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 CXIX)

5:26 We should not give in to pride and thereby bring disharmony and jealousy to the body of The Anointed One.

Since it makes sense to be guided by the Holy Spirit, Paul thinks it’s foolish for the Galatians to turn around and give in to the temptation of doing everything to save themselves so that they can brag about their good works. That will get them nowhere except into trouble and strife. Perhaps Paul should tell them what he told the Philippians: Think about what they have in Jesus The Anointed One: the encouragement He brings, the comfort of His love, sharing in His Spirit, and the mercy and kindness He shows. If they desire these blessings, then do what makes Paul’s joy complete. They should also agree with each other, and show their love for each other. Be united in their goals and in the way they think. In whatever they do, don’t let selfishness or pride be their guide. Be humble and honor others more than themselves.[1] The Apostle James agrees: Stop bragging about all you’ve done; such arrogance never pleases God.[2]

If they don’t do that, then they will end up in ongoing disagreements and fights, doing anything to provoke one another into angry fits because they envy what the others have. It seems as though the Apostle James experienced the same dilemma in his congregations. He even wrote to them: If you are selfish and have bitter jealousy in your hearts, you have no reason to boast. Your boasting is a cover-up for the truth. That kind of “wisdom” does not come from God. Such “perceptions” drip from worldly minds. It is not spiritual; it is from the devil. Where there are jealousy and selfishness, there will be confusion and all kinds of dissatisfaction.[3]

 Unfortunately, some of the Galatians became so full of vanity that they bragged about their progress in putting away all sinful desires and achieving unparalleled holiness. As Avery Ramsey put it, “Both the continuous war against the sinful-self and the perfect execution of the sinful-self must be kept in mind if we are to have the full picture. Perfectionists who talk of themselves as incorruptible in this life have lost sight of the need to fight the war every day. The pessimists, who are halfhearted in battling the flesh because they never expect victory, have lost sight of the victory that is theirs through active identification with The Anointed One on the cross.” [4]

Paul now challenges the Galatians to actively deal with both defeating the old sinful-self and nurturing the new spiritual oneness with The Anointed One. He combines something “we must know” with something “we must do.” As believers, “we must know” that sets us free in Jesus The Anointed One from trying to save ourselves as a gift from God; we are no longer slaves under house arrest by Mosaic Law.  Furthermore, as believers, “we must do” what’s right to protect that freedom, so we no longer exist like prisoners but live as children of God whom the Son set free. I like the way the contextualized version of Galatians renders this text: “If we are living this new life by God’s Spirit, let us be led by Him in every part of our lives, let us put to death our “old self” completely by our faith. Then we won’t be egotistical, self-righteous, or try to look pious or “spiritual” in front of others. These things are what lead to jealousy and feelings of superiority.”

Chrysostom adds his thoughts by noting that in the kingdom of God, His laws govern earth-bound Christians. Therefore, Paul is more or less telling the Galatians: “Be content with the power of the Spirit, and seek no help from the Law of Moses.” Chrysostom goes on to advise the believers that when they continually point back to the Law, they end up trying to be more holy than the others. Such conduct will only lead to provoking one another until envy and jealousy lead to an all-out conflict involving all sorts of bad behavior.

Haimo of Auxerre seems to have gained a better understanding of just what was threatening to rip the congregations apart in Galatia. He points out that many of the Galatians were led astray by false apostles and Jews. It led to quarrels over genealogies and legal questions. Some were saying that circumcision is better than baptism, whereas others, to the contrary, that baptism is better than circumcision. Moreover, some were saying that allegory is superior to history because spiritual understanding allegory brings to life what literal interpretation kills.[5] In opposition to this view, others were insisting that historically speaking, where the truth is exposed, it is better than shadowy and empty allegory. It appears that in this latter part, Haimo was referring to some scholarly conflict relevant to his days, such as the scholars in Alexandria, Egypt, and scholars in Antioch, Syria, and their interpretive approaches.[6]

Martin Luther also comments on this factor of self-righteousness. He mentions that boastfulness has always been a common poison in the world. There is no village too small to contain someone who wants to be considered wiser or better than the rest. Those bitten by the serpent of pride usually claim their higher status based on their reputation of education and wisdom. Conceit is not nearly as bad in a private person or even in an office as it is in a minister of the Gospel. When the venom of boastfulness gets into the Church, it’s impossible to conceive of how much contention it can cause.

People may argue about education, art, money, countries, and the like without doing particular harm. But they cannot quarrel about salvation or damnation, about eternal life and eternal death without grave damage done to the Church. No wonder Paul exhorts all ministers of the Word to guard against this venom. He writes: “We must let the Spirit be our guide.” Where the Spirit is, people, gain new attitudes. Where formerly they were proud, spiteful, and envious, now they’ve become humble, gentle, and patient. Such people are not interested in promoting their glory, but the glory of God. They do not provoke each other to anger or envy but prefer others to themselves.[7]

Adam Clarke (1760-1832) notes that Paul must have heard of the erratic behavior among the believers throughout Galatia that distressed him, so what he says here is more of a revelation than merely a list of dos and don’ts. He admonishes them not to boast in their attainments, conceited about being superior to others and seeking honor from those things which do not possess moral goodness such as their genealogy, wealth, eloquence, position, etc.

The result of such actions then provokes others to respond the same way. For Clarke, Christians, in general, should be content with the honor that comes from God. If they are not careful, it may provoke arguments with fellow Christians. Not only that, but if they ceased being envious of those on whom God, or their fellow believers, bestowed honor or offered privileges, it would promote greater harmony with each other. It is far better to see the Church under those conditions than Clarke saw it then.

Christianity requires us to esteem each other better than ourselves, or in honor to prefer one another. Had not such a disposition been necessary to the Christian character, and to the peace and perfection of the Church of The Anointed One, it would not have come so highly recommended. But who takes this to heart, or even thinks that this is indispensably necessary to their salvation? Where this disposition lives, there are both the seed and fruit of the flesh. Evil tempers are a curse and contrary to Christianity.[8]

Charles Spurgeon asks an important question: Should Christians be talked to this way? Oh yes they do, he says, for the best humans are, but human at best, and the godliest saint is liable to fall into the most affectionate sin unless the grace of God prevents it. Oh, says Clarke, if we could only cast out all the vanity provoking of one another, and envying one another from the Church! How often do others ridicule a Christian brother or sister who accomplishes a little more than they do? They begin to find fault with them and speak about them with little respect! This spirit of envy is, more or less, in us all, and though perhaps we are not exhibiting it just now, it will manifest itself when given the opportunity. No person ever has any real idea of how bad they can be. You do not know how good the grace of God can make you, nor how bad you are by nature, nor how evil you might become if they leave their critical tendencies unattended.[9]

[1] Philippians 2:1-3

[2] James 4:16

[3] Ibid. 3:14-16

[4] Aiyer, Ramsey, op. cit., loc. cit.

[5] 2 Corinthians 3:6

[6] Many scholars attribute the problem of the Christological formula concerning the nature of our Christ “Miaphysis” [one nature] and “Dyophysis” [two natures] to the controversy between the Alexandrian and the Antiochian theology.  While the Alexandrian school adopted the “hypostasis union” [combination of divine and human natures in a single person] of the Godhead and manhood to assert the oneness of Jesus our Christ, the Antiochian School accepted the “indwelling theology,” that is, the Godhead dwells in manhood, as if Jesus our Christ were two persons in one, to assert that no confusion had occurred between the Godhead and manhood, and to avoid attributing human weakness to His divinity.  The starting point of the Alexandrian School was John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh,” while that of the Antiochian it was Colossians 2:9, “For in Him dwells the fullness of the Godhead bodily”

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

[8] Clarke, Adam: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[9] Spurgeon, Charles H., Exposition 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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