CALLED TO LIVE IN FREEDOM

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NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson XXVIII)

Dutch scholar Alfred E. Bouter takes note of what Paul meant when he said, “Be as I am.” It is Paul’s attempt to let the Galatians know that they did not slight him by what they are doing. This is proof that Paul was not legalistic in his approach. In the U. S. Army, we had a saying, “Shape up, or ship out!”  It was just a poetic way of telling someone to get with the program and start following the rules or get out, we don’t want or need you. Paul’s motive was to help the believer, but when we consider what these false teachers were doing, it was clear to him that they were really only promoting their own interests.

So, what does “Be as I am” mean, asks Bouter? It is an appeal for them to use their good sense. Paul lives in freedom from the Law in union with the Anointed One. That’s he says to the Galatians, “Be as I am, enjoy this liberty just as I do.” Since Paul, like them, was once bound by the Law, he also was set free from its power. Paul had no interest in going back into slavery under the Law that would result in being told what sin was and then not having the ability to resist. Therefore, Paul is pleading with them: “Be like me! Stay free!” I’m not your enemy, I’m not trying to get revenge on you for thinking this way. The Galatians might be thinking: We did wrong because we said that we wanted to go back to the Law, we wanted to be under the Law. Now Paul was saying it was a terrible thing to do. So, let’s be cautious about attacking Paul, he might become angry. What can we learn from this, asks Bouter? Where there is a doctrinal disagreement, Paul does not take things personally. This is also a lesson for us.[1]

Christian Messianic writer Thomas Lancaster addresses Paul’s statement that he became like one of the Gentile Galatians after he arrived. He mentions that some scholars, even the eminent Rabbi Yechiel Lichtenstein,[2] suggest that this means Paul chose to live like a Gentile, abandoning some matters of the Torah such as the high dietary standards, perhaps in order to live, function, and reach out to the Gentiles more effectively. This may be the case. If so, Paul beseeched the Galatians to join him in his in-between status, neither at the highest Torah standard nor at the lowest level as a pagan participating in idolatry.[3]

 Lancaster goes on to say that while these may only be speculations, it certainly relates to another critical statement Paul made to the believers in Corinth.[4] So, Lancaster concludes that this may imply that Paul adopted hypocritical pretenses in order to win people to the Gospel.  As such, this paints a troubling portrait of Paul as disingenuous, deceitful, and double-minded. Lancaster claims, such methods of evangelism were often attempted in Messianic Jewish circles, Jewish Christians used to pretend to be Torah-observant to hopefully win Jewish people to the Messiah, but in fact, they did not believe in the ongoing authority of the Torah. Their observance was only a pretense to lure Jews closer. But Lancaster does say that He does not believe that this was Paul’s mode of operation, nor does he believe it should be anyone’s.[5]

While on the surface that may seem a logical conclusion, Paul was certainly not conceited. Just from his own writings, we do not see a profile that rivals the ancient Greek mythological Narcissus. What Paul referred to was his new-found freedom in the Anointed One that liberated him from the tedious and worthless adherence to the old religious rituals and regulations that supposedly earn a person their own salvation. Thus, Paul appeals to the Galatians based on their spiritual relationship with God. He pleads with them to live their lives for the Anointed One as he did in freedom from the bondage of Mosaic Law. After all, says Paul, you Gentiles paid no attention to the Jewish ceremonial laws before you got saved, and I, as a Jew, moved over to your side by paying no more attention to these ceremonial laws either. That’s why when I first came to you preaching the Gospel; you took me in like I was one of your own.

I remember the first time I went to Pakistan to visit the churches there; I saw everyone eating with their hands. This is something I didn’t do from the time I was one year old, so I wasn’t surprised it came back to me so easily. When the brethren saw I was willing to become one with them, they embraced me very quickly and listened to me as a friend and brother in the Anointed One, not as a stranger. I also saw that they were not used to seeing a preacher in a western suit, so I went down to the market and bought me an eid salwar kameez, which is a long-sleeved shirt, and took off my coat and tie. I saw the people smile when I walked up on the platform. It was my way of saying, “I’m one of you.” I was not pretending I was something I was not, but rather, that I wanted to be more like something I was not.

Here Paul reminds the Jews that at one time, he acted like a zealot addicted to the religious rituals and regulations of Judaism just like they were, but he gave it all up like they did to embrace the freedom that the Anointed One gives from such bondage. Paul went through the same struggle the Jewish believers went through in trying to give up these things. Paul was not encouraging the Jews to do something he didn’t do himself. So why were they doubting him now and the announcement of freedom that he brought to them?

Paul’s message to the Galatians should serve as an example for all the Christians who go or who are sent to speak to a wayward believer. In some churches, congregations are harder and less compassionate on fellow members who fall or stumble than they are on the most despicable sinner who comes forward for salvation. As Martin Luther found out when he became a born-again believer, the church he once served so faithfully showed little mercy for him. So, he encouraged all pastors and ministers to show more sympathy for their poor straying sheep and instruct them in the spirit of meekness. Luther told them that they will find it hard to get them to straighten out in any other way. Sharp-tongued rebukes provoke anger and antagonism, not remorse and repentance. Paul tells the Galatians that he’s not mad at them because they broke his heart, his concern for them came from the fact that he loved and respected them. That’s why he told them that he was not writing this to put them down, but he wrote this way to lift them up.  So please, says Paul, don’t take this as a harsh rebuke; it’s given to you out of love for your souls.

4:13-14 You remember when I first arrived to bring you the Gospel, I was terribly ill.  Even so, you did not reject me or look down on me because I was suffering so badly.  Not at all, as a matter of fact, you took me in as if I were an angel from God; you treated me as though I were the Messiah Himself.

 To give us an excellent historical perspective, Maria Mavromataki shares that Paul’s third journey began from Antioch in 52 AD and must have been completed in 58 AD. The first provinces in which he taught were those of Galatia and Phrygia. It seems that while in those parts, he fell seriously ill, though the nature of his illness is not known to us, Paul describes it here in verses thirteen and fourteen. When he was out of danger, he continued on to Ephesus, where he was imprisoned. From there, he sent his first letter to the Corinthians and, in all probability, paid a brief visit to their city. On his return to Ephesus, he wrote the Epistle to the Galatians. He then traveled in Macedonia, writing his Second Epistle to the Corinthians from Philippi, a little before visiting their city for the third time. During the course of his three-month stay in Corinth, he wrote the Epistle to the Romans, which was dispatched from the port of Cenchreæ while he himself prepared to leave by sea. However, Jewish plots against his life forced him to return through Macedonia. Thus, he traveled by land to Neapolis, took a ship to the Troas, and then went on to Assos.[6]

Paul continues his heartwarming plea for the Galatians to accept his writing as coming from a friend, a buddy, someone who loved them very much, by reminding them of the circumstances that surrounded his arrival there, and how they graciously put up with his handicap – whatever that was, from malaria to epilepsy to bad eyesight or the result of all his physical punishment by those who opposed him – but they did not hold it against him even though it caused them quite a bit of extra work and worry. As a matter of fact, they treated him like a celebrity.

There is an interesting comment in the Jewish Mishnah that helps set up the confrontation between the message Paul brought to the Galatians and that of the Judaizers. It tells us that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi says: Every day a Heavenly voice comes forth from Mount Horeb [also called Mount Sinai] and proclaims and says: Woe is to them, to mankind, for their disrespect of the Torah, for whoever does not spend time studying the Torah is referred to as, “Rebuked.” Like King Solomon wrote: “As a ring of gold in the snout of a swine, so is a fair woman without discretion,”[7] The gold ring represents one’s God-given gift of thought, which when utilized for dishonorable thoughts is compared to gold in the snout of the swine.

And it also says: “And the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God Harut – engraved on the Tablets.[8] But the Hebrew verb PaTHacH(“engraved”) should be read as PaTHecH – (opened”), says Yehoshua, for there is no one as free as one who occupies themselves with the study of the Torah. And anyone who occupies themselves with the study of the Torah becomes elevated, as it says: “From Mattanah to Nahliel and from Nahliel to Bamot” [Mattanah is understood as a gift, namely, the Torah, and if studied it transforms from a gift to become Nahliel – an inheritance, and from an inheritance, it raises one to Bamot – great heights].[9] [10]

Here Paul recalls the first time he came to Galatia and the physical condition he was in. But instead of bearing a message from Mount Horeb, he brought one from Mount Calvary. It appears the whatever infirmity Paul suffered from like a thorn in the flesh, was chronic. He even reminded the Corinthians that when he arrived there in Corinth, he was weak, nervous, and shaking all over from anxiety.[11] Not only that, but apparently Paul experienced trouble speaking clearly. This is usually the case with someone who stutters.[12] But Luke does not mention this anywhere in his Acts of the Apostles. However, Paul did confess to the Corinthians in his second letter that God allowed him to suffer a painful condition – that he called “a messenger from Satan” – allowed by God to make me suffer.

[1] Alfred E. Bouter: On Galatians, op. cit., loc., cit., p. 57

[2] Rabbi Yechiel Tzvi Lichenstein was a late 19th-century Jewish believer from a Chasidic background who became a believer in Yeshua of Nazareth as Messiah.  He wrote Chizzuk Emunat Emet (“True Faith Strengthened”), which is Lichtenstein’s response to the famous anti-missionary work Chizzuk Emunah (“Faith Strengthened”) by Isaac Troki.

[3] D. Thomas Lancaster: Commentary on Galatians, loc. cit., p. 209

[4] 1 Corinthians 9:19-23

[5] D. Thomas Lancaster, op. cit., pp. 209-210

[6] Mavromataki, Maria. Paul the Apostle of the Gentiles – Journeys in Greece (Kindle Locations 1425-1436). Haitalis Editions. Kindle Edition.

[7] Proverbs 11:22

[8] Exodus 32:16

[9] Numbers 21:19

[10] Jewish Mishnah: Nezikin II, Avot, Ch. 6:2

[11] 1 Corinthians 2:3

[12] 2 Corinthians 11:6

About drbob76

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