Galatians 5

This post follows the Bible reading plan available at oaktreechurch.com/soap. You can read all my New Testament notes in my book New Testament: Chapter by Chapter.

Chapter five begins the third, and final, section of the letter, in which Paul gave practical application of how we should live out our freedom in Christ. He insisted that it was “FOR FREEDOM [THAT] CHRIST HAS SET US FREE” (Galatians 5:1). He could not emphasize enough how foolish (Galatians 3:1) they were for placing themselves into slavery by adding circumcision to faith (Galatians 5:1-6). They had become so deluded by the Jewish legalists that they had forgotten that physical circumcision (or lack thereof) had no spiritual value in Christ – “THE ONLY THING THAT MATTERS IS FAITH WORKING THROUGH LOVE.” Paul became so agitated at the thought of his friends falling for the legalists’ false teaching he opined, “If these legalists like circumcision so much, why don’t they just finish the job!” (Galatians 5:12)

The key is to use our freedom in Christ for Christ and his purposes, namely, serving one another like Christ (Galatians 5:13). We do this by lining up behind the Holy Spirit and keeping in step with him (Galatians 5:16-26). 1 Paul thought it important to remind them that every believer has two natures that are mutually opposed to one another, that these are in constant warfare with one another, that we can “feed” only one of them, and that each one bears fruit in keeping with its source. “THE WORKS OF THE FLESH ARE OBVIOUS,” producing all kinds of sinful behavior. “THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT,” on the other hand, is less conspicuous but still in line with its source. Notice that this fruit comes from the Spirit, not from ourselves (we cannot manufacture it or force it to grow) and that its purpose is for serving one another.

Notes:

  1. The word translated “BEHAVE IN ACCORDANCE” in Galatians 5:25 is a military term referring to how soldiers march in line behind the leader. Paul’s point was that, if the Spirit has given us life, we should line up behind him and stay in step with him like a soldier marching in formation.

Galatians 4

This post follows the Bible reading plan available at oaktreechurch.com/soap. You can read all my New Testament notes in my book New Testament: Chapter by Chapter.

Chapter four continues the second section of the letter and the explanation of the inheritance available to all who believe in Jesus. Galatians 4:1-7 contains the wonderful truth that Jesus was born at just the right time in just the right manner to accomplish everything God wanted to do, namely, to adopt rebel humans back into his spiritual family and make us free. This is important because we are all enslaved in sin by nature (Galatians 4:8-12; Ephesians 2:1-3), but in Christ we are freed from that. Paul wondered, then, why someone would place himself under any kind of restrictions again.

Galatians 4:13-20 breaks from Paul’s explanation of his doctrine to a personal appeal to his original readers. He reminded them of how they had received him. Even though he was violently ill, they were not repulsed by him, but rather received him and his message as if he were Jesus himself. In fact, Paul noted that they would have gouged out their own eyes and given them to him if they were able. 1

This chapter (and the second section) closes with an allegory (an extended metaphor), in which Paul likened the old covenant to Hagar and Ishmael. 2 While he was a legitimate physical son of Abraham, Ishmael was not the son through whom God’s promises would be fulfilled. In the same way, while the Law, symbolized by Mt. Sinai, was legitimately God’s way of leading Israel during that time, it was never meant to bring righteousness or salvation. As Hagar and Ishmael were slaves in Abraham’s household, those who subject themselves to the Law are slaves to it.

Sarah and Isaac (along with Mt. Zion), on the other hand, represent the only true way of salvation, through Jesus. As they were free persons in Abraham’s household, those who come to God through faith in Jesus find freedom from the Law. Why, then, would someone place himself back into slavery when he had been set free?

Notes:

  1. This offhand remark in Galatians 4:15 possibly hints to Paul’s “THORN IN THE FLESH,” a constant reminder of his weakness and immense privilege (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).
  2. This is the only place in the New Testament that we find the English word “allegory” or its Greek source, ἀλληγορέω (allegoreo). An allegory is an extended metaphor, usually with several pieces connecting the two things being compared. This should not be confused with the allegorical method of interpreting the Bible that requires looking “deeper” than the literal meaning of the text, usually due to perceived errors or problems that the interpreter has with the text. The literal interpretation method allows the use of allegory and metaphor as legitimate uses of the language. The allegorical interpretation ignores the literal meaning of the text or supplements it with additional, “spiritual” meanings.

Galatians 3

This post follows the Bible reading plan available at oaktreechurch.com/soap. You can read all my New Testament notes in my book New Testament: Chapter by Chapter.

Chapter three begins the second of three sections, this time with a question of accusation against Paul’s readers. Based on their movement away from faith toward works, Paul believed that they had been put under a spell of sorts. Galatians 3:1-5 is a figurative snapping of Paul’s fingers or shaking them awake from a spiritual trance. Had they so quickly (Galatians 1:6) forgotten that they were saved through faith so that they were now willing to require circumcision for new converts in their churches, from their communities?

Using his favorite example (see also Romans 4), Paul pointed them to Genesis 15:6, where Abraham – the great father of the faith – simply believed, centuries before the Law was given (Galatians 3:6-14). At the same time, Paul introduced Abraham’s spiritual family, consisting of those, and only those, who simply believe as he did. This family included Gentiles, as God had promised in the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12:3). Paul also pointed out that one cannot obey only parts of the Law to be declared righteous. In fact, when one places himself under any part of the Law, he places himself under the entire Law and is subject to every part of it. Yet even that cannot provide eternal salvation because the Law could never accomplish that. This is why Christ had to die, becoming a curse under the Law so he could free people from the Law and receive the promised Spirit.

In Galatians 3:15-22 he used classical Greek logic to unquestionably show the difference between the physical promises (plural) that God made to Abraham and his physical descendants and the spiritual promise (singular) that he made to Abraham and everyone who believes. Because the Law came after God made these promises, it could not invalidate the promises. Instead, God designed the Law to protect the Israelite people from defecting from him so they could one day receive the promised Spirit through faith in Jesus. Under the Law, neither a Gentile, a slave, nor a woman could receive an inheritance. In Christ, however, all people can receive the Spirit through faith, whether Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female (Galatians 3:28). No believer is left out of this spiritual inheritance because we “ARE ALL SONS OF GOD THROUGH FAITH” (Galatians 3:26).

Sadly, many today who attempt to use this passage to eliminate functional roles in the home or church (female elders, feminist theology, etc.) completely miss the context of spiritual inheritance and are bringing their false theology to the passage for their own purposes. Others go so far to teach that God has even removed the distinctions between male and female to support their depraved belief that God approves of homosexuality in the Church.