Friday, August 07, 2009

Galatians 6:11-18

We wrap up our commentary on Galatians today. Next week, we'll begin looking at 1 John.

V11-18 – 11See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand! 12Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13Not even those who are circumcised obey the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your flesh. 14May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which [or whom] the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation. 16Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God. 17Finally, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. 18The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.

Paul often wrote his own conclusions (1 Corinthians 16:21; Colossians 4:8; 2 Thessalonians 3:17). Here he wrote with large letters – literally, all capitals – and this may show that he struggled with his eyesight (see also Galatians 4:15; scales from Acts 9), but more than likely, Paul wants to show that he is taking what is written very seriously and with great urgency. Regarding v12-15 (see Galatians 2:3; 4:17), non-Christian Jews were likely persecuting the Judaizers for failing to uphold traditional Jewish beliefs even as they acknowledged Christ as Messiah. Thus they felt pressure to uphold traditional Judaism, especially circumcision, even while embracing Christ.

Kim Riddlebarger says, “Paul once again deals with these hypocritical false teachers who were trying to make a good impression outwardly – v12 – but who themselves do not obey the very same law they tell their own converts that they must obey – v13. Warns Paul, they are trying to compel you to be circumcised – deceiving you into taking back upon yourselves the yoke of the law – when the Judaizers not only don’t keep the Law themselves, but that their motivation in deceiving you has to do with escaping persecution because of the stigma attached to the cross. …To remove the offense was to destroy the gospel.”

Once again, just as it was declared by Paul’s amanuensis in Galatians 5:6, Paul declares that his battle is not over circumcision but over the motive for it. “What counts is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17; Revelation 21:1), Paul says in v15. The Judaizers want to boast in the flesh of their converts; Paul wants to boast in the cross of Christ. Riddlebarger says, “Thus, unlike the Judaizers who were ashamed of the cross, and who denied its saving efficacy, Paul makes clear that it is his desire to boast only in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though it is very easy to overlook this point, this is really an amazing assertion. Why would Paul boast about something that many of those Jews and Greeks living in Galatia would have regarded as utterly offensive and outside the bounds of polite conversation? Add to this, the fact of the apostle’s own life-experience and his very impressive background, Paul certainly could have found something to boast about other than a cruel instrument of torture had he so desired. If there was anyone who had reason for boasting about himself, or his own accomplishments it was the apostle Paul. While the Judaizers were boasting about the number of converts that they had made in Galatia, and claiming that their gospel is the antidote to Paul’s supposed antinomianism, Paul’s response is to boast about an instrument of shame. Riddlebarger goes on to say:

While the cross may be foolishness to the Greek, and a stumbling block to the Jew, Paul says that the cross ‘is the power of God for those whoare being saved’ (1 Corinthians 1:17-18). Here in Galatians, Paul has already said that ‘Jesus loved us and gave himself for us,’ becoming a curse for us, and in doing so, bore the guilt of our sins in his own body. In doing this, the cross of Christ both reconciles God to us, and us to God. As Paul will later state in Romans 5:10, ‘when we were God's enemies we were reconciled to Him through the death of His son.’ The cross is, therefore, the only means by which God seeks to reconcile sinners unto himself. But this also means that cross will always remain an offence to all those who seek to stand before God and boast about their accomplishments and righteousness, and conformity to external ritual such as circumcision. …The cross turns aside God’s anger towards his people. In Romans 3:25, Paul declares that ‘God, presented Him [Jesus] as a sacrifice of atonement,’ or better, as a ‘propitiation,’ or a ‘turning aside of God’s anger,’ in regard to our sins. …Christ’s death is also said to be a subsistutionary payment for our sins. For Paul, Christ has ‘died for our sins’ (1 Corinthians 15:3), was ‘delivered over to death for our sins’ (Romans 4:25) and ‘died for us’ (Romans 5:8). Here, then, is the heart of Christ’s work on the cross. …Therefore, Paul desires to boast only in the Cross of Christ, because to boast in anything else, is to imply that men and women can be restored to a right relationship to God by some other means than through the sacrificial death and perfect righteousness of Christ. …Paul also chooses to boast in the cross because the cross of our Lord Jesus is also the pattern for the Christian life, the pattern for those who walk in the Spirit, and who sow to the Spirit, not the flesh.
Some commentators suggest that it’s as if Paul is saying, “If the world looks upon me as abhorred and excommunicated, I consider the world to be condemned and accursed.” That’s the attitude of shaking your feet as you leave a city that refuses to humble itself in repentance.

Paul ends his epistle to the Galatians with a benediction of peace and mercy. He wants peace and mercy to be for “all who follow this rule.” The rule is that “faith expressing itself through love” (Galatians 5:6), that “what counts is a new creation” (v15), is all that matters. And then he adds “even to the Israel of God.” Paul’s intent with this phrase was an additional rebuke of the Judaizers, who considered themselves to be just that. But Paul thinks otherwise, for “not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children” (Romans 9:6-7). The Israel of God could be one of two groups. First, it could be the conglomeration of Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ who by grace through faith have the Holy Spirit and make up the singular body of Christ known as the Church; and this is the view I take. Vincent Cheung says, “Those who disregard circumcision or uncircumcision, but rather emphasize faith and a new creation are, of course, those who affirm justification by faith in Christ, or the Christians. In other words, the Church alone is the true Israel of God. The rest, whether Jew or non-Jew, are excluded and assigned to the outer darkness.” Second, those desiring for a distinction to remain between the Church and Israel – namely dispensationalists – suggest that it could mean the fullness of the Jews – the elect of God for whom Paul was so deeply concerned, especially as seen in Romans 9:1-5; 11:12,26,31.

Kim Riddlebarger adds, “For Paul, the true ‘Israel of God,’ refers to those very people who participate in the new creation, namely those who walk in the Spirit, and for whom Christ has died to remove the curse. Thus, it is clear from a statement such as this, that all those who trust in Jesus Christ – whether they be Jew or Gentile – are indeed part of the new creation, which is the true ‘Israel of God.’ This, of course, is a final shot at the Judaizers, who are now regarded as apostates who have fallen from grace, for the true Israel of God is comprised of those who have been crucified with Christ and indwelt by the Spirit of God. And while he is at it, Paul puts them on notice in v17 – ‘let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.’ For the man who is scarred from being nearly stoned to death for preaching the gospel, has seen the strong hand of God deliver him many times before. Paul is afraid of no man, because he fears God!”

Referring to “the marks of Jesus” is most certainly a direct and final attack on the Judaizers, who cherish certain bodily marks – namely circumcision – seemingly proving their union with Christ. On the contrary, the marks Paul bore, as a result of enduring persecution for the sake of Christ, were the genuine proof not only of his union with Christ but also to his slavery to Christ for the sake of the gospel (Romans 1:1; Philippians 1:1; Titus 1:1), especially given the fact that the Greek word might better be translated as “brand,” such as in the slave trade or cattle business. Finally, in v18, Paul desires that the grace of Jesus befall the spirits of the Galatians, for that is truly what they need to triumph in their battle with legalism. Calvin concludes, “His prayer is not only that God may bestow upon them His grace in large measure, but that they may have a proper feeling of it in their hearts. Then only is it truly enjoyed by us, when it comes to our spirit. We ought therefore to entreat that God would prepare in our souls a habitation for His grace. Amen.”

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