You who are spiritual: The “restorers” in Gal 6:1

Biblical Peacemaking can accomplish wonderful things in the lives of God’s people. After reading and talking several people through Alfred Poirier’s The Peacemaking Pastor and Ken Sande’s The Peacemaker, I am overwhelmed by how applicable such instruction is to a wide range of conflicts we face.

More and more as I read scripture, I am captured by the language of reconciliation that is found throughout. Most recently my attention was directed to Gal 6:1-2:

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

What a responsibility we have! Although, do we have this responsibility? Isn’t it only the “spiritual” people who are supposed to be doing this? I’m not one of those, right? Isn’t this someone else’s job?

I rooted around the New Testament for the adjective πνευματικός – “spiritual.” I was especially interested in places where people were referred to by this adjective.

In 1 Corinthians 2, Paul speaks of the things that have been revealed to “us” through the Spirit (1 Cor 2:10). He then contrasts between those who are spiritual and who are natural:

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. (1 Cor 2:14-15)

This why Paul’s remarks in 3:1-3 have such a sting:

But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?

Frank Theilman writes: “Although the Corinthians are Christians indwelt by the Spirit, their divisive behavior shows that they are acting like the unbelieving world around them” (ESV Study Bible at 1 Cor 3:1-3).

Another relevant passage is 1 Cor 15:35-49, although here πνευματικός is predicated of the word “body,” so this is not exactly the same as what Paul does in 1 Corinthians 2. It is close enough, however, due to the fact that the passage is so much more eschatologically charged (i.e., lots of “not yet”).

Here, Paul contrasts the first Adam – the man of the dust – with the second Adam – the man from heaven. A contrast is made between that which is natural and that which is Spiritual. He writes:

So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. (1 Cor 15:42-47)

In this sense, “spiritual” (πνευματικός) seems to be something awaiting a future event, i.e., the resurrection. But does this then mean that those of us who have not yet experienced the resurrection of the dead are not yet πνευματικός and therefore are not responsible for restoring brothers caught in transgression?

No. Though there is certainly a “not-yet” aspect to our spirituality, there is also an “already” aspect. After all, as Paul says in Galatians 4, we are not children of the slave (born according to the flesh – Gal 4:23, 29), but of the free woman (born according to the Spirit – Gal 4:29) And at the end of the day, though we are indeed those who are indwelt by the Spirit, those who are thereby πνευματικός, that doesn’t mean that we always behave that way, hence Paul’s critique in 1 Cor 3:1-3.

Simon Gathercole annotates Gal 6:1 in this way: “Those who are spiritual. This does not refer to an elite class of Christians but rather to those who have more maturity and experience in the Christian life and who are therefore in a position to help their beleaguered brother or sister” (ESV Study Bible at Gal 6:1).

While one might legitimately lack the maturity to most-effectively and gently restore this erring brother or sister, this should not be considered a “get out of restoration free” card. What a wonderful time to enlist the help of one who is more mature that one might learn from them.

I conclude with Calvin’s exposition of this phrase (from his commentary on Galatians):

Ye who are spiritual. This is not spoken in irony; for, however spiritual they might be, still they were not wholly filled with the Spirit. It belongs to such persons to raise up the fallen. To hat better purpose can their superior attainments be applied than to promote the salvation of the brethren. The more eminently any man is endowed with Divine grace, the more strongly is he bound to consult the edification of those who have been less favoured. But such is our folly, that in our best duties we are apt to fail, and therefore need the exhortation which the apostle gives to guard against the influence of carnal views.

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Andrew Compton
Christ Reformed Church
Anaheim, CA

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