CALLED TO LIVE IN FREEDOM

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NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CONGREGATIONS OF BELIEVERS

CHAPTER TWO (Lesson IX)

In another place, Calvin notes that there is nothing plainer than this rule: we are to use our liberty if it tends to the edification of our neighbor, but if it puts our neighbor in an uneasy position, we are to abstain from it. There are some, says Calvin, who pretend to utilize this discretion that Paul advises, by not using their liberty at all, especially when they utilize it to refrain from being charitable to their neighbor in giving them things because they may be embarrassed by being treated in that fashion. So sometimes, they don’t want the word liberty used when it comes to doing, or not doing, something with their neighbor’s interest in mind. They want to use their liberty for their own good and edification rather than to modify it occasionally just to make themselves look good. It is part of every dedicated believer’s thinking that the proper use of the free power given to them in such external, not eternal, things as charitable giving will qualify them, even more, to deal with such issues.[1]

Jakob Arminius comments on the situation of Titus, one of Paul’s most prominent Gentile converts, who was being used by Jewish converts to attack Paul for not instructing Titus to be circumcised in order to satisfy their interpretation of the Law and the Gospel. Arminius feels that they either forgot or weren’t convinced that the ceremonial law was abolished by the cross, the death, and the resurrection of the Anointed One. That by His ascension into heaven and the mission for which the Holy Spirit was sent to bring the truth out of the shadows, and by His human body the Anointed One was able to fulfill the Law’s demand for circumcision,[2] and be the completion of all the types represented in Jewish sacrifices, ceremonies, rites, rituals, and feasts.[3]

However, no matter what the Anointed One did, we must also acknowledge that the Law is no longer given our allegiance and obedience. And the moment we unchained ourselves from its rule, every obligatory right it exercised over us was once and for all severed from it. In that same instant, it ceased to live in our hearts and minds because it was dead to us.[4] Afterward, it was actually to be abolished as having any part of our salvation. This came about partly by the teaching of the Apostles among believers who by degrees understood “the Anointed One to be the end of the law.” And since we no longer have any relationship with the Law, we voluntarily rejected any use of that law to enhance our salvation.

Its abolition was also accomplished in part, by the power of God in the destruction of Jerusalem and of the temple which was the seat of Jewish religion, and the place appointed for performing those religious observances, against the disobedience of the unbelieving Jews. From this period on the legal ceremonies began to be pointless for Jews and Christians, although in the intermediate time that elapsed between the ascension of the Anointed One and the destruction of Jerusalem, these rites, even in the judgment of the Apostles themselves, were tolerated only among the Jews, and with a provision, that they should not be imposed on the Gentiles.[5] But for some Messianic Jews, such toleration allowed them to consider their interpretation as being tantamount to launching a new institution.[6]

When commenting on what Paul says about how some of the Messianic Jews in the congregation Council in Jerusalem were wanting to bring the Gentiles under the same rules and regulations that they lived by in compliance with Jewish Ceremonial Law, John Bunyan thought it was important that they maintain unity in the congregation, especially on what is being preached and taught. I’m quite sure that Bunyan seemed puzzled as to why the disciples took so much time and discussion in choosing the successor to the disgraced Judas Iscariot as part of the twelve [7] but then didn’t seem to follow the same protocol in choosing members of the Jerusalem Council.

Bunyan believes that only those with the courage to live and rule by the approved design to promote unity and peace in the congregations should be the ones chosen. They must also possess the wisdom needed to deal with issues that arise, and the courage to correct those who get out of line, but to do so with humility. Yes, there will be times when some must be rebuked sharply, but not as a punishment. It must be done to help them become more mature in the faith. That’s why Paul tells the Galatians here in verse five that when he saw those on the Council trying to implement rules and mandatory compliance of Jewish Ceremonial Laws into his Gospel to the Gentiles, he resisted them without hesitation. So it must be with believers who find some who want to interject into their faith and beliefs rules and mandatory elements that are not found in the Gospel, they too must resist with all their might.[8]

But Bunyan also found a connection between his advice for those who suffer for the Lord Jesus the Anointed One, and are ridiculed or persecuted because of their right standing with God and His Word, and what Paul faced in Jerusalem before the divided congregation’s Council. First of all, Bunyan concludes that Paul and his fellow workers were encountering opposition because of doing what was right in exempting Gentile believers from having to comply with Jewish Ceremonial Law.  Added to that, was the fact that Paul and his fellow missionaries felt that the Gentiles deserved to be treated as equal believers along with the Jews without conforming to Ceremonial Laws, rites, and rituals. Then they must agree that both Jews and Gentiles were sinners in the eyes of God and both needed to be redeemed, forgiven, chosen, and saved by the same grace of God. So anything that was added to that was not of God but of man.

It was also important to note that Gentile converts were living outside Judea so why should they be made to abide by customs and manners that were not known to them. As long as God knew them, that was the most important. And Paul’s other point was that since they were being ridiculed for doing what was right, that criticism did not diminish their standing with God. Both they and the Jewish converts stood equal before God. Also, Bunyan believed that the Gentiles would remain pure and holy before God even if they did suffer for refusing to abide by Jewish Ceremonial Law in order to get the approval of Jews or the ungodly. Not only that, but the Gentiles must never let their suffering for doing right go to their heads and think that made them better than other believers. In fact, they will manage their sufferings with graceful words and actions that will be long remembered after they are gone to their rest in the Lord.

Bunyan believes that is why Paul asked the Colossians to join him and rejoice in his sufferings for the name of the Anointed One.[9] That’s because by his suffering others were made stronger in the Lord. Paul phrased it this way to the Philippians, “Even if I give my life as a gift on the altar to God for you, I am glad and share this joy with you.[10] But why was Paul rejoicing and asking others to rejoice with him in this? Why? Because as a result of his sufferings that caused him much stress and was taxing on his body, yet it was for the refreshing, comfort, and stability of others. That way at the end of the letter, Paul would tell the Galatians that he considered these things as marks that helped identify him with Jesus the Anointed One who suffered for everyone. But at this point in the letter, he sees that what he and Titus were going through in Jerusalem was nothing more than a little pushing and shoving against the Synagogue Jews. The best he could hope for might be a few bruises here and there.[11]

I like the way German scholar Johann Bengel defines the truths of the Gospel.[12] When it comes to truth, “Truth is unyielding and firm – it abandons nothing that belongs to it and admits nothing foreign to it.[13][14] And James Haldane says that the greatness of the Gospel is found in its genuineness and simplicity.[15] And Catholic scholar George Haydock states that by the approval of a living assembly or council, which everyone should be willing to seek for advice, the Scriptures are not made true, altered or amended; they are to declare that God’s Word is infallible, not man’s.[16]

Revivalist Adam Clarke gives his view of what was going on here.  He surmises that the Judaizers were allowed to be introduced into the assembly of the Apostles as legitimate members of the Christian community. Their true intent, however, was to oppose Paul and his associates in their preaching the Anointed One to the Gentiles, and admitting them into the congregation without obliging them to observe circumcision and keep the law. Once the Apostle Paul recognized that such individuals were in the assembly, he thought it better not to mention his mission among the Gentiles at that time, lest, by means of those false brethren, the meeting might deteriorate into altercations and disputes. That’s why he first met with the Apostles in a private conference, to set the whole matter straight, relative to his work among the Gentiles. That when it did come before the conference, they gave him their support.

Clarke goes on to say that this gave Paul such satisfaction with his Divine call and that in preaching among the Gentiles he acted in strict conformity to it, that he did not submit in the least to the opinion of those Judaizing teachers. Therefore, he continued to insist on the exemption of the Gentiles from the necessity of submitting to Jewish rites; that the truth of the Gospel – this grand doctrine, that the Gentiles are admitted by the Gospel of the Anointed One to be fellow-heirs with the Jews, might continue. Because of that, this same doctrine continues until this day.[17]

The one trait that is found in those who are stubborn advocates of the truth as they see it, and insist on following the narrow line as drawn by their imagination, is that they are committed to it day and night, come what may. It is like they are staring straight ahead like a horse with blinders and with earplugs so as not to be distracted by the truth. No matter how you try to introduce them to an alternate way of seeing things by showing them that even the Scriptures do not fully support their beliefs, they still refuse to listen. Even worse, they begin to think of anyone who wanted to help them see a different way that was supported by Scriptures as an enemy of their souls. Only the Holy Spirit is qualified to complete this task, so it’s best to trust Him.

[1] Ibid. Institutes, op. cit., Prefatory Address to Francis, King of France, Bk. 3, Ch. 19, p. 873

[2] Colossians 2:11-12

[3] Hebrews 8:1-6

[4] Galatians 4:9, 10; 1 Corinthians 7:19; 9:19, 20; 2 Corinthians 3:13-16

[5] Acts of the Apostles 15:28; 16:3; 21:21-26; Galatians 2:3, 11, 12

[6] Jakob Arminius: op. cit. Vol. 1, Disputation 12, The Law of God, pp. 479-480

[7] Acts of the Apostles 1:12-26

[8] John Bunyan, Exhortation to Unity and Peace, Vol. 4, Ch 4, Directions and Motives, pp. 300-301

[9] Colossians 1:24

[10] Philippians 2:17

[11] Ibid. Advice to Sufferers, Vol. 8, ch. 6, pp. 209-210

[12] Verse 5; Cf. Colossians 1:5

[13] See Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32 Proverbs 30:5-6; Revelation 22:19

[14] Johann Bengel: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 577

[15] James Haldane: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 71

[16] George Leo Haydock: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.,

[17] Adam Clarke: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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