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 CXL)

Paul lets any self-appointed experts in Galatia know that their attitude could end up being a form of trying to fool God. Did they think they could sow discord but reap harmony? If you are going to turn your nose up disrespectfully, or sneer at, or make fun of something so sacred, should anyone take you seriously? God calls some of His servants to devote their full time to spreading the Gospel of salvation. But He also allows His people to share their goods with these servants so they can eat, clothe themselves, and have a place to live. Anyone who pretends to be a faithful servant of God, and does not feed the flock the spiritual food needed to help them grow, makes fun of God’s plan. They are in it for their pleasure and to enrich themselves so they won’t have to do secular work for a living.

Paul makes it very clear. People who misuse and abuse the benefits of the ministry for their profit are sowing to their sinful-self.  When you do this, says Paul, you will reveal your corruptive and dishonest nature. Sorry to say, we don’t need to look back to Paul’s day to find examples of such corruption in ministry; it has made headlines in our own country to the detriment of honest efforts in promoting the kingdom of God.

Peter joins Paul in giving the teachers and ministers in Galatia and elsewhere instructions on how to look at being rewarded for their labor. In his first letter, Peter states, “Treat the congregation under your care like a shepherd treats his flock. Don’t lead from behind, but out in front. Don’t do it because you have to, but do it because you want to; that’s God’s way of doing things. Don’t do it for what you expect to get out of it, but do it because you feel called to serve. Don’t treat the flock under your care like a dictator, always telling them what to do. Show them by being an example.” [1]

COMMENTARY

Early church writer Marius Victorinus speaks about how putting one’s efforts into how living each day for themselves and placing everything each day for God, differs. What Victorinus saw in the Middle Ages influenced his thinking, but it is no less valid today. As he understands it, in doing good works, from those good works, the Galatians have their hopes. They thought that they should adopt the teaching of the Judaizers to honor the Sabbath. To undergo circumcision, and convinced that doing things of this sort was spiritually healthy. Whoever puts their hope in only what the flesh can provide will be depending on their works to satisfy God. But all they please are their earthly desires. But what kind of fruit is that? Paul is looking for the fruit of the reborn spirit.

 For one thing, says Victorinus, doing things the world’s way is subject to corruption, and this ends up becoming corrupt, then rotting, and destroyed. So, no one ought to put hope in what the flesh can do – that is, any hope on self-righteousness. For if a person puts their confidence in what the flesh can accomplish, all they’ll get is what the flesh can provide. These are the actions of sinful tendencies. Therefore, says Victorinus, it is better to put one’s hope in what the Spirit can accomplish so that our faith is secure in the Spirit, and our reborn spirit whose fruit is from the Spirit. It is what to sow in the Spirit means: to plant eternal life. Admittedly, this life is temporal, not eternal. Those who live in the Spirit and act according to the Spirit, do not depend on the flesh alone. They are sowing for eternity, and this will be their harvest: upon departing from here, they will be ushered into eternal life.[2]

John Bunyan (1628-1688) takes what Paul says here in verses seven and eight. He proposes the question: What about the person who says they have committed their soul to God to keep for all eternity but failed to make any changes in their day to day efforts to gain salvation by good works because they feel obligated to do so. When a person commits their soul to God for safekeeping, they do so, understanding their commitment as a called servant of God. When a person commits their soul to God, they are made aware of the hazards and dangers that await them from opponents to God’s plan of salvation. However, if we glory in the Cross and Jesus as the Son of God, the Anointed One, then those endangerments may not be realized.

Bunyan continues by saying that when we commit our soul to God for safekeeping, it is a sign that we are ready to go all the way no matter what risks there may be, for we trust God to take charge and take care of our soul’s future. For the person that says in their heart, “I now commit my soul to God,” this is a promise to keep, so they must hold on to their cross in following the Anointed One, even if they end up suffering the same end He did. Therefore, we must make sure that when we talk about leaving our souls in God’s hands, but then continue living loose, idle, profane, and wicked lives. God will not take care of such souls. In reality, they did not commit them to God for His safekeeping. They merely tried to flatter Him and others with their lips and lie to Him with their tongues, thinking they are deceiving the Lord. But for what purpose? Paul says it loudly, and here in verse eight, “Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” [3] I’m afraid that many churches today would not invite Bunyan to preach.

Wesleyan theologian Adam Clarke (1762-1832) helps us see another subtle warning in what Paul is saying here, not only to the listeners but to the teachers also. Don’t let ministers or teachers fool themselves into thinking because they feel worthy of support for their ministry; what they sow in teaching and preaching will also be weighed in the balances by the same virtue when harvested.  So, in that context, then verse eight can be seen in a different light. If a minister or teacher is in it only for the financial or material reward, they sow to the flesh. And by sowing to the flesh, God gets no glory in what they are doing. Furthermore, the seeds they sow are just as worthless and will produce very little else except the same attitude in the minds of their listeners.[4]

In his critical and exegetical commentary, Ernest DeWitt Burton (1856-1925) puts this in perspective. He writes that concerning Paul’s thinking, the attitude of the Galatians towards their teachers is a specific example of their attitude towards life in general. If they are unreceptive to spiritual teachings and, undervaluing it, are unwilling to support their teachers, preferring to spend their money on themselves, they are sowing the seeds of selfishness, and the harvest will be corruption. Burton goes on to say, if they recognize their need for teaching and its value, and open their minds to receive instructions sent to them and willingly contribute so that such training may continue, are sowing seeds in their spiritual life. They will then reap a harvest of eternal life.[5]

John Montgomery Boice believes these Galatians believers must take Paul’s words seriously about any effort to try and fool God. To do so would be deceiving themselves.[6] Not only that, but they would be mocking God. Boice points to the concept of sowing and reaping a harvest as that which Paul already talked about back in verse eight. That is, if they sow seed in their sinful nature, they will get the works of the flesh.[7] But if they sow seed in their spiritual life, they will reap the fruit of the reborn spirit.[8] So if they don’t want to end up being responsible for working up quarreling, conceit, and envy among their fellow believers, then they must decide to bear the Fruit of the Spirit that is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. There is no law against growing such fruit in the Kingdom of God.[9]

Richard Longenecker says we must understand that we should couple the phrase “God is not mocked” in verse seven with what Paul says in verse eight that “you cannot sow one thing and reap another.” So, if what you do is intended to gratify your fleshly desires, and you call it good works for the kingdom, you cannot fool God. Likewise, when you are involved in something done to satisfy your spiritual desires, but it is rewarding your sinful passions because you can’t fool God. Therefore, it only follows that Paul would use the allegory of a farmer planting a crop of wheat, and expecting to reap a harvest of corn would be equally foolish. Planting seed in fleshly efforts will lead to bondage while sowing seed in spiritual things will lead to liberty. The results from the first effort are destruction and everlasting life from the second.[10]

Paul says those who sow to please the Spirit will gather a harvest not only for this life but for the life to come. The spirit of the minister is not only lifted with the response coming from preaching the salvation message, but the souls of those who listen are strengthened and made glad. When a believer sows to the flesh, it is like throwing precious things away, but when they sow to please the Spirit, it is an investment with a high return. One cannot earn eternal life by being a good sower because that is a gift. But what more significant reward could God give to a faithful planter than the promise of being with Him and enjoying His blessings forever?

We noted above that this warning is valid for the congregation, some of whom use God’s blessings to invest in their pleasures instead of pleasing the Spirit. Recently, someone surveyed churches in America and found that only a small percentage of the members pay their tithe. No wonder so many churches are struggling while the members think nothing of buying new laptops, the latest cell phones, digital cameras, shopping online, and keeping up with fashions. All these things will grow obsolete. They have no eternal value. Then they wonder why more and more ministers have to pastor two or three churches just to survive financially.

[1] 1 Peter 5:2-3

[2] Victorinus, Marius: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[3] Bunyan, John: Practical Works Vol. 8, Advice to Sufferers, Ch. 3, pp. 167-168

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

[5] Ernest DeWitt Burton, Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[6] Cf. Luke 21:8; 1 Corinthians 6:9; 15:33; James 1:16

[7] Galatians 5:19-21

[8] Ibid. 5:22-23

[9] John Montgomery Boice: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, op. cit., On Galatians, Kindle Location 9840

[10] Longenecker, Richard N. On Galatians, Volume 41, op. cit., Kindle Location 14022

About drbob76

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