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Thursday, November 30th, 2023
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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Bible Commentaries
Galatians 6

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Verses 1-2

‘Brothers, even if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of meekness, looking to yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear you one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.’

‘Even if a man is overtaken in any trespass.’ Note the ‘even if’. It should be looked on as an unexpected rarity. The idea of being overtaken is that the person is taken by surprise. They have been careless and allowed themselves to be overtaken by some trespass, a falling short of the mark. They have been walking by the Spirit but have somehow lapsed and have been overtaken by the flesh.

Then those who are spiritual, being led by the Spirit, will not be judgmental, but when someone so fails and is ‘overtaken in any failure or sin’ they will help to ‘restore’ them in a spirit of meekness, a spirit of selfless concern and gentleness without censoriousness. They will do this aware that they themselves are frail, and have often fallen, and will be wary that in helping another they themselves do not fail through temptation. For he who thinks that he stands should take heedful care lest he fall (1 Corinthians 10:12-13)

We must remember that the Spirit does not ‘lead us’ to enter places or situations which may put us to too great a test, even to help another. If that happens we have not been led by the Spirit. So we must walk wisely and each task should be given to those with the strength to deal with such situations. We must be humble enough to recognise when an older, wiser, or more spiritual head is needed to help the one who is fallen.

‘Taken in a trespass.’ He has been detected in a failure to obey the law of love, which is the law of Christ. But this is not necessarily some grievous sin, although it often feels like it to the Christian. It is a stepping over the boundary between right and wrong (or even right and not so right), it is a deviation from the path of true righteousness, but if persisted in, it can lead to greater sins. When Christians are humbly concerned about the sins of their fellows the church prospers, but when they become judgmental and censorious, the unity of the church is destroyed. And that is a catastrophe, for we cannot afford to lose even the weakest member (1 Corinthians 12:14-26).

‘Bear one another’s heavy burdens, and thus fulfil the law of Christ.’ Christians should therefore help each other, bearing each other’s burdens. This is the law of love, the law of Christ (John 13:34). Where someone is carrying a load too heavy to bear or is having a difficult time, those who can should unobtrusively step in and seek to assist with the burden. But this is to be done tactfully, tenderly, and without a sense of superiority or condescension, for if we think we are somehow superior to them we are deceiving ourselves.

‘Restore’. Bring back to his former position and behaviour.

‘The law of Christ.’ Having rejected Law all through the letter Paul now boldly speaks of the law of Christ. And that can only be the law of love (Galatians 5:14; John 13:34). Christians are freed from the Law so that they can walk in the Spirit by the word of God and reveal the fruit of the Spirit. That is the law of Christ. It is exemplified in Matthew 5-7.

Verses 1-5

The Need to Constantly Help Each Other Without Condescension (Galatians 6:1-5 ).

While confident in the Holy Spirit Paul does recognise that God’s people will require assistance in their walk with Him. What has been described is the life of the Spirit, but those who are young in it, or weak, will certainly need help and guidance. He points out therefore that we must each seek to help the other. This is one of the unique features of the Spirit-led life, a genuine concern to help each other while not being too intrusive. The life of the Spirit is not self-centred, it is Christ-centred.

Verse 3

‘For if a man thinks himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.’

Self-importance is revealed as a major sin, especially when seeking to help another. The self-important man should never be a counsellor. For if we would counsel we must remember that we are in fact nothing, that without Christ we are useless and helpless in such matters, and it is Christ Who is all and alone can help the trespasser. We may be His instruments, but He can well do without us, for it is He alone Who can lift the sinner, and not us. In fact it is only of His grace that He is willing to use us at all. And indeed without the Spirit where would we be? We too would be sinking in iniquity. Thus if we claim to be ‘somebody’ we deceive ourselves. We need to recognise that we are but weak and frail instruments of a powerful Lord. But that is the gist of it. We have a powerful Lord.

Verses 4-5

‘But let each man prove his own work, and then he will have his glorying in himself alone, and not of the other. For every man shall bear his own pack.’

Rather than criticising or looking with superiority at the behaviour of others, what we should be doing is putting our own behaviour and achievements to the test. We must ask, is our behaviour satisfactory? Are we up to the mark? Then we will have something to take pride in, especially before the judgment seat of Christ (Romans 14:10-12). For in the end each man has to bear his own pack, not someone else’s. In the end we will be tested by what we are.

Notice that in Galatians 6:2 the word for burden is ‘baros’, a weight, a heavy burden that wears a man down and makes him wilt (Matthew 20:12; Acts 15:28). In Galatians 6:5 it is ‘phortion’, e.g. a soldier’s pack or load, something to be carried without being too arduous, although in another context it can mean a grievous burden (Luke 11:46), as indeed a soldier’s pack can sometimes become.

Verse 6

‘But let him who is taught in the word communicate to him who teaches in all good things.’

In thinking of the load that each man must carry as he seeks to help others, Paul’s thoughts turn to the burdens borne especially by those who ministered the word in those days, for it was often difficult for such to earn a living (not all were tentmakers). Those who are well taught in the word by others should therefore be willing to share all good things with those who do the teaching, thus helping them with their burden.

Perhaps this verse should be above the doors of some churches. Ministers should not have to just ‘make do’ when their congregations thrive. They should share in the good things that their congregations enjoy, while they themselves share with their congregations the good things that they themselves have learned.

Verses 7-8

‘Do not be deceived. God is not mocked. For whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap. For he who sows to his own flesh, will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap eternal life.’

This statement applies to the whole of Galatians 5:13 to Galatians 6:7. He has already given a stern warning in Galatians 5:21. Now he repeats it even more strongly. He warns them against the danger of being deceived, this time not by false teachers but by themselves. They must not treat lightly what he has taught them, for its consequences are real. We cannot turn our nose up at God. Let us be sure of this. Whatever we sow we will reap.

How easily men convince themselves that ‘God is love’ so that they do not have to worry too much about their behaviour. How easily the ease of forgiveness makes us think lightly of the sin. So Paul warns us that we may be mocking God by our attitude. And he warns us that we will not get away with it. Forgiveness may give us a new start, but to continue in sin regardless will mean that we suffer the consequences. That is an inexorable law.

‘He who sows to his own flesh will of the flesh reap corruption.’ The flesh ‘longs’ against the Spirit, and those who go on yielding to it with little regard will reap corruption. That is the law of creation. He who sows to the satisfaction of the desires of his flesh will discover that it has inevitable consequences, possibly in the shorter term, certainly in the longer term. In many cases their lives and their health will be ruined by excess, in others the corruption may come in the judgment when they weep and gnash their teeth at what they have lost. God’s judgment may seem delayed, for He is long-suffering, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). But it will surely come. And the corollary of comparison with the next phrases is that such a person will not inherit eternal life.

‘But he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap eternal life.’ Paul shows clearly that in the struggle between flesh and Spirit we are not dealing on the one hand with weak Christians and on the other with strong ones, but we are dealing with all men who are affected by the Spirit. Those who follow the flesh do so because they are not Christians. They reject the working and pull of the Spirit. But those who respond to the Spirit’s prompting and let Him produce within them His perfect fruit, will reap eternal life. And here eternal life refers to the life to come, as usually in Paul. It is our certain hope (1 Timothy 1:2; 1 Timothy 3:7).

So there is no middle way. Either the flesh is lord, or the Spirit is Lord. The one will produce unpleasant physical and spiritual consequences in this life and finally the corruption of eternal death, the other will result in the joy and blessing in this life and in the life of eternity. To be free from the Law as Paul describes it is not an excuse for lawlessness. It is to be responsive to the Spirit of God. Those who are not responsive to the Spirit of God cannot claim to be Christ’s, for their faith is a sham, as they may well discover too late.

This does not, of course, mean that the Christian cannot enjoy some of the pleasure that man’s make up provides. Kept within bounds and subject to God’s teaching and will, such pleasure is not a ‘lust of the flesh’. It is enjoyment of God’s generous provision. It is when it gets out of bounds, when the flesh is given control, that it becomes sinful.

‘Mocked.’ The word means to turn the nose up at something. Thus when men sin and live after the flesh they are basically turning their noses up at God.

Verses 7-10

In the End We must Face Up to the Consequences of our Behaviour (Galatians 6:7-10 ).

Paul warns us all to remember that in the end we will have to give account for our behaviour. Walking with Christ is not a soft option that we can take or leave as we wish. It is the very evidence that we are truly His. For the test of the good seed is that it produces a hundredfold.

Verse 9

‘And let us not be weary in well-doing, for in due course we will reap if we do not faint.’

Paul recognises that all this may not be easy. It is tempting to follow the lusts of the flesh, and go beyond the bounds set by God. So he seeks to encourage the people of God, and he knows he must include himself. ‘Let us not grow weary in well doing, for in due season we will reap if we do not lose heart and give up’. Christians should ever look ahead to ‘the harvest’, the time when all their hard work will be rewarded, and at times of discouragement this should act as a spur, enabling them to persevere. For the reaping is certain for those who are led by the Spirit.

‘Well-doing.’ This refers to every aspect of life. To walk after the Spirit is to ‘do well’. Well-doing is the fruit of love, love for our neighbour, love for all men. At times we may grow weary, but we must look to Him and not faint and then we shall mount up on wings as eagles, we will run and not be weary, we will walk and not faint (Isaiah 40:31).

Verse 10

‘So then, as we have opportunity, let us work that which is good towards all men, and especially towards those who are of the household of faith.’

‘Opportunity’ is kairos, which also means time. Thus it means ‘while it is the opportune time’. For a time will come when no man can work (John 9:4). So we must seek to do good for all men while we can. There is no exclusivity here. Some churches are too inward looking and ignore the need of those outside. But the spiritual Christian has a wide vision, and he considers both the spiritual and the physical needs of all who are within his purview.

Nevertheless Paul then adds, ‘especially towards those who are of the household of faith’. The ‘household of faith’ is the assembly of Christians in each place and in every place. They are looked on as one family. And Christians are to have special concern for them (John 13:35; John 15:12).

So in the end we must look outside ourselves. Too much inward looking will unquestionably lead to failure, and is indeed sinful. What we must do is look outward to the needs of others. And this includes everyone, not just our own group, although, because our fellow-Christians are our ‘brothers’, we should have special regard for them.

Verse 11

‘See with how large letters I have written to you with my own hand.’

Having laid out for them the full position with regard to what the Gospel is, and the failure of those who preach otherwise, he wants to stress his conclusion. Thus he writes by his own hand and He writes in large letters.

Verses 11-15

The Final Summary - What the Christian Should Glory In (Galatians 6:11-15 ).

Having summarised Christian behaviour Paul now turns their attention to what they should be glorying in. Here Paul takes the letter from his secretary who is writing it for him, and writes in large letters so as to stress his conclusion.

Verse 12


Let them now reconsider the first fact. That the Judaisers are not honest. There real aim is to avoid the persecution that they would suffer if they ‘preached the cross’ (1 Corinthians 1:17-18). Thus they take the easy way out and insist on circumcision for all, turning everyone into Jews and making them submit to the Jew’s religion, counting everyone who is circumcised as a victory, and making a fair show. But note that it is ‘in the flesh’, (as is often ‘counting souls’).

Verse 13


Let them consider the second fact. That those who try to bring them in subjection to the Law cannot even keep the Law themselves. They offer them something that they themselves are unable to achieve. And they do it simply so that they can glory in what they achieve by having them circumcised. Indeed they want to ‘glory in your flesh’. In other words their glory is not in Christ but in fleshly things, they glory in ordinances, they glory especially in making men undergo circumcision that they may say, ‘see, he is marked as one of ours’. They are of those who follow the pull of the flesh, and they want others to be the same. They are not responsive to the Spirit, and they want them to behave likewise. For to be circumcised for this reason is as fleshly as all the other works of the flesh.

So those who want them to be circumcised and submit to ritual ordinances do it simply because they want to have physical proof of their success. They want to be able to glory in it. ‘See’, they want to be able to say, ‘they have submitted to circumcision’. Then they will receive their congratulations, and there it will end. The desires of their flesh will be satisfied.

Verse 14


Let them consider the third and final fact. That Paul desires to glory in only one thing, the cross of Christ. He glories in nothing else (when it comes to the question of salvation and relationship with God). That is central to his preaching and to the faith he teaches. For through it he has died to the world, and to all that is earthly, which includes the flesh and includes the Law. And all these have been crucified to him. As far as he is concerned they are dead, because he has come to know the full meaning and significance of the cross and He Who was crucified on it, that through Him and His sacrificial death he and all who truly believe have been reckoned as righteous by faith and have received the Holy Spirit. And now that alone is what matters to him.

He does not glory in the fact that people have been circumcised, or indeed baptised (1 Corinthians 1:17). He does not glory in the fact that they do this or that, that they observe times and seasons, ritual food laws or laws of ‘cleanliness’. He does not glory in any of their activities. He does not glory in religious activity of any kind. He glories in only one thing, ‘the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ’ that delivers and makes men free, and in the One Who died there, the Lord of glory Who died and rose again, and in those who have died on it with Him and have found new life.

So as far as he is concerned circumcision is irrelevant. And uncircumcision is irrelevant. To argue about them, except in order to protect the message of the cross, is to argue about irrelevancies. They no longer matter. What matters is a new creation resulting from the preaching of the message of the cross. What matters is the total sufficiency of the cross and the One Who died there in providing salvation.

Our Lord, Jesus Christ.’ All through the epistle he has referred to Christ Jesus, or Jesus Christ. But now he wants to lay a greater emphasis. He is ‘our Lord’, Jesus Christ. He is the Lord of all. In the Septuagint this Greek word is used to express God’s special name, YHWH, and Paul makes it clear elsewhere that this is how he sees it, as applied to Christ. When he uses ‘Lord’ of Jesus, it means the name that is above every name to which every knee shall bow (Philippians 2:9-11). And it is this to this Lord, Who gave Himself up on the cross, that he gives all his attention and in Whom alone he glories. For what greater glory can there be than this greatest of all paradoxes, ‘the Lord of all’ on a cross.

‘A new creation’ or ‘a new creature’. Furthermore the old creation is done away in our Lord, Jesus Christ. It is now under judgment and only time stands in the way of its final destruction. But a ‘new creation’ has arisen, comprised of ‘new creatures’. For if any man is in Christ Jesus he is a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). And that is what matters. Those who have died with Christ and arisen as new creations, those who now have Christ living in them, those who now live by faith in the Son of God Who loved them and gave Himself for them, they have what matters, and what alone matters. And they are part of a great new creation, the Kingly Rule of God, they live in the heavenlies (Ephesians 2:6), the world in which the Spirit is triumphant. The old has passed away, the new has come.

Paul may well have had in mind here the words of Isaiah 48:6-7, ‘I have showed you new things from this time, even hidden things which you have not known, they are created now and not from of old.’ And Isaiah 54:9, ‘With everlasting kindness will I have mercy on you, says the Lord your Redeemer. This is as the waters of Noah to me ---.’ The new world after the Flood was seen by the Jews (e.g. Philo) as a ‘new creation’. And what is happening now is an even greater new creation. In Christ it is as though time has begun again. It is as though the world has been offered a second chance, as indeed it has.

So, he in effect says, ‘Forget the Law, forget circumcision, forget the old ways. Consider the new creation brought to us through the crucified and risen Lord.’ And that is only thing that Paul is willing to glory in.

Verse 16

‘And as many as shall walk by this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and on the Israel of God.’

His letter is finished. He has made clear his Gospel. And now on those of the Galatians who walk by ‘this rule’, (that the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ is all and that neither circumcision matters, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation) he prays for peace and mercy. For they alone will have both.

The combination of peace and mercy in such close conjunction in a blessing occurs nowhere in Judaism, but it is partially found in Psalms 85:10 (Psalms 84:11 in the LXX) and in Isaiah 54:10. The latter is especially appropriate, ‘neither shall my covenant of peace be removed, says Yahweh Who has mercy on you.’

‘And (namely) on the Israel of God.’ Throughout his letter he has demonstrated that the old unbelieving Israel is finished with. Their rites no longer apply, their submission to the Law is now futile, they are no longer the true sons of Abraham or heirs of the promise made to him (Galatians 3:18; Galatians 3:28-29). They are the sons of the slave woman who is after the flesh (Galatians 4:23), they are children of Hagar who have been brought into bondage (Galatians 4:24). They are children of the old Jerusalem which is in bondage (Galatians 4:25). They are as such to be cast out (Galatians 4:30).

But now there is a new Israel. They are, like Isaac, the children of promise (Galatians 4:28). They are the children of the free-woman (Galatians 4:31). They are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise (Galatians 3:29). They are adopted as sons and heirs of God (Galatians 4:5-7). They are reckoned as righteous by faith, just as their father Abraham was (Galatians 3:6-7). They have received the promise of the Spirit through faith (Galatians 3:14). They are children of the new Jerusalem which is in Heaven (Galatians 4:26). They are born after the Spirit (Galatians 4:29). They are the new people of God. And they consist of believing ex-Jews and believing ex-Gentiles (Galatians 3:28). They are ‘the congregation (church) of God’ (Galatians 1:13), the Israel of God.

Thus Paul extends his blessing to cover not only the faithful among the Galatians ‘those (of you) as shall walk by this rule’ but also the faithful worldwide, the Israel of God’. The close connection with the new creation in the previous verse confirms this interpretation. They are the new creation, the new Israel.

Some suggest ‘the Israel of God’ means only believing Jews. But the whole of Galatians has rid them of the idea that Jews are different from Gentiles, and the lack of difference is what he has been at pains to point out (Galatians 3:28). Would he now so distinguish believing Jews as the Israel of God separately from the believing Gentiles, thus again splitting ‘the one new man’ (Ephesians 2:15)? Especially as this last passage is summarising what has gone before. It is inconceivable. The ‘Israel of God’ includes either all or none.

Indeed the sentence I so worded that if we make the Israel of God separate from what has gone before we suggest that ‘those who walk according to this rule’ are different from the Israel of God. But that would be foolish. All walk according to the rule that circumcision matters no more. All who are His are a part of Israel, with or without circumcision.

It is one of the emphases of the New Testament that the church is the true Israel, the Israel of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob/Israel. They are the true seed of Abraham (Galatians 3:29), they are the true sons of Abraham (Galatians 3:7), they are engrafted into the olive tree of Israel (Romans 11:17-21), and unbelieving Israel is broken off from it (Romans 11:17; Romans 11:20). They are the Jerusalem which is above which is their mother (Galatians 3:26) and are like Isaac, true sons of promise, in contrast with unbelieving Jews who have proved themselves to be like Ishmael and thus not sons of promise (Galatians 4:22-31). They are children of Abraham through Sarah (Galatians 4:31).

To be separated from Christ is to be alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and to be strangers to the covenants of promise, but now they have been brought near and have been made one by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:12-13), so that they are no longer strangers and sojourners (non-Israelites), but fellow-citizens with God’s holy ones, God’s separated people, and they are of the household of God. They are built on Jesus Christ, Who in Himself represents Israel, and on the Apostles, chosen by Him to judge the twelve tribes of Israel (Matthew 19:28), that is the people of God, and on the Prophets of Israel.

It is noteworthy that Paul, in arguing against circumcision, never argues that the church is not Israel and therefore is not subject to circumcision. Rather he claims that circumcision has been superseded (Colossians 2:11-13), and that we are the true circumcision (Philippians 3:3) precisely because the church is the new Israel. Furthermore his reply to the Judaisers was not that they should not treat the church as though it were Israel. His arguments always assume that at least in that the Judaisers were right. Where they went wrong was in failing to recognise that through Christ and His death and resurrection God’s requirements of the true Israel were now different.

The whole basis of Hebrews is that the church is now the true Israel, looking to Jesus as its High Priest, they are the seed of Abraham (Galatians 2:16). Indeed our hope lies in exactly that, that the church is the result of the promise to Abraham that his seed will be multiplied (Galatians 6:13-18). He sees the church as coming to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem (Hebrews 11:22) as their home.

James of Jerusalem wrote to the churches as ‘the twelve tribes of the Dispersion’ )(James 1:1). That he meant the church as a whole is clear from the fact that there is no hint anywhere in his letter of a distinction from Gentile Christians in a context that would have demanded it if he had been aware of such a distinction. If he was writing only to Jewish Christians in a Gentile world how could he possibly not have mentioned their relationships with their Gentile brethren when speaking so strongly about moral behaviour, if that was how he had seen things? To have ignored Gentile Christians altogether would have been a studied insult. He writes as though such distinctions did not exist. In Christ there was neither Jew nor Greek. All were Israel.

Peter writes to ‘the elect among the sojourners of the Dispersion’ (1 Peter 1:1), and the same applies as with James. In his letter ‘Gentiles’ are always non-Christians, contrasted with his readers (Galatians 2:12; Galatians 4:3). He refers to God’s people as ‘an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation’ all signifying Israel as it should be (1 Peter 2:9 compare Exodus 19:5-6). So both James and Peter saw the church as Israel. And John does the same when he depicts the church as ‘one hundred and forty four thousand’ (total completeness) out of every tribe of the house of Israel, which turn out to be ‘a great multitude which no man could number’ (Revelation 7:0).

So the church was God’s true Israel. We should recognise that this transition of the church to being Israel was not the difficulty for the ancients that it is to us. Incorporation into ‘Israel’, becoming sons of Israel, was always possible for anyone of any nation who was willing to enter into the covenant (and exclusion resulted from rejecting the covenant). The ‘children of Israel’ from the start included foreign servants and their children. They were joined by a mixed multitude (Exodus 12:38) officially incorporated into Israel at Sinai. Names of Israelites like Uriah the Hittite bear witness to this continual influx. Later a welcome would be offered to proselytes, Gentiles who wished to become Israelites. But all had to be circumcised (e.g. Exodus 12:48). That is why circumcision was such a big issue in the early church. And that raised the question, ‘How could the church be Israel if all its influx of members were not required to be circumcised?’ Paul’s answer was that they were circumcised in the death of Christ (Colossians 2:11-13).

Verse 17

‘From henceforth let no man trouble me, for I bear branded on my body the marks (stigmata) of Jesus.’

He has finished what he wanted to say. Let them make their choice. They must choose either those who are branded with the mark of circumcision, or he who has been crucified with Christ and is branded with the marks of Jesus. If they choose circumcision they should have nothing more to do with him, for they will bear the brand that has cut them off from Christ.

It may well be that Paul is here not thinking just of metaphorical marks, but of physical marks. He had suffered much for Christ, enduring beatings and other ill-treatment, and he may well have seen the marks so obtained as a faint reflection and reminder of the marks that Jesus bore. He had shared in Christ’s crucifixion (Colossians 1:24). And there may here be the suggestion that the marks he bore were greater far, and more significant, than the mark of circumcision, for they pointed to the crucified Christ and the scandal of the cross.

Alternately the thought may be that the marks he bore marked him off as a devotee of Jesus Christ, and that therefore they must beware how they treated him. Herodotus wrote, ‘If any man receives holy stigmata (marks), giving himself to a god, it is not lawful to touch him.’ Thus Paul may be declaring his invulnerability to all that they could do.

Verse 18

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.’

He finishes his letter by praying for the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ to be with their spirit. This is pointed, for he never finishes like this anywhere else. He is stressing that it is only to those who are spiritual, because they have received the promise of the Spirit, that he writes. To those who walk after the Spirit. To those who have received the Spirit, and whose spirits have been renewed. And he prays that the undeserved favour and activity of the Lord Jesus Christ will be active with them in their life of the Spirit, that He will be ‘with their spirit’.

‘Amen.’ So be it.

Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Galatians 6". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/galatians-6.html. 2013.
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