Exploring Galatians: Bearing With One Another

Researchers often use “magic-quadrants” to understand interactions within complex systems. These “magic-quadrants” are a kind of splatter graph where a dot up and to the right is best. A simple example would be comparisons of a product’s cost and quality which then reveals which is the best value. These types of graphs have also been used for complex ideas such as human personality (although in that case, the goal is understanding and not who is the better human). In our next portion of Galatians, Paul provides some thoughts about church life.

Paul writes, “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. For each one will bear his own load.” (Galatians 6:1–5, NASB95)

The unspoken question Paul seems to be answering is – what do we do when someone sins? Churches have struggled with how to handle discipline within the local body since the early days of the church. However it is approached, discipline must have the goal of restoration and not punishment. It should be humble and willing to bear the burden of one another. But Paul also underlines that each person is responsible for their own conduct (burden or sin). Neither are we to judge our success or failure by comparing ourselves to others.

While sports are competitive, the underlying truth is that the participants are mostly competing against themselves. The idea is to beat or improve their own “personal best.” For a runner, that means beating their previous best time. For a footballer/soccer player, that may mean shots on goal or shots blocked. For a Christian, that means walking more with Jesus and less towards sin today than I did the day before.

This passage from Galatians, actually the whole letter, creates a three-dimensional “magic-cube” splatter graph for church life. Let’s consider a cube with the various axis labeled as culture, attitude, and focus.

Let’s define those terms a bit. Culture is a measure of how uplifting or combative a group is. Let’s call the low side “Toxic” and the high side “uplifting” (see Galatians 5:26). Attitude in this usage is how they handle visible sin or offenses in others. On one end of the spectrum is legalism, the other is permissiveness, and in the middle is a zone of caring. The third axis is focus, meaning what or who they are focusing on. Are they focusing more on a person, a structure, a movement, an ideal, a program, an outcome, or on Christ?

When these are plotted, it is possible to gain a sense of the spiritual health of a church body. The ideal is a body this is uplifting, focused on Jesus, and balanced when it comes to sin and offenses. Where that balance of attitude will be is based on the folks. Are they mostly fresh from the world or old saints? The wrong place on the graph would look a lot like the Galatian church who comes across as back-biting legalists focused on the Law instead of Christ.

But here, we must follow Paul’s advice in the portion above and use this chart to examine ourselves and not the church down the street or across the world. Not only is the above chart good for churches, but it is also useful to examine our own walk with Jesus. What culture do we live out? One of toxicity or of building up others? What attitude do we keep? Are we balanced in the caring zone between legalism and permissiveness? And finally, where is our focus really at? Are we looking toward Christ or toward something else?   

Dale Heinold
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