Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.  (Galatians 6:8-10)

In this advice to the tiny group of believers living in the midst of a pagan society in Galatia, at the center of what is now Turkey, the Apostle Paul outlined a survival strategy for any group of Christians in any time or place.

First, get your values straight and stick to them. Accepting Christ involves chosing the spiritual over the fleshly, but believers tend to drift from that choice over time. Paul’s simple challenge is, “Don’t be deceived, you reap what you sow.”

Second, settle in for the long haul. If you aren’t firmly committed, fleshly values will wear you down; you’ll “grow weary” and “give up.” Just continue to do what you know is right, even if there doesn’t seem to be any payoff.

Third, work “for good” at every “opportunity,” not just when it’s convenient or when you’re forced to make a decision. That means you should actively look for ways of expressing your Christian values, rather than trying to “pass” in society as having the same values as others around you.

Fourth, you should “work for the good of all” people. You shouldn’t see the world in terms of good guys and bad guys, those who deserve your care and those who don’t. By consistently and openly living out your Christian values, you are being a witness that God’s love is for all people.

I must admit that the last phrase, “especially for those of the family of faith,” has always bothered me a bit. If we’re supposed to be totally self-giving, why should we feel more obligated to “work for the good” of family than of strangers. I see that as a natural, human instinct, but not as a supernatural, divine commitment. Jesus challenged his followers in this way:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.”  (Matthew 5:43-45)

Then I saw that Paul is not telling us that we should “work for the good of” our faith family more than we “work for the good of” all people around us. He says we should do this “especially.” It’s a sad fact that some of us more readily shed a tear for a homeless refugee child in Somalia than for a person who shares a church pew with us and is going through grief over a lost loved one. We ought to be sensitive to the refugee child, but how can we be hardened to needs of people in our family of faith? There are countless stories of Christian leaders who have been so super-dedicated to their ministry to others that they have neglected the hurting people who live under the same roof with them, their spouses and children. God has put certain people in our circle of nearness so that they’re within easy reach of our embrace and reassurance. We ought to show God’s love and acceptance especially to them.

Working “for the good of” those close to us is excellent practice for “working for the good of all.” In fact, we discover that our caring is not used up by loving those near us; we’re actually recharged for our broader ministry to “all” people in our larger world.

— Pastor George Van Alstine