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Bible Commentaries
Galatians 5

McGarvey's Commentaries on Selected BooksMcGarvey'S Commentaries

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Verse 1

For freedom did Christ set us free: stand fast therefore, and be not entangled again in a yoke of bondage. [This verse continues the thought of the last chapter, and forms a connecting link between it and this section. It means that Christ made us free, not incidentally, but with the very design that we should cherish and enjoy our freedom, and we should therefore stand fast in it, and not return to bondage.]

Verse 2

Behold, I Paul say unto you, that, if ye receive circumcision, Christ will profit you nothing. [By the use of an exclamation followed by his name, Paul calls attention to the sentence, or decree, which, as an apostle, he pronounces in the case. Though circumcision of itself might be nothing (Galatians 5:6; Acts 16:3), yet if the Galatians looked to it, and through it to the covenant which it represented, for justification, or even their perfection in Christian grace, they forfeited all their rights in Christ. Though both covenants were of God, they could not be confused without disastrous results. Though a man’s mortal and spiritual bodies may both be from God, the soul which has advanced to the spiritual body would forfeit its salvation by returning to the corrupt mortal body.]

Verse 3

Yea, I testify again to every man that receiveth of circumcision, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. [The apostle here gives the reason for what he has said in the previous verse. Circumcision was, in its symbolic significance, an entrance into covenant relations with God under the terms of the old covenant, and as that covenant embraced not a part, but the whole law, the covenantee, or circumcised person, was obliged to observe the whole law, or forfeit his claims to life. Paul had probably fully explained this fact on one of his previous visits, and so he now reiterates it.]

Verse 4

Ye are severed from Christ, ye who would be justified by the law; ye are fallen away from grace. [Therefore, in being circumcised for the purpose of being justified by the law ye have been guilty of a complete apostasy; there is no longer any justification for you, for you are not under the grace of Christ, but rest under the condemnation of the law.]

Verse 5

For we through the Spirit by faith wait for the hope of righteousness. [That ye have fallen from grace is apparent by your contrast with us; for we true Christians, not trusting in carnal ordinances, but strengthened by the Spirit, wait for the fulfillment of the hope which righteousness by faith, instead of by law, insures to us.]

Verse 6

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith working through love. [It makes no difference in God’s sight what a man has been, whether a circumcised Jew, or an uncircumcised, Gentile. There is, in his sight, no merit in either condition. That which he values is a faith in his Son, Christ Jesus, which manifests itself in loving service to him.]

Verse 7

Ye were running well; who hindered you that ye should not obey the truth?

Verse 8

This persuasion came not of him that calleth you. [The apostle again borrows a metaphor from the foot-race of the Grecian game. In their faith and love and works the Christians were running in a course obedient to the truth, but some one had broken up the race-course, and had persuaded them to desist from running. Who had done this? Paul does not answer, but states the important fact in the matter that whoever these persuaders were they were not the agents of the God who had called them to enter the race. The term "hindered" is military and indicates the embarrassment of an army’s progress by tearing down bridges, etc.]

Verse 9

A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. [Paul felt that by this time those who read his letter would be saying that he was censuring the whole church for a course of conduct pursued only by a small minority, but he quotes one of the proverbs of the New Testament (1 Corinthians 5:6) to show that the effect of minorities, if tolerated, becomes a menace to majorities.]

Verse 10

I have confidence to you-ward in the Lord, that ye will be none otherwise minded: but he that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be. [The apostle here expresses his confidence that they will take the same view of the situation that he does, and avoid the contaminating influence of the minority by disciplining it or its ringleader, no matter who he may be.]

Verse 11

But I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? then hath the stumbling-block of the cross been done away. [It is evident that in this verse Paul defends himself against the charge of having taught the necessity of circumcision by having circumcised Timothy. His answer is that false brethren might misconstrue his act for the purpose of founding false teaching upon it, but that the Jews, the real parties in interest, placed a truer construction upon the act, for they still continued to persecute him as an enemy to circumcision. If Paul had preached circumcision, the stumbling-block of the cross would have been done away. Paul taught that the whole Jewish system of ordinances perished at the cross, and that on the cross Jesus made the one and only atonement for sin. Such teaching was a stumbling-block to the Jews. Had Paul rejected the doctrine of the cross and preached circumcision, as these Judaizers contended that he did when they wished to countenance their errors with his authority, he would have been a hero among the Jews.]

Verse 12

I would that they that unsettle you would even go beyond circumcision. [If those who trouble you insist on mutilating themselves, I wish they would go further and cut themselves entirely off from the church. Having fully established the liberty of the gospel, the apostle now turns to correct any false antinomian theories which might have arisen out of a misconception of his words. Liberty is permissible, but not license. The liberty of a son is infinitely larger than that of a ward, and yet the son is not wholly without restraint.]

Verse 13

For ye, brethren, were called for freedom; only use not your freedom for an occasion to the flesh, but through love be servants one to another.

Verse 14

For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

Verse 15

But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another. [Do not think because you are free that you are therefore free to do evil. As a contrast to the spirit of liberty which is indeed yours, I counsel you to become servants one to another, not because the law commands you, but because love constrains you. For ye are indeed under the law of love, and that whole law is summed up in one sentence, which is this: "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." But if, instead of having the spirit of love, which becomes men, ye be animated with the spirit of wild beasts, which, in their hasty rancor, bite each other, and, in their settled, inveterate malice, gnaw at and devour each other, take heed that your conduct does not result in your being consumed one of another.]

Verse 16

But I say, Walk by the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.

Verse 17

For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are contrary the one to the other; that ye may not do the things that ye would. [The Christian is under the guidance of the Spirit, and the Spirit continually prompts him to imitate the Father who has adopted him, and the Christ who has died for him. Now, any one who submits himself to the guidance of the Spirit, will not yield to those lusts of the flesh which he knows are displeasing to God. But he will be tempted to yield to those lusts, for there is an inner conflict forever waged within him in which the flesh contends with the Spirit, and the Spirit with the flesh, each desiring to constrain the man to fulfill its will. And thus it comes about that ye may not do things that ye would, for there are two wills within you, and one or other of them must be subdued and disappointed.]

Verse 18

But if ye are led by the Spirit, ye are not under the law. [By as much as the Spirit triumphs within us, by that much are we freed from feeling the presence of the law. So long as we have two wills we are sensible of conflict, and so of the restraint of law, but when our nature is merged in the will of the Spirit, so that there is but one will within us, then we lose all consciousness of restraint. We attain to that true rule of liberty which Augustine condenses in the saying: "Love God, and do what you please." God himself leads the life of perfect righteousness, yet God can never be said to be under law. He knows no law but his own choice, but his choice is ever righteousness because of the perfect holiness of his character. So the Christian should strive to bring his own will into such perfect accord with the will of the Spirit that he does not feel the constraint of law resting upon him.]

Verse 19

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

Verse 20

idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions, parties,

Verse 21

envyings, drunkenness, revellings, and such like; of which I forewarn you, even as I did forewarn you, that they who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. [These sins are too well known to need analysis or comment. It is startling to find "factions, divisions, parties," in so black a list, and coupled with so clear a declaration that these sins exclude the perpetrator of them from the kingdom of God. Verily all professing Christians would do well to take heed to what the Bible designates as sins, and not trust too much to their own fallible sentiment and judgment in such matters.]

Verse 22

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness

Verse 23

meekness, self-control; against such there is no law. [Contrast between light and darkness is no more definite and distinct than that between these two catalogues which represent carnal and spiritual desires. All those who do these works of God, find no law of God interfering with them in the exercise of their labors.]

Verse 24

And they that are of Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with the passions and the lusts thereof. [All those who have been baptized with Christ have been symbolically united with him in his crucifixion and death (Romans 6:2-6). In Christ, therefore, they have crucified the flesh with its passions, and so have consented to cut themselves off from the indulgence of the same.]

Verse 25

If we live by the Spirit, by the Spirit let us also walk. [If we have been born and live in the Spirit, let us manifest that fact by our daily life, abstaining from evil. The especial evils mentioned in the last verse were probably very common among the Galatians.]

Verse 26

Let us not become vainglorious, provoking one another, envying one another.

Bibliographical Information
McGarvey, J. W. "Commentary on Galatians 5". "J. W. McGarvey's Original Commentary on Acts". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/oca/galatians-5.html. Transylvania Printing and Publishing Co. Lexington, KY. 1872.
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