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 XXXVIII)

As we know, Luke the physician, who wrote his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, spent quite a bit of time with the Apostle Paul.  It would be reasonable to believe that Luke shared these words Jesus spoke after His resurrection with Paul: “While I was with you before my death, I told you that everything written about Me in the Torah, and the Prophets, and in the Psalms, must be fulfilled.”

Paul begins by noting that the Mosaic Law does provide a vital service. First of all, he wants the reader to know that the Law God gave through Moses was not connected to the covenant made to Abraham. Therefore, the carrying out of the promises in the covenant was not contingent upon carrying out Mosaic Law. God did not want His children living and acting like the godless heathens in the world. He wanted them to be noticed because of their higher level of morality, honesty, and justice. But most of all, He wanted them to be His image and voice and arms and legs in the world, to carry out His goodness and kindness and love.  He wanted all they did to honor and glorify Him as the God above all gods. God knew His children still struggled with a corrupt nature inherited from Adam’s fall. So, He needed an external solution until He could provide an internal resolution for the curse of sin.

So, God authorized the implementation of Mosaic Law to show mankind his sinfulness and his need for salvation; for man to know that the only thing that stood between him and certain death was the mercy of God. But the Mosaic Law was only a temporary fix until a permanent remedy came through the Messiah. Once that happened, then the Mosaic Law would no longer be needed because their faith in the Messiah and following Him would make the Mosaic Law unnecessary.

The keeping of the Mosaic Law was not designed to make mankind comfortable in their sin, but keep them yearning for the Messiah to come and set them free from the slavery of sin. Mosaic Law served the purpose of helping train mankind to serve God through their flesh until they could serve God through their spirit. For once the Messiah came, there was nothing for anyone to gain no matter how long they followed Mosaic Law, but would, in fact, profit more because the Messiah came to fulfill all those sacrifices, and serving Him made it unnecessary to practice all the ceremonial laws and rituals as forms of worship in self-righteousness.

Paul is not attempting to do away with the need and necessity for guidance, instruction, motivation, teaching, commitment, dedication, and surrender to the will of God and His Word, in order to be a more useful and efficient believer; how would anyone know what sin was unless God showed them?  Why would mankind fear the punishment for sin unless God told him? But Paul wants the Judaizers and Galatian converts to know that none of these things are to be interpreted as necessary for obtaining or sustaining the free gift of salvation by faith in the Anointed One to fulfill God’s promise to Abraham. I wonder if Jesus’ words, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls[1] crossed Paul’s mind? There was a large yoke that harnessed two oxen together, but the word Jesus used was that of a “shoulder yoke,” – often used for carrying water buckets, indicating that with His help we are to do what pleases Him because it’s easy to put on and what the Anointed One gives us to carry, is light.

Needless to say, Paul’s comparison of Mosaic Law and the promise now gets somewhat more complicated to understand, but he feels it’s necessary in order for the Judaizers and Gentiles to comprehend why one cannot be mistaken for the other. We don’t know if the message Stephen delivered before the Sanhedrin prior to his stoning came to Paul’s attention, but the quote here of how Mosaic Law was given through angels sounds very close.[2] Jewish tradition accepted the deliverance of Mosaic Law as being accompanied by angels[3]

Paul also wanted to show the difference between the promise given to Abraham, and the Law given to Moses. In Moses’ case, he served as a mediator between God and the people; so, God delivered the Law to Moses and told him to enforce it by passing it on to the people of Israel. In Abraham’s case, God did not need a mediator because it only involved the two of them. It sounds a lot like how a married couple delivers their vows to each other. They don’t send their vows to each other through a mediator. No! They exchange their vows directly with each other.

Paul is far from condoning any elimination of the Mosaic Law with respect to its use in giving guidance, direction, instruction, conviction, understanding sin and its effects. However, he was upset that the Judaizers were misleading the Gentile believers, making them believe that the keeping of the ceremonial laws and rituals were part of God’s promise given to Abraham. Can you imagine the pressure this put on the new converts to Christianity throughout the Galatian churches, especially the Gentiles? What joy was there in being rescued from slavery to the rituals and regulations of heathenism, only to be tied again to the rituals and regulations of Judaism? It no doubt gave Paul many sleepless nights wondering why they were so willing to throw away the freedom they received through the Anointed One for such nonsense.

While serving as a regional mission’s superintendent in Asia, I remember getting a call from Southern India telling me that a group of ministers there were unhappy because they felt that since they represented smaller churches, they were being discriminated against by ministers representing larger churches in the same organization. I went to India to try and resolve the issue and was almost arrested for greeting the convention of over 20,000 believers because the minority group informed the police that I was not given the proper visa allowing me to preach. The minority group refused to accept me as a mediator because they believed I would rule in favor of the majority group.

Eventually, the two groups wound up in court, each claiming to be the authorized representatives of the organization. The Hindu judge finally called both groups in and said to them: “I’m a Hindu, you are Christians. I’ve been told that Christians are supposed to be loving and caring and kind to each other. But here you are in court suing each other over who should be in leadership. How do you expect me, a Hindu, to become a Christian, when I see you treating each other this way?” The two sides were so embarrassed they settled the matter out of court.

In 1970 Bill Gaither wrote a song that remains popular to this day. The lyrics are as follows: “I’m so glad I’m a part of the Family of God; I’ve been washed in the fountain, cleansed by His Blood; joint-heirs with Jesus as we travel this sod, for I’m part of the family, the Family of God… From the door of an orphanage to the house of the King, No longer an outcast, a new song I sing; from rags unto riches, from the weak to the strong, I’m not worthy to be here, but praise God! I belong! I’m so glad I’m a part of the Family of God; I’ve been washed in the fountain, cleansed by His Blood; joint-heirs with Jesus as we travel this sod, for I’m part of the family, The Family of God.” That’s the kind of song Paul wanted the Gentiles and Jewish believers in Galatia to sing.

Sometimes disagreements and discord inside a congregation can spill out into the open and the whole town ends up knowing about the conflict. Also, families that profess and are known to be good church-going, Bible-believing, people, sometimes show their carnal nature in disputes and feuds that gets the whole neighborhood to talking. And even though divorce is not popular among evangelical or Pentecostal believers, it nevertheless happens. But the harsh language and hateful attitude expressed sometimes makes even unbelievers who divorce, look like saints. Then again, whole denominations and churches split because they couldn’t agree on some doctrine or required way of living the holy life. Ask yourself, what does this say to the world? Does this enforce or hinder our witness to the world as recipients of the love of God? Would this make them wonder, why do you want me to become like you? No wonder Jesus told His disciples that the world would know they are His because they love one another.[4]

John Calvin enters into a discussion about the Anointed One as our Mediator. He says that when he takes a closer look at the subject, he spots marked differences between Jews and Gentiles. The first question is this: Is He the mediator between each of us individually before God, or is He the Mediator of all mankind of which we are but one part? No, says Calvin, the Anointed One is not the Mediator of each person. There is such a diversity of character and conditions among humankind, that Jesus sought a covenant with the Father for all those He represented. That the new and everlasting covenant He testified to during the Last Supper.[5] Just like Moses was not the mediator between each Israelite and God but between the Children of Israel as a whole. Had the Anointed One become a Mediator, the diversities of peoples would require a covenant between each man and woman with God based on their character and personality. Even with human logic that should be easy to discern.

So says Calvin, it is now clear. As the Anointed One formerly reconciled God to the Jews in making a covenant, so he is now the Mediator of the Gentiles. The Jews differ widely from the Gentiles; for circumcision and ceremonies erected “the middle wall of partition between them.”[6] The Jews were already close to God while the Gentiles were far, far away.[7] Yet God remained consistent with Himself. This becomes evident when the Anointed One brings those who formerly differed among themselves to one God, and makes them unite in one body. God is one because He always continues to be like Himself, it is with unvarying regularity that He maintains an unalterable purpose that caused Him to devise the plan of salvation.[8]

Verse twenty here puzzled many Bible scholars over the centuries. In fact, Charles Ellicott (1819-1905) says that there were as many as 430 different interpretations during his time. Almost all of them agree that a mediator is the one who stands in between two individuals or groups. In fact, there can be multiple factions on either side who may also need a mediator to settle their difference. The job of the mediator is to bring the two sides together to sign an agreement or contract agreeable to both.

Matthew Poole (1624-1679), an early Presbyterian minister in England notes that Moses was a mediator because he stood in between God and the children of Israel. That’s why Moses was given the Law so that he could go down the mountain and get the Israelites to agree that it was what they needed and they would follow it to the letter. As we know, the Israelites accepted God’s contract, but few, if any, ever lived up to their part of the agreement.

[1] Matthew 11:29

[2] Acts of the Apostles 7:53

[3] See Deuteronomy 33:2

[4] John 13:34-35

[5] Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24

[6] Ephesians 2:14

[7] Ibid. 2:13

[8] John Calvin: Biblical Cabinet, op. cit., loc, cit., pp. 83-84

About drbob76

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