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 CXI)

5:23a Our spiritual oneness with the Anointed transforms love into the fruit of humbleness.

The Apostle’s familiarity with the Old Testament gave him a clear idea of the Hebrew understanding of this virtue by reading King David’s praise song: Lord, you have given me your shield to protect me. It is your humbleness (‘anvah) that has made me great.[1] And later, the chief musician sent a song to the sons of Korah in honor of King Solomon, where it reads, “In your majesty, ride out to victory, defending truth, humbleness (‘anvah), and justice.[2] In other words, although they have the power to punish or even legally destroy, they exert their authority with care for the condition of the intended target.

 Then, in Greek, Paul selects the Greek noun praotēs, expressing gentleness, mildness, or meekness. In 1611, the Authorized Version (KJV) translators chose the English word “meekness” to translate praotēs; it was a proper word to use. We see it used by Jesus as an adjective.[3] However, the term “meekness” has taken on a new connotation in today’s world. That’s why we must go back to the original Greek to get a more relevant translation.

Paul used in writing to the Corinthians he promised that if he came back to visit them, it would not be with a rod of iron but in love and a spirit of humbleness.[4] He repeats this in his second letter.[5] And here in Galatians Paul advises them that when to try to restore a wayward believer to do so in a spirit of humbleness.[6] Humbleness must accompany a believer’s patience and tolerance with each other over issues on which they disagree.[7] And in another listing of the Fruit of the Spirit, Paul makes sure the Colossians see that he include humbleness.[8] In each of these instances, Paul employs praotēs. Humbleness [“meekness” – KJV)] is a humble non-threatening demeanor that derives from a position of strength and authority and is useful in calming another person’s anger. Humbleness is not a quality that is weak or passive.[9]

 The other Apostles continued this theme in their writings. James adds an interesting qualifier: “Does a fountain bubble up with both fresh and bitter water? Does a fig tree produce olives or a grapevine produce figs?  No, and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty spring. If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, performing good deeds with the humbleness that comes from knowing why you’re doing, what you’re doing.” [10]

After telling believers not to try and impress others by the way they look, Peter offers this advice: “Rather, reveal who you are by demonstrating the beauty of your inner character; the unfading beauty of a humble and quiet spirit; this is something God holds dear.” [11]  Peter builds on this same theme later by saying, “Make the Anointed the Lord of your hearts and always be prepared to give the reason to anyone who asks you why you have such hope.  Do it the right way, so that later you won’t feel bad because people are able to denounce you and put you down because of your manner in answering them as a Christian.  Rather, respond with humbleness and respect.” [12] Here, Peter identifies the strength in humbleness. What a beautiful portrayal of transformed-love producing the fruit of humbleness in the spiritual oneness with the Anointed.

The Greeks considered praotēs an essential word in their vocabulary. They used humbleness to identify one of the noble attributes of Greek heroes. It embodies a broader meaning than our English word humbleness. Praotēs is mainly an attribute of people with authority.[13] We see this in Jesus’ offer, “Come join me in my yoke. Let me teach you because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find working with me is not stressful;” [14] when He speaks of Himself as the Messiah, “Tell the people of Jerusalem, ‘Look, your King is coming to you! He is humble, riding on a donkey; yes, riding on a donkey’s colt’!” [15] That helps us see the promise of Jesus in a new light, “God blesses those who are humble, for they will one day take over the world.” [16] One modern translator contextualized it this way: “Committing ourselves humbly to God when under trial.” [17]

In the Greek manuscripts read by Paul, he found the word “humbleness” used to denote someone friendly, mild-mannered, and calm. Greek writers used it to describe things, such as kind words, soothing medication, tender actions, and soft feelings. They also used it when referring to tamed animals. To get a real picture of how humbleness combines strength with affection; think of a pet lion. These writers also saw this virtue in benevolent people. To them, it proved to be a quality found in a friend who could just as quickly be your worst enemy – think of a friendly giant. No doubt it was what made the wolf live with the lamb, the leopard lies down with the goat, the calf and the lion, the cow will the bear, and the cobra will play with a child.[18]

We find these traits in Greek novels as qualities of the noble-minded. For instance, the wise man who remains humble in the face of insults. The judge who is considerate in sentencing a misguided crook. The king who is compassionate in his sovereign reign over the people. Even today, we can see this concept of humbleness as the soothing quality in the voice of a mother who quiets a frightened infant; in a grown father who disciplines a young repentant son with compassion; in strong leaders who discuss critical issues with opponents without losing their temper. As such, Greek philosophers saw this moral excellence as being one of the best in the list of social virtues, and on the shortlist of great ideals with the highest of values.

Interestingly, Paul encourages believers to become publicly identified with these virtues. Some critics think that he alludes to the same reason we all dress the way we do, to hide physical flaws and make ourselves look better. But most scholars believe that what Paul says is: “Dress the part, be real, and don’t hide what you are.” To put it another way, show people what you are on the inside by the way you act on the outside – humbleness.

I’ve been in the ministry long enough to have heard the following sentence repeated more than once, concerning several ministers, “He’s one kind of person behind the pulpit, but a different person away from the pulpit.” I’ve even been accused of that myself. Maybe that’s why Paul addressed the two warring women in Philippi by encouraging them to “Let everyone see that you are considerate (humble) in all you do.” [19] I hope and pray that none of you have ever seen a yelling match inside the House of God; or were unfortunate enough to see a fellow believer acting totally out of character in public. It can be chilling.

Now, this opens our eyes to see a combination of characteristics, namely, strength and affection. We may coin a new phrase here to describe this virtue of humbleness as: “affectionate strength.” Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase “Iron hand in a velvet glove.” It’s an idiom used when describing a person of authority who applies their strength gently. The courage to do this speaks of a willingness to remain calm and responsive, yet resolute. Believers with this kind of humbleness are not push-overs; neither do they push others around to get their way.

We should all be able to see by now that Paul’s concept of love transformed into humbleness is the ointment we put on spiritual wounds, the stabilizing spirit we bring to an argument; the look that people see in our eyes that causes them to trust us. It’s like a prepared ingredient present in our spirits that are not flaunted or displayed in arrogance, but one that is carefully applied on those occasions when needed. When we properly utilize humbleness, the essence of love comes through so clearly. Because when love is absent, what some call humbleness is nothing more than proud pity.

In this list of the fruit of the reborn spirit, we see how each one builds on the other. It certainly seems reasonable that the previous fruit of faithfulness can always use the soothing virtue of humbleness to live a productive and dependable Christian lifestyle. It exemplifies the tender side of love; it influences the attitude we have about our Christian behavior. Far from being mute weaklings, people with this characteristic will be the one’s God promises to give dominion over the earth; to rule and reign with the Anointed.

Love transformed into humbleness cannot be attained by one’s efforts. The display of self-made humbleness, more often than not, comes in the form of pride and vanity. True Christians can spot this quickly because it is incompatible with love-sponsored humbleness. Self-made humbleness springs from an outward desire to be noticed and admired, while the humbleness of transformed-love comes from the Holy Spirit’s inward work of grace that focuses on the receiver, not the giver. As one of America’s most admired evangelists, Billy Graham once said, “humbleness displays sensitive regard for others and is careful never to be unfeeling for the rights of others.”

[1] 2 Samuel 22:36 – 21st Century King James Version

[2] Psalm 45:4

[3] Matthew 11:29

[4] 1 Corinthians 4:21

[5] 2 Corinthians 10:1

[6] Galatians 6:1

[7] Ephesians 4:2

[8] Colossians 3:12; See also 1 Timothy 6:11; 2 Timothy 2:25; Titus 3:2

[9] Publishing, Rose. The Fruit of the Spirit (Kindle Location 142)

[10] James 3:13

[11] 1 Peter 3:4

[12] Ibid. 3:15

[13] Nyland, Dr. A, On Galatians: The Source New Testament with Extensive Notes on Greek Word Meaning, op. cit., loc. cit.

[14] Matthew 11:29

[15] Ibid. 21:5

[16] Ibid. 5:5

[17] Aiyer, Ramsey, The Contextual Bible Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[18] Isaiah 11:6-8

[19] Philippians 4:5a

About drbob76

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