September 17, 2023 by Dan Gulley
The world is not a very gentle place these days, if it ever was. As some anonymous person put it, “I went to the movies last night. Incredible! Cars crashing, buildings burning, people fighting with guns and knives. And that was just on my way home.” Whether that’s funny to you or not, there’s nothing funny about what’s going on in our world. At the international level there is currently the war between Russia and Ukraine where soldiers and civilians are dying as armies clash and rockets slam into buildings and people. Here at home political leaders at the highest levels chew on each other with unkind words and irresponsible speech designed to fan heated political passions and make them even hotter. Bullies do their damage in our schools, and much that is said and seen on social media is radically anti-social! Prime-time TV is rife with violence and mayhem ranging from mugging to murder. Daily headlines remind us that at every level of human society and relationships, our world is often a mean, harsh, brutal, bruising place. Gentleness seems to be on the endangered species list!
The Bible often calls to and directs God’s people to be different. One of those calls is found in the apostle Paul’s directives for Christians in Galatians 6:1 — “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.” Several vital points can be mined from that verse of inspired writing. First, Paul is talking to “brethren.” Thayer’s Greek Lexicon says the Greek word translated “brethren” means “from the same womb,” and while the word can mean simply “brothers,” the clear implication here is the the real possibility that a brother or a sister in Christ can be “overtaken in a trespass” (KJV ‘fault’). All Christians can and sometimes do sin in various ways and to varying degrees of consequences. In the cases Paul has under consideration, they don’t hang out an invitation to sin and welcome it with open arms. They are “overtaken” in it, or as the New American Standard Bible and other translations render the Greek verb, they are “caught.” They find themselves “caught” up in something. The meaning of the Greek word would even allow us to say they are “surprised” to detect they are caught in something. To be clear, they are not “off the hook,” surprised or not. How do we know that? Because Paul goes on to say, “you who are spiritual restore such a one.” Something is far enough off the mark in the trespasser’s life that those who are “spiritual” are urged to “restore” them. The idea here is to “make one what he ought to be.” Note carefully — the divine directive is to “restore,” not “rake over the coals,” a phrase which means to administer a severe reprimand (it alludes to the medieval practice of pulling an alleged heretic over the coals of a slow fire, which is described in numerous sixteenth-century church records). Contrary to roasting them, God wants us to seek to restore them! The world is good at roasting people. But God’s way is different, and He directs us to “restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.” Christians serve a Savior who was always gentle with those caught in sin (see John 4 * John 8 * Matt.9:1ff). God help His church be a gentle place in a gruff world