Lecture 13: Galatians 5:7-6:1
Lecture: Galatians 5:7-6:1
I. Galatians 5:7-12
This is part of the final appeal by Paul in 5:1-12, a kind of a bracketing arrangement with Paul coming back to where he started this section in 3:1-6. Paul has laid out some of the theology in verses 2-6 in a cluster of these key theological words: righteousness, law, faith, Spirit and love. Now in 7-12 we have more specifics that are practical oriented; this is a direct appeal, warning of the agitators and their motives and why they should be ignored. Paul is reminded the Galatians again to finish what they started with. They have been running a good race; they started well and were doing well, now why let these agitators cut in on you, Paul asked? This is a kind of image where a runner cuts in on another runner. Why let these agitators cut you off and disrupt the good race you were running? The strength of Paul’s rhetoric text here comes to expression, especially in verse 12 where Paul wishes that the agitators would emasculate themselves. If these people are so interested in cutting off pieces of flesh on a penis, why don’t they go all the way and emasculate themselves? This is a strong biting sarcastic comment here; it is kind of the height of the rhetoric that you have in Galatians and indeed probably anywhere else in the writings of Paul. This only arises for his concern for the Galatians and his deep abiding concern that these agitators are getting involved in the Galatian’s lives in a way it is going to bring them to ultimate spiritual harm. Paul tries to keep that ultimate issue in front of them and that what motivates him to being saying this.
In verse 11, ‘Brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted; in that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. This is a difficult verse to interpret here. Why would Paul seem to have to fend off a charge that he is continuing to preach circumcision? It is hard to understand what is meant by that; perhaps the easiest explanation is that people are contrasting his sort of pre-Christian stance where he was persecuting the church, obviously depending circumcision as part of his Jewish heritage. That has now obviously changed and hence the persecution that has come; this is not an easy verse to explain.
II. Galatians 5:13-6:10
A. Why This Section is Here
The last major section of the letter is 5:13-6:10. Remember we are following John Stott’s helpful way of thinking about the structure of Galatians being divided into these three basic parts: the autobiographical argument of 1 and 2, Paul defending his authority, making a case for his version of the Gospel and why the Galatians should listen to him. Verses 3 and 4 has an emphasis on justification by faith, the key argument about how a person put right before God and now the more practical oriented part of the letter in 5:13 and following where Paul crucially brings in the Spirit as the key figure. The Spirit is the dominate idea throughout these verses and so the focus turns to the question of how we are living as the people of God. Why is this section here? Why does Paul move to this issue at the end of the letter, if it’s not really the matter that is being debated? It seems like the appeal in 5:1-12 could well have concluded Paul’s argument and then led his simply to the letter closing at this point. But instead of that, we have this section about the importance of holy living, the ministry of the Spirit and fostering that kind of new life. Why is it here? I like Calvin’s use of the double gift, justification and sanctification that are separate but yet go hand in hand. They are distinct but yet never separable. In the very structure of Galatians, perhaps Paul is kind of hinting of that. In Christ we have this new standing with God; in Christ we also have the foundation for a new way to live. Paul also has a lot to say about the problem of quarreling and arguing in the church and focusses on a lot of the virtues that should head off the kind of selfish viewpoint and the arguments that arise from it.
You can well imagine in a situation where the agitators have come in, they are disturbing things with the clear word Paul is using to describe them. We all know from our own experience that this will create a variety of responses in the church. You will have some in the church that will be all in favor what these agitators are saying whereas some will be saying that Paul has it right. So, we can imagine that the community is rent by these factions by disputes among the members and this section could well be intending to address this. This is a very practical issue in the church. The focus on the wrath of God is implicit in Galatians not necessarily explicit. When Paul argues when they fall back under the law, you are going to lose your righteous standing with God. He doesn’t come out and say, ‘that means you will not go free in the judgement; you will face dire situation in the judgment.’ He doesn’t come out and say that, but I think it is something that is assumed in what he is saying. If I am right about righteousness and some of the places having a focus on final righteousness or ultimate justification, then that would come to expression in a couple places. This is not as explicit as it is in Romans, but this all hinges on the idea of freedom in Christ but this can often be misinterpreted in our society. I am persuaded that the whole move toward same sex marriage, for example, is basically rooted in the American idea of liberty where basically people can do what they want unless they are do significant harm to somebody else. I think when people use that argument and rooting it in individual freedom or liberty that gets very persuasive.
Another thing to note, Paul doesn’t drop the law when he comes to his final section here. There are several key references to the law, so it is not like this drops out of sight. Another thing that he might be saying to help the Galatians understand that even if they are not living under the law as a sort of set of rules to guide their conduct, they are still in the Spirit and have what they need to be going in the right direction. I think we have to realize that as in our day, legalist Christians sometimes like a lot of rules because it gives them security; it gives them a definite kind of thing to do. They don’t have to think hard; they just have to follow a set of rules. That could have been attractive to the Galatians; they were under that law but how could they guarantee good Christians living. And Paul is saying that the Spirit provides that, he is working the fruit of the Spirit and producing those virtues that God wants to see in his people. You don’t have to be under the law for that to happen. Indeed, the law can short circuit that process. In looking around at the contemporary Christians, I see a lot of very dedicated evangelical Christians who kind of live by a set of rules. They might not put it that way but think that as a Christian, these are things I am supposed to be for and there are things that I am supposed to be against. They are quite faithful at that but sometimes there are huge issues that don’t fit into that box, that don’t get listed in those things that they can do and things they can’t do and end of practically living at pagans. There is no Christian world view being brought into the perspective because they have this mentality of a certain set of issues that they need to be concerned about. In that sense, following any law and making it too central in Christian experience can short circuit the larger work of holiness that God wants in their lives. So there are a number of reasons why Paul turns to the matter he turns to now.
C. Dissension in the Community
Here is a rough outline: verses 13-15 focuses on the Torah, the law and freedom; verses 16-24 turns especially to the Spirit and how the Spirit is capable of overcoming the flesh and working in us what God wants to be in terms of specific habits of life and though and then 5:25-6:10 turns the attention a little more to the community where now some of the issues of the Spirit and the law are discussed in a more definite focus in regards to the life of the community. This last section is a little more diverse, not clearly oriented to a single subject as much as the other two are.
I wanted to talk about freedom for a moment as this issue was raised. A kind of key focus here, freedom is not freedom from all kind of things. Yes, to some extent of not being under the law, freedom from being dominated by the elements of the world. It is also freedom that we can now turn ourselves toward God and the other. A lot of current New Testament effaces is using that language to sort of get at this idea of the importance that Christians are turned toward God and other people such as the community of Christ and even more broadly, the world and people out there in the world. And what God is trying to do, is to reorient Christians from that focus on self to a focus on the other. To a large measure that is what this section on Galatians is all about. It is about our standing in Christ and the work of the Spirit in our hearts and lives should create that new focus in the way we think and the way we behave.
D. How the Law is fulfilled in Leviticus 19:18
So verses 13-15: ‘you, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another as yourself. If you bit and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.’ We see the first place where we see arguments and dissension in the community; that is a concern for Paul. It is brought up in the forefront right here in verse 15. The claim that the law is fulfilled in the love command where Paul quotes Leviticus 19:18. This is a kind of common thread that you can trace and find woven throughout the New Testament documents. Remember Jesus when he was ask, ‘Lord what is the greatest commandment of all. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul and you shall love your neighbor as yourself. Paul quotes this same command in Romans 13 and you find it in James chapter 2 and it is also alluded to in John 13 in the foot washing episode. 1st John also talks about it; this is an absolutely bedrock idea in New Testament teaching that goes back to our Lord. This is the heart of what God is after in the law; it is a vertical loving God of course but from a horizontal standpoint, it is a love of the neighbor. Of course in Leviticus 19:18, the neighbor is the fellow Israelite as you will know, but in places like Luke 10 in the parable of the good Samaritan, Jesus is making the point that ultimately this applies to anybody. I like to paraphrase John F. Kennedy at this point, as a Christian we should ask not who our neighbor is; we should ask to whom we can be a neighbor. The mentality shouldn’t be that we need to find the neighbor but no more than that. The parable of the Good Samaritan was in need and thus is our neighbor. The love that we exercise toward others doesn’t’ have any neat lines where we can draw one.
How this command fulfills the law is a little harder to say and here are some of the options: love one another and in this way the law is fulfilled. Paul uses the expression, the whole law is fulfilled. How is it that command fulfills the whole law? What are the specifics of this? The love command is indeed given in other places as I’ve shown but you never have the love God command along with it. I think there was an understanding among Christians that accepting Christ was the fulfilment of loving God part. We now love God by our faith in Christ and our union with him. But now, it is how do I live in respect toward others is the issue at heart of loving one another. But, we need to remember in regards to Galatians, this letter is for Christians who have already expressed a faith in Christ; we should not forget that. The engagement with the world; there is a strong emphasis on this in contemporary Christianity is a good thing but as all good things, it can become focused so much on itself that we lose sight of other issues. I look at the undergraduates at Wheaton College, but I find that they tend to be gravitating strongly toward issues like environmentalism, combating aids, immigration issues and things like this. I am glad they are interested in such things but what I worry about, these are attitudes that the students can have in common with larger movements within society. They can become deeply involved with these things without worrying about being seen as completed devoted and leaving behind what is distinctly Christian witness as such. You have heard there are those who only care about saving souls with others who only care about social action and getting involved in the world in those ways. I think the Bible is fairly clear saying that it is a both / and involvement for the Christian and for the church. Paul says, you say you have faith, show me your love then, but James says, you say you have faith, show me your works then. But remember, you have works also with Paul in Ephesians 2 where he says that we are saved for good works. But for Galatians, the focus is simply more on love and what love produces. When he talks about Christian life, he tends not to use the word works, but instead the fruit of the Spirit.
Some people think that Paul is saying that you can dispense the law and just love, but it is not that the law is gone or done away with, but that the guidance in applying and living out and thinking about the law always has to be through the filter of love. And some say that the love command is part of the law because it is the command that we left. Clearly, Paul wants to say that we can rightly understand and apply God’s law to ourselves unless love is prominent in that mix; love for the other that frees us from the temptation to use the law for our own advantages sometimes. Following the law can become a very selfish thing at times. Paul clearly doesn’t want us to do that. We must be careful not to get into a moral relativism in deciding what harms a neighbor and what doesn’t and I am doing this is a loving way. But if I genuinely love defined carefully in a Christian context; this is the key here. It is so easy to focus on love in a way that leaves it very undefined and unfocused and makes a judgement about what is a loving thing very much a private matter; even a culturally defined matter. The Ten Commandments give directions in regards to love but it isn’t the final authority on love.
The word ‘flesh’ is a key word here; in Greek the word is Sarx. Paul uses this word a lot and you can also see that this is polymorphous; a word that has a lot of different meanings; a wide semantic range. And it is helpful to think of words not so much in terms of a dictionary meaning. It is useful to think of words having a sort of semantic domain; a range of meanings each meaning perhaps overlapping in certain ways. By thinking of semantic ranges, we can also then realize that certain other words will have their own semantic range and there might be overlap. This is a case where we talk about synonyms sometimes where there can be an overlap in the meaning. There is a lot of fuzzy and incorrect thinking about words in the way they function. Yet, in a way this can be common sense, carefully thinking about the way we use words in our everyday language. We will see that this is the way words function in our context as well. So the word ‘flesh’ is a word that has a large semantic range. The NIV uses twenty-eight different words or phrases to translate it. Now, before you jump on the NIV as a liberal paraphrase or something like that, the other English versions do the same thing including the more literal allegedly ones like the NAS and English standard. This is a very difficult word to pin down. The way Paul is using it here; it is useful to think in terms of a semantic range of the human condition or sphere. Herman Weterboss in his Pauline theology provides a useful definition: flesh is man in-so-far as he belongs to the mode of existence of this world; human beings apart from God; human beings who are functioning, thinking and acting as if there is no God from a sort of material standpoint and hence Sarx that can sometime refer to flesh in a literal way; the meat on my bones has that kind of material focus. So when it is used theologically, it similarly has this focus on the material world in opposition to God. So, when Paul says not to use your freedom to indulge the flesh or far your own human narrowly defined concern and desires. Don’t use it for your own benefit or advancement. So, flesh along with other key words in Paul doesn’t refer to a part of a human being; it refers to different ways of looking at human beings. So, when he is talking about flesh as he is talking about it here, he isn’t talking about one part if us, but instead he is looking at a tendency or propensity within human beings, a certain way of looking at human beings.
Paul is using the language more in terms of a perspective on the human being as a whole, rather than thinking about dividing up the human being. Generally, I think the New Testament looks at human beings in kind of a bipartite or two-fold way as Paul does here; that which is oriented to this world and the world to come. A variety of terms can be used for those sorts of two fundamental sides of a person or two fundamental directions or forces of perspectives that are true for human beings. We think in terms of my body verses my soul and or Spirit, but the fact is the Greek word for soul, psuche, is the human being as a whole, not just a part of us. The Greek word soma, body, doesn’t necessarily mean our external part because it can include our will sometimes. These words are just not capable of being neatly diced in the way some theologians have tried to do. So, the contrast here in Galatians is between flesh in terms of this propensity of human beings to go their own way apart from God and God’s Holy Spirit. Spirit throughout this section should be capitalized. It is the Holy Spirit and is the typical way in which Paul thinks about the situation about human beings. Paul can talk about us being in the flesh and now as Christians, we are no longer in the flesh. You begin to realize that we have to define the word fairly broadly and not be too narrow in the sense of not giving it the appropriate semantic meaning it seems to have. Of course Paul will also talk about the reality that Jesus Christ came in the flesh and there it has a somewhat different idea, obviously. It doesn’t have any association with sin or negative thing but it is a statement of the human condition as it were. Christ became fully human. It falls short without the focus on the world of the Spirit. In regards to Hagar, the one born of the slave woman, according to the flesh, sarkinos, consisting of flesh; this is not taking God’s purpose and God’s will and God’s way of doing it into account. It is a narrowly human way of thinking and doing something.
III. Galatians 5:16-24
A. The Spirit is the Power and Force that Enables us to overcome the Flesh
Moving on to 5:16-6:11; 13 to 15, kind of introduces this fundamental issue of the flesh and warning about it, emphasizing love with respect to the law. Now the positive side begins to service and kind of continues throughout the section with the Spirit who is in a sense the antidote to the flesh. These two are set in contrast by Paul throughout this section of the letter. So he begins with a positive command: walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. Paul warns about indulging or gratifying the flesh in verse 13 and now in a sense he is saying, if you want to avoid that, the way you do it is not by getting rid of the flesh, instead it is by concentrating on the Spirit; by giving the Spirit the lead role in directing your life: walk by the Spirit, live your life by the Spirit, and conduct yourselves by the Spirit in all that you do. I think Paul means two different things here: the Spirit is the power or the force which enables us to overcome the flesh. So walk by the Spirit means walk by means of the power of Spirit, the new possibility you have as a Christian to please God because the Spirit is enabling you to do so; it also means to walk by the direction which the Spirit gives. Align yourself with the Spirit’s values and wishes and hence we will see the language of the fruit of the Spirit. It is staying in step with the Spirit is another way Paul puts it later on in the section.
B. Walk by the Spirit
Walking by the Spirit is a very broad thing to say; the Spirit is the power in direction giving both the means and direction of our walking. It enables me to walk and tells me what direction to walk at the same time. By focusing there, we will not in fact gratify the desires of the flesh. We are reminded here the way sometimes to overcome negative is by concentrating on the opposite, positive. Instead of focusing on the negative, but instead, focus on the positive. I think the key in heading off perfection here, if we are concerned in doing that, is to say that no one in this life is going to walk perfectly by the Spirit. What Paul says here is true: if you consistently and perfectly live your life by the Spirit, you will not gratify any flesh desire; you will be perfect. But Paul is blunt in saying that we are in this already, not yet situation of eschatological tension means that no person will ever walk by the Spirit perfectly. I don’t really think the word lust is a very good translation here; perhaps desires or something like that would be better. There is this persistent tendency to look at both flesh and associated terms in a kind of solely sexual way.
C. Verse 17
Now, in verse 17 and following, Paul moves from the positive, walk by the Spirit to Spirit and not flesh. So these verses are dominated by a contrast, a conflict between the two, described in verse 17 which is often difficult to understand. I don’t think the NIV makes any sense here. This is a classic translation by committee. Without going into all the different views and options, Paul is clearly talking about a kind of a continuing war between the flesh and the Spirit that we as human being are caught up in that conflict. Obviously, in order to allow the Spirit to win out in this battle, we need to let the Spirit accomplish his work within us. So, we need to be led by the Spirit in verse 18, language similar to walking by the Spirit. So, walk by the Spirit in verse 16 and led by the Spirit in verse 18 frame this paragraph of verses 16-18. Note how Paul brings in the law again here. If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Paul is thinking in a salvation historical way. The old realm is dominated by the law whereas the new realm is dominated by the Spirit. The Spirit is God’s new covenant gift to his people, rooted in promises such as we have in Ezekiel 36 and Jeremiah 31 when the prophets talked about this wonderful day when God’s Spirit would be given to the people so that they could truly obey God for the first time. Hearts of stone would be turned into hearts of flesh; a law would be written on the heart. Joel 2, of course, the pouring out of the Spirit in the last days. So all of this language reminds us that the Spirit is a distinctly New Testament gift, not that the Spirit was inactive in the Old Testament as it was clearly still playing role there; in a distinctive way, the new covenant era is the era of the Spirit. The Spirit comes as God’s gift and so Paul can sort of think about the realm of the Spirit as the realm that Christians now live in as opposed to the realm of the law; the old realm where the law was dominate. So, again, are you under the law or are you being led by Spirit. The two are fairly clearly set by Paul here in opposition to one another.
D. Works of the Flesh vs Fruit of the Spirit
The next text is the famous one in which Paul contrasts the acts or works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit. Why does Paul choose these particular sets of vices and virtues have been endless disputed without any real resolution? Paul and other New Testament authors frequently do this kind of thing; we call these vice and virtue lists and they are common in Paul’s day and world; they are not confined to the New Testament at all; they seem to have been borrowed from their culture. Both Roman and Greek authors did this as well as Jewish authors; it is a kind of a common device. Here, you have a list of fruits of the Spirit in contrast again to the works of the flesh. Why Paul choses these particular ones; it is hard to say? Sometimes you can discern some kind of pattern and some reason in the context; when certain ones are listed and other ones aren’t. I think to some extent, Paul perhaps in giving a list like is not giving it a great deal of thought as such. We should be careful in thinking that these are the only things that the Spirit produces; this would be reading more into the text than what it is giving us. We should note a couple of things: some have talked about the contrast between the plural with respect to the flesh, the works, plural of the flesh verses the singular, fruit of the Spirit. Some say that the flesh produces all kinds of things in a kind hectic chaotic manner whereas the fruit is a kind of singular focus. It is questionable whether this judgement is an appropriate one. Fruit in both Greek and English is a collective noun and just as in English, we rarely talk about fruits. When we do look at the fruit of the Spirit, we note that love comes first and I’m fairly sure that this is a deliberate choice granted the focus Paul has already put on that. There is also some reason to think that a lot the particular benefit and graces of the Spirit that we have here have ultimate application to the life of the community and guarding against the fighting and infighting that Paul has warned about already in the text. A lot of them has to do with living well with each other or that we have forbearance, kindly and goodness and gentleness and all of these things are going to help us in relating well to others in the community.
E. Warning – Verse 22
At the end of this list, we have the warnings. Those who live like this will not inherit the Kingdom of God. This touches on our faith verses works discussion; it is not that Paul is saying that avoiding these works is the basis for God’s ultimate judgement of you. He is saying those who are in Christ and in Christ by definition related to the Spirit will consistently habitually be producing these works. So those who do not produce those works, consistently, habitually, regularly are indicating that they don’t belong to Christ and that is why they are not going to inherit the kingdom. So it is not works righteousness here. It is rather the appropriate ways that we live, given to us by the Spirit in contrast to the works of the flesh are necessary for salvation, but they are not the basis for salvation. They are necessary because they are the inevitable product of being in Christ and to lack those is to indicate that one is not in Christ. So, all the emphasis on faith alone that is appropriate brought into Galatians, we must not overlook these passages here at the end. They talk about actual things that human beings do critically involve the ultimately decision God makes about us.
F. Paul brings in the Law Again at the End of Verse 23
The other point that I would like to note is how the end of verse 23 brings in the law again. It is not an issue that Paul has dropped. Against these things there is no law. Paul is saying that no law is worthy of its name is going to indicate that these are bad things. In other words, what the Spirit is doing is producing habits of life that the law also indorses. He is passively saying to the Galatians perhaps, when you are in the Spirit and allowing the Spirit to produce these qualities, you should realize that you don’t need the law then; you don’t need the Old Testament law or any other law from a pagan background or from your cultural context to direct you. The Spirit is himself, doing that, it is providing for the kind of virtues that laws in general are designed to prorogate.
The problem with understanding this verse has to do with the last part of the verse, the flesh and Spirit are moving in opposite directions, but then so that you don’t do whatever you want. Is this result or purpose; is Paul saying these two are in conflict with the result that, even as Christians you are never purposely doing what you should do because the flesh is still active and has some influence. Or is he saying that these are in conflict with each other with the purpose that you are not doing what you should be doing. The conflict has the purpose of keeping you from living a successful Christian life and you need to avoid that and need to respond to that and resist it. You could take the last part of the verse simply as a statement without reading it as an internal struggle within the Christian. A lot of people see Romans 7:14-25 as Paul expansion of this. There is also a place for the law, what you should do and not do; I think there is a place for them. What I think would be a concern if the focus was so much there, we were not appropriately telling people ultimately the only way to live a successful Christian life is to really be in touch with the Spirit; to be deeply rooted in Christ, to be formed by him, allowing him to be transforming your mind. That long term discipleship process which is harder and longer and not as easy to quantify, but absolutely vital. At times, we need to say at great risk perhaps, you are going to have to be led by the Spirit on that. Verse 18 is perhaps saying that if you are under the law, you will not be led by the Spirit. We need the Spirit as the Spirit and flesh are opposed to each other.