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 CXXX)

Hans Dieter Betz sees what Paul says here about how to handle situations when a member of the assembly of believers gets out of line. It may come from an already established saying among Christians. It is similar to what Jesus said about the two greatest commandments, that together they fulfill the whole Law. Only here in verse two, Paul says, “Carry each other’s burdens, and this way you will fulfill the Law of the Anointed One. Surprisingly, this is also echoing a saying by Greek writer[1] Euripides about sharing everything with others[2] and Plato.[3] We can accept that such a maxim as part of everyday human logic, to help your neighbor with things they cannot do on their own. But Paul puts it into a different frame when talking about how we should commission mature believers to help a fellow believer who fell into temptation’s baited trap.

Modern theologian Robert Gundry feels that the term “burdens” represents hardships that weigh down a person physically, emotionally, and socially. To bear one another’s burdens is to take such responsibilities on yourself through loving helpful deeds and thus obey the command to love your neighbor as you love yourself,[4] which Paul now calls “the Law of the Anointed One.” [5] He goes on to say that when it comes to each person performing their duties, this stresses individual responsibility. It’s not the same as testing someone else’s work, which is God’s prerogative. In light of this, the evaluation of individuals depends on how they help carry the workload on behalf of others, not on that person’s performance. It gives us reason enough to test one’s work. In other words, you can trust a strong spiritual Christian to bear two burdens: the care and mentoring of those who need guidance and assistance, as well as simultaneously carrying their own obligations and responsibilities in the process.

Grant Osborne makes a great observation on verse two, and what Paul says interpreted as repeating the warning of verse one, with the “burden” being sins. It is more likely that Paul intends a broader application by including the trials and difficulties of life, including every type of problem and struggle believers face that keep adding up until there are too heavy for one person to carry. By helping someone like that, says Paul, they are “fulfilling the Law of the Anointed One.” However, it’s more likely that Paul was pointing to the future: “In this way, you will fulfill the law of the Anointed One,” showing the future effectiveness of community full of goodwill.

But Osborne makes another reflection. By fulfilling the Law of the Anointed One, it could refer to the Anointed One as the final interpreter of the Mosaic law. Or, it could refer to the Law (Torah) of the Messiah, the ultimate teaching of Jesus in the Gospel that is distinct from the Mosaic law and yet completes it. While the first option is possible, the instructions in this letter make it unlikely that the “Law of the Anointed One” would be linked with the Mosaic ordinances.

It means, says Osborne, that “Law of the Anointed One” refers to the Mosaic Law fulfilled by love in the Law of the Anointed One. In other words, the Anointed One’s Law of Love completes itself in sharing the struggles of others. Of course, it does not mean that love is the sole virtue in His Law, for it includes all of the ethical and moral teachings of Jesus. So, both love and right living before God are essential. Love not only fills up all that is included in Christian ethics but provides the motivation for ethics – life in the Spirit.[6]

Likewise, Christadelphian[7] speaker Duncan Hester feels that we must not understand the “Law of the Anointed One” in the same way we view “the Law of Moses.” By doing so, we merely exchange one legal code for another. God’s spirit of grace does not legally demand anything done by works, but by the same token, it requires our full measure in love. So, in our living and thinking, we must constantly be asking: What would Jesus do in this same situation? Is this the way God’s Spirit would direct us? Do our actions meet the test of doing everything with love? That is what Paul meant by “living in the Spirit.” In other words, are we following the example provided for us by Jesus? When we naturally find the answers to some on the practical dilemmas which may arise in our lives, says Hester, then we are living according to the mind of the Spirit.[8]

Alfred E. Bouter notes that the Pharisees and the Judaizers would put burdens on other people, but they would do nothing to help them.[9] It also serves as a very reasonable cautioning in using Christian liberty. Christian liberty targets other Christians for help. If there is one affected by a catastrophe, for example, lost their house or spouse, or something else very serious happened, that is assisting with a tremendous burden. In such cases, others are there to help carry that burden.[10] But that’s not all. New believers can be assigned responsibilities, as well as those on the Christian path for a long time. They are told to read their Bible, have prayer time, attend church, get involved with church ministries, watch how they behave themselves when they are around unbelievers, and all the codes of the Church itself. But how often are these given to them with no promise to help them learn and grow? That is where the church fails their weakest sometimes, and they then wonder why they’ve stopped coming to church.

Don Garlington brings up an idea that expands the concern over those who have been suddenly caught by temptation in a trap, or grasped suddenly in temptation’s snare. All the focus does not need to concentrate on the individual, but on the body of believers. The Greek verb “restore” (katartizō) in this setting signifies “repair” (to a former good condition), “to put a dislocated member of the body into its proper place.” When a professing Christian falls into error or sin, they become, as it were, a disoriented member of the spiritual body of the Anointed One, incapable of properly performing its functions, and occasioning pain and inconvenience to the other members of the body. Paul’s concern is for the individual, but it is equally for the spiritual body of believers in its corporate dimension.[11] He calls upon the spiritual to perform pastoral care, not merely for one person’s cause but for the sake of many.[12]

What is so remarkable is that it then says, “. . . and so fulfill the law of the Anointed One.” It is again a significant subject in itself. We are not under the Law of Moses; it is what the Galatian Epistle is all about. The Law of Moses cannot justify us, cannot save us, cannot sanctify us, cannot help us live holy lives. Instead, we are under the Law of the Anointed One, and by fulfilling these reprimands, by putting them into practice, we fulfill the Law of Moses. The Lord makes this clear in John, chapter thirteen, for example, when He gave an example by washing the feet of His disciples. It is the Law of Anointed One, and we find other expressions in the Final Covenant that summarize the same Law.

In the Gospels, the expression “the Law of the Anointed One” is not mentioned, but we see the principles. The Lord said we should love one another as He has loved us,[13] that we should love one another even to the point we would give our life for a brother or sister.[14] This Law of the Anointed One called in the Book of James “the Law of liberty.” It is also called the perfect Law of liberty,[15] and the Royal Law.[16] We are under the Law of the Anointed One, not the Mosaic law.

The law of liberty does not mean that we are lawless; Paul explains this to the Corinthians,[17] that he is lawfully subject to the Anointed One. But being under His Law implies we have real liberty; it is to do what He desires us to do with joy. The Law of the Anointed One is what He has in mind for us, and it is our desire also because our new nature desires to faithfully do what He wants us to do. It is the topic here in verse two, and it is a broad theme in the Final Covenant. It is another of those subjects for you to study privately.

This concept of fulfilling the commandments of the Anointed One would not have been intolerant with the Jewish converts since this was already an accepted principle in Jewish thinking. For instance, comments by the Rabbis on Ecclesiastes 11:8, say: “The Law which a man learns in this world is vanity, in comparison to the Law of the Messiah.” [18]  And the utmost commandment that our Lord repeated over and over again was that we love one another as we love ourselves. The Jewish commentary goes on to say: “…whoever he is that is something or thinks in himself that he is ‘something,’ it would be better for him if he had never been created.” [19] There is no reason that as a Jewish scholar, Paul was unaware of these teachings and sought to apply them to the Christian life so that the Jewish believers would have even less opposition to his message.

As an illustration, imagine an ex-convict living a stable Christian life for some time. However, financial problems and despondency raise the specter of returning to a life of crime. Don’t get on his case for not working when many job opportunities are available and don’t start giving him money just to get him by for another week. Instead, help him look for employment by using your resources as well as those provided by the unemployment office. If he does not have transportation, find other friends who are free to drive him to the unemployment office to apply for work.  If you happen to know someone who has a job opening, put him into contact with them, but don’t go and get the job for him.

In other words, pick up part of the load; share their burden with them. Then, as they regain strength in their spiritual life, you can begin to coach them on how to solidify their reputation as a Christian and enjoy the full support and communion of their church and fellow believers. Don’t feel like you must become some sort of spiritual Superman and deliver everything they need without any involvement on their part.  In other words, take the pieces of their burden you can carry, but not the whole thing.

[1] Betz, Hans Dieter: On Galatians, op. cit., pp. 298-299

[2] Orestes by Euripides: Scene 1, Electra

[3] Phædrus by Plato; Meno by Plato

[4] See Galatians 5:14

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

[6] Osborne, G. R., On Galatians: Verse by Verse, op. cit., pp. 199–200

[7] As mentioned before, The Christadelphians are a worldwide community of Bible students whose fellowship is based on a common understanding of the Scriptures. Their name comes from Colossians 1:2: “to the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colossae…”. In the original Greek, this phrase is “Delphos en the Anointed One,” which was rephrased into “Christadelphian.”.

[8] Hester, Duncan: On Galatians, op. cit., Kindle Location 1637

[9] Matthew 23:4

[10] Bouter, Alfred E., On Galatians, op. cit., p. 82

[11] Cf. 2 Corinthians 2:1-10

[12] Garlington, Don: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 171

[13] John 15:12

[14] 1 John 3:4; Ephesians 5

[15] Galatians 1:25

[16] Ibid. 2:8

[17] 1 Corinthians 9

[18] Midrash Kohelet, folio 83a

[19] Ibid., folio 79a

About drbob76

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