By Pastor Glenn Pease
Doing your best could be the worst thing you could do. That sounds like a contradiction, but it can be explained so that it makes sense as a paradox. A paradox is a statement, which at first sight seems absurd, and contrary to common sense, but which can be explained so as to be well grounded and true in fact. It is not hard to figure out the paradox in the statement that the new cars are wider, longer, lower, and higher. That they are lower in relation to the ground, and higher in relation to your bank account is easy to see. Many paradoxes are not so obvious. Some of the beatitudes of Jesus, for example are paradoxes. Blessed are the poor in spirit; blessed are those who mourn, and blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake. These need some deeper thinking before the clouds of obscurity will clear away, and let the light of truth shine through.
So it is with the statement, doing your best can be the worst thing you can do. It is contrary to a normal pattern of thinking, but all it takes is one illustration to turn it into a paradoxical statement of truth. A minister of a large church had his assistant preach the sermon on Sunday morning. He wanted to slip away to play golf. He drove the ball with terrific accuracy, and everything he did seem to go perfect, and he finished the 18 holes with a remarkable 68. It was the first time he ever broke 100. He was over joyed and elated until it struck him, he would never be able to tell anyone about it because of the circumstances. Had he played an average game, there would be nothing to tell, but he had gone and done his very best, and now he couldn't share his excitement. Doing his best under those circumstances proved to be the worst thing he could do. His great pleasure paradoxically became his punishment.
Doing your best at any act of evil is always the worst thing you can do. The thing to notice about the nature of paradox is that it keeps you aware of the complexity of reality. It keeps you aware of the danger of oversimplification. We tend to take a legitimate aspect of reality and make it the whole. Paradox forces us to keep an open mind, and seek to reconcile contradictory aspects of life. The Christian who cannot accept paradox as part of reality will often be distressed, because life refuses to conform to the logic of what he feels ought to be. Everything can make sense, however, to one who is willing to see the paradoxical nature of reality.
A blessed curse sounds like nonsense, but a little thought can make it a precious truth. The Scripture says, "Cursed is every man who is hung upon a tree." Jesus was hung upon a tree, and crucified for our sin. His curse became the means by which all of our sins are forgiven. Who can think of a curse that ever led to greater blessings? It was indeed a blessed curse, and no longer a statement of nonsense. I emphasize the reality of paradox because Paul is so paradoxical in this passage of Gal. 6. The paradox we want to consider concerns a blessing we are to avoid. It sounds unreasonable to even suggest that we should try and avoid one of God's blessings, but that is exactly what God's expects us to do, and exactly what we want to do when we understand the meaning of the paradox.
No one will doubt that guilt is one of the heaviest burdens a man can bear, and no one will doubt that forgiveness is one of the most precious of all blessings. Yet, as blessed as it is to be lifted, it is more blessed never to have fallen. The blessing we are to avoid, therefore, is the blessing of being the one who is restored through forgiveness. While helping the fallen experience this blessing, we are to be careful to avoid it ourselves. It is a blessing that can only come through first disobeying God. To be eligible for forgiveness we must first sin, and, therefore, this is a blessing we are to avoid.
A Sunday School teacher asked her class what is the first thing we must do to obtain forgiveness of sin? A little boy spoke up and said, "Sin!" It was not the expected answer, but a correct one, and because they only way to obtain this goal is by the route of evil, it is a way we are not to travel. It is a blessing we are never to chose, but one we are to receive only because of necessity due to the fact that we have fallen.
In this first verse Paul is just as concerned that the non-fallen Christian helper escape the necessity of this blessing, as he is that the fallen brother find it. It is wonderful that the fallen brother can be restored and forgiven. Yet, it would be a tragedy if another in helping him bear his load fell himself, and needed to travel the same path. Forgiveness is the only road to travel when one is in the valley of sin, and it is a great blessing, but it is a curse to fall into that valley in the first place, and so it is a blessing to be avoided. Any blessing that requires you to sin before receiving it, is a blessing to avoid. This is why Paul limits the task of restoring the fallen to the spiritual, that is to those who have developed the maturity necessary to do the job without risking themselves.
Anyone who has tackled a difficult job with inadequate tools knows the problem you can get into, and the mess you can make. The tool one must have to effectively restore a fallen brother is the tool of meekness, or gentleness. It is one of the fruits of the Spirit, and that is why Paul calls upon those who are spiritual to handle this delicate matter. To be spiritual simply means to be one who exhibits the fruits of the Spirit. If one does not have this fruit, he should not attempt the job of restoration. The result could be something like trying to fix a piece of broken china with a hammer. Christians need to leave delicate jobs to those whose inner tool chest has in it, not the sharp saw of severity, and the hard hammer of harshness, but the smooth sander of sympathy, and the mild mallet of meekness.
The word restore is the Greek word for setting a dislocated bone. Part of the body of Christ is dislocated when a Christian falls into sin. There is bound to be some pain in getting him restored, but the proper treatment can eliminate unnecessary pain. The proper treatment that Paul calls for is gentleness. Calvin wrote, "We are here taught to correct the faults of brethren in a mild manner, and to consider no rebukes as partaking a religious and Christian character which do not breathe the spirit of meekness." Not all can lift a fallen brother by meekness, and so they should keep their hands off.
To try and restore a brother in the attitude of arrogant superiority is to fall into the category of those Paul mentions in verse 3 who think themselves to be something when they are nothing. Here is another paradox: To be something we must recognize we are nothing. John Wesley recognized he was nothing apart from Christ, and he really became something. He lifted gamblers, drunkards, and rough sinners from all walks of life by the power of gentleness. G. W. Langford wrote-
Speak gently! Tis a little thing
Dropped in the heart's deep well;
The good, the joy that it may bring
Eternity shall tell.
If you don't have the tools, leave the task of restoring to those who can do it in the spirit of meekness. A Christian doing good in the wrong way can do more harm than good. The Christian who has the right tools, however, ought not to be deceived into thinking he is immune to danger. There is always a risk involved in bending over a pit to lift another out. It is possible for the helper to end up in the pit. Paul, therefore, gives a warning even to those who are spiritual. It is a blessing to know they can be restored if they fall, but it is a blessing they are to avoid.
I think it is extremely important that we see Paul's attitude concerning the Christian and sin. Paul feels that no one is ever so mature, and so spiritual, that they can afford to be careless. Paul assumes that the finest Christians can fall if they are not cautious. To think that a wonderful Christian cannot fall into serious sin is to be ignorant concerning spiritual warfare. Some people blame emotionalism for the fact that Christians fall into sin. They feel that many conversions are only a momentary experience of excitement that do not last. Others feel the problem lies with those churches which stress conversion as a process of education. These, they say, are not truly born again, and have only a head knowledge, and that is why they fall to the temptation. Both are right, and there are many illustrations to prove their point, but both are wrong in thinking they can explain, by their view, why Christians sin.
The method by which one comes to Christ is not the determining factor at all. The important thing is what one thinks of himself after he does accept Christ. If he thinks he is now safe from the enemy of his soul, and has arrived, he is in serious trouble. His deception at this point will leave him wide open to enemy attack. If he realizes the battle has just begun, and that now, more than ever, he needs the whole armor of God, and much caution, then he is likely to stand, and be a good soldier of Christ. It is pride that leads the Christian to fall, for the proud Christian no longer fears his own weakness. He feels he does not need to be careful in the way he walks. It is the humble Christian who will stand, for he is fully aware of his weakness, and the danger of falling.
Paul makes it clear that the most mature Christian must be aware that the tendency to sin is still in them, and that a proud and careless attitude can lead them into the very pit they hope to lift others out of. An honest Christian is one who is able to say, I am capable of committing that very sin that ensnared my brother. Therefore, I must avoid certain circumstances. Consider thyself is what Paul says. Keep and attentive eye on yourself is another version. Help another with an attitude of pride, thinking you are superior because you did not fall, and you could very well be the next one there pulling out of the pit.
History is full of spiritual persons who are naive at this point. The Bible does not give useless warnings, and so we need to take them seriously. In I Cor. 10:12 Paul says, "Therefore let anyone who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall." David was a man after God's own heart, but he fell. Peter was the leader of the Apostles, but he fell. You can go through the list of Bible heroes, and the same can be said for just about all of them. The wise Christian agrees with the ancient saying, "Know thyself." To be ignorant of what you are capable of doing is to be blind, and not having an honest knowledge of yourself, and this will lead you to ignore the warnings that would help you to escape when the battle is more than you can handle.
Tis one of human nature's laws,
To see ourselves without our flaws.
This is one law we are to break, and not submit to being blinded by our nature which loves to be deceived about our defects. If we are not honest with ourselves, we will fail to see ourselves in the mirror of God's Word. We will be like the dog who always went wild when he saw his reflection in the mirror. He thought is was another dog, and he was ready for a fight. If we think all the warnings of Scripture are directed to someone else, we are as foolish as that dog. The heart is deceitful above all things, and we need to see that refers to our heart, and not just the heart of others. Fenelon said, "As light increases we see ourselves to be worse than we thought." The purpose of seeing yourself as you are is not to give you a guilt complex, but to show you just how weak you are without the Lord's help. It is to keep you alert, knowing that a sudden attack can take you by surprise and leave you wounded.
Look to yourself says Paul; know yourself; know your own weakness and tendency to sin, and you will be more useful in gaining back the fallen brother, for your caution and stability will increase his security, and give him an example to follow in the future. This is doing for a brother what Jesus did for us all. Had He not stopped to lift us, and had He not faced all temptations and remained sinless, we would have no hope, and no security, and no basis for forgiveness.
Nietzsche thought this was the way to produce a world of weaklings. The strong ought not to stoop to help the weak, he said. This puts them all on the dead level of mediocrity. The strong are to move on higher, and step on the weak to do it. This is the only road to the super race. Hitler and Stalin both put this philosophy into practice, and history has recorded the tragic results. One of the paradoxes of history is that power and both will be better prepared to not experience the blessing we are to avoid.