“Sowing to the Spirit”
May 20, 2018
Self-awareness is key to the Spirit’s victory in our lives.
IV. Spirit focused
V. Doing Good
Self-awareness is the key to the Spirit’s victory in our lives. This may sound contradictory. We’ve said for months that salvation and sanctification are not the result of good works or moralism, but are gifts of God, by grace through faith. We’ve said that only God the Holy Spirit can produce in us the fruit we need to love others. But Paul has also told us to walk in the Spirit, to live in the Spirit, and, this morning, to sow to the Spirit. Self-awareness, as well as other-awareness, turns out to be a key to following the Spirit’s lead.
Let me give an example. Not long ago I had a day where I was frustrated, irritated. And it wasn’t last Sunday with all the technical glitches, though it was that kind of day. Everything seemed to go wrong, or at least to go difficult and slow. I was irritated by those irritations, grumpy, kinda downcast, thinking negative, nasty thoughts about situations and even people. But folks, if God has taught me one thing over the years, it is to ask the question “what is really going on here?” In fact it’s not a question, but a prayer: “Lord, show me what is really going on here. Sometimes it’s directed specifically at my own heart. What is going on in here? Why am I irritated? Lord, is there some root cause, misperception or sin that has led me to this negative place? If so, what is it?”
It’s that kind of praying that I finally had the good sense to begin doing the other day, and I soon recognized that though there was an irritant at the beginning of my frump, there was no real reason even to be upset at the irritant and no excuse for the bad attitude I was carrying. So I was able to pray for God’s help to change the attitude, and having prayed, and having become aware, it was, I guess, easy to begin thinking more positively and lifting up my head.
“Lord, what is going on here,” can also be used as a prayer for other people. So often people behave badly, or seem to reason badly, or have patterns of reactions or unexpected explosions, and the role of a friend, counselor, parent, or brother or sister in Christ ought to be to ask “Lord, what is going on here? What’s behind this? “How can I help?” Often this question asked of the Lord will lead to a perceptive or open-ended question toward that person that will help them to self-examine, and get you to the place where you say “I wonder if such and such a verse applies here, or such and such a Biblical principle.”
Four out of five of the situations described in Galatians 6:1-10 reflect just this kind of situational awareness and self-examination, circumstances and ways in which the prayer “Lord, what is going on here?” can make a huge difference to the Spirit’s victory in our lives. Let’s read the text.
Galatians 6:1-10 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. 2Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. 3For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4But let each test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. 5For each will have to bear his own load. 6Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. 7Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 8For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. 9And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
In the first verses we have both external awareness and internal awareness leading to the victory of the Spirit. On the external side a brother or sister in Christ has been caught in some transgression, some sin. This could be against you, or it could be something you observe, or it could be something you’re asked to help with. Paul says your goal is to restore them. This is a medical term used in Greek for setting a fractured bone. What is wrong in the life of the fallen Christian is to be set straight. It is not to be neglected or exposed openly, but dealt with in the Spirit, by those who are spiritual, with gentleness.
These situations are hard. Most people at any given moment are either hardened by their sin or broken by it. The classic example in Scripture is of King David, who was hardhearted after adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah. But even with these awful sins, Nathan the prophet did not harshly accuse David. He told him a story, about a man who stole another man’s only sheep. And when David was outraged about this injustice, Nathan turned to him and said “You’re the man.” That was enough to break David’s hard heart, resulting in his confession and repentance, recorded so beautifully in Psalm 51.
When we confront sin, we need discernment, “Lord, help me to see what’s really going one here.” And then we need to probe gently, and ask open-ended questions: “Tell me the story? Why do you think you handled it this way?” Where I know someone easily falls into self-accusation and despair I try to touch them with a feather, “I wonder if you really realize how that came across?” Often that’s enough for the Spirit to go to work on their hearts.
But at the same time as we are asking “What’s going on here?” in the lives of others, we also ask God to keep us self-aware so that we don’t fall into sin. Paul puts it to us directly “Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.”
This is literally ‘keep an eye on yourself.’ And it’s singular. “You who are spiritual” was plural, but now we are called to personally practice self-awareness and caution. We’re not always going to be tempted to the same sin that person is involved with. But we may be tempted to pride, to a rush to judgement, to despair, to anger, or to whatever our own personal characteristic sin has been. So we ask, “what’s going on here?” Am I being tempted? And if so, what is the way of escape? Is it confession? Is it accountability? Is it a change to my own circumstances? Whatever it is, it begins with keeping an eye on yourself.
But it doesn’t end there. Verse 2 “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Greek often sounds like Yoda talking, because a Greek author is free to rearrange the sentence structure for whatever emphasis he wants. “One another’s burdens carry,” Paul literally says. He’s referring back to fulfilling the law of love, from chapter 5, though here he calls it the law of “the Christ.” We remember that Christ bore our burdens on the Cross and therefore we ought to bear each other’s burdens and thus show that we love our neighbor. It’s not enough to be aware of another person’s situation. The Holy Spirit’s victory comes when awareness becomes action, coming alongside somebody to help in need. The command is present tense: “keep carrying each other’s burdens.” Paul isn’t counselling believers to do an occasional helpful act, but to live their lives as helpful people. Whether cooking, care-giving or counsel, this bearing of each other’s burdens is the Spirit’s fruit and his victory.
But it starts with situational awareness. I’m sure that’s not a term Paul would have used, but it’s a perfect fit for what he’s saying. I think the term originated with fighter pilots in Korea and Vietnam. For a fighter pilot being able to see what is going on around him, to quickly understand what he’s seeing and make appropriate responses, that’s just a key skill. I don’t think he uses the term in the book, but Chuck Yeager had situational awareness in spades. Bud Anderson, himself a superb pilot, said of Yeager “In combat, he didn't charge blindly into a gaggle of Germans, but with the advantage of having sharp eyes that could see forever, he set up his attack to take them by surprise, when the odds were in his favor. And when Yeager attacked, he was ferocious. But he was also a superb team player; he saw everything taking place around him, and in his calm and confident manner, helped a lot of guys out of tough moments.” That’s what Paul’s talking about: an awareness of others that makes us superb team players who help others out of tough moments.
But this takes humility and honest self-assessment. Verse 3: “For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” It’s easy to deceive ourselves, to believe our own press releases, to place a higher value on our opinions, our achievements, our influence, our – whatever.
We are so naturally self-centered we can deceive ourselves into thinking “I’m OK.” So Paul hits this hard. “If anyone thinks he is something, nothing he is.” Leon Morris says “It is basic to the Christian understanding that we can do nothing at all for our salvation. All we have and all we are we owe to God. Christ came to this earth and lived and died so that there would be a way of salvation. We are called on simply to believe, to trust Christ alone. And when it comes to living out the Christian life we are wholly dependent on the strength and guidance of the Holy Spirit. To hold otherwise is to deceive ourselves.”
So our self-examination needs to be brutally honest, examining ourselves closely for self-deception and blindness to our own sins. Verse 4: “But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor.” The word “test” has the idea of examining and testing. It’s used in 1st Corinthian when Paul says that each person should examine himself before taking the bread and cup of the Lord’s supper. Here we are to examine our own work, be aware of the motivation and kind of work we’re doing.
What work would this be? In context it’s got to be how we are living out the love one another, serve one another, bear each other’s burdens commands of this section. And this is not judged by comparison. We don’t say “I’m so much better than so-and-so,” as the Pharisee does in Jesus’ parable, but we also don’t say “I’m so much worse than so-and-so, my work, my love is so much more deficient.” We don’t compare ourselves to our neighbors at all. And we don’t boast. The Greek is a bit subtle. There is a word in Greek for boasting, but this isn’t that word. It’s a related word that means having a reason to boast. I may know that the Spirit is working in me, but I don’t boast about it.
Verse 5: “For each will have to bear his own load.” There’s no contradiction between this verse and verse 2, “bear one another’s burdens,” because different Greek words are being used. The word in verse 2 means "heavy burdens," more than a man could carry. The word in this verse is used for a man's "pack." Carry your own backpack, but if another person’s burden is too great, take what you can of that too. And don’t take pride in being the one who carries burdens.
But the key thing in this section is self-examination. The person who examines his or her own life honestly will not find reason for boasting, but may find those places where sin or an unhealthy self confidence is manifest. Forty years or so ago I read a fantasy series called “The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever.” Thomas Covenant, the hero, or anti-hero of the story was a leper. In the seventies there was no cure for leprosy, but the author knew that it could be held at bay by constant vigilance. The disease itself only kills your nerves. The skin issues and damage to your limbs result from secondary infections.
So Thomas Covenant had a lepers’ discipline of “visual surveillance of extremities.” You can’t feel your hands, but you can watch them for signs of disease. He would not do anything to threaten this discipline, and that’s what drives the story. But the point is that we live in a fallen world where the nerve ends of our morality are often numbed. We stay in step with the Spirit, and love others by recognizing our numbness and keeping constant surveillance on ourselves. “Holy Spirit, show me what’s going on here. Give me the ability to see myself, my work, my motivations clearly. Align them not with what will bring glory to me but will glorify you and advance your kingdom’s purposes.”
The third command in this section is the one which, on the surface, does not call for any self-awareness or situational awareness, but only action. Verse 6: “Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches.” In other words, pay your pastors. Pay those who teach the word. Which y’all do, and I am very grateful. But it’s a bit more subtle than that. The word share is koininia, usually translated “fellowship.” What is given is not a paycheck, but “all good things.” So without stretching it too far we could say “include those who teach deeply in your fellowship and try to make sure their needs are met.” This requires situational awareness, having your ears and eyes open to the needs that your teachers may not mention or even be aware they have. When Gail and I were in seminary and I began to intern at a church, one of the ladies, Rachel Harris, looked at our situation and perceived that what we needed was a date night. And so she volunteered to regularly babysit, at no cost. That’s situational awareness and fellowship, not just paying a bill.
In verses 7 and 8 Paul generalizes what he’s been saying, but again with an emphasis on awareness. “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.” Don’t be deceived. Don’t be in error in your self-awareness. Instead, if you have to, remind yourself of some undeniable truths, beginning with the fact God is not mocked or perhaps 'treated with contempt' or 'outwitted. It is a serious mistake to assume you can ignore the commands God has given, pursue your own self-interest, and expect to be rewarded.
Specifically, Paul cites a proverb, not one found in the book of Proverbs but implied there and also in the teaching of Jesus: “what a person sows, that’s what they reap.” So if a farmer sows wheat he will not reap barley. If he allows thorn bushes to overtake his fields, he will not harvest grapes. And the same thing is true in our lives. What we sow with our time, energy and attention, determines what we ultimately harvest. We may not like it. We may prefer some very different outcome. But Paul pretty much rules that out in verse 8 “For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.”
The person who sows to his own flesh is the person who concentrates on life here and now. He concentrates on what will make him most comfortable or happy now, the things that please the flesh. But in the end he can only reap the works of the flesh, sinful pleasures and behaviors that are unhealthy and ultimately rot or corrupt a life. But the one who sows in the Spirit will of the Spirit reap life eternal. This ties chapter 6 back to chapter 5, where Paul has spoken of 'walking' in the Spirit, being 'led' by the Spirit, and 'living' by the Spirit.“
Sowing to the Spirit has to be roughly the same activity, and also the same as the one I’ve mentioned several times, from Romans 8, “the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace.” Sowing to the Spirit means crying out for the fruit of the Spirit whenever we’re tempted to indulge in the works of the flesh. It means crying out for strength to love rather than choosing indifference, it means crying out for patience rather than choosing anger, crying out for self-control rather than choosing sensuality or lust. It means dependence on the Spirit rather than confidence in ourselves. And behind all these things is the Spirit-led self-awareness that says “Oh, I’ve seen that path before. That leads to anger. That leads to porn. That leads to self-indulgence rather than kindness. That leads to anxiety rather than peace.
I’m sure most of you have heard the illustration of the two dogs, originally told by Billy Graham in his book on the Holy Spirit. It says there are two dogs inside you, one evil and the other good, fighting for control of your life. And if you ask the question “which one wins,” the answer is “the one you feed.” Sowing to the Spirit, crying out to Him for help and responding to Him leads to life. Sowing to the flesh leads only to the victory of sin in your life.
Finally, verses 9 and 10 remind us to be self-aware in the matter of doing good, of continuing to do good. “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” Notice that Paul switches to ‘us,’ rather than ‘you,’ in these verses. He, like them, faced the temptation to slacken in doing good and, just as they did, he needed to look forward to the time when we will reap. He does not say what the harvest will be, but part of it has to be spiritual health, the opposite of the corruption brought by indulging the flesh. Beyond that, the harvest will include leading the people we serve into the salvation Jesus brings and into the joy of fellowship. And the final reward comes in the last day when we hear Jesus say well done. Paul assures his readers, this reaping will be done if we do not grow slack. It’s easy to lose concentration on the daily struggle and say, 'I’ve done enough!' Paul reminds his readers they can’t give in or slacke off. Reaping the harvest is too important.
In verse 10 Paul draws a logical conclusion, that given the importance of the harvest, we should make the most of every opportunity. We should do good to all people. The inclination, of course, is to only do the things that benefit us. Doing good to others is demanding; we are all tempted to limit it to helping people who may be expected to reciprocate. Paul's exhortation means we can not confine ourselves to doing the things that bring benefit to ourselves, or the things that we enjoy. We’re called to enlarge our horizons. Sometimes that call comes through a hurricane. But well-doing is a key part of a Christian life.
Paul does emphasize, however, one group of people that we ought to focus on when doing good: the household of the faith. That is, believers. Christianity in Paul’s day flourished among the poor. The Roman state had no real interest in helping the poor, except when it would avert a rebellion. But the Christians took helping the poor seriously, and this was no small part of their attraction. In the same way we now have the opportunity to help those who have lost everything in the flood, and that has proven, time after time already, to be an incredible testimony to the love of Jesus. On top of that, the early Christian church had many travelers, those bringing the faith to those who had never heard. This meant that a small population of brothers and sisters were called to offer hospitality to those on the move for Jesus. And this still goes on. Gail and I had an opportunity these last weeks to house a Wycliffe missionary family that came from Malaysia to attend a wedding in Friendswood.
So what have we said? Awareness is key to the Spirit’s victory in our lives. When we look at the fellow-believer caught in sin or at the household of believers to whom we can do good or at the teachers God has given to share his word, then the need is for situational awareness. “Holy Spirit, what is going on here, and what do you want me to say or do in this situation.” But when we examine ourselves, whether for temptation or pride or feeding the wrong dog, then it is self-awareness that we cry out for. It’s so easy to self-deceive. It’s so healthy to be honestly self-aware and to cry to the Spirit to work his fruit in us.
I seriously considered doing a Summer preaching series on this topic. Ken Sande, who gave us the book “The Peacemaker,” and the great material we’ve used from it, has recently begun to teach something he calls “Relational Wisdom.”
The secular community has something they talk about in this area of healthy self awareness and healthy other awareness. It’s called “Emotional Intelligence.” But Sande says that the true Biblical concept is wisdom in relationships, whether that’s with ourselves or with others or with God. He says that in each of these relational dimensions, true wisdom is to have an honest awareness, and to take appropriate action in response to that awareness.
So as we’ve said today, the Bible teaches self-awareness, or humility, the ability to honestly discern your emotions, interests, values, strengths and weaknesses. From that self-awareness, Sande says, we need to act, to be self-engaging, managing our thoughts, emotions, words and actions, through the Holy Spirit, so they advance God’s purposes. We need to be other-aware, understanding and empathizing with the experiences, emotions and interests of others. But it can’t stop with awareness. We need to be other-engaging, learning to help encourage, cooperate and resolve differences with others in a mutually beneficial way. But the foundation for all this, he says, is God awareness, the ability to view all of life in the light of God’s character, works and promises. We God-engage, again through the Spirit, learning to trust, obey and imitate God in a way that pleases and honors him. This, Sande says, is wisdom in all our relationships, and it is this awareness and engagement that leads to the victory of the Spirit in our lives, and in our communities.