CALLED TO LIVE IN FREEDOM

9526a07d9f8686ec5667a96cad064ff6

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES

CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson LXIV)

Maclaren offers a homily on this text. He says that when groups or Churches insist on including external rites as essential for justification, or, elevate any rituals and ceremonies as an accompanying source of grace, attaching them to the bond which fastens our souls to Jesus so that it becomes another channel of grace, as well as the bond of union, then it is time to arm for the defense of the spirituality of the Anointed One’s kingdom and to resist the attempt to bind on freed shoulders the iron yoke of legality. Maclaren says that we should let groups and churches do as they please, so long as they do not turn their optional forms of dedication into essential molds for justification.

 Maclaren notes, in the broad freedom of expression and spirituality, which holds fast to the one central principle of not being troubled by less important matters – we exhibit tolerance for other opinions on this subject of grace alone. But this does not arise from casual differences but a clear understanding of our perception, and from the strong commitment we have for the basic essential for living the Christian life, let us be guided by the significant, calm, lofty thoughts which these verses spread out clearly before our eyes.[1]

Marvin Vincent (1824-1922) comments on Paul’s inference here in verse four that those who reach for the Law will fall from Grace. The Apostle Peter makes the same point.[2] Paul’s declaration is aimed squarely at the Judaizers, who taught that joining the freedom of Grace and the obligation of the Law make it legal. They are mutually exclusive, making this impossible.[3] Vincent notes that the Greek verb ekpiptō means “to fall from a thing, to lose grip of it.” [4] Vincent says that in classic Greek writings, they used it in case an insubordinate seaman was ordered off the ship, banished, and deprived of any office. It described actors booed off the stage.[5] I believe that Paul used the strongest of words, says Vincent, to warn the Galatians of what they faced if they rejected the Anointed One as their sole source of salvation.

Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) sees Paul eliminating any trust in the external rituals of religion, which has always been a common temptation. Circumcision was a great thing with the Jews, and frequently they trusted in it, but Paul declares that it adds up to nothing gained. There might be others who were glad that they were not Jews, but Paul says that by them not being circumcised, it did not give the Jews any advantage over others. Certain matters connected with godliness are external, and yet they are only useful for the purpose assigned to them, especially in the case of water baptism and the Lord’s supper, the assembling of ourselves together, the reading of the Word, and public prayer and praise. These things are proper and profitable, but none of them must be made in any measure or degree to serve as the grounds of our hope of salvation. This text sweeps them all away, and plainly describes them as availing nothing if established as foundations of our trust in God’s saving grace.[6]

George G. Findlay (1849-1919) says that the Galatians faced two roads to follow on their way to justification and salvation. One is called the Roadway of Law, the other, the Highway of Grace. If they chose to follow the Highway of Law, they cease to be Christians. They will leave behind the light and joy of the heavenly Zion; they will find themselves wandering around in the gloomy desolate wilderness of Sinai. So, look at this picture. There are the Galatians all in an uproar about which Hebrew feasts to celebrate and what rites to perform, totally absorbed in the details of Mosaic ceremonial law. On the other side is Paul with the Church of the Spirit, walking boldly in being right with God by faith and the communion of the Holy Spirit, joyfully awaiting the Savior’s final coming and the hope laid up in heaven.[7] When putting it this way, how could anyone choose any other way than the Way of the Cross?

Findlay goes on to say that these two sentences (verses five and six), sums up faith in the Anointed One. Verse five gives us the dynamo; verse six gives us its dynamics. It is a condition, an occupation, a grand outlook, and an intent pursuit, a Divine hope for the future, and a sovereign power for the present with an everlasting fountain of energy in the love of the Anointed One. These are the active and passive elements of the Christian life we must balance appropriately. Christians and the Church committed many errors because of one-sidedness.  Some just sit with folded hands, patiently waiting until the Lord returns; others are too busy to think of His coming at all. Waiting can degenerate into laziness; serving in a hectic hurry and anxiety can become a mechanical routine, says Findlay. Hope is what gives us calmness and dignity, bubbliness, and brightness to our work. Let us all have Jesus find us working for Him as we await His coming.[8]

Alvah Hovey, (1892-1903) adds to what he said in the previous verse about being separated from the Anointed One because of forsaking Him in favor of the Law, by noting how it affects a person’s hope of being right with God. The fact is any believer that awaits by faith, the fulfillment of their expectation is evidence that they have turned to religious legal works for salvation and abandoned the method of grace. The “hope” spoken of here cannot mean having the feeling of hope because Christians are not “waiting” for that; they already possess it. It must rather signify that which is hoped for, the object of trust. But it is not the “faith” that provides the substance of that for which we hope.[9]

But this hoped-for good, says Hovey, is in some way defined by the words “of righteousness.” What then does the term righteousness signify? It may denote a perfect moral character for which we hope by obeying the Law, or it may denote acceptance with God through the Anointed One, which is the down payment of our hope for eternal life. In other words, it may signify either self-righteousness based on Law and Works or justification based on Faith and Grace. Paul’s previous arguments all show it is Faith and Grace. With this said, then this verse teaches that eternal life, for which Christians wait in hope, belongs to justification and will eventually flow from it. However, that justification and hope are dependent on faith in Jesus the Anointed One, and that this faith itself is due to the work of the Holy Spirit provided the Galatians with an exceedingly rich cluster of truths, every one of which is a protest against the Judaistic movement among the Galatians.[10]

Kenneth Wuest (1893-1961) gives his view of the righteousness he feels Paul is talking about here in verse five. It is not justifying righteousness, and for three reasons. First, it is a righteousness that finds its source in the operation of the Holy Spirit. Justifying righteousness is a purely legal matter and has to do with a believer’s standing before God. The Holy Spirit has nothing to do with that. That is a matter between God, the Father, and God the Son. The Father justifies a believing sinner based on the work of the Son of God on the Cross. Second, the context is dealing with the Christian’s experience, not their standing, with the method of living a Christian life, not the relation of that person to the laws of God. Third, love is a Fruit of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian spoken of in verse six, which verse links up with verse five. Again, this shows that the grace spoken of in verse five is sanctifying grace, of which the Galatian saints were depriving themselves by their act of depending upon self-effort in an attempt to obey the Law.[11]

Current Bible commentator Grant R. Osborne notes that Paul explains here in verse six why the rite of circumcision is not enough to make us right with God. The truth is that “any union with Jesus the Anointed One does not depend on being circumcised or uncircumcised of any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” Faith appropriates that right standing with God that the Anointed One made possible that guides our responses throughout the Christian life. We are first justified by faith (not by the Law, verse 4) when God declares us to be right with Himself in His court of grace. Then we continue to live by faith through the process of sanctification. Living right before God, by faith, makes this happen.

Circumcision is not a part of this process. Along with the Law, it has been removed from the equation by the Anointed One and no longer counts as part of the covenant process. It does not matter whether one is circumcised (like Jews) or not (like Gentiles). Both groups of believers stand before God by grace through faith, not by works. So, we can see the link between the “saved” life and the “sanctified” life with its Fruit of the Spirit.[12]

I like the way Messianic Jewish writer Avi ben Mordechai approaches this strong statement by Paul here in verse six about circumcision and uncircumcision, amounting to nothing compared to love and faith. He points back to the Apostle’s words in the first-century period after the coming of the Anointed One, whose teachings were the counter alternative to the Rabbi’s teachings. Mordechai offers an amplified paraphrase of what he believes Paul is saying. How you religious Jewish leaders define the terms circumcision or uncircumcision is of no consequence to me because what really matters is not its legal definition based on oral law and rabbinic tradition; rather, circumcision is always defined within the context of what it means to keep faith with Yahweh which is fulfilled through our love for Yahweh as Yeshua already say, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments,” [13] which is restated in many places of Scripture.[14] In other words, circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is everything.[15]

Dutch Bible scholar Alfred E. Bouter notes another consequence is switching from Grace to Law. He notes that if the Galatians placed themselves under the Law or want to be justified by the Law, there would also be a conflict with the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit acts on the principle of faith. So just as they would lose their profit from being in union with the Anointed One, they also lose the help of the indwelling Spirit. Here, Faith connects with Hope. Paul contrasts the impossibility of justification by the Law with the hope of righteousness through grace. True believers are justified based on faith, and they have real hope, the hope of righteousness. Here faith, hope, and love are linked together. Through faith, we benefit from the help of the Spirit, and we have the right kind of hope, the hope of righteousness; but if we are under the law, if we want to be justified by the Law, our hope is gone.[16]

[1] Maclaren, Alexander: Expositions on the Holy Scriptures, Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[2] 2 Peter 3:17

[3] Cf. Romans 4:4, 5, 14, 16

[4] See Acts of the Apostles 12:7; James 1:11

[5] Vincent, Marvin R., Word Studies on Galatians, op. cit., p. 157

[6] Spurgeon, Charles H., The Luther Sermon at Exeter-Hall, on Sunday evening, Nov. 11, 1883, Sermon Num.  #1750

[7] Findlay, George G., On Galatians, op. cit., pp. 309-310

[8] Ibid. pp. 314-315

[9] Hebrews 11:1

[10] Hovey, A., On Galatians, op. cit., p. 65

[11] Wuest, Kenneth: Word Studies, op. cit., loc. cit.

[12] Osborne, G. R: Galatians, op. cit., pp. 165–166

[13] John 14:15

[14] See Exodus 20:6; Deuteronomy 5:10, 7:9, 11:1, 22; 30:16; Joshua 22:5; Nehemiah 1:5; |Daniel 9:4

[15] Mordechai, Avi ben: On Galatians, p. 68

[16] Bouter, Alfred E., On Galatians, op. cit., p. 68

About drbob76

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