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 LXVI)

Now Paul recalls something that Jesus said to those disciples who were following him as a warning against being misled by others who have a different goal in mind. It involved doctrines that Pharisees and Sadducees taught. They mixed in the yeast of their thinking to artificially inflate the dough of God’s Word.[1] Behind this was the gross hypocrisy of saying one thing and doing another.[2] He also included the yeast of King Herod, who felt that the government had a right to influence one’s belief.[3] Of course, the disciples, and the Galatians were familiar with the role that yeast played in making bread.[4]

He spoke of the effect of the old yeast of earning one’s salvation through the works of the Law, and how that yeast must be gotten rid of so that the pure dough of God’s word was what they ingested. No doubt, Paul was thinking of the Passover Meal, where they served bread made without yeast along with the Passover Lamb.[5] Although the Church does not follow the Jewish custom of the Passover Meal each year, they do celebrate the Lord’s Supper in its place. Jesus implemented this for His followers to remind themselves of what He did for them by dying on their behalf. He did so that they might have a spiritual life that involves serving God by serving Him and doing what He taught them to do. And to this end, the Word of God must be our source of instruction and guidance. Everything else they read or hear should be done to help them comprehend God’s Word. However, what people say must never be taken as the Word of God itself.

The Apostle Paul reveals a few of his social interests in this section. Living during Greek and Roman dominated eras; there’s every chance Paul may have witnessed some Olympic style races. Anyone who has seen these contests may have observed one runner cutting in front of another runner who then ends up being thrown off stride or even falling. It’s one thing when you make a mistake that hinders your progress, but when someone else deliberately misleads you, they should be penalized and removed from the competition.  Paul sends this warning to the Galatian believers.

Psychologists point out that in several places where Paul applies the image of athletic competition to himself and others,[6] his purpose in using these metaphors was a conscious effort to promote the rivalry between believers. Others do not agree that it was a deliberate attempt but do concur that the use of such imagery seems to show that Paul unconsciously saw himself and other Christians as competitive.  Such conclusions, however, are out of step with Paul’s message. Keep in sight the fact that Paul was using the runner as an illustration of someone who is committed and dedicated to finishing the course assigned to them by God. Paul does not suggest that believers are in a race with each other, and only one winner gets the prize.

Chrysostom quotes from his Latin text for verse eight, which reads: “Such persuasion does not come from the one who calls you.” He goes on to point out what Paul was saying to the Galatians: “He who called you did not call you to have such ups and downs in your faith.” Chrysostom uses the Latin word “fluctuat,” which means to undulate or make waves. Sort of reminds one of a buoy in a shipping channel, floating up and down with the waves.

Chrysostom then goes on to note that Paul does not establish a law that the Galatians should become Judaized again. And just in case some might object, Paul, asks why do they magnify and aggravate the situation by their words of protest to his teaching? What was the fuss all about over one commandment about remaining steady he asked them to keep and make such an enormous outcry?’ [7] Chrysostom tells us to listen to how Paul terrifies them in verse nine, not by things present but the future in these words: “A little yeast affects the whole lump.” And thus, this slight error, he says, if not corrected, will have power (as the yeast has with the dough to lead you back into complete Judaism).[8]

From this, it appears that Chrysostom feels that Paul is catching this spread of Judaizing in its initial stage, trying to prevent it from metastasizing further and infecting the whole body of the Anointed One.  So often pastors make the mistake of not addressing such issues, merely believing that by waiting, it will all take care of itself, or dies out for lack of interest.  Had Paul taken the same route, there is every reason to believe that the Churches throughout Galatia would have wilted on the True Vine.

Another early church scholar, Marius Victorinus, has Paul asking the Galatians: “Why were you called back from the right path, as if by some spell?” What I taught you, says Paul, through preaching the Gospel was the full truth; this new teaching is false; it’s the opposite of the truth, and will lead to nothing beneficial. So, Paul wants to know: Who got in your way, so you were unable to obey the truth?  Truth is certainly on your side, which you were obliged to follow, to keep you from any other religious system.

Next, Paul admonishes what they should do now because they failed to do so earlier: That is, don’t become followers of every new idea that comes to town. He fights on every front, so they won’t change their opinion and add something beyond what was taught them through the Gospel. Do not adjust, Paul says, to non-gospel views established by others. Your persuasion is from God, who called you. That means whatever persuaded you, be it by me, or be it by some belief you already held with God’s urging through His Spirit, make sure such persuasion comes from the God, who called you. Remember, whom God called, He also predestined, in addition to the other things, says Paul, which I stated earlier.[9] [10]

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) in answering the question of whether sinful tendencies existed in the soul of the first man, Adam, states that it would seem that the first man’s soul had no such tendencies. When speaking of sinful tendencies lusting against the spirit, as Paul does here in verse seven, it would not apply to Adam or Eve in the Garden of Eden. Such sinful inclinations did not exist in their state of innocence. Therefore, being in a state of innocence, there were no passions of the soul, namely, the sinful tendencies in the unregenerate person.[11] Let us, therefore, consider that if we are in union with the Anointed One who exists in a state of innocence, then the more we become like Him, the less we become a victim of our sinful tendencies.

Aquinas adds that the obstacle to their standing fast was significant and harmful. Anything considered dangerous compared to all the good they were doing.[12]  In other words, Paul was not only looking at the dysfunction this legalistic teaching was causing at the moment but all the harm and destruction it would cause later on if not exposed and eliminated immediately.

Likewise, early church writer Ambrosiaster sees Paul congratulating the Galatians on their progress in the work of faith. Still, they had somehow prevented by the wickedness of evil men from finishing the race with the effort which comes from perseverance.  Paul urges them to repent so in the future; they can resist those who try to persuade them to keep the works of the Law, instead of obeying the truth of the Gospel.  Ambrosiaster sees the Jews acting in their human wisdom in trying to subject the Galatians to the yoke of the law, but the Apostle Paul was performing with spiritual understanding.  Paul wanted them to see how something as simple as circumcision could have the same effect as a little yeast in a lump of dough.  In other words, their acceptance of circumcision would undoubtedly lead to the adaptation of other legal requirements until their faith in the Anointed One is so depleted that their only hope would be in the Law.[13]

Martin Luther (1483-1546) makes an interesting comment on how believers became hindered in their spiritual growth and maturity. The Galatian believers became spiritually stalled after turning from Faith and Grace to the Law. The same is true today when switching from faith in the teachings of Jesus to the sacraments of the Church to save them. The Apostle is indirectly blaming the false apostles from Jerusalem for impeding their progress as Christians. These Judaizers persuaded the Galatians to believe that they were in error and that they were making little or no progress under the influence of Paul’s leadership. Under the harmful impact of the false apostles, the Galatians thought they were well off and advancing rapidly in Christian knowledge and living by adding what they said to what Paul said.[14] What they didn’t realize was what the Judaizers said meant canceling out all that Paul taught them. Luther became interested in this phenomenon when he saw how a new born-again believer, hungry to know more about God’s Word and their new faith, are slowly weaned from Church teachings emphasizing rites, rituals, regulations, and practical doctrines, onto the Word of God. The Word is the only thing that will help them grow in the Lord.

Luther then goes on to write that Paul is explaining how those who were deceived by false teachers may yet be restored to spiritual health. The false apostles were good-humored fellows. Apparently, they surpassed Paul in learning and doing things right. The Galatians were easily deceived by outward appearances. They assumed they were being taught by the Anointed One Himself. Paul proved to them that their new doctrine was not of the Anointed One, but of the devil. In this way, he succeeded in restoring many of them.

We also can win back many from the errors into which they were seduced by showing that their beliefs are imaginary, harmful, and contrary to the Word of God. The devil is a cunning persuader. He knows how to enlarge the smallest sin into a mountain until we think we have committed the worst crime ever perpetrated on earth. Such stricken consciences must be comforted and set straight as Paul corrected the Galatians by showing them that their opinion is not of the Anointed One because it runs counter to the Gospel, which describes the Anointed One as a meek and merciful Savior.

[1] Matthew 16:6

[2] Luke 12:1

[3] Mark 8:15

[4] See Luke 13:21

[5] See 1 Corinthians 5:6-7

[6] Ibid. 9:24-7; See Galatians 5:7

[7] Scholars believe that Paul here is referring to having Timothy circumcised to keep peace in the church.

[8] Chrysostom: Homilies on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[9] Romans 8:30

[10] Marius Victorinus: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[11] Thomas Aquinas: Summa Theologica, Vol. 1, op. cit., Question 95, p. 1156

[12] Aquinas, Thomas: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[13] Ambrosiaster: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 28

[14] Martin Luther: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

About drbob76

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