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 SIX (Lesson CXXIII)

There were some of these same wayward believers in Thessalonica because Paul wrote the congregation and urged them not to consider them as the enemy that needed to be captured and disciplined as traitors but to counsel them into being excellent, conscious believers. They only need help to stand and get going again.[1] He also instructed Timothy to approach such weak and needy believers the same way.[2] Both the Apostle James[3] and the Apostle Peter had the same attitude on how to restore an errant brother or sister.[4]

But Paul posts a warning sign to those called to this ministry of restoring wandering sheep to the fold.  They must know the risks, be prepared to be tempted, keep their eyes open for the deceiving serpent who shattered Adam and Eve’s relationship with God. It was similar to his message to the leaders of the Corinthian congregation.[5] Don’t end up being so proud of yourself that you consider temptation to be no problem. As Paul might put it today, “Be careful. If you are thinking, ‘Oh, I would never behave like that’ – let this be a warning to you. For you too may fall into sin.” [6] It was especially true if they followed what the writer of Hebrews instructed them to do.[7]

The Apostle James called on everyone who goes out to help another believer who is in a losing battle with their sinful tendencies. He wrote: My brothers and sisters, not many of you should be teachers. I say this because, as you know, we judge teachers more strictly than students. We all make many mistakes. A person who never said anything wrong would be a perfect candidate. Someone like that would be able to control their whole body too.[8] But there was only one such person, and that was our Lord and Savior Jesus the Anointed One.

To those who questioned Paul’s positioning of himself as an authority, the Apostles let them know he treasured the right to being called an Apostle. He shot holes in the Judaizers’ adding humanitarian efforts to the work of the Anointed One to achieve self-salvation. It gave him the insight to define who the heirs and joint-heirs in God’s promise to Abraham. He wanted the Galatians to display the supremacy of their reborn spirit’s union with the Anointed One over the actions of their sinful-self. It’s why he now embarks on a critical assessment of how the ripened fruit of transformed love is most effective. Whatever they learned up until now, if they don’t apply this truth, it will all be in vain.

Paul spent most of the previous chapter teaching how the spirit-centered reborn nature can be in control over the self-centered fallen human nature. Now he calls on those who are spiritually healthy to help those who are spiritually frail. The contextualized version of this verse renders it as follows: “Dear brothers, if someone is suddenly overtaken by some sin, which is sure to happen when they feel secure in their efforts to live by Bible principles and moral standards, then those of you who are controlled and led by God’s Spirit should help them strengthen their faith in the Anointed One so that they can have God’s powerful Spirit flow into them, thereby restoring them back into the Body of the Anointed One. Do not be rigid or critical. Do the restoring with a spirit of mildness, not with an air of superiority. Remember that you will fall into that very sin if you criticize or judge your brother for his sin.” [9]

Here Paul offers a blistering reprimand and stern admonishment to all hypocrites who have forgotten their original pledge and dedication to Jesus the Anointed One and His mission here on earth.  We have hundreds of opportunities to display our benevolent Christian character, both to each other and the world.  Let us never exploit the weaknesses of others to the benefit of our pride. Neither should we compel them to adopt our model of Christian living as though it had no flaws.

As a young Christian, I got the impression that everyone should get saved in the same way I did. I also thought they should be sanctified and filled with the Holy Spirit and join the same church I belonged to if they were going to reach the pinnacle of favor with God and receive His greatest blessings. But I later discovered it was more crucial for these be an individual experience, never as an imitation of my own to satisfy God’s calling, will, and purpose for their lives. Since the God-man Jesus healed the blind man by putting mud in his eyes, should the disciples have insisted that He heal all other blind individuals the same way? If so, they would have denounced poor blind Bartimaeus as a fake believer.

There is no contradiction here. In verse two, we are encouraged to carry and share in helping our fellow believers carry their burden, especially if they are weaker than we are. In verse five, the admonishment is to take as much of our spiritual struggle as possible and not push it off on others. We can volunteer to help another with their burden, but transport our own as long as we can. It stands to reason, that when one is carrying their load, they do not attempt to take on too much of the weaker believer’s burden so that they bog down and need help ourselves.

Interestingly, Paul uses the Greek noun baros (“burden” KJV) in verse two. It signifies “heavy load, weight, burden, trouble, something that wears you out.” [10] The Greek noun phortion (“burden” KJV)  used in verse five refers to “burdensome rites, obligations, troubled conscience, that which oppresses the soul.” [11] Paul is addressing those in leadership and encouraging them to help those who require motivation and assistance to keep going by adding their insight, prayer, and spiritual guidance to that of the weaker brother or sister, but don’t wear yourself out doing so.

In one of his letters, Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage (200-268 AD), responded to Bishop Antonianus about a scholarly Catholic priest and theologian named Novatian (200-258 AD) who was also very much against the election of Cornelius as Pope in Rome and was elected himself as Pope. But then he was ceremoniously excommunicated. Cyprian writes that we must not prejudge when the Lord is to be the judge unless He finds the repentance of Novatian honest and meaningful, then He will approve what we have done. If, however, anyone uses the pretense of repentance, God, who is not mocked, and looks into man’s heart, will judge those things which we have imperfectly looked into, and the Lord will amend the sentence of His servants. In the meantime, dearest brother, we ought to remember the written word, “Let all of you individually be careful yourselves, so that you’re not equally tempted. Bear each other’s burdens, and so fulfill the Law of the Anointed One.” [12] [13]

For early church scholar Victorinus (280-355), Paul now moves from instructing the whole congregation to dealing with individuals, so that each one will stop and consider where they stand to prevent themselves from being misled. After all, these false teachers from Jerusalem knew the value of picking off weak believers one at a time. For that reason, says Victorinus, each one ought to come to the aid of a person going astray and, by the indwelling Spirit, instruct them through discussions of proper behavior and reinstatement.[14] So the purpose served in addressing an errant believer is to heal, not to hurt.

Early church preacher Chrysostom (344-386) points out that Paul does not say “rebuke” or “judge,” but “set right.” Nor was that all he wanted to say, to show that they should be very gentle towards those who lose their footing. He adds we are to accomplish this in a spirit of humbleness. He does not say, “in humbleness,” but, “in a spirit of humbleness,” signifying that this is acceptable to the Spirit. Furthermore, to be able to administer correction with humbleness is a spiritual gift. Then, to prevent being unduly praised after successfully correcting others to abandon their crooked ways, they need to know that it puts them under the same fear, saying, “Look at yourself, so that you also do not become tempted.’” [15]

The preacher also interprets Paul’s use of the term “overtaken” or “caught unaware” is likened to a person who has a severe illness but isn’t aware of its consequences. How many times has someone asked you: “Are you feeling okay?” When you tell them, you feel good, and then inquire why did they ask, they tell you: “Because you look so pale, and your eyes are not as bright as they usually are,” then you realize there may be something wrong with your health. Therefore, we should take what Paul is saying here as an indication that the spiritually ill believer involved is not consciously doing wrong; that’s why we must handle them with care and compassion. Richard Longenecker suggests that such believers felt entrapped, caught in a snare, entangled, or seduced, and the quickest way to exit was to give in to the momentary temptation and then get out.[16]

Jerome (347-420) believes that a genuinely Spirit-led person should speak to a wayward believer gently and humbly. They must never be inflexible, angry, or grieved when they try to correct them. We must capture their interest by letting them know there is divine forgiveness by the grace of God. They can deal with their mistakes and even stubbornness by proclaiming that Jesus the Anointed One is still their Lord and Savior and invite Him to retake charge of their life.

It is reasonable to ask, says Jerome, why we should instruct the sinner in a spirit of humbleness. It is good to reflect that if they were in the same situation, they would want to talk with someone gentle and kind. What righteous person is so confident of their resolve and assurance that they cannot fall? Therefore, they have no duty to instruct the fallen believer in the spirit of gentleness? We reply, says Jerome, that even if the righteous person did prevail in overcoming temptation since they know how much strength it took, they should be ready to extend forgiveness to the sinner. Overcoming or not overcoming is sometimes based on our willingness or unwillingness to take the necessary steps to get back on the right track. But being tempted is in the power of the tempter. The Savior Himself was tempted. So how many of us can be confident we will make it across this sea of life without any temptations?[17]

[1] 2 Thessalonians 3:15

[2] 2 Timothy 2:25

[3] James 3:13

[4] 1 Peter 3:15

[5] 1 Corinthians 7:5

[6] Ibid. 10:12

[7] Hebrew 13:3

[8] James 3:1-2

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

[10] See Acts of the Apostles 15:28

[11] See 1 Thessalonians 2:6

[12] Galatians 6:1-2

[13] Cyprian of Carthage, Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Epistle LI (51), To Antonianus About Cornelius and Novatian, p. 332

[14] Marius Victorinus: Commentary on Galatians, loc. cit.

[15] Chrysostom: Homilies on Galatians, loc, cit.

[16] Longenecker, Richard N. On Galatians, op. cit., Volume 41, Kindle Location 13769

[17] Jerome: On Galatians, Edwards, M. J. (Ed.). op. cit., pp. 92-93

About drbob76

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