Galatians 6 shows how different Galatians is from other letters by focusing on practical, behavior-driven content. Typically, Paul’s letters take a hard turn about halfway through (usually marked with a “Therefore” in the NASB) where the emphasis moves from doctrinally underpinning to effective implementation of the doctrinal concepts. That’s a simplification, but you will see it in Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians, 1-2 Thessalonians.
Galatians, though, is not about the right actions. Galatians is tailored to address a group of churches that are, overall, acting morally and near to the ideal of godliness from Scripture. Their problem is doctrinal: they are doing the right things for all the wrong reasons. That is Paul’s focus in his letter: fix the doctrine.
There are a few basic implications that he wants to address. These are how people should interact based on their standing in Christ. Notice how Galatians 6:1 speaks to sin and restoration. There are very few New Testament references to sin without restoration and Paul keeps the two rightly together here. He highlights an important truth: if you are as mature and spiritual as you claim, you should be first in line to be gracious and restorative to the sinners among you.
We could use more of this in churches today. And in church-critics of today. I find it troubling how quickly I and my fellow pastors pounce upon sinners as if they cannot be restored. The other side of the sword is also troubling: you will find few people as harsh toward fellow believers as the ones who have become “spiritual” enough to see through what they see as weak churchianity. Folks, we need to surrender to the Lord and be crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20), not just to a cultural Jesus who we hope for wish fulfillment from, but the Jesus of Scripture.
Yet if our only method is vicious attack, then our claim to “spirituality” is sheer nonsense. If you cannot bear the burdens of that church member who cannot attend another seminar, if you cannot bear the burdens of that pastor who still believes in Sunday night services, if you cannot be a strengthening agent for the church then you are wrong. Maybe not in thought but in implementation.
In Focus: Take a quick glance at Galatians 6:17 and see what Paul says there. I think this is his “I’m done with this issue” statement. No longer is he going to argue about salvation or racism or legalism. He has been clear about it, and he has been clear about what is right. The feeling is that there are better ways to spend the time of the church, and there are: serving the Lord.
In Practice: We should consider a similar approach. Some things are not worth fighting for—and I say this in light of being graceful and restorative. But there are bounds to what a church believes, and there comes a point where we would do better to say clearly “This we believe” and allow people to choose to go elsewhere or do other things. We do no favors to the Christian faith by defining it so broadly that anyone fits.
A clear definition of what Christianity does (and does not) believe aids all. We deal graciously with those who reject it, but we are not required to define non-Christian belief and behavior as allowable in the faith just to be gracious. When people desire to come in, though, we should be open to restoration of even the most troublesome of critics and forgive as we have been forgiven.
In Nerdiness: A couple of Nerd-Points here:
1) Some take Galatians 6:11 as evidence of Paul having poor eyesight as a result of his being blinded on the road to Damascus. With all due respect, I can accept poor eyesight due to age but do not agree with the identification of residual eye problems from the Damascus Road as Paul’s thorn in the flesh. Why? Because Paul is healed by God’s command, and we do not see God healing people and leaving them unhealed. Further, such a result would have hampered Paul more socially than physically: the synagogues would likely have not allowed him to even begin speaking due to the apparent judgment of sin. More likely, Paul’s just tagging in his signature as was common, and either he wrote largely, or his amanuensis wrote small, or both.
2) Galatians 6:10 is a good guideline for how we structure aid ministries in churches. Focus on the household of faith, but help all we can.
3) I think Galatians is one of Paul’s later letters based on overall tone. He’s tired of writing and correcting the same old problems, and it shows through in his directness. Also, that would allow for the clearly large number of years in the first couple of chapters.