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 CXXVII)

Dutch theologian Alfred E. Bouter disagrees somewhat with other Bible scholars as to what conditions led to a believer being suddenly surprised that they were in the grips of a temptation they did not see coming. We are not talking about someone continually living in sin, nor is it someone consistently living in a wrong relationship or a sinful lifestyle or corrupt attitude. It no doubt involves some person who went off the beaten path. Furthermore, it is not this individual’s regular course of living a holy life that they were following. Additionally, the temptation did not suddenly come out of the dark and astonished them with it being so deadly. Eventually, we find that it involved something that took place in the past when they took a wrong turn, hoping to get back on track before their error is exposed.

Bouter then offers an example of one of those Galatian believers influenced by the Judaizers and overtaken with all the religious legal requirements. He missed the mark (that is what sin is), but not only that, a trespass is something that means you are out of step. The Apostle Jude writes in his epistle “to him that can keep you without stumbling.” [1] It is beautiful to see that Paul addresses the believers as brethren here. We have seen how he was in despair over them in chapter four, but also how he had confidence in them because they were true believers, and convinced of the work God did in them. When a person gets out of step with the Spirit, Bouter says, there are many things to do in finding a remedy. One of those is to find a mature spiritual mentor to help restore them. Another is to seek help in humility. And lastly, to take a good look at themselves so they can address their weakness and lack of commitment. [2]

Jewish writer Tim Hegg has his conceptualization of fallen believers who got caught responding to temptation. He likens them to a ship filling with water and slanting to the side. If they do not plug the leak, it won’t be long before the liner sinks. Then raising the vessel will be a lot harder, and getting it back on an even level above water will prove difficult. The craft is the Church, the failing believer is the leak, and all the passengers are their fellow believers in the congregation. That’s why Paul warns those who are trying to stop the dripping must be careful so that they do not become part of the problem. In other words, just don’t stand there and watch the ship filled with water. Do something! But be careful so that you don’t make the leak bigger.[3]

Christian Messianic writer D. Thomas Lancaster, notes that Paul speaks of those considered “spiritual” as taking the lead in helping restore those gone astray from the Gospel. He points out those who walk in the light of the Torah with the leading of the Holy Spirit. It includes those conducting godly lives with the fruit of the reborn spirit guiding them. Among this fruit is “gentleness.” Paul makes this a necessary virtue for those restoring and correcting erring believers who strayed from the truth. It is a commandment that flows directly from the Torah through Paul’s pen onto the parchment of this letter: “Do not hate your fellow citizen in your heart, but rebuke your neighbor frankly so that you won’t carry around sin because of them.” [4] [5]  The sin Moses talked about is hatred for one another. We find the same warning in the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles.[6]

I was taught in grief and bereavement counseling, that the person who serves as a counselor should never say to the person needing help, “I know what you’re going through; I know how you feel, or I understand what you’re dealing with.” The counselor may know the facts, some of the details, or even perceive the emotions expressed. Still, only the person themselves can personally experience what that event did to them emotionally, mentally, psychologically, and physically. So, it is the mission of the counselor to help them deal and cope with the difficulties they are living through, not what the counselor may imagine them to be. Otherwise, they will be thrown totally off course in their effort to recover and suffer depression and despair. It certainly is true when helping a believer grapple with some error in their words or deeds against God’s Word or will.

I remember hearing this illustration used years ago by Dr. Billy Graham, taken from a scientific experiment done in the late 1800s: “Drop a frog in hot water, and it will jump out immediately. Put a frog in the water at room temperature and then slowly heat it to a boil, and the frog will cook itself to death.” In that same vein, Paul tells the Christians in Galatia that their fellow believers can find themselves going astray from God’s will because of the influence that constant temperature of temptation has on their sinful-self.  Therefore, they must learn how to minister using the fruit of transformed love in their spiritual oneness with the Anointed One to deal with such lapses in the most effective way.

Paul offers excellent illustrations of “situation-solution” in verse one. Let’s look at them in the order in which they appear in the sentence.  Paul talks about the situation of a believer being “caught” in a compromising state. The Greek word for “caught” means to prevent someone from getting away with something to avoid responsibility and punishment. Today we would equate it to being uncovered by an exposé instead of entrapment. Here we sense a lapse of time. In other words, something a person had habitually been doing for some time, and finally, the truth comes out.

In searching for a solution, they discover they got into this predicament because of what the KJV translates as “fault,” and the NKJV renders as “trespass.” Paul’s uses of a Greek noun paraptōma which means, “A mental lapse or deviation from what one knows to be right and true.” Here we see the old sinful-self being allowed to carelessly lead someone into a trap because of not being careful; of not paying attention to the danger involved. In other words, dabbling in immoral activities just for the fun of it, only to find out it has taken over the heart and mind.

We are not dealing with those who deliberately and maliciously sin. Anyone who tried walking through the house at night without turning on the lights can point to their swollen toe and say, “I should have been more careful!” Then there is the driver staring at an accident as he drives past. After he smashes into the car ahead of him, he laments: “I didn’t watch where I was going!”

Paul continues his “situation-solution” approach by noting that the conditions require someone who is spiritually stable and blossoming with the fruit of the spiritual oneness with the Anointed One is called on to help the brother or sister. They are staggering from the wounds they’ve received in being careless and getting caught. In doing so, we must be careful not to approach a hurting believer by concentrating solely on their fleshly weaknesses and pointing out all the mistakes they’ve made; it comes across as a form of being on trial and receiving judgment. Don’t keep hitting them on the head like a Mexican Piñata, continually asking, “Why did you do this? How could you have done that? What were you thinking when you said ‘Yes’?” You cannot beat this sin out of them. Instead, encourage and motivate their spiritual oneness with the Anointed One to take back control, so any victory in overcoming will be theirs, not some solution we forced on them.

In choosing the proper solution, we need to apply the right remedy. Paul recommends helping this person to be “restored.” This Greek verb katartizō infers something on the mend, like a broken bone. What an excellent insight! Especially for those whom the Holy Spirit calls on to help nurture someone discovered practicing or involved with deeds not pleasing to God. As a result, they wandered away from His will. The Christian approach to restoration should not be punitive but curative. We should treat getting caught as a blessing to them from God, so they can repent and be given time to heal. But don’t lead them to believe it will all go away overnight to downplay the seriousness of what happened to them.  Stick with them, encourage them in their spiritual rehabilitation; don’t judge them, or make them feel they only have one chance to get it right with God, or He will grow impatient with them.

In a previous lesson, Paul talked about a fruit of the spiritual oneness with the Anointed One called “gentleness,” and described it as a soothing balm to be put on wounds to help them heal.  Gentleness is firm but tender; keeps its eyes focused on the task at hand; it does not let its attention stray to other things.  Paul does this with a warning to the mentor involved in the healing process: do not come across as “holier than thou” because we are not exempt from making the same unintentional mistake they did. Embarrassing them makes them feel spiritually inferior and not worthy of our or God’s love. It’s the last thing we want to do when helping restore a fellow Christian who allowed themselves to drift into letting the sinful-self, get the upper hand.

Only eternity will reveal the damage done in past years when church members were unceremoniously drummed out of the fellowship because they made an error in judgment; or a weak moment of surrender to their sinful-self.  Sometimes their dismissal was not based on a spiritual fault, but their failure to keep some church ordinance having to do with attire, cosmetics, hairstyle, source of entertainment, or even failing to participate in some church ritual or following some church rule. Too bad, they were unable to employ Paul’s teaching as a model on how to restore them in love tenderly. For sure, love transformed into the reborn spirit’s fruit gentleness did not prevail in many of those cases in Galatia.

Imagine what would have happened if Jesus got rid of Peter because of his denials? Told James and John to leave, over their desire to be first in the kingdom? Refuse to talk with Thomas due to his doubts, and reject Paul because of his earlier persecution? Judas Iscariot excused himself. To whom would Jesus’ have said “upon this rock” and who preached on the Day of Pentecost, then went to Cornelius’s house to preach the Gospel to Romans? Who would have been the one standing at the cross with His mother, first to the tomb on resurrection Sunday, and given the Book of Revelation? Who would have been the one to verify the nail scars in Jesus’ side and wound on His side except for the doubting Thomas? And would the seven Gentiles in Asia ever have been evangelized and brought into the body of the Anointed One without Paul? And what about believer’s past and present who were restored and became shining lights for the message of salvation. You and I may be one of them.

[1] Jude 1:24

[2] Bouter, Alfred E., On Galatians, op. cit., p. 81

[3] Hegg, Tim: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 253

[4] Leviticus 19:17

[5] Lancaster, D. Thomas: On Galatians, op. cit., pp. 260-261

[6] 1 John 4:20

About drbob76

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