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 CXXV)

Presbyterian scholar Matthew Poole (1624-1679) believes that by using the term “Brethren,” Paul is sending a secret message to a select group in Galatia, to persons that were not sinning openly, but doing it behind one another’s back. Not only should any careless adventure into a sinful trap be dealt with, but sharply rebuke such quiet and hidden sinning with kindness. Sometimes one’s moral weakness is overwhelmed with a temptation to sin. It does not only involve the pastors and assembly leadership but also anyone who received the Spirit of the Anointed One, especially those who were more informed about the ways of holiness and spiritual gifts confirmed to be in them. That is the way Paul uses it in his letter to the Corinthians.[1]

Poole says further that Paul wanted those called on to speak to such individuals in a spirit of humility. Poole notes that the word translated “restore,” signifies to put back together or returned in the correct order. Sin is uncaring and puts the soul out of its proper place and position. In other words, if a person’s conscience allows them to have table wine with meals, when they start drinking wine out of habit and for no reason are sinning against their conscience. Such members need to be placed back in moderation again. The whole idea is to win them back and restore them to their rightful place with tender loving care.

Puritan theologian George Swinnock (1627-1673) once said that saints are like clocks, made up of small and big wheels, springs, and weights, but after a while, these gears and wheels are soon out of sync. Therefore, they need God, the Master Clock-Maker, to put them back in running order again. When He works on those who follow His principles of virtue, He will do so as a caring father to encourage them. Through His Spirit, He will minister directly to them if they struggle with doubts and will be an understanding Judge to correct them if they are involved in wrongdoing. Christians must allow one another to be God’s instruments for helping them with their shortcomings, but must not allow one another to get involved in their failings. These words in verse one are very emphatic and point to us, says Swinnock.[2]

William Burkitt (1650-1703) warns that temptations can suddenly catch some of the most observant, gifted, and mature believers. But enticements and faults are not the same for everyone. What might overtake some may not overtake others even when living under identical conditions. But what they all do have in common is that they are proven to be weak in parts of their spiritual and moral lives. That’s why Paul offers the stronger believers the method they should use in dealing with the more frail believers in any attempt to restoring them to their rightful place in the body of the Anointed One. Burkitt feels that the words Paul uses about “putting them back together” may be a metaphor for those who restore broken bones and dislocated joints. They must perform this ministry with great tenderness. To do that, Burkitt says, there are three needful talents: an eagle’s eye to discern where the fault lies, a lion’s heart to deal faithfully, and gentle and tender hands.[3]

Wesleyan theologian Adam Clarke (1760-1832) sees this concept of someone suddenly being made aware that they are participating in something wrong and unpleasing to the Spirit, not only as being caught by surprise but being pounced upon from behind.  He cites an illustration from the writings of Strabo, a Greek geographer, philosopher, and historian (63 BC – 24 AD). During one of his travels to Africa, he noted that when a rhinoceros attacks an elephant, it does so from behind to puncture the belly and wound the big beast and bring it to its knees.  If the rhinoceros came head-on, the elephant’s trunk would be enough to defend itself. That’s why those who are called on to deal with errant believers should remind themselves that they are dealing with a wounded saint. Therefore, the first effort should be to treat and mend the wound so that it can heal and bring them back to full spiritual health.[4]

New York City Evangelical Pastor Justin Edwards (1774-1849) feels that those Paul called here in verse one as “spiritual,” were those well-advanced in Christian knowledge and experience. Although they were mature, spiritual Christians, they, too, were still vulnerable to sin’s lure. It should make them kind and compassionate towards all sinners, and active in efforts to reclaim them. It should cause them to be watchful, humble, and prayerful, remembering that, but for the grace of God, they might have been among the chief of sinners. Not only is this true of adults, says Edwards, but of young adults as well. Many times, surprised parents must deal with a child who wants to get out of the house and be on their own. In a sense, Paul is telling the adult believers in the Galatian congregations to think of these who erred as children in the faith and treat them in such a way that they will come back to them on their own for further advice and counsel.[5]

Scottish theologian John Brown (1784-1858) feels the same way about verse one here, as many commentators felt about verse one of chapter five. He says that this passage connects with previous verses. It amplifies the Christian duty Paul spoke of back in chapter 5, verse 25 that if we live spiritually, let us also act spiritually. Those not guided by their reborn spirit are susceptible to being overtaken by a fault or deficiency or weakness as outlined in the previous chapter as works of the flesh. The only way to help restore them is if they have a mentor who will develop a more prayerful life and become more dependent on God’s Word for guidance and trust in the counsel of those who are stronger in the Lord. Brown goes on to say that one of the biggest problems for such fellow believers is “inconsistency.” [6]

Brown also points out Paul’s most important factor in this matter. They were to embrace this believer, knowing where this individual is weak or secure. Help them carry that part of their burden, be it guilt, condemnation, depression, or feeling like a total failure. One thing any mentor or helper must always keep in mind that since God saved them, you can’t throw them away. Do not immediately dismiss them from the assembly, or drop their names from the rolls. They may have broken the laws of the Church, but mentors and helpers are not to break the Law of the Anointed One – the Law of Love. Brown then notes that the subsequent verses contain Paul’s caution against handling such a dear brother or sister in some egotistical way as to hurt them, not help them. It would be like kicking a person while they are still down just to show one’s dissatisfaction with their performance.[7]

British Bible scholar John Edmunds (1801-1874) feels that Paul’s words here suggest that among the leaders in the congregations in Galatia were some who lost sight of how to deal with an errant believer. Some were proud that they proved stronger against temptations than these weaker brothers or sisters. Somehow, they forget that loving and helping one another was their duty. After all, these believers didn’t go out looking for sin. Yes, they were careless and didn’t think they were that vulnerable, but, like a poison snake, it bites them before they can recoil. These fellow believers were not shattered and broken to pieces; they were only wounded and broken. They needed to be repaired and restored to their original Christian beauty. So why not take over some of their responsibilities until they were back on their feet again? Instead of weeping for them or weeping over their terrible error, cry with them in repentance and recovery. It was the Law of the Anointed One.[8]

Reform theologian at Oxford University, Benjamin Jowett (1817-1893), suggests that the individual Paul is speaking of here is one who had a previous moral failure that came back to haunt them. That’s why special love and care are needed. So, says Jowett, Paul spends the next ten verses contrasting the effects of the works of the flesh and the fruit of the reborn spirit he talked about in chapter five. That’s where we find his appeal that if we are going to live in union with the Spirit, we should also act like the Spirit is in us. To put it in modern terms, writes Jowett, “as our faith is, so let our practice be.” Today we would say, “practice what you preach!” Then he ends the chapter with a mood change from what to do, to what not to do. Both of these are Christian duties. While we practice what we preach, don’t do it just to get attention. Instead of that bringing harmony and wholeness to the assembly, it will result in disharmony and discord among the saints.

Jowett also notes that Paul tells the leaders of the assemblies in Galatia to help those doing what no Christian ought to do. In other words, they are freed from the sinful actions of human nature to produce the fruit of the reborn Spirit. But some allowed circumstances to overcome them and started giving in to the sinful tendencies of their fallen human nature. But remember, they are now spiritual fruit bearers. So, they are not to be treated as unregenerate sinners but as wounded and hurting children of God. They already know they’ve done wrong. And most probably, it was a sinful tendency that they struggled with the most. Therefore, this isn’t the first time they’ve sinned this way. It shows that they have a weakness in their moral character. They may be injured, but they are not yet fatally broken.[9] [10]

The great church history researcher Philip Schaff (1819-1893) points out that while Paul talked about a believer’s spiritual life,[11] he now talks about a believer’s spiritual living. In other words, it must go from acts to action. But the transition must be done with love, humbleness, and modesty. There should be no bragging about the spiritual things a believer can do. All honor, praise, and glory go to God for the act of saving us; now, we give Him glory by the things He helps us do as a redeemed person. And one of them is to look out for the welfare of our fellow believers. God did not call us through His spirit to isolate ourselves as monks or nuns but openly be engaged in laboring in His vineyard. Monks and nuns are known to be humble and do everything for their community, so we too must humble ourselves and do all we can for our assembly of believers to help care for the weak brothers and sisters around us.[12]

[1] 1 Corinthians 3:1

[2] Swinnock, George, Works of, Nichol’s Series of Standard Divines, Vol. II, James Nichol, Edinburgh, London, 1848, The Christian Man’s Calling, Part III, p. 362

[3] Burkitt, William: On Galatians, op. cit., pp. 338-339

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

[5] Edwards, Justin: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[6] Brown, John: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 316

[7] Ibid. p. 323-326

[8] Brown, John: On Galatians, op. cit., pp. 82-83

[9] Cf. Philippians 2:3-4

[10] Jowett, Benjamin: On Galatians, op. cit., pp. 386-387

[11] Galatians 5:25-26

[12] Schaff, Philip: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 347

About drbob76

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