Click on the link above for an audio version of Tim Dehn reading Galatians.
Listen to the podcasts of Nick reading and commentating on Galatians in the Starter Course.
Download a Bible App for your smart phone and listen when you’re at the gym, travelling in the car, etc …
Read the whole letter through in one sitting. Do this a number of times, making notes on what stands out.
Read these passages carefully:
1:6-9 The problem: they are turning away from the gospel.
2:15-21 The essential answer: justification by faith in Christ crucified.
3:26-4:7 It is the children of God who are given the Spirit.
5:16-26 The results of both the sinful nature and the Spirit.
6:12-16 The Cross demarcates religious Law from the Spirit.
Watch “Wadjda” – a brilliantly understated description of misogyny in Saudi Arabia, where the enforcement of religious law and culture enslaves women. As such, it portrays a lifestyle similar to what the Judaisers were attempting to enforce on the young Christian church in Galatia.
Study the Bible for Life material and answer the questions at the end of each ‘meal course’ relating ‘Galatians’ to the 21st Century.
Suggested verses for meditation …
2:20 ‘I live believing in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.’
5:16 ‘So I say live by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.’
5:6 ‘The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love.’
6:14 ‘May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.’
Excellent verses to learn:
2:20 ‘I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.’
5:22-23 ‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.’
5:16 ‘But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh’.
Summary and Exhortation
Context: In about 47CE, fourteen years after his dramatic conversion, Paul was commissioned by the elders in Antiochan into mission with Barnabas (Acts 13:1-3). They returned a year later having planted churches in Cyprus and the southern Galatian cities. Soon afterwards, Paul hears that the young Galatian churches are capitulating to pressure from Judaisers from Jerusalem who both assert their own authority and question Paul’s credentials. They insist that the new converts must enter fully into the Jewish religious life by being circumcised. Paul writes this short letter at white heat to correct their error. This confrontation is behind the pithy introduction to the Council in Acts 15:1: ‘Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the law of Moses you cannot be saved”‘.
Main themes: The letter progresses at a fast pace. The argument builds as follows: God himself commissioned Paul as his apostle with his gospel and God did this by direct revelation to Paul. By faith in Christ we are justified, not by works of the law, of which circumcision is the first imperative and demonstrates that a man is joining the old covenant (2:16). The death of Christ fulfils and ends the old covenant and demarcates the old from the new covenant. By faith, we receive the promise of the Holy Spirit (3:14). By faith, we are sons (and daughters) of God (3:26), and we receive the full rights of sons (4:5). We are freed from the slavery of the dominion of the law, to serve one another in love, and thereby fulfil the whole purpose and intention of the Mosaic law, by living in the power and life of the Spirit (5:16). The Spirit works the full orbed life of Christ into the character of the believer and leads the disciple into the inheritance of the Kingdom of God (5:21). Therefore God wants one family, not two (a Jewish church and a Gentile church), in which all who believe are strictly equal with each other (3:28).
Main Applications: Therefore:
(1) All the old covenant boundary markers are irrelevant: ‘neither circumcision or uncircumcision has any value, the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love’ (5:6, 6:15).
(2) The Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, (2:20, 6:14) is the sole demarcation transitioning from the old to the new, and from which justification is established for the believer, and the promises of God to Abraham are fulfilled with God’s gift of the Spirit (3:14) to Abraham’s descendants. Since those who believe are sons of God, and the Father sends the Spirit of his Son into our hearts crying ‘Abba, Father’, believers have the full rights of sonship (4:5). As we live in the Spirit (5:16) we inherit a Kingdom (5:21).
(3) So law is replaced, not by license (freedom to do anything and indulge the sinful nature), but by the freedom of life in the Spirit rooted in the Cross: we are free to live all of life motivated by undivided devotion and obedience to the risen Lord Jesus Christ.
Question 1 -
Should a Christian be circumcised?
Question 2 -
Your friend says s/he doesn’t want to become a Christian because it's all about obeying rules. Is s/he right?
Question 3 -
Which members of God the Father’s family are especially privileged?
Galatians 1:1-12 Audio Commentary
Galatians 1:13 - 2:10 Audio Commentary
Galatians 2:11 - 4:7 Audio Commentary
Galatians 4:8 - 31 Audio Commentary
Galatians 5 Audio Commentary
Galatians 6 Audio Commentary
Destination: When Paul addresses the ‘the Galatians’, we should understand him to be referring to the churches he planted in the cities of Iconium, Pisidian Antioch, Lystra and Derbe, as described in Acts 13-14. The view that Paul was writing to churches in northern Galatia is largely dismissed today.
Author: The apostle Paul’s authorship of Galatians has never been seriously questioned.
Date: It is very difficult to date this letter. The arguments turn on whether or not the events of 2:1-10 refer to those of Acts 11:27-30, or to the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15. Details and arguments aside, I view them referring to Acts 11:27-30, and see Acts 16:6 referring to Paul’s visit during his second missionary journey, and 18:23 referring to his visit during his third missionary journey. This letter was written either in 49CE or sometime in the next two or three years.
The form of the letter has been shown to be: standard ‘rebuke-request’ (Hansen; p22). The letter lacks the customary ‘thanksgiving’ after the opening greeting. The author uses the literary genres of: autobiography, personal example, satire, allegory and exhortation.
|1:1-12||Paul is God’s apostle with God’s gospel, which God gave him by revelation!|
|1:13 - 2:10||Paul puts the record straight about his conversion and ministry: although he is independent of the Jerusalem apostles, they fully endorse his gospel and ministry.|
|2:11 - 15||A summary of his argument: believers are justified by faith not works.|
|3:1 - 4:7||The substance of Paul’s argument: the Spirit (which God promised to Abraham’s family) is given on the basis of Christ’s death. Available to all who are now God’s (and Abraham's) children because of their faith in Christ.|
|4:8 - 31||Paul’s pastoral reflection on the Galatians’ error. An allegory from Abraham’s life demonstrates that believers are free from the Law’s demands.|
|5:1 - 26||Life in the Spirit both fulfils the demands of the law (that we serve one another in love), and empowers us to overcome the sinful nature.|
|6:1 - 18||Paul gives pastoral instructions to correct the heretical leaders, and ends with a personal reflection on their underlying motivation to avoid persecution.|
Themes: Paul addresses so many topics in this short letter that it is not easy to identify all the themes. Some of the main themes are:
Question 1 -
Should the following things happen in any specified order? Baptism, repentance from sin, being filled with the Spirit, acknowledging Jesus as Lord?
Question 2 -
Read Galatians 4:5. List the differences between being a slave and a son. Consider the parable of the lost (two) sons in Luke 15:11-32, and list the differences between the older and younger son at the end of the story.
Question 3 -
Pentecostals teach that speaking in tongues is the evidence that a person is filled with the Spirit. Does the Bible teach this (3:1-5; see also Acts 2:4, Acts 10:46, Acts 19:6)?
Question 4 -
Should Christians obey the fourth commandment (Exodus 20:8)? Did Jesus? Did the Galatian Christians (4:10)?
Verse by Verse
Introduction – the problem Paul faced:
When Paul first travelled through Galatia preaching the gospel he established churches in Iconium, Pisidian Antioch, Lystra and Derbe, (as described in Acts 13-14). These believers received the Spirit (3:2), treated Paul lovingly (4:14), witnessed miracles (3:5) and with joy (4:15) entered into a new relationship with God calling him ‘Abba’ Father (4:6).
Then after Paul had left for Macedonia, some Jewish Christians visited the churches, and, claiming to have received authority from the apostles in the Jerusalem church, taught these new believers that it was necessary for them to become Jews in order to enter into the full blessings God had promised to Abraham and established through Moses in the old covenant. As a direct application of this, they instructed the Galatian Christians to adopt the distinctive Jewish identity markers of:
The young Gentile Christians may have been feeling a loss of identity since they had both separated themselves from their pagan background and from the Jews in the synagogue. Since their new faith drew on Jewish roots, they may have thought it better to join the Jews completely. Given the violent hostility of the Jews against Paul and the gospel when these Galatian churches were planted, there may have also been strong social coercion pushing them in that direction.
The result was that the young believers moved from a life of faith in Christ and dynamic interaction with the Spirit to identification with the Jewish nation and observance of the Mosaic law (Hansen p16).
Paul’s strategy and argument throughout Galatians, as he addresses this problem:
1:1 – 12 Paul begins the letter by establishing his own God-given authority from which he will correct the Galatians: he is God’s apostle with God’s Gospel which God gave him by revelation!
So, Paul is claiming supreme authority as God’s apostle, with God’s gospel which he received by direct revelation from God himself! In contrast, the Judaisers are not apostles, their gospel is ‘no gospel’ and what they teach was not given by revelation.
Comment on key verses:
1:1 From his very first words, Paul states that his apostleship is from God, in contrast to the Judaisers who were (claiming) to have been appointed by men (the Jerusalem apostles).
1:3 Grace and peace are the two gifts that are the substance of God’s committed blessing to his people (Numbers 6:24-27), and both are direct consequences of Christ’s perfect sacrifice of atonement for believers.
1:4 Into the formal greeting, Paul adds a strong statement addressing the heart of the atonement. This is the first such statement in this letter, and it points towards the substitutionary dimension that he will assert in 3:13. Paul is also emphatic that it is sin that is the root, the cause and the motivation for Christ’s atoning work. He will later contrast the powerlessness of the Law to atone for anything (2:16). The axiomatic issue underlying the Galatians’ heretical behaviour is a misunderstanding about sin and the sinful nature. In chapter 5 he will demonstrate that only the Spirit can influence a believer to depart from the sinful nature.
1:8-9 We ought to feel the force of the double condemnation to eternal punishment. This is God’s apostle speaking God’s words addressing the essence of the gospel. It comes at white heat. We have no excuse! The Judaising agitators are absolutely wrong! The person who changes and perverts the gospel of salvation by faith in Christ who loved us and gave himself for us is directly guilty of the most serious sin.
1:11 – 2 14 Paul gets the facts straight about his conversion and early ministry
Comment on key verses:
1:13-14 From here to 2:14, Paul narrates some past events, and this may be because the agitators have been telling a distorted or even blatantly untrue account of Paul’s history. Whatever the reason, Paul first recounts his zeal to destroy the church prior to his conversion. He seems to be making the point that he knows only too well what it is like being a ‘Judaiser’, and it was precisely from that state that God wonderfully saved him. It’s like he’s saying ‘So you Galatians want to be religious Jews? Well I know exactly what that’s like. I was considerably more zealous than you, or those who are influencing you, and it was out of that state that God gloriously saved me!’
1:15-24 Paul’s point is that his apostolic credentials are from God himself, not from any ‘man in Jerusalem’ (Acts 15:1), whoever he may be!
1:20 Such a forthright and emphatic statement, which takes the form of a legal oath, implies that the Judaisers were accusing Paul of lying about his past. It is likely that they were stating that Paul received his authorisation from the Jerusalem apostles.
2:1-2 The presence of Barnabas, the reference to the prophetic ‘revelation’ and the gift of money for the relief of the poor Jewish Christians in 2:10 show that this is the Acts 11:27-30 visit.
2:3 This is Paul’s crucial point. The Jerusalem apostles (who the Judaisers claim they are representing) did not compel Titus, a Gentile Christian, to be circumcised!
2:4 Paul (very typically) mentions two concepts (freedom and slavery) ahead of his full comment on these topics later in his argument (chapter 5).
2:8 This verse asserts the validity and the equality of both the apostolic ministries of Peter and Paul. A careful study of Acts shows that the author was meticulously careful not to prioritise one apostle over the other. The miracles recorded are equal in quality (but obviously not type), so for example, both apostles are accredited with the raising of one person from the dead, both with one miraculous deliverance from prison, etc. Catholics tend to see Peter as their leader, Protestants tend to follow Paul. This verse affirms they are both equal. Christians should recognise that God uses different leaders equally; we all believe the same creed.
2:10 Paul visited Jerusalem to bring famine relief to the poor Christians in Jerusalem. Their poverty had been caused by Paul himself, when he destroyed the Christian church in Jerusalem leaving only the apostles (Acts 8:1). There is an element of apology in Paul’s zeal to care financially for those he nearly destroyed. Later in his ministry, Paul will again bring aid to the Jerusalem church (Romans 15:25-26). He seems to have used the opportunity of financial relief to communicate loyalty and love.
2:11-14 The crucial issue here is that God the Father only has one family! And that family is made up of both Jewish believers and Gentile believers, both of whom are justified equally and adopted into the family on a strictly equal basis. The concept of a privileged inner family of Jewish believers and a disadvantaged secondary periphery family of Gentile believers is absolute anathema to Paul and his divinely-given gospel!
2:15 – 21 Paul begins his main argument against his opponents. He addresses the very heart of the issue: the Law is powerless to justify anyone, but where the Law fails, faith in the Son of God succeeds.
These verses are a summary of the heart of Paul’s argument, but they are complicated and take time to understand.
2:15-16 A clear statement: justification is by faith, not the Law.
2:17-18 But if having believed in Christ, we then return to ‘obeying the Law’, we show everyone we have disobeyed the Law.
2:19-21 Through faith we are united with Christ in his death and brought into a new life with him.
Comment on key verses:
2:15-16 In this section from v15-21, Paul expresses the very heart of his argument against the Judaisers. He begins by stating unequivocal truths that he, the Judaisers, Peter and all Christians would agree on, and he also continues the line of argument he made against Peter in the dispute over table fellowship (v14). The truths are foundational and absolute: ‘we are justified by faith in Christ, and not by observing the law’ (v16). In this context, when Paul refers to the Law he is referring to circumcision and the purity laws and other such outward markers (see 4:10). Hansen summarises this well: ‘The main emphasis of Paul’s argument here is that faith in Jesus Christ replaces and excludes all Jewishness as the determining criterion for belonging to the people of God’ (Hansen, p69-70).
2:17-18 These (along with 3:19-20) are some of the most difficult verses in the letter to understand, so we must be careful. These verses make complete sense when we realise that Paul is citing the argument of his opponents in order to argue against it and refute it strongly: ‘Absolutely not’! His opponents were arguing that since the law forbade Jews to eat with Gentiles, Paul’s gospel of Christ was encouraging Jews to do what is expressly sinful. Paul will not accept the charge that ‘Christ promotes sin’ because ‘from Paul’s perspective, eating with Gentile Christians is not sinful, because the law demands it’ (Hansen, p71). Those who, like Peter and Barnabas, withdrew from table fellowship with Gentiles were hypocrites (v13), because according to the gospel, mutual table fellowship is not just allowed, it is demanded.
V18 Paul’s previous relationship with the law has been destroyed, so if he rebuilds ‘what I have destroyed’ by reinstating the law in order to live the Christian life, then he publicly demonstrates that he has broken the law and is a ‘lawbreaker’. Paul’s foundational truth is that through faith, all races and ethnic groups, genders and classes are absolutely equal in Christ.
2:19-21 ‘I died to the law’ – Paul means that his relationship with the Old Testament Law, which used to determine every aspect of his life, is now completely ended; there is no relationship left whatsoever. ‘I have been crucified with Christ’ – just as Christ’s death ended the Law’s demands and hold on humanity, so Paul’s relationship with the Law ended when he was joined by faith with Christ in his death (Romans 6:3-4). The Law has no grounds to condemn us because all its demands have been met and fulfilled in Christ’s obedient life on our behalf, and his death on our behalf. Believers are therefore now completely free from the demands and hold of the Law and our whole existence is expressed in one of Paul’s very greatest statement: ‘The life I now live in the flesh, I live believing in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me’. V21 is a reflective comment on both the powerlessness of the Law to save, and the power of God’s grace to declare believers to be in right standing with him.
3:1 – 4:7 Paul’s argument against his opponents
3:1 – 5 The acid test of the difference between the old and new covenants is the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit! This is Paul’s almost assertive challenge to the Galatians.
3:1 Paul describes the full orbed activity and intervention of the Holy Spirit in the communal life of the believers as entirely normative. For him, there is no other evidence that the Cross demarcates the new Creation from the old (6:15). This leads directly into the leading imperative in 5:16: ‘live by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature’.
3:6 – 9 Abraham himself was distinguished by his faith – and was declared righteous because of it!
3:9 Right from the very beginning with Abraham, God always intended that human beings would be saved by faith – Abraham himself is de facto the leading example.
3:10 – 12 In contrast the Law brings a curse – because no one can keep it fully!
3:13 – 14 But Christ himself has redeemed us from that curse precisely so that those who believe in him can receive the promise of the Spirit – which is the blessing God promised to Abraham.
Majestic statements. The failure of the law, Christ’s substitutionary embodiment of humanity, cursed for humanity, so humanity may be redeemed and so God’s eternal promise to Abraham would be fulfilled through the very gift of the Spirit to those who believe.
3:15 – 18 God’s promise to Abraham came first and was not nullified by the Law which came much later.
Paul’s point is that God’s primary strategy for his purposes for humanity always depended on faith in the promise he made to Abraham. The old covenant Law was only a temporary measure for a short while.
3:19 – 20 The Law was given in order to control and limit sin until Christ came.
3:20 Paul seems to be arguing that since God is one ‘person’, he only has one family. The Judaisers worked to establish two families: a Jewish (privileged) family of believers, and a secondary Gentile family of believers.
3:21 – 22 The Law does not oppose or contradict God’s original promise to Abraham, instead it has the effect of demonstrating humanity’s sinfulness.
3:23 – 25 Now that ‘faith’ has come, we are no longer under the supervision of ‘the Law’.
3:24 This is the key phrase: the purpose of the Law was to lead us to Christ. Scripture and the Law served to demonstrate the ineffectiveness of anything apart from belief in Jesus to lead us into the promised inheritance in Christ.
3:26 – 29 Every believer in Christ, whether Jew or Gentile, slave or free, man or woman, belongs to Christ and is the heir of God’s promise to Abraham.
3:28 This verse is the foundation of all democracy. All believers are ‘sons’. All believers are strictly equal. All believers are heirs of God’s promise to Abraham. When Paul uses the word ‘sons’ he has two things in mind. First, the believer (either male or female) has been given the status of Christ, since we have been crucified with him, and he lives in us (2:20). Second, Paul is referring to the status of the eldest son in the Roman family who was the first to inherit the estate. It is a mistake to see Paul as being sexist or misogynistic.
4:1 – 7 Paul describes the heir inheriting the entire estate to illustrate the believer inheriting the promised Holy Spirit, who immediately confirms that we are sons of the Father.
4:7 Heirs inherit the Kingdom, the dynamic life of the Spirit.
4:8 – 31 Paul addresses the Galatians pastorally
4:8 – 11 Paul reflects on why the Galatians could possibly want to return to living under the slavery of religious Law. They are choosing to live under the religious ‘slavery’ of observing special holy days as a means of earning salvation!
4:9 Paul argues that the Cross has demoted the Old Testament Law to the status of a ‘weak and miserable principle’ which ‘enslaves’ people.
4:12 – 16 Paul changes his tone and makes a heartfelt appeal referring back to their earlier friendship.
The love and joy (5:22) of the Galatian Christians has been replaced by animosity, distance and confusion (4:16) because they are adopting religious behaviour that enslaves them.
4:17 – 20 Paul warns the Galatians of the agitators’ intentions, and says that he wishes he could be with them.
Paul opens his heart to the young Galatian Christians.
4:21 – 31 In a longer section, Paul uses the analogy of two of Abraham’s women, Sarah and Hagar, to contrast the child of faith and promise who is free, with the child of Law under slavery.
Paul returns to Abraham, the man God chose and to whom he made the initial axiomatic promises, and draws an analogy from the two women who had children by him in the Genesis narrative (see also Genesis 25:1-6). The leading word in this section is ‘free’, occurring fives times. It stands in contrast to ‘slavery’. Paul’s point is once again that life in the Spirit is freedom, but life under religious law brings terrible, crushing slavery.
5:1 – 26 The heart of the issue: not Law, not license, but life in the Spirit
5:1 – 6 Since we are free in Christ we are NOT under law, so no believer needs to be circumcised! What matters now is ‘faith (in Christ) expressing itself in love’.
5:2-3 Note the double warning against returning to the Law. This parallels the double warning against the false evangelists in 1:8-9.
5:7 – 12 Paul again questions why the Galatians have reverted to religious law, and states that the agitators will be judged for what they have done.
5:11 In linking circumcision to persecution, Paul demonstrates that he perceives a much deeper motivation for their compromise and defection to the ‘safer’ ground of religious law. He will return to this in his final heartfelt epilogue in 6:12-17. Remember that it was while he was evangelising these very cities to which he is writing that Paul suffered his worst persecution (Acts 14:19).
5:13 – 15 Believers must use their religious freedom to ‘serve one another in love’, which is the heart of the Law’s demands.
5:13 After the digression of 5:7-12, in which he has reverted to a pastoral argument, Paul returns to the issue of freedom that he asserted in 5:1, and is his dominant line of thought at this point in the letter. We should note that both verses contain two leading imperatives in the letter, and in both cases they are first prefaced by a statement about freedom. In the first, we believers must stand in our freedom and not allow ourselves to become enslaved again to the ‘kindergarten’ demands of religious law. In the second, we must stand in our freedom and not allow ourselves to yield to and indulge the passions and desires of the sinful nature. So there are three options: we must choose life in the Spirit (5:16) and stand firm in it, both discerning and rejecting any enslavement of religious law (5:1), and also the clawing desires of the passions and desires of the sinful nature (5:9).
5:15 Paul brilliantly demonstrates that in order to understand the frightening power of the sinful nature to destroy human beings, and the powerlessness of the religious law to control that sinful nature, the Galatians need only look at themselves and their own communities since their reversion to circumcision and slavish obedience to the religious law. With deep irony, their very pursuit of these ‘weak and miserable principles’ (4:9) is producing the fruit of ‘biting and devouring each other’ which Paul warns will lead directly to ‘destruction’. Into this category, we should add the long list of the ‘acts of the sinful nature’ in 5:20b: ‘hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy …’, and ‘becoming conceited, provoking and envying each other’, with which he describes the behaviour of the heretical teachers in 5:26.
5:16 – 18 The central imperative of the letter: ‘live by the Spirit’.
5:17 Sometimes this verse is rather seriously misunderstood – it is sometimes read in the light of Romans 7:14-24, with the conclusion that believers are doomed to perpetual defeat in Christ. But in Romans 7, Paul states that he is describing the life of the sinful nature under the Law. His whole point is that the Spirit frees us from the power of the sinful nature, because ‘the love of God has been shed abroad in our hearts by the Spirit’ (Romans 5:5). So here, his point is that the Spirit frees us from yielding to the desires of the sinful nature by giving us something far, far greater to love and live in. If you are offered cheap orange juice (the desires of the sinful nature) or champagne (the life of the Spirit with Jesus) you chose the champagne because it is in every way far superior. Only those who cannot see what’s going on choose the cheap yucky drink – the pleasures of the sinful nature. They don’t know and they cannot see the life of the Spirit, life lived believing in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me, the life whose heart cry is ‘Abba Father’, the life of the Kingdom empowered by the Spirit. The phrase ‘so you do not do what you want’ means ‘so you may not do whatever you want to do’. We are freed from the Law, yes, but that does not mean we can do whatever we want, that is, return to gratifying the desires of the sinful nature.
5:19 – 21 Paul lists the results and features of the sinful nature
Paul’s point is that now that we are free from the slavery of the boundary markers of the Law, we are nevertheless not free to indulge the sinful nature, rather we crucify it (v24). Paul understands sin in three categories: idolatry (the sin of the human spirit), immorality (the sin of the human body), and hatred (the sin of the human soul). This pattern is quite clearly seen in the three sections of Romans 1 (v21-23; v24-27; and v28-32), and in the three sections of 1 Corinthians, addressing a church reverting to a worldly secular lifestyle (1 Corinthians 8-10; 5-7 and throughout the letter, but in contrast to chapter 13).
In describing the ‘acts of the sinful nature’ in the realm of hatred at such length, Paul is describing the behaviour of the Judaisers and those Galatians who have succumbed to their teaching. His point is that in reverting to Law, they have reverted to the behaviour of the sinful nature.
5:22 – 26 Paul lists the results of the Spirit’s influence in contrast to the sinful nature.
6:1 – 10 Pastoral directives for the Galatian leaders
6:1 – 6 Paul tells the mature Galatian Christians how they should correct and restore the ‘agitators’ back to an orthodox faith.
6:6 Paul reiterates a general principle of pastoral support for church leaders (such as he does in 1 Corinthians 9:14, Philippians 4:10-19), but since Paul was himself the instructor of the Galatian Christians, the inference is that the agitators were forcing the circumcised Galatians to stop giving financial support to Paul himself. This sheds ironic light on 2:2 where Paul, Titus and Barnabas take financial assistance to the Jerusalem church which had been impoverished by the persecution that Paul himself instigated as described in Acts 8:1.
6:7 – 10 A summary comment contrasting the Spirit and the sinful nature, leading to an appeal to ‘do good’ to all people, especially believers.
6:11 – 20 Paul’s final appeal to suffer for the gospel: Paul ends stating that the agitators’ motivation is to preach circumcision so they are not persecuted. The Cross demarcates us from the world and will always involve a cost.
6:16 ‘The Israel of God’ means the people of God, which Paul has been demonstrating throughout the letter refers to the community of believers in Christ Jesus, made up of both Jews and Gentiles – the Father’s family, and Abraham’s children in the sense that all who believe in Christ are Abraham’s children. To understand this as referring to ‘ethnic Jews’ would contradict Paul’s entire argument throughout Galatians, since he is at pains to emphasise that a man or woman is saved by faith in Christ (2:16).
6:17 ‘The marks of Jesus’ are the wounds of persecution that Paul himself has suffered, many of them as a result of preaching the gospel in the very cities he is writing to, and which he still carries on his body (Acts 14:19). I wonder if, like the Saviour himself (John 20:20; Revelation 14:3b), those wounded and persecuted for Christ will carry the evidence of those scars and wounds in their heavenly bodies forever as their reward for their love of Christ and him crucified.
The overall message of Galatians:
Paul writes at white heat to severely warn the young Galatians Christians not to enslave themselves by trying to obey the whole Jewish law (5:2-3), which involved being circumcised as an initial entry point to the old covenant. It is the Holy Spirit who is received by faith (3:14) because of the death of Jesus (2:16, 20), who empowers us to fulfil the law’s intentions (5:14) and most importantly, not to gratify the desires of the sinful nature (5:16).
Believers (in Christ) should not be circumcised.
Believers do not need to obey the Old Testament Law in order to be saved and remain in fellowship with God.
Believers should understand the Cross and be committed to preaching the gospel of the Cross.
Believers should understand faith: what it is, and how we ‘live believing in the Son of God’ (2:20).
Believers should ‘serve one another in love’ (5:13).
Believers should understand their status in Christ: justified, adopted children of God having the full rights of sons, free from the Law’s demands, and heirs of the Kingdom.
Believers should learn how to ‘live by the Spirit’ (5:16).
Believers should learn how through the Spirit they can overcome the sinful nature (5:16, 5:24).
The ‘boundary markers’ of the old covenant are now irrelevant: ‘neither circumcision or uncircumcision has any value, the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love’ (5:6, 6:15).
All believers, no matter what sort of person they are, are absolutely equal in Christ. No one has priority, no woman, or slave, or Jew, or a free person, or non-Jew, or male has priority in the body of believers. Every believer is strictly equal because every person is saved on the same basis.
‘Live by the Spirit; keep in step with the Spirit’.
‘Serve one another in love’.
The leading imperatives:
5:1 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
5:13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh (sinful nature); rather, serve one another humbly in love.
5:16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
5:25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
6:1 Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.
6:6 Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor.
6:7 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.
6:9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
The implied imperatives:
2:10 All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along.
4:12 I plead with you, brothers and sisters, become like me, for I became like you.
5:6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
5:15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
Holy Habits: (Holy Habits are patterns of living and lifestyle practices which we choose to do in our lives. These can be in order to either withdraw from the dominion of the world, such as silence, secrecy, submission, fasting, watching, simple living, or, practices that plunge us into the life of the Kingdom, such as prayer, worship, celebration, study, serving the poor and deprived, etc. They can be as simple as kneeling by your bed and thanking God at the end of the day, or as substantial as attending an annual Christian festival.)
Question 1 -
"The pathology of wrongdoing is far more widespread and reaches far deeper than most of us would prefer to think. If the controls are lifted, people are capable of crimes which under other circumstances they would be the first to be horrified by.” Do you agree with John Simpson, the BBC world affairs correspondent (5:16)?
Question 2 -
Hair length, special clothes, food laws, holy days, holy places, circumcision, separating yourself from other people, covering up women; why do all these enslave believers in Christ (4:8-10)? Can you think of any Christian groups that emphasise obedience to these things?
Question 3 -
If the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love, what Holy Habits will help you grow in faith (Romans 4:20)?
Question 4 -
What is the evidence that a believer has received the promised gift of the Holy Spirit (3:14, 22; 4:6 etc)?
Question 5 -
Paul is emphatic that Christ has set us free, but what exactly are we free from?
Question 6 -
Eric Lidell was a Scottish athlete who represented his country at the Olympic Games in 1924. But he refused to run in the heats for the 100 meters, which was his special gifting, because they were on a Sunday. However, he was able to compete in the men’s 400 meters, which he then won. Was Lidell right to make this stand? Would you (4:10)?
Question 7 -
Do you know any Christians who have received the Holy Spirit who base their lives on obeying the Old Testament Law?
Question 8 -
If circumcision ‘counts for nothing’, why did Paul circumcise Timothy (Acts 16:3, see also 1 Corinthians 9:21)? Can you think of a 21st Century parallel?
Question 9 -
What things are out of bounds for believers in Jesus (5:19-21)? What happens if we do these things?
Question 10 -
How can we ‘sow to the Spirit’ (6:8)?