POINTS TO PONDER

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Whenever you search the internet for articles about Joy, more than likely, it will bring up everything they want you to know about “happiness.” But a distinct difference exists between the two, and that involves the source that inspires such an emotional feeling.

For one thing, happiness is rooted in circumstances. It also depends on external factors to exist. In other words, happiness is not a choice a person makes, it’s what comes to you. It is possible to be happy all by yourself. On the other hand, Joy is not swayed by circumstances. It is an internal attitude of the heart, mind, and spirit. Furthermore, Joy is a choice we make that taps into a reservoir of potential within us.

On top of this, happiness is not present in hard times and difficulties. It is hard to buy happiness when things are not going your way. Therefore, happiness and sorrow cannot coexist. You are either happy or unhappy. But Joy never leaves. Even in times of trials and dire circumstances, Joy brings peace and contentment to our spirits. Therefore, Joy and sorrow can coexist. That’s because Joy involves a connection. It starts with linking to other people, but it can also be with pets, precious heirlooms, creation, creativity. Happiness comes and goes, but Joy is always present.

Another thing, happiness is built upon sand, so to speak. It can be around for weeks, but in one swift moment, it is gone. Happiness feeds the mind while Joy feeds the soul. Not only that, but happiness is often dependent on temporary circumstances that can change in a minute, while Joy is anchored in something that is always there, forever the same, and immovable. Happiness requires having what it needs immediately, but Joy exists where there are faith and hope. Happiness most often arrives when something is given. On the other hand, Joy is experienced when being able to give.

Lifestyle Mentor and Meditation teacher Rachel Fearnley shares that Joy and happiness are wonderful feelings to experience, but are very different. Joy is more consistent and is cultivated internally. It comes when you make peace with who you are, why you are, and how you are, whereas happiness tends to be externally triggered and is based on other people, things, places, thoughts, and events.

Fearnley tells us that through her personal experience and lifelong studies, she came to realize this profound difference between Joy and happiness. Aiming for Joy is more beneficial, as it is less transitory than happiness and is not tied to external circumstances. Some people have lost touch with that feeling, not knowing how to cultivate Joy anymore, so they resort to quick fixes like alcohol, drugs and addictive foods, or find fleeting moments of happiness from other places without truly experiencing it and cultivating it for themselves.

So, she recommends that a person who wants to experience and hold on to Joy can start by quieting their minds with meditation. Prayer is said to be one of the most calming practice to bring Joy to the heart and soul. Another thing is to shut many of the doors to what other people are complaining about, especially on social media. If you really want to hear some good news, read the Bible. It is like a fountain that never stops flowing with the living water of blessed assurance. Also, keep track of the things that refresh your Joy. Think of it as a garden that you cultivate with gratitude so that these things grow and help build strength, such as Church ministries, Bible Studies, helping the underprivileged, worshipping with fellow believers, and being a blessing to your extended family.

The Bible is a source of encouragement and helps maintain one’s Joy. As King David said with emotion: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence, there is fullness of Joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”[1] Then King Solomon followed with these words: “A Joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.[2] And the prophet Isaiah issued this promise from the Lord: “For you will go out in Joy and be led forth in peace.[3]

And our Lord and Savior quieted the troubled spirits of His disciples who learned of His leaving to return to the Father in heaven by telling them: Although you have sorrow now, I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your Joy from you.[4] The Apostle Peter, who was there to hear those words stated to his fellow believers: Even though you don’t see Him, yet you love Him. And though you don’t now see Him now, you believe in Him and rejoice with Joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory.[5] And to this, the Apostle Paul added: Let your Joy be in the Lord always; and again, I say, Rejoice.[6]

That’s why we can join in the jubilation of Mary, the mother of our Lord, after the angel visited her and told her of the coming event because she had been chosen to bring the Messiah into the world so that the Son of God could become the Son of Man. Mary exclaimed, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior! [7] So, just like Mary, by having this Prince of Peace in our hearts as our Lord and Savior, we too can rejoice in our unchangeable source of everlasting Joy! His name is Jesus. – Dr. Robert R Seyda

[1] Psalm 16:11

[2] Proverbs 17:22

[3] Isaiah 55:12

[4] John 16:22

[5] 1 Peter 1:8

[6] Philippians 4:4

[7] Luke 1:46-47

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SERENDIPITY FOR SATURDAY

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SOMETIMES IT’S NOT THAT EASY BEING AN ANGEL

Here’s a story I read that happened during my teenage years, and one I participated in and is still relevant for today. A pastor and his eleven-year-old son would go out every Sunday afternoon, after the morning service at their church, into various neighborhoods and hand-out Gospel Tracts.

On one particular Sunday afternoon after dinner, it came time for the Pastor and his son to go. But it was very cold outside as well as pouring down rain. The boy bundled up in his warmest and driest clothes and said, “OK, Dad, I’m ready.” His dad asked, “Ready for what?” “Dad, it’s time to go pass out some tracts.” His dad responded, “Son, it’s very cold outside, and it’s pouring down rain.” The boy gives his dad a surprised look, asking, “But Dad, aren’t still people who need to hear the Gospel even though it’s raining?”

Son, the Pastor, said with some consternation, I am not going out in this kind of weather.” His son’s head dropped for a moment, then he said, “Dad, can I go, Please? “His father hesitated for a moment (thinking that once his son went out in the cold rain, he’d back very soon) then said, “Son, you can go, but only in our neighborhood. As he handed his son some tracts, he told him, be careful, son.” With a smile on his face, the boy said, “Thanks, Dad!!! “And with that, he was off and out into the rain.

The boy walked the empty streets going from door to door looking for anyone he met to give them one of his Gospel Tracts. After two hours of walking in the rain, he was soaking bone chilled wet and down to his very last tract. He stopped on a corner and looked for someone to hand a tract to, but the streets were totally deserted. Then, as he turned to go home, he stopped at one more home. Going up the sidewalk to the front door, he rang the doorbell. No one came to open the door. So, he rang the bell again, but nobody answered. He rang it again and again, but still, no one came. He waited a few more minutes, but still, there was no answer. Finally, this eleven-year-old trooper turned to leave.

But something stopped him. He whirled around and rang the bell and knocked loudly on the door with his fist. He waited, something seemed to be holding him there on the front porch. He rang one more time, and the door slowly opened. Standing in the doorway was a very sad-looking elderly lady. She softly asked, “What can I do for you, son?”

With radiant eyes and a smile that lit up her world, this little boy said, “Ma’am, I’m sorry if I disturbed you, but I just want to tell you that Jesus really does love you, and I came to give you my very last Gospel tract which will tell you all about JESUS and His great love.” With that, he handed her his last tract and turned to leave. She called out to him as he departed, “Thank you, son! And God Bless You!”

The following Sunday morning in church, Pastor Dad was in the Pulpit, and as the service began, he suddenly felt led to ask, “Does anyone have a testimony or want to say anything?” Slowly, in the back row of the Church, an elderly lady stood to her feet. As she began to speak, a look of glorious radiance came from her face as she said, “None of you in this church know me. I’ve never been here before. You see, before last Sunday, I was not a Christian. My husband passed-on, some time ago, leaving me totally alone in this world.

But last Sunday afternoon, was an unusually cold and rainy day, it was even more so in my heart as I came to the point where I no longer had any hope or will to live. So, I took a rope and a chair and ascended the stairway into the attic of my home. I fastened the rope securely to a rafter in the roof, then stood on the chair and fastened the other end of the rope around my neck.

Standing on that chair, so lonely and brokenhearted, I was about to leap off when suddenly the loud ringing of my doorbell downstairs startled me. I thought I’ll wait a minute, and whoever it is will go away.’ I waited and waited. But the ringing doorbell seemed to get louder and more insistent, and then the person ringing also started knocking loudly.

I thought to myself again, “Who on earth could this be?! Nobody ever rings my bell or comes to see me anymore.” I loosened the rope from my neck and started down the stairs for the front door, all the while the bell rang louder and louder. When I opened the door and looked, I could hardly believe my eyes, for there on my front porch was the most radiant and angelic little boy I never saw before in my life.

His smile, Oh, I could never describe it to you!!! And the Words that came from his mouth caused my heart, that had long been dead, to leap to life as he exclaimed with a cherub-like voice, “Ma’am, I just came to tell you that Jesus really does love you.” then he gave me this Gospel Tract that I now hold in my hand. As I saw this angel disappeared back out, into the cold and rain, I closed my door and read slowly every word of this Gospel Tract. Then I went up to my attic to get my rope and chair. I wouldn’t need them anymore.

You see, I am now a happy child of the King, and since the address of your Church was on the back of this Gospel Tract, I have come here to personally say Thank You to God’s little angel, who came just in the nick of time, sparing my soul from an eternity in hell.

As she sat down, there were no dry eyes in the church. And as shouts of praise, and honor to the King, resounded off the very rafters of the building, the Pastor and Dad descended from the pulpit to the front pew where his son was seated. He took this little angel in his arms and sobbed uncontrollably.

Probably no church has had a more glorious moment. And no Dad was more filled with love & honor for his son—except for one—this Father also allowed His Son to go out into a Cold & Dark World. He received His Son back with Joy unspeakable, and as all of heaven shouted praises and honor to the King. His son was no angel, He was more, He was the Son of God. We don’t see people handing out tracts that much anymore, but sharing the Gospel with strangers is still going on – in airports, taxis, restaurants, at work, on the internet, etc.

So, if the Holy Spirit suddenly moves you to call someone, don’t brush it off, don’t even delay, you are on God’s timetable, not your own. Listen to what our Lord and Savior Jesus said: “This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14). And He also declared: “If anyone is ashamed of Me and My message, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when He returns in His glory and in the beauty of the Father and the holy angels. (Luke 9:26). And when all the books are opened, there may be someone’s testimony read of how you became an angel to deliver God’s message of love and salvation. Then perhaps God will take you up in His arms and weep for joy because of your dedication and faithfulness. – Dr. Robert R Seyda

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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 FIVE (Lesson LVI)

5:4 Furthermore, by trying to get right with God through these religious rituals and regulations, you dissolved your relationship with the Anointed One! As a result, you will no longer be covered by God’s grace!

Now Paul delivers the other side of this travesty in accepting the Law of Moses over the Grace of God. While ministering in India, I was visiting one of the Pastors whose daughter was engaged to be married to a young man that he and his wife picked out for her. The family of the groom sent over the dowry that they expected would show proof of their son’s good intentions to love and take care of their daughter. But the pastor and his wife sent the dowry back saying it wasn’t enough to convince them. In the same way, the believers in Galatia received the dowry of the groom, which was the gift of grace that provided redemption and salvation to everlasting life. But they were sending it back saying it wasn’t enough. They felt that obeying the Law added much more of an assurance than faith.

Paul also reminded the Roman believers of this same attitude among the people of Israel and told them that the people of Israel tried to make themselves right with God by following the Law, but did not succeed. They failed because they wanted to make themselves right by the things they did. They did not trust in God to make them right.[1] All that the Law did was show the Israelites what great sinners they were and that no one is made right with God by what they do in abiding by the Law unless they do it to perfection.[2] Furthermore, God called and chose them by His gift of grace, not by anything they did to deserve it. If they were allowed to add works of the Law, then God’s grace could no longer be considered necessary yet undeserved.[3]

Paul was not some lone prophet crying out in the wilderness. In the book of Hebrews, we read that after people leave the way of the Anointed One, they can never change their lives again on their own. The writer was talking about people who once learned the truth, received God’s gift, and shared in the Holy Spirit. They were blessed to hear God’s good news and see the great power of His new world. But then they left it all behind, and they can’t seem to turn themselves around. As a consequence, those who forsake the Anointed One are nailing Him to the cross again, shaming Him before everyone.[4]

The Apostle Peter was no less stringent. He told the readers of his second letter that people can be liberated from the evil in the world. They are freed by surrendering to the Lord and Savior Jesus the Anointed One. But if they go back into those evil things and are controlled by them, then it is worse for them than it was before. In fact, it would be better for them if they never heard about the way, the truth, and the life, than to know and then to turn away from the Gospel that was given to save them. What they are doing, says Peter, is like one of our sayings: “A dog vomits and goes back to eat what it threw up.” And another one that says, “After a pig is washed, it goes back and rolls in the mud again.” [5] The warning that the Apostle John sent to the church at Ephesus is very clear, “Remember where you were before you fell. Change your hearts and do what you did at first. If you don’t change, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” [6] [7]

Earlier in his discourse, the Apostle Paul made it clear that the most identifiable sign that a man belonged to the Jewish faith was circumcision. It all began when God told Abraham to have every male born to him and his descendants circumcised as evidence of their covenant with Him.[8] Giving tokens to back up our promises is still something we use today.  For instance, when a bride and groom are asked, “What token do you have to offer each other as a sign of your vows?” they reply, “With this ring.”

Paul’s emphasis on the avoidance of circumcision here has little to do with the physical surgery involved, but rather its implications concerning the Law of Moses.  It suggests that the one being circumcised is fully committed and dedicated to the dictates of the Law in working out one’s salvation. To the Jewish believers, this warning had the same impact as it does today when a Buddhist, Muslim or Jew is warned not to submit themselves to Christian baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit because all who do so are testifying to their belief in Jesus our Anointed One as being the Son of God and Savior of the world. Paul saw the potential of great discord and disharmony if the Jewish and Gentile believers added allegiance to the Law to boost their faith in the Anointed One. The Apostle tried to get them to see that circumcision added nothing to the work the Anointed One did on the cross.

One early medieval Christian scholar, Marius Victorinus (280-355 AD), feels that Paul was driven to make this point because adding the rite of circumcision of the flesh to the crucifixion of the Anointed One would not benefit our Lord’s work one iota. In so doing, the Galatians would be dividing their hope of salvation between faith in the Anointed One and faith in their circumcision. This came about because the false teachers were telling them that they were not getting enough from the Anointed One to guarantee their salvation. So, by adding circumcision, they were making their salvation permanent. Victorinus concludes that if this was, in fact, their situation, then their faith in the Anointed One was non-existent. That’s because if there is even a small amount of faith, then they might receive the blessings God promised to those who believe. But, says Victorinus, “Rightly, Paul declares that without faith, the Anointed One will offer you nothing.” [9]

Early church scholar Jerome (347-420 AD) says that the Apostle Paul is refuting those who believed that they were justified in not being punished through the Law. But he was not renouncing those who observed the Law’s legitimate provisions in honor of God who commanded them, understanding both that they were commanded in preparation of receiving the Truth, the Way, and the Life who was coming to enforce them.[10] Now Paul could tell them that the Light and the Word had already arrived!

Early Church writer Ambrosiaster (366-384 AD) leaves no doubt concerning what he hears Paul saying here. He notes that before Paul came preaching the Gospel of the Anointed One to the Galatians, all Gentiles who converted to Judaism needed to be circumcised to become authentic children of Abraham. But Paul let those ethnic Jews and converted Gentiles who turned to the Anointed One know that their faith in the Messiah replaced such requirements. For Ambrosiaster, Paul was reiterating what our Lord said about taking a piece of new cloth and sewing it onto an old garment or pouring new wine into an old wineskin.[11] Thus, not only will circumcision not be of any advantage to a believer, but it will also actually stand in their way. It is worse to become a slave after having been free than to be born into slavery.[12]

Church theologian Thomas Aquinas sees a parallel between the requirement of circumcision under the Jewish Law, with the obligation of water baptism under Church law. In Aquinas’ mind, there has never been a religion without some visible rite or ritual to follow for those who adhere to that religion. He mentions that for the Christian religion, the visible sign is Baptism, which all Christians should submit to. Furthermore, they are obligated to follow everything that the Christian religion teaches.[13] Aquinas does acknowledge that circumcision would certainly be a yoke for the Galatians to obey every aspect of the Jewish Law, which for a Christian would be a useless exercise. However, Aquinas does not go on and point out how those obligations required under Church Law, were they not followed to the letter of those laws, would be met with the threat of ex-communication.

However, it certainly was clear to former Catholic monk Martin Luther who looking back on his involvement in the church notes that this passage here in verse four is an indictment of church authority. All priests, monks, and nuns – speaking about the best of them – who rested their hope for salvation in their works, and not in our Anointed One were envisioning Him to be nothing more than an angry Judge. For Luther, they should read this sentence pronounced against them that, under those circumstances, the Anointed One can do them no good. If one earns the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life through one’s efforts, then for what purpose was the Anointed One born? What was the purpose of His suffering, His death, His resurrection, and His victory over sin, death, and the devil if people can overcome these evils by their efforts? Says Luther, “Tongue cannot express, nor heart conceive what a terrible thing it is to make the Anointed One worthless.” [14]

There is no reason to believe that Luther made this statement out of anger, but out of compassion to those, he saw who did not understand that nothing we can do in the way of rites, rituals, ceremonies, good works or sacraments can replace the need for what our Anointed One did for all mankind on the cross. What our Lord did cannot be substituted for or replaced. To this, Luther adds his testimony of how, when he was a Benedictine monk, he always tried so hard to live up to the strict rules of his order. He used to make a list of his sins and was always on the way to confession, and whatever penances were required of him, he performed religiously. Despite it all, his conscience was always in doubt. The more he sought to help the poor, his stricken conscience got worse. The more he paid attention to the regulations, the more he transgressed them. That’s why those that seek to be justified in not having to face the death penalty under the Law are much further away from being right with God than the tax collectors, sinners, and harlots. They know better than to trust in their works. They know that by doing such things, they cannot ever hope to obtain satisfactory forgiveness for their sins.[15]

[1] Romans 9:31; 10:3-5

[2] Ibid. 3:20; 4:4-5

[3] Ibid. 11:6

[4] Hebrews 6:4-6; 10:38-39; 12:16

[5] 2 Peter 2:20-22; 3:17-18

[6] For an explanation of what the lampstand represents read Revelation 11:3-4

[7] Revelation 2:5

[8] Genesis 17:11 – Rabbi Abraham Saba points out in his Tzror Hamor that the circumcision is delayed until the infant has experienced his first Sabbath.  The Sabbath is also defined as a profoundly significant symbol.  Having been part of the Sabbath experience lends additional strength to the infant to survive the invasive procedure. op. cit., loc. cit., p. 234; cf. Luke 2:21-24

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

[10] Jerome: On Galatians, Edwards, M. J. (Ed.) op. cit., p. 75, from Letters 116.19.3

[11] See Matthew 9:16; Mark 2:21

[12] Ambrosiaster: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 27

[13] Thomas Aquinas: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[14] Martin Luther: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[15] Ibid, verse 3

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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 FIVE (Lesson LV)

English Baptist minister John Foster (1770-1843), in response to what Paul says here about falling from grace, states since Satan cannot hinder the birth of virtues, then he has designs to be the death of virtues. This is so ordinary, to see a Christian lose their first love, and to fall from their first works. This love that was formerly an ascending flame always glittering up to heaven is now, like a little spark, almost suffocated by the world’s ungodly haze. The devout sorrow that was once a swelling torrent, like the Jordan River overflowing its banks, is now like Job’s summer brook,[1] which makes the traveler feel letdown. His battles against sin, once furious, like the march of King Jehu against the tyrant Ahab,[2] are now like Samson sleeping in Delilah’s lap while she steals away his strength.[3] Before, he could not give rest to his eyes till God had given rest to his soul; but now he can lie down with sin in his heart, and wounds in his conscience. At first, his zeal for God devoured them; but now, spiritual decay is swallowing up his zeal.[4]

Marvin Vincent (1834-1922), in his Word Studies, makes the point that circumcision is the sign of subjection to the Jewish “yoke” – the methodology of the Law. But for the Galatians, it was being offered as a condition for salvation.[5] So now they must decide between redemption by the Law or salvation by Grace. If they choose salvation by the Law, they must relinquish their union with the Anointed One.[6] They cannot retain both at the same time. So, it’s one or the other. According to Chrysostom, said Vincent, those who receive circumcision do so out of fear for the Law. But when they fear the Law, they lose trust in the power of Grace. And no one gains anything from that which they distrust.[7]

In George Barker Stevens’ (1854-1906) exposition of verse two, he writes in such a way that it cannot be overlooked that when Paul uses the term “circumcision” in this verse, he is not specifically referring to the rite itself, but its ties to the commandments. In other words, circumcision represents a law-system which is contradictory to the grace-system. These two systems have very little in common. So, you cannot faithfully follow them together; it’s one or the other. Not only that, but a commitment to one is a renouncing of the other.[8] In today’s world, some countries allow for dual citizenship. But in God’s Kingdom, that is not plausible or possible. Therefore, either you pledge allegiance to the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of this World.

Kenneth Wuest explains that the statement in verse two, “if you are circumcised,” is on a hypothetical basis. In other words, the Galatians did not yet submit to that rite but were on the verge of doing so. The words “the Anointed One will profit you nothing,” must be interpreted in their context. Paul is not speaking here of their standing in grace, but as believers who are justified and not facing the death sentence for sin. He is speaking of the method of living a Christian life and of growth in that life. Thus, if the Galatians submit to circumcision, they are putting themselves under the Law, and are depriving themselves of the ministry of the Holy Spirit which the Anointed One made possible through His death, resurrection, and ascension, which ministry was not provided for under the Law.

During the First Covenant period, the Spirit came upon or in believers so that they might perform a certain service for God and then left them when that mission was accomplished. He did not dwell in them for purposes of sanctification. The great Apostle Paul taught the Galatians that God’s grace guaranteed their everlasting retention of salvation. So they understood that he was speaking of their Christian experience, not their Christian standing. In other words, there is standing in grace and living in grace. Paul’s interest at this point was their living in grace.

Wuest then goes on to say in verse three that it continues the argument of verse two. Not only would the Galatians lose the aid of the Holy Spirit in living their Christian lives, but they would be assuming the burden of the entire religious legal system. Paul warns them that the acceptance of circumcision would be, in principle, the adoption of all the Levitical rites, rituals, and regulations. They were now asking the Galatian Christians to accept circumcision as a rite by which they would become sons of Abraham and thus participants in the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant. It appears that the Judaizers already persuaded them to approve celebrating the Jewish cycle of feasts.[9]

Jewish Christian scholar Mark D. Nanos also notes that Paul is attempting here in verse two is to make sure that the Gentile Galatians understand that they are equal in union with the Anointed One to the Jewish Galatians. Perhaps the Judaizers were making such a statement, but Paul tells them it is not so.[10] Paul points to the fact that when they were converted, they received the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit, which was their guarantee that they belonged to the spiritual family of Abraham as children of God.[11] Paul also mentions the miracles the Holy Spirit performed through them,[12] as well as their shared experiences with the Apostle himself.[13] So why are they letting themselves be fooled into thinking that they need the Jewish ceremonial laws added to all this?  Nanos also makes another point that may be influencing the Galatians, and that is, that the Law was the first gospel, and the teachings of Paul were an addendum to that gospel. So, since Paul encouraged them to live by the Gospel he preached, it was not meant to replace the Law but to increase it into a full gospel that combined both.[14]

Christian Jewish writer Ariel ben Lyman points out that back to what Paul already stated in 2:21, “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the Law, then the Anointed One died for no purpose” (ESV). The contest in the mind of the Galatians used the argument of the Anointed One versus the Law. Now here in verse two, the contest uses the indwelling Spirit of the Anointed One versus Circumcision. When Paul used the word Law in 2:21, he did not mean just the observance of the Torah. By the same token, using the word circumcision here in verse two does not simply mean the physical cutting away of the foreskin of the male reproductive organ. In both passages, Paul states that if the Galatians wish to continue down the road constructed by the Judaizers – the road described by the 1st century Judaism as “the Law,” “under the Law,”works of the Law,” and “circumcision” – and reject the free offer of genuine and lasting covenant membership into the family of Israel as offered by God and outlined in the TaNaKH (Jewish Bible), then, using the language of our verse here, the work was done by Yeshua on the cross on their behalf will indeed have no value for them at all, or His death will have been purposeless.[15]

Another Christian Jewish scholar, Tom Hegg, reports that recently, some in the Messianic movement have adopted what they call the “Divine Invitation” teaching.[16] In a nutshell, this teaching maintains that Jews and those with “legal Jewish status” as Gentile converts to Judaism are obligated to keep the whole Torah, while Gentiles, who did not first convert to Judaism but are believers in Yeshua are under no such obligation. While everyone must abide by the enduring moral commandments of the Torah, Gentile believers are given a “divine invitation” to keep those parts of the Torah that are generally considered to pertain particularly to Jews and proselytes (Sabbath, Festivals, kosher foods, wearing of tzitzit,[17] etc.).

If Gentiles accept the invitation which God extends to them, says Hegg, they will be blessed. But if they do not accept, they are not living in disobedience since Gentiles are not obligated to the whole Torah. In explaining their view of “Divine Invitation” for Gentiles, they put forth what Paul says here in verse three as the coup de grâce (“death blow”) for the “One Law for All” position, which holds that all of God’s family, regardless of their ethnic status, are equally obligated to the whole Torah because they are equally covenant members.[18]

Christadelphian[19] speaker Duncan Hester feels strongly that Paul was writing to a Jewish readership in Galatia,[20] so he thinks that omission would be helpful here, we should remove any suggestion that circumcision is required for salvation. Circumcision alone is not sinful nor ungodly. What Paul is driving at is that circumcision does not add anything for which a person could expect special treatment by the Anointed One. He certainly was not against Gentiles being circumcised to live more comfortably among the Jews. But to think that this would add anything to their status before God as a believer in His Son is being misled. It adds nothing. Believers are saved by Grace, not trying to charm God so He’ll love them more. How much of the rules and regulations of the church a person may ascribe to, it doesn’t affect their sanctification. That’s why, says Heaster, every part of our thinking and living becomes subject to our driving passion of gratitude and joy being a child of God.[21]

[1] See Job 6:15

[2] 2 Kings 9:20

[3] Judges 16:19

[4] John Foster: Biblical Illustrator, op. cit., Vol. 48, (Kindle Location 14426)

[5] See Galatians 2:3, 5; Acts of the Apostles 15:1

[6] See Galatians 2:21

[7] Marvin R. Vincent: Word Studies in the New Testament, op. cit., pp. 155-156

[8] George Barker Stevens, Exposition of Galatians, op. cit.,  pp. 199-200

[9] Kenneth Wuest: Word Studies, op. cit., loc. cit.

[10] See Galatians 2:2-5, 8, 14; 3:8-9, 14; 3:26-4:9; 6:12-13

[11] Ibid. 3:1 – 4:7

[12] Ibid. 3:5

[13] Ibid. 4:12-16

[14] Mark D. Nanos: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 82, 142

[15] Ariel ben Lyman HaNaviy: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 150

[16] Hegg mentions Michael and D. Thomas Lancaster, “‘One Law’ and the Messianic Gentile,” Messiah Journal 101 (August 2009), pp. 46–70

[17] Tzitzit are the strings, or fringes, tied to each of the four corners of a tallit (prayer shawl). They are widely considered a reminder, not unlike a string around one’s finger, to think of God at all times.

[18] Tim Hegg: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 215 [p. 182]

[19] The Christadelphian religious group traces its origins to John Thomas (1805–1871), who emigrated to North America from England in 1832. They are primarily a Unitarian group but believe in the infallibility of the Bible and Jesus as the expected Messiah.

[20] Cf. Galatians 4:8

[21] Heaster, Duncan. On Galatians (Kindle Location 1355-1362).

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CALLED TO LIVE IN FREEDOM

9526a07d9f8686ec5667a96cad064ff6

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES

CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson LIV)

5:2-3 Listen to what I, your good friend Paul, am trying to tell you: the moment you give in to being a slave to these religious rituals and regulations, everything the Anointed One did for you will be forfeited. Please hear me, if you try to meet God’s requirements through these religious rituals and regulations, you must observe every single one of them to perfection.

 For most Gentiles, they were somewhat mystified as to why the rite of circumcision for male Jews was so critical. They were, no doubt, uninformed as to how it began and what it was for. It was the mark given to Abraham, who administered it to Isaac as a physical sign of their covenant agreement. It identified any circumcised male as being an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham. We could say it was their personal ID to show that they were legal heirs of God’s promises to Abraham and God’s chosen people. But by the time of Paul, it became the physical mark that they were genuine followers of the Law and, therefore, right with God.[1]

Jewish scholars tell us that it was the sign by which a person was either allowed in or kept out of the Promised Land. It also guaranteed that those who are circumcised will see God.[2] It guaranteed to keep them out of Gehenna (Hell).[3] And in another writing, we find that the existence of the covenant is called “the work of our hands.” This is followed by the statement where it says that “the heavens declare the work of His hands,” Their inclusion of God’s great work in the heavens will confirm the work of their hands here on earth. This will certainly identify them as a righteous person.[4]

This certainly should help us understand why the Apostle Paul was so adamant about letting both the Jewish and Gentile believers in Galatia know that circumcision would profit them nothing. In fact, instead of it helping them to earn any merit from one law, it will only put them in debt to the whole Law. Indeed, Moses told the children of Israel that once they crossed the Jordan River, they were to stand on Mount Gerizim, and the Levites would recite a number of curses on those who failed to follow the mentioned commandments. Included was the one that went, “Cursed is anyone who does not uphold the words of this Law by carrying them out. Then all the people shall say Amen![5] The Apostle James echoed the same truth to his readers.[6]

Early church writer Augustine tells us that as he sees it, this Epistle breathes an indignant spirit, obvious to everyone even on initial examination, but Chrysostom feels he must explain the cause of Paul’s anger against the Galatians. It cannot be as insignificant and unimportant as it might seem to be; otherwise, he would not have used such forcefulness. For to be exasperated by common matters is part of little-minded, miserable, and irritable individuals, just as it is for the more suggestive and sluggish to lose heart in trying to understand weighty issues. Such a one was not Paul.

What then was the offense which rattled him? It was severe and momentous, one which was many Galatian believers from the Anointed One, as he says here in verse two, “Listen to me! I, Paul, tell you that if you have the religious act of circumcision done on you, the Anointed One will be of no use to you at all,” – which he repeats in verse four. So, what’s going on here? It must be explained more clearly. Some of the Jews who believed, being held down by the captivation of Judaism’s ceremonial laws, and at the same time intoxicated by vain-glory, and desirous of obtaining for themselves the dignity of teachers, came to the Galatians and taught them that the observance of circumcision, Sabbaths, and new moons were necessary and that Paul in abolishing these things was not to be listened to.[7]

Gregory the Great wrote an interesting letter to the believers in Rome and told them that it came to his attention that certain determined men of a stubborn spirit were spreading certain teachings that are wrong and opposed to the holy faith. For instance, forbidding any work being done on the Sabbath. What else can I call these, but Antichrist preachers, asks Gregory? Who would want Saturday as well as Sunday the Lord’s day to be kept free from all work? Gregory continues by pointing out that these Antichrist preachers wanted to win over the Jewish believers so that they can bring back the Ceremonial laws and have the Jewish believers on their side. But this is exactly what happened. Even today, in most Christian nations, Saturday and Sunday are free weekends for most workers.

As Gregory sees it, they base this upon what the prophet Jeremiah said, “You will not carry in loads of goods through your gates on the Sabbath day.[8] This then would allow the practice of the Law to continue so that it could be observed according to the letter. But after that the grace of Almighty God, our Lord Jesus the Anointed One appeared, the commandments of the Law which were spoken figuratively cannot be kept according to the letter. For, if anyone says this about the Sabbath being kept, charges Gregory, they must also say that sacrifices are to be offered. In essence, they must say too that the commandment about the circumcision of the body is still to be retained. But let them hear the Apostle Paul saying in opposition to them here in verse two: “If you insist on being circumcised, then knowing the Anointed One has profited you nothing.”[9]

Anglican Bible commentator John Trapp (1601-1669) makes a point on what Paul says about how hanging onto the Law will make the Anointed One of no use to those who do so. Does not the Apostle say that only those that are found in Him, not having their “own righteousness, which is of the Law, but that which is through the faith of the Anointed One, the righteousness which is of God through faith?[10] Moses was sure that Pharaoh would say of the Israelites, “The Israelites are confused. They are trapped in the wilderness![11] The same thing could be said of many nominal churches today, they are so entangled in the affectionate vanities of their self-righteousness that they cannot commune with Jesus the Anointed One. A person will never truly desire the Anointed One until they are soundly shaken.”[12] [13]

English Bible expositor William Burkitt (1650-1703) puts Paul’s words of admonition, here in verse two, to those Galatians who went over to the side of the Judaizers the same way we would expect it to sound as if they were spoken today. Paul wrote them: “As your Apostle I’m telling you Galatians, without mincing words and right to your face, that you or any others that were converted by me to Christianity, that if you join the Judaizers and allow yourselves to be circumcised, knowing that the Gospel is the only thing that has the power to bring justification and salvation, all that Jesus the Anointed One did on your behalf will do you no good.

That’s not all that Paul warns about. He makes it clear that going back to the old Jewish way of finding salvation after the Anointed One’s arrival to bring salvation, is virtually denying and disowning the fact that He came to save. In effect, this results in renouncing and abandoning Him because by His coming, the promise was fulfilled, and the requirement of circumcision as a sign of being part of the family of God was no longer required.

So learn this, says Burkitt, that for people to religiously observe any of the rites, rituals, regulations required by ceremonial laws in obedience to any divine rule, or to combine them, or anything else, with the Anointed One to have faith in Him for justification as a sinner before God, is a plain denial of the Anointed One, and contempt for His ability and sufficiency to justify and save us. As Paul said so clearly, if you try to work this out on your own, then what the Anointed One on the cross will be of no use for you.[14] When was the last time you recently heard anything like this in a sermon?

I like the way James Macknight (1721-1800) illustrates this in his translation.[15] It would be like an individual going into debt to purchase a house or land, and then after they paid their first and second installments, they quit paying. So, when the bank calls, they inform them that they must pay the whole amount to be debt-free. It was the same with the Law. Just keeping one or two or even a dozen was not enough to be declared debt-free. That’s why Paul could not understand the Galatians’ reasoning. Jesus paid the whole debt so they could be free. So why in the world did they decided to try and pay it back themselves? Why not just payback Jesus with love, service, dedication, and faithfulness? Especially when they knew that by failing to pay the total debt, they were bound for eternal incarceration as punishment. Justin Edwards (1787-1816) agrees with Macknight: By circumcision, they profess their dependence on their works for salvation, and must, therefore, perfectly obey the whole law. Salvation, if obtained, will then be of debt, not of grace.[16]

Methodist minister Thomas Jones (1761-1831) says, it is not uniformity that we see in the works of God, but unity in variety or diversity. The tree has branches large and small, but the tree is one. Every plant, flower, or bush on the landscape has full freedom to unfold itself according to its nature, and yet the landscape is one. The many members of the human frame form one body. The many nations of the earth form one human race. The twelve tribes of Israel constituted one “peculiar people.” The same law is true about the Church. Christians are many and differ in natural powers, gifts, education, and opinions, but they all have faith in one Master, one Redeemer, one Lord, one Savior, one king – Jesus the Anointed One. And they all worship the one true God and love their fellow believers as part of one Body, and, therefore, form one spiritual brotherhood and Church.[17] That’s why today, it is important for Christians to put “unity” back into “community.”

[1] Ibid. 9:31-32; 10:2-3

[2] Job 19:26

[3] Midrash Rabbah: Genesis in Two Volumes, Translated by Rabbi Dr. H. Freedman, The Soncino Press, London, 1939, pp. 349, 406, 409

[4] The Zohar: by Rav Michael Laitman, Published by Laitman Kabbalah, 2007, pp. 288-289

[5] Deuteronomy27:26

[6] James 2:10

[7] Augustine: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 16

[8] Jeremiah 17:24

[9] Gregory the Great: Selected Epistles, The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 13, op. cit., Bk. 13, Epistle 1, To the Roman Citizens, p. 202

[10] Philippians 3:9

[11] Exodus 14:3

[12] Haggai 2:7

[13] John Trapp: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 584

[14] William Burkitt: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 330

[15] James Macknight: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 191

[16] Justine Edwards: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[17] Thomas Jones: Biblical Illustrator, op. cit., loc. cit.

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CALLED TO LIVE IN FREEDOM

9526a07d9f8686ec5667a96cad064ff6

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES

CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson LIII)

In the Jewish Annotated New Testament, we find that the term “yoke” was not new to Jesus or Paul. It can be found in a number of places in Jewish literature. For instance, in speaking about services in the synagogue, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korha says before saying the Shema,Hear O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is One,” [1] followed by the v’hayah im shamoa (a prayer with a hidden meaning), “And it shall come to pass if you surely listen to the commandments…” [2] one should first accept the “yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven,” and then take upon themselves the “yoke of the commandments.” [3]

We see this repeated by the Rabbis in the Talmud where Rabbi Joshua ben Korhah said: It is right that “listen” should come before “and it shall come to pass,” because the former mentions both teaching and doing, whereas the latter mentions doing only. Then Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai gave an additional reason. One is that a person should first accept upon themselves the yoke of the kingdom of heaven and then accept the yoke of the commandments.[4] How well this fits Paul’s argument that these Galatians first accepted the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven, but now the Judaizers were telling them to accept the yoke of the commandments in the ceremonial laws. The yoke that Jesus offered is much lighter and easier because it eliminates the second yoke of the ceremonial laws.[5] [6]

I like what Jewish scholar, Mark D. Nanos, a lecturer at the University of Kansas, has to say about what Paul meant by telling the Galatians to “stand fast.” First of all, Paul is bringing to an end his use of the allegory of Hagar – the slave-woman, and Sarah – the free-woman, as representing followers of the Law and followers of the Cross. Some think Paul is telling the Galatians, here in verse one, to throw out the Judaizers.[7] But actually, when Paul focuses on the loyal believers, there is no evidence that this is what was on his mind. Instead, he tells them to “stand fast” and do not submit to the “yoke of slavery” that these Judaizers were offering. In the case of the Jewish believers, it would mean they having been freed from this yoke are now putting it back on again. So, Paul is calling for secondary resistance, says Nanos. And what Paul says from now on is a clear call for the Galatians not to argue about the authority that these Judaizers were claiming to have, but reject their insistence that they must become converts to Judaism so that their Christianity grows complete.[8]

British Biblical scholar and Methodist minister Charles Kingsley (C. K.) Barrett feels that verse one is so important that it cannot be skipped over. The positive assertion at the beginning is fundamental to our faith, it underlines the solus Christus (Latin, for “the Anointed One alone.”) that Paul repeats again and again in this Epistle. There is no mistaking that the sole agency of the Anointed One is the process of salvation. It was He who set us free, as it was, He who loved us and gave Himself for us. The real difficulty comes in the rest of verse one. There we find the spectacle of freed Galatians, allowing themselves to be enslaved again by the weak and beggarly elements of legal religion.[9] Sadly, the Gentiles who were never under the ceremonial laws of the Jews were also being told to something they had never done before.[10]

Professor of Theology at the Theological Community of Mexico, David A. Brondos, notes that Paul’s argument in his letter to the Romans,[11] and now in Galatians, that for the Jews telling the Gentiles to seek to be right with God through works were going against the model of Abraham. Abraham obtained his right standing by faith, not works. So why are they asking the Gentiles to reject their salvation by faith, which would require rejecting the Anointed One? Our right standing with God is a gift of grace given through the Anointed One. God is more than willing to accept those who come to Him based on faith, but not based on their self-righteous efforts. True believers are saved by the power of God, not by their own strength.

Jesus the Anointed One fulfilled the requirements of the Law to God’s specifications, so why were the Galatians trying to replace His work with their work? There’s a big difference in doing things God’s way instead of man’s way. It isn’t a matter of trying to get what God has to offer, it is a matter of receiving what God has to offer. Salvation and justification mean being spared from sin’s death penalty by faith alone. It isn’t a question of trusting one’s efforts, but simply putting trust in God to make that happen. That’s why Paul couldn’t understand why the Galatians were persuaded to return to the Law and accept the Jewish formula for salvation, which, more or less, makes them beggars instead of receivers of God’s grace and mercy. No one had to beg God to send His only begotten Son to die on the cross on our behalf, He did so out of love. That makes our salvation possible only through love and trust in the One who loved us while we were yet sinners.[12] [13]

Another Jewish writer, Tim Hegg, who studied theology at a Baptist Seminary, notes that there is a great divide between scholars as to what the Apostle Paul meant by saying that the Galatians were set free from the Law. His words are construed as saying that the Messiah has forever liberated His people from the slavery of the Torah, and thus the Gentile believers are foolish to consider submitting to its tyrannical rule. But such an interpretation cannot be reconciled with Paul’s statements elsewhere regarding the Torah, nor does it fit the overall message of Galatians. For instance,[14] Paul writes to the Romans, “Do we then nullify the Torah through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Torah.” One is at a loss to understand how he could make such a statement there, but be teaching the Galatians here that the Messiah has liberated them from the “yoke of slavery” defined as the Torah?[15]

Hegg references what German/American scholar of New Testament and early Christianity at the University of Chicago, Hans Dieter Betz, said. As Betz sees it, the duty of Christian ethics is “to preserve” freedom. As such, Paul did not share the Jewish concept of “ethics” as the prevention of transgression and the fulfillment of the demands of a ritual code of Law, namely, the Torah. Nor does Paul share the Greek concept of ethics as the improvement of sinful human nature by training and gradual development of virtues. So, says Betz, “For the Apostle, there is no longer any Law, and, therefore, there are no transgressions: The Anointed one is ‘the end of the Law.’” [16] This means that the Law is completed in the Anointed One. Therefore, further transgressions are not against the Law, but against the Anointed One.

And Messianic writer Ariel ben Lyman HaNaviy (1967-2018) expresses his feelings about how Galatians 4:31 and 5:1 is coupled together with the words “free” and “freedom.” He explains it can be easily seen and understood by the words “free” and “freedom” that share the same root Greek noun eleutheria. This is no mystery, and it does not require seminary training to notice the link between the two verses. The obvious sense is that Paul is continuing his thoughts from the last chapter as he sets up an intense warning against letting oneself be influenced by a fake-gospel that promises covenant membership and right standing with God in Israel (the message of the Judaizes, but in reality will not deliver on the goods. Or, on the surface, all might appear to be “fine and dandy,” but in point of fact, a conversion to Judaism (or legal Jewish status for those already born Jewish) will do nothing to change the will of an individual, outside of also allowing the Holy Spirit to write the Torah on their heart. Don’t misunderstand what I am stating here, says HaNaviy. Jewish identity is a good thing to have. Even more, notes HaNaviy, I am not stating that conversion to Judaism is the “unpardonable sin.” Rather, all too often, our outward actions reveal our true inner motives, and when it comes to the object of saving faith, we must place our focus exclusively on Yeshua – God’s resource of making a person justifiably righteous – if we ever hope to be truly saved by grace.[17]

So, the question for Paul is, will the Galatians recognize that their freedom in the Messiah liberated them from the condemnation of sin and was brought into a place of right standing before the Almighty? Those who opposed the message of the Gospel were teaching a different way of covenant membership – a different “gospel.” Here, then, is the issue: will the Galatian believers stand firm in their acceptance of the Gospel or not? Will they show a genuine faith (something Paul is convinced they did), or will they abandon their faith in favor of seeking covenant membership based on their “good works?” Thus, “slavery” is bondage because it ties one to the Law to show their sinfulness. This puts them in the status of still being under the penalty of their transgressions, while “freedom” is the position of having been declared right in His sight by the Father founded on the Messiah’s atoning sacrifice. For Paul, the choice presented to the Galatians was not one of “faith with the Torah” versus “faith without the Torah,” but between salvation and condemnation, between genuine faith and false faith.[18]

William Fremantle (1831-1916) said long ago that when we speak of freedom, we often think only of the removal of restraints. But though it is important to get rid of all needless restraints, it is much more important that we should possess and train the powers that are put into effect once the restraints are taken away. If there is no life, the removal of restraints will be of no use. If the life is feeble and tied down by inward restraints like those of superstition or of fear, the removal of outward restraints will not set it free. But if there is vigorous life, it needs for its development a constantly expanding freedom: and this spiritual power has in itself both its proper energy and its proper boundaries. It is a tree that has an innate capacity for growth. Give it air and light; remove whatever confines and overshadows it. It may need pruning and guiding, but it can provide its own symmetry for itself.[19] The same is true of spiritual life. Once the restraints of rites, rituals, and regulations were removed, because of it being attached to the True Vine – Jesus, it can experience unlimited growth as it is given nutrients, stays in the Light, and does not become covered again with the umbrella of legal, religious ceremonies.

[1] Deuteronomy 6:4

[2] Ibid. 11:13-21

[3] Jewish Mishnah, Zeraim, Berakoth, Ch. 2:2

[4] Babylonian Talmud: Seder Zera’im, Masekhet Berakoth, folio 14b

[5] Matthew 11:29-30

[6] Levine, Amy-Jill; Brettler, Marc Z. The Jewish Annotated New Testament, op. cit., p. 637

[7] Cf. Verses 28-30

[8] Mark D. Nanos: Irony of Galatians, op. cit., p. 157

[9] See Galatians 4:9

[10] C. K. Barrett: Freedom and Obligation, A Study of the Epistle to the Galatians, The Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1985, p. 60

[11] Romans 9:30-10:13

[12] Ibid. 5:8

[13] David A. Brondos. Paul on the Cross: op. cit., p. 80

[14] Romans 3:31

[15] Tom Hegg: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 207, [p. 175]

[16] Hans Dieter Betz: Galatians, A Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Christians in Galatia, Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1979, p.257

[17] Ariel ben Lyman HaNaviy, op. cit., p. 148

[18] Tom Hegg: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 208

[19] Canon William Freemantle: The Biblical Illustrator, Vol. 48, On Galatians, op. cit., (Kindle Location 14131-14346)

 

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CALLED TO LIVE IN FREEDOM

9526a07d9f8686ec5667a96cad064ff6

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES

CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson LII)

Greek word study specialist Kenneth Wuest (1893-1961) notes that the liberty spoken of here in verse one does not refer to the kind of life a person lives, neither does it have reference to their words and actions, but it has to do with the method by which they conduct themselves. The Judaizers existed by depending on self-effort in a failed attempt to obey the Law. The Galatian Christians survived because they relied on the indwelling Holy Spirit for guidance and strength. Their hearts were occupied with the Lord Jesus, the details of their lives being guided by the ethics that emerged from the teaching of the apostles, both doctrinal and practical. Now, however, in swinging over to the side of the Law, they were losing that freedom of action and that flexibility of self-determination which one exercises while doing what is right. And when one does right, not because the Law forbids the wrong and commands the right, but because it is proper, because it pleases the Lord Jesus, and because of their love for Him. Paul exhorts them to remain standing fast in freedom from the Law.[1]

When speaking about the yoke as a burden, Paul knew from personal experience what he meant. From the time Moses received the Ten Commandments until Paul’s day, Jewish Rabbis added 603 more laws for a total of 613. Of this total, 248 are “do’s,” and 365 are “don’ts.” Their desire to please and impress God with slave-like obedience led them to cover every area of life from how far they could walk on the Sabbath; not mingling olive oil with the meal-offering of a suspected adulteress; keep priests with disheveled hair from entering the Sanctuary, or eating bread made from the grain of a crop grown in a new field. These may sound trivial to us, but when you grow up believing God requires obedience to these restrictions for you to receive His favor and everlasting life, you can understand why they become so enslaving.

As a boy growing up in Germany, we lived in a village where only one farmer owned a horse. The rest pulled their wagons with regular milk-cows. I remember one day I saw him beating his horse severely because it wouldn’t pull his heavily loaded cart. I overheard one of the villagers say that the stallion used to be a racehorse and was not strong enough for work like that. In like manner, Paul tried to get the Galatian believers to see they weren’t oxen anymore, pulling around the heavy load of Mosaic Law. Now they were thoroughbreds, ready to run the race before them. So, if they get hooked up again to the heavy wagon load of Mosaic Law, they’ll be unable to pull it.

In one of his sermons, the great German reformer Martin Luther used oxen in an illustration. He pointed out that after oxen toil in the yoke all day, they are turned out in the evening to graze. However, when they can no longer pull a wagon, they are marked for slaughter.  He goes on to compare these oxen with those who seek to be justified by Mosaic Law and become “entangled with the yoke of bondage.” Once they grow old and broken-down in the service of Mosaic Law, they are then marked for judgment to receive God’s wrath and everlasting torment.[2]

In one of his sermons on Romans, chapter six, Dr. David Martin Lloyd-Jones used an illustration drawn from the days of slavery in the Southern United States. Before the Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Abraham Lincoln, slaves had no rights. Any white person could attack them and even kill them without penalty. If a slave went alone into town to shop for the plantation owner’s wife, when a white person told them to do this or that and was abusive to them, they had to drop everything and do what they commanded. Slaves were always frightened and obeyed without question.

But after the Emancipation Proclamation was published, they now had rights. They didn’t have to obey every white person’s ridiculous demands. However, when many of them walked into town and a white person started yelling at them, even though they knew they were free and had all the rights this white person had. Nevertheless, they were still scared and acted like a slave anyhow. Being a child of the 1930s, I saw this myself many times.

Lloyd-Jones then points out that this is exactly how many Christians still act. They know one thing, but they don’t know the other. They know that they have been redeemed from sin’s slavery and that they are free in union with the Anointed One. If they believed in their hearts what they knew in their head, they wouldn’t still be a slave to their sinful heart’s desires or what others think of them. While technically and in reality, you are no longer a slave to sin, since God freed you from your sins, why do you remain a slave to sinful tendencies? So, let go of those inclinations, says Lloyd-Jones, and grab hold of Jesus your Savior, He will be more than enough to keep you free.

How many times have we seen a young Christian try to pull the heavy load of church membership requirements, but just couldn’t make it? Or an elderly believer who, after years and years of faithful obedience to religious rituals and regulations, being let out to pasture because they are no longer useful to the church as an asset; they have become burdensome? Paul’s heart bled for these Galatians who didn’t see the real value of freedom in the Anointed One.  It allowed them to serve God without the taxing load of “should I or shouldn’t I; can I or can’t I; will they like it, or will they hate it?” Didn’t they realize that their freedom in our Anointed One allowed them to get closer to God than any rite could do? Didn’t he tell them that their liberty in our Anointed One gave them more excellent options to please God than any ritual could provide? Didn’t they remember when Paul taught them that their immunity from these things offered them more opportunity to give themselves to God for divine service than any regulation could allow?

Dutch Bible Scholar Alfred E. Bouter makes a good point on what Paul says here in verse one about “remaining steadfast in one’s faith.” This Christian liberty is a precious thing, and it is constantly under attack. Many forces seek to move saints away from the center by either pushing them towards strict legalism to abstain from doing what pleased them or steering them towards an open license to do as they please. That’s why we must keep our focus based on what we see in our connection with this liberty, and that is why Paul says, “Stand firm.” When it comes to the enjoyment of these precious Christian truths, there is always this challenge to stand firm, so we will not lose them, but that we will enjoy this position of liberty in true fellowship with God. In every epistle, Paul encourages us in this sense: to hold fast.[3] In his translation of verse one from the Aramaic Version, Andrew Roth renders it: “Therefore, you stand in the liberty of the Messiah, liberty and not subjugation, turned from the yoke of servitude.” [4]

Current Messianic Jewish writer Thomas Lancaster attempts to point out how Paul’s words were so easily misunderstood, even by early non-Jewish Christian leaders such as Ignatius of Antioch. He points to an epistle written by Ignatius to the Magnesians.[5] Ignatius told them not to become insensible to God’s kindness. For if He were to treat us for the way we are acting, we would indeed be lost and undone. Therefore, upon becoming His disciples, we should learn to live in a way appropriate to Christianity. Those who say they were called to live by a specific code of conduct by any other name than Jesus the Anointed One, is not of God.  So, don’t even fool around with such things. Instead of the Bread of Heaven, what they feed you will be stale and bitter. Be salted by Him, that no one among you waxes corrupt, for, by your Savior, you will be tested. Lancaster tells us,It is outrageous to utter the name of Jesus our Anointed One and live in Judaism. A Christian cannot remain in Judaism and remain Christian, but Jews can come into Christianity remain Christian even though they are still Jewish. For it is in Christianity that people of every tongue can believe and be gathered to God.[6]

Lancaster responds to what Ignatius wrote by saying that this early church scholar misinterpreted the words of Paul because he misunderstood Judaism. Lancaster says to Ignatius, I beg your pardon, but this is not exactly what Paul meant. In the first place, says Lancaster, Paul spoke only to Gentile believers on this subject, not Jews. As far as Paul is concerned, it is only to the Jews that one spoke about keeping the whole Torah. Paul did not speak against the Torah or Judaism; rather, as we have learned, he addressed Gentiles who were considering undergoing a legal conversion to become Jewish. Lancaster then says to Ignatius, I beg to differ. As a Gentile, you never lived under the law to be set free from something, you never experienced like the burden of a yoke.

But in doing so, Lancaster contradicts himself. True, Paul warned the non-Jews not to become tied to the yoke of slavery produced by the Law, and by using the term “again” he equated the Jewish Law to the heathen ways to which there were formerly enslaved, but at the same time why should the Apostle only warn the non-Jews when the Jews themselves were saddled to the same yoke. And Paul makes that clear by what he says in verse two about the enslavement represented by circumcision.

American theologian and Presbyterian minister Philip G. Ryken has an interesting way of explaining our freedom from the Law through the Anointed One. Paul is concerned that the Galatians might misinterpret this freedom as being set from the moral laws that God gave to Moses and that Jesus reinforced.[7] This is God’s eternal will for His people. The Law that the Anointed One freed us from is the one that leads to condemnation and death. But the Gospel replaced this Law because we receive forgiveness and justification by faith and grace. So that Law no longer has any control over our future with God. Not only that, but Jesus paid the price for our freedom so that we need not fear eternal punishment anymore. If we stay in union with the Anointed One and He stays in union with us, neither Satan nor the Law can touch us. The Anointed One kept the Law we could not keep, He paid the penalty we could not pay, He won the victory we could not win. Therefore, we can say with confidence that the Spirit of Life has set us free from the law of sin and death.[8] [9]

[1] Wuest, Kenneth: Word Studies, op. cit., loc. cit.

[2] Luther, Martin: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 192

[3] Alfred E. Bouter: On Galatians, op. cit., pp. 65-66

[4] Andrew G. Roth, Aramaic Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[5] Magnesians were residents of an area in Greece on the eastern coast of the Pagasetic Gulf in the Aegean Sea.  It is part of the larger region of Thessaly.

[6] The Epistles of St. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch by Rev. J. H. Srawley, Second Edition, Revised, London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1910, Chapter 10, pp. 67-68

[7] Matthew 5:17-20

[8] Romans 8:2

[9] Ryken, Philip Graham. On Galatians, op. cit., (Kindle Location 3420-3429)

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