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(V. 1.) If on the one hand, we are to "cast out" the bondwoman, and thus abandon the principle of seeking to obtain blessing under law, which can only lead to bondage, on the other hand, let us see that we "stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage."
(Vv. 2-4.) With great plainness of speech the apostle warns these Gentile believers. He was the apostle chosen to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, and had been used to their blessing. For these reasons his word should have had greater weight with them than that of others. He seems to remind them of this by saying, "Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing." To be circumcised meant that they put themselves under law, which involved that in order to obtain the blessing they must keep the law. In this case they deprive themselves of the blessing that grace provides through Christ and His work. As far as their experience went, Christ and His work had become nothing to them. They had fallen from grace.
(Vv. 5, 6.) The apostle proceeds to give a very beautiful summary of the true Christian state, in contrast to the state of those under law. It is characterised by "hope," "faith" and "love." We are not working in the hope of securing blessing; we are waiting for the glory that is secured by the work of Christ. It is not righteousness that we wait for, but the fulfilment of the hope that belongs to those who are already justified through faith in Christ Jesus. Being justified by faith we "rejoice in hope of the glory of God" ( Rom_5:2 ). Righteousness gives me the glory, not simply grace. Under law, righteousness demands that I should be kept out of glory; for, not having kept the law, "all have sinned and come short of the glory." Under grace, righteousness demands that the believer should go into glory, even as righteousness is declared in setting Christ in the glory ( Joh_16:10 ). It is due to Christ that, through His work on the cross, believers should be with Him in glory.
By the earnest of the Spirit we can, even now, enjoy a foretaste by faith of the blessedness of this hope. "In Jesus Christ" circumcision can add nothing to the blessing, nor uncircumcision hinder the blessing. The believer, viewed as in Christ before God, is outside both Jewish and Gentile circles. This new position can only be apprehended by faith, and faith "worketh by love." The apostle has already said in his epistle, "I live by faith, the faith of the Son of God, who has loved me, and given Himself for me."
(Vv. 7-10.) In the early part of the epistle the apostle has clearly shown that in turning back to the law these believers had departed from the truth. From verse 7 to the end of the epistle he speaks of the effect of this evil upon their practical walk. He acknowledges that in time past, when subject to the truth, they did run well. But they had been hindered by listening to the persuasions of false teachers who had brought trouble into their midst. The practical effect upon their walk and ways clearly proved that these troublers were not led by the God Who has called us to "run with patience the race that is set before us." Let us not forget that "a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump." Any departure from the truth, if unjudged, will lead to further decline, and the gradual deterioration of the whole body. Alas! does not the condition of Christendom, with its mixture of Judaism and Christianity, clearly show that it has become leavened with the Galatian evil? Looking only at the false teaching Paul foresaw that it would end in the whole company becoming corrupted. Nevertheless, the Lord was above all, and looking to the Lord gave the apostle confidence that in the end these saints would be brought to view these teachers and their false teaching with his mind - the mind of the Lord. As to these troublers the apostle was assured that they would have to bear the guilt and judgment of their subversive teaching.
How good for us all, in the difficulties that arise among the Lord's people, to look beyond the trouble and the troublers, and to see the Lord above all, the One Who can deliver His people from every snare and deal with those that cause the trouble.
(V. 11.) The apostle then touches upon that which made the teaching of these troublers so subtle. Already we have learnt that their underlying motive was to attract to themselves ( Gal_4:17 ); now we learn that they did so by presenting a path to the saints that would free them from all persecution, and in which the offence of the cross would cease. Nothing can be more offensive to the religious Jew, under law, than the cross, for it is the complete condemnation of man before God, being the proof that the law is broken, and that man is under the curse. The preaching of the gospel, that in sovereign grace proclaims blessing through faith in Christ, will ever raise opposition from those who are trusting in their own works to obtain blessing. The apostle sees clearly that if we "obey the truth" the result will be persecution, however different the form it may take in the course of time.
(Vv. 12-15.) Seeing, then, the evil effect of this false teaching, the apostle can only wish that these troublers were cut off from the saints. His love for the truth and the welfare of believers made him intolerant of those whose teaching was destructive of Christian truth, robbing the saints of true liberty, and leading to practice, not only inconsistent with Christianity, but entirely contrary to the law to which they were turning back. "All the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." But while the law demands love, it gives no ability to meet its demands; and, being holy, it can only condemn us, seeing we have all failed to meet its demands.
In contrast to the law, Christianity gives us a new nature that loves to obey and do the will of God, and a new power, the Holy Spirit, to carry out the desires of the new nature. This is liberty, not, indeed, to be used for an occasion to the flesh to exalt itself, but to serve one another. The flesh likes to be served; but love delights to serve. The self-righteousness that seeks to exalt itself by its own works has no love or compassion for others. As with these troublers, who had sought to set the saints against the apostle in order to attract to themselves (iv. 17), so the vanity of the flesh will ever lead to fault-finding, and the belittling of others, in the effort to exalt self. In this way strife and contention is raised among the people of God. And When once brethren start biting and devouring one another, they may well "take heed," for, if this spirit is unjudged, it will not be long before they are consumed one of another. Alas! how many companies of God's people have been broken up and scattered by individuals contending with one another, and insulting one another, rather than serving one another in love.
(Vv. 16, 17.) Now we are reminded that we can only escape the lusts of the flesh by walking in the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is here to glorify Christ; the flesh seeks every occasion to gratify its vanity by exalting self. It is plain, therefore, that the flesh is opposed to the Spirit, and the Spirit to the flesh. If walking in the Spirit - thinking, speaking, and acting in the Spirit - we shall be delivered from doing the things that would be natural to us as fallen men.
The apostle does not say that if we walk in the Spirit, the flesh will not be in us, nor that the flesh will cease to lust and be in any way altered, but, if walking in the Spirit, we shall not fulfil its lusts. One has truly said, "The flesh strives to hinder us when we would walk according to the Spirit, and the Spirit resists the working of the flesh to prevent it from accomplishing its will." (J. N. D.).
(V. 18.) Moreover, if led of the Spirit, we are not under law. The Spirit has come to take of the things of Christ and show them unto us. He leads us into occupation with Christ, the One Who has died for us and lives for us. The Spirit will not lead us under a law that makes demands upon us that we cannot meet, but under the influence of a love that passeth knowledge to which the new nature delights to respond.
(Vv. 19-21.) In the remaining verses of the chapter the apostle contrasts the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit. It would appear that he sums up the works of the flesh under seven heads:
Firstly, he refers to the lusts of the flesh, "fornication, uncleanness, licentiousness" (N.Tn.)
Secondly, the superstition of the flesh, "idolatry" and "sorcery ":
Thirdly, the malice of the flesh, "hatred," leading to "strifes ":
Fourthly, the jealousy of the flesh, "jealousies," leading to "angers" and "contentions "
Fifthly, the reasoning of the flesh, leading to "contentions, disputes" and "schools of opinion ":
Sixthly, the self-love of the flesh, leading to "envyings" and "murders "
Seventhly, the worldly indulgence of the flesh, leading to "drunkenness, revellings, and such like."
Such is the terrible and unchanging character of the flesh, and those who live in these evils shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
Let us remember that, seeing we have the flesh in us, and that it never alters, we have to dread the outbreak of the foulest sins, unless, in the power of the Spirit, our souls are occupied with Jesus, looking to Him for grace for every moment.
(Vv. 21-23.) If walking in the Spirit, we shall not only be preserved from "the works of the flesh," but we shall bring forth "the fruit of the Spirit." The flesh has its "works," but produces no fruit for God. The Spirit produces both good works and fruit; though, in this passage, the apostle speaks not of works, but of the beautiful Christian character from which all true work will flow. We are not all gifted, or called to be teachers and preachers, or to undertake great works. But "the fruit of the Spirit" is possible to all from the youngest to the oldest saint, and sets forth the essential condition for all true service.
" Love," "joy" and "peace" set forth the inward experience of the soul: "longsuffering" and "kindness," the attitude of soul towards others: "goodness" and "fidelity," the qualities that should actuate us in our dealings with others: "meekness" and "selfcontrol," the qualities that would lead us to consider patiently others, in contrast to the self-assertiveness of the flesh.
Against these Christ-like qualities there is no law. The law cannot control the flesh and cannot produce the blessed fruit of the Spirit, but this does not infer that the law is against these excellent qualities.
(Vv. 24-26.) Moreover, they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and lusts. The true Christian position is that we accept the cross of Christ as the judgment of God upon the flesh, in order that we should no longer live by the flesh but "by the Spirit." If then we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit (N.Tn.). So walking we should not be vain-glorious, provoking the saints by envying one another.
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Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on Galatians 5". "Smith's Writings". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26