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THE PENTATEUCH --- GENESIS ---EXODUS--- LEVITICUS --- NUMBERS --- DEUTERONOMY --- THE BOOK OF JOSHUA --- THE BOOK OF JUDGES --- THE BOOK OF RUTH --- SAMUEL --- KINGS --- I & II CHRONICLES --- EZRA---NEHEMIAH---ESTHER---PSALMS 1-73--- PROVERBS---ECCLESIASTES--- SONG OF SOLOMON --- ISAIAH --- JEREMIAH --- LAMENTATIONS --- EZEKIEL --- DANIEL --- --- HOSEA --- --- JOEL ------ AMOS --- --- OBADIAH --- --- JONAH --- --- MICAH --- --- NAHUM --- --- HABAKKUK--- --- ZEPHANIAH --- --- HAGGAI --- ZECHARIAH --- --- MALACHI --- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW ---THE GOSPEL OF MARK--- THE GOSPEL OF LUKE --- THE GOSPEL OF JOHN --- THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES --- READINGS IN ROMANS --- 1 CORINTHIANS --- 2 CORINTHIANS ---GALATIANS --- EPHESIANS--- PHILIPPIANS --- COLOSSIANS --- 1 THESSALONIANS --- 2 THESSALONIANS --- 1 TIMOTHY --- 2 TIMOTHY --- TITUS --- PHILEMON --- HEBREWS --- JAMES --- 1 & 2 PETER --- JOHN'S LETTERS --- JUDE --- REVELATION --- THE GOSPELS & ACTS
In this letter Paul is writing to a group of churches which has been wrongly influenced by visiting preachers. These preachers have tried to direct them away from their simple trust in Christ and obedience to Him. They have tried to make them legalistic by stressing that unless they rigidly observe certain points of ritual in the Law of Moses, such as circumcision, strict sabbath-keeping, the observance of certain Feasts, abstaining from ritually unclean food, ritual cleansing before meals, observing the Law’s requirements as expanded by the Rabbis, and so on, they would not be saved. Paul replies by stressing that salvation is not through religious observance or following a set of regulations, but is through faith in the sacrificial death of Christ, and that alone. Nothing else is required. And the result of that will be a practical righteousness which will result from the work of God’s Spirit within, a righteousness which will far exceed that required by the Pharisees and the Judaisers.
This reminds us that a great problem to be sorted out in the early church was as to how far a Christian should become a Jew. All the earliest Christians, including the disciples, were Jews. Jesus Himself was a Jew. Indeed He was a member of its deposed royal family. All were circumcised. All recognised the need to keep the Jewish Sabbath and the Feasts. That Jesus observed the basics of Pharisaic teaching comes out in that they rarely criticised Him on that account. Thus they generally observed ritual cleansing. All of them offered sacrifices in the Temple when in Jerusalem.
But the question was, what about Gentiles who became Christians? Were they also to become Jewish proselytes and be circumcised, and commit themselves to all the requirements of Jewish teaching? Were they expected to fully ‘observe the Law’, both ceremonial and moral? Many said, ‘Yes’. But Paul replies that that would be simply to return to the old ways and would thrust the cross into the shadows. It would make Christ but an added extra. The basic question therefore was, had the coming of Christ, and His death and resurrection, done away with the need for the Old Testament ordinances, calling on men rather to directly trust in Jesus Christ for their whole salvation?
That was what Paul taught. He taught that the cross had replaced the sacrifices, because it was in itself a full and sufficient sacrifice for sins. He taught that the work of the Spirit in the heart, acting as a seal on their faith, replaced circumcision. He taught that the bind of continual ritual cleansing was no longer necessary, being replaced by being able to come personally to God for forgiveness through the blood of Christ (1 John 1.7). And he had the agreement of Peter, John and the other Apostles.
The first part of Acts demonstrates the slow progress of the new people of God towards this position. But there were still many who would not be won over. They wanted all Christians to become Jews and come into line with Jewish requirements, including being circumcised, the observance of ritual washings, and the observance of feasts, holy days and sabbaths. And some of these travelled the Christian world seeking to enforce these demands, some more, some less. These were ‘the Judaisers’. And they had arrived in the province of Galatia and the result was that there was great division.
Paul’s reply was swift. The Law, he pointed out, when looked at as a way to God, has in fact done its job in pointing us to Christ. It is like a mirror in which we look to see how dirty we are. It has shown us our sinfulness. Now therefore it has been replaced. Once the mirror has shown us how dirty we are we do not use the mirror to scrape the dirt off. We put it to one side. We turn to cleansing agent and water. In the same way the Law is no longer required by us as Christians, except as a means of reminding us of our sinfulness, and as a guide to show us how to live. It is unable to cleanse. So now we turn from the Law and recognise that our acceptability to God, and our being ‘put in the right’ with God, comes from our putting our trust in Christ and in His sacrificial death on our behalf, and in nothing else. He is the cleansing agent Who cleanses from all sin (1 John 1.7). The result will then be that we will receive the Spirit and will begin to live lives of Christian love under His control. We will begin to fulfil the moral law. Observance of legal ritual has been replaced by the response of faith, and that faith is to be in the crucified and risen Christ and in Him alone, for through Him we have been crucified to the world, and the world has been crucified to us.
This idea of faith responding to the grace of God was actually what really lay at the basis of the original covenant in Exodus 20, which was originally called The Testimony. That covenant bore witness to God’s acceptance in mercy of His people whom He had delivered and set free (Exodus 20.1-2). And it was because He had exercised His power on their behalf and had delivered them from bondage, that He called on them to reveal their gratitude and faithfulness by observing His commandments (Exodus 20.3-19). So the revelation of His goodness and mercy towards them came first, and it was only then followed by the covenant requirements which they were expected to fulfil out of gratitude for what He had done and as evidence that they were His people. And when the Law showed them that they had fallen short, they turned to God’s way of dealing with sin through offerings and sacrifices. Salvation was even then of grace (G_R_A_C_E - God’s Riches And Compassion Extended). It was later Jewry that turned the covenant into a means of salvation, for they felt that if only they could fulfil the covenant God would bless them, and that partly involved striving to keep the Law.
We do not intend to argue fully within the commentary the question of how Paul’s visits to Jerusalem fit in with Acts, for Acts had not been written when Paul wrote to the Galatians, and he wrote as he saw things and knew them to be. That is a question to be dealt with elsewhere.
Paul’s Introductory Greeting (1.1-10).
1.1 ‘Paul, an Apostle, not from men neither through man, but through Jesus Christ, and God the Father who raised him from the dead.
Paul as usual begins with his credentials. He is an Apostle (apostolos - ‘one sent out’). And he stresses that this was not by man’s appointing, nor had he received his authority from men. Rather He was appointed by Jesus Christ, the risen Lord Himself, and by God the Father, the One Who raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Indeed He has the authority of one who has seen the risen Christ and has been called by Him.
The normal basis of Apostleship was to have been an eyewitness to the life and ministry of Jesus, and especially an eyewitness of the resurrection (Acts 1.21-22). We do not know whether Paul had witnessed much of Jesus’ life and teaching, but we do know that he was a witness to having seen the risen Lord (Acts 9.1-9), as He regularly emphasised (Acts 22.4-21; 26.9-18). However, his own claim to Apostleship lay in the special calling he had received from God, a calling which, he emphasised, was later ratified by the Twelve Apostles.
Thus he claims that he does not write to them speaking on his own authority. Rather, as his conversion experience reveals, he has been chosen by God and sent by God, Who alone is the source of his authority and his understanding, so that he speaks in His Name. He will argue this more strongly shortly. This, however, is in complete contrast with the legalists who have come among them, whom he is seeking to refute. For their appointment, if such they have, is of men. They bring only a human message, not a God revealed one.
1.2 ‘And all the brothers who are with me, to the churches of Galatia.’
‘All the brothers who are with me.’ Paul joins in with his greeting his fellow-workers, and probably the whole church in the place where he was. He was always aware that he was not just an individual who had been especially blessed by God, but was a part of a whole, and that unity among them was vital (1 Corinthians 3.8). They worked together as one. They were ‘brothers’. And he wanted the Galatians to know that these men and women were one with him in his message. Paul’s was not a lone voice. He was supported by the churches in general.
‘To the churches of Galatia.’ He is writing to a number of churches within a province. This was probably the Roman province of South Galatia, but the question is only of historic interest. Notice the terse greeting. Nothing is added to soften the description. We may contrast this with 1 Corinthians 1.2 and Ephesians 1.1 where he speaks of those who have been ‘sanctified in Christ’ or are ‘faithful in Christ Jesus’. But here he has at present nothing to add, such is his concern about them. The word ekklesia (church, those called out) could be used of groups of Christians in different areas. It could also in other places refer to all Christians seen as one ‘gathering’, the ‘congregation’ of God’s people (1.13). It indicated that they were the true people of God, as Israel had been of old. For they are the new Israel, the Israel of God (6.16).
Alternately, while sometimes Paul does speak very strongly in this letter, it may be that this initial terseness simply results from his not having yet gained experience in sending Apostolic letters, for Galatians is his first known Apostolic letter.
1.3 ‘Grace to you, and peace, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.’
‘Grace to you.’ Nothing can be more desirable than to have God looking on us and acting towards us in love and favour, and this is what is signified by ‘grace’ (GRACE - God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense). It speaks of the undeserved saving activity of God in all who believe. Thus Paul wants the Galatians to know that what he desires for them is simply that they enjoy the experience of the grace of God, which does not need to be earned but is freely given.
‘And peace.’ Peace results from grace, but the kind of peace mentioned here is also God’s gift, flowing from Him to us. Once we know that we are right with God, and experience His graciousness towards us, we have peace with God (Romans 5.1), and the result will be that we will be flooded with His peace (Galatians 5.22) and enjoy such peace, prosperity and success of spirit that our hearts can only overflow. For the truth is that however much things may seem to smile on us, if God is not pleased with us, we cannot fully know peace. The very foundation then of peace in our hearts is the favour of God, by which we enjoy true and genuine prosperity of spirit through the work of His Spirit, and find the peace of God which passes all understanding guarding our thoughts and hearts (Philippians 4.7). And it is this that Paul was wishing for, and praying for, for the Galatians.
‘From God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Note how the two are linked together. What a combined source of power and grace and peace we have here. On the one hand we have ‘the Father’, and on the other ‘the Lord’. This continual linking of the name of our Lord Jesus Christ with God the Father in perfect equality clearly demonstrates Paul’s view of Christ (see 2 Corinthians 1.2; Galatians 1.3; Ephesians 1.2; Philippians 1.2 and often, and contrast Colossians 1.2). Compare when he says we have one God, the Father, --- and one Lord, Jesus Christ’ (1 Corinthians 8.6). This is especially significant in view of the fact that the description ‘Lord’ (kurios) was the very word used by the Greek translators to render the name of God, YHWH. And Jesus is declared to be both Lord and Christ (Acts 2.36). The Jew could say, ‘we have one Lord and one God, the Lord our God, the Lord is One’. Paul agrees. ‘Yes’, he says, ‘we have one God the Father, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, and they are one in fullness and in being.
Paul further confirms this in Philippians 2.9 when he declares that as ‘Lord’ Jesus has been given ‘the Name that is above every Name’. And there was, in fact, only one Name above every name and that is the Name of YHWH. Thus when used of Jesus the title ‘Lord’ equates with ‘God. That is why he can later speak of ‘our God and Saviour Jesus Christ’ (Titus 2.13; compare 2 Peter 1.1).
1.4-5 ‘Who gave himself for our sins, that he may deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.’
He then declares that in full accordance with the Father’s will, Christ has freely given Himself up and paid a price for us (compare 1 Corinthians 6.20; 1 Peter 1.18-19), offering Himself up for our sins so as to set us free from all the controls and influences, and all the condemnation, of this present ‘evil age’. This is something too that he will develop later in his letter. We are therefore to see ourselves as dead with Christ (2.20), dead to the flesh and to the Law (2.19), dead to condemnation (Romans 8.1) and as raised with Him to walk with God and serve Him (2.20), no longer looking to what will benefit us, and what we can get out of the world, but looking to how we can please God and be free from the world’s influences (2.20).
‘Who gave Himself for our sins.’ Jesus Christ, he tells them, freely gave Himself. He chose to lay down His life (John 10.18). What happened was no accident or unexpected circumstance. It happened within the divine purpose. It was the divine gift. He came as the sacrificial Lamb, chosen from the foundation of the world (Isaiah 53.10; John 1.29; Revelation 13.8), in order that He might offer Himself for us. He was made sin for us (2 Corinthians 5.21), and made a sin offering (Isaiah 53.10; Hebrews 10.12-14)
‘That He may deliver us from this present evil world.’ And through that sacrifice of Himself offered once for all (Hebrews 10.10) He had brought deliverance so that men could be forgiven, could be declared acceptable to God, could be ‘counted as righteous’, and could be freed from sin and its demands. Of old God had delivered His people from bondage in Egypt. Now, through Christ’s sacrifice of Himself, He is delivering men from the evil that corrupts and condemns the world.
This is what the letter is in fact all about. It answers the question, How do we come to enjoy that deliverance? Is it by faith? Or is it by slavishly seeking to fulfil God’s Law, and entering the Jewish version of the covenant, and seeking to fulfil all its detailed requirements, a hard and unthankful, and indeed impossible task?
The ‘present evil age’ is in contrast with the ‘ages of the ages’ (translated ‘for ever and ever’) in which God will receive glory. In contrast with God’s everlastingness man has only a brief span in this world. And yet he uses it to evil ends, through selfishness, and thoughtlessness and lack of consideration (we have not done those things that we ought to have done), and through violence, lust, greed and self-seeking (we have done those things which we ought not to have done). It refers to man living for himself with his eyes and his thoughts concentrated on the present world and its ways, with all that that involves of selfishness, sin and wickedness, and with little real concern for God and His ways, and no thought for the eternal future.
Thus by this introduction Paul brings home his main concern. It is to centralise their thoughts on the crucified and risen One and what He has accomplished, in contrast with what they are in themselves. For to him the death and resurrection of Christ is the one central message, which alone can free those who trust in Him from all bondage, both of sin and of the Law.
The word ’aiownos can be translated either ‘world’ or ‘age’. It regularly stresses a contrast between ‘the world’ in its present existence and the working and purposes of God throughout the ages and in the ages to come. So while Christians are in ‘the world’, they are not of it. They live in this age but they look for, and live in the light of, the age to come.
‘According to the will of our God and Father.’ And he wanted us to recognise that what Jesus Christ did was part of the eternal will of God, as the Father now reaches out to draw to Himself those whom He has given to His Son (John 6.44) in order to deliver them from the evil that is intrinsic in the world, and give them new life, eternal life, and prepare them for their glorious future. This is the will of God for those whom He has chosen out for Himself (compare Ephesians 1.4).
‘To Whom be the glory for ever and ever (to the ages of the ages).’ All glory arising from this deliverance must therefore go to God. It is not of our doing, but of His. And it will be His into unseen ages, in contrast with those who cling to this age (verse 4).
He Expresses His Astonishment At How Quickly They Have Turned Away From God’s Active Grace (1.6-10).
Paul now expresses his amazement that they have so quickly turned away from this good news of the free, unmerited favour of God to something else which is not really a Gospel at all, the slavish observance of the rituals of the Law of Moses (1.6-10).
1.6-7 ‘I marvel that you are so quickly moving from him who called you in the grace of Christ to a different Gospel, which is not another. Only there are some who trouble you and would pervert the Gospel of Christ.’
He cannot understand why they are allowing themselves to be drawn away from God’s amazing love and purposes. They have been ‘called in the grace (gracious compassion towards them) of Christ.’ In other words, recognising the unmerited favour (grace) being shown to them through what He has done for them on the cross, and hearing in it the call of God, they have responded to Him, receiving forgiveness of sins and being declared righteous before God, thus being ‘engraced’ in Christ (Ephesians 1.6). For this is what the Gospel, the Good News of Christ is all about. But now almost unbelievingly they are turning to something else, something which is not really Good News at all. They are listening to men who are distorting the Gospel and robbing it of its glory, men who insist on following sterile religious observances rather than on loving response to Christ, and whose message will turn their glorious good news into a burden.
It was not necessarily the religious observances themselves that were the burden, although in the uncooperative society that they lived in they could be difficult enough, it was the fact that by making necessary for salvation their proper observance of every detail of the Law, they put men onto a treadmill of despair from which they could find no deliverance, as they fought and struggled and failed, and the consequence was that men became terrified because they recognised that they were coming short in them, and life became an endless and continual battle of struggling to dot the right i and cross the right t, a struggle which could in the end only result in failure.
‘Some who trouble you.’ The word for trouble is strong and means ‘disturbed’ and having ‘conflict of mind’ (compare Matthew 2.3; Matthew 14.26; John 14.1). They had previously been at peace as a result of the truth, but now these men have totally disturbed their way of life.
1.8 ‘But though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you any Gospel other than that which you received, let him be anathema.’
Did they not remember that they had received the Gospel with powerful evidence of the working of the Spirit (3.2)? Thus anyone, whether man or supernatural being, who sought to turn them from what they had received to anything else, was worthy only to be ‘cursed’ (anathema), that is, devoted to the judgment of God. The words stress the strong feeling that Paul has about the matter. It is not his own teaching that they are deserting, he warns them, it is the work of the Spirit of God. And it is so important that he repeats his powerful words again.
An ‘anathema’ was something that was declared against the worst of sinners, those who had ‘sinned with a high hand’. And these men were guilty of the greatest sin of all, taking men’s eyes off Christ, God’s beloved Son.
1.9 ‘As we have said before, so now we say again. If any man preaches to you any Gospel other than that which you have received, let him be anathema.’
He repeats what he has said in a slightly different way. The double stress and double curse brings out how much his emotions are stirred. These men who had come preaching to the Galatians, and were wrongly stressing that they had the backing of the Jerusalem church, ‘unlike Paul’ (or so they said), were bringing an emaciated message. Instead of seeking to bring the Galatians into the freedom of Christ they were trying to bring them into bondage to a set of religious and ethical observances. They were enmeshing them in ‘do this, do that, and don’t do the other’, until it was not clear to them what they really had to do. They were binding them with burdens grievous to be borne. And the sad thing was that these things that they were involving themselves in had in fact no power or ability to save them. They were simply man made requirements which gave an outward show of being religious, and substituted for the truth. They imparted a certain satisfaction because men hoped that they were achieving something, but in fact they were achieving nothing, for they left them just as they were before.
The Jerusalem church in fact took far longer to find release from the requirements of Judaism than the rest of the Christian world, for they were mainly Jewish Christians in a Jewish land witnessing to Jews, and they found it hard to let go of what had continually been their custom. And they were accustomed to it. It was part of their way of life. But Paul recognised that to tie Gentiles up in these things was totally inappropriate and was to put them under an unnecessary and cruel burden. Indeed it was anathema.
1.10 ‘For am I now persuading men or God? Or am I seeking to please men? If I were still pleasing men I would not be the servant of Christ.’
So he asks them. Do they think that by what he says he is trying to persuade God to see things as he sees them? No. Far from it. It was rather God Who had persuaded him, in spite of his own reluctance to see the truth. Nor is he seeking to persuade men, or please them. He leaves that to God. Rather He is declaring what God revealed to him, something which he himself originally fought against for some time. Indeed God had had to turn his beliefs upside down. They should thus be able to tell from this that his aim is not to make men pleased by fitting in with their ideas. Indeed, were he to do so, He would not be being faithful to his Master. For what pleased them was often contrary to the purpose for which He came. Jesus came to replace the old ideas with the new. To turn ‘water’ into ‘wine’. And that is what Paul also is seeking to do. His sole aim is to please Christ, not to satisfy men with mere water.
Paul Declares His Credentials and States His Case (1.11 - 2.21).
Paul will now make clear to them what his credentials are. If they ask, why should they listen to him, he will now tell them. And he will then make clear exactly what his message is.
Paul States His Credentials (1.11-2.10).
Paul now makes clear the grounds on which he considers that he has a right to be listened to. It is because:
Thus he is stressing that what he taught was from God Himself, while at the same time being confirmed by his discussions with the chief Apostles. This was important. It demonstrated that he was not a maverick, but a teacher of the truth as taught by the twelve Apostles. Yet at the same time it emphasised that he taught it as a message that he had obtained, not from them, but from God. He was himself a source of God’s revelation. So the fact that the Apostles were satisfied that he taught what they taught demonstrated that it was the same Spirit Who had spoken to both them and him.
But what was his purpose in this? it was clearly a) To demonstrate that what he taught was what he had from God and not from others. b) That he did not have continual contact with the church in Jerusalem and Judea, or with the Apostolic group as a whole, and indeed that he had had little contact with them, apart from a few days with Peter, over a fairly long period. c). That in the end what he preached paralleled what the Apostles preached and that they recognised the truth of what he taught and sealed it with the right hand of partnership.
Paul Received His Knowledge and Understanding of God’s Ways from God Himself, Not From Human Mouths (1.11-17).
1.11-12 ‘For I make known to you, brothers, as touching the Gospel which was preached by me, that it is not after man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came to me through revelation of Jesus Christ.’
Paul stresses the special revelation that he received. It is not something that he has learned from others. It came direct from God. It was revealed to him by Jesus Christ. It was not man made, but God-made. Others have learned what they have learned from men, but he had received what he taught directly from the Prime Source, the risen Christ.
‘Through revelation of Jesus Christ.’ He first received this revelation very vividly on the road to Damascus when the risen Christ appeared to him (Acts 9). The appearance of the risen Christ had given new meaning to all that he had previously known and learned about Jesus, and that must have been a considerable amount, even if received in slightly distorted fashion, given the circumstances that he had been an direct opponent of the Gospel and had put many Christians to questioning and torture. But then he had had further vivid experiences with God, experiences which were beyond the norm. See for example 2 Corinthians 12.2-4 which was almost certainly biographical. And through those experiences the truth was made known to him when he was alone with God. We may possibly compare how God spoke with Moses face to face as a man speaks with his friend (Exodus 33.11), although Paul may well have received his revelation through thoughts in his inward mind.
And if they wish to they can confirm this themselves by considering his past.
1.13-14 ‘For you have heard of the way I lived in the past in the Jewish religion, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure, and made havoc of it. And I advanced in the Jews’ religion beyond many of my own age in my race, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers.’
For as a dedicated and well trained Pharisee (Philippians 3.6) he had given his approval to the stoning of Stephen (Acts 8.1) and had been so inflamed against Christians and against their teaching that he had gone to the authorities and had been given authority, and armed support, to enable him to persecute them, entering their houses and hauling them off to prison (Acts 8.3). He had been convinced that their message was blasphemous. Indeed he had been so successful that nothing further had needed to be done there, for the people of ‘the Way’ went into hiding or left Jerusalem, so that he then sought permission to do the same in Damascus as he had in Jerusalem (Acts 9.1-2). What then could convince such a man that he was wrong? The answer is that it was because he came face to face with the One Whom he was denying, the One Who was the Truth, risen and alive, and it happened in such a way that he could no longer deny Him.
‘The Jew’s religion.’ This was the very source of the ‘new’ ideas that were being pressed on the Galatians. He points out that he knew all about it, for it was what he had previously stood for and had believed in. It was something on which he was an authority, and for which he had once felt very strongly. But he had turned from it because of his vivid revelation from God. And he now recognised its emptiness.
1.15-17 ‘But when it pleased him, who separated me, even from my mother’s womb, and called me through his grace, to reveal his Son in me that I might preach him among the Gentiles, immediately I did not confer with flesh and blood, neither did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were Apostles before me, but I went into Arabia. And again I returned to Damascus.’
Paul here stresses that he was a specially chosen instrument, chosen according to God’s own good pleasure. He was an instrument in whom Christ had revealed Himself so that his special knowledge of God did not come from men, not even from the Apostles. It came from God revealing His Son in him.
He had previously been well versed in the Old Testament, and had probably had a fairly wide knowledge of the Christian message from men whom he had arrested and subjected to questioning, (as occurred to Paul himself in Acts 21 onwards) but the appearance of the risen Christ to him had transformed his ideas, turning them upside down. It had given new meaning to all that he knew. He had then first proclaimed Christ in Damascus immediately after his conversion (Acts 9.20), but he had soon felt the need to think things through, and to learn from God, and so he had gone into Arabia, presumably into desert places, as Elijah (1 Kings 17.3-7 compare 2 Kings 1.8 for his desert clothing), and John the Baptiser (Luke 1.80; 3.2. Compare Matthew 3.1-4; Mark 1.4-6), and Jesus Himself (Mark 1.12-13) had done before him, so as to receive the word of God (Luke 3.2). This demonstrates that he felt himself within the prophetic line.
‘When it pleased Him.’ His conversion was no accident. It was the direct result of God’s good pleasure. While he had been marking down Christians for imprisonment, God had been marking him down for conversion. Yes, and even before that, for He had been marked down from birth. He was a prepared instrument.
‘Who separated me, even from my mother’s womb.’ There seems little doubt that he has in mind here the words of Jeremiah 1.5, ‘Before I formed you in your mother’s body I knew you, and before you came out of the womb I set you apart you. I ordained you a prophet to the nations’. Thus he sees himself as in the line of prophets. It was also said of the coming Servant who represented the true Israel (Isaiah 49.3), ‘the Lord has called me from the womb, from the bowels of my mother he has made mention of my name’ (Isaiah 49.1). So to be separated from the womb was to be a chosen servant of God. And that was what had happened to him.
‘Called me through His grace.’ He was personally called by God, and he knew that he was without deserving. Indeed he never ceased to wonder at the unmerited favour that God had personally shown to him. It was partly this that made him so aware that God worked through grace and not directly in response to man’s strivings. If any man had striven, he had. But it was only when the grace of God came to him revealing to him Christ the Crucified One that his burdens fell away and he found himself free.
‘To reveal His Son in me.’ The revelation came strongly within his very being that here was God’s very Son. Not just Jesus, or the Christ (Messiah), but God’s own beloved Son. The transforming nature of such an experience was stupendous. All he had heard and scoffed at had begun to fall into place with vivid illumination by the Spirit, and he had seen Jesus as He really was.
‘That I might preach Him among the Gentiles.’ Paul had recognised the special nature of his calling almost immediately (Acts 22.21 see also Acts 13.46), as later did the Apostles (Galatians 2.7-9). It is clear that the Apostles still looked on their responsibility as being mainly to the Jews (Galatians 2.9), although acknowledging that Gentiles could be accepted (Acts 10.44-48). It was Paul who stressed the wider vision, something which the Apostles as a whole came to later.
‘Did not confer with flesh and blood.’ A deliberate reference to the fact that he sought truth from a Higher source. He did not want men’s ideas, but God’s. That was why he did not go to ‘those who were Apostles before me’. He went directly to God.
‘But I went into Arabia.’ Possibly none apart from him knew of this up to this point. Acts is silent on the matter. This possibly comes between Acts 9.25 and 9.26, although it may connect with 9.22. Here we learn why it was. It was in order to spend time alone with God so that he might receive His help in rethinking his whole position. We do not know how long this period was. It may well have been for ‘forty days’. Or it may have been longer.
‘And again I returned to Damascus.’ He had then continued his ministry without recourse to human assistance, returning to Damascus and proclaiming Christ.
Paul Had Then Met Peter and Much Later Conferred With The Leading Apostles To Ensure That What He Preached Was in Accordance with What They Taught (1.18-2.3).
1.18-19 ‘Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and stayed with him for fifteen days. And I saw no other of the Apostles, but I did see James, the Lord’s brother.’
Paul is still concerned that they recognise that he was not just a humanly taught man, or a man under instruction from anyone but God. Yet he does not want them to see him as independent of Jesus’ chosen Apostles. To him the oneness of the church was all important. It was that that the Lord’s Supper testified to (1 Corinthians 10.16-17). Thus he mentions this visit which followed his period of preaching in Damascus, while stressing that during it he only conversed with Peter, and that over a period of a mere fifteen days, and with James the Lord’s brother.
‘Then after three years.’ Presumably three years after his conversion (although ‘three years’ may signify two part years with a full year in between, thus one and a half to two years. Compare how Jesus rose ‘three days’ after His death, that is ‘on the third day’). This included his Damascene ministry as well as his period in Arabia (Acts 9.19-25).
‘I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas.’ This is probably the visit mentioned in Acts 9.26-30). If so the reference to ‘the Apostles’ there must signify ‘the Apostolate as represented by Peter’ and possibly James the Lord’s brother, although James is not necessarily said to be an Apostle. ‘To visit’ (’istoreo) means strictly ‘to visit with a view to getting to know’ someone. Thus Paul is stressing his intention to become known to Peter while not suggesting that he had anything to learn from him. It was not surprising that Paul wanted to meet the leader of the band who had been specially set apart by Jesus, and to share fellowship with him and learn something of the life of Jesus from a disciple’s point of view. This last is emphasised by the fact that he also mentions ‘James, the Lord’s brother’ (always elsewhere simply called James), who obviously knew Jesus like no one else did. He had been His younger brother, His ‘kid brother’.
‘And I saw no other Apostles but I did see James, the Lord’s brother.’ Presumably the other Apostles were absent from Jerusalem. James, the Lord’s brother saw the risen Jesus (1 Corinthians 15.7), united with the Apostles prior to Pentecost (Acts 1.14), and was prominent in the Jerusalem church (Acts 12.17; 15.13), after the death of James the Apostle, the brother of John (Acts 12.2). It is possible that he was seen as replacing James among the twelve, although it is never so stated. But he was certainly a rock in Jerusalem until he was martyred by stoning around 62 AD in an interregnum period for Roman procurators.
1.20 ‘Now concerning the things about which I am writing to you, behold, before God I am not lying.’
He is so concerned that they believe the truth of what he is saying that he confirms his complete honesty ‘before God’. It was important that they recognised that his teaching came from God. This semi-oath applies to all he is saying and about to say. ‘Before God I am not lying’.
1.21-24 ‘Then I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia, and I was still unknown by face to the churches of Judea which were in Christ, but they only heard say, ‘He who once persecuted us now preaches the faith of which he once made havoc’. And they glorified God in me.’
He stresses that at no stage had he stayed in Judea and that in fact he had never met the Judean Christians face to face. Judea was usually seen as separate from Jerusalem (e.g. Mark 1.5) which, since the time of David, had looked on itself as a semi-independent city. Judea was probably where many of the Apostles were ministering. As he appears to have been sent to Tarsus for his own protection it would appear that delay in Judea would have been dangerous. He was seen by Jews as a turncoat.
‘The regions of Syria and Cilicia.’ On his way back to Tarsus, in Cilicia (Acts 9.30), he had passed through the region of Syria, the mention of which may suggest some converse with, and ministry to, the churches in that area at that stage. Alternately ‘Syria and Cilicia’, which are regularly mentioned together in that order, may simply have been mentioned jointly as by custom describing the whole area (Acts 15.23, 41). Thus it could simply refer to his going back to his home district in ‘Syria and Cilicia’. From a point of view of a full ministry that in Cilicia (Tarsus), in which he spent a considerable period of time, presumably preceded his later ministry in Syria, although in Acts no such ministry is actually mentioned prior to the call by Barnabas (Acts 11.25). But that is not the point here.
‘The churches of Judea which were in Christ.’ ‘In Christ’ is a favourite expression of Paul. (It is also found in 1 Peter 3.16; 5.14). It signifies that Christians have been made one with their living Lord. They have been united with Christ and are in Him. They are united with Him in His death, and in His risen life (2.20; Romans 6.4-11).
‘They only heard it said that he who once persecuted us now preaches the faith of which he once made havoc.’ Here was further confirmation that there was no suggestion of dispute about ‘the faith’ preached by Paul and ‘the faith’ of the Judean churches. He now preached the faith he had once attacked, and the speakers had clearly been satisfied with the way he taught it.
2.1 ‘Then after a period of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus also.’
Having established that he was not dependent on either the Apostles or the Judean church for his authority or his teaching he now wants to stress that nevertheless, when finally his teaching was discussed with the Apostles they were totally satisfied with what he taught. This may be the visit in Act 11.30 with 12.25, or the visit in Acts 15 which resulted in the Apostles and the church leaders in Jerusalem pronouncing on the question of what was to be required of Gentile converts to Christ and whether the circumcision of Gentile converts was necessary or required (Acts 15.1-29). ‘Again’ (palin) does not necessarily mean ‘a second time’ only ‘another time’, and the mention of this visit here does not necessarily suggest that there were no visits in between. It is mentioned because it was then that Paul and the Apostles had a full discussion on doctrine resulting in their complete agreement on major issues.
Either way, as it was ‘fourteen years’ after he had started preaching it could not be cited as the source of his basic message, for he has already established that his doctrine was received from God by revelation long before that time.
‘Taking Titus also.’ The importance of Titus on this occasion was that he was Gentile through and through with no Jewish connections and the question of whether he should be circumcised would therefore be a crucial one. Titus is never mentioned anywhere in Acts. By the time Acts was written Titus’ situation was no longer relevant.
2.2 ‘And I went up by revelation and I laid before them the Gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately before those who were of repute, lest by any means I should be running, or had run in vain.’
Paul emphasises that the reason that he did what he did was because God had brought home to him that he must do it. He had not done it because he had felt a need for their guidance, or for their approval, but because he had felt that God wanted him to.
The wisdom of God in this is apparent from the fact that Paul can now certify it here. Godly men like Paul often do not recognise that there are certain niceties that need to be observed so as to ensure that the outward appearance conforms to the inner certainties. But he had done so. Thus he knew that there was unity and agreement between them, and it was important that the whole church knew. They needed to be seen to stand together.
‘I went up by revelation.’ God forced on Paul the necessity to finally establish the agreement of his teachings with those of the Apostles. This was quite apart from, even though indirectly connected with, the question of whether circumcision was necessary for Gentile converts.
‘But privately before those who were of repute.’ He had not wanted these matters to side-track any other purposes of the visit, but he had been concerned to demonstrate to ‘those of repute’ and to himself that he was on the right track and in full agreement with them. So he had consulted with them privately. It is noteworthy that here he accepts that the Apostles were guardians of the truth of the Gospel as Jesus had declared in John 14-16.
We do not know exactly who ‘those who were of repute’ were but they clearly included the leading Apostles (verse 9). And this also established that he had consulted with the very people (the leaders of the Jerusalem church), although only after a long period, whom the Judaisers were citing as their authority.
‘Those of repute.’ The constant repetition of this phrase and equivalents by Paul (2.2, 6a, 6b, 9) suggests that it was one hurled against him by the Judaisers who probably cited ‘those of repute’ as their authority. It especially covers Peter, John and James, the Lord’s brother (2.9).
The Important Recognition That No Ritual Requirement Can Ever Be Seen As Necessary For Salvation (2.3-10).
What follows may sound to be rather technical but it is in fact of the greatest importance to us today. For by it was laid down the principle that nothing must be required of a person for salvation except faith in Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Saviour.
2.3 ‘But not even Titus who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised.’
‘With me.’ Titus was there as a companion of Paul and Barnabas. (‘With me does not necessarily exclude Barnabas. Paul is simply describing a fact. He is talking to the Galatians about himself and speaks of Titus as having been with him). Because of this Titus was in the limelight and pressure was brought by Judaisers to insist on his circumcision. It was a crucial moment, and Paul points out that neither the Apostles nor the Jerusalem leadership required that he be circumcised. (Paul did not object to the circumcision of Timothy (Acts 16.3), for Timothy was half Jewish, and it was felt that his being circumcised would help their ministry among Jews. But in his case there was no matter of principle was involved because of his Jewish background and upbringing).
Titus was a Gentile believer and one of Paul's faithful helpers in his ministry. When Paul wrote this letter Titus was apparently living in Antioch. Later he went at Paul’s request to the Corinthian church (2 Corinthians 2.12-13; 7.5-16), to the Jerusalem church (2 Corinthians 8.6-24; 9.3-5; 12.18), and to the Cretan church (Titus 1.5).
2.4 ‘And that because of false brothers surreptitiously introduced, who came in surreptitiously to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they may bring us into bondage.’
The pressure on Titus resulted not from the doubts of the leadership but from the sudden and unexpected introduction into the situation of leading Judaisers who had not been expected and were not strictly invited, but who had clearly been hurriedly called in by some who had learned of the proposed discussions. These Judaisers presumably demanded that Titus be circumcised. They wanted him to become a recognised proselyte. Thus circumcision had now become a crunch point. The question that was at stake was whether every Gentile Christian needed to be circumcised, or whether they could be true Christians without being circumcised.
However, that does also raise the question as to why the Judaisers wanted them to be circumcised, and why it was seen as so important. And there could only be one answer to that, and that is that it was because they saw the church and Israel as being equivalents. They considered that in order to become true Christians all who believed had to become Jewish proselytes. It is therefore significant that Paul never argues that there was no intention of such people becoming members of Israel. For he also recognises that to become a Christian is to become a part of Israel. His argument is rather that circumcision is unnecessary because in Christ all that is necessary for salvation can be found. And this includes whatever circumcision signifies. For all who believe in Jesus Christ have already been circumcised with the circumcision of Christ (Colossians 2.11). Thus circumcision is no more required than the continual offering of sacrifices. They can be members of the covenant of Israel without it. In his eyes therefore the church is the new Israel but does not require circumcision for entry into it, because it is united with Christ, and therefore with His circumcision.
‘False brothers.’ They were false because they were seeking to use pressure to enforce something contrary to the Gospel of free grace as Paul knew it. He saw clearly the issues involved. By demanding circumcision as necessary for salvation they were making salvation depend on some form of ritual. But Paul’s reply is that salvation is by faith alone. No form of ritual can therefore be demanded in order for a person to be saved. Salvation is by faith alone (verse 16). (We must recognise here that some of his opponents may well later have accepted that they had been wrong, for they were all at this stage still seeking to lay down the foundations of belief, and the questions to be sorted out were not simple ones. Compare the problems that Peter had in Acts 10-11).
‘To spy out.’ Together with ‘surreptitiously’ this sums up their behaviour. They were coming with improper motives among those who were gathered there, in order to sow doubt and dissension and in order to try to bring division.
‘Our liberty that we have in Christ Jesus, that they may bring us into bondage.’ This was the question at issue, whether trusting in Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Lord, had freed them from the necessity to compulsorily observe the legalistic ceremonies and requirements, together with the ethical requirements, laid down by leading Jewish teachers. The question was not whether Jews should be circumcised, even Christian Jews, but whether it was absolutely necessary for Gentiles. In other words, was following Jewish ritual requirements an essential for salvation?
Paul, who had been delivered from the burden of such requirements when he put his trust in Christ, recognised at once that once circumcision was accepted as necessary, it would bring the person involved under the whole Jewish legal system. By being circumcised they would be acknowledging that they must keep the whole Law of Moses, and all the emphasis was being placed on the ritual ones. And he firmly believed that the demand for such a fulfilment of Jewish ordinances on those not brought up to it would be a burden too heavy to bear for those to whom they were totally foreign, and that they were not a necessary part of the Gospel. He recognised that they simply brought men into unnecessary bondage. It was fine for Christian Jews, if they wished, to continue with these practises, as long as they did not make them necessary for salvation. But as an essential for salvation they must not be required of anyone.
Some churches would later invent further burdens to lay on Christians, in the form of other ceremonies and requirements, and declare them essential for salvation, and even today we have particular forms of baptisms and particular approaches to the Sabbath which are stressed by some as being such. These too come under Paul’s condemnation where they are claimed to be essential to salvation. For his argument is that the only requirement for salvation is the free response by faith through His Spirit to God’s gracious offer of salvation through Christ, resulting from the preaching of the cross (compare 1 Corinthians 1.17). He is saying that while ceremonies may be helpful, and may have their place, they must remain in that place. They must never be seen as necessary for salvation.
In fact we know from Acts that the Apostles were quite firm in their support of Paul’s position. Peter stated, “We believe that we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus in the same way as they,’ and at the Assembly in Jerusalem rejected the need to burden the Christians who were not Jews with Jewish ceremonial and ritual requirements (Acts 15.7-11). James, the Lord’s brother, concurred. Minimal conditions were then laid down at that meeting concerning what would be required of Gentile Christians, and it was agreed that all Christians should refrain from ‘the pollutions of idols (eating things sacrificed to idols - verse 29), and from fornications, and from things strangled and from blood’ (Acts 15.20). The former were necessary as being directly against God and as giving a false witness to outsiders, the latter necessary if they were to eat and consort with Christian Jews. For there could be no fellowship over meals without it, and in those days meal fellowship was central.
2.5 ‘To whom we gave place in the way of subjection, no, not for an hour, that the truth of the Gospel might continue with you.’
Paul stresses that he, Barnabas and Titus had had no doubts about the matter. There was no wavering of mind, for they knew that the whole basis of the Gospel depended on it. They would not give way to legalists.
‘That the truth of the Gospel might continue with you.’ This would seem to mean that he is trying to preserve the truth for such as the Galatians rather than letting it be perverted, so that what they would believe would continue to be the truth. Alternately he may be arguing that if the truth were not preserved the ministry to the Gentiles would just die out. They would not continue in it. Either was true.
2.6-9 ‘But from those who were reputed somewhat, (whatever they were it does not matter to me, God does not accept a man’s person); they, I say, who were of repute, imparted nothing to me, but on the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the Gospel of the uncircumcision, even as Peter with that of circumcision (for he who wrought for Peter in the apostleship of circumcision wrought for me also to the Gentiles), and when they perceived the grace of God that was given to me, James and Cephas and John, they who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship, that we should go to the uncircumcision and they to the circumcision.’
In this rather convoluted sentence Paul now sums up the situation. He stresses that he had had nothing important to learn from these great Apostles (‘they who were of repute imparted nothing to me’). On the contrary they had recognised his special ministry to the Gentiles, and that God was working through him as He was through them, and they had confirmed their approval of his activities by offering ‘the right hands of fellowship’. The offering of the right hand, the sword hand, was an evidence of a willingness for peace and non-belligerence. It was accepting the terms that had been laid out, and doing it in a spirit of common agreement.
‘Those who were reputed somewhat.’ This describes the men held in repute, which included Cephas (Peter), John, and James, the Lord’s brother, to whom the Judaisers pointed as their authority. The ministry of the twelve appears at this point to have mainly been limited to Jews, so that the question of circumcision had never really arisen, and all converts had been required to conform to Jewish ritual and probably initially attend the synagogues. The few exceptions, like Cornelius and his band (Acts 10-11), had been left as a grey area. The Judaisers, seeing this, had misunderstood their position.
‘Whatever they were it does not matter to me, God does not accept a man’s person.’ Paul is pointing out that he is not impressed by titles of office or by men’s supposed importance. It is their ministry that counts. For as he will point out in 1 Corinthians, each is accountable to God and must not be exalted above others. A man is not accepted for his position because of who he is, but because of the quality of his service (1 Corinthians 3.5-15). He is not here criticising the Apostles. He had consulted the Apostles, and they had proved themselves to Paul by the stance they took, and were approved by their successful ministry. He is, however, stressing that in the end all must be judged by how they stand up for the truth.
‘When they saw that I had been entrusted with the Gospel of the uncircumcision, even as Peter with that of circumcision (for he who wrought for Peter in the apostleship of circumcision wrought for me also to the Gentiles), and when they perceived the grace of God that was given to me.’ Peter’s main ministry was to Jews and in this he was hugely successful (later his ministry would necessarily expand), but he had recognised how God was working powerfully through Paul and had acknowledged that the grace of God was at work there too. They had agreed that the Gospel of the uncircumcision and the Gospel of the circumcised was the same Gospel. The difference was simply in the approach to be taken in particular circumstances.
The change of address from Cephas (Aramaic) to Peter (Greek) may here reflect the context in view, that it is speaking of his Apostleship to the Jews, to many of whom he would be Cephas, but now as seen in the eyes of the Gentiles, to whom he would be Peter. Paul uses Cephas when seeing him as the authority who was in and from Jerusalem
‘James and Cephas and John, they who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship, that we should go to the uncircumcision and they to the circumcision.’ The result of the mutual recognition was specific authorisation from the twelve for them to continue their ministry among the Gentiles in the same way as they had ministered already. The deliberate joining of right hands stressed their unity and oneness and agreement to the compact. This sign of acceptance was widely known in the ancient world. This was final confirmation that ‘those who were reputed’ actually backed Paul and his ministry and teaching.
James is probably placed first because he was by now the recognised senior elder of the Jerusalem church. This would strongly suggest that, as the brother of Jesus, he was seen as being on the same level as the Apostles. On the other hand Paul may have named him first to demonstrate that he was not overawed by the twelve, or in recognition that he was the Lord’s brother.
2.10 ‘Only they would that we should remember the poor, which very thing I was always zealous to do.’
The only conditions they had suggested had been charitable ones. This demonstrates how strong a feeling the early church had of the necessity for aid to be given to the poor, especially to fellow-Christians. And Paul was one with them in this. Indeed his second visit to Jerusalem had been for this very purpose (Acts 11.29 compare Romans 15.26) and this mention is therefore seen by some as confirming that it was during that visit that all this occurred. It is noteworthy that in the midst of such a serious doctrinal conflict this issue was raised. Practical living was seen as important, as Jesus had made clear in His own teaching. All were aware that concern for the poor and hungry was one sign of a true Christian.
Paul’s Argument with Peter When Peter Was Inconsistent (2.11-16).
The previous argument had a permanent importance for the church because it has laid down once for all what is basic to salvation, and what is not. It has stressed that any ritual requirements that anyone lays down are not to be countenanced if they are claimed to be necessary for salvation. What follows is almost as important. It also brings out and confirms that no one, not even Peter, can exercise his authority in such a way as to annul this fact. It makes clear that even Apostolic authority cannot override the principles of the Gospel.
2.11-13 ‘But when Cephas came to Antioch I resisted him to his face because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James he ate with the Gentiles, but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews dissembled in the same way, in so much that Barnabas was carried away by their dissimulation.’
The example cited is concerning the behaviour of the Apostle Peter. It appears that when Peter visited Antioch he was happy to eat with the non-Jews, ignoring Jewish restrictions on ‘cleansing’ and on eating with those who ate ‘unclean’ food, as the voice from Heaven had made clear he could do in Acts 10.9-16. This would be at the ‘love-feasts’ which were common in the early church as Christians gathered to eat together in an act of love and fellowship, which would be accompanied by the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11.20-21). But when some Jewish Christians arrived from Jerusalem, who stressed the need to keep the rituals of the Law of Moses, he had stopped eating with the non-Jews lest he be accused of not conforming with certain Jewish ritual requirements, even though previously he had been quite satisfied that he did not need to conform with them. And by this he had thus led astray other Jews who were there, including Barnabas. This ties in with the man who could deny his Master under stress. Peter was a brave and good man, but he had a tendency to panic when challenged.
The result of this behaviour was that it affected fellowship around the Lord’s Table (Holy Communion) for this would come under the same restrictions. It resulted in a division between Jews and Gentiles. Thus the rift was both social and religious. The church was being rent in two.
These details of this incident serve to confirm that it took place before the gathering at Jerusalem in Acts 15. For there the clear decision, when interpreted, had to signify that as long as Gentiles abstained from blood and from eating things that were strangled, Jews could enjoy table fellowship with them, otherwise there would be little point in the regulations. And that being so Paul would have been able to cite the decision of the gathering to Peter. As he did not it confirms that that decision had not as yet been reached. Alternately it might suggest that he saw it as a compromise that in certain circumstances should be put aside.
Whatever be the case with regard to that, the incident here demonstrates .that many of the more conservative attached to the Jerusalem church still refused to eat with Gentiles. Indeed feeling was so strong here that even Barnabas had temporarily sided with them. We can see why Paul was horrified. He could see the consequences that would follow. The result could only be that two churches would be built up, one of which would be legalistic and separatist, and the truth of the Gospel would then be put in jeopardy.
2.14 ‘But when I saw that they did not walk uprightly in accordance with the truth of the Gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you being a Jew live as the Gentiles do, and not as the Jews do, how do you compel the Gentiles to live as the Jews do?’
It was Paul who saw how crucial this event was. At this stage the situation was seemingly that the Jewish Christians, especially in Jerusalem and Judea, tended to remain faithful to the Jewish law and requirements, even while the Gentiles living away from Judea and Jerusalem were not being required to do so. And Paul had no quarrel with that as long as it did not involve Gentiles in any way, for they were simply following their usual customs and not making them a Christian necessity. But what he did have a quarrel with was for Jewish Christians to come among Gentiles and refuse to eat with Gentile Christians unless they fulfilled all the requirements of Jewish Law. That, he saw, could only lead to division and separation.
And it was particularly heinous for Peter to do so. For prior to the arrival of these Judaisers he had had no qualms about eating with the Gentiles. And he had been right. For by his actions he had been demonstrating the truth of the Gospel that salvation was not dependent on methods of eating and drinking. However, now that they had come he had revealed a certain level of hypocrisy by giving way to their demands, not on strictly doctrinal grounds as his previous behaviour demonstrated, but simply out of misplaced cowardice.
So he had challenged Peter before them all by saying, “If you being a Jew live as the Gentiles do, and not as the Jews do, how do you compel the Gentiles to live as the Jews do?” Basically what he was saying was that Peter had previously been willing to live as the Gentiles did, and had seen that as the right thing to do. By it he had demonstrated that living as a Jew was not a requirement of the Gospel. Why then was he now doing the opposite and demanding that the Gentiles live as the Jews do, simply because he was afraid of what some fellow-Jews would think, thereby making the Gentiles behaviour appear wrong. The Gentiles would by this clearly see his inconsistency, and his intellectual dishonesty, and would feel humiliated and rejected, and all Jews would gain the idea that they must maintain such a separation permanently. It could only totally divide the church, as well as being inconsistent with the Gospel on the grounds that he had already been spoken about.
That to eat with Gentiles, who had probably made some concessions in order to make it possible, was permissible under the Gospel, was something that Peter had already acknowledged by eating with them, no doubt influenced by the incident in Acts 10. (See especially 10.9-16, 28; 11.3 where he had also eaten with Gentiles under God’s instruction). On what grounds then did he now change his mind, thus trying to make the Gentiles behave like Jews contrary to his experience with Cornelius? By doing so he was suggesting that to be a full Christian in the Apostolic manner involved submitting to the law of Moses in full.
Peter might have denied this. He might have pointed out that he was not forcing them to eat with the Jewish Christians. But that would have been to deny the possibility of table fellowship, and this sudden withdrawal, which had affected even Barnabas, could only have been seen by the Gentile Christians as indicating that they were somehow after all only second rate, and not really full Christians at all, especially as the Judaisers were loudly demanding that all be circumcised. It was suggesting that full salvation depended on fulfilling ritual requirements, and was in danger of destroying the very foundations of the Gospel. And Paul recognised this at once. He recognised that it was both diminishing the Gospel and dividing the church. So he immediately stood up to Peter, challenging not his doctrine, but his behaviour and hypocrisy.
‘They did not walk uprightly in accordance with the truth of the Gospel.’ Paul recognised quite clearly that the truth of the Gospel was being put in jeopardy by Peter’s action. It was suggesting that faith in Christ was not in itself sufficient to make someone a fully acceptable Christian. Sadly there are today churches which do the same. They introduce teachings about baptism, or the seventh day, or priesthood, and make them necessary for salvation. It is against all such attitudes that Paul is arguing.
So he is pointing out that, while Peter was not strictly saying so (for he was not actually specifically compelling the Gentiles to live as Jews) Peter’s action was indicating that if the Gentiles wanted to be part of the united church it was necessary for them to conform to Jewish customs. He was giving the appearance of siding with the Judaisers. And had things been left as they were there would have been two churches, a Jewish church and a separate Gentile church, and that was something Paul could not countenance. It would be to divide Christ and make a mockery of the cross. In his eyes the choice was simple, Jesus Christ or a bundle of ritual. And only Jesus Christ could save.
It should be noted that this public rebuke was necessary in this particular case. It was not just an issue between him and Peter, it was something that affected all. For it was essential that the true position, and the wrongness of Peter’s position, was openly and positively revealed. Paul would have agreed that disagreements between two parties should normally be dealt with in private unless one party proved intransigent (Matthew 18.15-17), but that could not be the case when the matter went to the very root of the Gospel, and had been done in public by a prominent minister.
2.15 ‘We being Jews by nature and not sinners of the Gentiles.’
This statement attaches to the following statement. It distinguishes between Jews and Gentiles in order that Paul might then make clear that regardless of which men and women were, the way of salvation for both was the same, believing in Jesus Christ. He is saying, “while we may find the observance of these rituals not as difficult as the Gentiles do, because they have become second nature to us, and we do not have their sinful tendencies with regard to them, nevertheless as a result of the preaching of the Gospel we know that we cannot be saved by observing these rituals any more than they can, because we have come to recognise that salvation is not by observing the works of the Law.”
The reason for his words was that he was describing precisely what the Judaisers believed. He is citing what their argument would be in order to destroy it, while sympathising to some extent with what had caused it. They believed that in a sense Jews were by nature ‘not sinners’, (they did not for example ignore the difference between what was ritually clean and what was ritually unclean). And that Gentiles by nature ‘were sinners’. They did not make such distinctions. But what did they mean by it?
‘Jews by nature.’ By this they meant that in their view Jews were born Jews, and were brought up in Jewish ideas and thought-forms, with the ritual requirements of the Law being a part of their daily lives. And thus quite ‘naturally’ they lived according to Jewish customs, and were as a result of this comparatively ‘clean’ by Jewish standards.
‘Sinners of the Gentiles.’ The Gentiles on the other hand were in a different position. Jews saw all Gentiles as ‘sinners’, just as the Pharisees described as ‘sinners’ all who did not observe their ritual and ethical requirements, and this was because they saw their own ritual and ethical requirements, which were not observed by the Gentiles, as expressing the Law of God. Thus as Gentiles did not observe their regulations concerning the eating of blood, and the washing away of defilement, and the observing of different feasts, and so on, they made themselves evident sinners.
The point is that ritual and ethical requirements of the Law had become second nature to many Jews. They had grown up in them and they were natural to them (even though they might not fulfil them). But they were not natural to the Gentiles. It was natural to them to be ‘sinners’ as far as the Law was concerned. So Paul is pointing out that by his action Peter was asking them to act against nature, even though he had previously behaved among them as though he was happy with their behaviour. In this way Paul clearly puts Jewish tradition into its proper place as restricted to Jews and not applicable to all. And he now deals with the heart of the situation. In using the word ‘sinners’ Paul may here have been being sarcastic, expressing the stated views of the Judaisers who had influenced Peter, for he himself knew that all men were sinners (Romans 3.23).
2.16 ‘Yet knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law, but only through faith in Jesus Christ, even we believed on Christ Jesus in order that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law. For by the works of the Law shall no man living be justified.’
And here was the crunch of the matter. Peter had summed up the Gospel as, ‘we believe that we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, even as they’ (Acts 15.12), thus agreeing that both must be saved in the same way without distinction, and had further declared that ‘through His name everyone who believes on Him will receive remission of sins’ (Acts 10.43). Thus he knew that Christians were the people who ‘believed’ (Acts 2.44; 4.4, 32; 5.14; 8.12; etc.). So Paul is here summarising in line with Peter’s actual teaching.
‘Yet knowing --.’ Although Jews by nature, and therefore not such gross sinners as Gentiles, they also knew in fact that they could only be justified (counted as righteous before God) by faith in Jesus Christ, as could the Gentiles. So their superior ‘state’ did not actually put them in any better position at all. For what finally mattered was being seen as ‘in the right’ by God, and this could only come as a result of their response of faith to Jesus Christ.
‘Justified.’ The word is a legal one and means to ‘be declared righteous, to be accounted as righteous’. It speaks of a legal decision made on the basis of the facts and the law, and is the opposite of ‘to be condemned’ (Romans 8.1, 33). This is evidenced by its o-o ending, dikao-o, which means ‘to account as righteous’ and not ‘to make righteous’. It does not speak of a man’s inward condition, but of the status that he has in the eyes of the judge.
‘A man is not justified by works of the Law --- for by the works of the Law can no man living be justified.’ The Law, Paul says, was powerless to justify, because no one could ever succeed in obeying it fully. That was definitely something that no one could achieve, even if they were not ‘sinners by nature’. And Paul knew from personal experience how true this was (see Romans 7.7-11). He had struggled more than all to try to keep it and had failed, and so had his fellow Pharisees. The more they had tried, the more they had failed. And this also applied to all people, whether ‘good’ or ‘bad’. It was true of both ritual and moral aspects of the Law (although they would not have differentiated, for they saw all as the Law). They had failed on all counts.
The Law laid down a standard. It said this is how you must live, and it went into detail laying down individual laws. To be justified by the Law therefore it was necessary to live exactly in accordance with its requirements, without failing at any point. This is true of all law. It is not sufficient to keep most of it. The law is total in its demands (3.10; compare James 2.10). It demands fulfilment of every part. To break one law is to be a lawbreaker, especially when that law has been laid down by God. And therefore there is no man who has not sinned before God. ‘All have sinned and come short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3.23). ‘There is none righteous, no, not one’ (Romans 3.10-18).
‘But only through faith in Christ.’ (Or ‘except through faith in Christ’). This could mean either that in contrast with the Law faith in Christ justifies, or that a man can be justified by the law through faith in Christ. They really come down to the same thing. Faith in Christ ‘justifies’, as we are told elsewhere, because by it His righteousness is put to our account. ‘For He has made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made (or ‘might become’) the righteousness of God in Him’ (2 Corinthians 5.21). It is thus the result of ‘a righteousness of God by faith’ given to faith, that is, to those who believe (Romans 1.17; 3.21-22, 25-26). Clothed thus in the righteousness of Christ Who kept the whole Law we can then be justified by the Law, because we will be judged not by our failure, but by His success. We will be ‘clothed’ with Christ, and God will look on us as we are ‘in Him’. If we are in Christ, then the Judge will not look at us, He will look at His righteousness as it covers us and will say ‘not guilty’. So ‘to him who does not work but believes on Him Who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned for righteousness’ (Romans 4.5).
‘We have believed on Christ Jesus that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law’. And because that is what we have done when we become Christians and believe on Jesus Christ as our Saviour and Redeemer, we are thereby ‘counted as righteous’, not because of what we have done as we tried to obey the Law (the works of the law), but because we have believed in Jesus Christ as the One Who bore our sin in our place. Here ‘justification’, being looked on as though we had never sinned, is specifically said to be ‘not by the works of the Law’, which again supports the translation ‘only through’. We are being told that the one who believes on Christ Jesus in order to be justified by faith in Him basically renounces his wish to be judged by the Law, which is very wise as the Law can justify no one except the totally righteous, and ‘there is none righteous, not, not one’ (Romans 3.10). A believer rather puts all his trust in what Jesus Christ has suffered for him, the righteous for the unrighteous, so that He might bring us to God (1 Peter 3.18).
Notice the switch here from ‘Jesus Christ’ to ‘Christ Jesus’ to ‘Christ’. The names are synonymous, but the increasing emphasis is on ‘Christ’, the anointed One, the One sent from God, the Saviour of the world.
So the main grounds for Paul’s stand is that ‘a man is not put in the right with God by observing the Law but by putting his faith in Jesus Christ’. This is the crux of his argument, and of this letter. The moral Law can only condemn, he tells us. It cannot aid salvation. However much we try to keep it we will always fail. There will always be some point at which we will become unstuck. Like the rich young ruler we may be able to tick them off and say, ‘all these things have I observed from my youth up’. And then God steps in and says, ‘yes, but what about this?’ With the rich young ruler it was his love of riches. With Paul it had been covetousness. But all of us have some lack. None of us have loved God with our heart, soul, mind and strength. None of us have truly loved our neighbour as ourselves in all aspects of our lives. And the Judge puts His finger on where we have failed, and cries ‘Guilty’. For he who fails on one point is guilty of all. He is a lawbreaker (James 2.10). And that is why none of the rituals are necessary any longer, because the sacrificial death of Christ has replaced them. They cannot even contribute to our salvation, because Christ has done all that is necessary in dying for us. That is why it is faith in Christ that must be central.
It should be noted that this emphasis that a man is justified (counted as righteous) by faith in Christ was central to the teaching of Jesus Himself, for His constant message was that men must respond to Him and believe on Him, and that thereby they would be saved and receive eternal life (John 1.12; 3.15 -21; 5.24 compare Matthew 18.6; Mark 5.34; 10.52).
Paul Now Deals With Objections To His Statement And Stresses That The Law’s Purpose Is To Point To Christ (2.17-21).
2.17-18 ‘But, if while we have sought to be justified in Christ, we also were found sinners, is Christ made one who serves sin? God forbid. For if I build up again those things which I destroyed, I prove myself a transgressor.’
This question can be seen in two ways. Firstly as asking - ‘Surely seeking to be ‘put in the right’ through Christ means that we are must first of all admit to being sinners and must declare ourselves sinners. Does this not, it is asked, therefore make Christ the one who serves sin?’ This question was especially relevant to converted Pharisees. They had built up a way of life that they felt had on the whole made them ‘almost good’. They were ‘by nature Jews’. Yet the Gospel was now asking them to tear down that facade and admit their sinfulness. Was this not making them sinners?
To such a question Paul replies, ‘Of course not. On the contrary, it is if I build up again what I destroyed, if I again make the Law pre-eminent, that I make myself a lawbreaker and a sinner. It is the Law that shows me where I have gone wrong and accuses me of breaking the Law’. And the more I try to observe it the more I fail. Thus if we are to speak of something as ‘promoting sin’ it is the Law that does that. And to revive it is therefore to promote sin. See for a particular example of this Romans 7.7-8.
Alternately, relating to the context, the question might be seen as asking, ‘If we seek to be justified in Christ and thus abandon the ritual requirements by which we have lived as you are demanding, thus becoming in the eyes of Jews ‘sinners’, does this not mean that Christ is acting as a servant of sin and promoting sin?’ The reply is the same. It is that by again bringing in the Law I multiply sin, for it is the Law that reveals sin. Outside the Law such things are not all sinful, but once I come under the Law sin multiplies, for I see it for what it is.
The problem for the Judaisers was that they thought that Christ’s sacrifice made present atonement for their sins, as animal sacrifices had before Jesus had died, and that after that their salvation depended on their maintaining their position by observing the Law in all its forms. Jesus had thereby become to them a super-sacrifice, a help along the way, and nothing more. And it left them in the same predicament as they had been in before. How were they to keep the Law perfectly? Paul rejects this. He says quite plainly that to take up that attitude is actually to encourage sin (compare Romans 7.8-11), for they can only fail, thus leading on to further failure, and taking them down the road to despair. He knew it because he had walked that way himself.
But how very different was the offer of the Good News made through Christ. For those who come to Christ can ignore the requirements of the Law as far as their position before God and their eternal salvation is concerned. Instead they simply trust in what He has done for them on the cross. They accept that He died for them. They accept that He has borne their sin in their place as ‘a ransom in the place of many; (Mark 10.45). And then they accept that because He has died in their place, they can go free. They are forgiven, and their sins are no longer counted against them, because they had been paid for by Christ.
But does this therefore mean that people can go on sinning as they like. He lets us know that the answer to that question is a resounding ‘No!’ based on the significance of the cross. And he now explains that significance.
2.19-20 ‘For I through the Law died to the Law, that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. Yet I live, and yet no longer I, but Christ lives in me. And that life which I now live in the flesh I live in faith which is in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.’
Paul points out that the Law crucified Christ. He died as a supposed lawbreaker. But the wonderful thing is that when He died Paul, and all those who are in Christ and believe in Him, died with Him. His crucifixion counts as their crucifixion. For because they are in Christ they were crucified with Him. Thus they are made dead to the Law by the body of Christ (Romans 7.4). For in Him the Law has carried out its verdict and its execution, not only on Him but on all who are His. He had done no sin, but He was made sin for us (2 Corinthians 5.21). So once we have become members of His body what happened to Him is also counted as having happened to us. And as our sins are placed on Him, so His righteousness covers us (2 Corinthians 5.21), and we are made the righteousness of God (as righteous as God) in Him. The Law has done its worst by condemning and punishing our sin at the cross, and is now therefore rendered powerless, for full punishment for all breaches of it have been exacted on Him. Even the Law cannot punish again a dead man who has already died for his sins. For then justice has been satisfied with the ultimate penalty. The result is that those who are His, and have been crucified with Him, are no longer under the law. The law has condemned them and has done its utmost. It can do no more. They have faced their punishment in Christ. And now the law cannot touch His people any more for they are ‘dead’ in Christ, justly punished for all their sin, whether past or future.
But he then stresses that those who are His have died to the law for a purpose. And that is so that they may live to God (compare Romans 7.6). There is to be no complacency here. There is to be no suggestion that therefore sin does not now matter. Rather there is to be experienced a divine compulsion. Those who have been crucified with Christ now recognise that it is because they are in Christ and Christ is in them that they are acceptable to God. Yes, it is because the risen Christ now lives in and through them. So they recognise that they are now responsible for Christ’s reputation, for Christ lives in them. Thus they are deeply aware that they must live the Christ life, that they must manifest Christ in their lives. To genuinely say that I have been crucified with Christ and so have died to the law and its condemnation, and not then to let Him live through me is not possible, says Paul. The tree is known by its fruit.
‘I through the Law, died to the Law.’ The Law had condemned Paul and had sentenced him, and had carried out his execution ‘in Christ’. So that was the end of the old Paul. There was no coming back from crucifixion! And the same is true for all who put their trust in Christ and what He has done for them on the cross.
‘That I might live unto God.’ And the purpose of this is not to free us to do whatever we like, but so that we might live ‘unto God’. So that we might live as in the presence of God. So that all our hopes and aspirations may be to serve and please God. That is what salvation is all about. It is not an easy way into Heaven, it is the way back to God that we might live to and for Him. It is to allow Him to work in us to will and to do of His good pleasure (Philippians 2.13).
‘I have been crucified with Christ.’ The verb is in the perfect tense, ‘I have been and therefore now am, crucified with Christ’. It is a continuing experience, for once having been accomplished in us, it has permanent results down to the present time. Paul speaks of himself as an individual and of all Christians as individuals. All who have believed in Him were ‘crucified with Him’ and are now in the state of being ‘crucified ones’. This is true firstly because He acted as our substitute. When He died it was in our place. As Jesus Himself said, ‘The Son of Man came --- to give His life a ransom instead of many’ (‘lutron anti pollon’ - Mark 10.45 - ‘anti’ is unquestionably substitutionary). As man He was the true Mediator (the one who acts between two parties) giving Himself ‘as a ransom on behalf of all’ (1 Timothy 2.5-6). It was something offered as a benefit open to all. But in the end it would only be effective in the ‘many’ who responded in faith. For the ransom was ‘in the place of’ many. The whole point of a ransom is that it takes the place of those who are ransomed, it pays the price for their deliverance. Thus once we truly believe in Jesus Christ we can say that we ‘are bought with a price’ (1 Corinthians 6.20; 7.23).
Although sinless Himself Jesus Christ took the place of each believing sinner, and of all believing sinners, and it was so that the believing sinner may be ‘ransomed’, freed from sin, wholly forgiven and reconciled with God. As Paul puts it elsewhere, ‘He was made sin for us, He Who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him’ (2 Corinthians 5.21), and ‘He gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify for Himself a people of His own, dedicated to good works’ (Titus 2.14).
For this is ‘the redemption that is in Christ Jesus’, that ‘God set Him forth to be a means of propitiation (removing the threat of His judgment), through faith, by His blood (His death accepted as a sacrifice)’ (Romans 3.25). The meaning of propitiation is that God’s antipathy against sin is fully satisfied by the death that takes place, because the requirement of the Law has been met. And this is because He was ‘delivered up for our acts of law breaking and was raised for our justification’ (Romans 4.25). This is why we can be ‘justified (counted as righteous) by faith’.
But secondly it is true because He acted as our full representative, not only in our place but actually ‘as us’. Once we have truly believed we are ‘in Him’ and become ‘members of His body’ (Ephesians 5.30; 1 Corinthians 12.27). As all men are summed up in Adam, for they all come from him, so all redeemed men are summed up in Christ, ‘the second man’ (1 Corinthians 15.47), ‘the last Adam’ (1 Corinthians 15.21-22, 45), for as a result of believing they are all in Him. Even the term ‘Son of Man’, which Jesus emphasised for Himself, also represented His people (Daniel 7.13-14 with 18, 27), for Jesus is One with His people. He said to Paul when he was persecuting Christians, ‘why do you persecute ME’ (Acts 9.4). Thus when He died, all Who are His died with Him. We have been crucified with Christ, and it is an ongoing situation. All who become His have been crucified with Him, and all who are His are crucified with Him.
When considering the mystery of ‘the atonement’ we must recognise that one picture alone cannot do it justice, as we have seen here. It is substitution, it is representation, it is propitiation, it is reconciliation, it is expiation, it is atonement. It is all these and more. It is ‘God in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them’ (2 Corinthians 5.19). And who can fully understand it?
But one thing is clear. This could not have been accomplished by a mere man. Although He died as man, representing all who are His, it was because He was God, and only because He was God, that His sacrifice was sufficient. Only the Creator could substitute for His creation. God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, because none other could do so.
And this crucifixion is personal. Once I come by faith to Christ and ‘am crucified with Him’ my old life ceases. I recognise that I am dead to all that has gone before. I recognise that I no longer have any right to live my life as I want to. For that is why I have been crucified.
‘Yet I live, and yet no longer I, but Christ lives in me.’ Having ‘died with Christ’ Paul recognises that he is still alive. But no longer now as the same person. Rather as a Christ indwelt person. The old Paul has died, with all his views, hopes and beliefs. He has become Christ indwelt through faith (Ephesians 3.17), and it is Christ Who holds the reins and must be allowed to control the thoughts of his heart. It is He Who now lives in and through Paul. It is His views and hopes and beliefs that must be followed. And as He dwells in him by responsive faith Paul has the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2.15). And the same is true for all who believe in Him.
‘And the life which I now live in the flesh I live in faith, which is in the Son of God Who loved me and gave Himself for me.’ Every believer lives in a fleshly body, but he lives ‘in faith’, faith in the Son of God Who loved him and gave Himself for him. He therefore does not follow the desires and aims of the flesh, but follows the desires and aims of the Spirit, for that faith is in the One Who sacrificed Himself for him, the Son of God. With Christ indwelling him he puts his faith not in his flesh but in Christ, recognising that the dynamic power of the One Who lives within him is to be expressed through him. He is to live Christ. Christ has superseded the Law. And paradoxically by this he himself will be able to fulfil the essence of the Law (5.13-14), for no one could fulfil the Law as He did.
‘The Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me.’ In this is expressed the incredible thought, that the Son of God Himself gave Himself up for us. Well did the hymnwriter say, ‘Tis mystery all, the immortal dies’. Who can understand it? The Son of God, He Who was before all worlds and created all things (John 1.1-3; Hebrews 1.2), He Who upholds all things by His powerful command (Hebrews 1.3; Colossians 1.17), He Who rules over the hosts of Heaven (Matthew 26.53; Revelation 19.11-16), has so loved me that He gave Himself for me, that He might live out His life through me. How can I believe that and ever be the same again?
Notice in this whole section the ‘I’. While Paul would have immediately agreed that it was true for all Christians, and that that was what he meant, he applied it to himself as an individual. For the message is not only that Christ died for all, but that He died for me. I have been crucified with Christ. And each of us can take this personally for ourselves. We can then say, ‘All I have been has gone. It has been put to death in Him. I have begun anew.’ So while salvation is of the whole body of Christ, it is also a very individual thing, it is my salvation.
All the world has not been crucified with Christ. It is an individual thing demanding individual response. It is only those who have come to the crucified Christ in responsive faith who have been crucified with Him. It is ‘the many’, but not all. And it is ‘the many’, the believers, who are now to live out His resurrection life.
2.21 ‘I do not make void the grace of God. For if righteousness is through the Law then Christ is dead in vain.’
The suggestion from this verse is that others do make void the grace of God, for they insist that righteousness comes through the (impossible) strict observance of the Law and obedience to the covenant. It may even be that some had said that Paul made void the grace of God because he rejected the Law and covenant so graciously given. But, he says, it is not he who makes void the grace of God, it is they.
For God’s grace, God’s free unmerited goodness and favour, revealed in action in the giving of Christ, and through Him of His Spirit, is upheld and glorified through Paul’s teaching, for in it Christ is all. But in their teaching He is diminished and His death is in vain, for in their case it is the righteousness that they seek through the Law is what finally matters, the righteousness that they can never achieve. That is their be all and end all. They do not see their salvation as being as a result of the activity of God, but as arising out of their own activity. They are failing to rest on the grace of God. And yet it is available to no one in their way, for none can fully keep the Law. However hard they strive they will never achieve it, and thus they will die, and Christ’s death will have been in vain. Indeed they no longer leave any reason for Christ to die. For if the main basis of salvation is their own righteousness attained by keeping the Law, then the old sacrifices would be sufficient. That would then be to make Christ’s sacrifice unnecessary. It is clear therefore clear that faith in Christ alone, and in His saving work alone, is our only hope, and is the only way by which we can magnify the grace of God. It is by saying ‘God has done all’. All I have done is let it happen to me, and even that I could do nothing about. I have responded because I had to. I have heard because He has spoken (John 10.27-28).
In finishing this section we must draw attention to one fact. What Paul is against here is not the Law, but the Law looked on as a means of salvation, as a means of maintaining a covenant relationship with God. Elsewhere he says ‘the Law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just and good’ (Romans 7.12). As a pattern, especially as revealed in Jesus Christ, it is without compare. But his point is that as a way of salvation its standards are too good. It is beyond us. If it is seen as the means of our salvation it can only destroy us.
But once we have been crucified with Christ and have died to the Law, we will begin to fulfil it from glad hearts because we will allow that greatest of all Law-keepers, the One Who alone kept it to the full, to live through us His glorious life of obedience. But always we must remember that our salvation is through His grace and His power, brought home to us when we came to the cross, and continually at work within us as we allow the crucified and risen One to live through us (Philippians 2.13). Never must we think that it results from our keeping of the Law, because we will never, and in this life never can, do that satisfactorily.
Paul Confirms What He Has Said By Pointing Out That Every Blessing They Have Received Was Received Through Faith (3.1-9).
Paul now reminds the Galatians of how they first came to Christ, and what had been their experience then. They had responded to the working of the Holy Spirit. They had believed in Christ as their Saviour and Lord. They had accepted free forgiveness through the cross. Surely then they will not now try to be saved by their own actions and by following someone else’s ritual requirements?
3.1-3 ‘Oh foolish Galatians. Who has bewitched you before whose eyes Jesus Christ was set forth as crucified among you? This only would I learn from you. Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law or by the hearing (or ‘preaching’) of faith? Are you so foolish. Having begun in the Spirit, are you now perfected in the flesh?’
Paul’s powerful feelings come out in his opening words. Rarely does he speak so strongly. And yet there is a tenderness underlying his words. He comes like a hurt but tender father to his erring children (compare ‘brothers’ - 3.15 ; ‘my little children’ - 4.19; ‘with my own hand’ - 6.11).
The Galatians are behaving like ‘the foolish’ (anoetos), like those who have little intelligence, like those who do not recognise God for what He is (compare Psalm 14.1). The inhabitants of that part of the Roman world prided themselves on their depth of rational thought and understanding, but Paul chides them that they are demonstrating neither. They were not using their brains. Jesus Christ as crucified had been set forth before them and they had experienced the power of the Spirit of God to such an extent that miracles had been wrought among them (verse 5). What then did they think had brought this about? Was it their seeking to keep the Law that had brought it about, or was it through their hearing the Gospel of the grace of God which had resulted in faith and the work of the Spirit? Did they really think that by aping Judaism, rather than by putting their trust in the Spirit’s working, they would be made perfect?
‘Foolish.’ The word means ‘unintelligent, lacking in understanding’. They are behaving like those who have been put under a spell or bewitched.
‘Before whose eyes Jesus Christ has been set forth as crucified among you.’ Jesus Christ was set forth as ‘the One Who has been, and is now, the One Who has been crucified’. They had heard the preaching of the cross which is the power of God to those who are being saved (1 Corinthians 1.17). Indeed they had experienced it so vividly that it was almost as though they had seen it with their own eyes, for the Holy Spirit had brought it home to their own hearts. It had been ‘Set forth’ (prographo - placarded publicly), portrayed publicly before them. And they had responded and had received the Holy Spirit, evidence that they were now justified (counted as righteous) in the sight of God. What then did they think had caused this?
‘Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law or by the hearing of faith?’ They had only to think about it. What had resulted in the coming of the Spirit in power to them. Was it when they responded in faith to the message of the crucified and risen Christ, and His justifying power? Or was it when they began to observe Jewish ritual and had begun to struggle to keep the Law? Were they so foolish as to think that they had a better chance of becoming perfect by struggling in the flesh to keep the Law and observe the ritual, than by the response of their own spirits to the Spirit’s power?
Note that Paul is here thinking of their progress towards perfection, and knows that they are too. And never does he say that that is not important. He is simply pointing out that the best way to achieve it is by response to Jesus Christ and the Spirit, by looking to the indwelling Christ within, rather than by a hopeless struggle against the impossible odds of the Law. If I try to struggle to keep the Law I go back to my chains and my burdens. But if I allow Christ to live out His life through me by His Spirit I cannot help but succeed. For the man who perseveres is the one who has confidence in Christ crucified and knows that He is living within and through him by His Spirit.
‘The hearing of faith.’ The word can mean ‘hearing’ or ‘the thing heard’. Here then it can mean ‘the hearing that springs from faith’, ‘the hearing that results in faith’ or ‘the preaching that results in faith’. But the basic point is the same. The point is that it is the response of faith and not the doing of works that results in the work of the Spirit within. It is the result of the co-operation of man’s spirit with God’s Spirit in response to the gracious approach of God that enables us to live rightly.
Note that receiving the Spirit parallels being declared righteous by faith. The one goes with the other. One is not a later blessing than the other. This is positively demonstrated by the link with Abraham. The whole point about Abraham was not that he received the Spirit but that He was seen as righteous by God (Genesis 15.6). To be declared righteous was to have received the Spirit, and to have received the Spirit was to have been declared righteous. Christians who have been declared righteous are therefore people of the Spirit (see verse 14).
‘Having begun in the Spirit are you now perfected in the flesh.’ The contrast between Spirit and flesh is typically Pauline. Elsewhere flesh is usually that which drags a man down into sin (Galatians 5.16-21). How ridiculous it is then to think that it will lead us to perfection. Thus here he is pointing out that the flesh can indeed cause religious activity, but that then it is just as sinful as everything else man is involved in, because it is not spiritual or Spirit inspired. It is of man, not of God. Having received the inflowing of the Spirit, they are now allowing the lusts of the body or of the mind to take over. Instead of looking only to God, they are seeking to gratify themselves and to gratify others.
‘Having begun in the Spirit’. The Holy Spirit had stirred their spirits and brought forth a spiritual response. They had looked to God and known His presence. They had been accepted as righteous in His sight. And now His work of perfecting them had begun. He was already working within them to will and do of His good pleasure (Philippians 2.13). Did they now think that by turning from Him and His working within them, to mere fleshly activity, to a dogged attempt to keep a set of rules and regulations and rituals, they could achieve this perfection? No! It is the Spirit who changes us from glory into glory, and it is as we behold the glory of the Lord (2 Corinthians 3.18), not as we look within ourselves. We must therefore look to Him for His continual work of the Spirit within us (Philippians 2.13).
3.4 ‘Did you suffer (or experience) so many things in vain? That is if it is indeed in vain.’
It is possible that the Galatian Christians had suffered persecution as a result of their response to Christ (Acts 14.22). If so, he is pointing out that they would not have suffered like that if they had simply become Jewish proselytes, for that was acceptable and even admired by some. Their suffering arises from the fact that they are following Christ. Thus if they now go back to Judaistic practices their suffering will have been in vain. They will have gained nothing.
But while the word used here means ‘suffer’ in most New Testament uses that is because the context regularly demands it. It originally strictly meant ‘experience’, and the context seems to require this here. There is no suggestion of suffering in the remainder of the context. Thus he may simply be saying, ‘have you had all these experiences to no purpose, if indeed it is to no purpose?’ (However, the word did certainly develop at some time into being used almost solely in its bad sense of suffer, so the other is possible).
‘If it was to no purpose.’ He adds this as a rider. He still cherishes hope for them.
3.5-6 ‘He therefore who supplies to you the Spirit, and works powerful works among you (or ‘within you’), does he do it by the works of the Law or by the hearing of faith? Even as Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him for righteousness.’
The example of Abraham is now cited as evidence that God’s gifts come in response to faith. How did Abraham become a participant in God’s blessing? It was by ‘believing God’, and taking Him at His word. Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness (Genesis 15.6). This would confirm that the ‘hearing of faith’ here means the response of faith to God’s words. God had supplied them with the Spirit and worked ‘powerful works’ among them. But what had been the basis of this? Certainly not their observing of the Law for they had not had time for that. It was clearly their response of faith, just as in the case of Abraham.
‘He therefore who supplies to you the Spirit.’ The ‘He’ must mean God or Christ. The present tense indicates a continual supply. Paul is speaking of the continual supply and activity of the Spirit. The Lord continues daily to supply them with the continuing experience of His Holy Spirit, not necessarily in a way that can be felt, but certainly in a way that can be experienced and be effective in their lives. As they face each day they can drink continually of the Spirit, and know that out of their innermost being will flow rivers of living water (John 7.38-39).
(Some have seen ‘he’ as referring to Spirit-filled men - compare Acts 8.17; 19.6 - but this would not really affect the argument. However, it is very questionable whether Peter or anyone else would have described themselves as ‘supplying the Spirit’, and certainly not as supplying the Spirit continually. What they ‘did’ in those two examples was identify themselves with those to whom they had gone. It was God Himself Who sent the Spirit on them. What they did was something that was once for all not something that they could do for believers continually, But it was not actually they who did anything. It was God Who did it. The wind blows where it wills, and no man can say ‘here it comes’ or ‘there it goes’. So is every one who is born of the Spirit - John 3.7).
‘Works miracles (or powerful works) among you.’ Again he is speaking about a continual activity, which was apparently still occurring. The Greek means literally ‘powers’ but it regularly means ‘miracles’ wrought by the power of God in the New Testament. The period of the early church was one in which outward miracles abounded. This revealed that God was among them in power. But they appear to have happened spontaneously and immediately, not in the long drawn out way of many so-called healers today, and they are not generally cited as a reason why men should turn to God. Jesus had no confidence in those who believed because of miracles (John 2.23-25).
However it is probable that here inner miracles are also to be seen as being in mind, by translating as, ‘He works powerful works within you’. Consider how on Paul’s visit to them Luke speaks of them as being ‘filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 13.52) as evidence of His working. That was an inner miracle. And in 5.22-23 the fruit of the Spirit is declared to be the evidence of the Spirit’s working in the inner miracles of love, joy, peace, and so on. These are equally miraculous, indeed one may say more miraculous. So the miracles were both outward and inward.
‘Even as Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness.’ This is cited from Genesis 15.6. Abraham took God at His word and this pleased God and He responded accordingly. It made Abraham totally acceptable to Him as a ‘righteous’ man, one who looked to Him, depended on Him, and was ready to obey Him. This too, says Paul, is the basis on which Christians should approach Him.
The mention of Abraham is important. The Judaisers no doubt laid great stress on the fact that they were children of Abraham, and this comes out in their stress on circumcision. But here Abraham’s faith, and its resulting response from God, is seen to have come prior to him being circumcised. It was clearly therefore primary (Romans 3.10). Circumcision was not even thought of at the time. That was something that was added later for a totally different reason, as a seal of the later covenant, a seal now replaced by the ‘seal of the Spirit’ (2 Corinthians 1.22; Ephesians 1.13) and our participation in Christ’s crucifixion, through the bloodshedding of Christ.
3.7 ‘Know therefore that those who are of faith, those are the sons of Abraham.’
Thus the true sons of Abraham are those who like him exercise faith in the promises of God and are accounted righteous accordingly (John 8.39), and they then live accordingly. But the way that they live is the result of their salvation, not the cause of it. The cause of it is the work of the Spirit within through the gracious mercy and favour of God. They walk in faith, they walk in the Spirit. Compare also Matthew 3.9; Luke 3.8 where John the Baptiser says that those who claim to be sons of Abraham in the flesh are not superior to anyone else, simply because God is able to raise sons to Abraham from the very stones around them. Being a son of Abraham was nothing special. It was having the faith of Abraham that was special. Whatever claims the Judaisers made, then, they were not behaving like sons of Abraham, for they looked to themselves and their own works to establish their righteousness, rather than to God in faith, while Abraham did nothing except believe, and simply looked to God, and receive from Him whatever He wanted to give him.
3.8-9 ‘And the Scripture, foreseeing that by faith God accounts as righteous the Gentiles, preached the Gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “in you shall all the nations be blessed”. So then those who are of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.’
Furthermore the Scripture make crystal clear that the Gentiles will be accounted righteous by faith for it says that it is in Abraham, in believing Abraham, that all the nations will be blessed. So the blessing of God comes on all those who, like Abraham, believe. They then share Abraham’s blessing which was that he was accounted righteous because of his faithful response, which was his response in faith to the promises of God.
‘The Scripture, foreseeing -.’ Here we have a personalisation of Scripture, meaning, of course, God speaking through the Scriptures, thereby emphasising that the Scriptures are the word of God.
‘By faith.’ This is in an emphatic position in the sentence. It is central to what the Scripture foresaw.
‘Preached the Gospel beforehand to Abraham.’ The kernel of the Gospel was known throughout past ages, that man by faith should respond to God in trust and repentance (Genesis 15.6; Psalm 51.17; Isaiah 57.15) and thus be accepted as righteous in His sight.
‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.’ This was continually emphasised to Abraham at one time and another (Genesis 12.3; 18.18; 22.18; see also 26.4). It was always God’s final purpose that all the world would be blessed through Abraham and his seed. And it would come from God’s gracious working, not by a world working itself into a frenzy of activity. Thus would the Gentiles become ‘sons of Abraham’. Note that they will be blessed as nations, not by becoming Jews. Rather they would become one with many Jews as a consequence of believers from all the nations uniting in a new nation (1 Peter 2.9), by becoming part of God’s concept of the true Israel (Galatians 6.16). They are not required to come within the Jewish Law for this blessing, for that Law was given to the old Israel alone at a later time than Abraham (Galatians 3.17). But we must look to Abraham as our model. And he believed God’s word, and, because he believed it, it was reckoned to him for righteousness. So is the blessing of the nations connected with the righteousness which is by faith.
‘Those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.’ By paralleling Abraham in believing they will share his blessing. We translate this as ‘believing’ rather than as ‘faithful’ because that is the idea here. He was not so much blessed for his faithfulness as for his faith which produced that faithfulness (Genesis 15.6). Clearly true faith always produces faithfulness, which is why James can say, ‘faith, if it have not works, is dead in itself ’ (James 2.17). But the faith comes first. No one can be faithful without first believing. So by coming to God through the route of faith we are aligning ourselves with Abraham and receive the blessing promised through him, and this will result in our being faithful.
Thus the receiving of the Spirit is paralleled with Abraham’s ‘believing God’ and being accounted as righteous. Both experiences are in parallel.
The Law Can Only Condemn Us But We Have Been Redeemed from the Law (3.10-15).
Paul then points out the folly of trying to become acceptable to God by our own works.
3.10 ‘For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse, for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things that are written in the book of the Law, to do them”.’
Now, he says, let us now consider the Law. The first thing that the Law requires is total obedience. And as with the law in any country one failure of the Law means that a person becomes a lawbreaker (James 2.10). And in the case of the Jewish Law this is especially important because it puts them under a curse. “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things that are written in the book of the Law, to do them”. The quotation is from Deuteronomy 27.26 (compare Jeremiah 11.3) slightly amplified to bring out its meaning, while in the main keeping faithfully to the meaning of the original. So, as no one who strives to keep the Law can claim to have fulfilled it completely, every one of them who tries to keep God’s law is subject to God’s curse. This demonstrates that those who are now seeking to use ‘keeping the Law’, both the moral law and the ceremonial law, as their means of salvation, will find in it only the means of being cursed. And the more they dedicate themselves to keeping it the more they will be cursed, for the more they will fail.
Why then did God give the Law? It was not in order to be a means of achieving salvation. It was to act as a mirror in which we could look so that we could find out the truth about ourselves. It was in order to show us our sinfulness (Romans 7.10). It was to point Israel to the sacrifices, and to point us and the Galatians to the One Who was the one great sacrifice for sin for ever. ‘The Law is our tutor to bring us to Christ’ (Galatians 3.24). It was to make us aware of God’s total requirements. And that was all it could do. It shows us up for what we are, and then it leaves us stranded.
3.11-12 ‘Now that no man is reckoned as righteous by the Law in the sight of God is evident, for “The righteous shall live by faith”. And the Law is not of faith, but “He who does them shall live in them”.’
For not only does Scripture teach us that the Law brings us under a curse, so that no man is finally reckoned as righteous by the Law, which is the negative aspect of it, it also teaches us positively that ‘the righteous shall live by faith’ (Habakkuk 2.4). This is the positive side. Indeed the only ones who can be truly righteous are those who so live, for they rise above the Law as they look to God. They are not constantly pummelled by the Lord, (although He may pummel them some time), they rather let Him live through them. The Law looks at our lives and marks our failures, but God looks at our hearts and accepts our response of faith and trust. And then we daily live by faith, faith in the One Who loved us and gave Himself for us (2.20). But what if we become conscious of sin? Then as we admit them to Him the blood of Christ daily cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1.7). Are we conscious of weakness? Then we ask Jesus Himself to live through us. We yield the reins of our lives to Him.
In Habakkuk the verse signifies that the truly righteous will survive all that comes on them because of their faith in God. They will look to God to see them through, and as a result He will. This too is the Christian message. As Christ fills their sight, and fills their hearts, the Law will slip away ashamed. For it has been replaced by a Greater. And He will live though them and enable them to do what the Law with its curse could not do, live by confident trust in God.
‘And the Law is not of faith, but ‘he who does them shall live in them’. This is cited from Leviticus 18.5. There the point is made that man must keep all God’s laws and statutes. And if he achieves it then he will live in them, that is life will result from his actions. But as Paul has indicated (verse 10), no one does keep them all, and so no one in the end obtains life through them. The Law fails in that aim, and will continue to do so, because of the continual weakness of man.
But now comes the Good News of the Gospel. Of course, originally Leviticus was referring to those who had believed and had responded to the covenant through the shedding of blood. For them the Law was now a way of life following salvation, not a way of salvation. But it was later ages who had begun to see it as a way of salvation. And they had begun to believe that somehow as they strove to keep the law it would give them life. But it did not. Nor would it ever do so. Faith in Christ must come first, and then He will begin to fulfil the Law through us.
3.13 ‘Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us. For it is written, “Cursed is every one who hangs on a tree”.’
And now Paul gets to the essence of the salvation provided in Jesus Christ. It comes about by Christ taking our place in order to set us free. It is by Christ acting in power to redeem us because of what He has done for us. By His very dying on the cross Christ has revealed Himself as bearing a curse. Deuteronomy 21.23 refers to those who hung on a tree, which was the fate of criminals, but the Jews of Jesus’ day also applied the idea to anyone who was crucified. To be crucified was clearly evidence that they had come under the curse of God. (That is why later they referred to Jesus derisively as ‘the hanged one’). The Jews, and no doubt Paul himself in earlier persecuting days, made much of the fact that Jesus died on a cross and had thus come under a curse.
But Paul now seizes on the fact and makes it something glorious. This curse, he points out, did not arise from His own deserts. Rather it arose because He went to the cross to take our curse upon Himself. Through His death on the cross He has ‘redeemed us’, bought us out from under the curse by the sacrifice of Himself. He became our substitute, taking our place. He acted as our representative, going there on our behalf. He went as the One Who represented us to die on our behalf and in our stead. And because He died we can live, for the curse of the Law has been removed from us and has been borne by Himself. As Paul says elsewhere, ‘He who knew no sin, He made to be sin for us’ (2 Corinthians 5.21).
Some do not like the idea of substitution but it is written plainly here (and in Mark 10.45). And it is unavoidable. Not as sometimes put crudely by some, but certainly as a reality. For we have sinned, and He the sinless One has suffered for sin in our place, and we are redeemed precisely because He took our place. On the one hand He was our representative, going there for us, and on the other He was our substitute, taking our place.
‘Christ has redeemed us.’ That is, He ‘has given Himself for us that He might redeem us from all iniquity’ (Titus 2.14). Redemption in Scripture always results either from the expenditure of special costly effort or from the payment of a ransom. In this case Christ has done both. He has given Himself as a ransom ‘instead of’ (anti) us (Mark 10.45), redeeming us through His blood (Ephesians 1.7; Colossians 1.14; Hebrews 9.12, 15; 1 Peter 1.18-19), and He has exercised His power at great cost in defeating the forces that are against us, triumphing over them in the cross (Colossians 2.15) and bearing our sin as He became a sacrifice for sin. He has taken what is on record against us and has nailed it to His cross, evidence that it has been paid. Indeed He has blotted out the Law (the handwriting of ordinances) which condemned us (Colossians 2.14).
The clear result is then that we are no longer under the Law’s jurisdiction. Neither Jew nor Gentile who is in Christ is any more responsible to struggle to keep the ordinances of the Law. For they have been crucified with Christ. They are therefore set free to live to God by the power of the indwelling Christ (2.20), using that Law as a guide and not as a judge. It is no longer a fearful condemning finger, but a guide book to life (as it was originally meant to be).
3.14 ‘That on the Gentiles might come the blessing of Abraham in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.’
And the purpose of His being made a curse for us was so that through faith we might be accounted as righteous, receiving the blessing of the Spirit. For we can only receive the Spirit because of what He has done for us. Paul here links the blessing of Abraham, which will come on all nations (Genesis 12.3) with the giving of the Holy Spirit. He is linking Abraham’s responsive faith, which resulted in him being seen as righteous, and in his willingness to sacrifice his own son, receiving him back as it were from the dead (Genesis 22.18), with the giving of the promised Holy Spirit. For the Holy Spirit was to be poured out on the people of God in so far as they looked to Abraham as their father and walked in the same way as he did, by true faith in God (Isaiah 44.1-5 with 41.8; 51.1-3). The Holy Spirit was to be poured out on ‘all flesh’, that is on all kinds of people, not only on the people of Israel, but on servants and handmaids as well (Joel 2.28-29), and the One on Whom is the Spirit is the One Who will bring forth justice to the Gentiles as well as to Israel (Isaiah 42.1).
Thus it is through His death on the cross that the promised Holy Spirit can come, coming to those who respond in faith. For the new birth of the Spirit (John 3.5) is linked with the lifting up on the cross (John 3.14), through which those who believe receive eternal life.
The Blessing of Abraham Precedes the Law (3.15-18).
3.15 ‘Brothers, I speak after the manner of men. Though it is but a man’s covenant, yet when it has been confirmed no one makes it void or adds to it.’
Paul looks first at the general idea of covenant ‘from men’s point of view’. Let them consider their day by day ‘covenants’ and ‘contracts’. Once a solemn covenant or contract is confirmed it is irrevocable. It cannot be added to, and no one can cancel it. That is the basic purpose of a covenant. It is permanent and fixed. It would often be confirmed by the shedding of blood as a sign that death was to come on the one who broke its terms.
(In practise this obedience to a covenant did not, of course, always happen, but that was in spite of what a covenant was, not because of it. That was because men are shifting and dishonourable. But, like the marriage covenant, its basic idea was irrevocability.
However, we may alternately see Paul here as referring to that special form of covenant which takes the form of a Will or an irrevocable settlement of property, for this kind of covenant, which is made sovereignly by one person, provides an ‘inheritance’ (verse 18) and is firmly linked with ‘the heir’. In Greek law once such a covenant was confirmed and registered with the authorities (in order to be valid it had to be registered with the authorities) no one could make it void or add to it. It was unalterable. Here there was no mediator. It was the act of one and one only, and he too was permanently bound by it.
(While in Old Testament terms ‘diatheke’ means ‘covenant’ its use among the Greeks was of irrevocable ‘wills and settlements’, and here he was speaking ‘after the manner of men’. It was Roman law that allowed wills to be kept secret and alterable to suit the testator).
Paul now applies this fact to the Old Testament. Once an irrevocable covenant has been made, he points out, it cannot be set aside. This means that the covenant promises made to Abraham cannot be set aside by the later giving of the Law when Abraham was no longer alive to accept it. God is unchanging and will not alter His covenant. And as it is made by Him and Him alone it is irrevocable.
3.16 ‘Now to Abraham were the promises spoken, and to his seed. He does not say ‘and to seeds’, as of many, but as of one, ‘And to your seed’, which is Christ.’
Notice also, he says, that the covenant is made with Abraham and ‘his seed’ (Genesis 12.7; 13.15; 24.7). Then he reminds them that the word for ‘seed’ is a singular collective noun, and can mean one (e.g. Genesis 4.25) or many, but even when referring to the many it means the many seen as one. We can see from this, therefore, that God deliberately avoided a word that could be used in the plural and chose a collective noun (that is what Paul was saying by his seemingly inaccurate grammar). And that was because in this case, while God had a collective seed in mind, He also had a final single seed in mind. He had in mind the Messiah (Christ) as ‘the seed of Abraham’ who would bring blessing to the world.
This argument is not quite as unreasonable as some have suggested. To Paul the whole human race could be summed up in one man (Romans 5.19). In the same way, he suggests, Abraham would also think of his descendants as one seed. Thus the ‘children of Israel’ called themselves ‘Israel’ because they were the seed of ‘Israel’ (i.e. of Jacob - in theory if not in fact).
Actually, humanly (but not grammatically) speaking, there were ‘seeds’ because Isaac alone became the bearer of the covenant seed (Genesis 17.19), while the seed of Ishmael, (while included later in a wider covenant), was excluded. So what a collective noun means is the summing up of everything in one example, and as we see this could be narrowed down. For regularly one man could represent the whole. Thus when David fought against Goliath as Israel’s champion it was not just he who fought, it was as though the whole of Israel fought with him. And when Goliath was beaten the Philistines recognised that in their champion’s defeat they too had been beaten, and they fled. The many were summed up in the one, and this was how the participants actually saw it. Isaiah uses this idea with regard to the Servant. The Servant was initially Abraham (Isaiah 41.1-8), and then the seed of Abraham (41.8 and regularly), and then because of the unfaithfulness of the whole the faithful of the seed of Abraham, his true seed (Isaiah 49.3), who was to ‘raise up the tribes of Jacob’ (49.1-6), and finally it was the One Who was par excellence the seed of Abraham, the One Who gave Himself for the sins of His sheep (Isaiah 53). The one became the many, and then became the One, all incorporated in the one seed, the seed of Abraham.
So Paul saw Jesus Christ as the fulfilment of all that Israel was called to do. He was God’s Champion, God’s seed. The children of Israel were one seed, but they failed. However, from that one seed would come one man, God’s Messiah, and through Him, and through those of the seed who would follow Him, would go God’s blessing to the nations. In ancient thinking one man could represent a nation, and a nation could be represented in one man. That is what Paul is saying here.
And again in Daniel 7 Israel is like ‘a son of man’ in comparison with the four wild beasts. It is ‘human’ rather than being ‘beastly’. But this ‘son of man’ also comes before God to receive his kingdom in a way which clearly represents one who stands for the many (verses 13-14). Their representative and king receives the kingdom (Daniel 7.13-14), and in him they receive it too (7.27). This sums up Paul’s argument as well. It is misrepresenting it to say that it is just playing with grammar.
Comparison may be made with the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent in Genesis 3.15. The seed of the woman certainly represented mankind and the seed of the serpent the snakes that would be the curse of mankind. But behind the serpent lay a deadlier, mysterious foe. And he too, far more importantly, would be defeated by the seed of the woman, and we could add like Paul, ‘and that seed was Christ’. Indeed the defeat of that Serpent by Christ is one of the themes of the Book of Revelation.
So what Paul is signifying here is that it in the end it is to the one seed of Abraham that the promises were given, the One Seed Who represented the collective seed and in Whom they were summed up, just as the Servant is the One Man and is yet the many (Acts 13.47, for example, represents Christian preachers as the Servant). This included both past seed (Romans 3.25) and future seed. It is all summed up in Christ. For Paul certainly intends us to see that the promises of Abraham include the church of Christ as well as Christ Himself, although received through the One (compare 3.29 where he says so). That is the whole purpose of his argument.
Note that the whole argument also assumes that the church is now the seed of Abraham, the true ‘Israel of God’.
3.17 ‘Now this I say. A covenant confirmed beforehand by God, the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years after cannot disannul, so as to make the promise of no effect.’
To put it another way. God, in His unmerited love and favour, gave the inheritance to Abraham and his seed by irrevocable promise. He promised that through them all the nations would be blessed. This was confirmed by God (repeatedly) and, as it were, put on record by Him. The Law came four hundred and thirty years afterwards (see Exodus 12.40 in the Greek Old Testament, the Septuagint). It cannot therefore set aside this irrevocable promise made to Abraham, for such a covenant is irrevocable. And the promise was established long before the Law was given, so its fulfilment cannot depend on fulfilling the Law, for the Law was another, later, covenant made in another context with another man, who also represented a whole, the whole of Israel.
Indeed Moses himself differentiated the two covenants in Deuteronomy 5.3. For he said, ‘Yahweh did not make this covenant (of the ten words at Sinai) with our fathers but with us, even us who are all of us here alive this day’. The covenant of Abraham had reference to the whole world. The covenant of Sinai had reference to the people gathered at the Mount and their seed. It was therefore more exclusive, and not so all-embracing.
3.18 ‘For if the inheritance is of the Law, it is no more of promise. But God has granted it to Abraham by promise.’
The later inheritance, to be obtained by fulfilment of the Law, was dependent on fulfilling the Law. If that fulfilment failed the promise failed. But the promise to Abraham was given a long time before the Law ever existed, and at the time when it was given, it was not dependent on anything but the faithfulness of God. It was a free unfettered promise, and it included the nations of the world. Thus it has nothing to do with the Law, and can be enjoyed without recourse to the Law. It preceded the Law and transcends the Law.
What Then Was the Purpose of the Law? (3.19-24).
He now raises the question as to what the purpose of the Law is.
3.19-20 ‘What then is the Law? It was added because of transgressions until the seed should come to whom the promise has been made, ordained through angels by the hand of a mediator. Now a mediator is not of one, but God is one.’
What was then the nature of the Law? It was a temporary measure, put in place to control sin until the promised Seed should come, who would bring God’s promised blessing to the world. Indeed it must be seen as inferior because intermediaries were involved. The Law came through angels (this is what the Judaisers taught), to Moses and the people, whereas Abraham received his promise directly from the one God. So the latter is a pure, irrevocable promise from God, while the former is a transaction carried out through intermediaries, which demonstrates its inferiority.
‘What then is the Law?’ That is, what is its nature and purpose?
‘It was added because of transgressions.’ There were of course customs and traditions that determined the behaviour of members of the tribe in the days of the patriarchs. But God had decided that because of man’s weakness and failure, and because of his disobedience and rebellion, and in order that He and they might have a standard by which men could be judged, and in order to give guidance to judges in that judgment, this had to be put into legal form as a direct command from God. This then removed any argument and gave the laws absolute authority.
For whereas in a family tribal situation (as in a family) the patriarch represented absolute authority, and could be appealed to personally, and could give his guidance personally, in a nation composed of a number of tribes (which also included a large number of foreign components - Exodus 12.38) it was different. This absolute authority had to be established by other means. Thus the Law was given, laying out and declaring how men should behave, and providing a standard against which they could be judged, so as to control transgression and reveal it for what it was.
So the Law had a number of effects because of what men were, and ‘because of transgressions’ can be seen from these different aspects.
‘Until the seed should come to whom the promise was made.’ But these stipulations only applied until the One Who was promised came, the One Who would bear the curse on Himself (3.13). They were temporary until a greater Authority arrived. One Who could say, ‘But I say to you’ (Matthew 5.22, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44) and introduce a better Torah (‘Instruction’), a better Law. Then they would cease to apply. For now those who believed in Him would no longer be guilty before God. And they would have an Example to follow. And what was more they would have One Who lived within them. They would not longer need the Law.
‘Ordained by angels through the hand of a mediator.’ The Jews believed that the Law was mediated through angels (Hebrews 2.2; Acts 7.53). While God Himself declared the covenant which included the ten commandments (Exodus 20.1-17), the whole Law was seen as mediated through angels. These were seen as having acted as the mediator between God and men. Now, says Paul, where there is a mediator a covenant is transacted by three parties, the two participants and the mediator. But the promise to Abraham was not mediated in this way, nor did he have any direct part in it. It came directly from God. Thus it was more immediate.
‘Now a mediator is not of one, but God is One.’ Where there is a mediator to a covenant more than one party must be involved. That is why mediation takes place. Thus there are three parties connected with such a covenant, any one of whom may seek to introduce changes. And this indeed was what the Rabbis did (although they did not see it in that way) as they expounded the Law and laid down their differing determinations of its meaning. They were acting as mediators. That was true also of the covenant of Sinai and the giving of the Law. They were mediated through angels. But in the case of the promises to Abraham there was no mediator. It was like a will, or an irrevocable settlement. God said, and it was done. Only God was involved, and God is One. So that covenant with Abraham was a purely divine transaction, totally unalterable and irrevocable, and thus far superior to any other. For God is the unchanging God (Malachi 3.6), the One in Whom is no variableness, nor shadow resulting from His moving His position (James 1.17). He does not alter in what He has promised.
3.21 ‘Is the Law then against the promises of God? God forbid. For if there had been a Law given which could make alive, truly righteousness would have been of the Law.’
Is the Law then in opposition to the promises of God? Not at all. No one will pay more reverence to the Law than Paul. There is no fault with it. It reveals sin. It is holy (Romans 7.7-12). Indeed had it been possible to give a Law that could give life, that is how righteousness would have been provided for us. But the trouble is that we are too sinful (Romans 7.14). All that the Law can do is mediate death to us, for, try as we might, we cannot keep the Law. Its final act, then, is to reveal to us our sinfulness and condemn us. It is not, however, the Law that is at fault, but us. Thus it fails as an instrument of salvation, not because of its weakness, but because of our weakness.
3.22 ‘But the Scripture has shut up (concluded) all things under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.’
Indeed the Scripture declares that through the Law’s teaching, and through ‘the Law written in the heart’ (the conscience - Romans 2.14-16), the whole world, indeed the whole of creation (Romans 8.20-22), is imprisoned by sin (Romans 3.10-23). It is shut up in darkness. It stands condemned. And this was so that what was promised, which is given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given, not to those who keep the Law, but to those who believe in Him and receive the promise. That is, it is given to those who receive the promised Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1.13; Acts 1.4; 2.33) and the promise of salvation through Christ (Acts 13.23, 32; 26.6; Romans 1.1-2; 2 Timothy 1.1; 2 Peter 1.4). They come from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God (Acts 26.18).
Old Testament passages that demonstrate that man is utterly sinful and ‘imprisoned’ by sin are abundant. See for example Psalm 130.3; 143.2; Jeremiah 17.9; Isaiah 1.5-6 compare Psalm 142.7; Isaiah 61.1 Isaiah 42.7; Zechariah 9.11-12). And that is why in the end One had to come Who was without sin, so that He could bear the sin of the guilty (Isaiah 52.13-53.12).
3.23-25 ‘But before faith came we were kept in ward (kept under restraint) under the Law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed, so that the Law has been our custodian to bring us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come we are no longer under a custodian.’
Before this faith came then, we were kept in restriction under the Law, held under restraint like young children, until the way of faith should be revealed. The Law was like a pedagogue, a slave custodian, given responsibility to watch over a child’s conduct, discipline him and take him to and from school and generally watch over him. But he could not make him do what he ought to do. And he was often someone from whom the child longed to escape.
But now things have changed for the faith has been revealed, and the Law as our moral tutor and disciplinarian has brought us to Christ so that we could be reckoned as righteous by faith. And now his task is finished. For having come to Christ we no longer require a moral custodian, for He is now our all and we are complete in Him (Colossians 2.10).
Note the continued reference to ‘faith’ or ‘the faith’. The latter is the message of the Gospel, the former the response to that message. It is not always clear which idea is prominent, but the two always tie in together.
‘Kept under restraint.’ In verse 22 it is sin that keeps us under restraint, here it is the Law. But this is because sin receives its power from the Law (1 Corinthians 15.56; Romans 7.13).
‘But now that faith has come we are no longer under a custodian.’ This does not indicate a new dispensation. It rather reverts back to the time of Abraham. The Law was a temporary measure for Israel, which did not apply before the time of Moses, and which now no longer continues to apply in its judicial form, although still valid as an example. Now that Christ has come man can go back to the way of faith. The schoolmaster is no longer required for it has been replaced by the Master. As Abraham could look to God, Christians can look to Christ and be declared righteous by faith. The Law’s main function has ceased. It has been replaced in the crucified One in Whom the Christian lives, in Whom he is declared righteous, and through Whose power and example he now walks before God.
3.26 ‘For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.’
For having responded to Christ we are accepted as righteous in God’s sight and are thus adopted as full grown sons, sons who have reached maturity, a sonship received ‘in Christ Jesus’, through faith. This will be expanded on shortly (4.4-7). We are thus free from all restraint except the restraint of sonship. We are no longer children subjected to rules and regulations, but like Abraham full grown sons who respond to the Father, because we are ‘in Christ’ and through faith have become one with Him. We no longer need restraints. As grown up sons we want to please our Father.
3.27 ‘For as many of you as have been baptised into Christ, have put on (‘clothed themselves with’) Christ.’
The whole context forbids us as seeing this as suggesting that baptism mechanically results in ‘putting on Christ’. It demands that this means ‘you have responded in faith (that is what the passage is all about) and that is why you have been baptised, and have put on Christ.’ At that time those who responded to the message of the cross were immediately baptised, separating them off from the unbaptised world, and signalling their reception of the Holy Spirit. Their baptism was the sign of their response of faith in a heathen world, and revealed that they had died with Christ and had risen with Him to walk in newness of life (Romans 6.4). At the same time they were ‘incorporated by an overwhelming experience (baptizo) in the Spirit into the body of Christ’ (1 Corinthians 12.13). Thus Christ now dwells within them (2.20) and they have ‘clothed themselves’ (enduo) with Christ.
3.28 ‘There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither bond nor free, there can be no male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’
And as all who are His are ‘sons of God’ there can be no difference between them. Being a Jew or a Gentile (thought of by Jews as ‘dogs’) has been done away in Christ, a full answer to the Judaisers. The Gentile does not have to become a Jew because in Christ he stands in an equal position of acceptability before God without doing so. (But he does become a member of the new Israel, the Israel of God (6.16) which incorporates both Jews and Gentiles. That is the central message of Ephesians 2.11-22. ‘Jew’ does not equal ‘Israel’, it is Jewish distinctiveness that is in mind here). Furthermore being bond-slaves or free makes no difference for they are now brothers (Philemon 1.16), of equal standing before God and in each others eyes. Many saw slaves as mere chattels, not as persons (Aristotle called them ‘animated tools’), but Christ has changed all that for in Christ they are brothers. Even the distinction between male and female has been done away. No longer should the male arrogantly lord it over the female. They should recognise their equal worth before God. For ‘in Christ’ all are equal, of equal honour and of equal standing. For they are all ‘sons of God’ and united as one in Him. This relates, of course, to their standing and status before God, not to their inter-relationships within the world.
In the Christian world the difference between Jew and Gentile ceased because every individual became of equal worth. In Christ such distinctions cease. So the Law no longer affects them. Master and slave becomes a relationship between two brothers, a revolutionary concept, even though one still legally had rights over the other. And the female gains a position of equality with the male. This latter was especially important in view of the low opinion of women held by many, especially by the Pharisees, who would pray, ‘I thank God you have not made me a woman’, but they were not alone in their opinion.
But while this will affect the behaviour between these different functionaries in society it is not describing how that behaviour will be conducted. Many slaves of benevolent Christian masters would not want to be freed. There were worse things than slavery under a benevolent master. And women were still to recognise the ‘lordship’ of their husbands (Ephesians 5.22-33), and be ‘in subjection’ to them. There were still masters and servants. But in Christ they were all of equal value.
3.29 ‘And if you are Christ’s then you are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise.’
The idea of being ‘clothed with Christ’ and indwelt by Christ is now connected back with the promise given to Abraham (3.7-8, 16) and connected forward with the reception of the promised Holy Spirit (4.6-7). Once a person is ‘in Christ’, and Christ is in him, he is a child of Abraham and inherits the promise of blessing. He becomes the heir of Abraham’s blessing. Christians become ‘the seed of Abraham’ towards whom all the promises were made. They become the true Israel.
And it is Christians and they alone who do so. The corollary is that those who are not in Christ are not children of Abraham. Thus do we see the significance of the single seed (3.16). In the final analysis the seed of Abraham comprises Christ and all those redeemed in Christ, whether of the Old Testament faithful or of the New. The church is the new Israel, the ‘Israel of God’ (6.16; Romans 2.28-29; 11.17; Ephesians 2.19-20), replacing the old who had disqualified themselves by refusing to enter into the blessing (although they are still welcome if they will return through Christ).
If We Are His We Are Now All Full Sons of God (4.1-7).
Now he comes to the very heart of the matter, and that is that in Jesus Christ, all who are His now become full grown, adult, children of God.
4.1-2 ‘But I say that as long as the heir is a child he does not differ in any way from a bondservant, even though he may be lord of all, but is under guardians and stewards until the term appointed by the father.’
The thought of our being heirs of God now leads on to a further illustration. The idea of the irrevocable settlement continues and now considers the beneficiary, the one who receives the benefit. If he is still a child then he is subject to ‘guardians and stewards’, the guardians to deal with his affairs and make major decisions, the stewards, probably slaves, to see to day to day supervision. These people were entrusted with his welfare and upbringing and had considerable power over him. He may ‘own’ everything but he was totally subject to them. What such children could do was fairly restricted and they were subject to obedience. Indeed they had no more rights than slaves, even if they were destined to inherit what had been settled on them.
It may well be that Paul is thinking of the case where the father has died and the young heir has inherited. But the result is little different. The principle is the same. The children may be rich. But they still have to obey their guardians and stewards.
This is like those who are under the Law. They also have no freedom. They are bound by rules and regulations. The Law is their custodian. But the thought probably goes beyond the Law to all restraints by which people are restricted (guardians and stewards is in the plural). It refers to anything that acts as a restraint on man.
‘Until the time appointed by the father.’ It was the father who determined finally when the child became accepted as an adult, and was thus freed from this supervision and restraint. He could name the time in the covenant settlement. This links with 4.4, ‘the fullness of the time’.
4.3 ‘So we also, when we were children, were held in bondage under the rudiments (elements) of the world.’
All men are under some restraint, whether through the Law, or tradition, or their own laws, or regulations and rules, or the principles by which their society is governed, or by philosophical ideas, or even in their own minds by their belief in invisible forces and influences over which they have no control, mediums, fortune-tellers, astrologers, fate, and so on. Thus they are like children kept under by forces outside their control, and are in bondage.
‘Rudiments, elements (stoicheion).’ This refers to elements of learning, fundamental principles, basic religious ideas and even the spoken alphabet. It could also refer to the elemental spirits such as fire, air, earth and water, and to the heavenly bodies as having influence on the world. But the former would seem to be more in mind here, for it includes the subjection to the observance of days and months and seasons and years (verse 10). Paul may, however, have intended to include all influences and restraints on men, whatever they were.
Thus man is under all kinds of ‘laws’. This reminds us that, while when Paul is speaking of the Law he has the Jewish Law firmly in mind, he also includes, in the background, whatever laws may control men. It is just as true of religious ‘laws’ today as it ever was.
4.4-5 ‘But when the fullness of the time came God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.’
But the God Who made the covenant, when the time allotted had fully run its course, sent forth His Own Son. He became truly human (born of a woman), and restricted Himself under the Law, satisfying its requirements to the full. And His purpose in coming was to deliver men and women from under the Law which imprisoned them and kept them under restraint, so that they might be adopted as full grown sons, free from all restraints.
Only those who have felt the burden and oppression of a Law they strive to fulfil and cannot, who have felt themselves overwhelmed by forces that they felt were dragging them down and restricting them, who have seen themselves under the inexorable control of fate, or have felt themselves controlled by heavenly influences such as the zodiac, can fully appreciate the freedom that was now on offer. All restrictions would be removed and they would be responsible only to God and influenced only by God. They could throw off all restraints except the direct restraint of the Father. The burden of the ages could fall from their shoulders.
‘The fullness of the time came.’ This was no accident of chance but chosen by God from the beginning. The promise that was made to Abraham was fulfilled in the time appointed. Thus is expressed the total sovereignty of God over all things. It was neither before nor after God’s allotted time.
‘God sent forth His Son.’ Notice the implication that He was there to be sent. He was pre-existent with the Father ‘in the beginning’ (John 1.1). And God sent Him forth to be, and to live as, a human being in this world under restraint. What a price was this. He laid aside His Godhead and became a servant, He humbled Himself by becoming man, and it was for us (Philippians 2.6-8). For God ‘spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us all’ that He might ‘freely give us all things’ (Romans 8.32).
‘Born of a woman.’ His humanity was genuine. He endured genuine human birth. There may even be a hint here of the virgin birth (he could have said ‘begotten by man’ or ‘born of human parents’).
‘Born under the Law.’ From birth He was subject to all the stipulations of the Law, both ceremonial and moral, and to all the other restrictions that affect mankind. Even the stricter Pharisees could find nothing to point the finger at in His life and behaviour except in points where He soon revealed them to be wrong. And He perfectly fulfilled all that the Law required, for only so could He be the Redeemer. He ‘knew no sin’ (2 Corinthians 5.21). He ‘did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth’ (1 Peter 2.22). He was ‘tempted in all points like we are and yet without sin’ (Hebrews 4.15).
‘That He might redeem those who were under the Law.’ And His purpose in coming was in order to ‘redeem’. His deliverance is regularly seen in terms of redemption, of ransom (Mark 10.45), of the payment of a price (1 Peter 1.18), but includes also the thought of redemption by power (Titus 2.14). Here the thought is of being released from the bondage of the Law and 3.13 demonstrates that substitution is involved, the taking by One of what should be borne by another. However it must not be seen just in terms of a straight swap. The substitute also summed up in Himself the ones substituted. The Creator was dying for His creation.
Redemption is an Old Testament concept. God redeemingly delivers by the expenditure of His power, depicted in terms of being at great expense to Himself or with great power (Genesis 48.16 with 32.24-30; Exodus 6.6; Deuteronomy 7.8; 9.26; 15.15; 2 Samuel 7.23; Nehemiah 1.10; etc.) Something can also be redeemed by being replaced by a substitute (Exodus 13.13-15; 34.20) or by the payment of a price (Exodus 21.8; Leviticus 25.25-26, 29-31, 48-49; 27.13-33; Numbers 3.46-49; 18.15-16; Ruth 4.4-7; Nehemiah 5.8), and some sacrifices also contain this idea.
Often when God ‘redeems’, a regular Old Testament concept, no price is mentioned, but there is always some kind of price to be paid because God must exert Himself on their behalf. In one case the idea of price is specifically excluded (Isaiah 52.3), although the idea then is rather of being without price to the recipients. It does, however, confirm the general principle that it usually involves a price. So here the main thought is of His active intervention in power, seen against the above background of a price for redemption. It is God active in getting back what is ‘lost’ to Him by the exercise of power. But the term itself assumes a cost.
So the overall idea of redemption is of the deliverance of something or someone who is lost to the redeemer, or is enslaved, or is doomed to die, either by the exercise of power, by God giving of Himself, or by the payment of a price, or by providing a substitute.
In the New Testament era the redemption of slaves by the payment of a price was common and this idea is regularly used in the New Testament while also having the above background in mind. We are redeemed, not with silver and gold, with something more valuable, by the precious blood of Christ (1 Peter 1.18-19; Ephesians 1.7; Colossians 1.14; Hebrews 9.12, 15). We have been bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6.20; 7.23. 2 Peter 2.1). As here in Galatians the death of Christ was necessary for our redemption (compare Mark 10.45 - the ‘ransom for many’). But that that redemption includes the exercise of the power of God is clear from Titus 2.14, and the close connection of the reception of the Holy Spirit with redemption is patent (Galatians 3.13-14), while I Peter 1.18 is also found in the midst of such ideas. There is no thought of redemption without genuine deliverance.
‘That we might receive the adoption as sons.’ The heirs are now to become fully grown sons. The purpose in His coming was to deliver us from the restrictions of religion and the world as we become adopted by God as His full grown sons, and thus are no longer under the Law or any other restraint, other than that of the Father Himself in Christ. But we become responsible sons. And that is why we will do what we should. We do it now because of what we are. We would disdain doing anything else.
It is elsewhere made clear that this is not an invitation to licence. It does not free us from our obligations to the world and to society. For as His grown up sons we are responsible to the Father of all things. But as Paul says, it is so that Christ might live out His life in us. So what it does mean is that from now on our response to these things is made as a response to the Father. We fulfil them gladly because we do it for Him. And we treasure the Law as something which shows us how we can please Him. In the words of the Psalmist, ‘O how I love your Law (Instruction)’ (Psalm 119.97).
‘Adoption as sons.’ This indicates the action whereby a child is established as a grown up son able to handle his own affairs. He comes of age.
4.6-7 ‘And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying “Abba, Father”, so that you are no longer a bondservant but a son, and if a son then an heir through God.”
Having adopted us as sons God has ‘sent forth the Spirit of His Son’ into our hearts. We receive the Spirit of sonship. Previously He sent forth His Son to redeem us, now He sends forth His Spirit to institute and guarantee our sonship. And we note that it was God Who sent them forth causing us to look to the Father, and say ‘abba, Father’. Thus the whole of the Trinity is involved in our salvation.
The result of the Spirit’s work, as we are born of God, and sealed by the Holy Spirit, is that our hearts are filled with certainty (although there may be occasional doubts with some) and we gladly and wholeheartedly cry “Abba, Father”. ‘Abba’ is the Aramaic word meaning father which is used fondly by a son to address his father. It is a close and intimate term, and Paul perhaps felt that it was the only term in his experience which could quite express what he wanted to say. But while being intimate, in those days it also had to be said with deference by a full grown son, even to an earthly father.
(It must be an occasion of gratitude to us that we can so address Him, but never an occasion for over-familiarity. For He is the high and lofty One, Who inhabits eternity, Whose Name is holy).
Or perhaps Paul had in mind, and knew that his readers knew it too, that this was how Jesus Christ Himself had addressed His Father when in the deepest distress (Mark 14.36). Thus he may be saying, ‘When the Spirit of His Son enters your heart He will pray through you with the same intimacy as Jesus had.’
And because we have received the Spirit of His Son, through Whom Christ indwells our hearts (2.20), our lives will reveal the fruit of our sonship (5.22), for we will not respond to the flesh, which was under the Law, but to our new life in the Spirit. We will see following the flesh as for babies. As true sons of God we will want only to follow the Spirit.
Paul spoke similarly to the Romans when he said, ‘For you did not receive the spirit of bondage, again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption whereby we cry “Abba, Father” (Romans 8.15). Here too there is freedom from the bondage of the Law, a bondage which produced fear because the Law was broken and could only condemn. And there is also the freedom of adoption as sons of the Father, all fear having been removed because we have been redeemed from the curse of the Law. And he adds, ‘The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8.16). So those who are His have the witness within, the witness of the Spirit, and thus are aware that they are ‘heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ’, ready to endure with Him, inheriting first the suffering that comes from being those who obey God, and finally the glorification that follows (8.17).
‘You are each no longer a bondservant but a son.’ The appeal is now in the singular, speaking to each individual. Verse 1 had said that the heir did not differ from a bondservant. He was treated like a bondservant even if he was the heir. Thus now Paul declares we are no longer in that state because we are sons. We have grown up and been declared adult. Therefore we should behave as sons. We should no longer allow ourselves to be in bondage to anything which is claimed to be ‘necessary for salvation’. Rather should we allow Christ to live out His life through us, following His example in all things.
‘And if a son then an heir through God.’ And if we are in Him we are not only a son but an heir, an heir of the promises made to Abraham, an heir of all God’s promises for the future, a co-heir with Jesus Christ of the glory that is to come. And as always with an heir the benefit is not earned but is a gift of free grace.
‘Through God.’ So then he cautions them to remember that this is not because of their self-worth or deserving, it is ‘through God’. They owe it all to Him and are therefore totally indebted to Him.
Is It Not then Foolish to Try to Turn Back to their Former State? (4.8-11).
Granted then that we have received these great privileges from God, would it not be foolish to revert back to being a child under the control of tutors?
4.8-10 ‘But at that time, not knowing God, you were in bondage to those who by nature were no gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known of God, how do you turn back again to the weak and beggarly rudiments to which you to be in bondage over again? You observe days, and months, and seasons and years.’
Paul now looks back to their state before they were converted. They had not known God. They had not heeded the voices that spoke through nature. They had not perceived His eternal power and Godhead (Romans 1.20). They had therefore put themselves in bondage to false gods, who were not really of the nature of God, gods made in the image of earthly things. They had allowed themselves to be subject to weak and beggarly ideas, bound up in corrupt religious requirements, in vain ceremonies and in false philosophies and ideas which had to be fulfilled to ‘attain salvation’. But then they had come to know God. They had been set free from such things! And yet now, without realising it, they were turning back to similar ideas as those they had held before, and from which they had been released. For the requirements of the Judaisers can be seen as no more sophisticated and genuine in their effect than their old ideas. Previously they had been in bondage to the elements of the world, now they were thinking of entering under the bondage of the Law. They were simply exchanging one bondage from another, while all the time God was offering them full freedom in Christ.
‘Now you have come to know God, or rather to be known of God.’ They had ‘come to know God’, but Paul does not want them to be proud of their new ‘knowledge of God’. Indeed they have shown that they know God very little because of what they have done. But he is confident that what is certainly true is that God has ‘known’ them (compare Genesis 18.19). He has chosen them in His eternal purposes (Ephesians 1.4), and has, as it were, reached down and drawn them to Himself (John 6.44). How then can they return to something less personal and less powerful? Being ‘known by God’ they do not have to involve themselves in activities which involve a search for Him, or try to appease Him. They can walk into His inner sanctum and say ‘abba, Father’. They can know Him and walk with Him in the way and be His sons, and He will be their Father. Lesser things have therefore been done away.
‘How do you turn back to weak and beggarly rudiments.’ Here Paul equates their old ideas and their old religions with the Judaising tendencies. They were all but one and the same thing. Yet they even now they are foolishly attempting to reach God by ceremonial activity, by rites, by observances, all of which have previously proved in vain. How foolish men are. They simply behave like little children.
4.11 ‘I am afraid of you lest by any means I have bestowed labour on you in vain.’
Having up to this moment shown them that he still sees them as true children of God he now expresses a doubt. Their behaviour makes him wonder whether they really can have known God, for if they had really known God it seems impossible that they could be so foolish and lacking in understanding. It makes him feel that all his efforts for them may have been in vain. It is a doubt intended to make them pause and think. It should make us all pause and think. Are there any of us who once enjoyed freedom in Christ but have now become bogged down in ‘do this, do that’, and are requiring others to do the same?
‘Lest somehow.’ He cannot believe that it is possible, for he knew that the Spirit had been at work, but their folly is giving him real doubts.
Paul Now Reveals His Concern and Longing for Them (4.12-20).
Paul now pleads with them from the heart. He cannot bear to think what they are losing by their foolishness.
4.12a ‘I plead with you, brothers, be as I, for I as you.’
We could possibly translate ‘I am as you were.’ (As we have shown in the translation there is no verb in the last phrase in the Greek). Then Paul is saying ‘be like me because I am as you were when you were first converted.’ In other words, ‘come back to what you were, becoming again like me’. When Paul went to them he did not claim superiority or seek to bring them under the Law. He proclaimed the true Gospel which put them both on equal standing in Christ.
Alternately he is appealing on a more personal note ‘I am as you are’, that is, ‘like you I am only a weak and frail man, fully aware of your weaknesses’. Or ‘I became as you were’ meaning ‘I, though once a Jew, was willing to become like you Gentiles for your sakes’, meaning that they should copy him, as once he copied them.
Whichever way we translate it, the appeal is for them to become like Him, walking again in the freedom of Christ.
4.12b ‘You did me no wrong.’
He assures them he has nothing against them as regards their treatment of Him. Indeed he remembers their kindness with affection.
4.13-14 ‘And you know that because of an infirmity of the flesh I preached the Gospel to you the first time (or ‘previously’), and you did not despise, nor did you reject with loathing (literally ‘spit out’) that which tested you out in my flesh. But you received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus.’
It is clear that Paul had been suffering some kind of severe infirmity when he first went to the Galatian region with the Gospel, an infirmity that had made it advisable that he go there rather than elsewhere. Malaria has been suggested, so that he had to seek higher ground. In that region such fevers were often seen as demonstrating divine anger, and may thus have been regarded with loathing. But they had not despised him. Another possibility is epilepsy or even some kind of putrefying sore, or pus in the eyes, for which he sought medical aid in the region (perhaps Luke was there), and which thus prevented him from travelling any further. But the important point is that they took it without flinching and even welcomed him warmly. They were not put off by his illness.
‘You did not despise, nor did you reject with loathing.’ They might have suggested that God had smitten him, and thus have mocked him, or they might have loathed what they saw and turned away from him. He acknowledges quite freely that they might well have been tempted to do so and that it was a genuine test of their goodwill. But they had not.
‘You received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus.’ See Acts 13.44, 48; 14.1, 11-12. Rather they had treated him like a divine messenger (at Lystra literally), yes, they could not have greeted him more warmly had he been Jesus Christ Himself. He may even mean that they mistook him for the Messiah Jesus, but the warmth of his words suggests that he was speaking about more than just a mistake and therefore is suggesting that what he means is that they greeted him with the same warmth they would have shown to Jesus Christ.
4.15 ‘Where then is that experience of blessing (makarismos - blessedness) that you spoke of? For I bear you witness that if possible you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me.’
And they had then spoken of the wonderful blessedness that had become theirs. So he is seeking to bring back to them their past experience, the blessing of the Spirit that they had enjoyed. Can they not remember what blessings they spoke of? Yes, they were so grateful that they would even have given him their own eyes. This may well hint at the fact that his infirmity was to do with his eyes, but it is not necessarily so. It may have been just a popular saying, speaking of their most precious possession.
4.16 ‘So then am I become your enemy because I tell you the truth?’
What then is their response now that he is speaking stern but true words in order to try to put them right. Will they treat him as an enemy? Or will they remember the reasons for their welcome, and the blessedness they enjoyed while he was there?
4.17-18 ‘They seek you zealously, but not in a good way. No, they desire to shut you out that you may look to them. But it is good to be zealously sought in a good matter at all times, and not only when I am present with you.’
The Judaisers have indeed come with great zeal seeking to press their teachings. Perhaps they had made a great show of fasting and observance of the Sabbath, and had prayed openly on street corners. But their aim was not good. They have suggested that because they are Jews they are superior to the Galatians, that they have something extra which the Galatians do not have. They want them to feel shut out and thus look to them for introduction to a similar superior state. They want to take the Galatians into bondage to the Law. But all that they are really doing is to take them away from Christ.
Or alternatively they want them to be shut out from the blessings of the Gospel and from those who enjoy them, so that they may look to them for everything. They are self-seeking, while professing the opposite. They are wanting disciples for themselves not considering the good of those they speak to. There are many such today.
Well, let them recognise that being zealously sought can be a good thing. But zeal is not enough. It is all right men seeming dedicated, but it is only good if the purpose for their seeking them is good. The Galatians should want to be sought by those who bring the true Gospel, which had brought such blessing to them, even when Paul is not there with them, and not just by anyone who is enthusiastic for a cause. So just as he had zealously sought them with the best of all possible things, the Gospel, they should ensure that any whom they allow to zealously seek them at any time, also do so with the same Gospel.
4.19 ‘My little children, for whom I am again suffering birth pains until Christ be formed in you.’
Paul is now almost in anguish, and he presses home his plea tenderly and with passion. They are again putting him through the deep spiritual concern that he had already once suffered on their behalf.
‘My little children’ (teknia mou), or possibly ‘my children’ (tekna mou). The words are tender. Compare the use of a similar phrase by John (1 John.2.1 and often).
‘For whom I am again suffering birth pains.’ His concern is such that he is suffering ‘birth pains’ similar to those when he first ‘bore’ them. This may refer to the fervency of his prayers, or simply to the strong emotions that had wracked him as he had sought to bring them to Christ, or even both.
‘Until Christ be formed in you.’ This looks back to 2.20. He longs for their restoration and growth and that they may once more become Christ-like. He will not cease his travail until they become complete examples of Christ-indwelt men.
4.20 ‘Yes, I could wish to be present with you now, and to change my voice. For I am perplexed about you.’
He wishes that he could be with them again, and then they would hear a change of voice. Probably he means that he hopes that he would then be able to change his tone to a gentler one, but perhaps he is thinking of a sterner voice, for he is perplexed at them and their behaviour.
In these words then he reveals the yearning and compassion of the under-shepherd who loves his sheep. How he longs to restore them to the fullness of blessing and to the freedom that is in Christ.
A Lesson from the Old Testament Law (4.21-31).
Paul now turns to the Old Testament for examples of what he is trying to say.
4.21 ‘Tell me, you who desire to be under the Law, do you not hear the Law?’
So some of the Galatians want to come ‘under the Law’, being circumcised, observing the Feasts and Feast days, using ritual washings, abstaining from ‘unclean food, and so on? Well, let them now consider the Law. Are they deaf to what the Law actually says? (The Law in the latter phrase refers to the books of the Law, the first five books of the Bible, although sometimes it is used more loosely of the whole of the Scriptures).
4.22-23 ‘For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the handmaid and one by the free-woman. But the son by the handmaid is born after the flesh, while the son by the free-woman is born through promise.’
For the Law itself indicates two ways, one the way of freedom, and the other the way of bondage. Just as Abraham had had two sons, one born under freedom, and one born under bondage.
‘It is written.’ Indicating the word of God given through Scripture. And what does the Scripture tell us? It tells us that of Abraham’s two sons one was born of the handmaid by human choice following fleshly aims and desires, and was born in the normal way, ‘of the flesh’, but the other was born in God’s will as a result of the specific promise of God, as the child ‘of promise’, and was born miraculously.
Thus the lesson of the Law is that it is possible to be a son of Abraham by human fleshly descent and it is possible to be a son of Abraham as a result of being born supernaturally through promise. The former was the boast of the Judaisers (and all Jews). They claimed that they were, by human descent, sons of Abraham. (The fact that this was not true for many was lost in the mists of time). But if they would only realise it this simply associated them with Ishmael.
But then there are other sons. They are sons through promise and through the miraculous working of God. These Paul will tell us represent those who have responded to the promise of God offered in the Gospel.
And it is this basic idea that then leads on to the application of the two covenants, the covenant of promise and the covenant of works (or of the flesh), to the mothers of these two types of son, by allegory.
‘Born after the flesh -- born through promise.’ Ishmael was the result of human planning and manipulation. He was basically the product of unbelief. But Isaac was promised beforehand by God and came in accordance with that promise and all the promises that had gone before which would apply to him. He was the child of promise. And it was through believing in these promises that Abraham had been reckoned as righteous by faith. That occurred because he believed God’s promises. Thus Abraham’s blessings came as a result of faith in God’s promises, a faith which resulted in his being reckoned as righteous (3.8), and not as a result of his fleshly activity, planned and wrought by the flesh, when he produced Ishmael.
4.24 ‘Which things contain an allegory. For these two women are two covenants. One from Mount Sinai, bearing children to bondage, which is Hagar. Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and answers to the Jerusalem that now is, for she is in bondage with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, which is our mother.’
And this was to be seen as an allegory. Note that the allegory or parable is drawn from the facts stated above about the sons, and not vice versa. The facts are Scriptural, the allegory is illustrative. In understanding what follows we need to remember that Sarah was barren and seemingly could not bear, so a son was born to Abraham on her behalf through a slave wife who had had no difficulty in bearing. Then later Sarah did have a child, Isaac, as a result of the seemingly miraculous intervention of God (Genesis 17.17; 21.2, 7).
By allegory the two women, slave and free, are like two covenants, the one enslaving, the other giving freedom. The covenant that enslaves is from Mount Sinai. This refers to the giving of the Law and its resulting covenant as outlined in Exodus to Deuteronomy, which brought the people ‘under the Law’. It also refers by allegory to the physical Jerusalem in Paul’s time whose inhabitants were also in bondage to the Law. It kept men in slavery. They strove to keep the Law, and added to it, so that they might somehow make themselves worthy of God. But they could not. They were slaves to sin and condemned by the Law. Like Ishmael they were children of the flesh.
The corollary is therefore that the free-woman represents God’s covenant with Abraham. And it also refers to the heavenly Jerusalem which is free. Under this covenant men are free and participate in the heavenly (Ephesians 1.19-2.6). In the words of Jesus, they ‘worship the Father in Spirit and in truth’ (John 4.23), and like Isaac they are the true seed, children of the promise, reckoned as righteous by faith and born through the miraculous working of God.
The first significance of this lies in the fact that the Judaisers were seeking to take the Galatians back to the old covenant of bondage and submission to the Law. They wanted to make them bondslaves. They wanted to make them like Ishmael. But Paul is seeking to bring them to the covenant of promise under which they find freedom and contact with the heavenly through the promises and covenant of God. He wants them to be the true seed of Abraham.
But the message about Jerusalem also has a second significance and that is that the earthly Jerusalem is now replaced by the heavenly Jerusalem (compare Hebrews 12.22; 11.9-10), and that the people of God no longer look to an earthly city but to a heavenly, for that is where freedom is found. They are citizens of Heaven (Philippians 3.20). And this new Jerusalem, this heavenly Jerusalem, is their ‘mother’. In other words bears them, cares for them and looks after them. They are born anew from Heaven. The earthly Jerusalem no more has any meaning for them. They look to the heavenly Jerusalem, the heavenly birth, the heavenly upbringing.
‘Mount Sinai in Arabia.’ Arabia is in the desert, and it was to the desert that Ishmael fled. It was away from the place where the promises were made under God’s covenant with Abraham. It was a place of barrenness.
4.27 ‘For it is written, “Rejoice you who are barren and do not bear, Break forth and cry you who do not suffer birth pains, For the children of the desolate are more than she who has a husband.’
A quotation is now cited from Isaiah 54.1. It refers to the divine principle that those who initially ‘have not’ are the ones who, through God’s mercy, often eventually ‘have’, because ‘their Maker is their husband’ (Isaiah 54.5). They do not look to a husband of the flesh but to a husband of the Spirit. And thus the seemingly barren become fruitful. Paul then refers this to Sarah who had been barren and had produced no children. Possibly he is considering the fact that through natural relations with her husband Sarah could not bear. When it came to having children she ‘had no husband’. Thus God Himself had to intervene, almost acting as the husband in producing a child for her. But she will yet rejoice and have many children, more than she who first bore. She who was barren will produce many children. For Sarah represents the new Jerusalem which will indeed produce many children.
4.28 ‘Now we, brothers, as Isaac was, are children of promise.’
So Sarah, as mother of the child of promise, represents the covenant of promise, and the new heavenly Jerusalem which is ‘above’. This new Jerusalem is the ‘mother’ of Christians, and we Christians are like Isaac, being children resulting from promise. The old has passed away. We are no longer under the Law. We are reckoned righteous by faith and enjoy the full blessing of God. We are free.
4.29-30 ‘But as then he who was born after the flesh persecuted he who was born after the Spirit, even so it is now. But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the handmaid and her son, for the son of the handmaid shall not inherit with the son of the free-woman”.’
But significantly, just as initially the one born ‘of the flesh’ persecuted the one born according to the Spirit, so it still is. The true Christians are being ‘persecuted’ by the Judaisers and by the Jews. The Scripture therefore says they are to cast the Judaisers out, and have nothing to do with them, for it says, ‘Cast out the slave and her son, for the slave’s son shall not inherit with the free woman’s son’. So as we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman, we should have nothing to do theologically with those who are still slaves to the Law.
Paul has in mind the Judaisers, but the message also applies to all who seek to bring Christians into subjection to ordinances and regulations. Once these become seen as part of that which is necessary for salvation and Christian growth (rather than as just helpful) those who promulgate them must be cast out and removed.
We notice here how the argument has moved from just being ‘under Law’ and ‘under promise’, to being ‘of the flesh’ and ‘of the Spirit’ in readiness for what is to follow. To be under the Law is to live according to the flesh. To live truly under promise is to live according to the Spirit.
Furthermore there is another interesting result of his argument. It demonstrates that those who called themselves the sons of Abraham and saw themselves as the true sons of Abraham were not true sons of Abraham. In God’s eyes they were spiritually Ishmaelites. They would no longer inherit the promises promised to Abraham’s true seed. They were no longer the true Israel, the Israel of God. It was the church who were the true descendants of Abraham through Isaac. It was they who were the true Israel of God (6.16). The unbelieving Jews were to be seen as descended through Ishmael. They had been cut off from the olive tree (see Romans 9.6-8; 11.19-20).
The Application (4.31-5.12).
Paul will now apply the ideas that he has put forward in depth. For he wants them to recognise what they are turning away from.
4.31-5.1 ‘Wherefore, brothers, we are not children of a handmaid, but of the free-woman. Christ set us free with a view to our freedom, therefore stand fast continually, and do not be entangled again in a yoke of bondage.’
The consequence of what had been said is that we are not to be children of slavery but children of freedom, children of liberty, equality and brotherhood (3.28). For that is why Christ has set us free, so that we can be truly free (John 8.36). Thus the Galatians must stand firm and refuse to be entangled by a yoke that will bring them into bondage.
But of what does that freedom consist? It is not freedom to behave just as we like. It is, first of all, freedom from the requirements and condemnation of the Law. No more shall we groan under its yoke as we strive to keep it with fear in our hearts lest we fail. It is freedom from the law of sin and death (Romans 8.2). It is also freedom from the power of sin (Romans 6.18, 22), and indeed freedom from all requirements that man would load upon us. Its consequence is continual responsive faith and what results from it. It is freedom to let Christ live through us regardless of all else (Galatians 2.20), for where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (2 Corinthians 3.17). It is freedom from the flesh to walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5.16-22). It is the glorious liberty of the children of God (Romans 8.21).
‘Christ set us free.’ Both by bearing our curse on the cross (3.13) and by indwelling our lives (2.20).
‘Stand fast.’ Here we have the present tense - ‘go on standing fast.’ We must be continually firm and strong in order to ensure that we do not allow ourselves to be dragged back into legalism. Men, and especially religious leaders or the priesthood, will often seek to bind us with something and put restrictions on us, for it is to their benefit. But the Christian responds only in so far as it is his duty to God. He seeks only to please God.
‘Entangled again in a yoke of bondage.’ The ox is bound by the yoke so that it must submit to the dictates of its master. The man who is under the Law is bound by the Law so that he must submit to all its dictates. His life is a constant grind. And this, says Paul, is something to be avoided. The man who is in Christ is free because the risen Christ Who dwells in him and lives through him is not bound by any law but walks simply in accordance with the Father’s will. He takes Christ’s yoke on him, a yoke which is easy, and of which the burden is light (Matthew 11.28-30).
5.2-4 ‘Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision Christ will be of no benefit to you. Yes, I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is a debtor to do the whole Law. You are estranged from Christ, you who would be justified by the Law. You are fallen away from grace.’
Paul now comes down to specifics. Here they are as Gentiles being faced up with the question as to whether they must be circumcised in order to find salvation. This refers, of course, to receiving circumcision as a necessary part of salvation with a view to submission to the Law. Timothy was circumcised because as a half-Jew it was considered prudent for his work among Jews and no vital issue was involved (Acts 16.3). In his case he saw the keeping of Jewish traditions as a privilege. He did not find them a burden. He had been brought up with them. But for Titus it was different. Titus was deliberately and openly not circumcised, because some sought it as a requirement for salvation (Galatians 2.3-4). Some wanted Titus and those like him to become slaves to the Law. And this was the issue that faced the Galatians. Did they want to take the position that obedience to the whole Law was necessary for salvation? or did they want to enjoy the freedom of Abraham?
So Paul warns them of the dangers of circumcision. Firstly for them it will be a first step to, and indicate a commitment to, obeying the whole Law of Moses as expanded by the Rabbis, including both ceremonial and moral requirements. It will be declaring that they want to be judged by the Law. And secondly, resulting from that, it will take away any benefit that is receivable from Christ. Christ will ‘profit them nothing’, He will be ‘of no benefit to them’, His death will be of no avail. For they will not be looking in faith to Him they will have their eye continually on the Law and on their own efforts.
And the result will be that the Galatians will simply be becoming like the Pharisees, binding themselves and others with burdens grievous to be borne, committing themselves to a continual ritual, seeking impossibly to purify themselves and put themselves in a position to be faithful to the covenant and deserve eternal life. They will be becoming workhorses of the Law, treading the treadmill of the Law. And instead of loving God with all their hearts, and freely loving their neighbours, they will be tying themselves into a system which makes both God and neighbours a burden.
‘I, Paul.’ Emphatic. He above all as an ex-Pharisee, and now as an Apostle, has cause to know the truth about circumcision and the Law.
‘Testify.’ A forceful expression emphasising the seriousness with which he speaks.
‘A debtor to do the whole law.’ What an impossible position this describes, for to fail on one point will make them guilty of all (James 2.10). Then they will come under its curse with nowhere else to turn.
‘You are estranged from Christ, you who would be reckoned as righteous by the Law.’ The word katargeo (in the aorist passive) means to be rendered ineffective, rendered powerless, to be abolished, set aside, to be brought to an end, to be released from association with someone, to be estranged from. By looking to the Law as their saviour they will be once for all estranged from Christ, and and will be rendered ineffective and powerless. They will have nowhere to turn when they fail, for Christ cannot be had on a hit and miss basis. There will be no relationship with Him. They will be strangers to Him, and He to them. For they will have rejected His sacrifice on the cross as their means of being reckoned as righteous and will be looking to the perfection of their own religious involvement and their striving to keep the Law. While others are walking in freedom with Christ, they will be treading the harsh and stony path of the Law.
‘You are fallen away from grace.’ The verb ekpipto means to fall from, to fall away from, to drift away from. They will have drifted away from the position of accepting dependence on the grace, the unmerited active favour of God, as revealed through the cross. They will be depending on their own achievements, achievements that can never be sufficient. This is a theological position that is being described. It says nothing one way or another about whether they are, or have ever been, truly saved.
What then is the significance of what is being described here? Paul sees clearly the danger. In the end he is describing an attitude of heart. The eyes of those who seek salvation by the Law and by means of religious ritual will be taken off Christ, and they will thus become estranged to Him and drift away from the idea of the grace of God. They will become taken up with earthly things, with their eyes fixed on earthly ritual, their lives committed to earthly religious obedience. This is true whether it be service to the Law, or blind commitment to a church and its rituals.
So he recognises that the principle must be firmly established. The Gospel has nothing to do with obedience to any laws or submission to any rituals or to any such thing, whether Jewish, or ‘Christian’ or anything else. Being reckoned righteous by God results from the grace of God alone, active in those who respond in faith to the Crucified and risen Christ. Salvation results from that alone and from nothing else. Anyone who introduces anything else is therefore in danger of making that replace Christ, and in the worst analysis they will become totally outside any benefit that they can receive through Christ.
The Jerusalem church mixed faith in Christ and ritual, as did many Jews, but the question in view was as to where each looked for his or her salvation. Was it to their ritual or to the crucified Christ? The fact that they had come to Christ at all indicated their dissatisfaction with what their ritual could achieve. Thus their ritual, which had been and still was an habitual part of their lives, a part of their past, did not necessarily cut them off from Christ. For they had become Christians in spite of their ritual. Christ had transcended their ritual. And their ritual simply identified them as Jewish Christians.
But for Gentiles to deliberately look to such ritual, and the laws connected with it, taking it on as a new burden, would be to have their lives possessed by something that would control their minds and lives. They would simply have exchanged heathen ritual for Jewish ritual. Thus Christ would slip back into insignificance. It would basically be to eradicate Christ and make Him unnecessary to them. And it would be to give the wrong impression to other Gentiles. It would be to ‘drift away from the doctrine of grace’ to a life of Law-keeping.
Now the question is, could anyone who had truly known Christ by faith behave in such a way? Those who truly know Christ would surely be unable to do so and should the Galatians finally succumb it could only serve to indicate that their faith had not been real.
5.5 ‘For we, through the Spirit, by faith wait for the hope of righteousness.’
For those who are Christians walk through the Spirit by faith. And they are waiting for the final hope when they will be presented holy, unblameable and unreproveable in His sight (Colossians 1.22). This is the Christian Gospel. The grace of God has provided His Spirit to work in men’s heart and lives. So those who are His respond to Him in faith with the result that they await the hope of righteousness. Biblical hope is always certain hope. And the Spirit’s work is then the guarantee of the final perfection of His people (Ephesians 4.12-13; 1 Peter 5.10) and it all results from the response of faith. To fall away from this, and to try to attain such righteousness by religious ritual and behaviour is to fall away from grace indeed. It is to reject the Spirit.
‘The hope of righteousness.’ Either what we hope for because we have been reckoned as righteous (2.20), or the hope that we have of being made truly righteous.
5.6 ‘For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision avails anything, nor uncircumcision, but faith working through (or ‘by’) love.’
For in Christ it matters not whether a person is circumcised or uncircumcised. Circumcision makes no difference to a man’s inner life. What matters is faith working in response to the love of Christ, or faith expressing itself in love. Thus circumcision itself is unimportant. It is the attitude of a person’s heart that matters, not whether he is physically circumcised. What matters is to be circumcised in heart (Romans 2.29; Philippians 3.3; Colossians 2.11).
The love that results from faith is the perfect answer to those who react to Paul’s teaching by saying that he gives men licence to behave as they like. For love fulfils all God’s requirements (5.13-14).
It should be noted here that all this does not mean that rules are necessarily a bad thing, nor indeed that the Law was a bad thing. As a guide for living and as a guide for knowing the mind of God they may be excellent. But where they become wrong, and indeed unchristian, is when they are used as a means of becoming acceptable to God, as a means of putting men ‘in the right’ with God. Or even as a means of making them somehow superior to other Christians. That is legalism, and Paul in Galatians condemns it out of hand.
When we ‘dechristianise’ people on the grounds that they do not keep the Sabbath, or do not experience special experiences that we experience, or do not observe certain regulations that we have decided are important, we share in the condemnation that Paul pours on the Judaisers. We may to some extent be right about the importance of such things to us, but we are wrong if we make them determining factors about somebody’s Christian status. The only test of that is their faith in the crucified and risen Christ.
Paul is Puzzled by their Failure and Angry At Those who have Led Them Astray (5.7-12).
Paul now again expresses his deep puzzlement at their behaviour. He just cannot understand how they can be so foolish, when what they had received was so wonderful
5.7 ‘You were running well. Who hindered you that you should not obey the truth?’
Their progress and growth had been fully satisfactory, who was it now then who was hindering them from obeying the truth? The illustration is from the games. They were putting in a good performance, and then someone had cheated in order to prevent their success. Note how Paul confidently describes what he has told them as ‘the truth’. For it is God’s special revelation of Himself. But while it is the truth, sadly they are not ‘obeying’ it. For truth when accepted produces obedience.
‘Who hindered you?’ A deliberate act of cheating is in mind. These were not fair-minded men but cheats.
5.8 ‘This persuasion is not of him who calls you.’
Whoever it is who is speaking to persuade them, who is hindering them, is not doing it at God’s command. For the One Who is calling them longs for them to be truly free in Christ.
5.9 ‘A little leaven leavens the whole lump.’
They must therefore beware. For a small amount of yeast will spread through and affect the whole lump of pastry. So also will a small amount of false teaching affect a large number so that in the end all are affected. Or it can enter the individual mind and gradually possess it until that person is totally affected. Compare 1 Corinthians 5.6. Here he is stressing the danger that, when something like legalism begins to get a toehold, it is not long before it takes control of the whole. It spreads like yeast throughout the whole mixture. He might also be meaning that it only takes one man with false ideas to come in and then it can infect the group, and soon the whole group is led astray.
5.10 ‘I have confidence towards you in the Lord that you will not be of another mind, but he who troubles you will bear his judgment, whoever he is.’
But Paul now assures them that he is confident that they will come well out of this because they are in the Lord’s hands. His confidence is primarily in the Lord, but also in them. This will hopefully soften their hearts to what he has been saying.
On the other hand he is confident that the one who is troubling them will be dealt with by God. This verse (‘whoever he is’) may suggest that there may have been one major figure, along with his companions, who was responsible for the problems.
‘Will bear his judgment.’ They will have to give account to God. Compare Romans 14.10-12.; 1 Corinthians 3.10-15.
5.11 ‘But as for me brothers, if I still preach circumcision why am I still persecuted? Then the stumblingblock of the cross has been done away.’
Some may have pointed at cases like Timothy’s where he had allowed circumcision. And he no doubt still allowed Christian Jews to circumcise their sons if they wished to. But they then accuse him of ‘preaching circumcision’ by his actions. Thus he is at pains to defend himself. He points out that he suffers persecution precisely because he preaches the message of the cross as the only way of salvation, and rejects anything else as necessary for salvation. That is the stumblingblock of the cross, the fact that it does away with all merit and all deserving, that it brings all under the curse of God. It is that it tells us that the only way that we can be put in the right with God is by looking to One Who died on a cross, openly under God’s curse. It requires submission on the basis of total unworthiness. It rejects any attempt by men to contribute to their own salvation. The reason that the cross is a stumblingblock is because by it all else, and especially circumcision, is put in its proper place as not being essential. From a salvation point of view it is irrelevant, no matter what it is. It says that all must be accepted as cursed. Thus all ordinances and good works are excluded as contributing to salvation. Such ordinances, including circumcision, may be all right for those whose customs they are, as long as that is all that they make of it, but they must not be magnified into something supremely important, something essential to being saved. As Paul tells us elsewhere, what he is saying may be foolishness to men (1 Corinthians 1.18, 21-25) but in it is revealed the wisdom of God.
5.12 ‘I would that those who trouble you would even cut themselves off.’
NEB puts this in this way, ‘as for these agitators, they had better go the whole way and make eunuchs of themselves’ (i.e. like the eunuch priests of Cybele who might have been well known to the Galatians). For if they made eunuchs of themselves instead of circumcising themselves they would be cut off from their own status under the Law (Deuteronomy 23.1). They would become outsiders. If we take it like this, this would represent a sardonic attack on the Judaisers. But, especially in view of what he is to say about love, he is possibly rather simply expressing a wish that they would ‘remove themselves’ (a pun, having their preaching of circumcision in mind where the foreskin is removed), thus ‘cutting themselves off’ from the Galatians.
Freedom is Not to Be Misinterpreted as Licence. They Must Walk in Love and By the Spirit (5.13-26).
Paul now goes on to deal with the charge that the Gospel he is presenting gives men licence to do as they like. What he is teaching, he points out, will not result in licentious living, but rather the opposite. It will result in living by the Spirit, in producing the fruit of the Spirit in their lives.
5.13-14 ‘For you, brothers ,were called for freedom. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity (a base of operations) for the flesh to express itself, but through love be servants to one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, even this, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”.’
As he has previously argued, they were called by God with the purpose of their being made free. Free from the Law and its charges, free from its restrictions, free from final condemnation (Romans 5.1). But now he asks them to recognise that this does not give them the freedom to behave just as they like. It does not mean that they can give the flesh free rein. For if Christ dwells in them how can they possibly do that (2.20)? Was that the way in which Christ lived?
Thus they can now turn and make use of the Law. For the Law can help them to know the mind of God. And he quotes them an example to prove it. He points out that Jesus does want them to fulfil the Law in a positive way, and that that can be expressed in terms of loving their neighbours as themselves. Therefore they must demonstrate this in the first place by being servants to each other ‘through love’. This seems to suggest that there was some friction in the church through feelings of superiority that needed to be put right. And he will shortly show them how they can do this, for this is indeed what the Spirit is seeking to work within them.
The command ‘you shall love your neighbour as yourself’ comes in Leviticus 19.18. It was prominent in Jewish thinking (Luke 10.27), although as Jesus had to point out they put too great a restriction on who was their neighbour (Luke 10.30-37). But it was not a command that any could fulfil completely and thus it was another finger pointing at them under the Law. On the other hand, now that they are free from the condemnation of the Law, Christians can again take it up as a guide for living. And that is what they must do. But this does not necessarily mean having natural affection for my neighbour. It is difficult sometimes to have such affection for some people. Rather it means behaving towards them as we would want others to behave towards us. It means behaving towards them as Christ Himself would behave, regardless of how we feel.
It is true that God calls us to be free, to enjoy freedom from the bondage of the Law. But this is not to be looked on as an opportunity for gratifying fleshly desires. We are not free from seeking to be righteous. Our freedom is rather to be seen as an opportunity to be free to demonstrate Christian love. Through love Christians will be ‘slaves’ to each other, because their love makes them want to serve each other. They will be love-slaves. Indeed paradoxically this results in fulfilling the Law, for to obey the command ‘you shall love your neighbour as yourself’, if genuinely carried out, results in fulfilling all the moral requirements of the Law and more. It means we consider other people’s happiness and satisfaction as being of equal, if not greater, concern than our own.
‘As an opportunity.’ The word basically meant the base of operations for an attack or an expedition. Thus it signifies supplying an opportunity to do what was desired.
‘For the flesh to express itself.’ Paul does not view the flesh as essentially evil in itself. The flesh is essentially neutral. It is simply man’s human body. But sadly it has tendencies which, if not properly controlled, will lead to sin. It is the animal part of us that has to be controlled. But it is man who, by his own wilful free choice, follows the downward pull of the flesh. In the end we cannot blame the flesh. We must blame ourselves.
‘Servants through love.’ This contrasts with the ‘yoke of bondage’ in verse 1. It is now a service of love rather than an enforced servitude. But what does it mean to be a servant? Jesus Christ Himself was the perfect example. He came not to be served but to serve, and this included the sacrifice of His life Mark 10.45). It means living a life of concern for others. It means being willing to perform the lowly service, even as Jesus did for His disciples (John 13.1-10). It means consideration and thoughtfulness for the needs of others. It means helping them to grow in the grace of God and in the word of God.
5.15 ‘But if you bite and devour one another, be careful that you are not consumed one by another.’
On the other hand, if we bite and devour each other by what we say and do, and there appears to be a hint that possibly some Galatian Christians were doing this, then we need to beware that we do not consume each other, destroying each other’s faith and obedience to God. That is the opposite of Christian love. It is the opposite of Christian service. And by it they will simply destroy themselves and any harmony that is among them.
‘Bite and devour one another.’ Paul likens them to wild animals, possibly to the wild dogs that roamed the streets, wild beasts and scavengers who regularly attacked each other and consumed other animals.
5.16-17 ‘But I say, “Walk by the Spirit and you will not fulfil the longing of the flesh. For the flesh longs against the Spirit, and the Spirit longs against the flesh. For these are contrary, the one to the other, that you may not do the things that you would.’
But how different that is from being a Christian. For a Christian walks by the Spirit, and in accordance with His will. They have previously learned that Christ lives in them in His resurrection life (2.20), that they have received the Spirit (3.2), that they have been adopted as sons of God, receiving the Spirit of His Son into their hearts (4.5-6), that Christ is to be formed within them (4.19), that they wait for the hope of righteousness through the Spirit (5.5). Now Paul tells them that they must walk by the same Spirit.
He agrees that a battle constantly takes place in each Christian’s life, for we live in human bodies. We have fleshly desires. Our ‘flesh’ longs for things we should not long for, for position, fame, money, drink, sexual satisfaction however achieved, prominence and so on (or at least the desire for one or the other is always there deep down ready to break through). But, if we are Christians we also have within us the Spirit longing for righteousness. And these are at constant warfare, or seeking to be so. Both pull us in different ways. And Paul tells us that we must listen to the Spirit and ‘walk by the Spirit’. This means walking as He wants us to by His power, in full responsiveness to His promptings through God’s word and prayer. We must see Christ as living within us and let Him live through us.
On His side He has promised that He will enable us to overcome every temptation that besets us (1 Corinthians 10.13), and that He will work within us to will and do of His good pleasure (Philippians 2.13). And the fact is that we desperately need Him and the power of His risen life, for in every Christian’s life a great battle is taking place, and never more so than when it is not noticed. Thus we must ‘work out’ what God works in us, with greatest care (Philippians 2.12).
The reality is that the Spirit and the flesh are at constant loggerheads. ‘For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh’. The flesh constantly tugs at us like a tug-of-war team, seeking to drag us away from what the Spirit desires, for the flesh is earthly and thinks of what is earthly. In some the pull of the flesh may be weaker as a result of long experience of God but the flesh is ever willing to wait for the weak moment, so that it can strike, as the Serpent did in the Garden of Eden. On the other hand the Spirit seeks to draw us the other way towards the heavenly. ‘For these are against each other, to prevent you from doing what you would’. In other words, as Christians ‘what we would’ is to follow the Spirit, but the flesh regularly seeks to prevent us from doing so (compare Romans 7.14-25).
But Paul is not here saying that human flesh is, in itself, intrinsically evil. He is rather saying that that flesh contains desires and longings which have to be controlled. In the Christian the Spirit will constantly act as a powerful pull away from following fleshly longings. But the flesh will just as constantly and fiercely pull back. The Christian certainly wants to be pure, and loving, and good and righteous, (otherwise his profession must be in doubt), but there will always be something that is seeking to drag him down, ‘the pull of the flesh’. Thus he does not always behave in the way that in his best moments he wants to.
In some it will be greed for power or fame or status, in others it will be envy of those who have achieved such, in others the problem of a strong sex drive, or a drink problem, in others a sense of self-righteousness, a desire to be recognised as ‘good’. But it will be there in all, and never more dangerous than when not recognised. But the Spirit can enable us to overcome, not by our struggling to keep a set of detailed rules, (a sure way to fail), but by constantly looking to Him in prayer and through His word, and responding to His prompting. As it has been well put, ‘His word will keep me from sin, and sin will seek to keep me from His word’.
However, a word of warning from Paul. Very often there is only one way to fight the desires that arise within us, and paradoxically that way is to flee (2 Timothy 2.22), to engage in a strategic withdrawal. Being led by the Spirit involves being where the Spirit wants us to be, it also involves not being where the Spirit does not want us to be. If you carry the means of temptation with you, or go where such temptation will beset you, you cannot expect the Spirit to intervene. You have already said ‘no’ to Him.
‘That you may not do the things that you would.’ This refers to the power of the flesh to drag us down from what the Spirit is doing within us, for what the Christian ‘would’ is to fulfil all righteousness. Indeed if that is not his wish his position in Christ must be in doubt. The point is that the pull of the flesh is our enemy to be faced up to (often by fleeing) and to be overcome, for we are no longer after the flesh but born of the Spirit (4.29).
Are our eyes fixed on some object of pleasure that is enticing us to sin. Then what we must do is run. ‘Flee from youthful desires’. That is being led by the Spirit. Is Satan putting evil thoughts into our minds, and setting our thoughts on them? Then it will be no good running. Our thoughts will go with us. What we must do then is make use of the armour of God and the shield of the word of God. Is he suggesting false ways to us? Then we must ‘resist the Devil and he will flee from you’. The Spirit will always lead us in accordance with the word of God.
5.18 ‘But if you are being led by the Spirit you are not under the Law’.
This is the crux of the matter. Those who submit to the Spirit’s prompting, with the help of the Spirit’s power, will live positive lives of Christian love, for they are ‘being led by the Spirit’, a continual process which includes His empowering. They do not constantly check a list to see whether they have attained the standard. They do not struggle to keep the Law so as to be acceptable to God, and live in dread of breaking it. They are not tied down by rules and regulations. They rather recognise that they are acceptable to God through the crucified One and so they gladly seek to keep His commandments as led and empowered by the Spirit. They constantly continue submitting themselves to the control of the Spirit. They constantly allow Christ to live through them. And this is something that in their inner hearts they want to do. And the more that they come to know Christ, the more they will want to be like Him.
It is true that the flesh may sometimes pull them down, but in the end they rise again and finally overcome, because they want to please their Father. Such people are ‘not under the Law’, for they have died to the Law and live to God, and the life that they now live in the flesh they live by faith in the Son of God Who loved them and gave Himself for them (2.20). They are aware of sorrow for sin, but not of condemnation from the Law, because that has been borne by Christ, and they rather use the Law as a guide to the mind of God.
And it this leading which is evidence that they are sons of God. ‘For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God (Romans 8.14).’
5.19-21 ‘Now the works of the flesh are openly revealed, which are these, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousies, fits of anger, factions, divisions, party feeling, envyings, drunkenness, revellings, and such like, of which I forewarn you that they who practise such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.’
Paul now lists some of the ‘works of the flesh’. They come in groups. Sexual longings wrongly expressed in immorality, impurity of thought and life, and being sexually out of control; spiritual longings debased into idolatry, the worship of earthly things or people (such as pop stars or sportsmen when they are given reverence beyond their due), the seeking of familiar spirits through mediums, involvement in the occult (with ouija boards, crystal balls, tarot cards and so on); attitudes of enmity and hostility towards others, division and strife; envy and jealousy, bad temper, living for self, bickering and dissension; getting into cliques, drunkenness, wild partying, and such like. Thus he takes it much further than just sex, violence and drunkenness. It affects attitudes of minds and hearts. But they are not described as ‘the fruit’ of the flesh. They are the fruit of man’s evil heart. It is man who chooses to do such things. The flesh simply provides him with his excuse.
Then he adds a strict warning so that he cannot be misunderstood. ‘I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God’. For how can men say they are living under the Kingly Rule of God when they so flagrantly disobey Him? And if they do not live under His earthly Rule how can they hope to live under His heavenly Rule? And they can be sure they will not enter His kingdom, whatever their claims, for if they behave like this they have clearly not received the Holy Spirit and are not being led by the Spirit.
‘Inherit.’ This may look back to the ideas in 3.15-18. It is both a present and a future inheritance, inheriting the promises now and the final blessing in the future.
‘The kingdom (kingly rule) of God.’ In Romans 14.17 the kingly rule of God ‘is not eating and drinking, but is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, for he who therein serves Christ is well pleasing to God and approved of men’. It is thus a present Kingly Rule of God, in the world but not of it. It is the Rule of Christ the king, which will, of course, find its ultimate fulfilment in Heaven. So those who indulge themselves in the works of the flesh, and refuse to be led by the Spirit, have clearly no part in the present ‘kingdom’ and will therefore have no part in the future kingdom.
5.22-23 ‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness (consideration for others), goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control. Against such there is no Law.’
In contrast to the works of the flesh is the fruit of the Spirit. And now he outlines the ‘fruit’ of the Spirit. We notice the word for fruit is singular. All these things result from the Spirit’s work within, we cannot pick and choose. ‘The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience and long-suffering, kindness and consideration for others, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control’. This is the test of the Spirit-filled life. This is the Christian life. This will result from being led by the Spirit. No one who lives like this requires a Law to control them, nor can it judge them. ‘Against such there is no Law’.
Note the contrasts, not lust, but true Christian love, not seeking for excitement, but experiencing joy, not fighting for what we want, but peace, not wanting our own way, but patience and longsuffering, not rudeness and brutality and thoughtlessness, but kindness and consideration, not a show of morality for a day, but true goodness, not a constant failure to listen to God, but faithfulness, not self-assertion, but gentleness, and all in total self-control.
Who among us is never caught out by lack of one of these? But ‘if we admit (to God) our sins, He is faithful and will justly forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness’ (1 John 1.9).
‘The fruit.’ The workings of the flesh were ‘works’, but the activity of the Spirit produces fruit. It is not the result of our exertion but of Christ living through us by His Spirit. This process is not an attempt at ‘justification (being put in the right) by works’ but the fruit which is consequent on the Spirit at work within us. This fruit is not an attempt to win favour or to gain a positive decision at the judgment, it is a joyful response to the grace of God, and a recognition that we have died with Christ to our old lives.
‘Love.’ This is the primary fruit from which the remainder flows, for love works no ill to its neighbour and love therefore is the fulfilling of the Law (Romans 13.10). Thus the work of the Spirit within us results in love reaching out to others and thus the fulfilling of the (moral) Law. Love is also the greatest out of ‘faith, hope and love’ (1 Corinthians 13.13), not because we are to choose between them but because it is the flower in bloom that grows from faith. First faith and then love, though both are closely integrated. It is the fullest expression of what God is (1 John 4.8). See especially 1 Corinthians 13.4-8).
Interestingly Paul could have said ‘the fruit of faith is love, joy, peace etc.’ connecting directly with the previous chapters, but that is simply because faith opens our hearts to the Spirit’s working, as also revealed in those previous chapters. Without the work of the Spirit faith would be barren. But faith works by love.
Notice the threesomes. ‘Love, joy and peace’, the settled state of the heart within. ‘Longsuffering, kindness, goodness’, our attitude to others revealed among other things in showing consideration and thoughtfulness in our behaviour. And this consideration and thoughtfulness for others, means ‘others’ in the widest sense, not just our friends. It is a virtue very lacking today. ‘Faithfulness, meekness (praotes/prautes), self-control’, describing how we manifest ourselves to others. Praotes means ‘gentleness, humility, courtesy, considerateness, meekness in the best sense of not thrusting oneself forward or always defending oneself, or forcing one’s own opinion, while still being firm and true in the things pertaining to God.’ It does not mean that we just give way on everything and are afraid to stand up for what is right.
5.24 ‘For those who are of Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires’.
Inevitably, we come back to the cross, for that is the centre of all God’s working. We live like this because we have been crucified with Christ, and thus we have died to sin. In intent we have therefore put to death our earthly uncontrolled passions and desires, for this is what coming to the cross and receiving forgiveness involves. Now as we live, we live lives guided by the Spirit through His word, and these things will come under control. We will daily become more like Him, being changed from glory into glory (2 Corinthians 3.18), until we are made like Him, when we shall see Him as He is (1 John 3.2).
Paul makes quite clear here that this is not an open option. If we are ‘of Christ Jesus’, if we have been born of the Spirit, if we have come to the crucified One to receive forgiveness, if He now lives within us, we have, in intent, crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. We have said that it deserves to die. And the proof of this will be that we will live like it.
But let us not pretend that this is easy. It is a lifetime commitment. The flesh does not go away. He who has a strong sex-drive still has a strong sex-drive when he is converted. He who has a bad temper still has a bad temper. Much of our behaviour pattern is governed by chemicals in the brain, and these determine much of our behaviour and go on after we have become Christians (and if those chemicals go wrong people can behave in ways that they cannot help but which seem appalling, for their minds become distorted. And sadly this can happen to Christians). Thus different people face different problems from the flesh. But for most of us the final choice is ours. It is we who must finally decide.
Thus we constantly need the Spirit’s leading and empowering, and we still need to flee from situations where we may be tempted beyond what we can control. The Spirit guides us to this too. And thank God we always have available the fountain opened for sin and uncleanness, so that when we stumble we may be cleansed and continue as though we had not sinned, and we are ever able to look to the cross and remember that these tendencies that grieve us so much have been crucified with Christ and will one day be no more.
5.25 ‘If the Spirit has given us life, let us also walk step by step with the Spirit.’
So those who claim to have received life from the Spirit, will reveal it by a daily walk under His guidance and control. They will constantly look to Him for power, and each step will be taken hand in hand with Him. This is the life of the Spirit into which the Christian has entered. He allows Christ to live through him, no longer living for himself but for Him Who died for him and rose again (2 Corinthians 5.15). He can live no other way.
We might well translate this as, ‘walk in step with the Spirit’. Soldiers train for months so that they can learn to walk in step with their platoon commander on parade. They are required to give much time to it so that in the end they walk perfectly in step. This is true to such an extent that they begin to do it subconsciously. So should we as Christians give much time to walking in step with the Spirit, and as we do so consciously, so will it become our unconscious habit. It is a matter of willingness, faith and response.
5.26 ‘Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another.’
In contrast there are things, which are ever a danger, and are in direct opposition to the Spirit, regardless of how we seek to justify them. If we think much of ourselves and are self-satisfied, if we are provocative in our behaviour or with our words so as to upset others, if we are envious of each other, these things must be done away with, for they are ‘of the flesh’, and if continued in will be our ruin. Rather we must be considerate towards each other, seeking not to provoke one another.
The Need to Constantly Help Each Other Without Condescension (6.1-5).
While confident in the Holy Spirit Paul does recognise that God’s people will require assistance in their walk with Him. What has been described is the life of the Spirit, but those who are young in it, or weak, will certainly need help and guidance. He points out therefore that we must each seek to help the other. This is one of the unique features of the Spirit-led life, a genuine concern to help each other while not being too intrusive. The life of the Spirit is not self-centred, it is Christ-centred.
6.1-2 ‘Brothers, even if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of meekness, looking to yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear you one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.’
‘Even if a man is overtaken in any trespass.’ Note the ‘even if’. It should be looked on as an unexpected rarity. The idea of being overtaken is that the person is taken by surprise. They have been careless and allowed themselves to be overtaken by some trespass, a falling short of the mark. They have been walking by the Spirit but have somehow lapsed and have been overtaken by the flesh.
Then those who are spiritual, being led by the Spirit, will not be judgmental, but when someone so fails and is ‘overtaken in any failure or sin’ they will help to ‘restore’ them in a spirit of meekness, a spirit of selfless concern and gentleness without censoriousness. They will do this aware that they themselves are frail, and have often fallen, and will be wary that in helping another they themselves do not fail through temptation. For he who thinks that he stands should take heedful care lest he fall (1 Corinthians 10.12-13)
We must remember that the Spirit does not ‘lead us’ to enter places or situations which may put us to too great a test, even to help another. If that happens we have not been led by the Spirit. So we must walk wisely and each task should be given to those with the strength to deal with such situations. We must be humble enough to recognise when an older, wiser, or more spiritual head is needed to help the one who is fallen.
‘Taken in a trespass.’ He has been detected in a failure to obey the law of love, which is the law of Christ. But this is not necessarily some grievous sin, although it often feels like it to the Christian. It is a stepping over the boundary between right and wrong (or even right and not so right), it is a deviation from the path of true righteousness, but if persisted in, it can lead to greater sins. When Christians are humbly concerned about the sins of their fellows the church prospers, but when they become judgmental and censorious, the unity of the church is destroyed. And that is a catastrophe, for we cannot afford to lose even the weakest member (1 Corinthians 12.14-26).
‘Bear one another’s heavy burdens, and thus fulfil the law of Christ.’ Christians should therefore help each other, bearing each other’s burdens. This is the law of love, the law of Christ (John 13.34). Where someone is carrying a load too heavy to bear or is having a difficult time, those who can should unobtrusively step in and seek to assist with the burden. But this is to be done tactfully, tenderly, and without a sense of superiority or condescension, for if we think we are somehow superior to them we are deceiving ourselves.
‘Restore’. Bring back to his former position and behaviour.
‘The law of Christ.’ Having rejected Law all through the letter Paul now boldly speaks of the law of Christ. And that can only be the law of love (5.14; John 13.34). Christians are freed from the Law so that they can walk in the Spirit by the word of God and reveal the fruit of the Spirit. That is the law of Christ. It is exemplified in Matthew 5-7.
6.3 ‘For if a man thinks himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.’
Self-importance is revealed as a major sin, especially when seeking to help another. The self-important man should never be a counsellor. For if we would counsel we must remember that we are in fact nothing, that without Christ we are useless and helpless in such matters, and it is Christ Who is all and alone can help the trespasser. We may be His instruments, but He can well do without us, for it is He alone Who can lift the sinner, and not us. In fact it is only of His grace that He is willing to use us at all. And indeed without the Spirit where would we be? We too would be sinking in iniquity. Thus if we claim to be ‘somebody’ we deceive ourselves. We need to recognise that we are but weak and frail instruments of a powerful Lord. But that is the gist of it. We have a powerful Lord.
6.4-5 ‘But let each man prove his own work, and then he will have his glorying in himself alone, and not of the other. For every man shall bear his own pack.’
Rather than criticising or looking with superiority at the behaviour of others, what we should be doing is putting our own behaviour and achievements to the test. We must ask, is our behaviour satisfactory? Are we up to the mark? Then we will have something to take pride in, especially before the judgment seat of Christ (Romans 14.10-12). For in the end each man has to bear his own pack, not someone else’s. In the end we will be tested by what we are.
Notice that in verse 2 the word for burden is ‘baros’, a weight, a heavy burden that wears a man down and makes him wilt (Matthew 20.12; Acts 15.28). In verse 5 it is ‘phortion’, e.g. a soldier’s pack or load, something to be carried without being too arduous, although in another context it can mean a grievous burden (Luke 11.46), as indeed a soldier’s pack can sometimes become.
6.6 ‘But let him who is taught in the word communicate to him who teaches in all good things.’
In thinking of the load that each man must carry as he seeks to help others, Paul’s thoughts turn to the burdens borne especially by those who ministered the word in those days, for it was often difficult for such to earn a living (not all were tentmakers). Those who are well taught in the word by others should therefore be willing to share all good things with those who do the teaching, thus helping them with their burden.
Perhaps this verse should be above the doors of some churches. Ministers should not have to just ‘make do’ when their congregations thrive. They should share in the good things that their congregations enjoy, while they themselves share with their congregations the good things that they themselves have learned.
In the End We must Face Up to the Consequences of our Behaviour (6.7-10).
Paul warns us all to remember that in the end we will have to give account for our behaviour. Walking with Christ is not a soft option that we can take or leave as we wish. It is the very evidence that we are truly His. For the test of the good seed is that it produces a hundredfold.
6.7-8 ‘Do not be deceived. God is not mocked. For whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap. For he who sows to his own flesh, will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap eternal life.’
This statement applies to the whole of 5.13 to 6.7. He has already given a stern warning in 5.21. Now he repeats it even more strongly. He warns them against the danger of being deceived, this time not by false teachers but by themselves. They must not treat lightly what he has taught them, for its consequences are real. We cannot turn our nose up at God. Let us be sure of this. Whatever we sow we will reap.
How easily men convince themselves that ‘God is love’ so that they do not have to worry too much about their behaviour. How easily the ease of forgiveness makes us think lightly of the sin. So Paul warns us that we may be mocking God by our attitude. And he warns us that we will not get away with it. Forgiveness may give us a new start, but to continue in sin regardless will mean that we suffer the consequences. That is an inexorable law.
‘He who sows to his own flesh will of the flesh reap corruption.’ The flesh ‘longs’ against the Spirit, and those who go on yielding to it with little regard will reap corruption. That is the law of creation. He who sows to the satisfaction of the desires of his flesh will discover that it has inevitable consequences, possibly in the shorter term, certainly in the longer term. In many cases their lives and their health will be ruined by excess, in others the corruption may come in the judgment when they weep and gnash their teeth at what they have lost. God’s judgment may seem delayed, for He is long-suffering, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3.9). But it will surely come. And the corollary of comparison with the next phrases is that such a person will not inherit eternal life.
‘But he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap eternal life.’ Paul shows clearly that in the struggle between flesh and Spirit we are not dealing on the one hand with weak Christians and on the other with strong ones, but we are dealing with all men who are affected by the Spirit. Those who follow the flesh do so because they are not Christians. They reject the working and pull of the Spirit. But those who respond to the Spirit’s prompting and let Him produce within them His perfect fruit, will reap eternal life. And here eternal life refers to the life to come, as usually in Paul. It is our certain hope (1 Timothy 1.2; 3.7).
So there is no middle way. Either the flesh is lord, or the Spirit is Lord. The one will produce unpleasant physical and spiritual consequences in this life and finally the corruption of eternal death, the other will result in the joy and blessing in this life and in the life of eternity. To be free from the Law as Paul describes it is not an excuse for lawlessness. It is to be responsive to the Spirit of God. Those who are not responsive to the Spirit of God cannot claim to be Christ’s, for their faith is a sham, as they may well discover too late.
This does not, of course, mean that the Christian cannot enjoy some of the pleasure that man’s make up provides. Kept within bounds and subject to God’s teaching and will, such pleasure is not a ‘lust of the flesh’. It is enjoyment of God’s generous provision. It is when it gets out of bounds, when the flesh is given control, that it becomes sinful.
‘Mocked.’ The word means to turn the nose up at something. Thus when men sin and live after the flesh they are basically turning their noses up at God.
6.9 ‘And let us not be weary in well-doing, for in due course we will reap if we do not faint.’
Paul recognises that all this may not be easy. It is tempting to follow the lusts of the flesh, and go beyond the bounds set by God. So he seeks to encourage the people of God, and he knows he must include himself. ‘Let us not grow weary in well doing, for in due season we will reap if we do not lose heart and give up’. Christians should ever look ahead to ‘the harvest’, the time when all their hard work will be rewarded, and at times of discouragement this should act as a spur, enabling them to persevere. For the reaping is certain for those who are led by the Spirit.
‘Well-doing.’ This refers to every aspect of life. To walk after the Spirit is to ‘do well’. Well-doing is the fruit of love, love for our neighbour, love for all men. At times we may grow weary, but we must look to Him and not faint and then we shall mount up on wings as eagles, we will run and not be weary, we will walk and not faint (Isaiah 40.31).
6.10 ‘So then, as we have opportunity, let us work that which is good towards all men, and especially towards those who are of the household of faith.’
‘Opportunity’ is kairos, which also means time. Thus it means ‘while it is the opportune time’. For a time will come when no man can work (John 9.4). So we must seek to do good for all men while we can. There is no exclusivity here. Some churches are too inward looking and ignore the need of those outside. But the spiritual Christian has a wide vision, and he considers both the spiritual and the physical needs of all who are within his purview.
Nevertheless Paul then adds, ‘especially towards those who are of the household of faith’. The ‘household of faith’ is the assembly of Christians in each place and in every place. They are looked on as one family. And Christians are to have special concern for them (John 13.35;15.12).
So in the end we must look outside ourselves. Too much inward looking will unquestionably lead to failure, and is indeed sinful. What we must do is look outward to the needs of others. And this includes everyone, not just our own group, although, because our fellow-Christians are our ‘brothers’, we should have special regard for them.
The Final Summary - What the Christian Should Glory In ( 6.11-15).
Having summarised Christian behaviour Paul now turns their attention to what they should be glorying in. Here Paul takes the letter from his secretary who is writing it for him, and writes in large letters so as to stress his conclusion.
6.11 ‘See with how large letters I have written to you with my own hand.’
Having laid out for them the full position with regard to what the Gospel is, and the failure of those who preach otherwise, he wants to stress his conclusion. Thus he writes by his own hand and He writes in large letters.
6.12 ‘AS MANY AS DESIRE TO MAKE A FAIR SHOW IN THE FLESH, THEY COMPEL YOU TO BE CIRCUMCISED, ONLY THAT THEY MAY NOT BE PERSECUTED FOR THE CROSS OF CHRIST.
Let them now reconsider the first fact. That the Judaisers are not honest. There real aim is to avoid the persecution that they would suffer if they ‘preached the cross’ (1 Corinthians 1.17-18). Thus they take the easy way out and insist on circumcision for all, turning everyone into Jews and making them submit to the Jew’s religion, counting everyone who is circumcised as a victory, and making a fair show. But note that it is ‘in the flesh’, (as is often ‘counting souls’).
6.13 ‘FOR THOSE WHO RECEIVE CIRCUMCISION DO NOT EVEN THEMSELVES KEEP THE LAW. BUT THEY DESIRE TO HAVE YOU CIRCUMCISED THAT THEY MAY GLORY IN YOUR FLESH.’
Let them consider the second fact. That those who try to bring them in subjection to the Law cannot even keep the Law themselves. They offer them something that they themselves are unable to achieve. And they do it simply so that they can glory in what they achieve by having them circumcised. Indeed they want to ‘glory in your flesh’. In other words their glory is not in Christ but in fleshly things, they glory in ordinances, they glory especially in making men undergo circumcision that they may say, ‘see, he is marked as one of ours’. They are of those who follow the pull of the flesh, and they want others to be the same. They are not responsive to the Spirit, and they want them to behave likewise. For to be circumcised for this reason is as fleshly as all the other works of the flesh.
So those who want them to be circumcised and submit to ritual ordinances do it simply because they want to have physical proof of their success. They want to be able to glory in it. ‘See’, they want to be able to say, ‘they have submitted to circumcision’. Then they will receive their congratulations, and there it will end. The desires of their flesh will be satisfied.
6.14 ‘BUT FAR BE IT FROM ME TO GLORY, EXCEPT IN THE CROSS OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, THROUGH WHICH THE WORLD HAS BEEN CRUCIFIED TO ME, AND I TO THE WORLD. FOR NEITHER IS CIRCUMCISION ANYTHING, NOR UNCIRCUMCISION, BUT A NEW CREATION.’
Let them consider the third and final fact. That Paul desires to glory in only one thing, the cross of Christ. He glories in nothing else (when it comes to the question of salvation and relationship with God). That is central to his preaching and to the faith he teaches. For through it he has died to the world, and to all that is earthly, which includes the flesh and includes the Law. And all these have been crucified to him. As far as he is concerned they are dead, because he has come to know the full meaning and significance of the cross and He Who was crucified on it, that through Him and His sacrificial death he and all who truly believe have been reckoned as righteous by faith and have received the Holy Spirit. And now that alone is what matters to him.
He does not glory in the fact that people have been circumcised, or indeed baptised (1 Corinthians 1.17). He does not glory in the fact that they do this or that, that they observe times and seasons, ritual food laws or laws of ‘cleanliness’. He does not glory in any of their activities. He does not glory in religious activity of any kind. He glories in only one thing, ‘the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ’ that delivers and makes men free, and in the One Who died there, the Lord of glory Who died and rose again, and in those who have died on it with Him and have found new life.
So as far as he is concerned circumcision is irrelevant. And uncircumcision is irrelevant. To argue about them, except in order to protect the message of the cross, is to argue about irrelevancies. They no longer matter. What matters is a new creation resulting from the preaching of the message of the cross. What matters is the total sufficiency of the cross and the One Who died there in providing salvation.
Our Lord, Jesus Christ.’ All through the epistle he has referred to Christ Jesus, or Jesus Christ. But now he wants to lay a greater emphasis. He is ‘our Lord’, Jesus Christ. He is the Lord of all. In the Septuagint this Greek word is used to express God’s special name, YHWH, and Paul makes it clear elsewhere that this is how he sees it, as applied to Christ. When he uses ‘Lord’ of Jesus, it means the name that is above every name to which every knee shall bow (Philippians 2.9-11). And it is this to this Lord, Who gave Himself up on the cross, that he gives all his attention and in Whom alone he glories. For what greater glory can there be than this greatest of all paradoxes, ‘the Lord of all’ on a cross.
‘A new creation’ or ‘a new creature’. Furthermore the old creation is done away in our Lord, Jesus Christ. It is now under judgment and only time stands in the way of its final destruction. But a ‘new creation’ has arisen, comprised of ‘new creatures’. For if any man is in Christ Jesus he is a new creation (2 Corinthians 5.17). And that is what matters. Those who have died with Christ and arisen as new creations, those who now have Christ living in them, those who now live by faith in the Son of God Who loved them and gave Himself for them, they have what matters, and what alone matters. And they are part of a great new creation, the Kingly Rule of God, they live in the heavenlies (Ephesians 2.6), the world in which the Spirit is triumphant. The old has passed away, the new has come.
Paul may well have had in mind here the words of Isaiah 48.6-7, ‘I have showed you new things from this time, even hidden things which you have not known, they are created now and not from of old.’ And Isaiah 54.9, ‘With everlasting kindness will I have mercy on you, says the Lord your Redeemer. This is as the waters of Noah to me ---.’ The new world after the Flood was seen by the Jews (e.g. Philo) as a ‘new creation’. And what is happening now is an even greater new creation. In Christ it is as though time has begun again. It is as though the world has been offered a second chance, as indeed it has.
So, he in effect says, ‘Forget the Law, forget circumcision, forget the old ways. Consider the new creation brought to us through the crucified and risen Lord.’ And that is only thing that Paul is willing to glory in.
6.16 ‘And as many as shall walk by this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and on the Israel of God.’
His letter is finished. He has made clear his Gospel. And now on those of the Galatians who walk by ‘this rule’, (that the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ is all and that neither circumcision matters, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation) he prays for peace and mercy. For they alone will have both.
The combination of peace and mercy in such close conjunction in a blessing occurs nowhere in Judaism, but it is partially found in Psalm 85.10 (84.11 in the LXX) and in Isaiah 54.10. The latter is especially appropriate, ‘neither shall my covenant of peace be removed, says Yahweh Who has mercy on you.’
‘And (namely) on the Israel of God.’ Throughout his letter he has demonstrated that the old unbelieving Israel is finished with. Their rites no longer apply, their submission to the Law is now futile, they are no longer the true sons of Abraham or heirs of the promise made to him (3.18, 28, 29). They are the sons of the slave woman who is after the flesh (4.23), they are children of Hagar who have been brought into bondage (4.24). They are children of the old Jerusalem which is in bondage (4.25). They are as such to be cast out (4.30).
But now there is a new Israel. They are, like Isaac, the children of promise (4.28). They are the children of the free-woman (4.31). They are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise (3.29). They are adopted as sons and heirs of God (4.5-7). They are reckoned as righteous by faith, just as their father Abraham was (3.6-7). They have received the promise of the Spirit through faith (3.14). They are children of the new Jerusalem which is in Heaven (4.26). They are born after the Spirit (4.29). They are the new people of God. And they consist of believing ex-Jews and believing ex-Gentiles (3.28). They are ‘the congregation (church) of God’ (1.13), the Israel of God.
Thus Paul extends his blessing to cover not only the faithful among the Galatians ‘those (of you) as shall walk by this rule’ but also the faithful worldwide, the Israel of God’. The close connection with the new creation in the previous verse confirms this interpretation. They are the new creation, the new Israel.
Some suggest ‘the Israel of God’ means only believing Jews. But the whole of Galatians has rid them of the idea that Jews are different from Gentiles, and the lack of difference is what he has been at pains to point out (Galatians 3.28). Would he now so distinguish believing Jews as the Israel of God separately from the believing Gentiles, thus again splitting ‘the one new man’ (Ephesians 2.15)? Especially as this last passage is summarising what has gone before. It is inconceivable. The ‘Israel of God’ includes either all or none.
Indeed the sentence I so worded that if we make the Israel of God separate from what has gone before we suggest that ‘those who walk according to this rule’ are different from the Israel of God. But that would be foolish. All walk according to the rule that circumcision matters no more. All who are His are a part of Israel, with or without circumcision.
It is one of the emphases of the New Testament that the church is the true Israel, the Israel of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob/Israel. They are the true seed of Abraham (3.29), they are the true sons of Abraham (3.7), they are engrafted into the olive tree of Israel (Romans 11.17-21), and unbelieving Israel is broken off from it (Romans 11.17, 20). They are the Jerusalem which is above which is their mother (3.26) and are like Isaac, true sons of promise, in contrast with unbelieving Jews who have proved themselves to be like Ishmael and thus not sons of promise (4.22-31). They are children of Abraham through Sarah (4.31).
To be separated from Christ is to be alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and to be strangers to the covenants of promise, but now they have been brought near and have been made one by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2.12-13), so that they are no longer strangers and sojourners (non-Israelites), but fellow-citizens with God’s holy ones, God’s separated people, and they are of the household of God. They are built on Jesus Christ, Who in Himself represents Israel, and on the Apostles, chosen by Him to judge the twelve tribes of Israel (Matthew 19.28), that is the people of God, and on the Prophets of Israel.
It is noteworthy that Paul, in arguing against circumcision, never argues that the church is not Israel and therefore is not subject to circumcision. Rather he claims that circumcision has been superseded (Colossians 2.11-13), and that we are the true circumcision (Philippians 3.3) precisely because the church is the new Israel. Furthermore his reply to the Judaisers was not that they should not treat the church as though it were Israel. His arguments always assume that at least in that the Judaisers were right. Where they went wrong was in failing to recognise that through Christ and His death and resurrection God’s requirements of the true Israel were now different.
The whole basis of Hebrews is that the church is now the true Israel, looking to Jesus as its High Priest, they are the seed of Abraham (2.16). Indeed our hope lies in exactly that, that the church is the result of the promise to Abraham that his seed will be multiplied (6.13-20). He sees the church as coming to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem (Hebrews 11.22) as their home.
James of Jerusalem wrote to the churches as ‘the twelve tribes of the Dispersion’ )(James 1.1). That he meant the church as a whole is clear from the fact that there is no hint anywhere in his letter of a distinction from Gentile Christians in a context that would have demanded it if he had been aware of such a distinction. If he was writing only to Jewish Christians in a Gentile world how could he possibly not have mentioned their relationships with their Gentile brethren when speaking so strongly about moral behaviour, if that was how he had seen things? To have ignored Gentile Christians altogether would have been a studied insult. He writes as though such distinctions did not exist. In Christ there was neither Jew nor Greek. All were Israel.
Peter writes to ‘the elect among the sojourners of the Dispersion’ (1 Peter 1.1), and the same applies as with James. In his letter ‘Gentiles’ are always non-Christians, contrasted with his readers (2.12; 4.3). He refers to God’s people as ‘an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation’ all signifying Israel as it should be (1 Peter 2.9 compare Exodus 19.5-6). So both James and Peter saw the church as Israel. And John does the same when he depicts the church as ‘one hundred and forty four thousand’ (total completeness) out of every tribe of the house of Israel, which turn out to be ‘a great multitude which no man could number’ (Revelation 7).
So the church was God’s true Israel. We should recognise that this transition of the church to being Israel was not the difficulty for the ancients that it is to us. Incorporation into ‘Israel’, becoming sons of Israel, was always possible for anyone of any nation who was willing to enter into the covenant (and exclusion resulted from rejecting the covenant). The ‘children of Israel’ from the start included foreign servants and their children. They were joined by a mixed multitude (Exodus 12.38) officially incorporated into Israel at Sinai. Names of Israelites like Uriah the Hittite bear witness to this continual influx. Later a welcome would be offered to proselytes, Gentiles who wished to become Israelites. But all had to be circumcised (e.g. Exodus 12.48). That is why circumcision was such a big issue in the early church. And that raised the question, ‘How could the church be Israel if all its influx of members were not required to be circumcised?’ Paul’s answer was that they were circumcised in the death of Christ (Colossians 2.11-13).
6.17 ‘From henceforth let no man trouble me, for I bear branded on my body the marks (stigmata) of Jesus.’
He has finished what he wanted to say. Let them make their choice. They must choose either those who are branded with the mark of circumcision, or he who has been crucified with Christ and is branded with the marks of Jesus. If they choose circumcision they should have nothing more to do with him, for they will bear the brand that has cut them off from Christ.
It may well be that Paul is here not thinking just of metaphorical marks, but of physical marks. He had suffered much for Christ, enduring beatings and other ill-treatment, and he may well have seen the marks so obtained as a faint reflection and reminder of the marks that Jesus bore. He had shared in Christ’s crucifixion (Colossians 1.24). And there may here be the suggestion that the marks he bore were greater far, and more significant, than the mark of circumcision, for they pointed to the crucified Christ and the scandal of the cross.
Alternately the thought may be that the marks he bore marked him off as a devotee of Jesus Christ, and that therefore they must beware how they treated him. Herodotus wrote, ‘If any man receives holy stigmata (marks), giving himself to a god, it is not lawful to touch him.’ Thus Paul may be declaring his invulnerability to all that they could do.
6.18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.’
He finishes his letter by praying for the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ to be with their spirit. This is pointed, for he never finishes like this anywhere else. He is stressing that it is only to those who are spiritual, because they have received the promise of the Spirit, that he writes. To those who walk after the Spirit. To those who have received the Spirit, and whose spirits have been renewed. And he prays that the undeserved favour and activity of the Lord Jesus Christ will be active with them in their life of the Spirit, that He will be ‘with their spirit’.
‘Amen.’ So be it.
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