In 2006, Phildephia 76-ers guard Allen Iverson went on a now-famous rant when he was questioned by the media for missing practice (“Practice? I’m supposed to be the franchise player and we’re talking about practice?”). The clip closes with him asking, “How am I going to make my teammates better by practicing?” He just wanted to play the game.
Sadly, when it comes to church, Christians often live this same attitude in the way that we treat one another.
Galatians 5 is a beloved chapter for many Christians, because it contains the “fruit of the Spirit” verses and amazing reminders of the freedom that we have in Christ. And it’s tempting to stop reading the letter there, because Paul goes on in Galatians 6 to talk about boring stuff like humility, helping others overcome their struggles, and sowing good seed in order to reap a good harvest. Who wants to hear about that when we can talk about victory over sin and how to be Spirit-led?
It struck me as I studied these chapters recently that they are meant to be linked together. Now, if we are reading the Bible faithfully, that’s a no-duh statement, that they were meant to be linked. Who gets a letter from a friend and reads it a section at a time over the course of several days, or reads the middle without the beginning, or skips the last paragraph? No one does, yet we do that with letters in the Bible all the time, because they’ve now got those chapter and verse numbers in it. (Those weren’t in the original letters, by the way, and neither were the bold-printed subject headings inserted before new sections).
Galatians 6 rightly follows chapter five, because one of the primary arenas that we learn to walk in the Spirit and bear Spirit fruit is in the Church. Church is where we come to practice humility, speaking the truth in love, bearing one another’s burdens so that when we have chances to do that outside the church walls, we are ready.
What happens instead is that we often come to church expecting those around us to be perfect, to have their lives together, and so we are not ready to practice this life in the Spirit because we sort of think we shouldn’t have to do that at church. We tend to act like the fruit of the Spirit is only for when we need it in regular life. And that can lead us to impatient or less-than-gracious with fellow Christians.
The community of Believers is the place where we practice humility, practice hospitality, practice forgiveness and repentance and prayer, because we should all know that the ground is level at the foot of the cross. It’s a place to grow in deeper communion with Christ, to acknowledge our failings, and to grow as disciples together.
Galatians 6 is how we practice the good news of Galatians 5, and we need to notice that Paul is addressing Christians and how they treat fellow Christians. Sunday is not just about hearing a message and singing songs, and it’s not about serving in a Sunday school class. It’s a place where the Body of Christ learns to live from Christ’s life in us, that we might go out and do that in the world.