Galatians 6:1: The Brother Who Falls

Galatians 6:1  •  15 min. read  •  grade level: 7
“Brothers, if haply a man should even be overtaken by some fall [or, misdeed], you, the spiritual ones, you set to rights such an one, in a spirit of meekness, looking to thyself [or, paying attention to thyself], lest even thou shouldest be tempted.” vs. 1.
I suppose the first thing we notice as we read this last chapter of Galatians together is that the first word and the last word (except for “Amen”) are the same: “Brothers!” Brother tells of the same family. Brother tells of the same Father, and of the same home, and of the near and dear relationship one to the other. Brother speaks of love.
We had read in ch. 2:4 of false brethren, and in 1 Cor. 5:1111But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat. (1 Corinthians 5:11) we read of those who were called brothers, but were behaving so badly that they had lost the right to that blessed name, and were turned away from the family table. In 2 Thess. 3:1515Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother. (2 Thessalonians 3:15), we read of those who did not hear the Apostle’s warning in the epistle; the brothers of such a man were to keep no company with him that he might be ashamed, but they were not to count him an enemy, but admonish him as a brother. And in Rom. 16:1717Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. (Romans 16:17) we are told to avoid those who cause divisions and offenses. It is a very great honor to have the right to this name brother, and the privileges of the family that go with it. We do well to value it very highly and to seek grace from God to walk worthy of it. (See Eph. 4:11I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, (Ephesians 4:1).) Nine times in this epistle he calls them brothers. And so, though perhaps they did not deserve it, the Apostle showers upon these naughty saints this sweet name, “Brothers!” It is love that begets love, and perhaps the love that burst from that word “brothers” helped to draw their wandering hearts back to Christ, as much as the scolding that they deserved so much.
The Apostle had said before, “I stand in doubt of you” (ch. 4:20). Now with his heart overflowing with love, as he prepares to end his letter, he exclaims, “Brothers!” How near, and how dear to each other, does this word bring these Galatian Christians, to whom he has had to write so severely. In our last chapter we have seen the works of the flesh, and Paul has most solemnly warned them that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But alas, which of us dare to say that in our walk down here we have not fallen, and too often have we done some of the works of the flesh. It is with shame we have to confess it, but sad to say, it is true. But it is one thing to fall by the way even into these sins, and another thing to make a practice of doing them.
Paul knew that the teaching of the law which these Galatians had been receiving had made them hard and bitter towards one another. He knew how easy it is to fall by the way; so he writes, “Brothers, if haply a man should even be overtaken by some fall.” In our last chapter the Apostle had told them to “walk by the Spirit,” (ch. 5:25) and “to keep step by the Spirit” (vv. 16, 25), as well as speaking of being “led by the Spirit” (Eph. 3:55Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; (Ephesians 3:5)). Now he sees some brother fall in this walk. What is to be done to him? How is he to be treated? That is the question with which this chapter begins.
Before we answer this question, let us look a little at that word “fall.” “If haply a man should even be overtaken by some fall.” There are many words in the New Testament to describe sin. God looks at sin in many different ways.
He sees it like a man who:
Misses the mark when he shoots at a target;
Crosses a line he should not cross;
Disobeys a voice;
Is ignorant, when he should have known;
Gives less than full measure;
Does not obey the law;
Falls, when he should have walked uprightly.
In all these ways, and more, God sees our sins. Each has its own name in the Greek language, and each tells of a different aspect of sin. In ch. 5 we have been reading of our “walk.” This chapter follows straight on, and tells us of a man who falls in that walk.
And please notice the way Paul introduces this subject. He does not suggest that it is necessary to fall, for it is not. But he says, “Brothers, if haply a man should even be overtaken by a fall.” It is as if he said, I do not suppose it will really happen, but even if it should... What grace, what kindness there is in these words. It reminds us of David’s words in Psa. 103:88The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. (Psalm 103:8), “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.” Who knew better than David the Lord’s mercy? David had, indeed, been overtaken by a most terrible fall, which caused him to commit adultery and murder. A worse fall could not have overtaken David; yet that is his testimony: “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy” (Psa. 103:88The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. (Psalm 103:8)). Those of us who have fallen by the way learn to love these words. Mercy is what we need, and mercy is what we find in the heart of God.
Nothing but mercy will do for me,
Nothing but mercy, full and free!
Of sinners chief—what but the blood
Could calm my soul before my God?
Notice it does not say, “Even if haply a brother should be overtaken by a fall.” It is a word that means man or woman, boy or girl, old or young. We all are liable to fall by the way, and besides, it is not the proper thing for a brother to do, to fall down. Notice also, this sin “overtakes” the man. If we are not watchful, the devil will surely trip us up with some sin and make us fall. We must always “watch and pray.”
But even if a person should fall down, what then? You, the spiritual ones, are to set him to rights. It seems that the Galatians boasted about their spirituality; just as in these days, the people who put themselves under law, and try to put others under law, are apt to feel that they are more holy than others. “You,” says the Apostle, “you who are so spiritual, you restore this one who has fallen by the way, you set him to rights, and put him back on his path again.” That is God’s test as to whether a man is spiritual or not. Are you one whom God can use to set at rights the fallen? If not, you are not a spiritual man in God’s sight. The word “set to rights” is first used in the New Testament in Matt. 4:2121And going on from thence, he saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them. (Matthew 4:21) where the Lord found James and John with their father in a ship, mending their nets— “putting them to rights.” In Heb. 11:33Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear. (Hebrews 11:3) we read that the worlds were “set to rights” by the Word of God. It is also used for setting a broken bone, putting it to rights. So, even if a man should fall, you, you the spiritual ones, set him to rights. We find another mark of spiritual ones in 1 Cor. 14:3737If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. (1 Corinthians 14:37).
Is it that in these days there are no spiritual ones? For alas, how rare it is to see one who has had a fall, put to rights, put back on the road again, to go right on with the walk! Remember, dear brothers, the responsibility lies with us. It does not say, let the one who had the fall put himself to rights and climb back to the road. No, the responsibility for the fallen brother lies with those who are spiritual. And let us remember that those who fall, and for very shame, turn their faces away from their brethren; let us remember that their hearts will soon grow accustomed to estrangement. At first it may be, even though outwardly we cannot see it, that within there is a sore and wounded heart, broken perhaps, at the thought of how he has dishonored the One he loves.
Where is the one who, at such a time, is by his side, to set him to rights? Generally, there is nobody. We generally leave the fallen brother where he is, giving thanks, perhaps, that we are not guilty of such a shameful fall. That is God’s proof that we are not spiritual. And what is a spiritual man? I suppose a spiritual man is one who is walking by the Spirit, one who is led by the Spirit. It may be our mouths would fear to boast that we are such, yet how often in our hearts we congratulate ourselves that I am walking by the Spirit, I am led by the Spirit, I am a spiritual man. Let us test ourselves with God’s own test. How many of the fallen brothers and sisters have I set to rights? This is God’s test. I know many who are proud of their spirituality, but I do not know one who can go to a fallen brother and put him to rights.
Why is there this sad dearth of truly spiritual men? Perhaps because so few are truly led of the Spirit. And there is a test for this also, that we would do well to use on ourselves: “If you are led of the Spirit, you are not under law.” ch. 5:18. The rules and regulations that we make to govern our walk, and the walk and the ways of our brethren, even though they may be unwritten, are nothing more than witnesses that stand with accusing fingers pointed at our own selves to prove that we are not led by the Spirit. The law understands about a broken law, or broken tables of stone, but the law knows absolutely nothing whatever about putting to rights. This is not its business, and this it cannot do. The law knows all about a fall, and is ready to condemn and curse the one who is down; but to come where he is, to lift him up, to restore him, and set him on the road again, of all this the law knows nothing whatever.
I remember a man who was overtaken by a bad fall on the road. He fell among thieves who robbed him, took his clothes away, and left him naked, wounded and half dead. I watched the law come by chance down that way, and waited to see the law go and pick up the poor wounded man and set him on the road again; but the law, although it saw him, only passed by on the other side. Then I watched the Jewish temple service, sacrifices and feasts (of which the Galatians were so fond). They came and even stopped and looked at him. I thought I heard them say, “Poor man, poor man, be more careful next time,” and then they passed by on the other side, like the law. Neither of them seemed able to do a thing for the fallen man. Indeed they did not seem to care very much about him. Then came my Master. It was this that made Him my Master, for I was the poor man who fell among the thieves. He came all the way from heaven, right to where I was. He got down in the dust on the road, and bound up my wounds, pouring in oil and wine; He put me on His own beast, put His arm around me to hold me so I would not fall, and took me to an inn. The name of the inn was, “The place that receives all,” and the name of the innkeeper was, “The One who receives all.” (How different from the inn where my Master was born; there was no room for Him there, so He was born in the stable.) My Master paid for my keep, and left word with the innkeeper, “Take care of him”. There was no fear of spending too much on me, for my Master said, “Whatever you spend more, when I come again, I will repay you.” So now, I am waiting and looking for my Master to come again. (See Luke 10:30-3730And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. 31And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. 33But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, 34And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee. 36Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbor unto him that fell among the thieves? 37And he said, He that showed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise. (Luke 10:30‑37).)
Readers, brothers, that is the only way to deal with a fallen brother. You cannot pick him up from the other side of the road. You cannot help him while you stand beside him. You have to come where he is. You have to get down on your knees in the dust beside him, and then there is some hope that you may be able to put him to rights. And I wonder, do we carry the oil and the wine with us, ready for the wounds there are all around us? The oil would speak of the Holy Spirit and His power— His healing, restoring power. The wine would speak of joy, the joy that was lost with the fall— joy, the second fruit of the Holy Spirit.
The Apostle goes on to tell the brothers who have undertaken the work of setting to rights the fallen ones that it must be done in a spirit of meekness, or gentleness, or tenderness. There is no other way to treat a wound or a fracture. We must be gentle, or we cannot restore it at all; and what skill is needed. But not half so much skill as is required to restore the fallen one of vs. 1. A hard and legal spirit will never restore such an one, but only drive him further away. Alas, I have watched, with anguish of soul, one of these soul doctors as he undertook to put to rights a fallen brother, and I have seen him drive him far away; instead of picking him up, he knocked him further down. I have heard more than one, who has fallen, cry with tears: “They drove me away!” I knew it was true and I thought of Ezek. 34 and the shepherds there: “Ye feed not the flock. The diseased have ye not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither have ye bound up that which was broken, neither have ye brought again that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost; but with force and with cruelty have ye ruled them. And they were scattered, because there is no shepherd.... Yea, My flock was scattered upon all the face of the earth, and none did search or seek after them.” Ezek. 34:3-63Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the wool, ye kill them that are fed: but ye feed not the flock. 4The diseased have ye not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither have ye bound up that which was broken, neither have ye brought again that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost; but with force and with cruelty have ye ruled them. 5And they were scattered, because there is no shepherd: and they became meat to all the beasts of the field, when they were scattered. 6My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and upon every high hill: yea, my flock was scattered upon all the face of the earth, and none did search or seek after them. (Ezekiel 34:3‑6). How we need some true shepherds today. “A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city” (Prov. 18:1919A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city: and their contentions are like the bars of a castle. (Proverbs 18:19)).
But there is a very urgent reason for using a spirit of meekness, and the Apostle tells us why: “Looking to [or, paying attention to] thyself, lest even thou shouldest be tempted.” Notice the sudden change from plural to singular here. I am apt to forget that I am just as likely to fall as my brother who is down. So I, personally (each individual one of us), need to pay attention to myself. Do you remember Peter? He passed the death sentence on Ananias and Sapphira because they did not walk straightforwardly but lied to the Holy Ghost. (Acts 5:1-111But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, 2And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles' feet. 3But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? 4Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God. 5And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things. 6And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him. 7And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in. 8And Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, Yea, for so much. 9Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out. 10Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband. 11And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things. (Acts 5:1‑11).) Doubtless the Holy Ghost dictated this sentence, but as Peter passed it on to the guilty ones, he never thought that he could do such a thing. I rather fear he did not pass that sentence in the spirit of meekness, but in the spirit of righteousness. But it was not many years later when Paul was compelled to rebuke Peter before all because he, like Ananias, did not walk straightforwardly. There is not one of us who can venture to say to another: “I would not do what you have done.” Better far not to go near our fallen brother, than to go in any spirit but the gentle spirit of meekness, paying attention to myself, lest I also should be tested in the same way, and like my brother I also should fall.
There are assemblies of Christians who feel that those who have fallen and have been put away from the Lord’s Table are witnesses to the purity and the holiness of the assembly. No, brothers, not so. They might be witnesses to your lack of spirituality, and had there been even one spiritual brother in that assembly these fallen ones might long since have been put to rights, restored, and brought back. Do you remember how that skillful workman, Paul, wrote to the Corinthians: first, to put the fallen man away (1 Cor. 5)? They obeyed, and the fallen, brokenhearted man was likely to be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow; and the very one who had commanded them to put him away now hastens to write that they should restore him. (2 Cor. 2:77So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow. (2 Corinthians 2:7).) Oh, that there were such a heart, such a yearning heart of love, for the sheep of Christ today!
But we cannot close this subject without turning to Jude 2424Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, (Jude 24),25: “Now unto Him that is able to keep you from stumbling [it is not even a question here of a fall; it is only a stumble that might lead to a fall, and there is One who is able to keep us even from stumbling], and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.”