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Bible Commentaries

Contending for the Faith

Galatians 5

Verse 1


Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.

Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free: Paul has been teaching the Galatians about the bondage of the law of Moses, how they have been delivered from that bondage, and how they have become a part of the true gospel by their reception of his preaching and obedience to it. All of these blessings have been proved by their receiving the gifts of the Spirit. In the previous two verses, he has admonished them to cast out the law because they are children of the "freewoman" and are, therefore, born into a state of freedom--freedom from the law of Moses. They are to stand fast in the gospel as opposed to what he states about them in Galatians 1:6 where they are undergoing a change. This is his message to the church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 15:1-2). The liberty they are to stand in is the freedom resulting from believing and obeying the truth (John 8:31-32). Here this liberty is specifically opposed to the bondage of the law of Moses. It is not opposed to the principle of law, for that would mean they would not have to be responsible to the law of the Spirit and of Christ Jesus (Romans 8:2; 1 Corinthians 9:21).

The error being taught to the Galatians by the Judaizing teachers makes it imperative to apply this passage only to the old law that is nailed to the cross of Christ (Colossians 2:14-17). Christ has made them free by redeeming them or buying their freedom (see comments on 1:4 and 3:13).

and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage: The two words "entangled again" mean almost the same thing as "stand" used in the preceding phrase. Paul’s admonition is to stand in the gospel. They are not to stand in the law of Moses. This teaching does not mean that in the past they had held to the law of Moses. Subjection to that law referred to what they had recently done in following the false teachers back to the law of Moses. They had escaped the bondage paganism had imposed on them. Now they are returning to another form of that bondage. Paul has just taught them to cast out the old law (4:30). Now he wants them to hold on to the gospel only (4:8-9). In Acts 15:10, Peter refers to the old law as a yoke of bondage.

Verse 2


Impossibility of Serving Both Christ and the Law

Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.

Circumcision is first mentioned in this epistle in chapter two verse 3. Titus is not compelled to be circumcised. This rite was important to a Jew under the law of Moses because it proved he was a part of that covenant (see Genesis 17; Leviticus 12:3). In verse 6 of this chapter, Paul writes that it really does not make any difference whether a Christian is circumcised or not circumcised as far as spiritual profit is concerned.

that if ye be circumcised: Since it does not profit a person to be circumcised or uncircumcised, Paul has in view the false teachers’ requirement that the Galatians must be circumcised in order to maintain the right relationship with God (Acts 15:1) and be saved eternally. However, circumcision also could show submission to the law of Moses. That is what the Jews want the Gentiles to do (see the Christian requirement on this subject in 1 Corinthians 7:18-19).

Christ shall profit you nothing: If they are circumcised for those reasons, they will lose all the rights, privileges, and blessings that Christ has given them (see 2:21).

Verse 3


For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.

Circumcision is a token or sign that the Jew has entered into the covenant and will be submissive to it. It is not a sign that he can select a few of the laws to obey and disregard the rest. Through that rite, the person is in bondage to obey the entire law (see 3:10; James 2:10). Hogg and Vine write:

The law is not to be conceived of as a bundle of separate strands, whereof if one be broken the rest may still remain intact, but rather as a sheet of glass which, if it be broken in any part, is broken as a whole (241).

Verse 4


Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.

whosoever of you are justified by the law: This teaching is their false doctrine: justification by the works of the law (Romans 3:20; Acts 15:1). Submission to the law is what they are requiring of the Galatians. Paul wants to instruct them about the impossibility of submitting to the law and having Christ, also. This statement does not mean they are actually justified by the law, for that would have been an impossibility since all have sinned. The idea is they are attempting to be justified or gain the forgiveness of sins by the law of Moses in order to maintain the correct relationship with God.

Christ is become of no effect unto you: This is the first phrase of the verse but can be understood more easily placed in this position. The New American Standard Bible uses "severed" and the New International Version uses "alienated." The ones who sought to be justified by the law are severed from Christ. It is a dangerous thing to base a doctrine on passages found in the Old Testament. In Romans, Paul indicates there are some things that may be learned from that old covenant as God deals with man and guides His great plan for redeeming him (15:4). However, insofar as the rule of faith and practice is concerned, the old law must be "cast out" (4:30). One effect of Christ’s work is His plan for man’s salvation from past sins. If the Galatians accept the old covenant, this blessing is lost to them. Christ came that they might have a more abundant life (John 10:10). If they go to the old covenant in an attempt to maintain the correct relationship with God, this effect would be lost to them. In fact, all the spiritual blessings that are in Christ would be lost (Ephesians 1:3). Mixing the old with the new is not profitable (Matthew 9:16-17).

ye are fallen from grace: For a description of the grace from which they are falling in attempting to be justified by the law of Moses, see Galatians 1:3; Galatians 1:6. In the latter reference, it will be seen they are only in the process of removing themselves from the grace of Christ. This statement teaches clearly they are actually and really in the grace of Christ; but if they complete the course they are on now, they will fall from the grace of Christ. This passage teaches that a person may enter into the plans God has for his salvation, possess that salvation, and then lose it by going to another plan. Another plan negates, or makes of none effect, the work of Christ in his life. Peter deals with a similar problem in his second epistle (2 Peter 2:19-22). It is no wonder that John closes the revelation of God’s plan with the thought of not adding to or taking from those words (Revelation 22:18-19).

Verse 5


For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.

For we through the Spirit: Those who really have the blessings of God are basing their faith and actions on the revelation of the Holy Spirit and not in the carnal ordinances of the old law. There is a contrast between what has just been said and what is stated in this verse.

"Through the Spirit" is a phrase meaning the revelation of the Spirit. The word "spirit" is used by Paul in this fashion in 2 Corinthians 3:6 where he describes himself as being a minister of the New Testament and then explains that this is of the Spirit. He could make this statement because the New Testament has come by the Spirit. In this verse he then contrasts the Spirit with the letter. The letter refers to the Old Testament because God originally wrote the ten commandments on stone as is explained in verse 7. Then Paul explains that the letter or the Old Testament kills (it is the ministration of death because it has to be kept perfectly and no man could do it) while the Spirit, through the New Testament, gives life. The phrase "through the Spirit" must take on this meaning in this verse because it is a contrast with attempting to be" justified by the law" in the preceding verse. The law is not put in contrast with the Holy Spirit himself. The Spirit is the source of the New Testament and, by metonomy, is put for what it produced, that is the New Testament. In this manner Paul is contrasting the old law with the new law. The old law did not provide "the hope of righteousness." The new law did.

wait for the hope of righteousness by faith: They, the true children of God, expect to receive, at some future date, the "hope of righteousness." This "hope" is described by Paul in Romans 8 as being "...the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body" (23-25). This "hope" is especially meaningful to Paul himself because of the condition of his own physical body (4:13-14). The righteousness to which he refers in this verse is the forgiveness of sins. Once a person sins, the only way he can be made righteous is to have his sins forgiven (see Romans 4:6-8). Everything a child of God does is to be by faith. This phrase is constantly used either to describe the gospel itself or the belief and obedience to that gospel. In this way the children of God receive forgiveness of sins and, therefore, maintain the correct relationship with God.

Verse 6


Lack of Spiritual Value in Circumcision

For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.

Galatians 3:26-29 shows how to get into Christ. It is not wrong to be circumcised. Neither is it wrong to be uncircumcised. This teaching, of course, refers to the physical act of cutting off the foreskin of the male’s private parts. The old physical Jew did this to identify himself with the law of Moses. If a person does it for that reason, then it is wrong. However, there are other reasons for circumcising a person (Acts 16:3). The point is that in Christ’s religion, it does not make a person better or worse. It does not give him access to greater blessings than one not circumcised (see 1 Corinthians 7:18-20).

but faith which worketh by love: Their present course of action is that of not believing in Jesus or obeying Him. Such action will be of no profit to them (verse 2). They will lose the wonderful effects of Christ’s work for them (verse 4). This state is further described in the same verse as falling from those things with which God has favored them. What will be profitable and effective and will maintain them in the grace of God is continuing to believe in and obey Christ with a heart that is filled with love for God and their fellow man. Faith and love in the Christian’s heart energize his obedience so that what he does is acceptable unto God. Without either one of these, obedience does not profit (1 Corinthians 13:1-3; James 2:17). Without the proper obedience, faith and love will not profit (John 14:23-24). (Compare Romans 1:5 where obedience and faith are coupled together in such a way they cannot be separated and still be effective.)

Verse 7



Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?

Ye did run well: Comparing the Christian life to the games played at that time is a favorite analogy in Paul’s letters (1 Corinthians 9:24-27; Hebrews 12:1). He describes his own work in this fashion in Galatians 2:2. At first the Galatians live the Christian life without the law of Moses with a zeal that could be compared to a race that is being run well enough to win.

who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth? As a general rule, races are run over smooth courses with no obstacle put in the way. Here the Galatians are running a good race, but somebody has prepared obstacles, put them in their paths, and stopped them from running or obeying the truth. Thus, continuous obeying of truth is the proper way to run the Christian race so as to receive the victor’s award (1 Corinthians 9:24). How terrible it would be to face Christ in the judgment day and be charged with hindering someone in obeying the truth!

Verse 8


This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you.

The word "persuasion" is used in the sense of influence and refers directly to the question of who has hindered them in the preceding verse. Paul, working with God, has called them by the true gospel (1:6). They certainly are not the ones who have persuaded them to leave the truth. That have come from someone else.

Verse 9


A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.

By his use of the word "little," Paul may be indicating there are not many false teachers who have come to Galatia. However, like a little yeast in a lump of dough will leaven the entire mass, one or two false teachers’ proclaiming a false doctrine can influence or persuade one or more congregations. Paul uses this same analogy in 1 Corinthians 5:6 in reference to the immorality of just one man who can contaminate the entire church. Here in Galatians it is not applied to immorality but to doctrine. Whether it is one false teacher or many makes no difference. It can affect the entire church (compare Matthew 16:6-12 where Christ compares the doctrines of the Pharisees and Sadducees to leavening). In James 3:5, the tongue of a teacher is described as a little member but accomplishing great things so far as its influence is concerned. It does not take many false teachers or much false doctrine to corrupt those who obey the truth. Just one or two can do it (see 1 John 4:1; 1 John 4:6 for instructions about how to detect a false teacher; see also 2 Peter 2:1-2). The statement in this verse is a very practical, proverbial truth.

Verse 10


I have confidence in you through the Lord, that ye will be none otherwise minded: but he that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be.

I have confidence in you through the Lord: Paul has confidence in the Galatians, meaning he is persuaded that, within the sphere or realm of the Lord’s revelation, they will do the Lord’s will. "Through the Lord" is the same as "in the Lord" in Ephesians 6:1 and Colossians 3:18. Children are to obey their parents only as far as revelation will permit them. Submission of wives to their husbands is limited to that which God’s revelation will allow. Acts 5:29 requires each individual to obey God when God’s will and man’s will conflict with each other. Paul is exhibiting a trust in the Galatians that they will do what the Lord’s will is in this matter.

that ye will be none otherwise minded: Paul is persuaded that they would have a mind that would coincide with the will of the Lord and his will as well. He believes they will be willing to do the right thing as a result of hearing the truth from him in this epistle.

but he that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be: In Galatians 1:7, "some" are troubling them. Here in Galatians 5, "he...whosoever he be," is troubling them. This is another indicator that there are only a few who have brought this false doctrine to the Galatians. Perhaps the "he" here refers to their main spokesman or leader. It does not take many to cause trouble among brethren. Those who do bring trouble and strife are also bringing condemnation upon themselves regardless of who they may be.

Verse 11


And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offense of the cross ceased.

And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision: This point identifies which part of the old law the false teachers are emphasizing. However, circumcision stands for the entire law since it is proof that they are identified with the whole law of Moses as a token of the covenant. Acts 9:20-23 explains how Paul immediately preaches Christ after his conversion. Preaching Christ is the opposite of preaching circumcision. Because of this fact, the Jews, the ones who preach circumcision, seek to kill Paul.

why do I yet suffer persecution?: That kind of persecution is still following Paul because he continues to preach Christ. He could have solved many of his earthly problems by changing his message and preaching another kind of gospel, but then he would have had heavenly problems. He always, regardless of the earthly consequences, seeks to please God and not men (1:10).

then is the offense of the cross ceased: The Jews would rather have had an animal killed on their altar as an atonement for their sins than Jesus Christ slain on the cross for them (1 Corinthians 1:23). Galatians 3:10 shows the curse of one hung on the tree or cross; and anyone believing in Christ and preaching the crucified Christ bears that curse as far as the Jews are concerned. The cross is also an offense to them because it marks the dividing line between the old and new covenants. Colossians 2:14-16 teaches that the old covenant dies or comes to an end on the cross of Christ when He dies. When His blood is shed, the new covenant is ratified (1 Corinthians 11:25). If Paul has been hypocritical and has preached a mixture of the old and new laws and included circumcision in that preaching, then the offense of the cross would have ceased and he would no longer have been persecuted. Some may have heard about Timothy’s circumcision, recorded in Acts 16:3, and may have interpreted this act to mean Paul is preaching circumcision in some places.

Verse 12


I would they were even cut off which trouble you.

Joshua 7:25 teaches what could happen to those who troubled God’s people under the old law. The words "cut off" are obviously a play on the term "circumcision" used in the preceding verse. As the foreskin of the male Israelite was cut off and separated from his body, so Paul wants those who are troubling God’s people severed from them. If the Galatians are sincerely like minded with Paul, they will want this same thing and will initiate action that will take the false teachers out of their fellowship. Here the Judaizers want to circumcise the Galatians. Paul wants these false teachers to mutilate or amputate themselves. This is an obvious metaphor where Paul wants them to cut themselves off from the fellowship of the Galatians.

Verse 13


For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.

For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty: Because the Galatians have "been called unto liberty," Paul wants the false teachers to cut themselves off from the church and its fellowship. In Galatians 4:31, Christians are designated as being children of the free woman or children of the new covenant. They are born free from the bondage of the law. Liberty means nothing more than that. It does not mean they are free to do what they want to anywhere, anytime. It means they are free to act within the boundaries of the new covenant. A child of free parents has liberty that a slave child does not have, but even that child has to live by the rules of the family. The Galatians are not in bondage to the slave woman, or the old covenant; and, therefore, they do not have to be circumcised or obey any of its precepts as recorded therein.

only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh: Paul gives the Galatians a warning in this statement. They are not to think that just because they are of the new covenant and free from the bondage of the old they are free to serve the flesh’s evil desires (see 1 Peter 2:16). A Christian of any age possesses the truth, but that does not give him the right to be unjust, unholy, angry, and intemperate toward others in the church or even toward his fellow man.

Vine states that the word "occasion" literally means a starting point (440). For example, in 1 Timothy 5:14, the younger women are urged to live a certain lifestyle because not to do so would give occasion to the devil and his followers to speak reproachfully about the church. If they conduct themselves unwisely, it will be a point Satan will use to begin influencing others against the church. Here, there is danger of brethren misunderstanding the liberty and freedom that are theirs in Christ and using them for the purpose of satisfying the evil desires of the flesh. Paul wants them to know that the liberty to which he refers is not freedom from the moral law or the other laws of the Spirit and Christ, but freedom from the bondage of the law of Moses.

but by love serve one another: Paul has been an example of this principle according to 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. True greatness is exhibited in serving others (Matthew 23:11). Love for one another in this manner is a mark of true discipleship (John 13:34-35).

Verse 14


For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

For all the law is fulfilled in one word: (See Romans 13:8-10.) This principle of love is even taught in the old law they are turning to for their salvation (Leviticus 19:18). "One word" stands for all the moral laws that govern the relationships among people. It is a term similar to decalogue, which literally means "ten words" but stands for the ten commandments. Thus, all the moral laws are summed up in this one commandment.

even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: In Matthew 22:36-40, Jesus teaches that all the law and the prophets hung on two laws, one of which is this one about loving our neighbors. All moral laws are comprehended or are summed up in this one law. "Love thy neighbor" is a duty; the word "fulfilled" in the preceding phrase has in it the idea of obeying or performing. The Galatians would fulfill this law when they perform it. This is the way it is fulfilled now.

Verse 15


But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.

But if ye bite and devour one another: Such actions are the opposite of loving their neighbor as they ought. "Bite" refers to the sudden action brought on by uncontrolled emotions that hurt other members of the church. "Devour" describes hurtful actions that linger on and on as far as time is concerned. The Galatian Christians should have been the most peaceful people in the province. This passage, however, indicates they are having disputes. The action of biting and devouring is mutual. Both sides of the dispute are guilty.

take heed that ye be not consumed one of another: The Galatians are warned earnestly and intently to view their predicament and to decide not to destroy each other spiritually. Bite, devour, and consume are used metaphorically by Paul, giving the Galatians a good insight into the wrongfulness of their attitudes and actions toward each other. They are acting like animals, satisfying their own desires of the flesh, in order to get back at those who differ with them. However, this behavior is hurting them as much or more as it is those they are attempting to hurt. Romans 7 indicates that under the very law by which they are attempting to be justified there is no way, once a person sins, for the inner man to gain control of the tendencies of the flesh. The old law, while it accomplishes its purposes, makes no provisions for that "weakness of the flesh" (see Romans 8:2). Their predicament would only become worse, as evidenced by the fact that already they are biting and devouring one another instead of growing closer to one another.

Verse 16


Conflict Between the Flesh and the Spirit

This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.

This I say then: What Paul is about to write them will keep the members of the church in Galatia from destroying each other. It is good for brethren to dwell together in unity (Psalms 133:1). However, they cannot if each one does as he pleases. Paul then begins to teach them how they could enjoy this unity that builds up instead of destroys.

Walk in the Spirit: Even though the word "Spirit" begins with an upper case letter, it does not refer to the Holy Spirit directly. It means the inner man or spirit of man. This usage is always true when spirit is contrasted with flesh as found in this verse. Of course, the Holy Spirit does dwell in the Christian. Paul writes to the Romans, "But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his" (8:9). There are differences about how the Holy Spirit dwells in the Christian, but there must be no doubt about His dwelling in them. However, it can be seen in this verse that the first time the word "Spirit" is used, it is contrast with the human flesh. "Spirit," therefore, refers to the inner man or spirit of man in this part of the verse. It would not make very good sense to interpret both usages of the word to mean the Holy Spirit. Those things belonging to the sphere of the Holy Spirit’s work in relation to a Christian are addressed to the human spirit, not to his flesh. "For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace" (Romans 8:6). Paul does not mean that man has two minds, for he has only one. "To be carnally minded" is to let the evil desires of the flesh be in control. "To be spiritually minded" is to let the human spirit be the master of the evil desires of the flesh, as Paul writes, "But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection..." (1 Corinthians 9:27). The "I" in this verse refers to Paul’s own spirit. He is being spiritually minded. Romans 8:7 indicates the Holy Spirit does not address the carnal mind. It is the spiritual mind that receives the influence of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit reveals to the spiritual mind (the mind that controls the evil desires of the flesh) the desires of God in intelligible words found in the New Testament; the spiritually minded obeys these things addressed to the mind. Paul concludes, "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God" (Romans 8:14). In this way "the Spirit of God" influences each alike; and this action does away with mystical, almost magical influences on the Christian that cannot be explained. Now, this verse in Galatians is understandable when the phrase "Walk in the Spirit" is understood to be in contrast with "the lust of the flesh" in the last part of the verse and refers to the human spirit’s being directed with the instructions of the Holy Spirit. The human spirit in this way gains mastery over the flesh. "Walk" stands for a person’s manner of life or conduct. If a person walks "in the spirit," his spirit is controlling the flesh.

and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh: If he walks in the lust of the flesh, then his flesh has mastery over his spirit and fulfills its own desires. This lifestyle has created problems among some of the Galatians. More is said about the flesh and its battle with the spirit in the next verse.

Verse 17


For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.

For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit: Again, though "Spirit" is capitalized, it refers to the human spirit that is directed by the Holy Spirit. The flesh can have its desires fulfilled only in this life. It is destined to come to an end when the spirit leaves it. Lust "denotes strong desire of any kind" (Vine 384). Here the desires of the flesh are evil, such as the contention existing among some of the brethren at Galatia and the catalog of the sins of the flesh mentioned in verses 19-21.

and the Spirit against the flesh: The human spirit also has strong desires that are the opposite of the flesh. While "lust" must be supplied in this phrase, it is not lust in an evil sense. The things the human spirit strongly desires are listed in verses 22-23.

and these are contrary the one to the other: The human flesh and the human spirit are in opposition to each other. They are against one another.

so that ye cannot do the things that ye would: The New American Standard Bible translates this phrase, "So that you may not do the things that you please." This translation presents more clearly the idea Paul is trying to convey to the Galatians. There is a struggle between the flesh and the spirit within each of the Galatian Christians. They should not do just anything they want to do and thereby ignore the God-given guiding factor, the revelations of the Holy Spirit, called the gospel in this epistle. They want to do their own thing, which is according to the flesh. These evil desires have to be mastered if they desire to maintain the correct relationship with God.

Verse 18


But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.

In Romans 8:14, Paul writes, "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God." In this passage "the Spirit of God" is definitely the Holy Spirit and not the human spirit. The Christian is led of the Spirit by following the Spirit’s directions found in the revealed word of God. These directions are given to the human spirit; and the human spirit, by these revelations, controls the flesh’s evil desires. The Holy Spirit leads the human spirit, and the human spirit leads the flesh. The Galatians have received the Spirit-revealed gospel, have seen miraculous proofs that it is from God, and have themselves received spiritual gifts and exercised them. None of these things come from the law of Moses. Therefore, all who are living a Spirit-controlled life are not under or subject to the law of Moses. They are under the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Verse 19


Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,

Now the works of the flesh are manifest: Paul begins the list of the strong, but evil desires. "Works" is used to describe all of them. The agency of these works is the flesh. "Manifest" means made known. Jesus teaches, "Ye shall know them by their fruits..." (Matthew 7:16). It is impossible for one man to look into another’s heart and see what is really there. However, when that man does some act, then we have a better basis to know what is in his heart (see Matthew 15:19-20). Lust in a heart cannot be seen; but when the works or acts in the following list are done, then that evil lust that formerly could not be seen is made manifest.

Adultery: "Adultery" is committed by a married person when he has sexual union with a person outside of that marriage. In the last part of Matthew 19:9, adultery is also committed when two people enter into and maintain an illicit marriage relationship. God’s marriage law is that which is adulterated. In Matthew 5:28, a person’s heart can also be adulterated by looking with evil desire upon another person.

fornication: "Fornication" is the general word for sexual sins; but when used with other explicit sexual sins, it refers to all illicit sexual acts between unmarried persons.

uncleanness: "Uncleanness" means that which is impure. Romans 1:24 seems to present the thoughts involved in the meaning of this word: "Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonor their own bodies between themselves." This behavior would describe homosexuality, sodomy, and such like sins (compare 2 Corinthians 12:21).

lasciviousness: Vine states that "lasciviousness...denotes excess, licentiousness, absence of restraint, indecency, wantonness...the prominent idea is shameless conduct" (353). This work of the flesh would include indecent bodily movements such as is seen in some of the dances the world engages in and exposure of the body in such way as to create evil desires in others. Modesty is not a restraining factor in the person who practices this sin. Spiritual inhibitions are lacking; the person walks after the flesh. These four sins constitute sexual immorality in this particular list.

Verse 20


Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,

The first two sins have to do with false religious systems.

Idolatry: An idol is that which can be seen, an image to represent an invisible deity (Hogg and Vine, Notes on Thessalonians 44). The idolater is in bondage to the depraved ideas his idols represent (Ibid. 45). (See 4:8-9 and Romans 1:23.) In Colossians 3:5, covetousness, which would be a characteristic of the heart and manifested in obtaining material possessions in ways separate and apart from God’s plans, is described as idolatry. Idolatrous worship often includes the practice of the four sexual sins mentioned in verse 19.

witchcraft: The Revised Version translates this word "sorcery." The Greek word is pharmakia " (Eng., ’pharmacy,’ etc.) primarily signified ’the use of medicine, drugs, spells’; then, ’poisoning’; then, ’sorcery’..." (Vine 587). The pagan priests often practiced the use of drugs in their idol worship. The ignorant worshiper would think the influences felt from the potions are directly from the idol he serves. Such deceptive practices have no place in the spiritual man’s life. The art of magic, though sometimes even employed as a method of preaching today, has no place in Paul’s ministry; and he warns the Galatian Christians that it is a work of the flesh. Paul’s preaching on this subject has a positive effect according to Acts 19:19.

hatred: A form of the word "hatred" is used in Galatians 4:16 and translated "enemy." It is translated into "enmity" in Ephesians 2:15 (see also NASB). The idea is instead of loving each other as brethren, they become foes. This is not the ordinary word for hatred, which would refer to the feelings they have toward each other.

variance: One who commits the sin of "variance" is involved in strife and discord. Beginning with hatred, the apostle is listing sins committed among or between brethren.

emulations: "Emulations" is nothing more than jealousy. This work of the flesh is a monster that can be destroyed by elevating brethren to their rightful position in relation to oneself (Romans 12:3). The idea of striving for superiority over another is involved in the English word "emulations."

wrath: The New American Standard Bible and the New International Version translate the word "wrath" as "bursts of anger" and "fits of rage" respectively. Such displays of emotion should not be seen among Christians.

strife: This evil work, "strife," is the result of variance listed above where rivalries would develop (2 Corinthians 12:20). Rivalries signify that factions have developed. An example of this work of the flesh is described in Acts 20:30, "Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them." The New International Version brings out this thought when it translates this word "selfish ambition" (see also Vine 220).

seditions: The word "seditions" describes a division. Romans 16:17 explains how to treat such who cause division.

heresies: "Heresies" do not refer just to believing a false doctrine. The word carries with it the idea of pushing that false doctrine to the extent that a faction is formed. The basic idea of the word is choosing or making a choice. The choice is made with a view to forming a sect. This word is different from a schism or division that is under consideration in 1 Corinthians 1:10; 1 Corinthians 12:25. In these verses the church is still together but without unity in some areas. Sects have not yet been formed. This observation is illustrated in Matthew 9:16 where the garment is torn. The same word is used for division or schism. The garment is not in two pieces. The tear could be patched. Heresy would be illustrated by tearing the garment into two or more pieces.

Verse 21


Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

Envyings: A person is guilty of this work of the flesh when he sees another possess something and wishes to deprive him of whatever it is. This word is slightly different from the word jealousy, which is the feeling we have when something we possess is wanted by another person. Envy is the other person’s wanting what we possess and attempting to take it from us.

murders: The plural form of the word "murders" is used, showing that all forms of intentional killing of others is involved. This word does not appear in Nestle’s text. Vine states that it is found in some inferior manuscripts (421).

drunkenness: "Drunkenness" is a process by which we ingest something that first alters the part of the mind that reasons and forms judgments--a place where social inhibitions are located. (See Encyclopedia Britannica under "Drunkenness" by Clarence Weinert Muehlberger 683 and Alcohol In and Out of The Church by Wayne Oates 9.) Then it proceeds to affect the motor functions such as speech and walking. Finally, if enough is ingested, it influences the involuntary functions such as heartbeat, breathing, etc. Any one of the steps in this process may be classified as "drunkenness." It is the opposite of the word used for "sober" in 1 Thessalonians 5:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:8, which "signify to be free from the influence of intoxicants" (Vine 583).

revellings: The word "revellings" includes banquets for drinking intoxicating beverages. Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary defines it in this manner: "To feast with loose and clamorous merriment; to carouse; to act the bacchanalian." Bacchanalian means "1. bacchanalia. The ancient Roman festival in honor of Bacchus. 2. A riotous or drunken festivity; orgy" (The American Heritage Dictionary 149).

and such like: Paul did not catalog all of the works of the flesh. This statement signifies there are others like them. Romans 1 contains a long list (compare a similar list of sins in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past: Paul is forewarning them now just as he did when he was with them.

that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God: This is a phrase meaning receiving or having eternal life (compare Mark 10:17 with verse 21 where inherit eternal life and having treasure in heaven are used synonymously; see also 2 Peter 1:11). Those guilty of any of the works of the flesh will not be saved unless they are forgiven.

Verse 22


But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,

But the fruit of the Spirit: Here again the word "Spirit" refers to the human spirit as it is guided by the Holy Spirit’s directions. This phrase is in contrast with the works of the flesh in verse 19. Fruit is what a tree or vine produces. A tree is known by the fruit it produces (Matthew 7:16). The child of God can know whether his spirit is controlling the flesh by looking at the fruit he is bearing.

love: This fruit, "love," has sacrificial giving as its motivating factor (John 3:16). Its characteristics are described in 1 Corinthians 13:1-8 (see also John 13:34-35).

joy: "Joy" describes a delight because of the expectation of good coming out of trying circumstances, such as the apostles had after being in prison and beaten (Acts 5:41). Paul also experiences this feeling in Philippians 2:17. This fruit is seen in a child of God in good and bad circumstances.

peace: Paul describes a condition that exists between man and God (Ephesians 2:14; Ephesians 2:17) and between man and his fellowman. The corresponding Hebrew word is translated "whole" in Joshua 8:31 in reference to the kind of stones they are to use to build an altar. The stones have to be whole or complete without any piece being broken off. This usage would indicate that when peace is missing in a relationship, something has been broken off. When a relationship is whole or entire, peace reigns.

longsuffering: "Longsuffering" is the opposite of wrath mentioned in verse 20. Instead of bursts of anger, the child of God is to manifest a long temper (Vine 377). There are people who try our patience. When our spirit is in control, however, longsuffering is manifested. Circumstances also try the patience of a child of God--longsuffering should be the response.

gentleness: "Gentleness" has to do with kindness whether by words or action. Love is kind (1 Corinthians 13:4).

goodness: The child of God growing the fruit of "goodness" is of benefit to the people with whom he associates and to various circumstances in which he finds himself.

faith: "Faith" is indicated when a person’s belief in God is shown. More than that, his fellowman can trust him or have faith in his actions and words. He is trustworthy.

Verse 23


Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

Meekness: "Meekness" denotes being gentle, mild, and meek. Described negatively, meekness is the opposite of self-assertiveness and self-interest (Vine 401). It is not weakness or helplessness; it takes a strong individual to produce this fruit. For example, if a person has the power or words to hurt someone and he refrains from using them, he shows himself to be a meek person.

temperance: The New American Standard Bible translates "temperance" as self-control. The Christian is to be in control of his emotions, appetite, and passions.

against such there is no law: No responsible government would make a law against the practice of any of the characteristics of the fruit of the Spirit. They are acceptable to all and will promote the growth of any society that is interested in the promotion of peace and harmony. The Galatians evidently need to produce them in their individual lives and apply them to the relationship they have with their brothers and sisters in Christ.

Verse 24


And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.

And they that are Christ’s: Paul refers to the ones whom Christ has purchased with His own blood (Acts 20:28). He has bought them and has delivered them from the bondage of sin. Implied in this transaction is a responsibility on the human side as stated in the next phrase.

have crucified the flesh: The action of having "crucified the flesh," which is the responsibility of man, is described by different terms in the New Testament. God is not going to do it for man but will help. In Matthew 5:29-30, Jesus introduces this concept with the terms of plucking out the eye and cutting off the right hand if they offend us or cause us to sin. Paul uses another term in Romans 8:13 and calls this action mortifying the deeds of the body. In Romans 13:14, he writes, "...make no provisions for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof." In this verse, he is instructing them not to make plans for these lusts to continue in their lives. In other words, they are not to provide food for their lusts but rather to cut off the food supply, causing their lusts to die. By using the term "crucified," Paul is showing the unpopularity of such action on the part of some. In Galatians 3:13, he reveals the curse attached to death by crucifixion--crucifixion of the "lusts of the flesh" would be no more popular. Popularity generally demands the fulfillment of the lusts of the flesh (1 John 2:15-17).

with the affections and lusts: The works of the flesh are not an option to the Christian if he desires to please God. The child of God who keeps this option open will never grow. They must be crucified. The door is to be closed on that part of the Christian’s life. In the Revised Version, the word "passions" is used for "affections."

Verse 25


If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.

If we live in the Spirit: "If" is used with the meaning of "since." Each person is made alive unto God when the affections and lusts of the flesh are crucified and he rises to this new life (Romans 6:3-4). Paul continues to teach this thought later in the chapter:

Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God (Romans 6:11-13).

The "ye" in these verses refers to the human spirit. Members of the human body become instruments of the human spirit in conversion. That person is dead in sins before conversion--the members of his body are used to fulfill the lusts of the carnal mind. Now he becomes alive to God and righteousness by the things Jesus and the Holy Spirit provide in this new relationship. Matthew 28:19 shows how this new relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is established. The results of this new relationship are a new life in relationship with Them.

let us also walk in the Spirit: "Walk" refers to the Christian’s manner of life as he lives in this new relationship. It all begins and ends by the instructions of the Holy Spirit and then the human spirit’s implementing them through the members of the body or the flesh.

Verse 26


Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another.

Let us not be desirous of vain glory: This verse states the main problems in the Galatians’ relationship with each other. They have begun a course of conduct that will produce the three things mentioned in this verse. This statement teaches us that the Galatians have not yet let these things become a part of their character, but they are leaning in that direction. A vain glorious person is conceited and boastful (compare 1 Corinthians 13:4 to see how it violates the spirit of love).

provoking one another: Since the works of the flesh are evil and are capable of springing to life in each Christian, they are not to conduct themselves in such a fashion to stir up evil passions in another. Christians are to stimulate one another to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24); but if they cause a brother to sin, they are considered guilty along with him.

envying one another: See notes on verse 21. Proverbs 3:31; Proverbs 14:30; Proverbs 23:17 offer valuable thoughts on the conditions that may have existed among the Galatian brethren and the danger involved in pursuing such conduct.

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Contending for the Faith reproduced by permission of Contending for the Faith Publications, 4216 Abigale Drive, Yukon, OK 73099. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Galatians 5". "Contending for the Faith". 1993-2022.