NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES
CHAPTER ONE (Lesson LVIII)
Here’s a somewhat hidden factor in Paul’s persecution of Christians. In order to oppress them, he needed to know what they believed and how it differed from the truth he believed. He wanted the knowledge and evidence required to prosecute them in front of the Jewish Councils. In other words, Paul already knew a lot about the Gospel and the Christian faith before he became a convert. So can it be that God used Paul’s education in learning about these Jesus People called “The Way,” to make him an even better defender of the very faith he once tried to eliminate? Isn’t God fabulous? No wonder that early church scholar Victorinus points out that instead of Paul bragging of how God glorified him, he wanted everyone to know that it was God being glorified in him.1
I can remember attending a Pentecostal Servicemen’s Retreat in Berchtesgaden, Germany back in the 1960s and hearing a guest minister speak about neo-Pentecostals, a term I’d never heard before. He explained that clergy and members of mainline churches such as Catholics, Lutherans, Episcopalians, and others were receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit with speaking in tongues. They referred to themselves as “Charismatics.” Believe it or not, some very strict Pentecostals took this as a betrayal by the Holy Spirit, making them now look insignificant since the “big boys” received the same baptism in the Spirit. Yet others saw it as a fad that would soon die down and these denominations would go back to what they always were. And while others acknowledged the outpouring, they determined that they would only accept those neo-Pentecostals if they fell in line with traditional Pentecostal/Evangelical beliefs and practices of holiness. They insisted on this so they could continue to be seen as the true authority on what a Pentecostal was, and how they were supposed to live and worship. But as one Medieval commentator said of what happened to Paul, should have been the reaction of traditional Pentecostals to this spreading of the infilling of the Spirit. He says, that upon hearing that Paul was converted and was now preaching the Gospel, they gloried God and praised Him for His mercy.2
Paul’s experience in going from Judaism to Christianity gives us a better understanding of the difference between Religion and Spirituality. The word “religion” comes from a Latin word religio, that means “to bind” – and it seems to have maintained that definition by keeping people tied to specific creeds for centuries. It relates mostly to the physical and material world around us. All religions have evolved from someone or some group claiming a unique revelation from God, then passing that revelation along with accompanying rules and regulations. That’s how Judaism came into being. Moses received a revelation on Mt. Sinai and brought down his new knowledge and passed it on to the people of Israel. Such religious philosophies have developed and been refined for centuries and is almost exclusively designed to keep people from stepping out of line and prevent them from “erring” from the truth. Because of that, and the many variations of Biblical interpretation, multiple denominations, and church groups have been spawned over the centuries since the Day of Pentecost.
“Spirituality” comes from the root word “Spirit” with the suffix “-uality” which means “the state of being spiritually alive.” Therefore, it speaks of that pertaining to the world of the spirit. It refers to the acceptance of something or someone outside ourselves that affect the way we live, the way we think, and the way we behave. It also agrees that “good” and “evil” exist. These are things that cannot be directly perceived by our five physical senses, but something we accept by faith as existing such as love, peace, joy, kindness, goodness, patience, etc. So we could say, that “spiritual” is the term we use when referring to those things we cannot see or touch firsthand with our eyes and hands, cannot perceive directly with our senses, or know for sure by use of human logic or reasoning, but know that they are real.
When it comes to Christian spirituality, we can say the fundamental difference between spirituality and religion is that religion is based on impersonally LEARNING about God through intellect, while spirituality is based on personally KNOWING God through faith. This was the main argument Paul discusses with the Galatians. The Judaizers insisted that they establish an indirect relationship with God by following religious rituals and regulations. Paul wanted them to throw these things away and institute a direct relationship with God through Jesus the Anointed One, our Lord and Savior.
In response to Paul’s reception by the churches in Judæa who only knew of him, Reformer John Calvin accepts this as evidence that Paul’s ministry was approved by all the churches of Judæa. They expressed this approval by breaking out in admiration and praise for the wonderful saving power of God. This certainly shows that whatever opposition or criticism he faced before, that it did not keep the glory of God from shining in his ministry. This should remind us of the light in which the saints of the Lord should be seen by other believers. When we behold believers adorned with the gifts of the Spirit, why is it that some with corrupt thinking consider it superstition? Calvin’s words remind us that, on the contrary, to lift up our eyes to the Great Author or our salvation, and to ascribe to Him what is His own. At the same time, let it inform us that an occasion of offering praise to God was furnished by the change produced in Paul from being an enemy to becoming a minister of the Anointed One.3
Pastor Charles Simeon (1759-1836) preached a sermon on this subject, in which he finishes with a compassionate praise and a caring plea. He told his congregation that the conversion of Paul benefited the whole world. That it would be a blessing to millions through all eternity! And, although none of us can be compared with him, can anyone really estimate the good which the very least among us may be in affecting the world around us? The work of a believer does not end when their ministry does. It can go on affecting a whole country through those that it touched for ages to come. And the poorest person, by a word spoken, or by their life and conversation, may, like Syrian General Naaman’s maid, be the means of converting one whose influence may extend through a whole kingdom.4 Every addition, therefore, to the Church is a reason for rejoicing, and should inspire the deepest thanksgiving from all to whom the tidings of great joy are made known.
Simeon then finishes with this invitation to the unconverted: Never has anyone been given the occasion to glorify God on your behalf. On the contrary, there have been many reasons to weep over you endlessly, even to this present hour. You may not have been a persecutor of the Church like Paul, but you have been an enemy of God and His the Anointed One from your youth up. You, therefore, must be converted as much as Paul was. It is not necessary that you be converted in the same way as Paul, or in the same sudden manner. But converted you must be, or perish. You must believe as he did; embrace that very Gospel which he preached. O, I beg of you, May God count you worthy of this calling, and to fulfill in you all the good pleasure of His goodness, and the work of faith with power; that the name of our Lord Jesus the Anointed One may be glorified in you, and you in Him according to the grace of our God and of our Lord Jesus the Anointed One5.6
Adam Clarke (1760-1832) has a similar message, but his is for the believer. To Clarke, it was of great importance to Paul to defend and vindicate his Divine commission. Since those causing discord in Galatia said nothing good about him, it became necessary that he should be able to show plainly that his approval came from God. Paul was not brought into the Christian ministry by any rite or ritual used in the assembly of believers. Neither did any Bishop nor presbyter lay hands on him except Ananias who was doing what God told him to do. Paul’s top honor arose from being sent out immediately by God Himself: his conversion and the purity of his doctrine showed that it was God who called him.
Clarke then laments that many ministers since Paul’s day are far more anxious to show that they are legitimately appointed by Man than by God, and are fond of displaying their human credentials. These are easily shown; those that come from God are out of their reach. How ineffective and vain it is to boast any succession from the Apostles, while ignorance, intolerance, pride, and self-glory prove that those very persons have no commission from heaven! Countless times, ministers are sent out without God’s approval. No person has the right to preach, or administer the sacraments of the Church, whom God has not sent. It doesn’t matter how many lay their hands on an individual, God will never send an unconverted person out to convert others. The Lord will never send those who are proud, overbearing, intolerant, and impatient to teach meekness, gentleness, and patience. These are those in whom the Spirit of the Anointed One does not dwell and were never given His commission to preach the Gospel. They may boast of their human authority, but God will send no anointing upon them. On the other hand, let none who are called run before they are sent. And when they get the authority of God to go, let them be careful to take that which those over them in the Lord have given them.7
James Haldane (1768-1851) also sees the importance of our knowing what the phrase, “they glorified God in me,” meant to Paul. Those who rejoiced in what God did in Paul’s life were rejoicing in the great change they saw in his life. Just as we see green leaves sudden turn red, yellow, and brown, or look out the window a green grass in the afternoon and the next morning it is covered with a foot of snow. That’s the way it looked as believers saw the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, like a person plucked out of a burning building to save a lost and ruined sinner. What a strikingly beautiful illustration of the boundless riches of Divine grace. An able, talented, faithful, and zealous worker was turned around in the middle of the field and instead of destroying the harvest he was sent forth by the Lord to reap the harvest. No wonder, says Haldane, this display of the power of God excited much thanksgiving and praise, and was, consequently, highly beneficial to those who also come to the Anointed One through grace.8
1 Marius Victorinus: On Galatians, Edwards, M. J. (Ed.)., op. cit., loc. cit., p. 16)
2 Bruno the Carthusian, Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.
3 John Calvin, Bible Cabinet, Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 24
4 2 Kings 5:1-19
5 See 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12
6 Charles Simeon: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.
7 Adam Clarke: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.
8 James Haldane: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 62