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The Book of Galatians

This is a verse-by-verse commentary on Paul's epistle to the Galatians, which was written to combat those Jewish Christians who were unable to leave the Old Covenant and adhere to the New Covenant. In their attempt to add the New Covenant to the Old, and to add Jesus to the temple system of animal sacrifices and other rituals, they had distorted the gospel.

Category - Bible Commentaries

Chapter 17

The Outworking of Flesh and Spirit

When Paul spoke of restoring a brother “in a spirit of gentleness” (Gal. 6:1), He was referencing one of the fruits of the Spirit in Gal. 5:23. He calls upon this particular “fruit” to be in operation whenever correction is made. Often men come with a sledge hammer to beat down and punish the offender. Such an attitude comes from those who do not believe that they themselves would ever commit such an offense. In fact, they do not really know themselves or the power of their own flesh and how easily, given the same circumstances, they might have been in the shoes of the offender.

Such pride and harsh judgmentalism springs from “the deeds of the flesh” (5:19), rather than the fruit of the Spirit. This pharisaical attitude of correction is “boastful” (5:26) as well. In chapter 6 Paul has more to say about boasting which comes from this wrong spirit. In fact, chapter 6 is a series of contrasting statements.

Let us not become boastful” (5:26), but we may boast in the cross of Christ (6:14).

Bear one another's burdens” (6:2), but “each one shall bear his own load” (6:5).

Mind your own business (6:4), but “let the one who is taught the word share all good things with him who teaches” (6:6).

There is a Spirit-led way to do all things properly; and there is a fleshly way that is always wrong.

Galatians 6:3-5 says,

3 For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have reason of boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. 5 For each one shall bear his own load.

Who we are and what we know must be properly motivated by the Spirit of God and show its fruit, otherwise the person is “nothing” and “deceives himself.” Paul has laid out his case already, showing the difference between the spirit of Ishmael and spirit of Isaac. He has taught us how to recognize the fruit of both teacher and teaching. And nowhere is this more evident than when we observe how men treat a brother who has been caught in a trespass.

This goes back to the examples in the gospels, where we may contrast Jesus' treatment of sinners with the attitude of the Pharisees and temple priests. That same pharisaical attitude could not be hidden in the Judaizers, who had drunk long and deeply at that same fountain. And so Paul wished to point out the contrast between their attitude and his own. Whereas they had come to Galatia to condemn Paul as a heretic, Paul had corrected them with Scriptural teaching by the Law of Christ and with evident fruit of the Spirit.

Fleshly and Spiritual Boasting

Each side should be quick to “examine his own work,” rather than judge others so quickly. Only when one has thoroughly examined himself and understood that we all have to die daily and put the old fleshly man to death—only then can he “have reason of boasting.” Yet his boast is not in his own flesh or doctrinal position, but “in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (6:14).

The flesh boasts of itself; the spiritual man boasts of Christ and the cross. The flesh boasts of its own righteous acts before the great Judge to try to find favor with the Court and receive justification (a favorable verdict). But the spiritual man presents only the cross of Christ as his defense, and so receives the favorable ruling.

Sowing and Reaping

Those who are so motivated by the Spirit will also be able to judge their brethren by that same restorative spirit of gentleness. Such a man is qualified to share the word and all good things (6:6).

7 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh shall from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit shall from the Spirit reap eternal life. 9 And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary.

It is the simple law of sowing and reaping. If we sow fleshly things, we will reap the same. Paul was speaking primarily of sowing seed by teaching. The implication is that the Judaizers had sown fleshly seed (the distorted gospel) among the Galatians, perhaps having in mind the enemy who has sown tares among the wheat (Matt. 13:25).

Paul himself endeavored to sow good seed in a fertile field. The danger was that the Galatian Church might turn out to be a field where the birds (“the evil ones”) have snatched it from the ground (Matt. 13:19).

Yet Paul is hopeful and even confident in Gal. 6:9 that they will indeed reap a good harvest, “if we do not grow weary.” The field must be guarded, watered, and ultimately harvested, all of which take time and labor. But he knows that the field will yield its harvest in due time.

The Household of Faith

10 So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.

As an aside, let me say that I have used verse 10 above as a prime example of a parallel to what Paul wrote in 1 Tim. 4:10,

10 . . . because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers.

Paul's use of the word “especially” is not meant to limit “all men” to just “believers.” It is meant to show a special salvation to believers within the context of the general salvation of all men. This is a reference to the fact that believers are saved first, whether in the first or second resurrection, without limiting the scope of salvation at the Creation Jubilee.

In the same way, in Gal. 6:10, Paul says to do good to “all men and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.” It is clear that Paul has no intention of limiting the scope of doing good. Instead, he exhorts the Galatians to take special care in doing good to the brethren. For if we cannot treat our own Christian brethren by the fruit of the Spirit, how then can we show the rest of the world this same fruit?

Paul Takes the Pen from Luke’s Hand

Galatians 6:10 marks the end of Paul's dictation to his scribe (most likely Luke). From this point, as in so many others of his letters, he takes the pen and adds a final instruction in his own handwriting. Lightfoot points out that he did this because some had been writing forgeries in his name, and so by adding something in his own handwriting, he authenticated the letter itself. Paul mentions this problem specifically in 2 Thess. 2:2,

2 that you may not be quickly shaken from your composure, or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.

Apparently, someone had forged such a letter in Paul’s name, claiming that “the day of the Lord has come.” For this reason, Paul wrote a few lines at the end of that epistle in verses 17 and 18,

17 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand, and this is a distinguishing mark in every letter; this is the way I write. 18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

Thus also in Galatians, Paul closes his epistle with a lengthy paragraph written in his own handwriting. Gal. 6:11 says,

11 See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand.

Paul then proceeds to summarize his previous teaching about circumcision and boasting, but this time doing so in his own handwriting. Lightfoot's Commentary on Galatians points out that the Greek words translated “how large a letter” in the KJV is not accurate. It is not the length of letter that is emphasized, but the size of the letters.

Paul uses the Greek term grammasin grathein, which properly reads, as Dr. Lightfoot points out, “to write with letters,” rather than “to write a letter.” Letters is plural.

Moreover, Paul's purpose was not to comment on the length of the letter, but upon its authenticity, established by his own familiar handwriting.

The Underlying Motive for Circumcision

12 Those who desire to make a good showing in the flesh try to compel you to be circumcised, simply that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ.

Here Paul gives his analysis of the Judaizers and their motive for demanding circumcision. Because they lived in Jerusalem, they were trying to appease the temple priests and avoid persecution. More than this, anyone NOT circumcised was restrained from entering the “Court of Israel,” where the Jewish men were allowed to observe the temple ceremonies—but only if circumcised.

Circumcision was a way to blend in with those who did not believe in Jesus Christ. The temple priests viewed the Christians with great concern, but as long as they submitted to the leadership of the temple, they tolerated them. And as long as they promoted circumcision, the temple understood that they were a legitimate, though unwelcome, part of Judaism.

14 But it may never be that I should boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

Boasting only in the cross of Christ is set in opposition to the boasting of the flesh that is pictured by physical circumcision. While the Judaizers may boast in their “covenant” relationship with God, established by physical circumcision, Paul boasts only in the cross. Judaizers boast of their Old Covenant relationship with God, while Paul boasts of the New Covenant relationship.

15 For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircum-cision, but a new creation.

The New Creation Man

Paul has already told us in Gal. 5:6 that circumcision does not mean anything in the sight of God. What is important is that we have become a new creation. The Body of Christ, formed by the New Covenant, is that new creation. The old creation was the old nation of Israel, created at Mount Sinai under Moses. That old creation failed to fulfill its covenant and was divorced from God. 2 Cor 5:17 says:

17 Therefore, if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature [creation]; the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.

One cannot be part of both the old Judaism and the new body of Christ that has now come. One must choose paths, for they lead to very different destinations. One leads to death, the other to life.

Dr. Lightfoot tells us that the expression new creation “is a common expression in Jewish writings for the one brought to the knowledge of the true God.” Paul uses the expression in similar fashion, except that the knowledge of the true God is in knowing Jesus Christ.

The New Creation Man is not the old man renewed. A New Creation is not a revived old man. It is not Ishmael made spiritual. It is not the old Jerusalem rebuilt. It is a new creation. Furthermore, “old things passed away.” The old man must die, for he was condemned at the beginning. Ishmael must be cast out. Jerusalem must be destroyed like a potter's vessel. All of these entities must pass away to make way for a “new creation.”

Christ in you is the new creation, begotten by the Father. Isaac is the new creation, born by promise in a supernatural way. The New Jerusalem comes down from heaven and does not have its origin in the earth. These are the permanent things that God is establishing.

The Judaizers were attempting to keep the old man alive, thinking that by adding Jesus, the old man could be saved and have immortality. They were attempting to convince Hagar to stay in Abraham's house to be the one bringing forth the promised seed. They were attempting to baptize Ishmael as the chosen one.

Paul makes it clear that this is not the proper way to interpret Scripture.

Even as Adam had his fleshly household, so also does the Last Adam have His household of faith. There are two different fathers involved here. To claim Adam as your father is to identify with a dying man. Paul had two “I's” in Romans 6. The Adamic “I” was the old man that sins and is dying. The “I” that is Christ in you is the new man that cannot sin and cannot die.

The real question is this: Who are you? Who do you identify as your father? Show me your Birth Certificate, and I will tell you your destiny.

The New Man Unites in Christ

The old fleshly religion had divided men by circumcision and has kept them aloof from God by means of the dividing wall in the temple. The new creation man has brought peace and harmony between all men, however different they may be in race, culture, or ability. Paul writes of this in Eph. 2:14, 15,

14 For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15 by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace. . . 18 for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father.

All who are part of this body of Christ have equal access to God, not needing Levitical priests to represent them, not being kept farther away from God by a dividing wall, not being less equal in the sight of God.

16 And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.

“This rule” is the rule of the new creation man. Whoever walks by this rule, whether circumcised or not, receives Paul’s blessing. “This rule” is derived from the Greek word for a carpenter’s line or a surveyor’s line by which direction is taken. In other words, those who go in this new direction, laid out by the surveyor of truth, will be blessed with peace and mercy.

The Israel of God—A New Identity

The Israel of God now receives a new definition. Having broken down the barrier to create “one new man,” this Israel is not racial but spiritual, based not upon genealogy or circumcision, but upon faith in the cross of Christ.

Jewish nationalistic pride was quick to say, “We are Abraham’s seed,” as in John 8:37, and “Abraham is our father,” as in John 8:39. But Jesus countered by saying that if they were truly Abraham’s seed, they would do His works. They would be men of faith even as Abraham was.

39 . . . If you are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham. 40 But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do. 41 You are doing the deeds of your father. . . . 44 You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father.

Being genealogically descended from Abraham does not mean that one can claim Abraham as his father. Neither can a man claim to be an Israelite without experiencing the same life-changing moment that Jacob experienced when he overcame the flesh.

This new definition of Israel is the original use of the term. Jacob was not born an Israelite. He was given the name Israel at the age of 98 after wrestling with the angel. The name was given to him as a testimony of his new revelation of the sovereignty of God. Israel means “God rules,” that is, God is sovereign.

Up to that time Jacob had believed God needed help in fulfilling the promise that had been given before he was born. He had contended with Esau and won. He had contended with Laban and had won again. This time he contended with the angel, and when he was injured in his thigh, he could no longer fight. Yet it was in losing that he succeeded in obtaining the blessing, for only then had he learned that God was well able to fulfill His Word without the help from Jacob’s flesh.

Hence, the name Israel was not originally a genealogical term (as it came to mean later). It indicated a new revelation, a new way of thinking and living. This marked the point where Jacob became an overcomer. He overcame the idea that God needed fleshly help to fulfill His promise.

This is how Paul uses the term “the Israel of God” in Gal. 6:16. He had received a new name, a new identity, along with all those who are in Christ and no longer depend upon the fleshly things of Hagar and Ishmael.

God’s Brand-Marks of Ownership

17 From now on let no one cause trouble for me, for I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus.

It was not uncommon for men to brand their slaves. These brands were marks of ownership. As a bondslave of Jesus Christ, Paul could point to the scars on his back as marks of divine ownership, for he tells us in 2 Cor. 11:24, 25,

24 Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes, 25 three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep [adrift at sea].

Paul’s back must have been quite a sight. Each lash tore the flesh that healed only with a scar.  Paul had 195 scars on his back from the five beatings that he received from the Jews, to say nothing of the scars caused by being beaten with rods.

Paul tells the Galatians, in effect, that those scars gave him the right to claim that he was owned by Jesus Christ, who also bore our lashes upon His back.

18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brethren. Amen.