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 XXXIV)

Paul, no doubt, thought back to when he first went to Galatia; how he struggled with several physical handicaps after many reproaches, afflictions, and persecutions; hoping that through his preaching of the Gospel they might be born again, turning them from heathenism to Christianity, and from serving dead idols to serve the Living God, and believing in His Son Jesus the Anointed One. Now he was faced with doing it all over again by writing to them, using arguments that sometimes sounded loving and kind, but at other times harsh and full of tough love. More than anything, he wanted them to reject the heresy of these Judaizers and return to the pure Gospel of the Anointed One. What Paul desperately longed for was that they are recast into a mold having the form of the Person and Spirit of the Anointed One. Instead, these believers seemed to have taken on the form of Moses and the Letter of the Law.

Just as Paul told the Corinthians, he also told the Galatians that he never thought of trying to make them feel ashamed of themselves, but was writing to counsel them as his spiritual children.[1] In fact, Paul was there when they were born again. This was not some pretend relationship. God knew what he was saying, and God knew how much Paul loved them with the kind of love that only comes from Jesus the Anointed One.[2] So Paul was not hesitant to tell them how much it pleased him when they turned their lives over to the Anointed One as a living sacrifice.[3] In fact, Paul offered to give his own life, just like Jesus did, in order to share the joy with them that comes when you give your all for the Anointed One.[4]

None of this that Paul said in order to the Galatians to understand his love and commitment to do everything possible to fight for their survival as believers saved by grace was not to bring him any applause or fame, but for God’s glory and honor. Maybe they still didn’t realize that Jesus was the firstborn, and they were his many brothers and sisters in God’s eyes.[5] That’s why he was encouraging them, in fact, pleading with them to let every part of their lives belong to the Lord Jesus the Anointed One to the point where even their thoughts were kept from entertaining going back into their old sinful way of living.[6]

After all, they were not made a new creature in union with the Anointed One to continue being like the world but to be like God, who is the essence of being good and true and living a holy, sanctified life.[7] Jesus did not die on the cross for salvation to be a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. It was either all the Anointed One had to give or nothing at all. He was not a supplemental plan to their spiritual health as followers of the Torah, still trying to earn salvation and everlasting life through efforts of their own.[8] The secret is this: the Anointed One in you brings the hope of all the great things yet to come.[9] That’s why they became a new person so that every day is a new day to live for God. This is the way they were to grow in their understanding of the One who made them what they are with God. It must be a daily effort to become more and more like Jesus.[10]

Paul could not see any other way to make it plainer to the Galatians. Like he told the Corinthians, there’s nothing he wished for more than that he might come to visit them very soon, the Lord willing. Then he would see if these proud talkers enjoyed the power to do more than just talk. God’s kingdom is not seen in one’s talk, but in one’s walk. Which did they want most if he did get to come? That he be like an irate father out to whip his disobedient children, or a caring, loving, forgiving gentle father?[11] No doubt, Paul felt this way with believers in every church. There’s no way for them to imagine how much he missed them that Paul was willing to attempt everything possible to get back to see them one more time, but things kept getting in his way. Who else will Paul be more proud of when he stands one day before the Master to receive his crown than the ones he was able to lead to the Anointed One for salvation and everlasting life?[12] In what way was it possible to give God enough thanks for them and all the joy they brought to him.[13]

Chrysostom continues his thoughts on the previous verses concerning Paul’s lamenting the deteriorating situation among the Galatian congregations. Here he points to Paul’s parental compassion. He notes the anguish befitting an Apostle is so apparent. So, he asks if we see how Paul lamented more intensely than women giving birth? Chrysostom hears Paul saying: You have ruined the image of God; You’ve lost your kinship with God because you’ve marred His likeness in you; You need a rebirth and a reformation. Nevertheless, I still call those who resulted from miscarriages and abortions my children.[14]

Augustine shares this with his readers on the subject of the emotional attachment Paul felt for the believers in Galatia. In Augustine’s mind, the Anointed One is formed in the inner self of the believer through faith. Such people are called into the liberty of grace because of their gentle and humble heart that does not boast about the merits of works (which are nothing) but by means of God’s grace. For the Anointed One is formed in the one who receives His form, but the one who receives His form is the one who stays close to the Anointed One through spiritual love. And that’s why by imitation of the Anointed One, they become what He was, to the extent that it is granted to them in their present stage.

Augustine continues by saying that since people must be conceived by their mothers to be formed and then, having been formed, must be involved in the process of labor in order to be born, the Apostle’s words, for whom I am again in labor pains until the Anointed One is formed in you, might be troubling unless we understand birth pains to refer to the distress which caused him to feel distraught in order that the Galatians might be born in the Anointed One. And he is in agony again on account of the dangers of seduction that he sees provoking them. Now the anxiety arising from such cares for them, on account of which Paul says he is in a sense in labor pains, will last until they grow up in the Anointed One and mature, so they are no longer moved by every wind of doctrine. Therefore, when he says: I am again in pain until the Anointed One is formed in you, he is not referring to the beginnings of faith, because they were born already, but rather to its strengthening and perfection.[15]

Contemporary scholar of Augustine’s, Marius Victorinus, gives his observation on the subject of the Anointed One being formed in the believer. As he saw it, every person is capable of receiving the Savior. A person’s soul, if they use any sense of reason, will realize that the world is not its own, and recognizes its Creator, will be capable of receiving the Master. More precisely, says Victorinus, the Anointed One – that is, the Spirit – is formed in that person’s soul. Also, by growing in the Spirit, the soul is liberated through its willingness to believe. The person will then be able to reach the heavenly realms, obtaining the salvation of the eternal light. For Victorinus, the force and the power of what Paul says – until the Anointed One is formed in you – is excellent.[16] With all due respect to this great scholar, Jesus made it so clear that it was hard to miss seeing. You cannot get to God unless you go through Jesus, and you cannot get to Jesus unless the Holy Spirit draws you.[17]

Another contemporary of Augustine’s, Ambrosiaster, gives us his insight. In his mind, Paul was responsible for being there when the Holy Spirit gave them their new birth, and Ambrosiaster was the one who led them to verify their faith in baptism. However, Ambrosiaster believes they born weak and deformed, so now Paul tries to reform them with his fatherly counsel. By exercising faith but paying no attention to its meaning, the Galatians effectively denied that the Anointed One was formed in their minds. If they understood the grace of God in the Anointed One, there was little chance in their being led astray into Judaism after believing. Ambrosiaster goes on to say Paul desired to do this in person rather than by mail. That way, they can hear the passion and care in his voice even as he chastises them for their behavior. That might embarrass them for two reasons – partly because of their own error, and partly because of the Apostle’s shame,[18] Today, some Christian psychologists call this “tough love.”[19]

But again, I must kindly disagree with my brother Ambrosiaster. The Holy Spirit is not culpable for deformed believers being born again. If that is true, then it leaves the door open that His involvement in Mary conceiving and giving birth to Jesus made it possible for Him to come into this world spiritually deformed. That being the case, He might be persuaded by the devil to forsake His Father’s will and go off to use His fame as the Messiah in establishing His own earthly kingdom. It is much more logical to accept that even a healthy born child might, through their own inattention or the carelessness of others, contract a disease that ends up deforming them.

Bruno the Carthusian, the medieval scholar we mentioned earlier, gives us his take on Paul’s pains like childbirth.  He hears Paul saying to the Galatians, I worked hard for you. Now I am hurting like a woman in childbirth and working even harder for you to be reformed and return to the Messiah, the one in whom you put your faith before you were deformed. I will continue to suffer like this, says Paul, for as long as you listen to and follow those false teachers. But Bruno says we should take note, however, that Paul does not actually say “until you are reformed” but rather until the Anointed One is reformed again in you. That means, the image of the Lord people saw in you was actually deformed. Or perhaps Paul means that the likeness of Master is deformed in you in the sense that you do not look anything like Him. Now that others hear how you withdrew from your faith of the Savior, they are following your example as they claim that the faith of the Redeemer is insufficient for salvation. That’s why, says Bruno, in order for Paul to discourage the Galatians from continuing to follow this path they are on to destruction, all the more will his remarks get harsher and harsher until he tells them he won’t quit until the Son of God might be formed in those who are deformed, so to speak, because of sin.[20]

[1] 1 Corinthians 4:14

[2] Philippians 1:8

[3] Romans 12:1

[4] Ibid. 2:17

[5] Romans 8:29

[6] Ibid. 13:14

[7] Ephesians 4:24

[8] Philippians 2:5

[9] Colossians 1:27

[10] Ibid. 3:10

[11] 1 Corinthians 4:19-21

[12] 1 Thessalonians 2:17

[13] Ibid. 3:9

[14] Edwards, M. J. (Ed.). On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 65

[15] Augustine of Hippo: Commentary on Galatians, loc. cit.

[16] Marius Victorinus, op. cit., loc. cit.

[17] John 6:44, 65; 3:5; 16:13-14; See Matthew 22:14

[18] Ambrosiaster, op. cit., p. 25

[19] The phrase was evidently coined by Bill Milliken when he wrote the book Tough Love in 1968 and has been used by numerous authors since then.

[20] Bruno the Carthusian, op. cit., verse 19

About drbob76

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