“Brothers or sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him/her gently. But watch yourself or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:1-2).
Paul is not talking about the Habitat for Humanity “Re-Store” here, although making something used or old into a revitalized thing is getting at the crux of this teaching. The restoration of the church member who has sinned or fallen, ambushed, taken into transgression is a difficult yet essential process or God would not have addressed it so directly here and elsewhere in the New Testament. I think the key is how and with what motivation we do it.
The Galatian church was know for “Judaizing” or requiring Old Testament Hebrew law along with tradition for all things. The legalistic and self-righteous person is not going to be effective in addressing a wrong as Paul proposes. He is looking for the Spirit-filled, those walking in step with the Spirit to do the work. The fruit of the Spirit includes the traits of kindness, patience and gentleness along with self-control. Using these traits allows a righteous person to address the one who has turned off the trail. Paul says to “restore him gently.” This is not a word of weakness but instead power under control. Gentleness is the fruit that I have chosen as my word or characteristic to concentrate on for 2016. I am not always gentle. I raise my voice sometimes thinking that this will get a point across better. This is more about my need to control than a motivation of perfect communications. The gentle person should be devoted to loving the sinner without aloofness, but in humility lest they would be tempted too. It is about compassion, not just correction. Restoring someone is to make them complete in their former or even better condition. But be careful not to overdo it like I have seen antique restorers repaint “old furniture.” The process should bring out the original patina of the wood and make it bright so that it shines a light.
Another important thing to remember when someone sins, whatever it may be is that we all sin and fall short of the glory of God. Moreover, when one sins, all are affected. Commentary writer R. Alan Cole suggests reading 2 Corinthians 2:5-11. Here Paul states, “If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you, to some extent-not to put it too severely.” Grief is a good word to speak of the impact of sin. Grief is a process that begins with anger or shock and possibly denial, then proceeds to bargain, then accept, allowing for an eventual reinvestment and moving on. The process of dealing with sin is similar. We need to move through it and perhaps not in a linear way as it takes time. Sometimes sin takes time to reject and rework to righteousness.
The culprit caught in the sin must recognize, confess and repent. This process is overseen by the power of the Holy Spirit if a person is truly a believer. Indeed this process can make them whole. However, there may need to be repayment with the restoring as others may have been injured physically or emotionally. This process requires all involved to “carry each others burdens” as Paul says. This means be invested, interested in the other person and their welfare as well as the whole’s. In this we “bear” with each other. We are being helpers and not condemners and accusers. This is indeed the Law of Christ, to love the Lord and one another.
One more caveat is in order. This process speaks of bringing peace. However, sometimes the other person does not want peace. “If it is possible, as much as it depends on you, be at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18). This is difficult as another teaching speaks of each Christian having been given “the ministry of reconciliation.” It is sad that we just can’t be reconciled with some people because of their selfishness or disease. We need to keep being kind, gentle and thankful to God no matter what. In the current vernacular, “shake it off.” Jesus speaks of this in Matthew 10:14 saying “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.” Sometimes we just need to leave someone alone, let him or her be. If you live or work with the kind of people I am the Bible addresses here it is difficult and requires, hospitality, patience, kindness and gentleness, but not begging even though we may grieve a little while. Remember to forgive as Christ has forgiven you.