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 LXVIII)

I remember, years ago, reading in a church magazine where a woman wrote a letter to the editor and threatened to stop going to church because they didn’t sing out of the old hymnal anymore. She may have forgotten – or didn’t know – that at one point in recent church history, the hymnal she referred to was itself new, and people back then were upset because they didn’t use their older hymnal. I wonder what hymnal the angels used who sang to the shepherds on the night of the Anointed One’s birth, and what hymnal the angelic multitudes in Revelation will be singing out of, and which group will be upset with the other for not singing from the same songbook they use?

Paul was incensed that these Judaizers got in the way of the Galatians being able to obey the truth they received from him. That may have included everything that Paul taught them from the Gospel, to how the Lord’s Supper was observed, to the form of water baptism he taught them, or insisting that they integrate Jewish religious rites and rituals into their worship services.  It doesn’t appear that the Galatians stopped believing in Jesus as the Messiah, or denied His death and resurrection; instead, they started thinking that they could maintain their salvation by way of their efforts instead of walking by faith.  Without realizing it, they were saying, “Jesus, Your suffering; Your death on the cross; Your rising from the dead on the third day; and Your teachings are simply not enough to guarantee me full fellowship with God the Father and eternal life.” So, they tried to assure themselves with their accomplishments, as the Jews had done for centuries. It must have broken Paul’s heart.

I received the privilege and opportunity of traveling with the overseer to one of the more remote areas near the Romanian border in Yugoslavia, to preach for a small congregation in a tiny farming village. As I exited from one of the few paved roads onto a dirt country road to the town, I saw that because of recent rains, the dirt trail was a mix of deep crisscrossing furrows made by wagon wheels. I knew my little Volkswagen would not be able to make it if the tires fell into one of these deep ruts. So, I stopped for a moment and prayed for the Lord to direct me. As I started up the road, the Holy Spirit guided my eyes to a particular set of grooves to straddle. I did so but held my breath most of the way. After two kilometers, the overseer and I arrived in the village safe and sound. As I got out of the car, I shook my head in amazement because those were the only set of ruts that were not intersected by other grooves the whole way. I was ready to shout!

In Yugoslavia, at that time, church services were conducted as follows: Opening prayer, welcoming visitors, one song, then the sermon, followed by an hour of praise and worship. When I prepared for this service the night before, I selected a text I preached on many times and prayed that the Holy Spirit would use it to speak to these precious people. But, as I sat and listened to the song, which I didn’t understand because of the language, I suddenly felt impressed to speak on the Trinity. When I got up, I told the congregation of this leading by the Holy Spirit. Much to my surprise, they all began to weep and cry. When I finished about an hour and a half later – because of the need for translation, of course – they sang and prayed with even greater fervor.

 Later, as we were eating a meal, the pastor came to me with tears in his eyes. He told me that a few weeks ago, a visiting minister had preached against the Trinity, declaring that God the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit were just one person, and His name was Jesus. It brought instant division in the church. So, he told them to pray that when the next preacher came, whether he preached for the Trinity or against the Trinity, they would accept whatever he taught as the truth.

That’s why when I shared about the leading of the Holy Spirit to preach on the Trinity, the whole church accepted it as God’s confirmation to them that what they had believed all along was true. What struck me was that the Holy Spirit waited until I was in the service before bringing me a Word of Wisdom, so that God got all the credit for changing my mind. That should make anybody want to shout!

Jewish writer Mark D. Nanos sees a similar situation here in verse nine with the Galatians and how they dealt with these so-called “fellow believers” from Jerusalem. He points to Paul’s warning about how a little yeast can change the whole lump of dough. Nanos suggests that the Judaizers not be thought of as intruders, because yeast and dough are natural elements that mix well together. If a Jew wanted to make flatbread, they did not mix in any yeast, but if they wished to bake a risen loaf of bread, then the yeast was necessary. Therefore, could it be that Paul was inferring that letting these Judaizers and their Law be allowed to mix in with the believers of Paul’s Gospel they would swell into egotistical believers? But the fermenting yeast must be given time to rise, and so Paul wanted the Galatians to know that they may be in the process of letting these Judaizers cause this to happen unless they rejected them from mixing in immediately.[1]

Paul compliments the Galatians by telling them that up to that point, they ran the race well. They believed the Gospel and acted on it by following the instructions Paul left with them on how to grow in the Spirit and become fruit-bearing believers. But then he expresses his disappointment and disbelief that they began to ignore his teachings and dismiss the long hours he spent with them, working through the pain and agony of his illness to bring them the truth. It must have given Paul a feeling of being jilted. While he was there, they treated him as an angel from heaven, assisted him in every way possible because of his handicap. But now they were treating him like the devil by calling him a heretic and saying they didn’t love him anymore; they found new teachers who were more interesting and exciting.

Perhaps this had a bearing on why he asked them point-blank: “Who did this to you?” He wanted to make them think. What did these Judaizers offer them through obedience to religious rituals and regulations that they did not already possess in the Anointed One? Paul brings up a point we often see today. A newly baptized believer starts on their spiritual journey with great zeal and enthusiasm. But then things come up that seem to hinder their progress. Sometimes it involves issues from their past; sins they confessed to God but did not share with fellow believers; or the continued battle with physical addictions of a physical nature. Could we honestly say that maybe Satan might be behind such stumbling blocks? Without question! Might we also look at the believer’s weaknesses that can draw them away from the course they are on? For sure! But only with their consent!

I like the way Don Garlington phrases what Paul says in verse seven about how the Galatian’s walk in the Spirit was interfered with and caused to go off track. It was Paul’s way of asking, “Who cut in on you?” The question is rhetorical because Paul knew very well who “cut in.” Frequently thoughts in the Bible are intended to make people think rather than acquire information. Paul wants them to consider just what kind of persons became a hindrance to them. It reminds me that in England and America during the colonel days when someone on a horse or riding in a carriage passed and then quickly pulled in front of another rider or carriage driver, it was quite reasonable for the ones being “cut off,” to become angry. In today’s age, we call this “road rage.” To some degree, Paul expected the Galatians to exhibit more road rage because their strides and pace on the road of Holy Living were rudely interrupted by these Judaizers.[2]

The sad part is that under those conditions, some new believers begin to feel unworthy of continuing in their relationship with the Anointed One and the Church. Often this humiliation becomes an embarrassment when other believers criticize and pester them to straighten out and fly right. But instead of this becoming a turning point in their lives where they backslide, it has the same potential of becoming a turning point where they lean on Jesus to help them walk back to the right path through His righteousness, not theirs. If one knows the only way to salvation is in the Anointed One, then the only way to remain in the Anointed One is through obedience to Him. Jesus said that once we know the truth, it has the power to set us free from any other influence except His.

Let us teach each new convert; it is not enough just to “know” the truth by hearing it but by “believing” it. To prove we trust it, we must obey it; and for us to follow it, we must carry it out in our living. We not only receive the light provided by the truth, but we experience the power and love it ensures. Therefore, this power and love that causes us to embrace the truth is the same power and passion that serves as our reason to obey it continually. Not only that, but we embrace and obey the truth not out of fear for what happens if we fail, but out of the joy we find in being faithful to it and know what the Anointed One does if we fall. No wonder Paul was so distraught over the Galatians’ suddenly turning back to the old ways.

 5:10a But I’m still confident that the Lord will not let such false teaching fool you. The truth is, the ones causing all this discord, whoever they may be, will have to answer God for this.

Now Paul aims his arrows of truth at those deceivers who thought this might be an easy chore. Even if they did not fear any repulsive actions by the Galatians, nor did they seem to feel intimidated by the Apostle Paul. However, Paul brings in another personality that they should fear with great dread, and that was God Himself. Paul faced these corrupters of the faith more than once.[3] Even the Apostle John faced a similar faction that he called “enemies of the Anointed One” – antichrists.[4]

But Paul was confident that God was going to help them fight the battle against such troublemakers. One way was for God to remove any obstacles from their being conquered by death before their time. Another way for that to happen was for the Galatians to rise, as did the Corinthians, and oppose this action by the Judaizers until it drove them away in tears.[5] Using the weapons God gave them to destroy their human reasoning with the truth of the Gospel, it can happen.[6] So Paul was only doing for the Galatians what he did for the Corinthians by writing this letter.[7]

Paul still had faith that the Galatians would see the error of their ways and reject the Judaizers’ attempts to derail them. So, all was not lost; Paul believes that with God’s help, he can restore them to the truth. Any parent who raised or helped raise a child knows the sinking feeling when that child suddenly begins to adopt the attitude, vocabulary, values, and lifestyle of their classmates and peers in contradiction with what their parents taught them.  It makes them want to get in their face and say, “I fed you when you couldn’t feed yourself; I changed your diaper when it was soiled and smelly; I dressed you; walked you to school; held you when you fell; gave you money to spend; picked you up from school on rainy days; gave you a nice bedroom to sleep in; cooked your meals; and taught you what was right. What have these friends done for you or contributed to your upbringing that you should feel obligated to do what they say?” Paul felt the same way about the Galatians believers whom he called his “children.”

[1] Nanos, Mark D., On Galatians, op. cit., p. 192

[2] Garlington, Don: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 147

[3] See Acts of the Apostles 15:1-2, 24

[4] 1 John 2:18-26

[5] 2 Corinthians 2:6-8

[6] Ibid. 10:2-6

[7] Ibid. 13:10

About drbob76

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