Formations 10.29.2017: Call and Response

Galatians 6:1-10

Sixty years ago Ella Jenkins recorded and released her first album, Call and Response: Rhythmic Group Singing. It’s a simple record with only voices and a few percussion instruments that begins when Jenkins gives the group of children accompanying her these instructions:

Many of you, I’m sure, have played the game follow the leader. Well, you can play the same kind of game in song and sound. Here’s how we play it. I simply sing or speak a line to you, and you sing or speak it back to me, unless I instruct you to do something different. If I make a funny sound, you make a funny sound also. Sometimes I may sing softly, sometimes loudly. Sometimes fast, sometimes slow. Whatever I do, you must follow. Remember, it’s awfully important to listen. Let’s try.

Then they sing a call-and-response song called Tah-Boo. For the past sixty years, Jenkins has brought these various folk traditions to children on every continent. Instead of just performing them, however, she asks children and their parents to come and sing with her. Then she invites children to teach her the songs that they know from their own culture. And as she learns these many songs, she takes them to share with other children elsewhere.

But when asked if she expected this career, she says no. Instead, she tells about working at a YMCA in Chicago and noticing that the children didn’t sing much. Remembering how she loved to play the rhythms or whistle back the blues melodies that her uncle played on harmonica, she decided to teach these children the songs that were meaningful for her. Over sixty years later, she has pioneered a genre, is known as the “first lady of children’s music,” has hosted television shows, performed internationally, and still, at 93, sings with children at her local park in Chicago.

For the past several weeks, we have listened to Paul teach the Galatians about freedom. This week, however, Paul asks us to think about responsibility, a theme often seen in contrast to freedom. But instead of presenting us with a secondary demand of freedom, Paul asks us to see responsibility as a sign of freedom by helping us to remember the word’s connection to the act of responding.

Over the past five chapters we’ve encountered a congregation broken by controversy, but in this final passage, Paul calls those who have been freed by the gifts of the Spirit to practice restoration (v. 1). In the same way, in a situation where diverse expressions of faith had become sources of derision, those who are spiritual will not only carry each other’s burdens but will also be content with their own individual expression of faith (vv. 2-4).

Over the past four weeks we’ve tried to see the external realities that prevent us from sowing seeds of freedom in a world that needs them. This week, Paul helps us to see discipline as an important part of this generative freedom.

As we notice and repeat the patterns set for us, Ella Jenkins’s example can encourage us as we seek to see what surrounds us and sufficiently respond.

Herbert G. McCann, “Ella Jekins has spent a lifetime introducing kids to rhythms and rhymes,” The Washington Post, 9 August 2014 <>.


• What rhythms of call and response do you practice in your church?
• What situations in your church, neighborhood, and families need to be addressed.
• What disciplines have you learned that can allow you to respond to these situations?

Reference Shelf

The Spiritual, or Free, Ones

Paul directs his instructions to the Galatians, particularly to “you who are the spiritual ones.” The recognition of “the spiritual ones” (Gk. hoi pneumatikoi) raises some questions because that same term seems to have been used by an elitist group in the Corinthian church as a self-designation; in turn, Paul used the name in an ironic fashion in order to confront those self-styled “spiritual ones” in Corinth with their distinct lack of spirituality. Whether Paul uses “spiritual ones” in Galatians in an ironic way is debated, but there is really no indication that Paul is using sarcasm at this point in the letter. Rather, Paul appears to be calling on those in the congregations who were more mature in their spiritual growth than some others, in order to direct their dealings with any members(s) of the churches who might have gone astray. This emphasis is consistent with Paul’s steady focus on the Spirit throughout the latter chapters of the letter (3:2, 3, 5, 14; 4:6, 29; 5:5, 16, 17, 18, 22-23, 25; 6:8, 18). Thus, one mark of spirituality is the ability to deal with those who go wrong, not in a condemnatory fashion but in a sympathetic way. Fourth, perhaps most remarkably, what is to be done with such members according to Paul is that they are to be restored (Gk. Katartizesthai), which means that they are to be “put in order” or brought back to a previous good condition. Regarding this particular usage of katartizein, Liddell, Scott, and Jones’s Greek-English Lexicon suggests that the word is used here metaphorically and should be translated, “restore to a right mind.” Others have pointed to a parallel passage in the Dead Sea Scrolls (1QS 5:24–6:1) where the members of the intimate community that produced the scrolls are instructed to “rebuke one another in truth, humility, and charity” and then told that no one is to rebuke “his companion with anger, or illtemper, or obduracy, or with envy prompted by the spirit of wickedness.”

Marion Soards and Darrell Pursiful, Galatians, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2015) 308.

Seeking Unity

At first glance, the section 6:1-10 does not appear to exhibit the cohesiveness of 5:16-26. Verse 1 begins with a specific example of the kind of activity that a community that receives the Spirit should demonstrate (the restoration of one caught in a trespass), with the reminder that each person engaged in the restorative action beware of his or her own situation. The example is then interrupted by an imperative that puts the action in the form of a command (6:2). Verses 3-5, addressed to the individual, return to the matter of self-awareness. Then 6:6 seems an isolated word to the readers to encourage the support of teachers. Verses 7-8, beginning with the sharp warning (“Do not be deceived; God is not mocked”) and using an agricultural proverb, return to the contrast between the Spirit and the flesh to underscore yet again that the Spirit leads to one eschatological result and the flesh to another. The final two verses (6:9-10) urge the readers to continue to do good in light of the eschatological moment.
Cohesiveness is found in 6:1-10 in the rotating pattern emerging between an address directed to the corporate congregations in Galatia followed by a word to individuals. (Barclay labels this pattern responsibility and accountability. See 1998, 149-150.)

Corporate: restore a fallen brother or sister (6:1a)
Individual: beware of yourself (singular, 6:1b)
Corporate: bear one another’s burdens (6:2)
Individual: you (singular) must bear your own burden (6:3-5)
Corporate: support those among you who teach (6:6)
Individual: whatever one sows, he/she reaps (6:8)
Corporate: do good to all, especially to those in the church (6:9-10)

Charles B. Cousar, Reading Galatians, Philippians, and 1 Thessalonians: A Literary and Theological Commentary, Reading the New Testament (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2001) 105–6.

William Scruggs is a graduate of Mercer University. His favorite pastimes are adding music to his listening list, TV shows to his viewing list, and books to his reading list. When he isn’t pretending to check items off these lists, he spends time with friends and plays music. He is excited for the opportunity to continue exploring the rivers of Middle Georgia and to stay in Macon as an associate editor at Smyth & Helwys.


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