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Restoring the Bruised Reeds - Galatians 6:1-3

The careful skill with which we are commanded to restore our fellow reeds when they are caught in sin

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May 06, 2012 12:00 AM

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25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.  1 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. 2 Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. ( ESV)

A couple of days ago I received a book entitled The Bruised Reed.  It was first published in England in 1630 by Richard Sibbes, one of our early Puritan forefathers.  It is an exposition of -

A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth. ( KJV)

I am only a few pages into this book and already I am impressed.  This verse in Isaiah speaks of how the Messiah will conduct Himself when He comes, and it is an accurate description of how the Lord Jesus lived among us: A bruised reed shall he not break.

Reeds are similar to the cattails we see growing along the banks of a lake or a pond.  They are fragile and easily bent.  A bruised or damaged reed would be particularly fragile.  Isaiah tells us that Christians are like reeds.  Fragile, easily bent, and very easily broken when damaged or, as Isaiah says, bruised.  In his book, Richard Sibbes says it is God Himself who sometimes bends and bruises us:

“After conversion we need bruising so that reeds may know themselves to be reeds, and not oaks.  Even reeds need bruising, by reason of the remainder of pride in our nature, and to let us see that we live by mercy.”

This is very relevant to our text for today.  I want to read from that text again in order to emphasize part of what Paul is saying to the Galatians and to us.  Listen to what he is saying here:

25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.  . . . 1 You who are spiritual . . . Keep watch on yourself. 3 For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. ( ESV)

Paul says that same thing Richard Sibbes was saying.  Sibbes said we are reeds that need to be bruised in order to keep us mindful of the fact that we are reeds and not oaks.  Paul is more blunt: “If anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” Even on our best days, we are not spiritual oaks.  We are not made of iron.  We are not invincible or impervious to the power of sin.  Rather, we are spiritual reeds.  Fragile, easily bruised, easily broken, easily susceptible to the snares of the devil and the temptations of the world and the flesh, as well as to “the remainder of pride in our nature”.

But here is Paul’s point: Since that is true, that we are reeds and not oaks, that we don’t always walk in the Spirit as we ought, then it should be obvious that we need each other.  Since we tend to be spiritual weaklings and not spiritual superheroes, that is reason enough to be part of a body of believers that will help us when we stumble and fall and encourage us to get back up and press on.  If the Lord Jesus does not break us when we are bruised, neither should we break each other.

The first step in correctly understanding this passage is to ignore the artificial chapter division.  The last two verses of chapter 5 (as well as the last 10 or 15 verses) are directly connected to chapter 6.  Chapter 6 continues Paul’s line of thought, comparing and contrasting those who are spiritual with those who are fleshly or unregenerate.  Those who walk by the Spirit, and are led by the Spirit, and who exhibit the fruits of the indwelling Holy Spirit, are the same people as those he speaks of in chapter 6 when he says, “You who are spiritual.”

Paul has discussed the nature of the gospel for over four chapters and here he explains how fellow believers are to live together.  He has just explained what Spirit-filled, Christian behavior looks like: Loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled.  Those who exhibit this behavior are those "who are spiritual".  They are not conceited, they don’t provoke envy among the brethren.  The “spiritual” person is humble and does not think he is something.  He realizes he is nothing apart from the grace of God and His Spirit.

In other words, the spiritual person realizes he is a reed and not an oak. “You who are spiritual” is not an allusion to a super-Christian, some sort of spiritually superior believer who stands head and shoulders above ordinary Christians, those more “normal” or “common” or even “unspiritual” disciples of the Lord.

There are times when, as believers, we live rather well because we are walking in the Spirit.  The fruits of the Spirit are evident in us.  That is what characterizes those who are spiritual.“ And then there are those times when we don’t do so well, when we stray from the path of walking in the Spirit.  As Paul says here, we sometimes get caught, we get stuck in a trespass, in a sinful behavior or attitude that is not spiritual but fleshly.  Richard Sibbes would say those are the times when we are bruised by our own sin and we suffer the effects of being self-willed.  And often, those around us suffer as well.

That is when we need those who are spiritual to help us, to restore us to fellowship with God and with themselves.  Paul alludes to the fact that we’re all vulnerable to this kind of bruising:

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.

A spirit of gentleness is always in order when we are restoring a fellow reed from the effects of his bruises.  Sometimes you will need me to restore you, sometimes I’ll need you to restore me.  This time it’s my turn to help you, next time it will be your turn to help me.  We both will eventually need deliverance from the snares of the evil one, or to bring each other to our senses and out of our self-deceptions.  We bear up one another, and bear with one another by carrying each other’s burdens and restoring one another from sin.

It is never appropriate or wise for us to approach a fellow believer who is caught in any transgression as though we were somehow inherently spiritually superior.  As though what has happened to you could never happen to me.  That is part of what Paul was thinking of in chapter 5 when he said in verse 26, Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. The particular people he was probably thinking of among the Galatians were the Jewish believers in their midst.  Surely, they were occasionally tempted to think that because salvation is of the Jews, they would be first in line, at the head of the class, when it came to being deeply spiritual.

I believe this is what Jesus was speaking of in when he told His disciples, “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” ( ESV).  The Jews perceived themselves to be first in line spiritually. They perceived the Gentiles to be last in line spiritually.  But Jesus was saying the day would soon come when Jewish Christians would realize that being Jewish does not automatically place one at the head of the class for salvation.  Yes, God did choose the nation of Israel from all the nations of the earth.  Yes, He did choose them to be His peculiar people.  But He didn’t choose them because they were Jewish.  The false idea that being Jewish is an inherently superior spiritual condition that brings with it the automatic favor and blessing of God, plagues many Jews to this day.  Religious, self-righteous pride is a sin which God particularly hates.

An attitude of superiority can plague any group of people.  Both Republicans and Democrats think they are each superior to the other.  Creationists vs atheists, Evangelicals vs Roman Catholics, Nittany Lions vs Ohio Buckeyes, Southerners vs Northerners, Baptists vs Presbyterians, whites vs blacks, Americans vs the world; ANY group of people can indulge an attitude of superiority over others.

And obviously, some things are superior to other things.  Democracy is superior to Nazi-ism.  A Subaru is superior to a Ford Pinto.  A Mac is superior to a PC.  Obviously.  Many things really are better than or superior to many other things.

But in the spiritual realm, no one is inherently superior to anyone else.  That includes those who share the same denominational label, who fellowship with one another week after week under the same roof, who agree on nearly every doctrinal issue, who share the same communion bread and cup, who sit together at a fellowship meal each week.  None of us is inherently spiritually superior to those around us.  We are all spiritual reeds, easily bruised, easily broken, and not spiritual oaks.

From time to time, sin is an affliction with which we all suffer to some degree.  But here, Paul uses the word “caught”.  It is also translated “overtaken”.  He is not speaking of the occasional slip into sin of which we quickly repent.  He is speaking of someone who needs to be restored.  Someone who, according to the literal translation of that word, is broken and needs to be repaired.  When that happens, those who are not suffering, who are healthy in a spiritual sense, are to come alongside and strengthen their brethren.  We’re to do that for one another.

But how are we to do so?  What kind of attitude should we have when we are restoring a fallen brother who is caught in sin? With a spirit of gentleness. If we bother at all, that is not often our attitude.  At least, that’s not how we feel like doing it.  OK, that’s not how I feel like doing it.  More often than not, I’d rather just slap somebody who is acting stupid than approach them with gentleness.

Recently, within the last week, I heard of two pastors who had been publicly verbally attacked by members of their own congregations.  In one case, a letter of complaint against the pastor was sent to the entire congregation, and in the other case someone stood up in a congregational meeting and accused their own pastor of being manipulative and controlling, and they didn’t like it at all.  They were not happy, and they did not approach their pastors in a spirit of gentleness.  It was more like a verbal baseball bat.

Regardless of whether either of these pastors deserved to be confronted, that was not the way to do it.  If your pastor or anyone else in the congregation is caught in any transgression, may I respectfully request that you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. In fact, isn’t gentleness one of the fruits of the Spirit?  Restore him in a spirit of gentleness for the sake of the one being corrected (because he is already bruised) as well as for your own sake.  Never in a spirit of self-righteous conceit or pride.

That is the word Paul used in - Conceit.  He gives the definition in - Someone who thinks he is something when he is nothing.  He thinks he is a spiritual oak when in reality he is a spiritual reed.  Therefore, keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. To approach a brother in his transgression with an air of religious superiority sets you up for a fall as well.  You are, as we used to say, “cruisin’ for a bruisin’” yourself.

All of this is in the context of our Christian duty to bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ ( ESV).  We must be aware of each other’s needs in order to help each other.  Being completely oblivious to the sufferings of your brethren, especially when that suffering is because of sin, is not what Paul meant when he said bear one another’s burdens.  When we are caught in sin, we need to be rescued and restored.  Our own sin has broken us and we need someone to fix us and get us out of our fallen, burdensome condition.

Christian, in The Pilgrim’s Progress, had weight upon his back of which he could not rid himself.  It was the burden of his own sin and guilt.  To bear one another’s burdens is to point one another to the cross and the forgiveness that is to be had there.  Evangelist pointed Christian to the narrow gate which marked the narrow way to the cross and the Celestial City.  Evangelist did not say to Christian, “Let me help you with that burden of sin on your back.  Give it to me.“

We cannot take each other’s sin upon ourselves, but we can help one another toward the cross.  I can encourage you to repent.  I can point out how you may have deceived yourself, how you may have justified your sinful attitude in your own mind.  I can counsel you and help you snap out of your self-deception.  And I must do so gently, fully aware that I am vulnerable to the same sins as you are.

Beloved, that is our Christian duty.  This is not optional behavior for super-Christians.  Because there is no such thing as a super-Christian.  “You who are spiritual” refers to those who aren’t bruised this week, but who may be bruised next week.  They are not currently in a condition from which they need to be restored, but they are in a position to gently and compassionately restore others and help them out from under their burden of sin.  That is where we would all like to be all the time.

Is this a good thing?  Or is this meddling?  Is this restoration of a fallen brother a positive thing or a negative thing?  Of course it is a good and positive thing.  Is it a fun thing?  Is it pleasant?  Is our coming alongside a brother or sister who is caught in sin something we look forward to doing with eager anticipation of all the joy we’ll experience?

Not usually.  At least not initially.  Confrontation, even when it is done lovingly and with kindness and gentleness, and with all the fruits of the Spirit which those who are spiritual exhibit, . . . Confrontation is still a tough thing to do.  But it shouldn’t be as tough as it almost always is.  Let me read to you again the quote from Richard Sibbes:

“After conversion we need bruising so that reeds may know themselves to be reeds, and not oaks.  Even reeds need bruising, by reason of the remainder of pride in our nature, and to let us see that we live by mercy.”

As Christians, God allows us to be bruised by sin, and sometimes He Himself bruises us through circumstances designed to humble us and keep us mindful that we are not the spiritual hotshots we might otherwise think we are.  Even as Christians, even as the chosen and redeemed people of God to whom God has granted life entirely by grace, we are still occasionally prone to think more highly of ourselves than we ought.  This is another idea that Sibbes brings out in his book:

  • Why do we admire King David?  Because as a teenager he killed a giant with a slingshot?  Or because of the bruises he suffered from his sin with Bathsheba that we read about in the Psalms?
  • Why do we admire Peter?  Because he was bold?  Because he was the first among all the apostles? Or because of the things he suffered in his denial of the Lord Jesus?
  • If Paul was the spiritual giant we all think he is (and of course, he really is a spiritual giant), then why did God give him a thorn in his flesh to keep him humble?

Had David not sinned and experienced such despair, had Peter not betrayed the Lord and wept over his guilt, and had Paul not been given his affliction, we would not be able to so easily relate to them.  But it is true that we’re all, without exception, weak, fragile, and often sinful creatures who live only by the mercy of God.

So if you sin and I call you on it, or if I sin and you call me on it, our first reaction should not be, “Who do you think you are?”  We all know who we are!  We’re all reeds that get bruised, sooner or later.  And we ought to be able to grasp this concept that we’re responsible to God to gently, like Christ, bear one another’s burdens.  We’re responsible to God to wash one another’s feet when we get dirty from living in a sinful world.  We’re responsible to God to love one another enough to help one another avoid sin or repent of it if we’ve already sinned.  Not only do we have permission to do this, not only ought we to do this out of love foe one another, but we have a command from God to live this way with one another, as brothers and sisters in God’s family.

And let me suggest this: If we were to live this way consistently, as Paul instructs us here in these verses, we would be a rare church indeed.  VERY few church congregations conduct themselves in a way that even remotely resembles this: With a love for one another, and with a humility toward one another, that results in trust in one another when confrontation over sin has to happen.  We must learn to trust each other to look out for one another.

This is difficult because it is not how we naturally conduct ourselves.  Our typical reaction is fleshly conduct.  This which we’ve read of today is supernatural, Spirit-filled conduct.  This is godly behavior.  This is how truly godly people live.  People who live by the Spirit and walk in the Spirit help each another when sin.  This is how entire congregations are supposed to conduct themselves.

25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.  1 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. 2 Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. ( ESV)


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