one must behaviorally achieve to be accepted by God. The law is important as a schoolmaster, showing us the best way to live. The law is important in corralling us and our sinful nature to be able to live with each other in some degree of harmony. Paul wants to make it very clear that you and I cannot save ourselves by obedience to the law. In fact, it is impossible to fully obey the law.

That is why Advent is so important to us. For in these weeks we focus with intensity on the coming of Emmanuel, God with Us, in the human form of a baby who grows up to not just set a good example, but to literally die, bearing our sins on the Cross. Through His atoning work, the resurrected Christ offers you and me God’s grace, His unmerited favor, providing us eternal life, God-quality life for this life and for the life to come. Don’t let anyone give a list of all the hoops you have to jump through to merit God’s favor. Our good works, our righteous works, are the spinoff of the life that has received the gift of salvation. We then, with the Holy Spirit in our lives, grow the fruit of the Spirit, which captures the very essence of the Law.

Paul has stated it in Galatians 5:14: “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”

Once we have captured the essence of this teaching, we are able to distinguish between the downward spiral of a life lived motivated by the sinful nature and a life lived motivated by the Holy Spirit, bearing the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. Today’s text basically preaches itself as we see what the law of love looks like in the life of a believer. This is an exciting, liberating challenge, a kind of checklist to see how you and I are doing, not in earning God’s favor but living vital, productive lives as followers of Jesus.

First, the law of love restores a fallen brother/sister gently.

Paul writes, “Brothers , if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently” (Galatians 6:1).

The Greek word here for sin is paraptoma. It does not mean a deliberate sin, a life determined to live opposed to God’s teachings. It is that word that refers to the kind of slipping and sliding one does on an icy road, or a rain-slicked dangerous mountain path.

Legalistic Christianity is extremely severe on brothers and sisters who slip and fall. Paul is alerting us to the acid test as to how serious we are about grace. In my legalism, I am inclined to point the finger and gossip about the brother or sister who has slipped into sin. Wherein I am preoccupied with the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and grateful for what God has done for me, I am prepared to restore gently the fallen brother or sister – because I am very much aware of how God has restored me by His grace.

Most of the commentaries illustrate this gentle restoration in orthopedic terms. It’s the kind of care a doctor gives to you when you have broken a bone.

Just that casual reference brings back the vivid memories of my 1981 ski accident at Mammoth, in which I had a compound, boot-top fracture of my right leg. I had wiped out in moguls under chair number three. The ski patrol so gently lifted me out of the deep snow into the toboggan. They put my leg in a splint, then skied me as gently as possible down the mountain in that toboggan to the staging area by the emergency room. They lifted me into an ambulance, oh so carefully, and drove me to the hospital. There, in the operating room, the doctors didn’t minimize the problem, saying, “Because we don’t want to hurt you we are just going to let this heal naturally.” Instead, they, so sensitively, shared with me what they were going to do, how they would reset that leg, knowing that without the pain of that delicate surgery, there would not be full restoration. What I remembered was that everything they did was with sensitivity and care for my ultimate good.

That’s what Paul is telling us. When you hear a brother or sister has fallen into sin, don’t luxuriate in their troubles. Function by the law of love in which you gently restore a fallen brother or sister.

We Christians have a reputation for shooting our walking wounded. When a minister or key layperson gets involved in scandal, it sets off a gossip chain that can be vicious. Paul is not saying that sin is to be minimized. Sin is malignant; it must be dealt with. Where there is true repentance, where a person is willing to go through the process of restoration, let’s do it lovingly and do it gently.

I have seen cases of ministers who have fallen in public sin who have refused to confront the reality of what they have done. They are living in denial. They are blaming what they have done on other people, minimizing it, refusing the efforts of those of us who care to help with the drastic surgery that will bring restoration. That’s not what Paul is talking about. He is talking about the one who admits their need. Let’s go the distance with them. Let’s take the time that is necessary to help the healing and to see them restored.

A classic case of this is one of our dear brothers, a covenant group member of mine, who, with his wife, went through a four-year period in which he was not allowed to do any public ministry. He went through the restoration process. I thank God that when that process was officially concluded, St. Andrew’s was one of the first churches to welcome him back to preach. We have done that in several situations.

St. Augustine said it some 1,500 years ago: “There is no surer test of the spiritual person than his treatment of another’s sin. Note how he takes care to deliver the sinner rather than triumph over him, to help him rather than punish him and, so far as lies in his capacity, to support him.”

Second, the law of love lives aware of one’s own vulnerability.

Paul writes: “But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted” (Galatians 6:1).

One of my favorite passages in the New Testament is 1 Corinthians 10:13. It alerts us to how God will help us when we are tempted. I have quoted it to you often. “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”

What we forget is the verse that immediately precedes this. It is a warning to those of us who have become a bit arrogant in our own self-righteousness, forgetting our vulnerability to temptation. 1 Corinthians 10:12 reads: “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!”

You have heard the phrase, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

It is easy to forget what God has done for us.

One of our church members sent me a note with this little paragraph titled “What is it like to be a Christian?” “It is like being a pumpkin. God picks you from the patch, brings you in, and washes all the dirt off you. Then He cuts off the top and scoops out all the yucky stuff. He removes the seeds of doubt, hate, greed, etc. Then He carves you a new smiling face and puts His light inside of you to shine for all the world to see.”

The difference between grace and legalism is a constant reminder that it is God who has brought the transformation in us. He picked us out of the garden patch and did the cleaning up. We didn’t do it. The minute we begin to claim the credit, we are vulnerable! We are sliding into works righteousness.

Third, the law of love carries another’s burden.

Paul writes, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).

I confess a spiritual malady of my own. If I am not careful, I can become preoccupied with my own burdens. I have them. We all do. There is not one human being alive who doesn’t have his own backpack of burdens, real, authentic, bona-fide burdens.

Through the years, I have discovered that the best way to lighten my own load of burdens is to help someone else to carry their backpack of burdens.

For example, there is nothing that breaks my heart more than to think of the loss of my daughter, Suzanne, in the prime of life, 23 years old, back in 1991. My initial inclination when I hear that someone else has lost a child is to pull away. It is too much to bear. It just reminds me of my own loss; but when I break through the sound barrier and say, “God help me to be at that person’s side and help her, help him bear the burden of their loss of a child,” then something is transformed within me.

Several years ago, I discovered that one of the men I worked with all my years in the Los Ranchos Presbytery, Bill Saul, had a son who was dying at Hoag Hospital. I went over there and walked into the waiting room outside of intensive care. I didn’t have to say a word. Our eyes met, and tears flowed for both of us. We embraced, and I sat down by his side. In that moment of intense personal pain, the very palpable nature of my loss revisited and the reality of his pending loss within a matter of hours, if not minutes, there came an indescribable “peace of God which passes all human understanding, which keeps our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus, our Lord.”

My mind flashed back to those weeks leading up to the death of Suzanne and how my dear friend, Leighton Ford, twice, flew across country to be at my side. Almost a decade earlier, he had lost his son, Sandy, a young, virile collegian, to heart disease. And I remembered how he had encouraged me.

What a privilege to bear one another’s burdens.

In the comic strip Peanuts, Lucy asked Charlie Brown, “Why are we here on earth?” He replies, “To make others happy.” She ponders this for a moment and then asks, “Then why are the others here?”

This week I read about the message the founder of the Salvation Army sent to their international convention. General William Booth was unable to attend personally because of ill health, so he cabled the delegates a message containing one word: “OTHERS!”

A young, successful executive was traveling down a neighborhood street, going a bit too fast in his new Jaguar. He was watching for kids darting out from between parked cars and slowed down when he thought he saw something. As his car passed, no children appeared. Instead, a brick smashed into the Jag’s side door. He slammed on the brakes and backed the Jag back to the spot where the brick had been thrown. The angry driver then jumped out of the car, grabbed the nearest kid and pushed him up against a parked car, shouting “What was that about and who are you? Just what the heck are you doing? That’s a new car, and the brick you threw is going to cost a lot of money. Why did you do it?”

The young boy was apologetic. “Please, mister . . . . please, I’m sorry but I didn’t know what else to do.” He pleaded, “I threw the brick because no one else would stop . . . .”

With tears dripping down his face and off his chin, the youth pointed to a spot just around the parked car. “It’s my brother,” he said. “He rolled off the curb and fell out of his wheelchair and I can’t lift him up.”

Now sobbing, the boy asked the stunned executive, “Would you please help me get him back in his wheelchair? He’s hurt, and he’s too heavy for me.”

Moved beyond words, the driver tried to swallow the rapidly swelling lump in his throat. He hurriedly lifted the handicapped boy into the wheelchair, then took out his fancy handkerchief and dabbed at the fresh scrapes and cuts. A quick look told him everything was going to be okay.

“Thank you, and may God bless you,” the grateful child told the stranger. Too shook up for words, the man simply watched the boy push his wheelchair-bound brother down the sidewalk toward their home.

It was a long, slow walk back to the Jaguar. The damage was very noticeable, but the driver never bothered to repair the dented side door. He kept the dent there to remind him of this message, “Don’t go through life so fast that someone has to throw a brick at you to get your attention!” God whispers in our souls and speaks to our hearts. Sometimes we don’t have the time to listen. He has to throw a brick at us to catch our attention.

I challenge you to open yourself to carry another’s burden.

Fourth, the law of love functions with humility.

Paul writes: “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” (Galatians 6:3-5).

In a way, it sounds like Paul is discounting what he just said about carrying one another’s load. Not at all. He is reminding us that each of us has our own burdens to carry. Burdens that perhaps no one else will fully understand.

You see, my tendency is to take what we just talked about and apply it to you and expect you to help me carry my burdens. In a way, that’s the ultimate in narcissism. Thank you for those moments in which you help me carry my burdens. But I ultimately am going to spiral downward if I spend my time concentrating on my burdens, waiting for you to show up. Instead, I am privileged to reach out and help you and, in the process, my burdens are lighter. Paul is dealing here with the inflated self-image, our tendency to have a big head instead of a humble heart.

Paul is dealing here with self-deception, in which I think I am pretty important. I build myself up to think of myself as more important than I actually am.

Paul is talking here about the pride of comparison versus the joy of Grace.

You see, this is what legalism is all about. The legalist is the person who relishes making a list of all the good I do, the bad I don’t do, and comparing it to someone else who has a very short list of good and a very long list of bad.

Or, to put it more bluntly, I build myself up by tearing others down.

I am not preaching just at you. This text is talking to me.

Three weeks ago, I was sitting at my computer and in came an instant message from a friend, reading: “What do you think about the latest preacher to fall?” And then he typed in his name. I typed back, “I haven’t heard a thing. Tell me about it.” He typed back and gave me the Internet address of the newspaper and the city where this well-known, mega-church pastor quite effectively ministered until the recent scandal and forced resignation.

What did I do? I went right to that Internet site, and I wallowed in several newspaper articles revealing all the ugly mix of facts, allegations, admissions and denials.

I have to tell you what happened within me in that intensive period of reading. It was not very good. I began to feel so good about myself in comparison to all that stuff. And I had to stop and face my own narcissism and the ugliness. Somehow I have a need to capitalize on that mixture of truth and untruth, someone else’s failure. I got my momentary fix of self-righteousness. And then the Holy Spirit brought this phrase to my mind, “But for the grace of God, there goes you, John!”

Then the Holy Spirit reminded me of how often I have said to you, “The ground is level at the foot of the Cross.” Who am I to climb onto the body of a broken brother in Christ, using him as a pedestal for my own malignant, legalistic self-righteousness?

Fifth, the law of love supports God’s leaders.

Paul writes: “Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor” (Galatians 6:6).

Frankly, I was puzzled by these words. What in the world is Paul trying to say here?

Then I read the commentaries and realized that Paul was saying the Christian preacher and teacher should receive remuneration for the work which he or she does. Paul himself was able to say this without being accused of being self-serving because he himself was a tentmaker, to some extent supporting his own ministry by secular employment. At the same time, he knew that not all pastors and teachers could do that, and even he himself was so grateful for the generosity of some of the churches who gave their tithes and offerings to help him in his work of evangelism, church planting and teaching.

Jesus addressed this issue when he appointed the 72 to go out, two by two into the harvest, which was plentiful but where the workers were few. He told them to not take a purse, a bag or sandals but to depend on those to whom you minister to support. ” . . . for the worker deserves his wages” (Luke 10:7). There is a dynamic, a reciprocity, here. It is not designed to just meet the needs of pastors, teachers and missionaries, but to underline the fact that the giver who supports those in the full-time service of Jesus Christ also receives a blessing in the very process, bringing the tithes and offerings to support God’s enterprise at home and world missions.

Sixth, the law of love understands “God’s payday is not always Friday.”

Paul writes: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who 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. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6:7-10).

Paul is describing the “agriculture of the soul.”

It’s another way of saying what he said at the end of chapter five. He contrasted the acts of the sinful nature versus the fruit of the spirit. If you and I sow to please our sinful nature, we may, for a while, enjoy the “pleasures” of sin. But the day will come when we pay the piper.

We may sow to please the Holy Spirit. The germination process may take time, and we will see all those people who seem to be having “one helluva good time.” And we wonder what we are missing. Paul is saying, in due time, we will begin to see the harvest. Just don’t give up too soon.

The psalmist captures this agriculture of the soul hundreds of years before Paul when, under the Holy Spirit, he wrote:

Those who sow in tears
will reap with songs of joy.
He who goes out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with him.
(Psalms 126:5-6)

My Dad, a venerable servant of the Lord, now locked in by dementia, is reaping the harvest of the good seed that he sowed. The longer I am in ministry, the more I am nurtured by the good seed he and his colleagues sowed. One of his great statements was, “God’s payday is not always Friday.”

Some of us get so anxious, and we get so impatient. We want everything now. We get so weary in well-doing. Paul says, “Don’t give up. Do good to all people, especially to your fellow believers, and, in the process, fulfill the Law of Love!”

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About The Author

Dr. John A. Huffman Jr. served many years as pastor of the St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, California. Early in his ministerial career, Huffman served as an assistant under Norman Vincent Peale, pastor of Marble Collegiate Church in New York City. He has published several books, including “The Family You Want,” “Forgive Us Our Prayers,” and his memoir, “A Most Amazing Call.” He has served on the boards of several influential evangelical organizations, including Christianity Today, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, World Vision and the National Association of Evangelicals.

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