Monday, May 30, 2011

Galatians Part 9: Paul defends the gospel (d)—2:15-6:16

IV. Paul defends the gospel—2:15-6:16 continued...

False teachers can look like the flock!
10. Paul expresses concern about the false teachers among them—4:12-20

4:12—I beg of you, brethren, become as I am, for I also have become as you are—Paul is exhorting the Galatians to become as he is, that is, free from the Law and its bondage. When Paul says that he has become as they are, he means that “to those who are without law, [he became] as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law.” (1 Cor 9:21) Paul simply wants them to know that he never insisted that they first become Jews to be Christians. Christianity is apart from being a Jew.

4:13—You have done me no wrong; [13] but you know that it was because of a bodily illness that I preached the gospel to you the first time—It was not really Paul’s intention to preach the gospel to the Galatians when he first travelled that way. We do not know exactly where in Galatia was when Paul became ill, since there is no historical information concerning his illness. What is clear is that Paul was in Galatia because of this illness.

This illness had to have been some eye problem since Paul writes that they would have plucked out their eye for him if they could have (v15). Even though Paul was ill at the time, they did not reject him and his message and as a result did him no wrong. Their attitude was opposite to that of the Jews who wanted to destroy him wherever he went.

4:14—and that which was a trial to you in my bodily condition you did not despise or loathe, but you received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus Himself—That Paul suggests that the Galatians did not despise or loath him because of his condition gives us an idea how bad his eye infection was. Is it not true, that when someone else has an eye problem and we look into their eyes, our own eyes start tearing? Paul’s eyes must have been bad enough that it was indeed possible for someone to despise him at the time, never mind actually listening to the message he was carrying.

However, when the Galatians heard the gospel they received Paul as they would have received Christ Himself. The reason they were so ready to listen to Paul is that they were appointed by God to believe at this point in their lives (Ac 13:42, 48).

4:15—Where then is that sense of blessing you had? For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me—When the Galatians accepted Paul and the gospel he preached they experienced great spiritual blessing with the result that they would have plucked out their eyes and given them to Paul if possible. Paul again makes reference to his illness and how the Galatians responded to him.

4:16—So have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?—Paul was very perturbed at what was going on in Galatia among the churches there. As a result he simply had to tell them the truth of the gospel without pulling punches so to speak. It was more important for Paul to preach the truth to the Galatians than to make them feel good about themselves. This was upsetting to the Galatians and as a result they had the feeling that Paul had become their enemy. Did Paul become their enemy since he told them the truth? The obvious answer to this question is “no!”

It is such a pity in the modern church that they cannot handle doctrinal correction, the very thing Paul was doing here. They find it more important to “enjoy” themselves and to feel all “lovey-dovey” than to study the Scriptures and knowing the truth.

4:17—They eagerly seek you, not commendably, but they wish to shut you out so that you will seek them—The Judaizers were active in their courting of the Galatians. However, the motives of the Judaizers were clear to Paul. By shutting the Galatians out, the Judaizers used the law to keep the Galatians away from Christ and Paul, and dependent on the Judaizers.

4:18—But it is good always to be eagerly sought in a commendable manner, and not only when I am present with you—Trying to get someone on your side is not bad in itself as long as it is done in a commendable way. It is also fine to be courted by others in a commendable way. Indeed Paul is courting them in this very epistle.

4:19—My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you—“Their spiritual birth had once involved him in painful travail, but now their threatened defection has brought on those birth-pangs for the second time! Not as though they needed a second conversion, but rather that Christ might be so completely formed in them that they would be forever immune from the insidious germs of false doctrine.”1

Paul’s expression “my children” is an indication that Paul’s pastoral concern and evangelistic zeal for the condition of these Galatians did not diminish. In contradiction to the false motives of the Judaizers, Paul’s concern for them is genuine.

4:20—but I could wish to be present with you now and to change my tone, for I am perplexed about you—Paul’s deep concern for the Galatians at this point drives him to want to be with them during their own battles. In wanting to change his tone, Paul wishes that if he could be with them, he could show the Galatians that he indeed loves them and has a real concern for them.

11. Paul’s bond-woman and free woman allegory—4:21-31

4:21—Tell me, you who want to be under law, do you not listen to the law?—At this point Paul is still convinced that they had not rejected the gospel for law, but that they only desire it as can be deduced from his words “you who want to be under law.” Paul uses “law” here without the article in the Greek text and therefore refers to law as a principle of life and not just to the Mosaic Law. Paul then wants to know whether they understand the significance of wanting to be under that principle of “law.”

4:22—For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman—Paul now starts his allegory by referring to the historical circumstances of the father of the Jews.

4:23—But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise—“The words ‘was born,’ are in the perfect tense in preference to the usual aorist, because Paul was not thinking simply of the historic fact of the two births, but of the existing results. Ishmael’s descendants do not belong to the covenant people, Israel. Isaac’s descendants are those that have the promises.”2

4:24—This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar—Paul, at this point, starts by pointing two covenants. Which two? Paul is contrasting the Old Covenant with the New Covenant. When Paul mentions the covenant which proceeded from Mt. Sinai it is clear that he means the Old Covenant. This is the covenant that brought about slaves and is to be connected with Hagar, the slave woman.

4:25—Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children—Having connected Hagar with Mt. Sinai, Paul proceeds further by connecting her to the Jerusalem of Paul’s time. Jerusalem, the center of Judaism is shown to be in slavery to what else than to the very covenant embodied in their Law. As Hagar, the slave woman, bore slaves by nature, so followers of legalistic Judaism bore slaves to the Law.

4:26—But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother—The heavenly Jerusalem represents Sarah, the mother of the promise, and as a result faith and grace as opposing to legalistic Judaism.

4:27—For it is written, REJOICE, BARREN WOMAN WHO DOES NOT BEAR; BREAK FORTH AND SHOUT, YOU WHO ARE NOT IN LABOR; FOR MORE NUMEROUS ARE THE CHILDREN OF THE DESOLATE THAN OF THE ONE WHO HAS A HUSBAND—Paul quotes Is 54:1 and ties it to the unfruitful Sarah who, in this allegory is connected to the heavenly Jerusalem. Paul shows that the barren woman—Sarah, the heavenly Jerusalem, which represents Christianity—will soon have more children than the fruitful woman—Hagar, legalistic Judaism.

4:28—And you brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise—Paul assures the Galatian Christians that they are like Isaac, children of promise, and not like Ishmael, the slave child. The Christians do not have a physical descent from Abraham, but since they are like Isaac who was a child of promise, they too are descended from Abraham.

4:29—But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also—Paul here refers to the way that Ishmael mocked Isaac in Gen 21:9 and shows that the situation now is no different at all. Those born of the flesh who are not children of the promise—legalistic Judaism—still persecuted the children of the promise, the Christians.

4:30—But what does the Scripture say? CAST OUT THE BONDWOMAN AND HER SON, FOR THE SON OF THE BONDWOMAN SHALL NOT BE AN HEIR WITH THE SON OF THE FREE WOMAN—In the same way God rejected Ishmael, the son of the slave woman, He rejected the children of the flesh in favour of the children of the promise. The law must disappear before the gospel since they cannot exist together.

4:31—So then, brethren, we are not children of a bondwoman, but of the free woman—Paul now categorically states that Christians are children of the free woman—Sarah—and like Isaac are children of the promise; and they are not at all like the children of the slave woman. In fact, they are not related at all.

12. Justification by the Law severs us from Christ—5:1-6

5:1—IT was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery—The very reason Christ redeemed us was for freedom from the Law. Therefore, we should not waver in our faith and end up being locked up to the Law in slavery. “Freedom” here has the Greek article and points to the freedom mentioned back in 4:31. We in Christ have received the freedom that belongs to the children of the free woman. They were once subject to the bondage of the Law and they must not get back into it again.

5:2—Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you—Up until this time the Galatians had not yet been circumcised and we can see this by the use of the word “if” by Paul. “They cannot have Christ and circumcision; they must choose circumcision or Christ. As Ridderbos points out, this does not mean that circumcision is of itself an impediment to Christ, but the legalist demand that those who were never subject to the law of Moses should receive it as a condition for obtaining salvation perverted the gospel by challenging the sufficiency of Christ’s work.”3 [Emphasis supplied] “It is not that circumcision in itself is so important. In fact, Paul himself had once circumcised Timothy (Ac 16:3), and he would soon declare that ‘neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value’ (v.6). Rather, what Paul condemns is the theology of circumcision, which makes works necessary for salvation and seeks to establish conformity to some external standards of behavior as a mark of spirituality.”4 [Emphasis supplied]

5:3—And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law—Accepting circumcision for the purpose of salvation will obligate them to keep the whole of the law that in this case is represented by circumcision. Being circumcised will cause them to lose the value of Christ’s death for salvation and for living their lives in Christ (v2). Apart from this, to choose circumcision for the purpose of salvation is to choose legalism as a lifestyle. Since circumcision is a sign of the Old Covenant, being circumcised would put them under the rule of the Law.

5:4—You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace—Paul becomes very assertive here when he describes the condition of those who seek to be justified by the law. Seek to be justified by the law and you are severed from Christ. You then have forsaken grace. “’Christ’s method of justification is wholly of grace, and those who rely on law and merit are in opposition to grace – are fallen out of it. The clause has really no bearing on the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, or on their possible apostasy’ (Eadie). Those who are saints take heed of such warnings and persevere in their calling; those who are not often show it by publicly separating themselves from that domain of grace to which they never truly belonged.”5 This is borne out by 1 Jn 2:19.

5:5—For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness—Apart from human effort—by faith—we rely on the working of the Holy Spirit—sanctification—for the righteousness that will become ours as we grow in Christ until we are perfectly conformed to Christ in glory. We do not work for this righteousness to become ours. We wait for it, since it is the work of the Holy Spirit.

5:6—For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love—In fact, “neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything” if you have faith in Christ “working through love.” If you are circumcised and have no faith you are lost. If you are uncircumcised and have no faith you are still lost. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision can effect salvation. Only “faith working through love” can effect such a salvation. In verses 5-6 Paul uses faith, hope and love together as he wrote in 1 Cor 13:13, “But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.” Also 1 Thes 1:3, “constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father.”

13. Galatians hindered from following the truth—5:7-12

5:7—You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?—Paul loved to use imagery from athletics. He did so in several places. Here he praises the Galatians for the race that they ran so well before. He then asks them a rhetorical question to bring them shame. The word “hindered” comes from the Greek engkopto (εγκοπτω), meaning to “cut in” or “knock into.” It gives the picture of an athlete that “cut in” in front of another athlete or even “knock into” another athlete in order to hinder that athlete. Paul obviously knows that the Judaizers were “cutting in” on the Galatians’ spiritual race!

5:8—This persuasion did not come from Him who calls you—The teaching that brought this hindrance to the Galatians did not come from the One who called the Galatians to salvation. Since this persuasion brought in by the Judaizers did not come from the One who called them, it therefore had to be hostile to God. The word “calls” is a present participle, meaning at the very time that this “persuasion” was offered to them, God was calling them. This new persuasion was making advances to them to stop obeying the truth and contemporaneous with that God was calling them to obey the truth. Since they were still being called by God also shows that Paul did not believe that they have yet fallen completely from grace.

5:9—A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough—Whenever the Bible speaks of leaven, it speaks of it in evil terms. The important thing about leaven is that only a tiny bit is needed to leaven the whole lump of bread dough. Yeast—leaven—affects everything it touches. False teaching does the same. It affects every area of our lives. World-views are affected.

5:10—I have confidence in you in the Lord that you will adopt no other view; but the one who is disturbing you will bear his judgment, whoever he is—Paul now expresses his confidence in them outright. Having said that he has confidence in them again shows that they have not yet fallen from grace. Paul now turns his confidence in them to the Lord. It is as they are in the Lord that He Himself will not allow evil to triumph ultimately. There may be temporary set backs, but ultimately God will carry them along.

5:11—But I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? Then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished—It seems that the Judaizers falsely claimed that Paul preached circumcision in order to lure the Galatians into their trap. Paul answers this claim that if he was still preaching circumcision, then why was he being persecuted by these people? To Paul, the idea of the cross and all it stands for is totally offensive to the natural mind that it provokes severe hostility. Legalism, and in this case the preaching of circumcision, seeks to attain merit before God through its own works. However, the cross, and its related offence, proclaims our complete ruin and inability in sin, so that we are utterly incapable of doing anything that can save us, and are therefore in total need of the work of God’s grace in our hearts. Paul wrote about the preaching of the gospel as an offence several times (Rom 9:33; 1 Cor 1:23; Gal 5:11). Peter also wrote on this subject in 1 Pet 2:8.

5:12—I wish that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves—The preaching of the Judaizers was very upsetting to Paul to the point that he wished they “would not stop with circumcision in their zeal for ordinances but rather would go on to castration. Sacral castration was known to citizens of the ancient pagan world. But for Paul to compare the ancient Jewish rite of circumcision to pagan practices even in this way is startling. Not only does it put the efforts of the Judaizers to have the Gentiles circumcised on the same level as abhorred pagan practices, but it actually links this desire to that which in Judaism disbarred one from the congregation of the Lord (Dt 23:1).”6 Paul’s concern with this comment was for the gospel, which taught the grace and truth of God.

End Notes

[1] Wilson, Geoffrey B., Galatians, The Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh, Great Britain, 1979, p89.
[2] Wuest, Kenneth S., Wuest’s Word Studies from the Greek New Testament for the English Reader, Volume One, Galatians in the Greek New Testament, Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI, 1973, p132.
[3] Wilson, p99-100.
[4] Barker, Kenneth L. & Kohlenberger III, John R., Consulting Editors, Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary, Volume 2: New Testament, Premier Reference Series, An Abridgment of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1994, p735.
[5] Wilson, p100-101.
[6] Barker, p737.

For more on this series, simply visit the Galatians label.
The next part in the Galatians series will be available next Monday!

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