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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable
Galatians 6

 

 

Verse 1

1. Toward sinning Christians6:1

"Walking by the Spirit will mean not only avoidance of mutual provocation and envy ( Galatians 5:26) but also, positively, the rehabilitation of those who have lapsed into sin." [Note: Fung, p284.]

The situation Paul envisioned here is that of sin overtaking a Christian as a runner overtakes a walker. It is not that God has caught him in the act of sinning as much as that sin has gotten the better of him in a particular instance. He has been surprised by sin rather than detected in it. "Trespass" (Gr. paraptoma) is not habitual action but an isolated act. Neither is it intentional sin but inadvertent wrongdoing (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:11; Romans 16:17).

The spiritual Christian should restore such a person, help such a one to his or her feet. Elsewhere the Greek word, katartizo, refers to mending nets ( Matthew 4:21; Mark 1:19) and setting a fractured or dislocated bone. [Note: Lightfoot, p215.] This may involve confrontation (cf. Matthew 18:15-17). However the "spiritual" Christian is the one that should do this, namely, one whose life bears the fruit of the Spirit because he or she habitually walks by the Spirit ( Galatians 5:16; Galatians 5:25). The more spiritually mature, having walked by the Spirit for some time, the better (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:15; Hebrews 5:13-14). The spiritual Christian must restore the Christian who has stumbled gently, carefully, and cautiously (cf. Galatians 5:23). The spiritual Christian can avoid a spirit of self-righteousness in dealing with those who stumble by remembering his or her own personal vulnerability to temptation. [Note: For general studies of church discipline, see J. Carl Laney, "The Biblical Practice of Church Discipline," Bibliotheca Sacra143:572 (October-December1986):353-64; and Ted G. Kitchens, "Perimeters of Corrective Church Discipline," Bibliotheca Sacra148:590 (April-June1991):201-13.]

"It [the restoration in view] concerns restoration to a former spiritual condition. Absent from the context is any indication that Paul was concerned with restoration to leadership. Rehabilitating the sinner, not reinstating the leader, was the primary issue. However, these situations, though not identical, need not be mutually exclusive. It certainly seems reasonable to suppose that Paul envisioned restoration to some sort of usefulness, which in some cases might involve the restoration to leadership. Therefore Galatians 6:1, while not referring specifically to reinstating a fallen leader to his former position, certainly leaves open that possibility." [Note: Jay E. Smith, "Can Fallen Leaders Be Restored to Leadership? Bibliotheca Sacra151:604 (October-December1994):468.]


Verses 1-10

B. Responsibilities of the Christian life6:1-10

Being free from the Mosaic Law does not mean being free from responsibility. In this section Paul explained various responsibilities that Christians have to one another to clarify the will of God for his readers. Manifesting the fruit of the Spirit is not a mystical experience. Paul said spirituality is evident in personal relationships ( Galatians 6:1-5) and in the use of money ( Galatians 6:6-10).


Verse 2

In view of the context probably the burden Paul had in mind was an excessive burden of particular temptation and struggle with the flesh (cf. Romans 15:1). This could be a burden caused by social, economic, spiritual, or other conditions. Galatians 6:1 deals with restoration and this section ( Galatians 6:2-5) with prevention. We can bear by praying and perhaps counseling together.

"Human friendship, in which we bear one another"s burdens, is part of the purpose of God for his people. So we should not keep our burdens to ourselves, but rather seek a Christian friend who will help to bear them with us." [Note: Stott, p158.]

Paul probably referred to the "law of Christ" (cf. Galatians 5:14; John 13:34; 1 Corinthians 9:21) to help his readers realize that freedom from the Mosaic Law does not mean freedom from all responsibility. The "law of Christ" encompasses the whole of Jesus" teaching personally while He was on earth and through His apostles and prophets from heaven following His ascension (cf. Acts 1:1-2). It boils down to the command to love God wholeheartedly and one"s neighbor as oneself ( Matthew 22:36-40; John 13:34-35; John 15:12; 1 John 3:23).

" Galatians , which in attacking "Jewish" legalism proclaims the true freedom based on Christ, consequently contains more exhortation, admonition, and summons to obey the "law of Christ" ... than any other letter, and to quite a remarkable degree-a third of the whole letter." [Note: Bornkamm, p83.]

The law of Christ is the code of commandments under which Christians live. It is the same as New Covenant responsibility. [Note: Femi Adeyemi, "The New Covenant Law and the Law of Christ," Bibliotheca Sacra163:652 (October-December2006):438-52.] Some of the commandments Christ and His apostles gave us are the same as those that Moses gave the Israelites. However this does not mean that we are under the Mosaic Code. Residents of the United States live under a code of laws that is similar to, but different from, the code of laws that govern residents of England. Some of our laws are the same as theirs, and others are different. Because some laws are the same we should not conclude that the codes are the same. Christians no longer live under the Mosaic Law; we live under a new code, the law of Christ (cf. Galatians 5:1).

This may at first sound as if we are under law as Christians after all. Paul contrasted law with grace because the primary characteristic of the Mosaic Law was its legal character whereas the primary characteristic of the law of Christ is its gracious character. He did not mean that there is no law under grace any more than he meant that there was no grace under the Mosaic Law. The motivation for keeping the Mosaic Law was external for the Old Testament believer, but the motivation for keeping the law of Christ is internal. Our motivation comes from the indwelling Holy Spirit ( Philippians 2:13), though Paul did not emphasize this motivation in chapter6.


Verses 2-5

2. Toward burdened Christians6:2-5


Verse 3-4

In the context the high-minded person probably is one who thinks himself above helping another bear an excessive burden. One remedy for this is to remember that we are not intrinsically superior (cf. Romans 12:3). An objective review of our accomplishments should also remind us that the only legitimate ground for justifiable self-satisfaction is God"s working through us ( Galatians 6:4). The emphasis is on personal responsibility.

"Two errors might keep a believer from fulfilling this role [of bearing one another"s burdens]. The first is conceit, that Isaiah , thinking himself to be more important than he is.... The second ... is to be always comparing himself and his own work with others [ Galatians 6:4]." [Note: Boice, p502.]

". . . there is a great difference between introspection and self-examination. The former can easily devolve into a kind of narcissistic, spiritual navel-gazing that has more in common with types of Eastern mysticism than with classic models of the devotional life in historic Christianity. True self-examination is not merely taking one"s spiritual pulse beat on a regular basis but rather submitting one"s thoughts, attitudes, and actions to the will of God and the mind of Christ revealed in Holy Scripture." [Note: George, p417. Cf1Corinthians11:28.]


Verse 5

This verse gives a reason for the injunction in Galatians 6:4. Every Christian is responsible to carry his own weight. We all have a load to bear, but it is comparatively light ( Matthew 11:30). The burden in Galatians 6:2 is an excessive burden. The load in Galatians 6:5 is our normal burden of responsibility. Paul used two different Greek words to describe these two burdens (bare and phortion respectively).

"Those are best able to sustain another who have proved their own power to be sustained in trials of their own." [Note: Guthrie, Galatians , pp144-45.]


Verse 6

Here is a specific example of mutual burden-bearing. Perhaps the Judaizers were telling the Galatians not to support financially those who taught them. Under Judaism pupils paid a tax, and the teachers" pay came through the Jewish government. The Galatian Gentiles customarily paid fees for services rendered. The concept of voluntary giving out of love for the teacher was new and different. Those who learn from Bible teachers who provide the spiritual needs of others should provide them with "all good things" including their physical needs (cf. Luke 10:7; 1 Timothy 5:18; 1 Corinthians 9:11; 1 Corinthians 9:14). Paul regarded the acceptance of gifts as a right one could claim or not claim depending on other factors. He did not regard accepting such gifts as the teacher"s duty but offering them as the learner"s duty.


Verses 6-9

3. Toward teachers6:6-9


Verses 7-9

If a person selfishly withholds what he has, he will not see God multiply it and bless him with it. If he follows the prompting of his sinful nature in his investments, he will reap death, but if he follows the Spirit, he will reap life. This is not saying he will necessarily die but that his sowing will yield a disappointing harvest. Neither is it saying that he can earn justification. It is saying that his sowing will yield the best harvest. Our harvest will suffer if we grow weary and stop sowing. Remember that the context of this section is the support of Christian workers, though these principles certainly have wider application.

"Paul here seems to regard the whole of a man"s earthly life as a period of sowing, with harvest awaiting him on the last day: the eschatological yield is determined by present sowing." [Note: Fung, p295.]

The term "eternal life" has two different though related meanings in the New Testament. Essentially it is the life of God that He shares with believers. On the one hand, the New Testament writers spoke of it as a gift that one receives by faith ( John 10:28; et al.). However it also refers to the quality of the believer"s life that depends on the extent to which he or she walks with God in fellowship ( John 10:10). In this second sense, some believers experience eternal life to a greater extent than other believers do. It is in this second sense that Paul spoke of eternal life here. [Note: See Dillow, pp135-45; Zane C. Hodges, The Gospel Under Siege, p81; and Bob Wilkin, "Sow for It! Reaping Abundant Eternal Life as a Reward ( Galatians 6:8-9)," Grace Evangelical Society News5:8 (August1990):2.]

"It is extremely important to note that in every place where eternal life is presented as something which can be obtained by works, it is contextually always described as a future acquisition. Conversely, whenever eternal life is described as something in the present, it is obtained by faith alone." [Note: Dillow, p140.]

Paul did not refer to the concept of eternal life as much as John did.

The condition for this reward is not growing weary. The same expression describes a bowstring that has become unstrung. [Note: Robertson, 4:317.] What causes this sad state is losing heart. Giving up mentally leads to growing faint spiritually.

"It is easy for the servants of God to become discouraged: the opposition they meet is so constant and the good they are trying to do is so hard to accomplish." [Note: Morris, p183.]


Verse 10

4. Toward all people6:10

Christians have a responsibility to do what is good to all people, including the unsaved. We have a special responsibility to other Christians as we have opportunity, as we hear of a need and have the resources to help. As in a home, family needs come first, then those of the neighbors.

"Every poor and distressed man had [sic] a claim on me for pity, and, if I can afford it, for active exertion and pecuniary relief. But a poor Christian has a far stronger claim on my feelings, my labors, and my property. He is my brother, equally interested as myself in the blood and love of the Redeemer. I expect to spend an eternity with him in heaven. He is the representative of my unseen Savior, and he considers everything done to his poor afflicted as done to himself. For a Christian to be unkind to a Christian is not only wrong, it is monstrous." [Note: J. Brown, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Galatians , p348.]


Verse 11

Evidently Paul wrote the rest of this letter himself. He probably dictated the former verses to a scribe (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:21; Colossians 4:18; 2 Thessalonians 3:17). The "large letters" were probably capitals used for the sake of emphasis and to distinguish Paul"s handwriting from his secretary"s.

Betz observed that what Paul wrote with his own hand "contains the interpretive clues to the understanding of Paul"s major concerns in the latter as a whole and should be employed as the hermeneutical key to the intentions of the Apostle." [Note: Betz, pp312-13.]


Verses 11-18

V. CONCLUSION6:11-18

In this section Paul summarized some of his more important points. He also appealed to his readers again urging them to follow through and to put into practice what he had taught them.

"Before concluding his letter Paul returns once more to the antithesis of cross and circumcision, setting them forth this time as representing respectively the true and the false ground of boasting, and thus carrying a stage further his polemic against the Judaizers and their way of legal observance (cf. Galatians 5:2-12)." [Note: Fung, p300.]

". . . the subscription [ Galatians 6:11-18] provides important clues for understanding the issues discussed throughout Galatians , particularly those having to do with the judaizing threat brought into the churches by certain legalistically oriented Jewish Christians, for it not only summarizes the main points dealt with earlier in the letter but also allows us to cut through all of the verbage [sic] and see matters in their essence as Paul saw them." [Note: Longenecker, p301.]


Verse 12-13

The Jews would not persecute the false teachers as much as they would the apostles since the false teachers required their converts to undergo circumcision. Also they desired to please men, and they wanted to boast, inappropriately, about their converts in Galatia.

"Whereas Paul was concerned about the Spirit"s inward work in his converts, so that Christ should be "formed" in them (cf. Galatians 4:19), the Judaizers" concern was for an external Mark , a mark produced in the "flesh" of those whom they could win over to their side." [Note: Bruce, p268.]

"The cross of Christ" ( Galatians 6:12) stands here for the whole doctrine of justification by faith alone that Paul had been defending in this epistle. [Note: Fung, p305.]


Verse 14-15

Paul boasted only in Christ"s cross, the work of Christ for him. That was all he took pride in. The Cross was a symbol of shame. Because of the Cross the world system had lost its appeal to Paul, and he had lost his appeal to the world. Now circumcision was unimportant. Only being a new creation in Christ mattered (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17).

"It is difficult after sixteen centuries and more during which the cross has been a sacred symbol, to realize the unspeakable horror and loathing which the very mention or thought of the cross provoked in Paul"s day. The word crux was unmentionable in polite Roman society ...; even when one was being condemned to death by crucifixion the sentence used an archaic formula which served as a sort of euphemism ...

"But Paul, Roman citizen by birth and religious Jew by upbringing, not only dismisses as the merest refuse (skubala, Philippians 3:8) those things in which he had once taken a proper pride but embraces as the most worth-while goal in life the knowledge of the crucified Christ and boasts in his cross-a shocking paradox indeed." [Note: Bruce, p271.]


Verse 16

Paul wished for God"s peace and mercy for all who walked by the rule he had expounded, namely, faith apart from works.

"It is interesting that he goes on: according to this rule, for he has been opposing people who subjected believers to strict rules. But rule (= "straight rod", BAGD) points us to the authentic way, the one right path on which to walk." [Note: Morris, p190. BAGD is Walter Bauer"s A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Teatament and Other Early Christian Literature, revised and augmented by William F. Arndt, F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker (5th ed, 1979).]

"This conditional blessing at the end of the letter stands in marked contrast to the conditional curse with which Paul opened his epistle ( Galatians 1:6-9)." [Note: George, p439.]

Especially he wished this for the "Israel of God." This unusual title refers to saved Jews. It describes a second group in the verse, not the same group. Note the repetition of "upon" that makes this distinction. Also "Israel" always refers to physical Jews everywhere else in the New Testament (65 times). So we would expect that meaning here unless clues to a different meaning were present, which they are not. Furthermore it would be natural for Paul to single out Christian Jews for special mention since in this epistle he sounded almost anti-Semitic. Therefore it is better to take this phrase in its regular usage rather than as a unique designation for the church as a whole, as many non-dispensationalists do. [Note: See S. Lewis Johnson Jeremiah , "Paul and "The Israel of God": An Exegetical and Eschatological Case-Study," in Essays in Honor of J. Dwight Pentecost, pp181-96; Saucy, The Case ..., pp198-202; Harrison, p1298. For the covenant theology position that equates Israel and the church, see Thomas R. Schreiner, "The Church As the New Israel and the Future of Ethnic Israel in Paul," Studia Biblica et Theologica3:3 (April1983):17-38.]

"Strong confirmation of this position [i.e, that "Israel" refers to Jews in the New Testament] comes from the total absence of an identification of the church with Israel until A.D160; and also from the total absence, even then, of the term "Israel of God" to characterize the church." [Note: Peter Richardson, Israel in the Apostolic Church, p83 , n2.]

"The conclusion is that the church is never called a "spiritual Israel" or a "new Israel." The term Israel is either used of the nation or the people as a whole, or of the believing remnant within. It is never used of the church in general or of Gentile believers in particular. In fact, even after the Cross there remains a threefold distinction. First, there is a distinction between Israel and the Gentiles as in 1 Corinthians 10:32 and Ephesians 2:11-12. Second, there is a distinction between Israel and the church in 1 Corinthians 10:32. Third, there is a distinction between Jewish believers (the Israel of God) and Gentile believers in Romans 9:6 and Galatians 6:16." [Note: Fruchtenbaum, p126.]


Verse 17-18

In closing, Paul appealed to his readers to end the controversy in Galatia that had caused him so much trouble and distraction as Christ"s bond-slave. He cited the scars he had received as the target of persecution, in contrast to circumcision, as his final proof of his devotion to Christ (cf. Deuteronomy 15:17). He may have received some of these scars when the people of Lystra stoned him during his preaching tour of Galatia ( Acts 14:19-20; cf. 2 Corinthians 11:25). Paul was not a "people pleaser."

"If a thing costs us nothing men will value it at nothing." [Note: Barclay, p11.]

"These genuine and honorable marks in the body contrast strikingly with the ritualistic and now meaningless mark (circumcision) the legalizers wished to impose on the Galatians." [Note: Boice, p508.]

". . . Paul"s readers immediately would have identified the branding of the flesh with slavery, for slaves in the ancient world frequently were marked with the insignia of their master as a badge of identification." [Note: George, p442.]

Paul finally appealed for God"s grace to be the portion of the Galatians (cf. Galatians 1:3). "Your spirit" means "you." As in no other of his epistles, he bid farewell by referring to his readers tenderly as "brethren."

Whereas this epistle began very solemnly and harshly ( Galatians 1:6-9), Paul"s tone mellowed as he proceeded (e.g, Galatians 4:19). It ends on an uncommonly loving note (cf. Philemon 1:25; Philippians 4:23).

 


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Bibliography Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Galatians 6:4". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/galatians-6.html. 2012.

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Sunday, November 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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