In this passage Paul is addressing the readers as "Brothers." He is talking to the Body of Christ in a specific community.
"Brothers," he says; "if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently."
Paul is suggesting to the brothers that any one of them could get caught in a sin. He is not suggesting that those who might fall into sin are less "brothers" than are those not caught in sin. What Paul is saying here is that the community is obligated to send someone to restore the sinner and to bring him to accountability.
Further, the word "caught" has more than one connotation. Often in religious circles the idea of being caught in sin suggests that someone saw the sinner in the act of sin and found out his or her secret. This kind of "finding out" gives the finder a subtle sense of moral superiority; he "caught" someone in sin and now is obligated to "do something about it."
Caught, however, can also have the connotation of being trapped. A person can be caught in a sin from which he cannot extricate himself, like a fish caught in a net. A person caught in an enslaving sin might not ever be "caught" in his sin by another person. A person trapped in a private sin might long for help but not be willing to risk letting anyone know he or she had such a dreadful problem.
In this passage Paul is saying that as fellow believers, we are obligated to be sensitive to our brothers and sisters and to help them if they are struggling with sin. We are not to ostracize them or gossip about them. We are obligated to help carry their burdens. We are required to help them to re-center themselves in Christ, to lovingly call them to bring their enslavement to Jesus and lay it at his feet. As brothers and sisters we are to help our struggling "sibling" to acknowledge the problem, to bring it fully into consciousness so he or she can choose to address it.
He specifically calls those who are "spiritual" to help those caught in sin. In First Corinthians 3:1-3 Paul identifies the "spiritual:"
"Brothers," he writes, "I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly-mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men?"
The "spiritual" are those firmly rooted in Jesus, those who have walked with him for a long enough period of time so that they are living by the Holy Spirit's direction. They are becoming mature, able to discern God's will and able to be able to minister God's love to those around them.
Paul is not suggesting that the "spiritual" are better or "more saved" than the immature. He's simply saying that the spiritually mature are better able to discern the struggles in those who are caught, and they have more spiritual strength to help carry the other's burden without as much danger of damaging their own souls.
But he also gives two warnings. His first warning is to "watch yourself" when restoring a brother caught in sin. "Watch yourself, or you also may be tempted," Paul says.
Sin is like a contagious disease for which we have no vaccination. We are all vulnerable to temptation and deception. The Holy Spirit can warn us and protect us, but when we are in hand-to-hand spiritual combat, we are extremely vulnerable to attack. We must be clothed in spiritual armor (Ephesians 6:11-16) in order to survive. And even with the armor on, we often emerge from the battle with some amount of wounding. This vulnerability is one of the greatest reasons Paul says the "spiritual" are to restore the sinners.
The second warning Paul gives is, "If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load." (verses 3-5)
It is natural to feel pride when we accomplish something difficult. It is even natural to feel pride after dealing with a serious spiritual problem. Paul is cautioning all of us, even the "spiritual," about feeling proud of spiritual interventions or victories we experience. This natural reaction of pride is part of the sinful nature that the Holy Spirit wants to keep under control in us.
Paul is suggesting that if we feel superior or more accomplished or more "spiritually evolved" than our brothers, we are deceiving ourselves. We are not evaluated on the basis of a comparison between ourselves and our brothers. God evaluates each of us individually. No comparison among ourselves makes sense. Our journeys are so different that only God understands our spiritual growth.
Any pride we might have, Paul suggests, should come as we look only at ourselves and God. As we see God helping us overcome our own sins we can feel pride, but that pride comes from knowing that God is working in us. That pride is not self-congratulatory pride; it is the joyful, soul-uplifting pride that comes from walking with the Spirit and knowing God accepts us-knowing we are one with him. It is the pride of knowing we are the sons of God.
We each have our own load to carry. We all have a baggage of sin. God calls us to be accountable for that baggage. He wants us to bring that baggage to him so he can set us free from its burden. He asks us to acknowledge that we are caught in our sins, and he asks us to recognize them as he points them out to us. God asks us to admit to ourselves that we are trapped, and he wants us to feel our helplessness.
As we face our failures and give them go Jesus, he forgives them and wipes the shame from our hearts and our memories. He heals the deep wounds in our souls, and his love begins to spread to the cold corners of our hearts and minds.
As we accept forgiveness and salvation from Jesus, those sins that had caught us begin to untangle and fall off. And as we blossom and grow in Jesus' love, we begin to mature, we begin to become "spiritual." We begin to be able to carry our brothers' and sisters' burdens and to mediate Jesus' restoring love to them.
As we experience this restoring love of Christ, we will be able to sing Geoff Bullock's song:
"I will never be the same again I can never return, I've closed the door; I will walk the path, I'll run the race, And I will never be the same again.
There are higher heights, There are deeper seas; Whatever You need to do Lord, do in me The glory of God fills my life And I will never be the same again."
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