by Dr. Robert R. Seyda



Philip G. Ryken, President of Wheaton College, tells the story about one of the most unusual figures in church history. It was a man named Simeon the Stylite. He was the first of the so-called Desert Fathers. Around the year 423 AD, he constructed a short pillar on the edge of the Syrian desert, climbed to the top, and lived on it for the next six years. Simeon received many visitors to his desert perch. No doubt, many of them came to see if he was out of his mind. But the hermit explained that he was simply a Christian who wanted to commune with God in solitude, free from worldly distractions. Living on top of a column in the desert was his way of separating himself from sin and consecrating himself to God.

As strange as it may seem, the life of Simeon the Stylite[1] raises an important question: What does it mean to be spiritual? As far as Simeon was concerned, one could be more religious in the desert than in the city, and more spiritual off the ground than on it (the higher, the better). But was he right about what it means to be close to God? As he reflected on Simeon’s spirituality, one recent writer asked: “Is there child-care in the desert?” The writer was married with children, and his point was that not everyone could go and live alone in the desert. Isn’t there some other way to be spiritual?[2] Yes, there is! It’s called being in union with God through His Spirit. That union does not depend on one’s elevation but one’s exaltation. Read what the Apostle Paul says about this.[3]

Distinguished English theologian and academic Charles Ellicott (1819-1893) has a few things to say about what Paul meant by saying that the ones who were overtaken by a fault and even surprised committing their wrongdoing need tender loving care and understanding. In other words, they were not only discovered but caught in the very act before they could cover it up or escape detection. So, no matter what these circumstances may be, one who is genuinely spiritual will still deal gently with such offenders. That’s why Paul recommends that only those who know for sure that they are qualified but have a record of remaining true to the doctrines of the Gospel and their commitment to live by them, be appointed to deal with these struggling believers.[4]

Plymouth Brethren theologian Thomas Crockery (1830-1886) believes that the person overtaken by some moral or spiritual weakness and falls into temptation, is not a case of mere inattention or ignorance, but the evidence of falling away from a Divine command – probably misconduct more than misbelief. The doctrinal reaction at Galatia was no doubt caused by a morally unsettling tendency. It was a case in which the offender yielded to the force of temptation, the same temptation that stronger believers faced as well. That’s why Paul warned them, “in case you also fall.” The sad part is that such entrapped believers endeavored to hide their transgression from the congregation.

In some cases, a member of the assembly experiences misunderstanding with another member over misconduct or attitude. With the help of a more mature fellow believer, they must be willing to work it out, not fight it out. It is alright for one believer to share the weaknesses tied to their sinful tendencies and how they were surprised by sudden temptations. We see that with the prophet Nathan in the life of David and Bathsheba, and Peter with his three denials and Jesus’s rebuke. The honor of being anointed is the fact they are believers, and for the offender and offended’s benefit demands a prompt but tender intervention of caring Christian brothers and sisters.[5]

Early 20th-century commentator Ernest DeWitt Burton (1856-1925), feels that what we see here is how church leaders can learn to deal with those believers who, through weakness, ignorance, or indifference, allow the works of the flesh to reenter their spiritual lifestyle. Burton points out that the stronger Christian must always resist becoming self-important about their knowledge, authority, and standing in the church. Pride will make them less willing to help others who need assistance because they will then have no sympathy for those who do have faults and will refuse to make such shortcomings any of their concern.[6] And the Apostle James utilizes this word to implicate a “fault.” [7]

Bible word study writer Archibald Robertson (1863-1934) makes an interesting point here about the Greek noun paraptōma (KJV) “fault”; (NIV) “sin,” which means to “fall, a lapse or deviation from truth or right living.” In Romans, Paul uses the same word, which is translated by KJV as “offense,” [8] and again, rendered as “fall.” [9] But Robertson says it means “a falling aside, a slip or lapse (mistake in copying) in an essay rather than a willful sin.” [10] So we can see why Paul said that in our efforts to restore such individuals to their rightful place, do it much like you would reset a broken collar-bone. That is the intent of the Greek verb katartizō (“restore”) that follows. And Cyril W. Emmet (1820-1903), Anglican Vicar, believes that this word also suggests “being overpowered.” Not only was the temptation surprising, but once aware of its presence, it was too strong to resist.[11]

Greek scholar Kenneth Wuest (1893-1961) puts the problem with the Galatians adding adherence to Mosaic Law from a higher perspective. He writes that those Galatians putting themselves under the Law, and by self-effort attempting to obey that law, as taught by the Judaizers, were finding that sin was creeping back into their lives. They were so enthusiastic about living a life of victory over sin, in conformity to the ethical teachings of the Gospel, that the presence of sin in their lives surprised them. They found that mistakes often appeared in their actions before they were aware of its existence, and at a time when they were not at all conscious of harboring any sinful desire.

They were in about the same position as Paul before he knew of the delivering power of the Holy Spirit when he said, “I am all too human, a slave to sin. I honestly don’t understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate . . . I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.” [12]

That is precisely the predicament which many Christians are in today since they do not have an intelligent understanding of the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and the needed corrections provided by God’s Holy Comforter. Instead, they decided to depend upon self-effort to obey the legal legislation of the Mosaic Law rather than the Gospel ethics of Paul. By depriving themselves of the ministry of the Holy Spirit, the lives of the Galatians were easy prey to the tempter of men’s souls, and he was working havoc among them.[13]

German/American Bible scholar Hans Dieter Betz, says there is no reason to believe that Paul went over this subject of restoration with the Galatians while he was there. It seems apparent, now, that they were not prepared for what happened, especially after the Judaizers arrived with their error-filled doctrine. That’s why Paul concluded that they needed some recommendations on how to handle this problem of believers being sinners when no one else was around, and saints when surrounded by their fellow believers. So, Paul provides them with the restoration regulations that they desperately needed. They must do something concrete before such conduct gets out of hand and becomes the new standard way for Christians to live.[14]

American Reformed Presbyterian theologian and Bible teacher John Montgomery Boice (1938-2000) sees this believer overtaken, and becoming trapped is also a possible pitfall for those who try to restore them. When trying to get the erring member back into step with the Spirit, whatever their moral lapse may have been, they should be aware that it can also affect those who are helping them get up and going again. For one thing, it may lead to the person assisting the wounded believer in feeling superior. A hurting brother or sister does not need a mentor who acts conceited because they’ve never been tempted by what made this believer fall into a snare.[15]

Current American theologian Robert H. Gundry, a student of F. F. Bruce at Manchester University in England, also sees the sudden awareness of the errant believer’s transgressions by a more influential spiritual leader would surprise them as well. It’s the old case of people who decide to cut corners or leave something lacking with the wrong belief that no one was looking.  The wrongdoing here, Gundry believes, can be tied to what Paul already described in verses nineteen to twenty-one. Therefore, any effort to set the believer who has gone astray on the right path means first and foremost to bring them in line with the Spirit, not with the counselor’s standards or those of the church. That can come later with further counseling. Only when the wandering believer reconciles with God through the Spirit can they have peace of heart and mind. Then, and only then, can they be led to a more in-depth process of learning how to prevent such falling away from happening again.[16]

American theologian Grant Osborne (1942-2018) makes note that this verse emphasizes our responsibility for one another. In our modern era of rampant individualism, people dismiss the idea of depending on one another in decision making. But God expects believers to be involved in each other’s lives. We are to share and care for one another. The restoration process is supposed to begin whenever we become aware that one of our spiritual siblings is struggling with something in the past, not in the present. It also does not make that which overcame them as the work of someone or something with which they were unfamiliar. They were aware that there was an enemy out to get them and try to trip them up so that they had an embarrassing fall. At any rate, says Osborne, sin seems to have been caused because one of the believers failed to keep in step with the Spirit.[17] [18]

[1] Stylites were also known as one of the “pillar-hermits,” who, during more than six centuries, practiced a strange form of asceticism for holiness throughout eastern Christendom, also known as the East Orthodox Church with the mother church in Constantinople.

[2] Ryken, Philip Graham. Galatians, op. cit., Kindle Locations 4267-4276

[3] Romans 12:1-3

[4] Ellicott, Charles J., On Galatians, op. cit., p. 139

[5] Pulpit Commentary: op. cit., Galatians, Homiletics, Thomas Croskery, p. 317

[6] Burton, Ernest DeWitt: A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, loc. cit. pp. 325-330

[7] James 5:16

[8] Romans 4:25

[9] Ibid. 11:11

[10] Robertson, Archibald: Word Pictures in the N.T., Galatians, p. 1473

[11] Emmit, Cyril W., On Galatians, op. cit., pp. 58-59

[12] Romans 7:14-15, 18b, 19

[13] Wuest, Kenneth: Galatians in the Greek N.T., op. cit., p. 88

[14] Betz, Hans Dieter: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 296

[15] Boice, John Montgomery: Expositor’s Bible Commentary: op. cit., On Galatians, Kindle Location 9790

[16] Gundry, Robert H., Commentary on Galatians, loc. cit.

[17] See Galatians 6:25

[18] Osborne, G. R., On Galatians: Verse by Verse, op. cit., p. 198

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s