Someone does something they shouldn’t do. They are “overtaken in a transgression”—what do we do? We’re not talking about people, even churchgoers, who have no real stake in Christ, but someone who is committed to Christ but who finds themselves caught unawares, tripped up by something that is clearly wrong. How we respond will say much about what sort of community we are. Do we try to ignore the fault? Do we talk behind someone’s back? Do we tell them off? What we do reveals who we are.
Paul urges that if someone fails to walk in line with the Spirit, “you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one.” If a member of any body is dislocated, the whole body is affected, both because this part of the body is incapable of properly performing its own functions and because it occasions pain and inconvenience to other members. This is true of the body of Christ as well.
When someone trips up, others are given an opportunity to feel superior. “Take care that you yourselves are not tempted.” Our aim must be restoration and the effort to restore needs to be done spiritually, “in a spirit of gentleness” – without arrogance, impatience, or harassment – emotions under control. “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.” Those who gloat or get on a high horse, riding out for righteousness, zealous without love, are really “nothing” and should not deceive themselves thinking that they are somebody.
When someone trips up, others are given an opportunity to test their own work. Our response will show how much we are governed by the Spirit of God. How ready are we, not to ignore, not to backbite, not to shout, but to bear one another’s burden, getting involved in the difficulties occasioned by sin and bearing with the sinner? We all must carry our own load of responsibility and will have no reason for pride, if we ignore the plight of others.
When we ourselves are caught in sin, do we need help? Do we arrogantly believe that we don’t need others to help us with our blind spots? Do we foolishly believe that we don’t need to share our burden of sin, that we can cope with it on our own? God help us, if we do! But if we realise that we ourselves need help, will we refuse to help others?
When we spot a fellow pilgrim of Christ doing wrong, our reaction shows what sort of people we are, those sowing “on the flesh” (feeling better about ourselves as a result of seeing someone perform badly) or “sow to the Spirit”, never growing weary in doing what is right, including helping others to get back on the right path.
A community in which people don’t care will ignore sin. A community governed by law will put its foot down on the errant member. A community of self-righteous folk will tut-tut smugly. In a church that deserves that name people will bear one another’s burden and in this way fulfil the law of Christ.