As we prepare to share in the service that we know as the Lord's Table, or Communion, it's always fitting to look to the Word of God and to get some perspective that can enrich this time. For a few moments I want to help us to do that. The Lord's Table is a time for remembering the death of our Savior, and that, of course, makes it a time for praise and worship which is honoring to God. It's also a time for considering the great realities of the cross. It's a time to consider the fact that Jesus died as our substitute, the great theological truth of atonement, how one man bore the sins of all who would ever believe. It's a time to consider that the justice of God which demanded a just punishment of iniquity was satisfied. It's a time to realize that our sins were put on Him that His righteousness might be put on us. All those great theological glories of the cross have been the inexhaustible theme of millions of sermons for 2,000 years and repeated through hymns and songs in almost every part of the world regularly.
The cross then is a time of remembrance. It's a time of reaffirmation of great theological truth. It's a time to consider the nature of God as holy and righteous and His wrath against sin is made clear. It's also a time to realize that God is compassionate, merciful, gracious and forgiving. It's a time also to look at the person of Christ, the God-Man, the one who as man died for man, but as God conquered sin and rose again. It's a time to talk about Christ as that perfect Lamb who fulfilled all the Old Testament sacrificial pictures, who once and for all offered the sacrifice and there never needed to be another sacrifice. It's a time also to think about the plight of lost sinners, to recognize the extremity to which God had to go to provide a substitutionary atonement, a sacrifice for sin and how destitute and desperate sinners are who have required such immense sacrifice on the part of God.
But having said all of that, for us, and it's always true, this is a time to consider our own lives. In Paul's letter to the Corinthians, 1 Corinthians chapter 11 and verses 28 and 29, he...he says, when you come to the Lord's Table, you must examine yourself. It's fine to examine the nature of God, the person of Christ, the plight of lost sinners, the glories of theology and the Scripture. It’s...it's wonderful to remember the death of our Savior and all its richness and all the realities that go along with it. But what is really important is not just a past remembrance, but a present assessment. It's a time for self-examination. It's a time to look at your own life so that you don't come to this table while cultivating and holding onto sin. It was your sin that sent Christ to the cross; it was for your sin that He died. And when you came to Him, you asked Him to forgive your sin, you asked Him to become your Lord and your Savior and your Redeemer. You repented of your sin and you embraced His forgiveness and His salvation. To do that and then carry on in a sinful manner willfully is to treat lightly the sacrifice of Christ. It's a measure of hypocrisy to do that. To embrace Him as your Lord and Savior, as the Holy One who died in your place to deal with your sin, to confess Him as Lord and tell Him that you want to obey Him and live for Him, and then to hold onto sin is indeed a duplicity that speaks of hypocrisy and hypocrisy is a sin, of course, that dishonors God.
The church, as you know, has been called to holiness. We have been called to live godly and virtuous lives according to Scripture. We have been given the Word of God to show us how to live and the Spirit of God dwelling in us to give us the power to live that way. We are as a church supposed to be heaven on earth. We ought to live such different, unique, and heavenly lives that the world has no earthly explanation for us. We are to bring down the holiness of heaven to earth. We are to live Christ-like lives.
In order to do that, each of us has to deal with sin. In 2 Corinthians 7:1 gives us an ongoing command, "Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." It's a way of life to always be confessing your sin, always be asking God for the strength to overcome temptation and to set aside sins that become habit.
But let's even go beyond that. As wonderful as it is to deal with the theology of the cross and the biblical record of the cross, as wonderful as it is to see there and to contemplate and rejoice in and worship the great God who authored the whole redemptive plan, as wonderful it is to focus on the person of Christ and His glorious uniqueness as the God-Man and our perfect sacrifice, as great as it is to look at all of those issues that surround the work of salvation, as wonderful as it is to look at our own lives and to take stock of where we are spiritually and to make sure that we've made things right in our lives before we come to the Lord and say, "Yes, we want to celebrate Your cross, yes, we want to thank You for dying for us," and then at the same time be holding onto the very sin that killed Him, as wonderful as it is to go through all of that, there is yet something else that comes into focus at the Lord's Table and it is this.
I'm always reminded when I come to the Lord's Table of how important it is for each of us to help each other in the path of holiness because this is a time when we all come, don't we? I mean, we're all reduced to the same level, sinners beneath the cross; all of us having been redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ, all of us basically in the same struggle with temptation, the same battle, longing to be what the Lord wants us to be. Sin is a reality in each life. It's a reality in your life, my life, and everybody's life. James 3:2 says we all stumble in many ways. Romans 7:25 Paul says, "Oh wretched man that I am." He told Timothy he was the chief of sinners and as far as I can tell he was the best of men. We need the indwelling Spirit to help us gain the victory over sin, and we need the Word of God purging and purifying and defining and refining for us.
And sin can't easily be dealt with. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:27, "I have to beat my body into submission." It can't be dealt with, with the flesh. Paul in Galatians 3:3 says, "You've begun in the Spirit, do you think you can be perfected in the flesh?" You can't do it by your own strength, it's a formidable battle. We need the Holy Spirit. We need the Word. But we also need each other. We need the support of other believers. We need to care for each other.
Matthew 18 lays that out. Matthew 18 talks about never leading another Christian into sin, remember that? You'd be better off to have a millstone hanged around your neck and be drowned in the depth of the sea than to lead another believer into sin. It talks about never belittling or looking down on another believer, but always making them an object of your love and protection as well as affection. It talks about when a believer sins, you go to him in love and you confront that sin and you call him back to holiness, or her. It talks about when a believer confesses that sin, that believer is to be embraced and restored in forgiveness, and if you have to, you forgive seventy times seven, right?
We need to be reminded from time to time that we're not alone in this battle; that we're not out there trying to struggle with those besetting sins and those temptations all by ourselves. We're here for each other. Admittedly that involves some confrontation, but confrontation for the purpose of restoration. And we need to be reminded when we come to the Lord's Table of the seriousness of sin. The reason the Lord wanted us to do this, and He's the one that instituted it as a regular part of our church life, and the early church did it every day, was it’s so that we would be forced to come to grips with sin, that we would be brought back to the cross and to see the enormity of our iniquity which caused the execution of Jesus Christ and that we would have then to examine ourselves and examine our church.
I rejoice tonight to tell you that we don't have any...anybody to put out of the church. In fact, I haven't heard of anyone in our church being in the process of discipline and that's a biblical process where when someone continues in unrepentant sin, we go to them in love and if they don't listen and repent, then we take two or three witnesses with us and endeavor to sort of gang up on them a little bit and call them back to repentance. And if they still don't repent, then it says tell the church and the church goes and lovingly but directly and confrontively calls them back to holiness. And if they still don't respond, then the Bible tells us to put them out of the church because they'll...they’ll be like leaven, they'll leaven all of us, they'll be like a rotten apple in the barrel, we'll all feel the poison of their sin.
So, from time to time in our communion services I have to mention those folks who are being put out of the church. And we do that with grief and a broken heart. But I rejoice tonight to say that I don't know of anyone who is in that situation. We thank the Lord right now for the blessing that He has poured out on our church. These are wonderful days in the life of our church. I know that the Lord is always going to...is always going to bring us those tests that stretch us and strengthen us, and I know that sin is relentless and it will find its way into the lives of folks, all of us at some times and some of us a lot of times. It's not as though we're sinless, but God is blessing us in wonderful ways now. But when sin does come into the congregation, the Scripture indicates that we're to confront that sin in the life of one another.
And, you know, the Proverbs say, "Faithful are the wounds of a friend." You don't do anybody any favors if you don't tell them their true condition. If you're a medical doctor and you know that their true condition physically is serious and you don't tell them, that's a kind of malpractice as well as a disregard for the worth and value of that person. And spiritually the same thing would be true if you understand the spiritual condition of a person is dangerous and you don't tell them. That's a kind of spiritual irresponsibility and manifests indifference.
I remember many, many years ago when I learned from the Scriptures that we needed to do this in our church, people said we'd empty the place. They said, "You can't do that, you can't have people going around confronting the sins of people." Well that was when we had about 400 people and God has blessed us with thousands because He blesses faithfulness to His Word. And I don't know about you, but when I know that my life is accountable to someone else, I...I work hard to make sure I don't have people coming to me and confronting my sin. If I...if I can't regulate my spiritual life toward holiness on my own, the expectation of everybody around me assists me to do that.
Also, I want to be useful in strengthening others. I want to be useful in confronting sin in the lives of others. And before I can get, as Jesus put it, a toothpick out of your eye, I need to get a two-by-four out of my own if I'm going to be useful. And I just want to remind you, tonight, that while it is true we have to win the battle of spiritual life, we have to win the battle against temptation, the battle against sin inside, it really helps when we share the struggle, and that means we need to lovingly confront.
But I want to give you a perspective on that that's very important. Turn in your Bible to Galatians chapter 6, Galatians chapter 6. Many years ago when I taught this passage here in our church, I found here just a simple little outline and it's one of those outlines that sticks in your mind. I've used a few outlines through the years that I can't forget. One old outline was on the book of Jonah, I don't know why I'm bringing this up, but just as an aside. And the outline of the book of Jonah was Go, No, Woe. That's the first half of Jonah. The second half is, Go, Yes, Bless. Occasionally there are outlines you don't forget, that's one I've never forgotten.
But another one is here in Galatians chapter 6 and it's a very simple outline bound to this text in verses 1 through 6. Let me read it to you. "Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, each one looking to yourself lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens and thus fulfill the law of Christ, for if anyone thinks he is something when he's nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one examine his own work and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone and not in regard to another, for each one shall bear his own load. And let the one who is taught the Word share all good things with him who teaches."
Here is a wonderful little pattern for dealing with each other. The first simple principle is, pick him up. Verse 1, "If a man is caught in a trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, each one looking to yourself lest you too be tempted." When you find another believer in sin, you recognize that there's a continual pattern there, you go to that believer in confrontation. Keep in mind that your objective is not to crush that individual, not to push that person down, not to render final judgment but to restore. When someone is caught, that Greek is paraptma, snagged in a temptation and falls, you who are spiritual, now who is that? Who are the spiritual? Well he's just defined them as those, chapter 5 verse 16, who walk by the Spirit, those who are walking obediently to God, that's all. Verse 25: "If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit." It's just one who walks according to God's Spirit, and that means walks in obedience to the Spirit who has revealed His will in the Word of God. It's letting the Word of Christ dwell in you richly. Those who walk in the Spirit, which means those who are obedient to the Word of God, those who are filled with the Holy Spirit and who are enjoying the fruit of the Spirit, verse 22, "Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control." If your life is right, that's just another way of saying if your life is right before God, if you're doing your best to obey the Word of God and walk in obedience to it, you are spiritual.
The opposite of being spiritual is being fleshy, carnal. Paul talks about that in 1 Corinthians 3 as being people who are divisive and self-centered and disobedient. Really there's only two possibilities. At any point in your Christian life you are either spiritual or carnal, spiritual or fleshly. You're either obeying the impulses of the flesh in your unredeemed humanness, or you're obeying the Word of God which is the Word of the Spirit. And when a believer has fallen into sin, and fallen to those human tendencies and is experiencing the power of the flesh, only a person who is spiritual can come to the rescue.
And therein lies one of the compelling motivations for us to make sure our lives are right so that God can use us in the lives of other people. I think of that often with regard to the home. If I'm not a spiritual man, how can I lead my wife? If I'm not a spiritual father in my home, how can I be the one who can restore my children when they stumble? If I'm operating in a fleshly manner, if I'm falling victim continually to the sinful tendencies of my redeemed...unredeemed flesh, how is God going to use me in the people's lives who are the most precious to me? And then how is He going to use me in the church? How is He going to use me to pick up somebody who's fallen?
In 1 Thessalonians there's a wonderful little passage. You don't need to turn to it, I'll just read it to you, toward the end of...toward the end of...or actually toward the middle of chapter 5, toward the end of the book. "And we urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the faint-hearted, and help the weak." Now how you going to do that unless you've got your own life in order? We do have a responsibility to each other. We do have an accountability. I don't have an accountability to every person in this congregation, because I don't have information about everybody in this congregation. But I do have accountability with regard to those people with whom I have that information. If I know of someone who is stumbling, it's my responsibility. If you know of someone who is stumbling, it's your responsibility. You certainly wouldn't walk by someone who had stumbled and fallen into a dangerous place if you could reach over and pick them up and save them. Why would you allow people to stumble spiritually? I think about that woman in John chapter 8, all the men were ready to stone her, remember that? And Jesus went over and basically picked her up. I'll tell you one thing I don't ever want to be in a legalistic church. I don't ever want to be in some censorious, pharisaical church where when they find you fallen, they beat on you. I want to be in a place called Grace Church where they're in a big hurry to pick you up.
You know, I suppose there are people who assume that because we deal with sin firmly that this is a judgmental place. But it isn't. In fact, I tell you, I will battle till my last breath as long as the Lord keeps me in this place to make sure that we live up to our name, Grace, because we all need it, including me, right? And the Lord is in the picking up business, isn't He? You want to be like Christ? Then be....be gracious, compassionate, merciful and forgiving. And don't be censorious and pharisaical, judgmental and condemning.
The word "restore" there, katartiz, means to mend. It has the idea of repairing something that is broken, damaged. I love what it says in Hebrews 12:12, "Strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble. Make straight paths for your feet so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint but rather healed." You know, there's a wonderful passage in the gospels where it says of Jesus, "He never discards a broken reed and He never puts out a flickering lamp." That's just beautiful language. It might be that a shepherd had a little, reed pipe that he made and he played his little, reed pipe, but eventually that reed pipe would suffer the wear of his use and maybe it would bend and crack and he would blow it and all it would do would be squeak or maybe it got soft from his saliva and didn't make any sound at all and he might just snap it in half and throw it away because it couldn't make music. Or there was a little lamp that had a little wick in it but the wick was down so low and it was so small and so weak that all it did was just that irritating flicker rather than a constant level flame and it would be discarded. And Jesus said, "I don't do that. I don't throw away broken reeds and I don't put out flickering wicks." And that's simply to say that He's gentle and He's a restorer. It's so important for us to restore.
How do we do that? Help people see their sin. Help people see their current condition. Call them to repent and confess that sin before the Lord. That's all. Help them to understand their sin, to see their sin for what it is, to understand its implications, admonish them, call them to the path of repentance, assure them of the forgiveness of God, invite them to come before the Lord and confess that sin. That's what we do. And we do it, it says in verse 1, in a spirit of gentleness, a spirit of gentleness. By the way, that's one of the fruit of the Spirit. Go back to verse 23 chapter 5, first one, gentleness, gentleness. We are to be gentle with people. Those who are spiritual, truly spiritual — listen to this — are never censorious, condemning, judgmental. Again the apostle Paul, such a model of these things, 2 Corinthians, he's writing in chapter 2 and he's referring to a man in the congregation of the church who really was ugly to him, who was unkind, who was merciless, judgmental, to Paul. And he says in verse 7, "You should forgive and comfort him, lest somehow such a one be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow, so I urge you to reaffirm your love for him." Just a beautiful thing, isn't it?
This man did a terrible thing. He's most likely referring to the man who stood up and blasted Paul face to face when he visited Corinth. He needed to be confronted for that. Paul was afraid that they would overdo it. He says you need to be careful with the man so you don't cause him too much sorrow and you need to make sure he knows you love him. That is the spirit of gentleness that should characterize this matter of restoration.
There is a reason for this and it's right there in verse 1, "Each one looking to yourself lest you too be tempted." Bottom line, you better treat him the way you would like to be treated when you are in his shoes. “Looking” really means "consider carefully” how you would like to be treated. Kind of like the Golden Rule, isn't it? Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Pick him up. This is our responsibility. Yes it involves a confrontation of sin, but with a view to gentle, loving restoration.
Second principle, hold him up. Once you've picked him up, hold him up. Verse 2 says, "Bear one another's burdens and thus fulfill the law of Christ." The word "burdens" here is baros and it means “heavy loads, hard to carry.” And you know what, temptation is a heavy load, hard to carry; sin is a heavy load, hard to carry, and habitual sin is a very heavy load and hard to carry. It speaks about those aggressive, habitual sins, those...those temptations that just come with such force and regularly seek to pull us into sinful habits. To be picked up from a sin is not to be freed from temptation. Temptation may not go away, so you have to not only pick him up, but you have to hold him up. What does that involve? Prayer, fellowship, accountability.
I was talking to a young man, one day, and he said, "You know, I've just come to Christ but," he said, "I'm just really struggling with my former life and my former life was as a homosexual." And he said, "I'm just flooded with all of that stuff." And he said, "I...I've come to Christ," and he said, "I know how I ought to live but I feel the burden of that, the weight of that temptation so strongly because of all the load of memories and because of acquaintances that are still in my life." He was a new Christian. He said, "Can you help me?"
I said, "Well, I can pray for you and I will. And I want to encourage you to get involved intensely in fellowship with Christian people, God's people. Every time the doors of the church are open you need to be here. You need to make friends." And we began to put him in that kind of process. But I said, "I want to go a step further. I want you to do this for me. I want to meet with you every week," and I set a time, "and every time you come in I want to have a written list of your sin. I want you to write it down and spell it out."
He said, "You do?"
I said, "Yeah. And then we're going to confront it and go over it."
One week went by and he came in. He said, "I've got good news. I don't have anything on my paper."
I said, "You don't?"
He said, "No." He said, "I didn't fall to those temptations."
I said, "Well, isn't that wonderful?"
He said, "Well, I'm not sure that it was the Lord." He said, "I just really couldn't stand the thought of giving you the list." That's okay too.
That went on for about a month of victory in his life. And that's growth. And then, of course, he began to move into the life of the church in a normal way. Obviously it's not going to go away, but that's kind of what it is to hold somebody up, to hang in there with them in the time as they grow.
When you do that, he says in verse 2, "You fulfill the law of Christ." And the law of Christ is the law of love. It's John 13:34, "Loving one another." It's Galatians 5:14, "The whole law is fulfilled in one word, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’" That's the law. It's the law of love.
In verse 3 he says, "If anyone thinks he's something when he's nothing, he deceives himself." And Paul simply identifies here the fact that one of the chief reasons we don't stop to pick up somebody else is that we feel better than they are. I really don't have time for you; I've got my own life. I'm certainly not going to stoop to that level. I...I don't need to deal with those kinds of things. We look down on someone. We don't get involved in holding them up because we feel superior to them. And when you think you're something when you're nothing, you deceive yourself because, friend, you may be more sophisticated and more polished but you're no better than any other sinner before God, except for the righteousness of Christ which covers you.
And then in verse 4 he says, "Let each one examine his own work and then he'll have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone and not in regard to another." Well what he's really saying here is your responsibility is to examine your own life, be sure your attitudes are right before you try to hold somebody else up. Don't be proud, that's verse 3, and assess your own life. And then you can really boast that the Lord can use you. That's what he means when he says he can boast in regard to himself alone, he really means the Lord's working through him. He doesn't want anyone to be engaged in His work who doesn't do some self-evaluation. And you can look at your own life and if you can rejoice in what God is doing through you, then you can humble yourself to be the servant of someone else.
Then verse 5 says, "For each one shall bear his own load." Somebody might think that's a contradiction, it's not. It says in verse 2, "To bear one another's burdens," here it says, "Each one carry his own load." The word is different, phortion, it has to do with just the general issues of life. It's not any particular heavy, huge burden. And I think it simply means spiritual duties.
So let me sum it up. The first thing you need to do when you find someone in sin is to pick them up, and you do that by lovingly, gently coming into their life and showing them their spiritual condition, confronting the sin and very lovingly and thoughtfully you lead them to repentance and confession. And then you hold them up, and when you do that you fulfill the law of love. And if you're too proud to do that, God can't use you. You need to examine your own heart. And if there's anything in you to boast about, it's what the Lord has done in you. And when you get that picture clear, then you're useful. And then, according to verse 5, you can bear your spiritual responsibility. And I think he's referring to the very thing that he's just instructed you to do, and that's to pick up and hold up that sinning believer.
Well, a final little point comes in verse 6, build him up. Pick him up, hold him up, humbly, faithfully, doing your spiritual duty, and build him up. Verse 6 says, "Let the one who is taught the Word share all good things with him who teaches." Good things, things of moral excellence, things of spiritual excellence, things of truth that all flow out of the Word of God; and you share together in all those things. You're the teacher and you give him all these things and together. The word even here, shares, is koinne, you share these things. This is discipleship. It's a mutual sharing of divine truth. You're...you're giving input, you're nurturing. It might be personal teaching, it might be through getting them involved in a Bible study, it might be through books or tapes or a myriad of ways.
But, you know, the answer to the question, "Am I my brother's keeper?" is what? Yes. You are. And we're all to be instruments of holiness in each other's lives.
Now, of course, if you're going to be that, then you have to deal with your own life and personal cleansing. It all comes back to that. If you're unloving, you won't bear someone else's burdens and fulfill the law of love. If you're proud, you're not about to rightly assess yourself and you will think you're something when you're nothing. So you need to do some hard examination as verse 4 says, and then you need, as verse 5 says, to carry out your spiritual duty which is lovingly and gently in the fellowship of believers, take those who have fallen into sin, pick them up, hold them up and build them up in an ongoing discipleship relationship.
As we come to the Lord's Table, that's the perspective I want us to have in mind. Join me in a word of prayer.
Father, I'd like to pray right now for all of us that You would allow us to be in a position to be used like this, that You would allow us to be instruments of righteousness to help pick up that fallen brother or sister. And then, Lord, that You would use us to hold them up and then to build them up by together sharing in the Word, which is able to build you up, Paul said, and to give you an inheritance with the saints. It's the Word that builds up. It's our love and partnership and fellowship and care that holds up. It's our confrontation that picks up. And You've called us to this, Lord, but before we can do it, we need to examine our own hearts because if there is pride in our lives, or if there is in in our lives, we...we can't do this because we're not spiritual. We need to be confronted by somebody, picked up, held up and built up.
But for those that are spiritual, for those that have confessed sin, we stand ready to be used and it's not something you attain to after many years. Being spiritual is a matter of the moment. If we're obedient in this moment, then we can be used. Even a new Christian, we know, Father, a baby Christian can obey You and therefore be used by You. So, Lord, we come to examine our own hearts. We ask that You would cleanse any sin that's in us, wash us, and make us clean of every iniquity. May we honestly and openly confess all our sins. May we submit afresh and anew to Your will that we might be useful in this ministry of restoration of others for the purity and holiness of Your church and the glory of Your name.
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