NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES
CHAPTER ONE (Lesson XII)
When Paul opened this letter he mentioned that it came not only from him but from all those brethren who were with him at the time he dictated this letter. This in no way should be taken to imply that they helped him write this letter. Rather, that they were in full agreement with what he was saying in this epistle.1 But it does not rule out that some of them informed him of what they heard concerning the Galatians churches. Paul brings his opening to an end with a big “Amen,” after having ascribed all honor and glory to God the Father forever and ever. We find this phrase of the permanency of God’s glory first in the Song of Moses where he sang: “Adonai will reign forever and ever.”2 And this should be the ultimate aim of our lives, ministry, and message; doing and saying what results in lifting up the name of our God and honoring the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus our Christ.
Bruno the Carthusian (1030-1101) reminds us that since our Christ surrendered Himself to be tortured and crucified on our behalf in order to purchase our freedom from sin’s bondage so that He might fulfill the will of the Father, therefore, we should direct all honor and glory to Him for the price He paid for our redemption. The glory for our salvation does not go to the Law or to the philosophy of past or present sages. It all belongs to Him both now and forever. To this Paul says Amen, meaning that it is absolutely true and is affirmed both in heaven and on earth.3
John Calvin (1509-1564) believes that by this sudden exclamation of thanksgiving, Paul intends to powerfully awaken in his readers the contemplation of that invaluable gift which they received from God, and in this manner to prepare their minds more fully for receiving instruction.4 And James Haldane feels that Paul’s call for giving all glory to God includes the fact that because His handiwork in the heavens does not reveal His hidden plan of salvation, He sent His Son with the Gospel so that all of His treasures of wisdom and knowledge that is hidden in our Christ could be revealed. This was God’s doing; this was God’s will; this was God’s plan to allow those who believe to become part of the mysterious fellowship with Him that is found through union with our Christ.5
John Owen (1616-1683), makes the point that although grace is freely given, it needed to be purchased. That’s why Paul told the Corinthians that it cost God immensely to purchase our freedom from sin’s bondage.6 And the Apostle Peter said that it was the precious blood of our Christ.7 But this was not a new revelation, Jesus made it clear that He came to give His life as a ransom for many.8 As Paul would tell young Timothy, this was the price of our redemption.9 So yes, grace is free to us but it wasn’t free to God. That’s why He is called our Deliverer,10 So since God’s free gift of grace liberated the sinner from the bondage of sin’s captivity, is there anything greater or more satisfying than to serve Him for serving us? That was part of Paul’s declaration here in verse four. Later, he would tell the Thessalonians that part of the deliverance was to free us from the wrath of God to come upon sin and sinners11.12
William Law (1686-1761) was a priest in the Church of England who lost his position at Emmanuel College, Cambridge when his conscience would not allow him to take the required oath of allegiance to the first Hanoverian monarch, George I. That was an important thing in those days as the translators of the Authorized Bible (KJV) found out, which caused them to dedicate it to King James in order to get it printed and disbursed. Thereafter, Law continued as a priest and when that too became impossible without the required oath, Law taught privately, as well as wrote extensively. His personal integrity, as well as his theological writings greatly influenced the evangelical movement of his day as well as Enlightenment thinkers such as the writer Dr. Samuel Johnson and the historian Edward Gibbon. Law’s spiritual writings remain in print today.
In one of those writings in which he called for all believers to live a devout and holy life, he wrote about how difficult it was for a Christian to practice humility because of the general spirit and temperament of the world. This then requires believers to live contrary to the world as it relates to ethics, morals, and religion. But he points out that many rich, great, and well-educated individuals in his time were looked upon as imposing figures. They were heralded and applauded by the world. And just in his lifetime, William Law saw many of them die and then fade quickly from view as though they suddenly disappeared into thin air. They were then discarded by the world as if they were mere bubbles of water.
So if that happened to them, then what about those who face the same fate of heaven being lost and how they must lie in their graves waiting for a miserable eternity once they are called to stand judgment. Even though they dedicated themselves to years of service, the current generation feels as though they can do without them and be just as happy as if they were never here. So why would any Christian think it worthwhile to lose even the smallest degree of virtue for the sake of pleasing such undependable peers and false friends like those in the world? Law asks: Is it worthwhile to pay homage to such an idol as this, that so soon will have neither eyes, nor ears, nor a heart, to respect you, instead of serving that great, and holy, and mighty God, that will make all His servants partakers of His own eternity?
Law wants to know, who will let the fear of a false world, that has no lasting respect for them, keep them from the fear of the God, who created them that He may love and bless them with eternal life? And finally, they must consider what behavior the profession of Christianity requires of them with regard to the world. Law says, it can be found in the words of the Apostle Paul who declared his unshakable allegiance to the One Who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil world.”13 Therefore, being a Christian and serving God through our Christ implies that one must be delivered from any commitment to this world in order to win their friendship. That goes for every believer who must live contrary to everything this requires to be part of their lifestyle. They and their world will one day pass away, but heaven will never pass away as it awaits all those who remain faithful until the end.14
Baptist preacher Charles Simeon (1759-1836), preaching on the subject of the great object of our Christ’s coming, focuses on what Paul says here in verse four. As Simeon sees it, the influence of Christianity has certainly raised the level of morals wherever its teachings are disseminated, but complete conformity to the Christian code is rarely, if ever, seen. Where do we find people living according to the pattern of our Christ and His Apostles? Where does the cross of our Christ stand out so clearly that those who look upon it see their sins crucified on its cross-beam, or themselves having been crucified there with our Christ?15 This feeling is utterly unknown, except among a few; who, for that very reason, are despised and hated by the world of sinners around them.16 The truth is, that when it comes to practicing what they preach, Christians, in general, differ very little from either Jews or Gentiles. Christianity occupies their heads, but heathenism rules their hearts. They pretend to have faith: but, as for “the faith that overcomes the world,” they know little about it.17
Simeon goes on to lament that their whole life, instead of being occupied in a progressive transformation of the soul into the Divine image of our Christ, it remains in a state of conformity to the world.18 Furthermore, the Apostle James says that instead of regarding “the friendship of the world” as decisive proof of their being out of harmony with God’s will end up wanting the world’s friendship, seeking it, and then glorying in it.19 In Young’s Literal Translation it reads like this: “May counsel [decide] to be a friend of the world, an enemy of God.” The Complete Jewish Bible renders it: “Whoever chooses to be the world’s friend makes themselves God’s enemy!”
Then Simeon makes an appeal to his listeners. Whether or not all that he said so far may not apply to everyone. Furthermore, those who claim to be dead to the world may or may not be as signs and wonders to this current age. Know this, however, that they who achieve such status are not only a light to this world and to all believers, and the only thing that keeps anyone from reaching such higher ground is that the knowledge they claim to have, or all the experience they assert to have assembled is nothing but learned ignorance, and counterfeit belief. Listen to what the Apostle John states so clearly: We know that we are from God and that the whole world struggles under the power of the Evil One20.21 In reading this it reminded me of the Apostle Paul’s appeal to the Corinthians that ended with these challenging words from the prophet Ezekiel: “That is why the Lord said, ‘Leave them; separate yourselves from them; don’t touch their filthy things, and I will welcome you.”22
1 Burton, Ernest DeWitt, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, Published by T. & T. Clark, Edinburgh, 1921, loc. cit. p. 8
2 Exodus 15:18 – Complete Jewish Bible
3 Bruno the Carthusian: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.
4 John Calvin: Bible Cabinet, On Galatians (1574), op. cit., loc. cit., p. 8
5 James A. Haldane (1848): On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 35
6 1 Corinthians 6:20
7 1 Peter 1:18, 19
8 Matthew 20:28
9 1 Timothy 2:6
10 Romans 11:26
11 1 Thessalonians 1:10
12 John Owen: Vol. 3, Communion with God, p. 209
13 Galatians 1:4
14 William Law: A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, Ch 17, p. 205
15 See Galatians 6:14
16 John 15:19
17 1 John 5:4-5
18 Romans 12:2
19 James 4:4
20 1 John 5:9
21 Charles Simeon: Horæ Homileticæ, Vol. XVII, Published by Henry G. Bohn, London, Sixth Edition, 1854, Sermon #2049, pp. 1-5
22 2 Corinthians 6:17; Ezekiel 20:34, 41