DO YOUR CREATIVE BEST

“Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life”.

Gal 6:5 EHP

Modern psychology uses the idea of “self-actualisation” to spell out what the life-task is for each human being. “Doing your creative best”, Eugene Peterson’s translation of Paul’s Greek here, is putting the same thing in a different way. It involves becoming a mature Christian, knowing what you believe and expressing all that is in you through love to other people. Some people do this through teaching others, a creative activity if ever there was one. Other people will do this through careful and disciplined administration of the Christian community’s financial affairs – something not many people can do.

For some people the most creative best will be in the field of music. Worship in the Christian church depends on good music that all worshippers can join in and leadership here is so valuable. Many others will do their creative best by working with the catering – since so many functions involve eating together. All communities need a pastoral team and various people can exercise strong caring ministries in different aspects of a church’s life. Praying with and for the sick is another way someone can care meaningfully. Exercising your gift responsibly, creatively, dependably, within the body, benefits the body and grows people within the body. There are many more gifts that enable someone to use their creativity for God.

All these varied gifts are employed for the benefit and building up of the body, when they are recognized as gifts from God and pressed into his service and used for his glory. Each means someone plays a vital role and comes to his or her full potential in the glory of God.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, use me creatively wherever and however you will.

KNOW YOURSELF

“Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that”.

Gal 6:4 EHP

It is important for you to know and understand just who you are and how you fit into the bigger picture of things in the Christian community. Knowing who you are helps you with your self-identity. It also enables you to recognise and appreciate other people and their place in the community.

The Christians to whom Paul wrote had not been born and brought up in the Christian church. It didn’t exist when they were born. They therefore had to un-learn many of the ideas and ways of doing things that they had been taught when they converted to Christ and became Christians. Not only did each person have to do this – everyone around them was doing this as well. They also had to learn that not all of them were of equal maturity and understanding, and therefore not of similar capacity for responsibility. Learning to get on with everyone else was a tough assignment. It could only happen in a situation where love was paramount and where the Holy Spirit was prevalent.

Getting along with the rest of the community is just as crucial today. But now many Christian believers grow up from childhood surrounded by Christian influences and Christian people. But be careful not to envy other people their place or work in the community. If one has a gift for music and you haven’t, appreciate and be thankful for them. But then cherish your gift – which might be in pastoral care or even counselling, administration or financial management. If it is in teaching, thank God and use your gift to the glory of God – and not your own!

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help me to know myself and to honour you in all things.

DON’T BE CONCEITED

“If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves”.

Gal 6:3 NIV

One of the problems in Christian communities is that some people consider themselves better Christians, or more important in terms of the ministry they perform, or higher socially, than others. It seems that in the Galatian churches to whom Paul was addressing himself one of these factors was at play. Most likely someone was refusing to bear the burdens of others because he, or she, considered himself (or herself) too “high and mighty”. It all seems, “that if we do not or will not bear one another’s burdens, it is because we think we are above it. We would not demean ourselves to such a thing; it would be beneath our dignity. Again it is apparent, as in Galatians 5:26 that our conduct to others is governed by our opinion of ourselves. As we provoke and envy other people when we have self-conceit, so when we think we are ‘something’ we decline to bear their burdens.

But to think thus of ourselves is to be self-deceived. … Conceit is ‘vainglory’, entertaining a false opinion of ourselves. The truth is that we are not ‘something’; we are ‘nothing’. Is this an exaggeration? Not when the Holy Spirit has opened our eyes to see ourselves as we are, rebels against the God who made us in his image, deserving nothing at his hand but destruction. When we realize and remember this, we shall not compare ourselves favourably with other people, nor shall we decline to serve them or bear their burdens” (J. Stott, The Message of Galatians, p159).

There is a saying, “Comparisons are odious”. Indeed they are – and especially in the Christian community. Be humble – it is one of the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, prevent me from becoming conceited.

JESUS SAID YOU SHOULD

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ”.

Gal 6:2 NIV

Christian believers do not often dwell on “Christ’s law”. They concentrate rather on his grace, his forgiveness and his mercy. They often dwell on his peace and love to reflect on “the peace that passeth all understanding”.

But there was an occasion when a rich young ruler came to Jesus and asked him what he had to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus immediately replied by quoting the various commandments, all of which the man had observed strictly. Then Jesus commanded him to go and sell all his goods and give them to the poor. Then he was to follow Jesus. But he couldn’t. He loved his things more than he loved his neighbour. And for Jesus there were only two commandments, to love God and your neighbour as yourself.

That still stands as Christ’s law for Christian believers today. And we talk much about Christian love, but our actions seldom match up to our words. Dr Leslie Weatherhead once told a story about some people who lived not far from his own home. The mother told him that she had a son who was partly paralysed, and her husband had died some time earlier. In her distress no one from her own church visited or consoled her. Then some Catholics nearby heard of her struggles, went to see her and continued to visit. Then she added, “We have become Catholics. You see, when they came to see us they never said a word about religion. They were just unceasingly kind. Their love had imposed no conditions” (Soldier’s Armoury, 1971, p105).

Fulfil the law of Christ – with simple, real love in action.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, fill me with your kind of love.

CARRYING EACH OTHER’S BURDENS

“Help one another to carry these heavy loads”.

Gal 6:2 NEB

“‘In Germany’ said Karl Barth on one occasion, ‘there used to be … some remarkable fourth-class railway carriages in which, for instance, country people going to market, could spread out and stack their baskets, sacks and the like and which therefore carried outside the sign ‘For travellers with heavy loads’. And he continued, ‘It is really the lot of all of us to be such ‘travellers with heavy loads’”.

Helping to carry the loads of others is one of the ways Paul suggests in which life in the Spirit is worked out within the Christian community. There are burdens of many kinds: of moral failure and remorse, and of difficult circumstances and sorrow. Paul’s language covers them all, and he exhorts the Galatian Christians to be aware of other people’s burdens and problems” (Soldier’s Armoury, 1980, p87).

The secret of being a “burden-bearer” is to be possessed by Christian love to the extent that you become sensitive to what others are struggling with. A father whose son had been killed in the border war in South Africa made his way to a Christian minister. “I’m not a religious man” he said, “but I have to talk to someone. Somebody told me your son was killed up there too, and I knew you’d understand what I’m feeling like”. Every Christian believer should try to be the sort of person other people feel they can offload to. Try to extend a sympathetic ear to anyone battling with the struggles of life.

Many people can never imagine the massive weight of some people’s loads – marriage crises, addiction problems, financial difficulties, to mention only a few. Walk alongside them if you can.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, show me where I can bear other people’s burdens.

DO IT GENTLY

“You who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently”.

Gal 6:1 NIV

A group of senior church ministers was considering one of their junior colleagues who had made a serious mistake. One of them turned to another and said, “Bill, I think you should tackle him. Go and talk to him like a Dutch uncle”. Just how the ensuing discussion took place is not recorded but the other ministers wondered if the “Dutch uncle” treatment was really the most appropriate?.

Paul was not for the “Dutch uncle” stuff. To start with, if someone needs correction and restoration it needs to be done by someone who is “spiritual”. Usually, in the Christian fellowship some people are deeply dedicated. People regard them as “walking close to God”. They are obviously men or women of prayer and come across as “spiritual”. They are possessed by the Holy Spirit and one of the fruit of the Spirit’s work in people’s hearts is “gentleness”. Paul had spoken of this only a couple of verses earlier. “All Christians are indwelt by the Spirit, but ‘spiritual’ Christians are also ‘led by the Spirit’ and ‘walk by the Sprit’ so that ‘the fruit of the Spirit’ appears in their lives. Indeed, this loving ministry of restoring an erring brother (sic) is exactly the kind of thing we shall do when we are walking by the Spirit. It is only the ‘spiritual’ Christian who should attempt to restore him (sic). We may not, however, seize upon this as an excuse to evade an unpalatable task. We may not say, ‘that excuses me; I’m not spiritual’. This verse suggests that maybe not all Christians are, in fact, ‘spiritual’, but then all Christians should be, and as such have a responsibility to restore a sinning fellow believer” (J. Stott, The Message of Galatians, p162).

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, make me gentle.

WATCH YOURSELF!

“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted”.

Gal 6:1 NIV

Some people take a great delight in the downfall of others. They enjoy criticising other people and love watching them mess up. It makes their own egos swell. It is this nasty tendency that causes much pain and bitterness in Christian communities. It is small and petty – and it sometimes brings out the worst in us.

Paul was aware of the presence of this weakness in some of the churches he had founded and to which he gave ongoing leadership and pastoral care. Probably he had even seen situations where the very people who had gloated over the mistakes of others later fell victim to some sin of their own. So he warned the Christians in the churches of Galatia to beware and to watch themselves lest they let themselves down and the Christian community.

This warning is one we would do well to heed in many situations. We would be well advised to heed it in regard to the tendency to criticise other believers, a very common problem. We might well later succumb to the very fault we find in another person. We might heed it in regard to the tendency to compare ourselves with other people. Whilst we would compare ourselves favourably others might rank us less favourably. Then many of us have a desire to “shine” and to show off our knowledge or skills to steal the limelight from others. Later we might look pretty dull next to someone who shone more brightly than we did.

Look on others with love. Build them up. Support them. Speak well of them and pray for them.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help me to forget myself and love other people.

PEOPLE DO SLIP UP

“My brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in any kind of wrong-doing, those of you who are spiritual should set him right; but you must do it in a gentle way”.

Gal 6:1 GNB

People are human, and humans make mistakes. A private in the British artillery was trained to do the arithmetic which would get the guns firing in the right direction and make the shells land at the desired distance. Out on exercises the lad gave the Captain in charge the fruit of his arithmetic. The Captain shook his head and said, “No. We’ll use my quick method. Look through your calculations and see if you’ve gone wrong”. Twenty minutes later the lad sheepishly showed the Captain where he had gone wrong. The Captain said, “That’s all right Brown. You know what Napoleon said?” “No, sir”. Napoleon said, ‘He who never made a mistake never made anything’”.

Paul, writing to the churches of Galatia knew that Christian communities are full of people who occasionally screw up. He also knew that some Christian believers are so earnest in their discipleship that they seldom slip up. These near-perfect people are inclined to consider themselves in another bracket from those who do slip up. So, the apostle prepares those in the Christian fellowship not to be fazed if some happen to mess up inadvertently. But there must be no “rubbing of noses in the dirt”, no superior “holier- than- thou” attitudes. The approach must be “There, but for the grace of God, go I”.

It is always tempting for disciples of Jesus to want to “score a point” if a fellow believer slips up or breaks down. The word Paul uses for “set him right” means to repair or restore. Make sure that’s how you approach such a situation.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help me to restore those who go wrong.

COME INTO THE KINGDOM

“You are not far from the Kingdom of God”.

Mk 12:34 GNB

To some outward appearances it is difficult to tell the difference between those who are “in the Kingdom of God” and those who are “so near and yet so far”. If you are “not far” make the decision to “come right in”.

The major difference is that you need to make a decision. You must first recognize that you have been trying to do it all on your own. Stop. You cannot qualify, win points, or earn your place in the Kingdom. You need to say, “Lord I have tried hard all these years, but I have not succeeded. Now I give in. From now on I resign from this struggle and acknowledge that in your infinite grace you accept me, just as I am. My good deeds count for nothing. My many religious observances count for nothing. I can do nothing to impress other people, nor to win your approval. I cast myself on Jesus, like so many people in Palestine did when they needed healing. Cleanse me from the self-conscious pride in which I have congratulated myself all these years. Forgive me for thinking that I could win my way into your Kingdom, secure for myself a special place, and bask in my self-glory.

I hand over to you, Lord Jesus Christ, all that I am and all that I have. I am no longer my own, but thine. Make of me what you will. Use me however you will. I yield all things to your use and service. Be my Lord and master, my Saviour and my King. And let me live for you alone. Let me find my full happiness in you. Now and always.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, open the door and let me into your Kingdom.

HOW FAR ARE YOU FROM THE KINGDOM

“Jesus noticed how wise his answer was, and so he told him, ‘You are not far from the Kingdom of God’”.

Mk 12:34 GNB

Many people live close to the Kingdom. The teacher who posed the question to Jesus was one. He knew the Law and taught it. But he had penetrated deeply into who God was and what faith was all about. He knew that it was more about the God of the Law than just the Law itself. Maybe he wanted to know God and walk with him? He was no hypocritical religious professional. He had come to see that a big commitment was needed. The observance of external duties wasn’t enough. And he had been trying “to go the whole hog”.

Some people are diligent in their attendance at religious functions – worship, Bible Study, fund-raising, and serving “those less fortunate”. They are often wonderful people. Many of them are “not far from the Kingdom”. Others are good people. They never wander from the pathway. They do an enormous amount of good and people think they are “the salt of the earth”. Most of these are “not far from the Kingdom”. Yet others know a lot about religion. They can quote verses from the Bible, they know most of the teachings and love to delve into the history of the church and follow the goings-on. They too, are “not far from the Kingdom”.

But they have never cast themselves on Christ in faith, repentance, and complete trust. They are trying to “do it all”, to win the approval of God, the admiration of their fellow church members, and to “get past the tape”. Are you one of these? If so, will you think carefully and prayerfully about taking the final step?

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help me to step over into the Kingdom of God .