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 XCVI)

The Jewish Fathers were not silent on this activity of love in the heart, and the virtues that it produced.  In their Mishnah, we read:

Greater is the Torah than priesthood and kingship, for the monarchy is obtained with thirty levels, and the priesthood with twenty-four, and the Torah with forty-eight things. And they are these: learning, listening of the ear, preparation of speech, understanding of the heart, reverence, awe, humility, happiness, purity, service of Sages, care in [selection of] friends, debate of the students, clarification, reading, learning, minimal commodities, minimal worldly occupation, minimal pleasure, minimal sleep, minimal conversation, minimal laughter, patience, generosity, trust in Sages, acceptance of suffering, knowing one’s place, gladness in one’s portion, erection of a fence to his words, lack of self-aggrandizement, lovableness, love of God, love of the creatures, love of the righteous, love of the upright, love of rebuke, distancing from honor, lack of arrogance in learning, lack of joy in teaching, lifting of a burden with one’s friend, judgment with the benefit of the doubt, standing for the truth, standing for peace, deliberation in study, questioning and responding, hearing and adding, learning in order to teach and learning in order to act, making his master wiser, focusing one’s words, citing the source, for it is directed that one who quotes a source brings redemption to the world, as it says: “Esther quoted Mordecai when speaking to the king.”[1] [2]

With Paul having studied under the great Jewish teacher Gamaliel, there is little doubt but what he learned these attributes and was able to integrate them into the fruit of the reborn spirit.

The writers in the Final Covenant use two main Greek nouns that define love: agapē,[3] and phileō.[4] The word agape denotes what we call today, Godly love. That is unconditional love promised for perpetuity, ready to endure any hardship or test to remain loyal. But one thing must be kept in mind, it is not a love that gives what is wanted, that’s human love, but provides what is needed, that’s divine love. Agape is the word used when John wrote: “For God loved (agape) the world so much that He gave His one and only Son to die so that everyone who believes in Him will not die in sin but receive eternal life,[5] as well as Jesus’ words: “There is no greater love (agape) than laying down one’s life for a friend.[6]  Clearly, this illustrates the depth and power of agape when one person is willing to die for another person’s good.

As I walked through the American Cemetery and Memorial at Fort Bonifacio in Manila, Philippines, viewing the 17,058 headstones of US servicemen and women, and I mentioned to someone the impact I felt in seeing them lined up on 152 acres of lawn. I said to them that if laying down one’s life for a friend is the pinnacle of man’s love, what do you call willingly sacrificing your life for a country that is not yours, and for a people you didn’t know? Whatever you call it, that’s the love Jesus showed to us when He died while we were yet His enemies.

We also find the word phileō, which means to “approve of” be “fond of” and “be friends with,” something expected of us and wanted by the receiver. We see it used where Jesus says, “If your love (phileo) for Me does not exceed what you have for your father or mother you are not worthy of being Mine, or if your love (phileo) for me is not greater than what you have for your son or daughter you are not worthy of being Mine.[7] Jesus wanted everyone to know they needed to be more than just fond of Him or a casual friend of His.

Luke also writes how Jesus warned his followers about the hypocrisy of the teachers of religious law.  “For they like to parade around in flowing robes showing love (phileo) to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces, and oh how they love (phileo) the seats of honor in the synagogues and at the head banquet table.

But John the Evangelist records one of the most graphic contrasts between agapē and phileō in a conversation Jesus had with Peter: “After breakfast, Jesus asked Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love (agapē) Me more than the others disciples do?’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ Peter replied, ‘You know I’m fond (phileō) of You.’ ‘Then feed my lambs,’ Jesus told him.  Jesus repeated the question: ‘Simon son of John, do you love (agapē) Me?’  ‘Yes, Lord,’ Peter said, ‘you know I like (phileō) You a lot.’  ‘Then take care of My sheep,’ Jesus said. A third time He asked him, ‘Simon son of John, is it that you only like (phileō) Me?’  It hurt Peter that Jesus asked the question a third time using like (phileō) and replied, ‘Lord, You know everything. You know we’re the best of friends’ (phileō).’  Jesus said, ‘Then feed My sheep.’”[8]

So, in other words, Jesus asked if Peter was committed and deeply devoted Him, and the best Peter could come up with was that they were best friends. Jesus’ use of the word agapē was not lost on Peter, and Peter’s use of phileō did not escape Jesus’s attention. No wonder the third time when Jesus asked Peter if all they were only good friends, it wasn’t that Jesus asked him three times that distressed Peter so severely, but because Jesus used Peter’s word “like” instead of “love.”

It seems the Galatians were following Peter’s example. Paul wanted to know if they liked the “do good” laws and ceremonies more than they loved a good God and His Son Jesus the Anointed. Which one were they willing to follow and obey? Did they put all their trust and confidence in the “do good” laws and ceremonies to provide salvation and eternal life, or, in the work and sacrifice of a gracious and loving Father and His Son?

Throughout the writings of the Final Covenant, we find the overwhelming mention of love as the basis for many expressions and characteristics of the Christian life. Jesus issued a new commandment in telling His disciples to “love one another.”[9] Paul declares that love is the bond of perfection;[10] and that the believer should be “rooted and grounded in love.”[11] John states that “perfect love dispels all fear.[12] And the most damaging claim against the Church in Ephesus was that they had “lost their first love.”[13]

We do not find the other virtues of the fruit of the spiritual oneness with the Anointed used anywhere else in Scripture the same way, nor with equal emphasis. Therefore, it stands to reason that love serves as the animating principle for all the other graces listed by Paul as fruit. Consequently, since all these other virtues are not included in the essential attributes of God, as love is, they should be seen as qualities of the love the Spirit brings into our lives so that we might display all this fruit in their beauty.

I will reiterate the theory I mentioned earlier, how given the change of attitude in the newly recreated person’s life through the work of the Holy Spirit. Accepting love as being the single element in the atmosphere, then just like water vapor in the earth’s troposphere changes into rain or snow or sleet before it reaches the ground, so love in man’s spiritual atmosphere morphs into various forms before it appears as spiritual fruit. Paul lists these as joy, peace, kindness, goodness, etc. They, in turn, the Apostle identifies as the fruit of the reborn spirit in union with the Holy Spirit.

Paul does not attempt to separate love from the virtues which follow as somehow being distinct from them; instead, he recognizes that they are all genetically connected, with love being the common element that proves their bonding relationship. Love expresses itself as joy, peace, patience, and so on. As such, these virtues as expressions of love provide proof that love exists within the believer. We might even say, none of these manifestations are possible without God’s love is the spiritual catalyst.

Bearing fruit implies that conditions must be favorable for them to exist, which leads us to the concept of the Holy Spirit and the believer’s reborn spirit integrating to bring about the transformation of love into different forms. In the natural world where evaporating moisture creates clouds, which then precipitation toward earth, altitude, and temperature play vital roles. When the atmosphere is warm enough, rain falls; when the temperature drops, sleet forms; when the temperature lowers further, hail falls, and when even colder temperatures prevail, snow comes.

In the supernatural world, where love is brought into the believer’s life through the Holy Spirit and then permeates the believer’s spiritual life, attitude, and temperament make all the difference. Observers find that these virtues provide proof enough that this person is born of the Spirit and that his or her reborn spirit cooperates to produce a harvest of spiritual fruit.

[1] Esther 2:22

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

[3] Matthew 5:43; Mark 12:30; Luke 6:27; John 5:42; Romans 5:5; 1 Corinthians 2:9. etc.

[4] Matthew 6:5; Luke 20:46; John 5:20; 1 Corinthians 16:22; Titus 3:15; Revelations 3:19, etc.

[5] John 3:16

[6] Ibid. 15:13

[7] Matthew 10:37

[8] John 21:15-16

[9] Ibid. 13:34

[10] Colossians 3:14

[11] Ephesians 3:17

[12] 1 John 4:18

[13] Revelation 2:4

About drbob76

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