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Book 9 - PAUL'S LETTER TO THE CHRISTIANS AT GALATIA
Click here for Brief Introduction to Galatians
|The Letter may have been sent from 1 to 2 (south Galatia) or 3 to 4 (north Galatia)|
1:1-5 - I, Paul, who am appointed and commissioned a messenger not by man but by Jesus Christ and God the Father (who raised him from the dead), I and all the brothers with me send the churches in Galatia greeting. Grace and peace to you from God the Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to the Father's plan gave himself for our sins and thereby rescued us from the present evil world-order. To him be glory for ever and ever!
The gospel is God's truth: men must not dare to pervert it
1:6-7 - I am amazed that you have so quickly transferred your allegiance from him who called you in the grace of Christ to another "Gospel"! Not, of course, that it is or ever could be another Gospel, but there are obviously men who are upsetting your faith with a travesty of the Gospel of Christ.
1:8-10 - Yet I say that if I, or an angel from Heaven, were to preach to you any other Gospel than the one you have heard, may he be damned! You have heard me say it before and now I put it down in black and white - may anybody who preaches any other Gospel than the one you have already heard be a damned soul! (Does that make you think now that I am serving man's interests or God's? If I were trying to win human approval I should never be Christ's servant.)
The gospel was given to me by Christ himself, and not by any human agency, as my story will show
1:11-12 - The Gospel I preach to you is no human invention. No man gave it to me, no man taught it to me; it came to me as a direct revelation from Jesus Christ.
1:13-19 - For you have heard of my past career in the Jewish religion, how I persecuted the Church of God with fanatical zeal and, in fact, did my best to destroy it. I was ahead of most of my contemporaries in the Jewish religion, and had a greater enthusiasm for the old traditions. But when the time came for God (who had chosen me from the moment of my birth, and then called me by his grace) to reveal his Son within me so that I might proclaim him to the non-Jewish world, I did not, as might have been expected, talk over the matter with any human being. I did not even go to Jerusalem to meet those who were God's messengers before me - no, I went away to Arabia and later came back to Damascus. It was not until three years later that I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and I only stayed with him just over a fortnight. I did not meet any of the other messengers, except James, the Lord's brother.
1:20-24 - All this that I am telling you is, I assure you before God, the plain truth. Later, I visited districts in Syria and Cilicia, but I was still personally unknown to the churches of Judea. All they knew of me, in fact, was the saying: "The man who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy." And they thanked God for what had happened to me.
Years later I met church leaders in Jerusalem: no criticism of my gospel was made
2:1-10 - Fourteen years later, I went up to Jerusalem again, this time with Barnabas, and we took Titus with us. My visit on this occasion was by divine command, and I gave a full exposition of the Gospel which I preach among the Gentiles. I did this first in private conference with the church leaders, to make sure that what I had done and proposed doing was acceptable to them. Not one of them intimated that Titus, because he was a Greek, ought to be circumcised. In fact, the suggestion would never have arisen but for the presence of some pseudo-Christians, who wormed their way into our meeting to spy on the liberty we enjoy in Jesus Christ, and then attempted to tie us up with rules and regulations. We did not give those men an inch, for the truth of the Gospel for you and all Gentiles was at stake. And as far as the leaders of the conference were concerned (I neither know nor care what their exact position was: God is not impressed with a man's office), they had nothing to add to my Gospel. In fact they recognised that the Gospel for the uncircumcised was as much my commission as the Gospel for the circumcised was Peter's. For the God who had done such great work in Peter's ministry for the Jews was plainly doing the same in my ministry for the Gentiles. When, therefore, James, Peter and John (who were the recognised "pillars" of the church there) saw how God had given me his grace, they held out to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, in full agreement that our mission was to the Gentiles and theirs to the Jews. The only suggestion they made was that we should not forget the poor - and with this I was, of course, only too ready to agree.
I had once to defend the truth of the gospel even against a church leader
2:11-14 - Later, however, when Peter came to Antioch I had to oppose him publicly, for he was then plainly in the wrong. It happened like this. Until the arrival of some of James' companions, he, Peter, was in the habit of eating his meals with the Gentiles. After they came, he withdrew and ate separately from the Gentiles - out of sheer fear of what the Jews might think. The other Jewish Christians carried out a similar piece of deception, and the force of their bad example was so great that even Barnabas was affected by it. But when I saw that this behaviour was a contradiction of the truth of the Gospel, I said to Peter so that everyone could hear, "If you, who are a Jew, do not live like a Jew but like a Gentile, why on earth do you try to make Gentiles live like Jews?"
2:15-21 - And then I went on to explain that we, who are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners, know that a man is justified not by performing what the Law commands but by faith in Jesus Christ. We ourselves are justified by our faith and not by our obedience to the Law, for we have recognised that no one can achieve justification by doing the "works of the Law". Now if, as we seek the real truth about justification, we find we are as much sinners as the Gentiles, does that mean that Christ makes us sinners? Of course not! But if I attempt to build again the whole structure of justification by the Law then I do, in earnest, make myself a sinner. For under the Law I "died", and now I am dead to the Law's demands so that I may live for God. As far as the Law is concerned I may consider that I died on the cross with Christ. And my present life is not that of the old "I", but the living Christ within me. The bodily life I now live, I live believing in the Son of God, who loved me and sacrificed himself for me. Consequently I refuse to stultify the grace of God by reverting to the Law. For if righteousness were possible under the Law then Christ died for nothing!
What has happened to your life of faith?
3:1-5 - O you dear idiots of Galatia, who saw Jesus Christ the crucified so plainly, who has been casting a spell over you? I will ask you one simple question: did you receive the Spirit of God by trying to keep the Law or by believing the message of the Gospel? Surely you can't be so idiotic as to think that a man begins his spiritual life in the Spirit and then completes it by reverting to outward observances? Has all your painful experience brought you nowhere? I simply cannot believe it of you! Does God, who gives you his Spirit and works miracles among you, do these things because you have obeyed the Law or because you have believed the Gospel? Ask yourselves that.
The futility of trying to be justified by the Law: the promises to men of faith
3:6 - You can go right back to Abraham to see the principle of faith in God. He, we are told, 'believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.'
3:7-8 - Can you not see, then, that all those who "believe God" are the real "sons of Abraham"? The scripture foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles "by faith", really proclaimed the Gospel centuries ago in the words spoken to Abraham, 'In you all the nations shall be blessed.'
3:9 - All men of faith share the blessing of Abraham who "believed God".
3:10 - Everyone, however, who is involved in trying to keep the Law's demands falls under a curse, for it is written: 'Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the Law, to do them.'
3:11 - It is made still plainer that no one is justified in God's sight by obeying the Law, for: 'The just shall live by faith.'
3:12 - And the Law is not a matter of faith at all but of doing, as, for example, in the scripture: 'The man who does them shall live by them.'
3:13 - Now Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the Law's condemnation, by himself becoming a curse for us when he was crucified. For the scripture is plain: 'Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.'
3:14 - God's purpose is therefore plain: that the blessing promised to Abraham might reach the Gentiles through Jesus Christ, and the Spirit might become available to us all by faith.
The Law cannot interfere with the original promise
3:15 - Let me give you an everyday illustration, my brothers. Once a contract has been properly drawn up and signed, it is honoured by both parties, and can neither be disregarded nor modified by a third party.
3:16-18 - Now a promise was made to Abraham and to his seed. (Note in passing that the scripture says not "and to seeds" but uses the singular 'and to your seed', meaning Christ.) I say then that the Law, which came into existence four hundred and thirty years later, cannot render null and void the original "contract" which God had made, and thus rob the promise of its value. For if the receiving of the promised blessing were now made to depend on the Law, that would amount to a cancellation of the original "contract" which God made with Abraham as a promise.
3:19-20 - Where then lies the point of the Law? It was an addition made to underline the existence and extent of sin until the arrival of the "seed" to whom the promise referred. The Law was inaugurated in the presence of angels and by the hand of a human intermediary. The very fact that there was an intermediary is enough to show that this was not the fulfilling of the promise. For the promise of God needs neither angelic witness nor human intermediary but depends on him alone.
3:21-22 - Is the Law then to be looked upon as a contradiction of the promise? Certainly not, for if there could have been a law which gave men spiritual life then law would have produced righteousness (which would have been, of course, in full harmony with the purpose of the promise). But, as things are, the scripture has all men "imprisoned", because they are found guilty by the Law, that to men in such condition might come to release all who believe in Jesus Christ.
By faith we are rescued from the Law and become sons of God
3:23-25 - Before the coming of faith we were all imprisoned under the power of the Law, with our only hope of deliverance the faith that was to be shown to us. Or, to change the metaphor, the Law was like a strict governess in charge of us until we went to the school of Christ and learned to be justified by faith in him. Once we had that faith we were completely free from the governess's authority.
3:26-29 - For now that you have faith in Christ you are all sons of God. All of you who were baptised "into" Christ have put on the family likeness of Christ. Gone is the distinction between Jew and Greek, slave and free man, male and female - you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, you are true descendants of Abraham, you are true heirs of his promise.
4:1-7 - But you must realise that so long as an heir is a child, though he is destined to be master of everything, he is, in practice, no different from a servant. He has to obey a guardian or trustee until the time which his father has chosen for him to receive his inheritance. So is it with us: while we were "children" we lived under the authority of basic moral principles. But when the proper time came God sent his son, born of a human mother and born under the jurisdiction of the Law, that he might redeem those who were under the authority of the Law and lead us into becoming, by adoption, true sons of God. It is because you really are his sons that God has sent the Spirit of his Son into your hearts to cry "Father, dear Father". You, my brother, are not a servant any longer; you are a son. And, if you are a son, then you are certainly an heir of God through Christ.
Consider your own progress: do you want to go backwards
4:8-11 - At one time when you had no knowledge of God, you were under the authority of gods who had no real existence. But now that you have come to know God, or rather are known by him, how can you revert to dead and sterile principles and consent to be under their power all over again? Your religion is beginning to be a matter of observing certain days or months or seasons or years. Frankly, you stagger me, you make me wonder if all my efforts over you have been wasted!
I appeal to you by our past friendship, don't be misled
4:12-16 - I do beg you to follow me here, my brothers. I am a man like yourselves, and I have nothing against you personally. You know how handicapped I was by illness when I first preached the Gospel to you. You didn't shrink from me or let yourselves be revolted at the disease which was such a trial to me. No, you welcomed me as though I were an angel of God, or even as though I were Jesus Christ himself! What has happened to that fine spirit of yours? I guarantee that in those days you would, if you could, have plucked out your eyes and given them to me. Have I now become your enemy because I continue to tell you the same truth?
4:17-20 - Oh, I know how keen these men are to win you over, but can't you see that it is for their own ends? They would like to see you and me separated altogether, and have you all to themselves. Don't think I'm jealous - it is a grand thing that men should be keen to win you, whether I'm there or not, provided it is for the truth. Oh, my dear children, I feel the pangs of childbirth all over again till Christ be formed within you, and how I long to be with you now! Perhaps I could then alter my tone to suit your mood. As it is, I honestly don't know how to deal with you.
Let us see what the Law itself has to say
4:21 - Now tell me, you who want to be under the Law, have you heard what the Law says?
4:22-27 - It is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave and the other by the free woman. The child of the slave was born in the ordinary course of nature, but the child of the free woman was born in accordance with God's promise. This can be regarded as an allegory. Here are the two agreements represented by the two women: the one from Mount Sinai bearing children into slavery, typified by Hagar (Mount Sinai being in Arabia, the land of the descendants of Ishmael, Hagar's son), and corresponding to present-day Jerusalem - for the Jews are still, spiritually speaking, "slaves". But the free woman typifies the heavenly Jerusalem, which is the mother of us all, and is spiritually "free". It is written: 'Rejoice, O barren, you who do not bear! Break forth and shout, you who do not travail! For the desolate has many more children than she who has a husband.'
4:28-30 - Now we, my brothers, are like Isaac, for we are children born "by promise". But just as in those far-off days the natural son persecuted the "spiritual" son, so it is today. Yet what is the scriptural instruction? 'Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.'
4:31 - So then, my brothers, we are not to look upon ourselves as the sons of the slave woman but of the free, not sons of slavery under the Law but sons of freedom under grace.
Do not lose your freedom by giving in to those who urge circumcision
5:1 - Plant your feet firmly therefore within the freedom that Christ has won for us, and do not let yourselves be caught again in the shackles of slavery.
5:2-6 - Listen! I, Paul, say this to you as solemnly as I can: if you consent to be circumcised then Christ will be of no use to you at all. I will say it again: every man who consents to be circumcised is bound to obey all the rest of the Law! If you try to be justified by the Law you automatically cut yourself off from the power of Christ, you put yourself outside the range of his grace. For it is by faith that we await in his Spirit the righteousness we hope to see. In Jesus Christ there is no validity in either circumcision or uncircumcision; it is a matter of faith, faith which expresses itself in love.
5:7-10 - You were making splendid progress; who put you off the course you had set for the truth? That sort of "persuasion" does not come from the the one who is calling you. Alas, it takes only a little leaven to affect the whole lump! I feel confident in the Lord that you will not take any fatal step. But whoever it is who is worrying you will have a serious charge to answer one day.
5:11-12 - And as for me, my brothers, if I were still advocating circumcision (as some apparently allege!), why am I still suffering persecution? I suppose if only I would recommend this little rite all the hostility which the preaching of the cross provokes would disappear! I wish those who are so eager to cut your bodies would cut themselves off from you altogether!
5:13a - It is to freedom that you have been called, my brothers. Only be careful that freedom does not become mere opportunity for your lower nature.
5:13b-14 - You should be free to serve each other in love. For after all, the whole Law toward others is summed up by this one command, 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself'.
5:15 - But if freedom means merely that you are free to attack and tear each other to pieces, be careful that it doesn't mean that between you, you destroy your fellowship altogether!
The way to live in freedom is by the Spirit
5:16-18 - Here is my advice. Live your whole life in the Spirit and you will not satisfy the desires of your lower nature. For the whole energy of the lower nature is set against the Spirit, while the whole power of the Spirit is contrary to the lower nature. Here is the conflict, and that is why you are not free to do what you want to do. But if you follow the leading of the Spirit, you stand clear of the Law.
5:19-21 - The activities of the lower nature are obvious. Here is a list: sexual immorality, impurity of mind, sensuality, worship of false gods, witchcraft, hatred, quarrelling, jealousy, bad temper, rivalry, factions, party-spirit, envy, drunkenness, orgies and things like that. I solemnly assure you, as I did before, that those who indulge in such things will never inherit God's kingdom.
5:22-25 - The Spirit however, produces in human life fruits such as these: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, fidelity, tolerance and self-control - and no law exists against any of them. Those who belong to Christ have crucified their old nature with all that it loved and lusted for. If our lives are centred in the Spirit, let us be guided by the Spirit.
5:26 - Let us not be ambitious for our own reputations, for that only means making each other jealous.
Some practical wisdom
6:1 - Even if a man should be detected in some sin, my brothers, the spiritual ones among you should quietly set him back on the right path, not with any feeling of superiority but being yourselves on guard against temptation.
6:2 - Carry each other's burdens and so live out the law of Christ. ....
6:3-4 - If a man thinks he is "somebody", he is deceiving himself, for that very thought proves that he is nobody. Let every man learn to assess properly the value of his own work and he can then be glad when he has done something worth doing without dependence on the approval of others.
6:5 - For every man must "shoulder his own pack".
6:6 - The man under Christian instruction should be willing to contribute towards the livelihood of his teacher.
The inevitability of life's harvest
6:7-10 - Don't be under any illusion: you cannot make a fool of God! A man's harvest in life will depend entirely on what he sows. If he sows for his own lower nature his harvest will be the decay and death of his own nature. But if he sows for the Spirit he will reap the harvest of everlasting life by that Spirit. Let us not grow tired of doing good, for, unless we throw in our hand, the ultimate harvest is assured. Let us then do good to all men as opportunity offers, especially to those who belong to the Christian household.
A final appeal, in my own hand-writing
6:11 - Look at these huge letters I am making in writing these words to you with my own hand!
6:12-13 - These men who are always urging you to be circumcised - what are they after? They want to present a pleasing front to the world and they want to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. For even those who have been circumcised do not themselves keep the Law. But they want you circumcised so that they may be able to boast about your submission to their ruling.
6:14-16 - Yet God forbid that I should boast about anything or anybody except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, which means that the world is a dead thing to me and I am a dead man to the world. But in Christ it is not circumcision or uncircumcision that counts but the power of new birth. To all who live by this principle, to the true Israel of God, may there be peace and mercy!
6:17 - Let no one interfere with me after this. I carry on my scarred body the marks of my owner, the Lord Jesus.
6:18 - The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, my brothers, be with your spirit.
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