Christians are supposed to stand up for one another, not pull each other apart, but what should we do if one of us falls or fails?
Scripture gives clear instructions on how we are to deal with someone who has gone astray spiritually. There is definitely no precedent for anonymous religionists to publicly expose them.
Any censure is the responsibility of the candidate’s own spiritual headship should they deem it necessary. The rest of us are to be more concerned with restoring that person to his or her first love. Rather, we are told to guard against falling ourselves in the process, and the goal is always restoration, not condemnation.
Galatians 6:1-5 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. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For each one shall bear his own load.
Strongs gives ‘trespass’ as a ‘side-slip, a lapse, or a deviation from the plotted course’. It can be an ‘unintentional error or wilful transgression’. It can be ‘a fall or fault or sin or trespass’.
Notice he says ‘any’ trespass. If a Christian veers off on a detour spiritually we need to help get them back on track, but we need to guard our own intentions in the process. There could be any number of things that they do that are contrary to godliness that require our intercession, assuming that they want to be assisted.
Paul tells us that the person is overtaken in this fault. In other words, we uncover their misdemeanour when they are in the act—they are found out and we are in a position to bring recovery.
The instruction given is for those who are spiritual to restore that person in a spirit of gentleness. To restore is to repair and recover something of value. The idea is that we should do all we can to mend the person, not condemn them. Katartizo, in New Testament terms, means to bring a person back to his or her place in Christ.
This is in complete contrast to those who only seek to further injure a person who, they claim, has gone out of step with Christ. They are not interested in their recovery, only in pressing added charges.
Notice that Paul says that we should do so in a spirit of gentleness. The Authorised Version gives ‘a spirit of meekness’. Meekness is the disposition to be gentle, kind, indulgent, even-balanced in temperament and passion, including being patient in suffering injuries without feeling a spirit of revenge.
Remember that Paul has, in the previous chapter told the reader that we are to walk in love—in the Spirit— and allow the fruit of the Spirit to permeate our being, including the fruit of meekness, gentleness and kindness. He is hardly going to stray outside of these precepts within a few sentences of his epistle to describe the way in which we handle a person who has strayed from Christ, or who has fallen, when it comes to aiding their recovery.
The spirit of meekness, or gentleness, describes the utmost care. We are also to consider ourselves in case we are tempted. If we judge harshly we are in danger of falling into the same ditch as the person we are attempting to rescue, dragging them back down in the process.
There’s nothing here about creating a blog-driven movement dedicated to pointing out every perceived fault this or that person supposedly exhibits. That is not being spiritual, or gentle, or meek. He says ‘those who are spiritual’ should deal with the person. How is it spiritual to name, shame, blame and publish a person’s faults on a blog? That is not what Paul intends here at all.
Spiritual first aid
He says we should consider ourselves lest we be tempted also. This sounds like something Jesus said, when he warned us that we are judged with the same judgment with which we judge others. He said we should examine the log in our own eye before pointing out the speck in others. We should look to ourselves before attempting to sort out someone else’s issues.
In first aid, the primary instruction is to regard your own position of safety. Our primary spiritual position is to judge ourselves before we look at others. We jeopardise both parties if we are not secure in our own position.
Paul goes on to say that we should bear one another’s burdens, and, thus, fulfil the law of Christ. What is the law of Christ? He tells us in the previous chapter.
Galatians 5:13-15 For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!
The law of Christ is to love our neighbour as ourself. We are to serve one another through love. Our liberty is created and fashioned in love. We are given liberty through the Holy Spirit, but we should not use it as an opportunity to criticise or denounce or falsely accuse another Christian. We are to do what we can to restore them in a spirit of meekness, and then only if we ourselves are clear, that is, mature enough in Christ, to do so spiritually.
Here, again, Paul brings Christ’s love commands into the New Testament. We are to bear one another’s burdens and so fulfil the law of Christ. We are instructed to support one another, not bring one another down. That would be completely the opposite to what Paul is attempting to achieve.
The love walk isn’t always easy. We sometimes want to criticise other believers because they understand things differently, or fall short of a defined doctrinal level, or don’t come up to some people’s perceived standards, which is often another way of saying they don’t match a certain level of arrogance.
We have to be Christlike and learn how to be slow to anger and quick to forgive. Love covers a multitude of sins—not to condone sin, or allow sin, but so that we can come alongside the sinner and explain in a godly manner why they should have a change of heart that leads to a change of direction.
It was the goodness of God that led us to repentance, not condemnation, judgment or criticism. We change when we see the light, not when every shade of darkness is pointed out. When the light shines darkness flees. We are instructed to preach glad tidings, not dreadful gossip.
To bear one another’s burdens means to empathise with people, to show mercy and love, not to brow-beat a fallen brother or sister, or to create a list of faults that are released to the rest of the world as an example of how deeply that person has failed, but to do all we can to encourage them and exhort them to return to their first love.
Yes, we need to point out their error in love, face to face, at some juncture, and to warn others to avoid the same pitfalls, but not by naming them in a public forum run by nameless critics. We are called to provoke one another to love and good works.
When a lost sheep is retrieved the whole of heaven rejoices. Does the shepherd beat that sheep senseless with a big stick when he finds him? No, he picks him up and carries him home on his shoulders to the safety of the flock.
Pride precedes a fall
If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing he is self-deluded and self-deceived. Paul, here, is denouncing those who clamour against Christians, even those who have fallen or who struggle with their faith, with a spirit of bigotry, intolerance and self-conceit. Public denunciation and disapproval is often a means by which critics elevate themselves above those with whom they find fault. It can be a form of elicit self-promotion. It can also be a sign of immaturity, and is said to denote insecurity in the belittler. Paul calls it a deception.
So we are told to examine our own work. Prove it, says the Authorised Version. In other words, we need to be spending our time making sure we are doing what is right before the Lord rather than looking out for faults in others. Then we will have rejoicing in ourselves and not in another, which basically means we will not rejoice because we have pointed out someone else’s faults and thus elevated ourselves with bloated self-importance.
Pride, it is said, leads to a fall. According to James, God takes issue with the proud, resisting them. Or as Paul puts it in Corinthians 10:12, “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he falls.”
We each bear our own load. In the end, we will each be judged for our own deeds and words, not for those of others. We are responsible before God for what we say and do.
There will always be people who start to fall away, and it is our responsibility as brothers and sisters in Christ to do all we can to help them come home, but always with the idea that our priority is the restoration of that person into fellowship and relationship.