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Monday, June 17th, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
Galatians 5

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Verse 1

‘Wherefore, brothers, we are not children of a handmaid, but of the free-woman. Christ set us free with a view to our freedom, therefore stand fast continually, and do not be entangled again in a yoke of bondage.’

The consequence of what had been said is that we are not to be children of slavery but children of freedom, children of liberty, equality and brotherhood (Galatians 3:28). For that is why Christ has set us free, so that we can be truly free (John 8:36). Thus the Galatians must stand firm and refuse to be entangled by a yoke that will bring them into bondage.

But of what does that freedom consist? It is not freedom to behave just as we like. It is, first of all, freedom from the requirements and condemnation of the Law. No more shall we groan under its yoke as we strive to keep it with fear in our hearts lest we fail. It is freedom from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2). It is also freedom from the power of sin (Romans 6:18; Romans 6:22), and indeed freedom from all requirements that man would load upon us. Its consequence is continual responsive faith and what results from it. It is freedom to let Christ live through us regardless of all else (Galatians 2:20), for where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17). It is freedom from the flesh to walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-22). It is the glorious liberty of the children of God (Romans 8:21).

‘Christ set us free.’ Both by bearing our curse on the cross (Galatians 3:13) and by indwelling our lives (Galatians 2:20).

‘Stand fast.’ Here we have the present tense - ‘go on standing fast.’ We must be continually firm and strong in order to ensure that we do not allow ourselves to be dragged back into legalism. Men, and especially religious leaders or the priesthood, will often seek to bind us with something and put restrictions on us, for it is to their benefit. But the Christian responds only in so far as it is his duty to God. He seeks only to please God.

‘Entangled again in a yoke of bondage.’ The ox is bound by the yoke so that it must submit to the dictates of its master. The man who is under the Law is bound by the Law so that he must submit to all its dictates. His life is a constant grind. And this, says Paul, is something to be avoided. The man who is in Christ is free because the risen Christ Who dwells in him and lives through him is not bound by any law but walks simply in accordance with the Father’s will. He takes Christ’s yoke on him, a yoke which is easy, and of which the burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).

Verses 1-12

The Application (Galatians 4:31 to Galatians 5:12 ).

Paul will now apply the ideas that he has put forward in depth. For he wants them to recognise what they are turning away from.

Verses 2-4

‘Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision Christ will be of no benefit to you. Yes, I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is a debtor to do the whole Law. You are estranged from Christ, you who would be justified by the Law. You are fallen away from grace.’

Paul now comes down to specifics. Here they are as Gentiles being faced up with the question as to whether they must be circumcised in order to find salvation. This refers, of course, to receiving circumcision as a necessary part of salvation with a view to submission to the Law. Timothy was circumcised because as a half-Jew it was considered prudent for his work among Jews and no vital issue was involved (Acts 16:3). In his case he saw the keeping of Jewish traditions as a privilege. He did not find them a burden. He had been brought up with them. But for Titus it was different. Titus was deliberately and openly not circumcised, because some sought it as a requirement for salvation (Galatians 2:3-4). Some wanted Titus and those like him to become slaves to the Law. And this was the issue that faced the Galatians. Did they want to take the position that obedience to the whole Law was necessary for salvation? or did they want to enjoy the freedom of Abraham?

So Paul warns them of the dangers of circumcision. Firstly for them it will be a first step to, and indicate a commitment to, obeying the whole Law of Moses as expanded by the Rabbis, including both ceremonial and moral requirements. It will be declaring that they want to be judged by the Law. And secondly, resulting from that, it will take away any benefit that is receivable from Christ. Christ will ‘profit them nothing’, He will be ‘of no benefit to them’, His death will be of no avail. For they will not be looking in faith to Him they will have their eye continually on the Law and on their own efforts.

And the result will be that the Galatians will simply be becoming like the Pharisees, binding themselves and others with burdens grievous to be borne, committing themselves to a continual ritual, seeking impossibly to purify themselves and put themselves in a position to be faithful to the covenant and deserve eternal life. They will be becoming workhorses of the Law, treading the treadmill of the Law. And instead of loving God with all their hearts, and freely loving their neighbours, they will be tying themselves into a system which makes both God and neighbours a burden.

‘I, Paul.’ Emphatic. He above all as an ex-Pharisee, and now as an Apostle, has cause to know the truth about circumcision and the Law.

‘Testify.’ A forceful expression emphasising the seriousness with which he speaks.

‘A debtor to do the whole law.’ What an impossible position this describes, for to fail on one point will make them guilty of all (James 2:10). Then they will come under its curse with nowhere else to turn.

‘You are estranged from Christ, you who would be reckoned as righteous by the Law.’ The word katargeo (in the aorist passive) means to be rendered ineffective, rendered powerless, to be abolished, set aside, to be brought to an end, to be released from association with someone, to be estranged from. By looking to the Law as their saviour they will be once for all estranged from Christ, and and will be rendered ineffective and powerless. They will have nowhere to turn when they fail, for Christ cannot be had on a hit and miss basis. There will be no relationship with Him. They will be strangers to Him, and He to them. For they will have rejected His sacrifice on the cross as their means of being reckoned as righteous and will be looking to the perfection of their own religious involvement and their striving to keep the Law. While others are walking in freedom with Christ, they will be treading the harsh and stony path of the Law.

‘You are fallen away from grace.’ The verb ekpipto means to fall from, to fall away from, to drift away from. They will have drifted away from the position of accepting dependence on the grace, the unmerited active favour of God, as revealed through the cross. They will be depending on their own achievements, achievements that can never be sufficient. This is a theological position that is being described. It says nothing one way or another about whether they are, or have ever been, truly saved.

What then is the significance of what is being described here? Paul sees clearly the danger. In the end he is describing an attitude of heart. The eyes of those who seek salvation by the Law and by means of religious ritual will be taken off Christ, and they will thus become estranged to Him and drift away from the idea of the grace of God. They will become taken up with earthly things, with their eyes fixed on earthly ritual, their lives committed to earthly religious obedience. This is true whether it be service to the Law, or blind commitment to a church and its rituals.

So he recognises that the principle must be firmly established. The Gospel has nothing to do with obedience to any laws or submission to any rituals or to any such thing, whether Jewish, or ‘Christian’ or anything else. Being reckoned righteous by God results from the grace of God alone, active in those who respond in faith to the Crucified and risen Christ. Salvation results from that alone and from nothing else. Anyone who introduces anything else is therefore in danger of making that replace Christ, and in the worst analysis they will become totally outside any benefit that they can receive through Christ.

The Jerusalem church mixed faith in Christ and ritual, as did many Jews, but the question in view was as to where each looked for his or her salvation. Was it to their ritual or to the crucified Christ? The fact that they had come to Christ at all indicated their dissatisfaction with what their ritual could achieve. Thus their ritual, which had been and still was an habitual part of their lives, a part of their past, did not necessarily cut them off from Christ. For they had become Christians in spite of their ritual. Christ had transcended their ritual. And their ritual simply identified them as Jewish Christians.

But for Gentiles to deliberately look to such ritual, and the laws connected with it, taking it on as a new burden, would be to have their lives possessed by something that would control their minds and lives. They would simply have exchanged heathen ritual for Jewish ritual. Thus Christ would slip back into insignificance. It would basically be to eradicate Christ and make Him unnecessary to them. And it would be to give the wrong impression to other Gentiles. It would be to ‘drift away from the doctrine of grace’ to a life of Law-keeping.

Now the question is, could anyone who had truly known Christ by faith behave in such a way? Those who truly know Christ would surely be unable to do so and should the Galatians finally succumb it could only serve to indicate that their faith had not been real.

Verse 5

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

For those who are Christians walk through the Spirit by faith. And they are waiting for the final hope when they will be presented holy, unblameable and unreproveable in His sight (Colossians 1:22). This is the Christian Gospel. The grace of God has provided His Spirit to work in men’s heart and lives. So those who are His respond to Him in faith with the result that they await the hope of righteousness. Biblical hope is always certain hope. And the Spirit’s work is then the guarantee of the final perfection of His people (Ephesians 4:12-13; 1 Peter 5:10) and it all results from the response of faith. To fall away from this, and to try to attain such righteousness by religious ritual and behaviour is to fall away from grace indeed. It is to reject the Spirit.

‘The hope of righteousness.’ Either what we hope for because we have been reckoned as righteous (Galatians 2:20), or the hope that we have of being made truly righteous.

Verse 6

‘For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision avails anything, nor uncircumcision, but faith working through (or ‘by’) love.’

For in Christ it matters not whether a person is circumcised or uncircumcised. Circumcision makes no difference to a man’s inner life. What matters is faith working in response to the love of Christ, or faith expressing itself in love. Thus circumcision itself is unimportant. It is the attitude of a person’s heart that matters, not whether he is physically circumcised. What matters is to be circumcised in heart (Romans 2:29; Philippians 3:3; Colossians 2:11).

The love that results from faith is the perfect answer to those who react to Paul’s teaching by saying that he gives men licence to behave as they like. For love fulfils all God’s requirements (Galatians 5:13-14).

It should be noted here that all this does not mean that rules are necessarily a bad thing, nor indeed that the Law was a bad thing. As a guide for living and as a guide for knowing the mind of God they may be excellent. But where they become wrong, and indeed unchristian, is when they are used as a means of becoming acceptable to God, as a means of putting men ‘in the right’ with God. Or even as a means of making them somehow superior to other Christians. That is legalism, and Paul in Galatians condemns it out of hand.

When we ‘dechristianise’ people on the grounds that they do not keep the Sabbath, or do not experience special experiences that we experience, or do not observe certain regulations that we have decided are important, we share in the condemnation that Paul pours on the Judaisers. We may to some extent be right about the importance of such things to us, but we are wrong if we make them determining factors about somebody’s Christian status. The only test of that is their faith in the crucified and risen Christ.

Verse 7

‘You were running well. Who hindered you that you should not obey the truth?’

Their progress and growth had been fully satisfactory, who was it now then who was hindering them from obeying the truth? The illustration is from the games. They were putting in a good performance, and then someone had cheated in order to prevent their success. Note how Paul confidently describes what he has told them as ‘the truth’. For it is God’s special revelation of Himself. But while it is the truth, sadly they are not ‘obeying’ it. For truth when accepted produces obedience.

‘Who hindered you?’ A deliberate act of cheating is in mind. These were not fair-minded men but cheats.

Verses 7-12

Paul is Puzzled by their Failure and Angry At Those who have Led Them Astray (Galatians 5:7-12 ).

Paul now again expresses his deep puzzlement at their behaviour. He just cannot understand how they can be so foolish, when what they had received was so wonderful

Verse 8

‘This persuasion is not of him who calls you.’

Whoever it is who is speaking to persuade them, who is hindering them, is not doing it at God’s command. For the One Who is calling them longs for them to be truly free in Christ.

Verse 9

‘A little leaven leavens the whole lump.’

They must therefore beware. For a small amount of yeast will spread through and affect the whole lump of pastry. So also will a small amount of false teaching affect a large number so that in the end all are affected. Or it can enter the individual mind and gradually possess it until that person is totally affected. Compare 1 Corinthians 5:6. Here he is stressing the danger that, when something like legalism begins to get a toehold, it is not long before it takes control of the whole. It spreads like yeast throughout the whole mixture. He might also be meaning that it only takes one man with false ideas to come in and then it can infect the group, and soon the whole group is led astray.

Verse 10

‘I have confidence towards you in the Lord that you will not be of another mind, but he who troubles you will bear his judgment, whoever he is.’

But Paul now assures them that he is confident that they will come well out of this because they are in the Lord’s hands. His confidence is primarily in the Lord, but also in them. This will hopefully soften their hearts to what he has been saying.

On the other hand he is confident that the one who is troubling them will be dealt with by God. This verse (‘whoever he is’) may suggest that there may have been one major figure, along with his companions, who was responsible for the problems.

‘Will bear his judgment.’ They will have to give account to God. Compare Romans 14:10-12.; 1 Corinthians 3:10-15.

Verse 11

‘But as for me brothers, if I still preach circumcision why am I still persecuted? Then the stumblingblock of the cross has been done away.’

Some may have pointed at cases like Timothy’s where he had allowed circumcision. And he no doubt still allowed Christian Jews to circumcise their sons if they wished to. But they then accuse him of ‘preaching circumcision’ by his actions. Thus he is at pains to defend himself. He points out that he suffers persecution precisely because he preaches the message of the cross as the only way of salvation, and rejects anything else as necessary for salvation. That is the stumblingblock of the cross, the fact that it does away with all merit and all deserving, that it brings all under the curse of God. It is that it tells us that the only way that we can be put in the right with God is by looking to One Who died on a cross, openly under God’s curse. It requires submission on the basis of total unworthiness. It rejects any attempt by men to contribute to their own salvation. The reason that the cross is a stumblingblock is because by it all else, and especially circumcision, is put in its proper place as not being essential. From a salvation point of view it is irrelevant, no matter what it is. It says that all must be accepted as cursed. Thus all ordinances and good works are excluded as contributing to salvation. Such ordinances, including circumcision, may be all right for those whose customs they are, as long as that is all that they make of it, but they must not be magnified into something supremely important, something essential to being saved. As Paul tells us elsewhere, what he is saying may be foolishness to men (1 Corinthians 1:18; 1 Corinthians 1:21-25) but in it is revealed the wisdom of God.

Verse 12

‘I would that those who trouble you would even cut themselves off.’

NEB puts this in this way, ‘as for these agitators, they had better go the whole way and make eunuchs of themselves’ (i.e. like the eunuch priests of Cybele who might have been well known to the Galatians). For if they made eunuchs of themselves instead of circumcising themselves they would be cut off from their own status under the Law (Deuteronomy 23:1). They would become outsiders. If we take it like this, this would represent a sardonic attack on the Judaisers. But, especially in view of what he is to say about love, he is possibly rather simply expressing a wish that they would ‘remove themselves’ (a pun, having their preaching of circumcision in mind where the foreskin is removed), thus ‘cutting themselves off’ from the Galatians.

Verses 13-14

‘For you, brothers ,were called for freedom. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity (a base of operations) for the flesh to express itself, but through love be servants to one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, even this, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”.’

As he has previously argued, they were called by God with the purpose of their being made free. Free from the Law and its charges, free from its restrictions, free from final condemnation (Romans 5:1). But now he asks them to recognise that this does not give them the freedom to behave just as they like. It does not mean that they can give the flesh free rein. For if Christ dwells in them how can they possibly do that (Galatians 2:20)? Was that the way in which Christ lived?

Thus they can now turn and make use of the Law. For the Law can help them to know the mind of God. And he quotes them an example to prove it. He points out that Jesus does want them to fulfil the Law in a positive way, and that that can be expressed in terms of loving their neighbours as themselves. Therefore they must demonstrate this in the first place by being servants to each other ‘through love’. This seems to suggest that there was some friction in the church through feelings of superiority that needed to be put right. And he will shortly show them how they can do this, for this is indeed what the Spirit is seeking to work within them.

The command ‘you shall love your neighbour as yourself’ comes in Leviticus 19:18. It was prominent in Jewish thinking (Luke 10:27), although as Jesus had to point out they put too great a restriction on who was their neighbour (Luke 10:30-37). But it was not a command that any could fulfil completely and thus it was another finger pointing at them under the Law. On the other hand, now that they are free from the condemnation of the Law, Christians can again take it up as a guide for living. And that is what they must do. But this does not necessarily mean having natural affection for my neighbour. It is difficult sometimes to have such affection for some people. Rather it means behaving towards them as we would want others to behave towards us. It means behaving towards them as Christ Himself would behave, regardless of how we feel.

It is true that God calls us to be free, to enjoy freedom from the bondage of the Law. But this is not to be looked on as an opportunity for gratifying fleshly desires. We are not free from seeking to be righteous. Our freedom is rather to be seen as an opportunity to be free to demonstrate Christian love. Through love Christians will be ‘slaves’ to each other, because their love makes them want to serve each other. They will be love-slaves. Indeed paradoxically this results in fulfilling the Law, for to obey the command ‘you shall love your neighbour as yourself’, if genuinely carried out, results in fulfilling all the moral requirements of the Law and more. It means we consider other people’s happiness and satisfaction as being of equal, if not greater, concern than our own.

‘As an opportunity.’ The word basically meant the base of operations for an attack or an expedition. Thus it signifies supplying an opportunity to do what was desired.

‘For the flesh to express itself.’ Paul does not view the flesh as essentially evil in itself. The flesh is essentially neutral. It is simply man’s human body. But sadly it has tendencies which, if not properly controlled, will lead to sin. It is the animal part of us that has to be controlled. But it is man who, by his own wilful free choice, follows the downward pull of the flesh. In the end we cannot blame the flesh. We must blame ourselves.

‘Servants through love.’ This contrasts with the ‘yoke of bondage’ in Galatians 5:1. It is now a service of love rather than an enforced servitude. But what does it mean to be a servant? Jesus Christ Himself was the perfect example. He came not to be served but to serve, and this included the sacrifice of His life Mark 10:45). It means living a life of concern for others. It means being willing to perform the lowly service, even as Jesus did for His disciples (John 13:1-10). It means consideration and thoughtfulness for the needs of others. It means helping them to grow in the grace of God and in the word of God.

Verses 13-26

Freedom is Not to Be Misinterpreted as Licence. They Must Walk in Love and By the Spirit (Galatians 5:13-26 ).

Paul now goes on to deal with the charge that the Gospel he is presenting gives men licence to do as they like. What he is teaching, he points out, will not result in licentious living, but rather the opposite. It will result in living by the Spirit, in producing the fruit of the Spirit in their lives.

Verse 15

‘But if you bite and devour one another, be careful that you are not consumed one by another.’

On the other hand, if we bite and devour each other by what we say and do, and there appears to be a hint that possibly some Galatian Christians were doing this, then we need to beware that we do not consume each other, destroying each other’s faith and obedience to God. That is the opposite of Christian love. It is the opposite of Christian service. And by it they will simply destroy themselves and any harmony that is among them.

‘Bite and devour one another.’ Paul likens them to wild animals, possibly to the wild dogs that roamed the streets, wild beasts and scavengers who regularly attacked each other and consumed other animals.

Verses 16-17

‘But I say, “Walk by the Spirit and you will not fulfil the longing of the flesh. For the flesh longs against the Spirit, and the Spirit longs against the flesh. For these are contrary, the one to the other, that you may not do the things that you would.’

But how different that is from being a Christian. For a Christian walks by the Spirit, and in accordance with His will. They have previously learned that Christ lives in them in His resurrection life (Galatians 2:20), that they have received the Spirit (Galatians 3:2), that they have been adopted as sons of God, receiving the Spirit of His Son into their hearts (Galatians 4:5-6), that Christ is to be formed within them (Galatians 4:19), that they wait for the hope of righteousness through the Spirit (Galatians 5:5). Now Paul tells them that they must walk by the same Spirit.

He agrees that a battle constantly takes place in each Christian’s life, for we live in human bodies. We have fleshly desires. Our ‘flesh’ longs for things we should not long for, for position, fame, money, drink, sexual satisfaction however achieved, prominence and so on (or at least the desire for one or the other is always there deep down ready to break through). But, if we are Christians we also have within us the Spirit longing for righteousness. And these are at constant warfare, or seeking to be so. Both pull us in different ways. And Paul tells us that we must listen to the Spirit and ‘walk by the Spirit’. This means walking as He wants us to by His power, in full responsiveness to His promptings through God’s word and prayer. We must see Christ as living within us and let Him live through us.

On His side He has promised that He will enable us to overcome every temptation that besets us (1 Corinthians 10:13), and that He will work within us to will and do of His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). And the fact is that we desperately need Him and the power of His risen life, for in every Christian’s life a great battle is taking place, and never more so than when it is not noticed. Thus we must ‘work out’ what God works in us, with greatest care (Philippians 2:12).

The reality is that the Spirit and the flesh are at constant loggerheads. ‘For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh’. The flesh constantly tugs at us like a tug-of-war team, seeking to drag us away from what the Spirit desires, for the flesh is earthly and thinks of what is earthly. In some the pull of the flesh may be weaker as a result of long experience of God but the flesh is ever willing to wait for the weak moment, so that it can strike, as the Serpent did in the Garden of Eden. On the other hand the Spirit seeks to draw us the other way towards the heavenly. ‘For these are against each other, to prevent you from doing what you would’. In other words, as Christians ‘what we would’ is to follow the Spirit, but the flesh regularly seeks to prevent us from doing so (compare Romans 7:14-25).

But Paul is not here saying that human flesh is, in itself, intrinsically evil. He is rather saying that that flesh contains desires and longings which have to be controlled. In the Christian the Spirit will constantly act as a powerful pull away from following fleshly longings. But the flesh will just as constantly and fiercely pull back. The Christian certainly wants to be pure, and loving, and good and righteous, (otherwise his profession must be in doubt), but there will always be something that is seeking to drag him down, ‘the pull of the flesh’. Thus he does not always behave in the way that in his best moments he wants to.

In some it will be greed for power or fame or status, in others it will be envy of those who have achieved such, in others the problem of a strong sex drive, or a drink problem, in others a sense of self-righteousness, a desire to be recognised as ‘good’. But it will be there in all, and never more dangerous than when not recognised. But the Spirit can enable us to overcome, not by our struggling to keep a set of detailed rules, (a sure way to fail), but by constantly looking to Him in prayer and through His word, and responding to His prompting. As it has been well put, ‘His word will keep me from sin, and sin will seek to keep me from His word’.

However, a word of warning from Paul. Very often there is only one way to fight the desires that arise within us, and paradoxically that way is to flee (2 Timothy 2:22), to engage in a strategic withdrawal. Being led by the Spirit involves being where the Spirit wants us to be, it also involves not being where the Spirit does not want us to be. If you carry the means of temptation with you, or go where such temptation will beset you, you cannot expect the Spirit to intervene. You have already said ‘no’ to Him.

‘That you may not do the things that you would.’ This refers to the power of the flesh to drag us down from what the Spirit is doing within us, for what the Christian ‘would’ is to fulfil all righteousness. Indeed if that is not his wish his position in Christ must be in doubt. The point is that the pull of the flesh is our enemy to be faced up to (often by fleeing) and to be overcome, for we are no longer after the flesh but born of the Spirit (Galatians 4:29).

Are our eyes fixed on some object of pleasure that is enticing us to sin. Then what we must do is run. ‘Flee from youthful desires’. That is being led by the Spirit. Is Satan putting evil thoughts into our minds, and setting our thoughts on them? Then it will be no good running. Our thoughts will go with us. What we must do then is make use of the armour of God and the shield of the word of God. Is he suggesting false ways to us? Then we must ‘resist the Devil and he will flee from you’. The Spirit will always lead us in accordance with the word of God.

Verse 18

‘But if you are being led by the Spirit you are not under the Law’.

This is the crux of the matter. Those who submit to the Spirit’s prompting, with the help of the Spirit’s power, will live positive lives of Christian love, for they are ‘being led by the Spirit’, a continual process which includes His empowering. They do not constantly check a list to see whether they have attained the standard. They do not struggle to keep the Law so as to be acceptable to God, and live in dread of breaking it. They are not tied down by rules and regulations. They rather recognise that they are acceptable to God through the crucified One and so they gladly seek to keep His commandments as led and empowered by the Spirit. They constantly continue submitting themselves to the control of the Spirit. They constantly allow Christ to live through them. And this is something that in their inner hearts they want to do. And the more that they come to know Christ, the more they will want to be like Him.

It is true that the flesh may sometimes pull them down, but in the end they rise again and finally overcome, because they want to please their Father. Such people are ‘not under the Law’, for they have died to the Law and live to God, and the life that they now live in the flesh they live by faith in the Son of God Who loved them and gave Himself for them (Galatians 2:20). They are aware of sorrow for sin, but not of condemnation from the Law, because that has been borne by Christ, and they rather use the Law as a guide to the mind of God.

And it this leading which is evidence that they are sons of God. ‘For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God (Romans 8:14).’

Verses 19-21

‘Now the works of the flesh are openly revealed, which are these, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousies, fits of anger, factions, divisions, party feeling, envyings, drunkenness, revellings, and such like, of which I forewarn you that they who practise such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.’

Paul now lists some of the ‘works of the flesh’. They come in groups. Sexual longings wrongly expressed in immorality, impurity of thought and life, and being sexually out of control; spiritual longings debased into idolatry, the worship of earthly things or people (such as pop stars or sportsmen when they are given reverence beyond their due), the seeking of familiar spirits through mediums, involvement in the occult (with ouija boards, crystal balls, tarot cards and so on); attitudes of enmity and hostility towards others, division and strife; envy and jealousy, bad temper, living for self, bickering and dissension; getting into cliques, drunkenness, wild partying, and such like. Thus he takes it much further than just sex, violence and drunkenness. It affects attitudes of minds and hearts. But they are not described as ‘the fruit’ of the flesh. They are the fruit of man’s evil heart. It is man who chooses to do such things. The flesh simply provides him with his excuse.

Then he adds a strict warning so that he cannot be misunderstood. ‘I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God’. For how can men say they are living under the Kingly Rule of God when they so flagrantly disobey Him? And if they do not live under His earthly Rule how can they hope to live under His heavenly Rule? And they can be sure they will not enter His kingdom, whatever their claims, for if they behave like this they have clearly not received the Holy Spirit and are not being led by the Spirit.

‘Inherit.’ This may look back to the ideas in Galatians 3:15-18. It is both a present and a future inheritance, inheriting the promises now and the final blessing in the future.

‘The kingdom (kingly rule) of God.’ In Romans 14:17 the kingly rule of God ‘is not eating and drinking, but is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, for he who therein serves Christ is well pleasing to God and approved of men’. It is thus a present Kingly Rule of God, in the world but not of it. It is the Rule of Christ the king, which will, of course, find its ultimate fulfilment in Heaven. So those who indulge themselves in the works of the flesh, and refuse to be led by the Spirit, have clearly no part in the present ‘kingdom’ and will therefore have no part in the future kingdom.

Verses 22-23

‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness (consideration for others), goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control. Against such there is no Law.’

In contrast to the works of the flesh is the fruit of the Spirit. And now he outlines the ‘fruit’ of the Spirit. We notice the word for fruit is singular. All these things result from the Spirit’s work within, we cannot pick and choose. ‘The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience and long-suffering, kindness and consideration for others, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control’. This is the test of the Spirit-filled life. This is the Christian life. This will result from being led by the Spirit. No one who lives like this requires a Law to control them, nor can it judge them. ‘Against such there is no Law’.

Note the contrasts, not lust, but true Christian love, not seeking for excitement, but experiencing joy, not fighting for what we want, but peace, not wanting our own way, but patience and longsuffering, not rudeness and brutality and thoughtlessness, but kindness and consideration, not a show of morality for a day, but true goodness, not a constant failure to listen to God, but faithfulness, not self-assertion, but gentleness, and all in total self-control.

Who among us is never caught out by lack of one of these? But ‘if we admit (to God) our sins, He is faithful and will justly forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness’ (1 John 1:9).

‘The fruit.’ The workings of the flesh were ‘works’, but the activity of the Spirit produces fruit. It is not the result of our exertion but of Christ living through us by His Spirit. This process is not an attempt at ‘justification (being put in the right) by works’ but the fruit which is consequent on the Spirit at work within us. This fruit is not an attempt to win favour or to gain a positive decision at the judgment, it is a joyful response to the grace of God, and a recognition that we have died with Christ to our old lives.

‘Love.’ This is the primary fruit from which the remainder flows, for love works no ill to its neighbour and love therefore is the fulfilling of the Law (Romans 13:10). Thus the work of the Spirit within us results in love reaching out to others and thus the fulfilling of the (moral) Law. Love is also the greatest out of ‘faith, hope and love’ (1 Corinthians 13:13), not because we are to choose between them but because it is the flower in bloom that grows from faith. First faith and then love, though both are closely integrated. It is the fullest expression of what God is (1 John 4:8). See especially 1 Corinthians 13:4-8).

Interestingly Paul could have said ‘the fruit of faith is love, joy, peace etc.’ connecting directly with the previous chapters, but that is simply because faith opens our hearts to the Spirit’s working, as also revealed in those previous chapters. Without the work of the Spirit faith would be barren. But faith works by love.

Notice the threesomes. ‘Love, joy and peace’, the settled state of the heart within. ‘Longsuffering, kindness, goodness’, our attitude to others revealed among other things in showing consideration and thoughtfulness in our behaviour. And this consideration and thoughtfulness for others, means ‘others’ in the widest sense, not just our friends. It is a virtue very lacking today. ‘Faithfulness, meekness (praotes/prautes), self-control’, describing how we manifest ourselves to others. Praotes means ‘gentleness, humility, courtesy, considerateness, meekness in the best sense of not thrusting oneself forward or always defending oneself, or forcing one’s own opinion, while still being firm and true in the things pertaining to God.’ It does not mean that we just give way on everything and are afraid to stand up for what is right.

Verse 24

‘For those who are of Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires’.

Inevitably, we come back to the cross, for that is the centre of all God’s working. We live like this because we have been crucified with Christ, and thus we have died to sin. In intent we have therefore put to death our earthly uncontrolled passions and desires, for this is what coming to the cross and receiving forgiveness involves. Now as we live, we live lives guided by the Spirit through His word, and these things will come under control. We will daily become more like Him, being changed from glory into glory (2 Corinthians 3:18), until we are made like Him, when we shall see Him as He is (1 John 3:2).

Paul makes quite clear here that this is not an open option. If we are ‘of Christ Jesus’, if we have been born of the Spirit, if we have come to the crucified One to receive forgiveness, if He now lives within us, we have, in intent, crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. We have said that it deserves to die. And the proof of this will be that we will live like it.

But let us not pretend that this is easy. It is a lifetime commitment. The flesh does not go away. He who has a strong sex-drive still has a strong sex-drive when he is converted. He who has a bad temper still has a bad temper. Much of our behaviour pattern is governed by chemicals in the brain, and these determine much of our behaviour and go on after we have become Christians (and if those chemicals go wrong people can behave in ways that they cannot help but which seem appalling, for their minds become distorted. And sadly this can happen to Christians). Thus different people face different problems from the flesh. But for most of us the final choice is ours. It is we who must finally decide.

Thus we constantly need the Spirit’s leading and empowering, and we still need to flee from situations where we may be tempted beyond what we can control. The Spirit guides us to this too. And thank God we always have available the fountain opened for sin and uncleanness, so that when we stumble we may be cleansed and continue as though we had not sinned, and we are ever able to look to the cross and remember that these tendencies that grieve us so much have been crucified with Christ and will one day be no more.

Verse 25

‘If the Spirit has given us life, let us also walk step by step with the Spirit.’

So those who claim to have received life from the Spirit, will reveal it by a daily walk under His guidance and control. They will constantly look to Him for power, and each step will be taken hand in hand with Him. This is the life of the Spirit into which the Christian has entered. He allows Christ to live through him, no longer living for himself but for Him Who died for him and rose again (2 Corinthians 5:15). He can live no other way.

We might well translate this as, ‘walk in step with the Spirit’. Soldiers train for months so that they can learn to walk in step with their platoon commander on parade. They are required to give much time to it so that in the end they walk perfectly in step. This is true to such an extent that they begin to do it subconsciously. So should we as Christians give much time to walking in step with the Spirit, and as we do so consciously, so will it become our unconscious habit. It is a matter of willingness, faith and response.

Verse 26

‘Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another.’

In contrast there are things, which are ever a danger, and are in direct opposition to the Spirit, regardless of how we seek to justify them. If we think much of ourselves and are self-satisfied, if we are provocative in our behaviour or with our words so as to upset others, if we are envious of each other, these things must be done away with, for they are ‘of the flesh’, and if continued in will be our ruin. Rather we must be considerate towards each other, seeking not to provoke one another.

Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Galatians 5". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/galatians-5.html. 2013.
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