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 XXXI)

The wise man Job wasn’t the only one, even King David realized that it was futile for anyone to think that they could somehow persuade God to forgive their sins based on their prayers and pleads alone. That’s why he cried out to the Lord, “O Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears hear the voice of my prayers. If You, Lord, should write down our sins, O Lord, who could stand? But You are the One Who forgives, so You are honored with reverence. That’s why I wait for the Lord. My soul waits and I hope in His Word. My soul waits for the Lord more than one who watches for the morning; yes, more than one who watches for the morning. O Israel, hope in the Lord! For there is loving-kindness with the Lord. With Him, we are saved for sure. And He will save Israel from all their sins.”[1]

Did Peter forget when he watched as a Jewish expert in the Law tried to trap Jesus with a trick question when he asked the Lord what he must do to earn timeless life, and Jesus told him to do exactly what the Law told him to do? Then Jesus asked if the man knew what the Law said, and the man inquired as to exactly what does the Law say and Jesus told him, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart. You must love Him with all your soul. You must love Him with all your strength. You must love Him with all your mind. You must love your neighbor as you love yourself.”[2] Jesus complimented him and told him that if he continued doing those things, he would certainly gain everlasting life.

But then the Jewish Law expert asked Jesus if He wouldn’t mind explaining who his neighbor was. Jesus then told the story of the good Samaritan. In the end, Jesus asked which of the three men, the Rabbi, the Levite, and the Samaritan, who responded to the wounded man’s condition really proved to love his neighbor as himself. The man answered, “The Samaritan, of course.” Jesus then told him to go and do the same thing. We do not know what this man did but we know it says he became a dedicated follower of the Anointed One. Another incident of the same kind is recorded by Luke,[3] and Matthew,[4] and Mark,[5] and those cases the individual walked away disappointed because they couldn’t bring themselves to give up everything to follow the Anointed One. So, did Peter think that by siding with his Jewish friends in favor of the Law instead of loving the Gentiles as he loved himself would earn him any extra points with God? Certainly, he knew better and Paul was there to remind him.

Alright, the confrontation is over, Paul said what was on his mind and apparently, Peter didn’t get upset enough to argue back. Besides, Paul wrote this letter almost five years after his showdown with Peter in Antioch and they both learned a lot since then. Now it’s time for Paul to take the readers of his letter into the inner chamber of his revelation from the Anointed One Jesus. Whether or not the next few paragraphs were part of his face-to-face with Peter doesn’t make them less powerful and important. Paul simply wanted Peter to know he was being a hypocrite, and this monologue was mere icing on the cake.

To help us get a better look at an essential ingredient in Paul’s disgust with the Judaizers’ teaching, let’s examine the difference between misbelief, disbelief, and unbelief. Misbelief is when a person accepts certain core beliefs which with careful examination are proven either false or unreliable. Therefore, their faith is in error. Most of the cults that exist in our world are guilty of this. Disbelief is when someone finds it hard to accept something that does not fit into their understanding of how things should operate.  Therefore, their faith is weak. I’m willing to believe that the disciples experienced this when they first saw Jesus walk on water and calm the storm. Unbelief is when someone makes no effort to change their mind and dismisses anything that differs from their accepted way of thinking. Therefore, they are devoid of faith. It appears that the Judaizers needed to be convinced that faith in Jesus was the only way, the only truth, and the only way to live for God, but their disbelief kept them from accepting the truth.

We know from Paul’s visit to Athens that he was aware of all the altars to the gods that dotted the city’s streets. So, there’s a good possibility that while visiting in Corinth, he saw the altar of Poseidon of the hero Greek god Bellerophron in a grove. This young son of a king found himself in the same situation that Joseph encountered when Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him but Joseph resisted. In Bellerophron’s case, it was the wife of King Proteus where Bellerophron fled for safety.  He too resisted Queen Antea’s attempt at seduction. After passing many tests to prove his courage and loyalty, Bellerophron was given the hand of a princess and promoted to a high government position. However, he became so intoxicated with pride and vanity over his accomplishments, that in order to gratify his curiosity he tried to mount into heaven on his winged horse Pegasus. As a result, Zeus sent a pesky gadfly to sting the regal Pegasus, who then began to buck and kick until he threw Bellerophron back down to earth. The battered warrior was so full of remorse that he had displeased Zeus, that he wandered in melancholy the rest of his life in earth’s most lonely and desolate places.

Paul did not want these Jewish Christians to suffer the same fate of being so enamored by their godliness and righteousness that they would try reaching heaven based on all their good deeds and test of religiosity.  He did not want God to send any plague on them like the serpents in the wilderness, as He did to the children of Israel who disobeyed Him.  Paul no doubt saw the danger of this attitude when he internalized his own experience of trying to make it to heaven based on his accomplishments and zeal as a Pharisee.  However, after God knocked him to the ground, He was gracious to him and picked him up off the ground and sent him out as an Apostle of the Gospel.

At this point, we get to see what really made Paul a champion of salvation by grace. Since he was speaking to the Jews in the congregations, as well as the Judaizers, he made no apology for his opposition to their wanting to improve on the Anointed One’s work on the cross. If we were to look for a similar situation today, it might go something like this: There are those who’ve been in the congregation most of their lives; they cut their teeth on the bench in front of them, so to speak. Then there are those who recently came into the congregation through evangelism outreach. They know nothing of the history or traditions of a denomination that’s been around for a long time. So instead of accepting these new converts on the basis of their salvation by faith, they are made to conform to the practical teachings, rituals, and traditions that those who grew up in the congregation believe are part of being a genuine Christian.

Paul is saying to these Judaizers, “Look, you and I and Peter and Barnabas were all born and raised as Jews, we did not come into it by way of conversion. So, even though we were Jews, it didn’t mean we were saved, nor did observing the rituals and traditions of our Jewish faith mean we stayed saved. We too were born again, just like the Gentiles. That means that just as the Gentiles, who did not keep any Jewish Law or traditions, needed to accept the Anointed One as their Savior in order to be saved, so we Jews, who did keep the Jewish Law and traditions, needed to accept the Anointed One as our Savior in order to be saved. We are not better Christians just because we were born as Jews.” We could add the same provision to believers today. There are some who were born into Christian homes and acquainted with the church all their lives, but they needed to accept the Anointed One as their personal Savior in order to be saved. Therefore, they are no better a Christian than the person who grew up in a home where the word “church” was never mentioned, but who came to accept Jesus the Anointed One as their Savior as well.

One early medieval scholar, Peter Lombard, believes that what Paul says here can be paraphrased to read: “We are Jews by birth and not sinners from among the Gentiles, but we still know that Jews, however much they may be within the Law, are not justified through those legalistic works which comprise sacrifices and the other figurative practices.” In short, there is no way that one is justified except through the faith of the Anointed One Jesus. It is for this reason, therefore, that Jews, like the Gentiles, believe in the Anointed One Jesus, so that they might be justified by the faith of the Anointed One. The Apostle does not say that if one professes faith then good works are meaningless, for God blesses each person according to what they did for Him by being a blessing to others. Rather, it is because good deeds proceed from grace – not grace from good deeds. Faith working through love does nothing unless the love of God is poured into us through the Holy Spirit. Nor does faith itself abide within us unless God bestows it.  Paul says that we are to be justified by faith because faith comes first. It is from this that the rest of these things are accomplished.[6]

Catholic scholar Thomas Aquinas sees Paul inference here of how he and the other Apostles were all born Jews as a compliment.[7] That is in light of what Jesus said to the woman at the well in Samaria, “You people do not know what you worship. We Jews know what we worship. It is through the Jews that men are saved from the punishment of their sins.”[8] In other words, Jews may be sinners, but they are not sinners like the Gentiles. Jews are sinners based on the law; Gentiles are sinners based on their heathen worship of idols. But even though this may be a compliment of sorts, it was not an excuse for their not needing the same salvation through Jesus the Anointed One that the Gentiles received.[9] [10]

In another place, Aquinas is asked whether someone should subject themselves to everyone out of humility? He then responds by saying that we should consider two things in mankind, namely that which is God’s – divine in nature, and that which is man’s – human in nature. Whatever is found to be defective is the result of human nature. But whatever is that determining a person’s well-being and perfection is due to divine nature.[11] True humility involves the reverence whereby mankind is subject to God. This means that every person need only to subject themselves to others with respect to that which they possess in their spiritual nature that comes from God.

Aquinas then qualifies what he is saying by pointing out that no believer should feel that they must subject the operation of any gift they received from God through the Holy Spirit to another believer who possesses the same gift. Those who share in receiving God’s gifts know that they received them according to what Paul said to the Corinthians.[12] One thing to keep in mind, however, that those who are given the gift of speaking in other tongues are not subordinate to those who receive the gift of interpretation. Both are subordinate to the Holy Spirit who operates such gifts through them. Furthermore, no believer is required to subject that which they received from God to any human talent or gift possessed by a neighbor. However, any person, believer or unbeliever, may esteem their fellowman with natural gifts and talents they to do not possess. This was all said in light of what Paul was explaining to Peter at Antioch.[13] Humility, in this context, is that which would cause a believer to show respect for an unbeliever for any talent or gift which they might wish for themselves.[14]

[1] Psalm 130:2-8

[2] Luke 10:27

[3] Ibid. 18:18-23

[4] Matthew 19:16-22

[5] Mark 10:17-22

[6] Peter Lombard: The Letter to the Galatians (Medieval Bible Commentary series), loc. cit.

[7] See 2 Corinthians 11:22

[8] John 4:22

[9] See 1 John 1:8, Romans 3:23

[10] Thomas Aquinas: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[11] Cf. Hosea 13:9

[12] 1 Corinthians 2:12

[13] See Galatians 2:15

[14] Thomas Aquinas: Summa Theologica, Vol. 4, Part (2b)-Question (161)-Article (3), pp. 359-360

About drbob76

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