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 CXXXIII)

Even the fiery prophet Jeremiah took this same position of personal responsibility. Especially when the Lord told him that He could search people’s hearts and know their motives so that He could bless them appropriately. The Lord matched their character with their conduct to see if they were real believers or only pretending.[1] And restoration prophet Ezekiel echoed the same theme when passed on the Lord’s word that all lives belong to Him – both the parent’s life and the child’s life are equally His – so that only the one who breaks His commandments will pay for their errors.[2] So even under the First Covenant, each individual was responsible for their conduct and faithfulness to God’s Word.

Therefore, it is no surprise that Jesus repeated what was said by the Father when He told his hearers that the Son of Man would come again with His Father’s glory and with His angels. And He will reward everyone for what they did.[3] That’s why Paul made sure the Roman believers understood their responsibility in living for the Anointed One in the way He told them to live through His Word.[4] But this personal responsibility has two sides. One indicts the believer and the other fellow believers. That’s why Paul asked the Romans, why do you judge your brother or sister in the Anointed One? Or why do you think that you are better than they are? We will all stand before God, and He will judge us all. Yes, the Scriptures say, “As surely as I live,” says the Lord, “Everyone will bow before me; everyone will say that I am God.”[5] So each of us will have to explain to God about the things we do.[6]

Besides, Paul also included the Corinthians in his instructions on personal responsibility. He made it clear to them that all will stand and be judged by the Anointed One. Everyone will get what they deserve. A reward is coming for whatever they did – good or bad – when they lived in this earthly body.[7] So don’t think that because you evade punishment down here, God forgets everything once you stand before Him. Even when the Apostle John saw the future, he was told by Jesus the Anointed One that all the assemblies of believers will realize that He is the one who knows what people feel and think. And He will repay each one for what they have done.[8]

As Jewish scholar David Stern points out: Instead of bringing a new Torah, Yeshua upholds the Torah’s true meaning. In so expounding it, He “fulfilled” it, that is, He “filled it full.”[9] He insisted that the Torah not be subverted by human tradition.[10] God wanted us to preserve it.[11] Its spirit takes precedence over its letter,[12] and that obedience to it now implies both following him,[13] while guided by the Holy Spirit.[14] Paul, too, made these same points.[15]  What the Torah is not, either by God’s intent or by its nature, is legalism.[16] Instead, those who bear one another’s burdens, thereby loving their neighbors as themselves,[17] are fulfilling the Torah’s true meaning, which the Messiah upholds and does not revoke. It is not a new Torah, “not”… a new command. On the contrary, it is an old command, which you have had from the beginning.[18] [19]

But Paul is not through with his word of advice to those in Galatia who might think of themselves too essential or too high in the church hierarchy to have their work evaluated; to see if they have been productive. Paul has a quick and trustworthy rebuke, “You are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.” Does Paul mean that even the highest in church leadership is not exempt from being held accountable for how much or how little they did for God’s kingdom? Does it also suggest that they are not to be questioned when they take credit for something completed in their department but not by their effort?

Paul goes on to explain how each believer needs to commit to carrying as much of their load as they can so as not to be an unnecessary burden on others, that way they can feel good about themselves and be blessed when other believers tell them “Well done.”  Furthermore, Paul cautions: don’t try to outdo someone else or keep comparing yourself to others to see who the best is or a better team player in the church’s mission.  Do what God gave you the talent to do, and do it to the best of your ability.  A good usher should have the same sense of being a good servant of the Anointed One as a choir leader or a bishop.  As long as we do what God called us to do and perform it to the best of our abilities, we all stand equal in the eyes of God and should be respectfully treated the same way by each other.

Many of the challenges we find in congregations today seem to be repeats of what Paul was trying to get the Galatians to stop doing.  Anytime a church member starts thinking they are better than the rest and feels themselves to be more crucial than others, they are seeking more love and attention from everyone just to show their high standing.  But Paul says that when the fruit of the spiritual oneness with the Anointed One operates in the body of the Anointed One, you will often hear one believer say to another, “You are important to our church.  Here, let me help you with your burden; what can I do for you to make things easier on you, so you can do what the Lord gave you to do even better?”  Remember, you may need that person to help you one day with your burden.

But it doesn’t stop there. The fire of the Holy Spirit is quenched in the congregation by those who think of themselves as being more important than other members. Because of their false pride, they refuse to accept any assistance when others reach out to them because they feel embarrassed.  Furthermore, since they often do hold significant positions in the church, their burdens begin to affect their performance, and everybody suffers.

Paul is saying to the Galatians, never hesitate to reach out to help your fellow believers when they need assistance, and never hesitate to accept help from your fellow believers when you know you need support.  Listen to what Paul told the Philippian believers, “Don’t be conceited; don’t try to keep up with others.  Rather, be considerate; take the lead in putting others first. Don’t only look out for your interests, but take an interest in others, too. In so doing, you will have the same attitude that the Anointed One Jesus had.”[20]

Paul includes this in his appeal to the Philippian church by pointing out how Jesus, though He was God, did not think of clinging to His equality with God. Instead, He gave up His divine privileges; He was born as a human being and took the humble position of a servant.  The question is not can we do more than that, but can we do any less? Therefore, everyone should humble themselves and be prepared to help those without any position in the church. It allows for every member of the congregation to look up to each other. That way, some members won’t look down on others. But, as Paul clearly illustrates, none of this is possible without transforming love in the form of the fruit of the spiritual oneness with the Anointed One being present in each believer’s heart.

COMMENTARY

Chrysostom sees a message here in what Paul is saying about each believer is responsible for their growth and development in the calling given to them. For him, Paul gives plenty of reasons why no one should boast against another. At the same time, Paul corrects the boasters so that they quit entertaining egotistical thoughts about themselves by reminding them of his errors from the past, and pressing upon them what he went through carrying a heavy, heavy burden of guilt for his actions against God’s called-out people.[21] In other words, don’t let an opportunity to offer advice and counsel to a wayward believer become an occasion for the adviser to brag about their accomplishments and successes. Instead, empathize with the slumping brother or sister because the adviser him or herself knows how hard it is to live up to everyone’s expectations despite not being as strong as others consider them to be.

For Jerome, we can read verse three in two distinct ways. The first is obvious: “If someone thinks they are something when they are nothing, they deceive themselves,” says Jerome. The second reading is deeper and meaningful. It goes: “If someone thinks they are something, by this very fact, what they believe is based on self-evaluation. Not because of concern for their neighbor, but their work and successes. Being content with their virtues, causes them to become nothing due to arrogance and deception.” The meaning of this passage links it to circumcision and the Law in the following way: One who is spiritual yet has no compassion for his neighbor, despising the lowly because of his self-elevation, is his deceiver, not knowing that the spirit of the law adds up finally to loving one another[22]

Augustine feels that when Paul talks in verse two about fulfilling the Law of the Anointed One, he is referring to our Lord’s commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves. Augustine calls this the “Law of Love.”  It will then prevent the believer who is giving the counsel from thinking more highly of themselves than they do the one they are counseling. He goes on to caution the stronger believer not to fall into the trap of taking a measure of their importance, but let others give him that assessment. How can you deal with another believer’s conscience when you do not listen to your own, especially when it is under the control of the Holy Spirit? It sounds like Chrysostom, Jerome, and Augustine were graduates of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE).

[1] Jeremiah 17:10; cf. 32:19

[2] Ezekiel 18:4

[3] Matthew 16:27

[4] Romans 2:6-9

[5] Isaiah 45:23

[6] Romans 14:10-12

[7] 2 Corinthians 5:10-11

[8] Revelation 2:23; 20:12-15; 22:12

[9] Ibid., 5:17

[10] See Mark 7:1-23

[11] See Matthew 19:3-9

[12] Cf. Matthew 5: 21– 48, 12: 1– 15; Luke 10: 25– 37, 13: 10– 17; 2 Corinthians 3: 6

[13] Matthew 19: 21

[14] See John 14:26, 15:26, 16:13

[15] Cf. Romans 3:31; 7:6, 12, 14; 8:3; 2 Corinthians 3:6; Acts of the Apostles 21:20-24

[16] Galatians 2:16b, 3:23b

[17] Ibid. 5:14

[18] 1 John 2:7

[19] Stern, David H. Jewish New Testament Commentary, op. cit., (Kindle Location 16266-16275)

[20] Philippians 2:3-5

[21] Chrysostom, op. cit.

[22] Jerome: On Galatians, Edwards, M. J. (Ed.). op. cit., p. 94

About drbob76

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