CALLED TO LIVE IN FREEDOM

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NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIANS

 CHAPTER THREE (Lesson XI)

The Apostle Paul was not the only one with this stern warning. The Apostle Peter wrote his followers to remind them that anyone pulled out of the polluted cesspool of worldly desires through the knowledge of our Lord and Deliverer, Yeshua the Messiah, and yet through carelessness become reentangled in the trap of sinful desires, are worse off than they were before. They would be better off never knowing the Way of Righteous Living than to know it and then wittingly or unwittingly abandon the truth of the Gospel given to them. Peter then borrows from the Book of Proverbs and compares them to a dog who threw-up and then goes back to eat its own vomit.[1] Peter no doubt learned this proverb while ministering among the Gentiles who said, “The pig who was washed, went back and wallowed again in the mud.”[2] Peter couldn’t have said it much better.

Thomas Aquinas makes a good point here in verse four, that Paul was trying to get the Galatians to see that while they did not get right with God through the Law and good works, it was their good works after they were converted to give thanks, glory, and honor to God and the Anointed One, with none thrown away as though they were meaningless, that pleased God. This same thought would haunt the Apostle Paul and lead him to say in the fourth chapter that he bemoans the possibility that all the work he did among them may all be in vain. It also appears that what Paul taught them about how hardships develop patience and patience withstands trials, giving rise to a hope which will never make us feel ashamed we chose faith over works.[3] [4]

Baptist theologian and teacher Alvah Hovey (1820-1903 AD), Professor and President of Newton Theological Institution (later the Andover Newton Theological School) for fifty-four years, asked: Just what sufferings for the Anointed One’s sake did these Galatians endure? Perhaps we may never know. But the relevance and force of the Apostle Paul’s question depend upon the severity of those sufferings. If they were light afflictions, it would not require such an appeal.[5] So it seems that their liberty in the Anointed One was endured at no small cost of hardships.

Since the Judaizing contingent came specifically to persuade the Jewish converts to revert back to ensuring their salvation the legal way by rites, rituals, and regulations under the Law, it was well-known in those days that anyone forsaking the Law of Moses and Jewish Temple worship was an infidel and were to be shunned by all other Jews. No doubt that’s why the Apostle Paul calls on them to consider the question of whether they are ready to look back and remember how they underwent all the wrongs done to them in the past to see if it still counted for something? Hovey asks, could it also be that they were following a “will-o’ the-wisp”[6] in wading through the marsh mud of persecution and maltreatment by former friends and family all for the sake of the Anointed One and the Gospel was now considered done for no reason?

Hovey tells us that many scholars find the Greek verb paschō translated as “have suffered” (KJV), to mean “have experienced,” and the Greek adjective tosoutos translated as “many things” to signify blessings. This interpretation seems to suit the context perfectly, and paschō certainly contains this meaning even in classical Greek literature. But it is also important to note that except for this passage, it does not display that meaning anywhere in the Final Covenant, and that’s enough reason not to accept that interpretation here. If, says Paul to the Galatians, you now consider all of this suffering and hardship in following the Anointed One to have been in vain – which their return to Judaism now seems affirmed, still there is also suggested by this clause a half-hidden hope that the fruit of their sufferings will not be lost by their actual adoption of the Judaic error. Paul leaves the path open to a return to the way of life which they formerly entered with joy in the Lord.[7]

I like the way George B. Stevens (1854-1906) paraphrases these first four verses into a compact message that Paul wanted to get across to the Galatians. I want to use it here as a summation of these opening verses of chapter three.

You Galatians have been drawn away as if by magic from the truth so plainly taught you, that you were saved through Messiah’s death. Reflect whether, when you were converted, you received the gift of the Spirit by doing of meritorious works, or by obeying the call simply to believe on Messiah. Will you then, after having begun the life of the Spirit, fall back upon the lower plane where the flesh is the ruling element of life, – a power from which the Law is unable to deliver you?

What folly to endure persecution for the Gospel’s sake, when you do not really remain true to it! Have you not all your spiritual gifts come to you in the line of faith, and not of works? Be true, then, to this principle, and renounce the rival and futile principle of legal works of merit.

Cyril W. Emmet tells us that German Protestant theologian Hans Lietzmann (1875-1942) also translates the Greek verb paschō (“suffer” – KJV) as “experience,” referring to the spiritual experiences listed in verse two. But, as we have seen pointed out by other scholars, the word has never been used that way in the Final Covenant to imply “good experiences.” As others have explained, when used alone it always means “suffer.” No doubt Paul was referring to their persecutions both by the extreme Jewish faction of the Jews who became converts, and the pagan Gentiles who were jealous of their many gods and could not understand why their fellow Gentiles switched to one God.[8]

There are many believers who are being treated today with such disdain and harshness in many Muslim countries around the world when they switch from Islam to Christianity, and in other places when they leave the church they were raised in and become part of another church that may have some opposing views on doctrine or practices. But what would you think of a person sitting on a sinking boat who refuses a lifejacket because they prefer remaining on the sinking vessel, just because that’s the one they trusted to take them to their destination? Perhaps some who are on the sinking ship might think they had lost their faith in the boat to still make it all the way. But since it is “your” life that’s at stake, you must decide between those who don’t approve and the One who is offering you the life vest.

3:5 Let me ask another question, does God work miracles in your midst through the power of the Holy Spirit or does He do it through religious rituals, rites, and regulations, or, does He do it because you trust in what you heard from me and are faithful to what you heard?

Kenneth Wuest gives us an idea for another translation: “Therefore, the One who is constantly supplying the Spirit to you in bountiful measure, and constantly working miracles among you, is He doing these things by means of Law’s work, or by means of the message which proclaims faith [in the Anointed One’s work]?”

Paul sheds some light on another side of the Galatians’ experience. Apparently, when he arrived there as a teacher of the Gospel bringing many Jews and Gentiles into the fold, those who responded were harassed both by their own cultures and opposing cultures. If you read the fourteenth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles you get a glimpse of what occurred. Not only did Paul and his fellow ministers face persecution, but also those who joined them. Now Paul wants to know if they realize what they are doing. They were not mistreated before while following the Jewish Law; they were not made fun of because of the way they washed their hands. Instead, they suffered because of their faith in Jesus the Anointed One as the Messiah, their Lord, and Savior.

So, are they now giving up all they gained through their suffering because they’ve been convinced it offers no such benefit? How ridiculous is that! Were all the gifts given to them by the Spirit and all their victories over sin and evil of no value? So rather than letting these things promote their growth in the Spirit and solidify their faith in the Anointed One, are they now opting to replace these things God did for them, for something they themselves will try to do? Paul says that’s hard for him to believe!

Didn’t they know along with being given new hope for eternal salvation they were also made competent to be His workers under a Final Covenant? What changed? The essence of the old way of service was based on physically following a written text, but the new way of service is based on spiritually following the leading of the Holy Spirit. The old way of service got you nowhere, the new way of service gets you to heaven; the old way was repetitious with little emotion, the new way is lively and full of joy.

So, in Paul’s mind, it made no sense to go back to the old way of serving God. Now if the old way of living came from observing a written text engraved on stone tablets, and it was delivered with such glory that the people of Israel could not stand to look at Moses’ face because of its brightness, even though that brightness was already beginning to fade away, would not this new way of life through the Holy Spirit come with much more shining-greatness?[9] The shine on Moses’ face not only faded but turned into a frown and disbelief and anger. However, the glow on the face of the Messiah on the mountain[10] is now brighter than ever.[11]

[1] Proverbs 26:11

[2] 2 Peter 2:20-22

[3] Romans 5:3-5

[4] Thomas Aquinas: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[5] 2 Corinthians 4:17

[6] The will-o’-the-wisp is a flame-like phosphorescence caused by gases from decaying plants in marshy areas.  The light was first known, and still also is, as ignis fatuus, which in Latin means “foolish fire.” Eventually, the name will-o’-the-wisp was extended to any impractical or unattainable goal.

[7] Hovey, Alvah: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 38

[8] Cyril W. Emmet: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 29

[9] 2 Corinthians 3:6-8

[10] Matthew 17:7

[11] Revelation 1:13-15

About drbob76

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