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 XXXI)

So, says Paul to the Galatians, when we tell you something, we are only trying to do what God wants us to do, not what others want us to do. He is the One who can see what is in our hearts. You know that we never tried to influence you by saying nice things about you. We were not trying to get your money. There was no reason to hide anything from you. God knows that this is true. We were not seeking applause from anyone – not from you or anyone else. When we were with you as Apostles of the Anointed One, we could have used our authority to force you to help us. But we were very gentle with you. We were like a mother caring for her little children. We loved you very much, so we were happy to share God’s Good News with you. But not only that – you were ready to give your eyes to me if that is what it took.[1] This helps us see the depth of Paul’s love for those God sent him to reach with the Gospel, and that certainly included the Galatians.

So why was such a good friend now being thought of as the enemy? I’m sure Paul did not want what happened to the prophet Zechariah when God gave him a message for the people of Israel. He told them; I’m going to tell you what God told me. He doesn’t understand why you people refuse to obey His commands? It will not work. You left the Lord, now He’s leaving you! But the people responded by asking the king to kill Zechariah, so they threw rocks at him until he fell dead. The people did this in the courtyard of the Lord’s Temple.[2]

Early medieval commentator, Haimo of Auxerre (820-885), gives his explanation of what he feels Paul is saying about Galatians’ willingness to give him their eyes. He says, that if it were possible for Paul to know the glorious things of God with his blurred bodily eyes and to penetrate still further into the secrets of His mysteries by the body’s sense of vision, they vowed to pluck out their eyes and give them to him so he could see even better. That’s because they rejoiced over Paul’s visit, and they were so anxious to know more about God and the Messiah, they were ready to pay any price to help make it happen.[3]

Dutch theologian James Arminius (1560-1609) talks about why such hatred is often exhibited against those who preach the true Gospel who must withstand the strong winds of dissent by those who do not desire fellowshipping with them. He says that such causes of dissension generally divided into those they earned it through some fault of their own and those who earn it through the fault of others. If a person is caught not practicing what they preach; of not telling the whole truth about sin and God’s punishment; or passing on their personal opinion as if it were Scriptural, they deserved to be called out as hypocrites because they did not live up to the principles of the very Scriptures they preach.

On the other hand, being falsely accused by others because, as Arminius puts it, they can’t stand having their sensitive and lustful hearts and their sinful ulcers sprinkled and purified by the sharp salt of truth, and because it forces them to admit that their lifestyle and manners are in bad shape. With Paul knowing this trait of the human heart, he inquires of the Galatians here in verse sixteen, “Am I now, therefore, your enemy, because I tell you the truth?” Furthermore, since the honest truth almost always invites hatred, and since, what some call an “unashamed flatterer,” with unconditional agreeableness wins friends as its reward, no wonder so many decided to avoid conflict by preaching and teaching an “unoffensive Gospel” – heaven without hell; salvation without repentance; unlimited grace for unlimited sinning, etc.[4]

John Bunyan (1628-1688) is writing on the tendency of forgetfulness, and how it makes past victories look like nothing happened, as though they never existed, and takes away from the soul an important source of support and encouragement. Certainly, the fact is that King David never forgot his epic battle with the giant Goliath,[5] and hiding in caves from Saul’s assassins.[6] In Bunyan’s mind, when King David became dejected, by remembering what he wrote about Mount Hermon, it kept him going;[7] when he decided to go out against Goliath, he remembered his battle with the lion and the bear that gave him courage.[8] In the same way, when things try to overpower us, we can think of our victories. And even when they finally leave us alone, just thinking about them will strengthen our soul.

Bunyan continues by saying that when we go out to try and recover a backslider, it usually begins at the remembrance of things that happened in the past. This was the Anointed One’s message to the Church in Ephesus.[9] It is marvelous to see how some people were greatly inspired by not forgetting. Especially those that prayed, cried, groaned, and longed for eternal life – those considered no pain too much, no distance far, no hazards too risky to run through for eternal life; those who were captivated with the Word, and with the comfort and joy it brought. In fact, Bunyan points to what Paul says here in verses fourteen and fifteen about the Galatians vowed to pull out their eyes and give them to the Apostle. That’s how sweet were the good tidings Paul brought to them.

So, says Bunyan, it is devastating to see how many people in his day were so beguiled and taken off course that they forgot such things in their own lives. It’s as though they never experienced such passion of dedication to the Lord; that they don’t remember ever thinking of God in such a way, as if never crossed their minds. In fact, they act as though it’s strange to see anyone who still takes the Bible as the Word of God and is persuaded by its message, and that mighty hand, by which they were sometimes guided in their life.[10] So it’s obvious why Bunyan is puzzled as to why the Galatians were going down this same rocky path of choosing to forget the joys and blessings they received with God’s free gift of salvation by grace.

Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) is writing a treatise on the believer’s affections for all things religious. He mentions that we humans cannot achieve the same level of affection that the angels in heaven show for God’s perfection and handiwork. That’s because they see things as they are according to their true reality. And even though believers possess a similar nature and affection for God, the closer they get to the level at which angels praise God with a pure heavenly flame of fire in their love and in the greatness and strength of their joy and gratitude that their praises represent, the more their affection will be of the heavenly kind.

He’s thinking about what Paul asked the Galatians here in verse fifteen concerning how they felt about the blessings they received from his ministry. What happened to them? When he came, he can testify that he heard them say that they would willingly pluck out their eyes and given them to him if it would help. Where did all that affection go? From this, Edwards is persuaded that religious affections are at a higher degree than normal human affections. In fact, he admonishes anyone who might condemn people as overly enthusiastic because their affections are so high. But at the same time, there is no evidence that religious affections are of a spiritual nature just because they are so fervent.

Edwards says that Scripture gives us evidence of such an enthusiastic fondness for all things Godly and holy. But we must determine whether or not they are spiritually oriented and part of God’s saving grace. That’s why what Paul says here to the Galatians indicates that the affections he speaks of are exceedingly elevated beyond what one might expect. And no doubt that’s why he feels so despondent that it all may end up being a failure and actually resulting in nothing to rejoice over. This is certainly applicable to every believer who knows the joy they felt at their conversion and being born again. But when you see them a year later, like Paul, you might be motivated to ask, as Paul did, where did the thrill of being born again go?

This is what frustrated Moses once he led the children of Israel out of Egyptian bondage into the wilderness of Sinai. How soon they forgot the blood that saved them from the Death Angel, the Rod that opened a path for them through the Red Sea where they sang God’s praise, the Manna from heaven, and fresh meat from the sky. Yet while Moses was up on Mt. Horeb to receive the commandments that would guide them until the Messiah came, they were worshiping and dancing before the idol of Golden Calf in the camp below.[11] The enthusiastic Hosannas that greeted Jesus when He rode into Jerusalem are like the hallelujahs today once the worship service is over. People can get out to the lake for their Sunday afternoon picnic. But if you think we might be upset at such behavior, how much more upset does the Son of God possess the right to be who paid the consummate price for their salvation?

Adam Clarke (1760-1832) gives this paraphrase of the opening in verse fifteen as follows: “Where then is your blessedness? Having renounced the Gospel, you have lost your happiness. What have your false teachers given you to compensate the loss of communion with God, or the Spirit of adoption, that Spirit of the Anointed One, by which you cried Abba, Father!”[12] But Clarke does go on to say that if we understand these questions about their happiness was another way of asking: When did you lose your first love for me? That is why what Paul says at the conclusion of this verse fits such a premise. Early church writer Victorinus expresses Paul’s words to the Galatians in a very abrupt manner. He hears Paul saying, Hey! You were all excited the first time when you heard the Gospel preached because of your eagerness to hear the truth. But where is your excitement now?[13]

Paul wraps it up by asking a painful question: “Do you hate me now that I’ve told you the truth?”  A friend will go along with you because they fear losing you, but a true friend will tell you the facts because if they do not, they will lose you anyhow. Paul proves himself to be a true friend of the Galatians because he is telling them like it is.  Oft times, a rebuke from a critic and that of a true friend may sound similar, but the difference is that the rebuke from a critic comes from their mind while the rebuke from a true friend comes from their heart. Did not Jesus say you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free? If you hate it when someone tells you a lie, how can you then hate it when they tell you the truth? Solomon said it well, “Don’t bother correcting the arrogant; they will only hate you. But correct the wise, and they will love you for it.”[14]

[1] Also see 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8

[2] 2 Chronicles 24:20-21

[3] Haimo of Auxerre: Commentary on Galatians, loc. cit.

[4] James Arminius: op. cit., Oration 5, p. 146

[5] 1 Samuel 17:1-11

[6] Ibid. 22:1

[7] Psalm 133:3

[8] 1 Samuel 17:34-36

[9] Revelation 2:2-6

[10] John Bunyan Practical Works, Vol. 4: A Holy Life, The Beauty of Christianity, The Author to the Reader, Ch, 3, p. 99

[11] The Works of Jonathan Edwards: Vol. 2,  A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, Part 2, pp.765-756

[12] Ibid., loc. cit.

[13] Edwards, M. J. (Ed.). On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 63

[14] Proverbs 9:8

About drbob76

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