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Galatians 6:1-10: A Charter for the Church

Everyone's into charters these days have you noticed? A charter for schools, the patients charter and so on. For a long time we had the U.R.C's own Children's Charter pinned on our wall. A charter is a list of promises and expectations - what we can expect from something and what they can expect from us. So a patients charter will tell us that we shouldn't have to wait more than 10 years for a minor operation (!). It may also say that the hospital expects us to eat up all of our food at all meal times. Which they will have promised us, will be of cordon bleu standards.

I like to think of this passage, almost the very end of Paul's letter to the church at Galatia, as his charter for the church. He offers guidelines of what he thinks should be expected of the church when people come along to find out more about Jesus. People who are not clients or users, as in the jargon, but seekers of the truth about the love of God. And I guess that Paul felt he had to put in this charter for the church because not everything was right in Galatia. There was a failing to keep up the high standards of being a Christian. And Paul would not have wanted to lay down the law, give a list of unbreakable rules - because he had just spent the whole letter explaining how we are now free from the law through the love of Jesus Christ. But we still have to live in the right way - hence these guidelines, this charter for the church.

Of course, no charter worth its salt would be complete without a mission statement. What would Paul want the mission statement for Galatia to be? I think it would be something along the lines of what he wrote in Galatians 2:19-21 and 3:26-28
This church is dead to the law, but alive to God through the death of Christ on his cross.
We live through God's grace and are clothed with the life of Christ himself.
We are open to all in union to Christ, whether Jew or Gentile, slave or free, man or woman.

Which brings us to the charter. Lets look at the guidelines and why Paul mentions these things in particular. maybe he had certain people in mind. People that needed reminding of what it meant to follow Christ and his mission. Lets give them names. Lets see if they and the charter, speak to us of what it means to be a Church of Christ.

1: If anyone makes a slip up on their walk with God, then gently show them the error of their ways and help them back onto the right path.
My brothers, if someone is caught in any kind of wrongdoing, those of you who are spiritual should set him right, but you must do it in a gentle way
Adam was a big man in the church of Galatia, one of the first Christians there. He grasped the gospel and made it his life. He worked hard at being a Christian and it showed. But it did mean that sometimes he could be a little judgemental over his fellow brothers and sisters, who were not making such bold progress as he was. It was a big step, turning from a pagan lifestyle to a Christian one, with all sorts of temptations on the way. Adam, praise God, was never tempted for a moment. But he was good at spotting those who were and telling them all about how far they had fallen.

What was really needed was not punishment but compassion. Paul did not want the church to ignore wrongdoing, but to keep it in proportion, The word used for wrongdoing here doesn't mean an enormous sin but just a little slip. The church should be providing a cure, encouraging the new Christians and gently helping them to make their peace with God. There was no point being judgmental, rather one should always say 'there but for the grace of God go I'

2: Pay more attention to your own behaviour as a Christian, than to what other people are doing
Keep an eye on yourselves, so that you will not be tempted too
James found being a Christian a struggle a lot of the time. He tried to do what was right, to walk with the Lord, but there were so many trials and temptations. It was so much easier to watch what other people were doing, to pick up on their failures, than to concentrate on his own. And as we all know, if you spend too much time watching what other people are doing, rather than paying attention to where you're going, one day, you will walk into a lamp-post.
Paul was just echoing Jesus teaching about the plank and the speck. Watch where you are walking too. That doesn't mean we should spend all our time navel gazing, but make sure we are focussed on our own relationship with Christ, rather than just noticing how badly other people are doing...

3: Help each other as much as you can, with practical things, with time,  with listening to problems, with love
Help to carry one another's burdens and in this way you will obey the law of Christ.
Well its fairly self explanatory this one. Its something that should be part of every Christian's charter. Not that easy to carry out though. Now the astute among you will have noticed Paul's mention of the 'law of Christ'. After he spent so much time saying that we were now free from the law! But following Jesus call to love God and love our neighbour as ourselves is something we should never want to be free from.

4: Its up to each individual to know how they are doing as a Christian. Only you can live your life.
If someone thinks he is somebody when really he is a nobody, he is only deceiving himself. Each one should judge his own conduct . If it is good then he can be proud of what he himself has done, without having to compare it with what someone else has done. For everyone has to carry his own load.
Sophia had her good days and her bad days. Some days she felt really close to God, could feel his love coursing through her veins. Other days, being the sort of person she knew Christ wanted her to be just felt too much like hard work. But when she felt down, she only had to look at those poor, snivelling creatures who really weren't coming up to scratch and she felt a whole lot better about herself.
A friend of mine at University used to love using the phrase 'anyone whose anyone'. "Oh it was a brilliant night, anyone whose anyone was there". Of course I never was....So that verse about somebody's actually being nobody's gave me a lot of comfort... But what Paul is really getting at is that only we can live our lives. There are so many times I wish someone else could do it for me. When everything is going wrong, when one of the children has been sick and I have to clean it up, when  I'm giving birth. It would be so great to hand over my life to a surrogate and just enjoy the easy bits. But that is not going to happen. Only we are responsible for our own behaviour. And at the end of the day it doesn't matter if we are better or worse than anyone else. God doesn't judge us by a yard stick. he looks at who we are and what we are capable of. And then he looks at whether we have fulfilled our potential. Its a person to God thing. That's the kind of burden that we have to carry on our own.

5: Share your good things
The man who is being taught the Christian message should share the good things he has with his teacher.
Silas loved meeting up with his fellow Christians to worship God. He took a great interest in hearing about what Jesus said and applying it to his life. He was a serious, God-fearing and God-loving man. He was also a terrible miser. Not once had he offered a meal to Paul, or any other of the visiting evangelists. Not once had he given money in travelling expenses. And he tried to avoid helping those in the Church who had less than him too. 'Its mine, I've earned it, why should I share it?' he would argue with himself if ever he felt a little guilty.
In the bad old days of ministry, before the days of the URC and standardized centrally paid stipends, this verse was a ringing enditement of many of our churches. You only have to read the article by the retired minister (who remains anonymous) in Reform about how badly he was treated financially to get the picture. Or what about the Minister's wife who suffered malnutrition because they had so little money? And I'm only talking about the 1960's. To give of the good things that we have, is to free others from the burden of worrying about them and give them more time to pursue more important ends. I don't have to worry about how much you will pay me, but I can still worry about how the church is going to meet its M & M target....
When I first looked at this verse, I added another word in which changed the meaning a bit.
The man who is being taught the Christian message should share the good things he has LEARNT with his teacher.
When you hear something in a sermon, or read something in the Bible that resonates with you, that teaches you something new - don't just keep it to yourself, tell someone! Me, if possible! Share the good things you have learnt.

6: God knows what you do. So never tire of doing good.
Do not deceive yourselves: no-one makes a fool of God. A person will reap exactly what he sows...So then, as often as we have the chance we should do good to everyone.
Mary considered herself a good Christian, even though she knew she had her little slips every now and then. She knew that she was often tempted to gossip. And there was nothing better than thinking up a really witty and barbed comment about someone and seeing everyone else laughing. She knew she couldn't really be trusted with a confidence but then - who can? And if she sometimes fantasised about running off with Lydia's husband then who was to know? She worked hard at maintaining the image of being a good kind considerate loving person. who was to know?
But you can't keep up the image for ever. As you sow so shall you reap. If an apple goes bad on the inside, even if it still looks delicious, one bite and you soon know. And what a strain it is to keep up appearances. Much better to be open and honest about yourself. to make the effort to do good, rather than making the effort to try and look good.
And we have the Spirit to help us. If we ask, we will be filled with the Spirit who produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility and self-control. The Spirit who helps us to be clothed in Christ. The Charter has high expectations of us? And why not? Being a Christian means we are called to a life of grace - and a life of challenge.

1: If anyone makes a slip up on their walk with God, then gently show them the error of their ways and help them back onto the right path.
2: Pay more attention to your own behaviour as a Christian, than to what other people are doing
3: Help each other as much as you can, with practical things, with time,  with listening to problems, with love
4: Its up to each individual to know how they are doing as a Christian. Only you can live your life.
5: Share your good things
6: God knows what you do. So never tire of doing good.

Would our church, would each of us, receive Paul's charter mark?