Caution to the Strong
Ng Wee Keong
“So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load.” (Galatians 5:16 - 6:5)
Do we think that Bible passages about sin is only for weak sinners? In reading Galatians, I vividly see Paul’s warning for the “strong”, people who help restore others back to faith.
Here, Apostle Paul highlights that sinful nature and the Spirit are more than just mutually exclusive choices; they are in conflict with each other (5:17)! By extension, anyone who choose to live by the sinful nature will be controlled by it; while those who keep in step with the Spirit (5:25) will exhibit the fruit of the Spirit (5:22-23).
When a fellow disciple is caught in a sin, we should help restore that person to Christ. And the helper ought to do so “gently” (6:1). However, from my experience, frustration and impatience often kick in after a short while. This invariably happens because the helper is overextended emotionally and/or physically. Or it could be that the helper is also out of step with the Spirit, because gentleness is a result of being Spirit-led. So those of us who wants to fulfill the law of Christ to love one another (6:2) should always watch ourselves.
The warning from this passage is to the strong, not to the one who has fallen. It warns helpers not to be inflated about one’s worth, and become self-deceived. It calls us to carefully examine our actions, especially when we are trying to do good to others. Too often, we react to a need, and commit ourselves to a course of action without understanding. Such hasty, hurriedly-executed, superficial plans really harken to a self-belief that we know better.
It has been said that our ego lies at the heart of every sin. It makes us think we are something when we are not (6:3). It stop us from learning, reflecting, understanding, and accepting help from others. In his book “Falling Upwards: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life”, Richard Rohr explores, among other things, how an unwillingness to deflate one’s ego results in a person’s inability to have empathy and compassion because he is still stuck in the “junior” stage of spiritual development. He says “the ego hates losing – even to God ” and “we do not think ourselves into new ways of living; we live ourselves into new ways of thinking.”
When I am full of my own opinions, hurts, ideas and agenda, I engage in an unceasing debate with myself, questioning myself: “Am I that bad?” I get stuck because I don’t dare to accept that I am flawed yet loved by God. I get stuck because of my incessant self-questioning, leading to an inability to act in accordance with the Spirit.
Finally, in 6:5, Paul reminds us that each of us is ultimately responsible for our own load. The word “load” was most often used to describe a personal ruck-sack that soldiers carry in the battlefield.
To borrow this battle analogy: in the spiritual battle, we help a fallen comrade by carrying them up. We are fighting against a common enemy, so jealousy and mistrust have no place in our ranks. We also do not neglect our personal responsibilities by devolving our load to others.
Therefore, what we need as helpers is COURAGE. We need courage to love, to serve and to embolden others to the same. Most of all, we need courage (and humility, of course) to overcome our character defects by first admitting to our own human fragility and frailty.
Perhaps this is why the words “do not fear” appears 365 times in the Bible…
Ng Wee Keong
After serving in the full time ministry in Central Christian Church for 25 years, Wee Keong stepped out on faith to seek outside employment and continue his adventure with God. He is now doing mediation work and considers his salvation, his wife and sons and his spiritual experiences the greatest gains in his life.