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 XC)

However, Adam Clarke put the first four into the category of “sexually immoral conduct:” Adultery, Fornication, Impurity – which he equates with unnatural practices such as sodomy and bestiality, and lasciviousness behavior – which he denotes as indecency and eroticism, to which we may add: pornography.  Then the second group involves “dysfunctional behavior” as a believer: Idolatry, Sorcery, Hatred – which he sees as aversion and opposition to brotherly love and kindness. The third group includes Contentions – which he labels as “hostile acts” borne of emotional upheaval resulting in contests, altercations, lawsuits, and disputes in general. Jealousies – brought on by envy and strife caused by one person trying to excel at the expense of another, supporting bad causes, especially those against church leadership.

Clarke continues with the fourth group of Fits of Rage – which explodes in public discontent and the questioning of other’s faith and loyalty; Selfish Ambitions – which he classifies as disputes over things such as words, to which we can add: church programs, music, ministries, etc. Dissensions – which he sees as divisions into separate factions, opposition groups, and dissenters to the conventional wisdom which guide the congregation. And finally, Heresies – which is the outcome of all these things which preceded it, which Clarke sees as people separating from the communion of others, following a different doctrine that then becomes offenses and stumbling blocks for others.

Then Clarke put the fifth sinful actions of sinful tendencies into a group of acts “associated with those who are backslidden” and have become engrossed into sin and the world.  He begins with Envyings – which he defines as “Pain felt, and malignity conceived, at the sight of excellence or happiness.” Says Clarke, this is a passion that the most base and the least curable of all that disgrace or degrades the fallen soul.[1] Now that they are no longer in communion with the congregation of believers, they now envy what those who remain faithful are enjoying.

Now we are told that this sixth term, “Murders,” does not appear in Nestle-Aland/United Bible Societies’ (NU) Greek text. When seen in the context of what Paul has listed so far and what comes after this, some Bible scholars believe that it is to be understood the same way our Lord used it along with other evil deeds.[2] However, to put it back into the historical context of Paul’s era, it was not uncommon for some unrepentant backsliders to make false accusations against their former fellow believers, so that they were arrested and executed on manufactured charges. Not only was our Lord sacrificed in this same manner, but later on during the Roman persecution, it happened to Christians by the thousands.

Then comes the seventh term, Drunkenness – which Clarke puts in the context of “over-drinking” to the point of becoming intoxicated, which makes the person unfit for public, domestic, or spiritual duties. Paul cautions the Romans on this same issue. When we put this in the context of dealing with fallen believers, it may point to someone trying to drown their grief and sorrow of losing their joy in Jesus the Anointed and fellowship with the saints.

The eighth vice is Revelries – which Clarke defines as binge eating, with obscene songs, music, etc. Today we would call this “partying,” perhaps even orgies. That the Apostle Paul must write this warning to those once delivered from heathenism and legalism to live in the newness of life in Jesus the Anointed, is the saddest part. How can that be possible? The same question seems to go unanswered even today.

Haimo of Auxerre gives us his insight into the word “fornication.” He tells us that the Greek porneia relates to the gate arches. Those were theatrical places and brothels constructed around the gate arches where the filthiest sort of people mingle with prostitutes. In Latin, fornix means “arch” as well as “brothel,” hence the sexual activity that went on there was termed “fornication.” [3] We may attribute this to the definition given in Seville’s Etymologies: “Prostitute (fornicatrix), a woman whose body is public and common. Such bodies would lie prostrate under arches, places that they call fornices – hence also the term ‘female fornicator’ (fornicaria).” [4]  Therefore, we can see that the term had more to do with where it took place than the immoral act.

However, Haimo goes on to say that in the ninth century AD, to fornicate means: “to have sexual relations with unmarried girls or widows, not consecrated to God.” He does not say if the classification of intimacy involving believers falls under the same term. So, it may be that Paul was speaking of believers who become intimate with unmarried or widowed unbelievers. One mid-medieval scholar believes that Paul was describing fornication as: “defilement with prostitutes.” [5] We know that in Paul’s era, there were prostitutes in the pagan temples for religious purposes and that these temples had arches.

The Jews had a similar concept of the works of sinful tendencies and the fruit of the reborn spirit. They put it in descriptive terms. We learn that one Rabbi taught that “the bigger the body, the more the worms.” It is the same way with possession. The more you possess, the higher your anxiety; the more women, the more witchcraft; the more servant women, the more indecency; the more men servants, the more thieving; the more study of the Law the more life; the more schooling, the more wisdom; the more counsel, the more understanding; the more righteousness, the more peace.[6] I think we can all agree that this is wishful thinking.

Theologian Gundry sees a correlation between what Paul says here about these “works of the flesh” and his frequently mentioned “works of the Law.” [7] It indicates that the flesh takes advantage of the Law because of the Law’s powerlessness to help resist the lust of the flesh. In Gundry’s mind, Paul declares the works of the flesh “obvious” to point out that you don’t need the Law to recognize them as evil. The Law is needless as well as powerless.” It’s like driving down the road and coming to a stop sign. The sign itself tells you it’s wrong not to stop, why should you need a law to tell you that.

Again, as in verse fourteen, Paul notes that the absence of Godly love creates a vacuum that invites such despicable behavior to flourish. We should also note that Paul is not writing to sinners but saints.  Furthermore, he is not indicating that one fall or failure will bring immediate damnation and eviction from the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s evident that Paul points to an ongoing violation of correct living ethics, and how an unrepentant continuation of such indulgences by our sinful-self can be spiritually lethal. Such lack of control always leads downhill and will eventually spiral out of control and bring disaster.

I would venture to guess that the Galatians were shocked to read that Paul implied they were in danger of committing such an inventory of vices and indecencies. We might be just as appalled if it wasn’t for the fact that history is full of stories documenting the sins and fall of some very well-known Christian leaders and personalities. Paul identifies these as “transgressions.” This word is applied to labor in the business world, being employed, or any occupation. It recognizes that which one attempts to do, an enterprise, or undertaking, as well as any product such as anything accomplished by hand, art, industry, or ideas, including an act, deed, accomplishment.  English translators of this Greek word use such equivalents as “works” and “deeds.” Jesus told His disciples to let their light so shine that people could see their good deeds, so God is credited for all things done in His name.[8]

Paul wants the believers to know that these atrocious evils do not occur by accident or bad luck or fate or chance.  They are actions one sets out to complete.  A young serviceman once asked me while I was stationed in Munich, Germany, whether or not I thought it was wrong for him to watch pornographic movies.  I offered a simple formula to help him decide: “For Christians when your heart says yes, but your mind says no, don’t do it.  When your heart says no, but your mind says yes, don’t do it.  If your heart and mind both say no, then don’t do it for sure.  But if your heart and your mind both say yes, then you’re free to decide if you want to participate or not.”

The Galatian believers no doubt concluded that immoral sexual desires, indecent thoughts, being tempted to fulfill their lustful cravings for getting involved with cults, and reading horoscopes. Dabbling in spiritism was indeed something they needed time to think over before yielding to such temptations. But how did they feel about holding grudges, getting into arguments, becoming jealous, fits of anger, always wanting to have their way, and taking sides against anyone who doesn’t agree with them, envious of what others have, getting drunk, wild parties, and such?  In the church I grew up in, there was a long list of don’ts, including going to ballgames, playing cards, attending movies, wearing jewelry, specific clothing, and haircuts.  But nothing was said about hatred; jealousy fits of anger, gossip, backbiting, and so on.

Psychology was not a strange science even in Paul’s day, and given the opportunity, he might have categorized these deeds of the sinful-self as we would today.  Let me explain.  Your boss says you’re not going to get the raise you expected. The first thing that happens is that it catches your spiritual oneness with the Anointed by surprise. Your sinful-self takes this moment of weakness to respond with anger.  As a result, spiritual unity with Jesus the Anointed helps us deal with this anger instead of focusing on its cause. This misdirected attention to the irritation may then lead to your spiritual oneness with the Anointed feeling humiliated because it allowed this negative response to happen.  But it may not end there. That humiliation can cause frustration to germinate. We see that none of these secondary or tertiary feelings deal with the original cause. Instead, they feed off of each other.

Sounds complicated? Let me illustrate: if a skunk invades your house, you can do all you want to cover up the smell, but it won’t stop until you get rid of the skunk! That’s why by concentrating on your responses to answers, you may decide to go out and get as drunk as a skunk because you didn’t control your anger, humiliation, and frustration, not because you didn’t get your raise. As you can imagine, once you realize that getting drunk was a wrong choice, only the Lord knows what your next response will be.  The result is that it causes a downward spiral to complete depression.  No wonder we need the help of the Holy Spirit in keeping our spiritual oneness with the Anointed strong, sound, and in control.

[1] See Romans 13:13

[2] Cf. Matthew 15:19; Mark 7:21 (See also Romans 1:29; Revelation 9:21)

[3] Haimo of Auxerre, op. cit.

[4] The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville, Bk. 10: Vocabulary, F.99, p. 219

[5] Bruno the Carthusian: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[6] Mishnah, Fourth Division: Nezikin, Tractate Aboth, Ch. 2:7

[7] See Galatians 2:16 and 3:2, 5, 10

[8] Matthew 5:16

About drbob76

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