Saturday, June 16, 2018

Reading Through Galatians #2 (4-6)

galatiansThis post concludes the read through of Paul’s letter to the Galatians accompanied by Galatians, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, by G. Walter Hansen. Paul calls us, and the Galatians to live our lives by faith in Christ and rely on His Spirit as we discipline our lives to serve and love  others. I am posting from my reading in the New Testament accompanied by various commentaries on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the book are in blue.

Paul continues his rebuke from scripture of the legalists in the Galatian church in chapter 4. First, he compares the role of the law to that of a pedagogue - discipline of a minor son. Now he makes the point that the need for a pedagogue is gone with the incarnation of Christ and the redemption he has provided. To go back to the law would be like an adult son going back under a kindergarten teacher. Paul then points to his own example of living as a Gentile in order to preach and live out the gospel before the Galatians. Had he not done that the Galatians would never have come into the family of God. Finally, he uses the story of Isaac and Ishmael to counter the arguments of the false teachers in the Galatian churches. The law was temporary, and to go back under it would be to reject the promise embodied in Christ and go back into a slavery that never enabled people to live as they should. Paul calls people to a freedom to live as representatives of the New Jerusalem fulfilling the promises of God.

Christ is uniquely qualified to fulfill these two purposes. Because he is the Son of God, he is able to give the position and rights of his sonship to sinful people. Because he became fully human, he is able to represent and redeem all humankind. And because he rendered perfect obedience to God and bore the curse of God against the disobedient, he is able to redeem those under the law. Galatians 4.1-11

The same practice of identification is necessary today, if we are going to communicate the gospel effectively to people. We must put ourselves in their place, eat what they eat, dress as they dress, talk their language, experience their joys and sorrows, and enter into their way of thinking. If we want people to become like us in our commitment to Christ, then we must become one with them. Galatians 4.12-20

The freedom-slavery and Spirit-flesh antitheses which Paul has constructed in his allegory serve as the framework for his ethical instructions in the rest of the letter. The children of the free woman, who were born by the power of the Spirit (v. 29) must learn to express their freedom by walking in the Spirit. They must not submit to slavery under the law or gratify the desires of the flesh. Identity is the basis of behavior: a clear understanding of who we are in Christ guides our conduct in the Spirit. Galatians 4.21-31

In chapter 5 Paul calls believers to live out and defend the freedom that Christ has provided. To rely on one's own works or membership in an ethnic group or church is to be "cut off" from Christ and his benefits. Instead, Paul calls us to live by the power of the Spirit, trusting Christ's righteousness. We live by faith, worked out in our lives by loving God and others. Nothing else counts with God. Next Paul exposes the methods and motives of the false teachers. The main thing false teachers do is deemphasize the gospel. With persuasive words and emphasis on ritual, (they appear to be very spiritual) they spread confusion and lies within the church. As they try to control the church they destroy it. Instead Paul calls Christians to live a life of love empowered by the Spirit. The Spirit filled life enables God's people to live in a way that brings glory to God and serves the needs of others. The law is not really needed to show us what those actions are (5.19). Paul does not dwell on the obvious sins, but on the ones that religious people do (envy, selfishness, ambition) to control others, advance their own agenda or indulge their own desires. In contrast the indwelling Spirit inevitably produces "fruit" - attitudes and actions of love that honor God and others above ourselves. This fulfills the purpose of the law to produce the image of God in God's people.

Paul does not appeal to his readers to fight to be free. Our Christian freedom is not the result of our long march. We have not liberated ourselves by our efforts. We are not able to do so. But now that freedom has been given to us by Christ, that freedom is our goal and our responsibility. Galatians 5:1-6

It is never pleasant to expose the deceptive, destructive tactics of the “false brothers.” But it is necessary to do so in order to protect the freedom of fellow Christians. Of course circumcision is not an issue today. But we are constantly faced with a choice between different religious options. They are not all the same; they are not all spokes on a wheel leading to the same hub. Some religious options lead to slavery and imprisonment. Only by obedience to the truth of the gospel of Christ can we protect the freedom that is ours in Christ. Galatians 5:7-12

The Spirit sets the line and the pace for us to follow. Keeping in step with the Spirit takes active concentration and discipline of the whole person. We constantly see many alternative paths to follow; we reject them to follow the Spirit. We constantly hear other drummers who want to quicken or slow down our pace; we tune them out to listen only to the Spirit. Galatians 5:13-26

Paul closes the main argument of the letter in 6.1-10 by emphasizing that real Christian spirituality and leadership are seen as we evaluate ourselves based on the standard of the self-giving love of Christ that took him to the cross and by fulfilling our responsibilities to serve other Christians and the corporate needs of the church. This especially includes gently helping to restore sinners within the church and supporting the church's leaders/teachers. The motive for this is that everything we do to serve Christ and love others is an investment in eternal reward. This is why we must persevere in doing good to one another as we build the church family together.  

All who are united with Christ and are led by the Spirit will also fulfill the high standard of love established by the life, death and resurrection of Christ: like him, they will love sinners and carry their burdens. Serving one another in love in this way expresses Christ’s love and so fulfills Christ’s law. Galatians 6.1-2

We are not victims of fate, bad luck or even predestination. Our destiny is determined by our decision: shall we sow to the sinful nature or to the Spirit? The old proverb is true: “Sow a thought, reap an act; sow an act, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.” Galatians 6.3-10

Paul closes the letter with a greeting written in his own hand. First, he summarizes the main point of the letter. The false teachers are really only concerned about their own reputations, personal safety and ethnic pride. In contrast real Christians have "died" to those things and are concerned about following Jesus in self-sacrificial love for God and others. This is the way to real peace with God and with one another and is the way that God's people will share together in the blessings of his kingdom.

All prideful boasting is excluded by the cross of Christ, because identification with Christ in his death on the cross results in the death of all reasons for such boasting...The world is characterized by prideful boasting about national identity, social status and religious practices. When I live in the world, my life will inevitably be characterized by such boasting. But when I die, the way of the world will no longer govern my life. My belief in the cross of Christ includes not only the realization that he died for me to rescue me from judgment under the law of God, but also the constant awareness that I must reckon myself to have died with him. Galatians 6.11-18

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