Paul uses the dichotomy flesh and Spirit as a kind of shorthand. In Paul’s language he uses the word flesh here to mean anything that just satisfies yourself and no-one else and builds up your own ego, and Spirit to mean any impulse that has its source in God and is for the common good.
He starts this extract by giving some pastoral advice on how to heal wounds that inevitably occur in any community – to do it gently and listen to the other.....easier said than done. He says that bearing each other’s burdens is actually fulfilling the law of Christ because it respects the other and gives then time and worth and therefore is the outworking of Love. Personally I think the most valuable thing you can give anyone is your time and attention, as this conveys respect and worth to the other.
This time given to the other is much more needful in a church than people who are puffed up in pride about their own spiritual gifts - people that he gently chides in verses 3 and 4.
An interesting line for us nowadays I think is that he writes “Work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.”
Showing partiality towards your own group could be interpreted as self serving but I think Paul uncovers an uncomfortable truth.
And that is that many of us are far more comfortable supporting others in far away countries, whether financially or with our prayers than we are showing any compassion or support for the person we are sitting next to in church.
Aid, whether material or financial to people far away is at arms length. It is impersonal and takes very little effort and can often satisfy our own spiritual pride as much as anything. It is paradoxically much harder to show support, physical, emotional, financial or spiritual to those much closer to home.
There was a spiritual discussion last week of which I was a part, concerning giving and receiving. The concensus was that it is much easier to give than to receive. I think that the reason that we so often don’t give to our closest neighbours is that we are afraid of the response.
We are frightened that our offer will be misinterpreted, or our offer rejected or that we may have ulterior motives, that in the giving and receiving there is a power imbalance and the receiver may feel disempowered. Our sense of pride and autonomy may be threatened.
But for someone to give, someone must be open to receive.
This requires an openness to each other that may be hard work. But one other thing came out of that spiritual discussion. Giving and receiving is one thing, but what almost all of us without exception find it most difficult to do is ask for help when we need it..
We see it as a sign of weakness. Admitting weakness is not something to be encouraged in society at large because we know as sure as eggs are eggs we will be taken advantage of, trampled underfott and probably ridiculed as well just for good measure.
Perhaps the most important function an open and accepting church can offer its members is this safe accepting and open space where we can admit when we are weak and in need and actually ask for help.
But when people do ask for your help it is such a lovely thing. That they have approached you and asked you is such a lovely thing – it is a blessing.
We deny that blessing to people when we don’t ask for help when we need it. I am as big a culprit as anyone here. It is something we all need to foster and help each other out with.
It starts with us feeling comfortable and relaxed in each other’s company and is an acknowledgement that we are all in need all of the time. At root we are are all looking for love and we just want to be happy.
It sounds so lightweight that doesn’t it? No mention of sacrifice, or redemption or salvation or any other heavy religious terms, but it’s true.
That is the human condition. We are all looking for love and we want to be happy. Happiness comes from within – a content and accepting and peaceful relationship with ourselves, life, the universe, with God and also from without – with each other our families, friends and for us our fellow travellers and seekers in the church. If we can’t offer love, acceptance and happiness in any of our practices then we are not fulfilling the law of Christ which is Love.