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 FIVE (Lesson XLVII) 03/16/20

5:1 Listen to me, the Messiah came for freedom’s sake, that’s why He liberated you. So, don’t let these people intimidate you, remain loyal. That’s why I’m telling you, don’t allow them to tie you up again like forced participants to the old Mosaic Law.

 After four chapters of doctrinal teaching regarding law and grace, it is now time for the rubber to meet the road. Therefore, the Apostle Paul exclaims, “Stand fast in the liberty the Anointed One gave us in order that we might be free of the heavy hand of the Law.” Paul’s clear teaching regarding Law and Grace now demands a decision.

So, will the Galatians continue to live their Christian lives by the rules, rituals, and rites of the religious law? Or will they choose to live their Christian lives by faith through God’s grace and His Spirit? The answer is important because living by the Law can only be done by wearing a yoke. The phrase “yoke” carries with it the idea of bullying, burdening, and bondage.

Back in Paul’s day, a farmer put a yoke on his oxen. Why does do this? So, they would work together, to keep them straight, to control their every move. There is no doubt, but what the yoke is a reference to the Law of Moses.[1] The Jewish legalists wanted to strap the yoke of the law on these Gentile believers in order to control them, dominate them, and enslave them to their ideas. So, Paul tells these believers, “You are free – you don’t need to allow them to do this – throw off the yoke because they have no right to place it on you. The Anointed One set you free to live for Him! Now you belong to Jesus, and Jesus belongs to you![2]

Let’s illustrate it this way: People in a village are living under the cruel dictatorship of their Chief Elder. He is both demanding and condemning. He has a list of rules and requirements for them, and no matter how much they try to be compliant, it never seems to be enough for him. But the chief dies, and a gracious, kind, loving, and godly chief is selected. Can you imagine what he would say if they told him they wanted to continue keeping the same rules and requirements of the former chief, still trying to live up to his demanding expectations? This is what the Judiazers were doing in trying to keep the Galatians under the Law. They were unnecessarily submitting to wearing the yoke of bondage.

That’s why the Apostle Paul wanted the Galatians to remain unwavering in the liberty by which the Anointed One set them free. “Stand fast” means to remain in place – don’t budge one inch. Paul wanted them to follow the example he had set.[3] Jewish Messianic writer Avi ben Mordechai gives us an enlightening paraphrase of this first verse implying that Paul is trying to say this: “Therefore, because of all that I have now said to you, I can only admonish you to stand in the liberty of the Messiah’s teaching concerning Yahweh’s Written Word.” [4]

In this particular chapter, the Apostle not only encourages the Galatian believers to remain unwavering in their Christian liberty but warns against abusing it for personal reasons. To do this, he directs them to avoid getting involved in various vices, and instead, promote the exercise of the Spirit’s fruit and being faithful in observing their responsibilities to God and each other.  When added up, it is a warning not to leave the goodness and blessings of God’s grace to become involved with self-pride and provoking harsh discipline out of envy. Having made it clear that believers through the Gospel were freed from the bondage of the Law, he now exhorts them to continue resolutely in the liberty for which the Anointed One made them free. This is a gift from God, and they should do all they can do to take care of what they were freely given. In doing so, they will protect themselves from being kidnapped and taken hostage again in bondage to the ceremonial laws. Of which, for British Bible scholar John Gill, the most unyielding weight to carry is the Yoke of Circumcision.[5]

With this strong caution, Paul puts on his preaching attire after stomping out every last drop of juice from the grapes in the theological winepress brought out by Joshua and Caleb from the Promised Land. He then moves on to the consequences of whether they continue to drink the wine that is part of the Passover Meal or that which the Anointed One told us to drink at the Last Supper. If they stick with the religious rituals and regulations to celebrate their fellowship with God through Mosaic Law, then the Passover Meal will go on commemorating the blood of the Passover lamb in Egypt. But if they drink the new wine that is part of Holy Communion to celebrate their fellowship with God through the Anointed One, then they will be commemorating the blood of the Passover Lamb on Calvary.

What Paul says here about holding on to the truth and not sell out for something cheaper, echoes the words of King Solomon who said, “Buy the truth, don’t sell it. Do the same with wisdom, discipline, and discernment.” [6] Paul sends a similar message to the saints in Corinth,[7] in Ephesus,[8] in Philippi,[9] and Thessalonica.[10] And in writing to the scattered Hebrews, the writer repeated this same theme.[11] And the Apostle Jude thought the same way.[12] But the biggest exclamation mark is what Jesus the Anointed One told John to write the church in Ephesus, Thyatira, and Sardis.[13] So there is no doubt that, for Paul, remaining true and faithful ranked high on his list of things to do as a believer in pleasing God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

And the one thing that Paul felt demonstrated to be the best fortress against evil attacks of Satan remained the Anointed One’s Statue of Liberty on Mt. Calvary – the Cross. The freedom brought by the Lamb of God should be treasured with an everlasting loyalty. After King David lost the freedom, God awarded him as King of Israel and Judah due to his undying faith in LORD’s anointing upon him by the hands of the prophet Samuel,[14] he cried out to the LORD, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and make me willing to obey you.” [15]

Paul also felt that the believers in Rome needed the same type of encouragement,[16] as well as the Corinthians, in his first letter,[17] and in this same fashion in his second letter “The Lord is the Spirit who gives them life, and where He is there is freedom from trying to be saved by keeping the Word of God.” [18] It doesn’t take much scrutiny to notice that outside of the Written Word of God – the Bible, and the Living Word of God – Jesus the Anointed One, there is no guaranteed freedom from becoming trapped and entangled with the chains of legalism that require certain rites, rituals, and regulations in order to work out one’s salvation – which is impossible. Nor did this escape the Apostle Peter’s attention.[19] All these things that might entangle a believer once they leave the sanctity of the Written Word, which is the Living Word are outlined by Paul in his letter to the Colossians.[20]

When Paul used the Greek noun zygos here in describing the “Yoke of bondage,” it can be used literally as a wooden yoke that held two oxen together as they pulled a plow or wagon, and it can also be used metaphorically as anything that anchors a person to a burden or bondage. It is used elsewhere in the Final Covenant five other times.[21] In fact, Paul seems to use the yoke as a metaphor in the same manner as Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korha (flourished circa 150 AD), utilized it in the Mishnah that one should first accept upon himself the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven and then take upon himself the yoke of the commandments.[22] It is good to know that both Yeshua and Paul took this metaphor from the Jewish tradition instead of the Greek or Roman philosophers. But we must also consider that it was also used to define a shoulder yoke with one bucket on the left and one on the right that was used to carry water. So, when we think of the Law of the Kingdom as something a person carries on their own, then it is allowable to think of the yoke of the Anointed One in the same way. After all, Jesus did say that anyone worthy to be His disciple must be willing to “take up their cross daily” and follow Him.[23]

This is what it says in the Jewish Targum on Lamentations: “You will declare freedom to Your people, the House of Israel, by the hand of King Messiah just as You did by the hand of Moses and Aaron on the day when You brought Israel up from Egypt.” [24] So the liberty for which Jesus the Messiah came involved bringing freedom from the burden of Jewish rites and ceremonies, called here, the yoke of bondage; and also liberty from the power and guilt of sin, which nothing but the grace of our Anointed One can take away.[25]

As early as (155-240 AD), early Church scholar Tertullian spoke of this “Liberty in Anointed One” – Jesus the Messiah. He wrote that the main burden of the Law was unhelpful works until Jesus spoke of His easy yoke in Matthew’s Gospel.[26] It is the yoke of works that have been rejected, not those of disciplines. Liberty in the Anointed One has done no injury to innocence.[27] He goes on to say in another study that heresy, as well as schism and dissension, was disapproved of by Paul, who speaks of the necessity of false doctrines, not as a good thing, but used by God in beneficial trials for training and approving the faith of Christians. Moreover, when he blames dissensions and schisms, which undoubtedly are evils, he immediately adds heresies as well. Now, although he adds these to evil things, he is not hesitant to declare them being evil in themselves. But even greater, indeed, because he tells us that his belief of their schisms and dissensions was grounded on his knowledge that “there must be heresies also.” [28]

[1] Acts of the Apostles 15:10

[2] Romans 7:4-6

[3] See Galatians 2:45-5

[4] Avi ben Mordechai: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 103

[5] John Gill: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit

[6] Proverbs 23:23

[7] 2 Corinthians 15:58

[8] Ephesians 6:14

[9] Philippians 1:27

[10] 1 Thessalonians 38: 2 Thessalonians 2:15

[11] Hebrews 3:6, 14; 4:14; 10:23, 35-39

[12] Jude 1:3, 20-21

[13] Revelation 2:3, 25; 3:3

[14] 1 Samuel 16:1-13

[15] Psalm 51:12 – New Living Translation (NLT)

[16] Romans 6:14,18; 7:6; 8:2

[17] 1 Corinthians 7:22

[18] 2 Corinthians 3:17

[19] 1 Peter 2:16; 2 Peter 2:19

[20] Colossians 2:16-11; cf. Hebrews 9:8-11

[21] Matthew 11:29, 30; Acts of the Apostles 15:10; 1 timothy 6:1; Revelation 6:5

[22] Mishnah: Division Zeraim, Tractate Berakoth, Ch. 2, sec. 2; See Jerusalem Talmud, Yerushalmi Berakhot, VII., 2:2

[23] Luke 9:23

[24] Targum Lamentations, translated by C. M. M. Brady, 2:22

[25] Adam Clarke: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[26] Matthew 11:29

[27] Tertullian: On Modesty, Ch. 6,

[28] The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 3, op. cit., Tertullian, Part Second, The Prescription Against the Heretics, Ch. 5, p. 440

About drbob76

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