The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Galatians 5

Gal 5:1

The contrast between the observance of the law of Moses and belief in the gospel in Christ is so stark. The law bound men and women. Christ frees men and women. They should have known that the law was a burden that they had not been able to bear. This had been the conclusion at the "Jerusalem council" (Acts 15:10).

IT IS FOR FREEDOM THAT CHRIST HAS SET US FREE: "No man is free who is not master of himself" (Epictetus, 1-2nd cent Stoic, Rome).

"The basic test of freedom is less in what we are free to do than in what we are free not to do" (E Hoffer).

"There are two freedoms: the false where one is free to do what he likes, and the true where one is free to do what he ought."

"Scripture is a never-failing treasury filled with boundless stores of grace. It is the bank of heaven; you may draw from it as much as you please, without let or hindrance. Come in faith and you are welcome to all covenant blessings. There is not a promise in the Word which shall be withheld. In the depths of tribulations let this freedom comfort you; amidst waves of distress let it cheer you; when sorrows surround thee let it be thy solace. This is thy Father's love-token; thou art free to it at all times. Thou art also free to the throne of grace. It is the believer's privilege to have access at all times to His heavenly Father. Whatever our desires, our difficulties, our wants, we are at liberty to spread all before Him. It matters not how much we may have sinned, we may ask and expect pardon. It signifies nothing how poor we are; we may plead His promise that He will provide all things needful. We have permission to approach His throne at all times -- in midnight's darkest hour, or in noontide's most burning heat. Thou art free to all that is treasured up in Christ -- wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. It matters not what thy need is, for there is fulness of supply in Christ, and it is there for thee. O what a 'freedom' is thine! freedom from condemnation, freedom to the promises, freedom to the throne of grace" (CHS).

Gal 5:6

FAITH EXPRESSING ITSELF THROUGH LOVE: "Working for God is not enough, even though it is intense, compulsive and total. That indeed is important, but two other things are even more important: love of God, and holiness of life. There can be a dead work without love (though it may give a wonderful appearance of 'life'). But there cannot be the true required Love without both Holiness and Work. 'Faith that works by Love' is the golden key to life" (GVG).

Gal 5:11

Gal 5:11.

THE OFFENSE OF THE CROSS: The shame for a Jew that his Messiah was crucified, and that salvation by faith requires submission to the curse of the Law (Gal 3:13).

Gal 5:12

AND EMASCULATE THEMSELVES: The "cutting off" [ie, KJV] here has absolutely no relevance as a popular catch-phrase to justify wholesale excommunication. In the first place, Paul displays a marked reluctance to be more drastic in action than necessary: "I would ...." is about as far from a peremptory command as can be imagined. Coupled with v 10 -- "The one who is throwing you into confusion will pay the penalty" -- this passages presents the picture of the inspired apostle as being far from in a hurry to apply the surgical knife -- and this to one person! Where the rest are concerned, there is no hint of drastic discipline. What would Paul say if he were to view the drastic and unwarranted "cutting off" from fellowship performed by some "purists" today? Might he not say something like this?: 'I would they would completely cut off everyone, and then the rest of us might have some peace for the upbuilding of the ecclesias.'

But all of this is really beside the point, for this verse has a very specialized meaning. The word "cut off" is apokopto, which means "to cut away"; it is so used of members of the body: "If thy hand offend thee, cut it off" (Mar 9:43,45); "Then Peter.... cut off his right ear" (Joh 18:10,26). In Gal 5:12 the verb is in the middle voice, thus signifying one of two things: either (a) to cut oneself off, metaphorically, from the "body" of Christ, or (b) literally to mutilate one's own body, by cutting off one's members. The second of these two possibilities is favored by numerous versions: "I wish those who unsettle you would mutilate themselves" (RSV). "I would they would even mutilate themselves" (RV margin).

"As for these agitators, they had better go all the way and make eunuchs of themselves!" (NEB). Paul, in Gal, has been denouncing those who would make circumcision a "test of fellowship" (Gal 5:1-4,11).

Why do they not, says Paul, since they have such faith in the knife, practice the complete mutilation which was common among the devotees of Cybele? In modern times this interpretation has been rejected on the grounds of coarseness, but if we remember that in turning to Judaism the Galatians were virtually turning back in principle to the rite of the nature worship of their pagan days....then Paul's words practically mean that if the Judaizer were leading them back, then let him consistently go the whole way and in mutilation of self exhibit in symbol the destruction of self in the complete sense" (CGal 123).

So Paul here is not referring to withdrawal of fellowship, but to castration! (If the idea still seems far-fetched, note that an early Christian "bishop", Origen, in an excess of zeal, did this very thing!) An angry Paul, reserving his harshest language for those who would add new criteria for fellowship, is deriding the negative and destructive policy of "salvation by cutting-off" in the strongest possible terms. We do well to remind ourselves that the philosophy of "salvation by separation", in one form or another, has been practiced throughout the ages. It is not newly sprung up in modern days.

Gal 5:13

Believers are called to: liberty (Gal 5:13); blessing (1Pe 3:9); peace (1Co 7:15); and glory (2Pe 1:3).

SERVE ONE ANOTHER IN LOVE: "To find our life, we must lose it. To exalt ourselves, we must abase ourselves. To rule, we must serve. To conquer, we must yield. To attain our own welfare, we must seek that of others. Everything is the reverse of the flesh's way and the world's conceptions. If we pursue happiness and pleasure and satisfaction directly and for their own sake, they mockingly flee from us, and, like the will-of-the-wisp, lead us at last to a bottomless bog. They can be found only where God's infinite wisdom and love has carefully and wonderfully placed them: in sacrifice and service and self-forgetfulness. Forget yourself in outgoing service and love, and you'll be happy. Dwell on yourself in in-turned, self-seeking and self-centeredness, and you'll be miserable" (GVG).

Gal 5:14

"There is beautiful liberty [cp Gal 5:1] in this injunction -- liberty to serve, and thus fulfil the law of Christ. It includes all the law under which we live, for Paul says that all the law is fulfilled in loving one's neighbour as one's self; and again: 'Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ' " (GbS 69).

Gal 5:15

Don't be a "Cannibal Christian"!

"Of the seven deadly sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back -- in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you" (Frederick Buechner, "Wishful Thinking, Transformed by Thorns" 117).

Gal 5:16

The outward sign of circumcision symbolized a "cutting off" of lusts of the flesh. But the symbol was borne by many who made no effort to translate it into action. Cp Rom 2:25-29; CGal 128.

Gal 5:17

THEY ARE IN CONFLICT WITH EACH OTHER: "We must be constantly aware of flesh and spirit, and of the death and life distinction between them. Whatever we do naturally and thoughtlessly is of the flesh, and is not pleasing to God, even though it may be 'good' in itself -- for it is not of faith, nor done unto Him. All we do must be done unto Him, for spiritual purposes, and in some way contributing to His glory, and His people's eternal welfare" (GVG).

Gal 5:19

Vv 19,20: Acts/works -- plural. But vv 22,23: fruit -- singular, though multitudinous.

Gal 5:22

Vv 22,23: Love is THE 'fruit' of the Spirit. It is preeminent among Christian virtues (1Co 13). It is the perfect fulfillment of the Law (Mat 22:37,39). Scripturally understood, it is not just an "emotion" or a "feeling"; it is... an action! Therefore, love is the basis of every other aspect of Spiritual fruit:

JOY is love exalted.
PEACE is love in repose.
PATIENCE is love enduring.
KINDNESS is love in society.
GOODNESS is love in action.
FAITHFULNESS is love overcoming.
GENTLENESS is love in submission.
SELF-CONTROL is love under discipline.

" 'The fruit of the Spirit is love' -- and if you can receive it, these [the other attributes of the Spirit] are the flavours, textures, colours: different and detectable but all part of the one fruit. Remember one thing: fruit is not magic. It does not appear overnight: growth is real but slow. Protection and cultivation are vital. Setbacks there will be. Waiting and working are not always contradictory. Let us never lose heart. It is, after all, the fruit of the Spirit. Fruit is God-created, not man-made" (GD).

JOY: "Once before we stressed that joy is not one blinding flash of ecstatic happiness which comes suddenly and then is gone. It is a constant force of shared delight which is undisturbed by circumstances, good or bad; in a sense detached from the undulation of life but always sensitive to the needs they create. That means that joy cannot be enjoyed in isolation. Joy cannot be hoarded. When joy is gathered it is gathered in order to be spread. It is not drinking at the stream to quench our thirst alone; it is drinking for the common wealth; it is taking the water into the desert for thirsty souls; it is putting a little sweetness into the drabness of somebody's day, a little companionship into somebody's loneliness. Joy active is moved by the impetus of love for some other soul... Whichever way you look at it, joy is part of the fruit of the spirit. Fruit is not a flash-in-the-pan thing. It is permanent, solid, substantial. The growth is real but often imperceptible. Slowness is not failure. It is there on dull days as well as sunshine days. If joy sings it never tires. There is a song for June and a song for January. The word for joy is a common word. It is not a red-letter word, flaming with passion. It means something steady, quiet, divinely wonderful, like fruit. It means gladness, common delight -- a sense of quiet assurance" (GD).

PEACE: "We have referred before to the peace of the tranquil pond covered with weed. But that peace of stagnation is not the peace which is love mastered. True Biblical peace is the union of conflicting forces, concord where otherwise there might be strife. It is not the burying of the hatchet for the sake of quietness. Hatchets can be dug up and too often they are. Peace through love means ending strife and bringing harmony because of love for those who are estranged, making peace for love of him who said, 'Blessed are the peacemakers.' Peace is the ministry of healing. It is not always easy, but let us know that at its head there is a file leader and he is called 'the Prince of Peace' " (GD).

PATIENCE: "Longsuffering" in KJV. "It is an old-fashioned word. A more modern equivalent might be 'long temperedness.' It is having infinite patience. Some people say, 'I am quick tempered; I cannot help it.' The writer has sympathy, but knows we must try to help it. It calls us to resist the temptation, so often faced, when we say, 'I have put up with this long enough...' The only force which will make short-tempered people into long-sufferers is love. How often have we heard it! We say, 'Why she puts up with it I cannot tell.' The explanation may be that she is long-suffering. Do not be too harsh with her. Remember, 'Love suffers long and then speaks its mind'? That must be a different Bible. Remember rather, 'Love suffereth long and is kind.' Hear it again, 'Love beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things': not some things, but all things. This is long temperedness" (GD).

KINDNESS: "Vine... says that this word has the idea of goodness of heart with an especial reference to service. It is more than having kind thoughts -- it is a very practical word. James would have liked it. He knew that blankets are better than talk. It is not doing great things occasionally; it is doing small things regularly, and not minding that they seem so small. It is having a keen-eyed but unobtrusive capacity to discern the need and to meet it lovingly. Fame and reward have no place here. Put simply, kindness is love communicating" (GD).

GOODNESS: "The writer remembers reading once that children are good, adults are righteous. That may be, but by this word adults are called to be good as well. It is a divine word. God said to Moses, 'I will let all my goodness pass before thee', and it revealed the glory of the Lord. It means doing good things and refusing to do bad things. Joseph is a good example: 'How can I do this great evil and sin against God?' It is love of that which is good and hatred of that which is evil; doing good for the love of God and for the love of those who love you; refusing evil because it may break somebody's heart. Goodness in order to be respectable is one thing -- goodness for love's sake is another. David once came to Jerusalem and said: 'Are there any here of the house of Saul whom I may love for Jonathan's sake?' And they brought to him poor Mephibosheth, who was lame in both feet and lived in obscurity. David set him at the royal table and cared for him. That is goodness: doing good for love's sake" (GD).

FAITHFULNESS: "This has to do with integrity. It is another word for fidelity. It means being faithful to your word: true to your accepted responsibility, whether in business, in marriage, in the ecclesia. It outlaws the thought of shirking or shedding your duty, be the reason ever so plausible. It means being very careful about your promises and about your relationship with others. It means being ready to give up your own special preferences, your own scruples, your own strong opinions, if they may hinder your brother or sister or cause them to sin. It means loyalty to the Truth, even if it means a diminution of your rights, an interference with your progress, risking your reputation. It will garrison a disciple against the possibility of filling his mouth with other people's faults when he ought to ponder his own. How on earth will people behave faithfully in the face of these temptations? -- only through love, love of God, love of the truth, love of God's other children" (GD).

Gal 5:23

GENTLENESS: See Lesson, Gentleness.

"Meekness" in KJV: "A speaker once said that to be meek you have to be unconscious. He was probably right. Conscious humility tends to be contrived. But it is not easy. Some virtues can be practised, but not meekness. As the man said, it is unconscious. Doing good sometimes makes people puffed up. The best advice seems to be to do your work for Christ faithfully and try not to think about yourself. Do not look for opportunities to do great things -- you may have to wait half a lifetime. Do the commonplace well and faithfully. Do not mind that it seems so commonplace. There is nothing menial in the service of the King. The NT writers proceed in the belief that the driving force for our labour of love is the love of the Redeemer -- understood and realised. They say, 'The love of Christ constraineth us.' If we really believe it we are not so likely to get puffed up. We may even become meek" (GD).

SELF-CONTROL: "Temperance" in KJV: "This describes, or has come to describe, a special kind of abstinence: abstinence from intoxicating liquor. The problem is that the absolute nature of teetotalism may in a way be intemperate. Be that as it may, the real meaning of temperance in this passage is self-control. This is a hard thing to achieve if you are prompted by the wrong motives. Control through fear is a struggle which is likely to end in failure. Control for the sake of respectability or through anxiety to avoid detection is at best fragile. Sometimes if the circumstances change, the control is abandoned. When all is said and done the best motive for self-control is love. If we take care of our behaviour -- that is, we exercise the use of our freedom carefully, in consideration of our brethren and sisters, that is the highest motive of all and most likely to succeed. Love of our brethren: love desiring their advancement; love seeking their salvation -- what a blessing it is so to live your life that none of God's family is ever harmed but rather blessed and encouraged, strengthened and provoked to love and good works. Disciples moved by temperance have shed their hobnail boots. They walk gently and circumspectly for love's sake. Temperance is the triumph of love" (GD).

Gal 5:25

SINCE WE LIVE BY THE SPIRIT, LET US KEEP IN STEP WITH THE SPIRIT: Or, as AV, "If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.." "You will never find true faith unattended by true godliness; on the other hand, you will never discover a truly holy life which has not for its root a living faith upon the righteousness of Christ" (CHS).

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