Survey of Galatians

Book Type: The New Testament’s fourth Pauline Epistle; the ninth book of the New Testament; the forty-eighth book of the Bible.

Author: Paul, directly stated in Galatians 1:1.

Audience: Paul wrote to the churches in southern Galatia, which consisted of both Jewish and Gentile believers. He wrote strong words to defend against the rise of false teaching in these congregations. In particular, this was regarding those who insisted Christians must keep the Mosaic Law. This included circumcision, with people dividing over whether to fellowship with believers who were not circumcised. Paul countered this false teaching with a focus on salvation by faith apart from works.

Date: Approximately AD 49; Galatians is perhaps the first of Paul’s New Testament epistles to be written.

Overview: Galatians includes six chapters, which address three major sections. The topics covered in this book are similar to those of the book of Romans, though presented in a simpler, shorter format.

The first section is Paul’s personal perspectives on salvation by faith (Galatians 1—2). After a brief greeting (Galatians 1:1–5), he condemns the Galatians’ abandonment of salvation by faith alone (Galatians 1:6–9), reminding them of his own credentials as an apostle of Christ (Galatians 1:10—2:10). Paul provides the history of his own acceptance by the apostles regarding his message of the gospel, his opposition of Peter in Antioch when Peter was acting hypocritically in regard to faith and the Mosaic Law (Galatians 2:11–14), and a reminder of justification by faith (Galatians 2:15–21).

The second section explains various teaching aspects of salvation by faith alone (Galatians 3:1—4:31). Paul refers to the Galatians’own experience (Galatians 3:1–5), then walks through the history of Abraham, the Law, and the covenant to point out the true focus of believers (Galatians 3:6—4:7). He also dismisses the nonsense of attempting justification by rituals (Galatians 4:8–20), with an illustration from the Old Testament to support his view (Galatians 4:21–31).

The third section transitions to practical aspects of Paul’s teaching (Galatians 5—6). Believers are free from the law and legalism (Galatians 5:1–21). Instead, there is freedom in the Spirit of the Lord, with an emphasis on the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23). Believers are likewise free from the bondage of sin and can rejoice that Christ has made the way to be right with Him by faith (Galatians 5:24—6:18).

Key Verses: Galatians 2:16: “Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.”

Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Galatians 3:11: “Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ‘The righteous shall live by faith.'”

Galatians 4:4–6: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!'”

Galatians 5:22–23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

Galatians 6:7: “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.”





Luke the author of Acts is only telling us bits and pieces of the story of the expansion of the church and skips years in different places, but sometime in this general time frame, Paul wrote the book that we call Galatians. Let’s look at Galatians for a bit. There is some controversy as to exactly when Galatians was written, but I’ll talk about that in a little bit. I think that Galatians was written somewhere after the first missionary journey because Galatia is another name for the middle part of modern day Turkey, so you have to have Paul’s first missionary journey there before you can have Paul writing to the Christians in Galatia. The book had to happen after the first missionary journey, and I think it had to happen before Acts 15, but you’ll see why in a bit. Somewhere in there we have Galatians. Let me say it another way. The letter is to the Galatian church, so when Paul says he’s writing to the church in Galatia, it’s a very large area and so he’s writing to lots of different churches in a lot of different towns in the middle part of modern day Turkey. I usually like to give you the name of a commentary that you could read if you wanted to do more in-depth work. There really isn’t one on Galatians that I have found that is really good. There’s the Broadman series that may have a good one, I don’t know who’s writing it, but there just really isn’t much on Galatians. I just mention that in passing.

Let me give you a quick insight into the problems and into the historical situations. Paul had preached, he had left and very quickly problems had started to occur in these churches, and there are at least two problems. The first has to do with the Judaizers, which is the word that we use for Jews who had become Christians, but did not want to leave their Jewish roots. Now at times you may start to wonder whether they really are Christians, but they are Jews who claim to become Christians, but did not want to leave their Jewish roots and did not want to leave the Jewish traditions. For example, in Acts 15:1, there’s going to be a problem in the church in Jerusalem and Acts 15:1 says, “But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.'” Those are the Judaizers; they wanted to make sure that you followed the Jewish traditions coming out of the Old Testament, especially circumcision. You can see why whenever I refer to Judaizers and say that they are Christians, you have to put Christians in quote marks because they say you have to do a bunch of rituals in order to get into Heaven, which is not very Christian. Now I’m not anyone’s judge and I’m not going to try, but that’s the dilemma. Paul curses them in just a couple of verses, and I don’t think Paul would curse a Christian. These Judaizers had infiltrated the Galatian church and they were trying to drag the Christians back into Judaism; they are saying, what you really have to do if you want to get to Heaven is follow Jewish laws well. They just took Christianity and dumped it on top of all their other religious things that they were requiring people to do.

The second thing that was going on in Galatians is that they were questioning Paul’s authority. Is he really an apostle? Does he really have the authority to speak in such a way that we have to believe him? These are the Judaizers. Galatians in Greek is really bad Greek at the beginning because Paul’s really mad and he doesn’t finish his sentences, and he never really blesses them the way he normally does and you can just tell he’s frustrated. Some translations use a lot of dashes because he just doesn’t finish sentences. He’s mad, he doesn’t care whether they in one sense thinks he’s an apostle or not, but he knows that it’s affecting their Christian walk and that’s what makes him mad. That’s the situation that happens in Galatians.

The purpose of the Book of Galatians is simply to say that in order to be a Christian you don’t have to be a Jew. You don’t have to keep all these religious Jewish observances in order to be a Christian.

Introduction: Curse rather than Blessing (Gal. 1:1-10)

Let’s start working our way through Galatians. Paul has his greeting, and like I said it’s very short and there’s no thanksgiving like he normally has. Then in verse 6, he gets into telling them why he’s writing. Let me read it, Galatians 1:6, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him” (Jesus) “who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.” Imagine that, someone wanting to distort the gospel. Then Paul says, “8But even if we or an angel from Heaven” (in other words, I don’t really give a rip who it is) “should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” It’s really strong, he pronouncing damnation on them, harshly. If you didn’t get it the first time let me say it again: “As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” He’s saying you’re being taught something that is no gospel at all and I’m pronouncing a curse on those people. This is quite a way to start a letter to a whole bunch of churches that you were involved in starting.

Student: What would the curse be?

Response: He never specifies content wise, so I don’t know. It’s out of passages like this that you get the Catholic doctrine of excommunication, but he is cursing them. For Paul conflict was always within eye toward resolution no matter how bad the opponents were, in many passages like the 1 Timothy passage: “Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme,” the goal was that they would learn that they would change. I would assume in Paul’s heart that would be the case here although he’s really mad right now.

Look at verse 10, “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” What’s between the lines is that the Judaizers were saying, “Oh he’s just trying to make people like him.” In other words, they were questioning his authority and his character. Paul sets the stage with some pretty strong words.

Paul’s Apostleship (Gal. 1:11-2:14)

In the next section, which runs from 1:11 through 2:14, Paul goes in to a rather long discussion of his apostleship, the fact that he is an apostle. Have we ever talked about what that word means? The word apostle means someone who is sent; that is the etymology of the word and there are several ideas. The apostle is someone who is sent with the authority of the person sending him. That’s why it’s such an important term. If someone is an apostle, that means they speak with the authority of God because God is the one who sent them. Secondly when you talk about apostleship, it’s normally someone who is sent for a specific task. That’s just inherent in the concept. When Paul says he is an apostle, it means he was sent by God with God’s authority to preach a specific message that God wants him to preach. Paul goes through this discussion of his call to apostleship and overall the thrust of the passage is that by apostleship, my position as an authority in the church is not from man, it’s from God. That the gist of the whole thing, and Paul says they have to listen to what he has to say.

Paul starts this and let’s look at Galatians 1:11-12 because he summarizes what it’s about, “For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. 12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” That’s the point. Then he goes into this story of how he was on the way to Damascus to imprison all the Christians, and Jesus appeared and blinded him and shared the Gospel with him. He recounts that and then in verse 15 he says, “But when he who had set me apart before I was born,” Paul understands that God had a call on his life before he even existed, “and who called me by his grace (15),” not by doing things, “was pleased to reveal his Son to me,” that’s on the way to Damascus, “in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles,” there’s his mission, “I did not immediately consult with anyone (16); nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus (17).” Now the point is that Jesus appeared to me on the road as I was traveling to Damascus, he gave me the gospel, he told me what to preach; no human being gave me this message. I took off, I went in to the deserts of Arabia.

When we get to Heaven, I really want to talk to Paul along with about 800 gazillion other people and ask, “What did you do Paul? Why did you go into Arabia out in the middle of nowhere?” My guess is he went and started rethinking his faith. Now it says that when he became a Christian in Damascus, he instantly starting arguing that Jesus was the Christ and was able to put the Jews in an argument format, but I suspect that what he did was he went off and he said I really need to think through this. He had been a Pharisee of Pharisees, he had persecuted the church, he had gone way down one direction and he was wrong. My guess is he went into Arabia just to start rethinking things. Evidently he had a private meeting with Peter, and then he went back to Syria and Cilicia again and other areas away from the Jerusalem church.

Then he says that fourteen years later, so this is seventeen years after his conversion—quite a bit of time—fourteen years later he went to Jerusalem to more get affirmation for his gospel than anything else. Look at 2:2, “I went up because of a revelation,” in other words, God told me to go, “and set before them” (the other apostles and the Jewish church) “(though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain.” My guess is that Paul is being very polite because I can’t imagine anyone making him think that he was in error. He had the revelation, God has talked to him, and he’s had seventeen years to think about things. I think probably it’s a polite way of saying, I went, I wanted to present the gospel, I want them to see what I’m preaching, I want us all to come to an agreement that what I’m preaching is right. I don’t think he was wondering whether it was true or not in other words. He makes a point that Titus, one of his buddies who is Greek, didn’t have to be circumcised. In other words, church leaders didn’t insist that even Titus be circumcised, meaning that you can be a Christian without following Jewish law. Paul is trying to make the point right up front really that you don’t have to be a Jew in order to be a Christian. Titus wasn’t even circumcised, but he specifically again states his main point at the end of verse 6, that these pillars of the church, these main people in the church, added nothing to me. They didn’t change my gospel one bit; I’m still preaching what God told me to preach.

Then we have this fascinating story of conflict with Peter. Remember, Peter is the head of the church in Jerusalem, one of Jesus’s three big main disciples, but they tell a story in Antioch, he’s called Cephas here, and evidently what happened Peter was eating food with Gentiles, which was strictly forbidden in Jewish law. He did it anyway because he understood that the gospel was to go to the Gentiles. Some people came from the Jerusalem church and said, “You’re a Jew as well as a Christian—you’re not supposed to be doing that!” and Peter backed off. Again, I want to ask Peter why he backed off, “Did you back off because you weren’t convinced that you were in the right, or where you trying to avoid conflict?” which is what I would do. But Peter backed off, and Paul says “you were wrong to do that Peter.” Peter knew that he was wrong. Paul is telling the story, but the overall point is that God gave me this gospel that I’m preaching, no one changed it, and I’m even willing to confront a big name like Peter, and I was right and he was wrong because he was giving in to Jewish traditions when he shouldn’t have. That’s the scenario.


Triumph of Grace over Law (2:15-4:7)

You start getting into the real theological meat of Galatians now in 2:15. I’ll warn you, and I’m going to skip around Galatians a bit; some of it is very complicated, and you sit there and you read it and you scratch your head and go, what on earth are you talking about? The summary of what he wants to say is in verse 2:15-16, “We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners (15).” Now he’s not being derogatory, he’s using the word sinners to describe people who don’t follow Jewish tradition. You can misread that, but he’s saying we’re not Gentiles who don’t follow the Old Testament law, we’re Jews, “Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law, but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified (16).” Now that’s typical Paul and one of the best paragraphs that Paul ever wrote, so we need to pick it up piece by piece because it’s the heart of the gospel.

Justification and Righteousness

Let’s go word by word. What is justification? The other English word we used to translate it is righteousness. Being justified and being righteous are the same thing, the same Greek word. There are four things I want to say about justification. Number one, at it’s most basic sense, justification means how you and I can be right with God. How do we get it so that we can be face to face with God? What does it take to be justified, what does it take to be righteous? What does it take to be right with God?

Second of all, what Paul is saying is that you get right with God through faith. You don’t do it through works of the law, we’ll talk about that in a second, but you get right by faith. In other words, you get right with God by believing, right? Faith/belief—same thing. You get right with God by believing, and the way I like to say it is that Jesus is who he says he is, that Jesus did what he said he was going to do. That’s the most generic definition I’ve been able to come up with for faith. That we are right with God, not by doing a bunch of religious activity and supposedly earning favor with God, but by believing that what we can’t do, Jesus did for us on the cross. He was able to pay the penalty of our sins. Why was his death the penalty for my sins? Because he was God. So faith is believing who Jesus is and believing what he has done. He is God and he died on the cross to pay the penalty for my sins. Once my sins are forgiven and once I believe that happened on the cross, then I now am forgiven and I have access to God, and as I have access to God, I can stand before him because I’m righteous. Not because of anything I have done, but because of what Christ has done. He has made me righteous. That’s the heart of the Gospel right?

Third, the word justification is actually a word that is connected with the law court system — the legal system. It’s a forensic term, in other words. It means to be declared not guilty. If somebody heard the word justify or heard the word righteous in that day and age, the first thing they would have thought of was, “not guilty, I was arrested for reckless driving, I was taken to the courthouse and show the evidence and the judge said, ‘you’re not guilty.’” That’s pronouncing him righteous and justified. That’s the word picture that was floating through their minds, being declared not guilty. Yes, it was just as if I’d never sinned. That’s a helpful little mnemonic device: justification is because I’ve been forgiven, it’s just as if I’ve never sinned—all my sins are completely forgiven.

The fourth thing I wanted to say, and it’s a little more complicated, but it’s an important concept to work with and that’s the word, imputation. What the doctrine of imputation is, is that Christ lived a perfect life, he died a perfect death, and he earned righteousness. When he died on the cross and when we believe in him, his righteousness is imputed to us. His righteousness is put into us. It’s not that God pretends I’m righteous; I am righteous, not because of anything I’ve done, but because Christ’s righteousness, his perfection was actually put into me. The main verse for this is 2 Corinthians 5:21, where Paul writes, “For our sake,” and I’m going to supply antecedent to pronouns here, “he” (God) “made him” (Jesus) “to be sin who knew no sin,” (Jesus knew no sin) “so that in him” (Jesus) “we might become the righteousness of God.” On one hand it’s not as if God pretended to punish Jesus on the cross for our sins, it was that on the cross, Jesus was made to be sin. So on the cross when God’s wrath was poured out on his Son, it was poured out because something in God allowed him to say that everything that I have done wrong and everything that everyone else has ever done wrong was put on Jesus and Jesus committed all of our sins. Jesus committed my sins so that God’s wrath could be poured out and punish Jesus for the sins that he committed, that what it means to say he was made to be sin for us. The good side is that the perfection and the righteousness that Jesus had, because he was God and because he had lived a sinless life — just as he was made my sin, so I was made his righteousness. That’s the doctrine of imputation.  It’s one of those things you have to think about for awhile because it’s really an amazing thing.

Student: does that mean that as Christian right now I am righteous at this moment?

Response: Yes.

Student: even when I sin?

Response: Yes. So should you out and sin so grace can abound? No I don’t think so. We use the concept sanctification to describe that a lot as well. Paul calls the church in Corinth saints — the most ungodly group of sinners in the history of the Bible. He calls them saints, why? Because positionally, as they stand before God and they stand in Christ they are saints; they are perfect. Yet there’s experiential sanctification, in other words, God has made them into a saint and it happens all at once at conversion, yet in another sense it happens progressively as I go through my life and as sin more and more falls off and I start acting more in accordance with who I am. We generally use the concept of sanctification to answer that question. John Bunyan has a great quote on that, when we get to Romans I’ll read it. He talks about how what was freeing to him was when he finally realized that God didn’t look at me in my sin, but he looks at Jesus and he treated me in a way that Jesus deserved, that’s imputation in a sense.

Student: Couldn’t it also be consistent with this that the seal of the Holy Spirit is a guarantee that we’ll be made righteous?

Response: Salvation has three tenses: you were saved, you are being saved, you will be saved. For justification, there’s one passage in Scripture that talks about justification being a future event. Justification is something that happened at conversion, but it’s also something that works itself out in the experiences in my life, and there is a sense in which when I stand before the final judgment seat, I will finally be pronounced righteous and all sin will be removed from me and from you. These concepts aren’t quite as simple as I’m presenting them. They are a little more flexible.

Remember in the Gospels we talked about the already and the not yet? That’s what is going on here, in that I am declared righteous, righteousness is an accomplished fact for me. It happened when I believed that Jesus was who he said he is and did what he said he was going to do. But those facts work themselves out in my life and the final stamp of approval is before the Throne. That is a somewhat careless of saying it, but that’s the basic idea. He also looks at us knowing that we are sinners in constant need of forgiveness, so there’s not just one way that God views us, but it’s important to assert that when I was seven years old and I became a Christian, my sins were forgiven — period. I did receive the seal of the Holy Spirit guaranteeing my inheritance in Heaven, but it’s just as true that my life since then has been the working out of those realities and they are being made truer in my life as I get older and experience them more. I think primarily in terms of sanctification, but I know that justification is also talked about as a future event, that’s the final stamp of the throne, but I think it’s important to realize that we are justified now.

Not by Works of the Law

Let me give you the other half of this. The other half of justification what Paul here calls works of the law. Galatians 2:15: “A person is not justified by works of the law, but through faith.” When Paul talks about works of the law, what he is talking about is doing certain things, obeying not all the law, but obeying bits and pieces of the law, thereby thinking that you are earning God’s favor. See that’s why it’s the exact opposite of salvation by faith. Faith says I never will be able to earn favor with God. Works of the law say, no if you just do certain things — for Judaism it was circumcision, Sabbath and law keeping — you will be okay. The interesting thing about legalism is you can do all the sin you want to do, but if you do these three things you’re okay.

I remember when I was teaching Romans in seminary I called a buddy of mine who wrote a commentary on Romans, who knows it a lot better than I do, and I said will you explain legalism to me because I don’t get it. He tried to explain to me that this mentality of doing things to earn God’s favor is very complicated. It is. It is extremely complicated, but I understand it as a pastor now in ways I never did as a teacher, because you see it. In some of the churches that I was raised in, there were certain things that you don’t do: smoke, drink, or go with girls who do. You just didn’t do that. Now you could do anything else, you could be a raving racist and it was okay, as long as you didn’t smoke when you were being a racist. That’s legalism; it says there are two or three things that if you do that nothing else matters. In one sense, those two or three things become ways in which we earn favor with God, but they also are a shield that you can do anything you want after that and it’s okay. Legalism is very complicated and it’s very tricky, and you and I are constantly tempted back into it.

That’s part of the message of Galatians 2. We understand that when we were saved, we were saved by faith, not by works of the law. What can a man give, Jesus says, in exchange for his soul—nothing. But what was happening in Galatia, we’ll see in chapter 3, is that people were saved by faith, and then the Judaizers said, “but if you really want to be a Christian, then you’ve got to do all these things.” All of a sudden they got these three or four things they had to do, and nothing else mattered. They had fallen back into legalism. It’s a very tricky thing. Justification by faith is opposite of works of the law. This is the heart of Galatians.

Actually the next thing I wanted to point out really is what I said earlier, look at chapter 3 of Galatians starting at verse 1, “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified (1).” That’s a great definition of preaching isn’t it? To publically portray Christ as crucified. “Let me ask you only this,” and then he goes on for three chapters, “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” Did you earn your salvation or did God give it to you (2)? “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh (3)?” In other words, you begin understanding that you received the Spirit because of faith, (and I think Paul’s probably being a bit sarcastic), are you going to be perfected by doing works of the law by trying to earn God’s favor? That’s what “perfected by the flesh” means. That’s the situation I described earlier where the people became Christians properly, but they were slipping back into legalism and this legalistic mentality and approach to things.

The Doctrine of Justification by Faith

This whole thing of justification by faith that we are made right with God by what we believe is obviously an important doctrine. It became the cry of the reformation, Martin Luther and John Calvin when they tried to reform the Catholic church, that justification was by faith and by faith alone. I had something happen last week that reminded me that if you’re going to ever say Catholics believe this, you have to be really careful, because many of them may not even know it. In the New Believers series, I was talking about Mass being a daily crucifixion of Christ, and this one Catholic lady said, “I didn’t know that.” Is all in Latin so she wouldn’t know, but you have to careful. If you look at the Catholic theologies, and there’s one by Ott who just lays it out really clearly, justification, being right with God, equals faith plus works. This is the heart of why Protestants and Catholics are different. In Protestantism, the people who follow Luther, Calvin and the rest of the reformers said that being right with God is purely an issue of faith. Yes, when I become a Christian my life is going to change and I’ll start behaving differently, but that’s the consequence of being justified. In Catholic doctrine, you being justified is from you believing certain things and also doing certain things, and so you have the seven sacraments, baptism, and communion, last rights, and all those different things. Be careful because there are Catholic Christians who differ with the church’s official teaching on this position and many of them may not know that’s what the church teaches. This is similar to some Mormons — you say to a Mormon girl, “You really want to be pregnant forever, eternally populating new spirits on your planet?” They would look at you and go, “What?” “Don’t you know that’s what you believe?” “No, I have no idea.” I don’t think many Mormons understand that the girls are going to be pregnant forever. You have to be careful with that.

Let me give you an example a little closer to home. When we were moving back from Boston, there was a person renting our house. He’s now a pastor in Spokane. This person taught that Martin Luther got it wrong, that justification is not by faith, but that you have to earn justification. The thing that was interesting in this is that he had done a damage deposit on the house and it was pretty obvious that he was expecting all of it back, even though half my back yard was dug up and other things. I knew it was going to be complicated, and I was trying to figure out how to treat the situation. I picked up a Bible on audio for the 2800-mile drive between Boston and here, and I got to Galatians. By the way, if you haven’t just listened to the Bible, it’s fascinating because you hear things that you don’t pick up when you read it. I got to Galatians, and Paul says, “If someone preaches the gospel other than what I have preached to you,” (and the heart of that is justification by faith), “let them be accursed.” Now how are you going to treat the guy renting your house? If he’s a Christian, I’m going to treat him one way. If he’s not a Christian, I’m going to treat him a different way. See my dilemma? I covered about two states as I thought through this trying to figure out what to do. I came to the conclusion, I had to treat him as a non-Christian because he was cursed by Paul. Paul doesn’t curse Christians. That’s why I said, are Judaizers really Christians if they believe you have to be circumcised as well as have faith? What I did was I just gave him his money back because that’s what you do to a non-Christian. If he were a Christian brother you’d say, “You really messed up the back yard, you really should fix it or pay for it.” I think that would be a fair thing to say to a Christian brother. To a non-Christian you can’t do that. You just give him his $500.00 and let him go.

Anyway, this whole thing of legalism and how it shows itself in many different forms is much more complicated, but the message of the Gospel is that you and I are justified by faith, we are made right with God, because we believe that Jesus did it on the cross. That does change our behavior, our lives are going to change, but we must forever resist the temptation of falling back into legalism thinking that what God really wants is not this faith stuff; what God really wants is just to not smoke or drink or dance. That’s all he requires. That’s the temptation, and it’s very real. You see it everywhere around.

Crucified with Christ

Every once in awhile as we go through books, there are passages that I may skip, but there are verses in those passages I can’t skip. Galatians 2:20 is one of them. If it’s not highlighted in your Bible it should be, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith” (not works of the law) “in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (20).” That’s got to be one of the all time best verses in the Bible. We have died with Christ, we have died to our old way of living and we have died to ourselves, and rather we are living with Christ and it is a life that is characterized by faith of constantly believing and then acting on what we believe to be true. Galatians 2:20 is just one of my top verses.

Freedom in Christ (Gal 5:1-6:10)

In 4:8 and following, Paul just makes some more appeals to the Galatians and I’m going to skip that. I want to go right to Galatians 5:1 because it gets really positive here. This passage is all about our freedom that is in Christ and balance. Balance may not be the right word, but you have justification by faith, but lest anyone think that’s means a Christian can go on living anyway they want, there is a balance to it, and that balance is chapter 5, which is talking about how you and I are to live out the fact that we are justified, how to live out the fact that we have been changed.

Live by the Spirit (Gal 5:16, 22-24)

Probably the most helpful discussion is in 5:16, where Paul says, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” I find it tremendously instructive that when Paul wants to urge people to live the right way, he rarely if ever, sits there and shakes his finger and says, “Now, there’s a bunch of things you can’t do now that you are a Christian,” he just doesn’t do that. Yes, there are things that we can do and there are things that we can’t do, but Paul doesn’t think in those terms. That’s works of the law stuff. What he says is look at who you have become, live in a way that is in accordance with who you are, walk by the Spirit and I think that means two things. I think it means walk being led by the Spirit, and so this is God’s Spirit moving and directing us, but we walk by the Spirit also because he empowers us to do so that when you and I become Christians, God doesn’t say, “Okay, here’s 28,000 more things you have to do, good luck.” But he puts God’s Spirit into our heart; his Spirit gives us the ability to change and the ability to live out our Christian commitment. Paul says live by the Spirit, led by him, directed by him, empowered by him, and if you keep focused on the Spirit you’re not going to gratify the desires of the flesh. That’s why Paul doesn’t generally have to say don’t do that, because he says, do this. Yes, there are some don’t dos, but the thrust of Paul is on, here’s who you are, here’s the power that you have available, this is what God has made you into so go out and live the life that is pleasing to him, walk by the Spirit and you won’t gratify the desires of the flesh.

Down in verse 22, he starts to describe what this life looks, “But the fruit of the Spirit,” the kinds of changes in our behavior that God’s Spirit produces in us, “is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (23).” Then verse 24, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires (24). If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit (25).” If we are alive because at conversion God’s Spirit made us alive, so also day in and day out we should live by the Spirit. It’s a very positive passage about what the Christian life should look like, the fruits of the Spirit.

New Creation (Gal. 6:15)

It’s under the category other significant verses that I have to point out Galatians 6:15, where Paul says, “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision.” It doesn’t matter whether you are a Jew or a Gentile, let’s be perfectly honest, it just doesn’t matter. What matters is “a new creation.” of all the metaphors in the Bible for what happens to us in conversion, this is my favorite. It can be translated new creation or new creature. We become a new creature or we’ve moved into a new creation. Life is started over for us, it’s new, and we’re not what we used to be, we’re something totally new, and so we should be living a different life.

The Message of Galatians

That’s the Book of Galatians and its message, the message that being made right with God, being declared not guilty of our sins, is done by believing that Jesus is who he says he is, and he did what he said he was going to do. We must continue to have our lives characterized by faith, by continuing to believe in Jesus and to act accordingly. The opposite side is thinking that we can do certain things to earn God’s favor and that’s what we have to stay away from.





Translated with an Introduction and Interpretation



Revised Edition
Copyright (c) 1976 William Barclay

First published by The Saint Andrew Press
Edinburgh, Scotland

Galatians: First Edition, 1954; Second Edition, 1958
Ephesians: First Edition, 1956; Second Edition, 1958

Published by The Westminster Press, (R)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data

Bible. N.T. Galatians. English. Barclay. 1976.
The letters to the Galatians and Ephesians.

(The Daily study Bible series–Rev. ed.)
1. Bible. N.T. Galatians–Commentaries.
2. Bible. N.T. Ephesians–Commentaries. I. Barclay,
William, lecturer in the University of Glasgow.
II. Bible. N.T. Ephesians. English. Barclay. 1976.
III. Title. IV. Series.
BS2683.B37 1976 227′.4’077 76-22672
ISBN 0-664-21309-X
ISBN 0-664-24109-3 pbk.


The Daily Study Bible series has always had one aim–to convey the results of scholarship to the
ordinary reader. A. S. Peake delighted in the saying that he was a “theological middleman”, and I
would be happy if the same could be said of me in regard to these volumes. And yet the primary
aim of the series has never been academic. It could be summed up in the famous words of
Richard of Chichester’s prayer–to enable men and women “to know Jesus Christ more clearly, to
love him more dearly, and to follow him more nearly”.

It is all of twenty years since the first volume of The Daily Study Bible was published. The
series was the brain-child of the late Rev. Andrew McCosh, M.A., S.T.M., the then Secretary and
Manager of the Committee on Publications of the Church of Scotland, and of the late Rev. R. G.
Macdonald, O.B.E., M.A., D.D., its Convener.

It is a great joy to me to know that all through the years The Daily Study Bible has been used at
home and abroad, by minister, by missionary, by student and by layman, and that it has been
translated into many different languages. Now, after so many printings, it has become necessary
to renew the printer’s type and the opportunity has been taken to restyle the books, to correct
some errors in the text and to remove some references which have become outdated. At the same
time, the Biblical quotations within the text have been changed to use the Revised Standard
Version, but my own original translation of the New Testament passages has been retained at the
beginning of each daily section.

There is one debt which I would be sadly lacking in courtesy if I did not acknowledge. The
work of revision and correction has been done entirely by the Rev. James Martin, M.A., B.D.,
Minister of High Carntyne Church, Glasgow. Had it not been for him this task would never have
been undertaken, and it is impossible for me to thank him enough for the selfless toil he has put
into the revision of these books.

It is my prayer that God may continue to use The Daily Study Bible to enable men better to
understand His word.



General Introduction

A General Introduction to the Letters of Paul


Introduction to the Letter to the Galatians
The Trumpet Call of the Gospel (Gal. 1:1-5)
The Slave of Christ (Gal. 1:6-10)
The Arresting Hand of God (Gal. 1:11-17)
The Way of the Chosen (Gal. 1:18-25)
The Man who Refused to be Overawed (Gal. 2:1-10)
The Essential Unity (Gal. 2:11-13)
The End of the Law (Gal. 2:14-17)
The Life that is Crucified and Risen (Gal. 2:18-21)
The Gift of Grace (Gal. 3:1-9)
The Curse of the Law (Gal. 3:10-14)
The Covenant that Cannot be Altered (Gal. 3:15-18)
Shut Up Under Sin (Gal. 3:19-22)
The Coming of Faith (Gal. 3:23-29)
The Days of Childhood (Gal. 4:1-7)
Progress in Reverse (Gal. 4:8-11)
Love’s Appeal (Gal. 4:12-20)
An Old Story and a New Meaning (Gal. 4:21-5:1)
The Personal Relationship (Gal. 5:1-12)
Christian Freedom (Gal. 5:13-15)
The Evil Things (Gal. 5:16-21)
The Lovely Things (Gal. 5:22-26)
Burden-bearing (Gal. 6:1-5)
Keeping It Up (Gal. 6:6-10)
The Closing Words (Gal. 6:11-18)


Introduction to the Letter to the Ephesians

The Purpose of God (Gal. 1:1-14)
Greetings to God’s People (Gal. 1:1-2)
The Chosen of God (Gal. 1:3-4)
The Plan of God (Gal. 1:5-6)
The Gifts of God (Gal. 1:7-8)
The Goal of History (Gal. 1:9-10)
Jew and Gentile (Gal. 1:11-14)
The Marks of the Church (Gal. 1:15-23)
Paul’s Prayer for the Church (Gal. 1:15-23)
The Body of Christ (Gal. 1:15-23)
The Christless Life and the Grace of God (Gal. 2:1-10)
Life without Christ (Gal. 2:1-3)
Death in Life (Gal. 2:1-3)
The Marks of the Christless Life (Gal. 2:1-3)
The Work of Christ (Gal. 2:4-10)
The Work and the Works of Grace (Gal. 2:4-10)
B. C. and A. D. (Gal. 2:11-22)
Before Christ came (Gal. 2:11-12)
Hopeless and Helpless (Gal. 2:11-12)
The End of Barriers (Gal. 2:13-18)
The Exclusiveness of Christless Human Nature (Gal. 2:13-18)
The Unity in Christ (Gal. 2:13-18)
The Gifts of the Unity of Christ (Gal. 2:13-18)
The Family and the Dwelling-place of God (Gal. 2:19-22)
Prison and Privileges (Gal. 3:1-13)
The Great Discovery (Gal. 3:1-7)
The Self-Consciousness of Paul (Gal. 3:1-7)
The Privilege which Makes a Man Humble (Gal. 3:8-13)
The Plan and the Wisdom of God (Gal. 3:8-13)
Paul’s Earnest Prayer (Gal. 3:14-21)
The God Who is Father (Gal. 3:14-17)
The Strengthening of Christ (Gal. 3:14-17)
The Infinite Love of Christ (Gal. 3:18-21)
Worthy of Our Calling (Gal. 4:1-10
The Christian Virtues (Gal. 4:1-3)
The Christian Gentleman (Gal. 4:13)
The Undefeatable Patience (Gal. 4:13)
The Christian Love (Gal. 4:1-3)
The Basis of Unitly (Gal. 4:4-6)
The Gifts of Grace (Gal. 4:7-10)
The Office-bearers of the Church (Gal. 4:11-13)
The Aim of the Office-bearer (Gal. 4:11-13)
Growing into Christ (Gal. 4:14-16)
The Things which Must he Abandoned (Gal. 4:17-24)
Things which Must be Banished from Life (Gal. 4:25-32)
The Imitation of God (Gal. 5:1-8)
Jesting about Sin (Gal. 5:1-8)
The Children of Light (Gal. 5:9-14)
The Christian Fellowship (Gal. 5:15-21)
The Precious Bond (Gal. 5:22-33)
The Growth of Paul’s Thought (Gal. 5:22-33)
The Basis of Love (Gal. 5:22-33)
Children and Parents (Gal. 6:1-4)
Masters and Slaves (Gal. 6:5-9)
The Armour of God (Gal. 6:10-20)
The Final Blessing (Gal. 6:21-24)

Further Reading



There is no more interesting body of documents in the New Testament than the letters of Paul. That is because of all forms of literature a letter is most personal. Demetrius, one of the old Greek literary critics, once wrote, “Every one reveals his own soul in his letters. In every other form of composition it is possible to discern the writer’s character, but in none so clearly as the epistolary.” (Demetrius, On Style, 227.) It is just because he left us so many letters that we feel we know Paul so well. In them he opened his mind and heart to the folk he loved so much; and in them, to this day, we can see that great mind grappling with the problems of the early church and feel that great heart throbbing with love for men, even when they were misguided and mistaken.


At the same time there is often nothing so difficult to understand as a letter. Demetrius (On Style, 223) quotes a saying of Artemon, who edited the letters of Aristotle. Artemon said that a letter ought to be written in the same manner as a dialogue, because it was one of the two sides of a dialogue. In other words, to read a letter is like listening to one side of a telephone conversation. So when we read the letters of Paul we are often in a difficulty. We do not possess the letter which he was answering; we do not fully know the circumstances with which he was dealing; it is only from the letter itself that we can deduce the situation which prompted it. Before we can hope to understand fully any letter Paul wrote, we must try to reconstruct the situation which produced it.


It is a great pity that Paul’s letters were ever called epistles. They are in the most literal sense letters. One of the great lights shed on the interpretation of the New Testament has been the discovery and the publication of the papyri. In the ancient world, papyrus was the substance on which most documents were written. It was composed of strips of the pith of a certain bulrush that grew on the banks of the Nile. These strips were laid one on top of the other to form a substance very like brown paper. The sands of the Egyptian desert were ideal for preservation, for papyrus, although very brittle, will last forever so long as moisture does not get at it. As a result, from the Egyptian rubbish heaps, archaeologists have rescued hundreds of documents, marriage contracts, legal agreements, government forms, and, most interesting of all, private letters. When we read these private letters we find that there was a pattern to which nearly all conformed; and we find that Paul’s letters reproduce exactly that pattern. Here is one of these ancient letters. It is from a soldier, called Apion, to his father Epimachus. He is writing from Misenum to tell his father that he has arrived safely after a stormy passage.

“Apion sends heartiest greetings to his father and lord Epimachus. I pray above all that you are well and fit; and that things are going well with you and my sister and her daughter and my brother. I thank my Lord Serapis [his god] that he kept me safe when I was in peril on the sea. As soon as I got to Misenum I got my journey money from Caesar–three gold pieces. And things are going fine with me. So I beg you, my dear father, send me a line, first to let me know how you are, and then about my brothers, and thirdly, that I may kiss your hand, because you brought me up well, and because of that I hope, God willing, soon to be promoted. Give Capito my heartiest greetings, and my brothers and Serenilla and my friends. I sent you a little picture of myself painted by Euctemon. My military name is Antonius Maximus. I pray for your good health. Serenus sends good wishes, Agathos Daimon’s boy, and Turbo, Gallonius’ son.” (G. Milligan, Selections from the Greek Papyri, 36.)

Little did Apion think that we would be reading his letter to his father 1800 years after he had written it. It shows how little human nature changes. The lad is hoping for promotion quickly. Who will Serenilla be but the girl he left behind him? He sends the ancient equivalent of a photograph to the folk at home. Now that letter falls into certain sections. (i) There is a greeting. (ii) There is a prayer for the health of the recipients. (iii) There is a thanksgiving to the gods. (iv) There are the special contents. (v) Finally, there are the special salutations and the personal greetings. Practically every one of Paul’s letters shows exactly the same sections, as we now demonstrate.

(i) The Greeting: Rom.1:1; 1Cor.1:1; 2Cor.1:1; Gal. 1:1; Eph. 1:1; Php.1:1; Col.2; 1Th.1:1; 2Th.1:1.

(ii) The Prayer: in every case Paul prays for the grace of God on the people to whom he writes: Rom.1:7; 1Cor.1:3; 2Cor.1:2; Gal. 1:3; Eph. 1:2; Php.1:3; Col.1:2; 1Th.1:1; 2Th.1:2.

(iii) The Thanksgiving: Rom.1:8; 1Cor.1:4; 2Cor.1:3; Eph. 1:3; Php.1:3; 1Th.1:3; 2Th.1:3.

(iv) The Special Contents: the main body of the letters.

(v) Special Salutations and Personal Greetings: Rom.16; 1Cor.16:19; 2Cor.13:13; Php.4:21-22; Col.4:12-15; 1Th.5:26.

When Paul wrote letters, he wrote them on the pattern which everyone used. Deissmann says of them, “They differ from the messages of the homely papyrus leaves of Egypt, not as letters but only as the letters of Paul.” When we read Paul’s letters we are not reading things which were meant to be academic exercises and theological treatises, but human documents written by a friend to his friends.


With a very few exceptions, all Paul’s letters were written to meet an immediate situation and not treatises which he sat down to write in the peace and silence of his study. There was some threatening situation in Corinth, or Galatia, or Philippi, or Thessalonica, and he wrote a letter to meet it. He was not in the least thinking of us when he wrote, but solely of the people to whom he was writing. Deissmann writes, “Paul had no thought of adding a few fresh compositions to the already extant Jewish epistles; still less of enriching the sacred literature of his nation…. He had no presentiment of the place his words would occupy in universal history; not so much that they would be in existence in the next generation, far less that one day people would look at them as Holy Scripture.” We must always remember that a thing need not be transient because it was written to meet an immediate situation. All the great love songs of the world were written for one person, but they live on for the whole of mankind. It is just because Paul’s letters were written to meet a threatening danger or a clamant need that they still throb with life. And it is because human need and the human situation do not change that God speaks to us through them today.


One other thing we must note about these letters. Paul did what most people did in his day. He did not normally pen his own letters but dictated them to a secretary, and then added his own authenticating signature. (We actually know the name of one of the people who did the writing for him. In Rom.16:22 Tertius, the secretary, slips in his own greeting before the letter draws to an end.) In 1Cor.16:21 Paul says, “This is my own signature, my autograph, so that you can be sure this letter comes from me” (compare Col.4:18; 2Th.3:17).

This explains a great deal. Sometimes Paul is hard to understand, because his sentences begin and never finish; his grammar breaks down and the construction becomes involved. We must not think of him sitting quietly at a desk, carefully polishing each sentence as he writes. We must think of him striding up and down some little room, pouring out a torrent of words, while his secretary races to get them down. When Paul composed his letters, he had in his mind’s eye a vision of the folk to whom he was writing, and he was pouring out his heart to them in words that fell over each other in his eagerness to help.




Someone has likened the letter to the Galatians to a sword flashing in a great swordsman’s hand. Both Paul and his gospel were under attack. If that attack had succeeded, Christianity might have become just another Jewish sect, might have become a thing dependent upon circumcision and on keeping the law, instead of being a thing of grace. It is strange to think that, if Paul’s opponents had had their way, the gospel might have been kept for Jews and we might never have had the chance to know the love of Christ.


It is impossible for a man to possess a vivid personality and a strong character like Paul and not encounter opposition; and equally impossible for a man to lead such a revolution in religious thought as he did and not be attacked. The first attack was on his apostleship. There were many to say that he was no apostle at all.

From their own point of view they were right. In Ac.1:21-22 we have the basic definition of an apostle. Judas the traitor had committed suicide; it was necessary to fill the blank made in the apostolic band. They define the man to be chosen as one who must be “one of these men who were with us during all the time our Lord went in and out amongst us, beginning from the baptism of John, until the day he was taken from us” and “a witness of the Resurrection.” To be an apostle a man must have companied with Jesus during his earthly life and have witnessed his Resurrection. That qualification Paul obviously did not fulfil. Further, not so very long ago he had been the arch-persecutor of the Christian Church.

In Gal. 1:1 Paul answers that. Proudly he insists that his apostleship is from no human source and that no human hand ordained him to that office, but that he received his call direct from God. Others might have the qualifications demanded when the first blank in the apostolic band was filled; but he had a unique qualification–he had met Christ face to face on the Damascus Road.


Further, Paul insists that for his message he was dependent on no man. That is why in Gal. 1-2 he carefully details his visits to Jerusalem. He is insisting that he is not preaching some second-hand message which he received from a man; he is preaching a message which he received direct from Christ. But Paul was no anarchist. He insisted that, although his message was received in entire independence, it yet had received the full approval of those who were the acknowledged leaders of the Christian Church (Gal. 2:6-10). The gospel he preached came direct from God to him; but it was a gospel in full agreement with the faith delivered to the Church.


But that gospel was under attack as well. It was a struggle which had to come and a battle which had to be fought. There were Jews who had accepted Christianity; but they believed that all God’s promises and gifts were for Jews alone and that no Gentile could be admitted to these precious privileges. They therefore believed that Christianity was for Jews and Jews alone. If Christianity was God’s greatest gift to men, that was all the more reason that none but Jews should be allowed to enjoy it. In a way that was inevitable. There was a type of Jew who arrogantly believed in the idea of the chosen people. He could say the most terrible things–“God loves only Israel of all the nations he has made.” “God will judge Israel with one measure and the Gentiles with another.” “The best of the snakes crush; the best of the Gentiles kill.” “God created the Gentiles to be fuel for the fires of Hell.” This was the spirit which made the law lay it down that it was illegal to help a Gentile mother in her sorest hour, for that would only be to bring another Gentile into the world. When this type of Jew saw Paul bringing the gospel to the despised Gentile, he was appalled and infuriated.


There was a way out of this. If a Gentile wished to become a Christian, let him become a Jew first. What did that mean? It meant that he must be circumcised and take the whole burden of the law upon him. That, for Paul, was the opposite of all that Christianity meant. It meant that a man’s salvation was dependent on his ability to keep the law and could be won by his own unaided efforts; whereas, to Paul salvation was entirely a thing of grace. He believed that no man could ever earn the favour of God. All he could do was accept the love God offered him by making an act of faith and flinging himself on his mercy. The Jew would go to God saying, “Look! Here is my circumcision. Here are my works. Give me the salvation I have earned.” Paul would say:

“Not the labours of my hands
Can fulfil thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears for ever flow,
All for sin could not atone:
Thou must save, and thou alone.
Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to thy Cross I cling;
Naked, come to thee for dress;
Helpless, look to thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Saviour, or I die.”

For him the essential thing was, not what a man could do for God, but what God had done for him.

“But,” the Jews argued, “the greatest thing in our national life is the law. God gave that law to Moses and on it our very lives depend.” Paul replied, “Wait one moment. Who is the founder of our nation? To whom were the greatest of God’s promises given?” Of course, the answer is Abraham. “Now,” went on Paul, “how was it that Abraham gained the favour of God? He could not have gained it by keeping the law because he lived four hundred and thirty years before the law was given to Moses. He gained it by an act of faith. When God told him to leave his people and go out, Abraham made a sublime act of faith and went, trusting everything to him. It was faith that saved Abraham, not law; and,” Paul continues, “it is faith that must save every man, not deeds of the law. The real son of Abraham is not a man racially descended from him but one who, no matter his race, makes the same surrender of faith to God.”


If all this be true, one very serious question arises–what then is the place of the law? It cannot be denied that it was given by God; does this emphasis on grace simply wipe it out?

The law has its own place in the scheme of things. First, it tells men what sin is. If there is no law, a man cannot break it and there can be no such thing as sin. Second, and most important, the law really drives a man to the grace of God. The trouble about the law is that because we are sinful men we can never keep it perfectly. Its effect, therefore, is to show a man his weakness and to drive him to a despair in which he sees that there is nothing left but to throw himself on the mercy and the love of God. The law convinces us of our own insufficiency and in the end compels us to admit that the only thing which can save us is the grace of God. In other words the law is an essential stage on the way to that grace.

In this epistle Paul’s great theme is the glory of the grace of God and the necessity of realizing that we can never save ourselves.



Gal. 1:1-5

I, Paul, an apostle–and my apostleship was given to me from no human source and through no man’s hand, because it came to me direct from Jesus Christ and from God the Father, who raised Jesus from the dead–with all the brothers who are here, write this letter to the Churches of Galatia. May grace and peace be on you from God the Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ, who, because our God and Father willed it so, gave his life for our sins, to rescue us from this present world with all its evil. Glory be to him for ever and ever. Amen.

To the people of Galatia there had come people saying that Paul was not really an apostle and that they need not listen to what he had to say. They based their belittlement on the fact that he had not been one of the original twelve, that, in fact, he had been the most savage of all persecutors of the Church, and that he held, as it were, no official appointment from the leaders of the Church. Paul’s answer was not an argument; it was a statement. He owed his apostleship to no man but to a day on the Damascus Road when he had met Jesus Christ face to face. His office and his task had been given him direct from God.

(i) Paul was certain that God had spoken to him. Leslie Weatherhead tells of a boy who decided to become a minister. He was asked when he had come to that decision and he replied that it was after hearing a certain sermon in his school chapel. He was asked the name of the preacher who had wrought such an effect upon him. His answer was, “I do not know the preacher’s name; but I know that God spoke to me that day.”

In the last analysis no man can make another a minister or a servant of God. Only God himself can do that. The real test of a Christian is not whether or not he has gone through certain ceremonies and taken certain vows; it is, has he seen Christ face to face? An old Jewish priest called Ebed-Tob said of the office which he held, “It was not my father or my mother who installed me in this place, but the arm of the Mighty King gave it to me.”

(ii) The real reason for Paul’s ability to toil and to suffer was that he was certain his task had been given him by God. He regarded every effort demanded from him as a God-given task.

It is not only men like Paul who have a task from God; to every man God gives his task. It may be one of which all men will know and which history will remember or it may be one of which no one will ever hear; but in either case it is a task for God. Tagore has a poem like this:

“At midnight the would-be ascetic announced:
`This is the time to give up my home and seek for God. Ah,
who has held me so long in delusion here?’
God whispered. `I,’ but the ears of the man were stopped.
With a baby asleep at her breast lay his wife, peacefully sleeping
on one side of the bed.
The man said, `Who are ye that have fooled me so long?’
The voice said again, `They are God,’ but he heard it not.
The baby cried out in its dream, nestling close to its mother.
God commanded, `Stop, fool, leave not thy home,’ but still he
heard not. God sighed and complained, `Why does my servant wander to
seek me, forsaking me'”

Many humble tasks are a divine apostolate. As Burns had it,

To mak’a happy fire-side clime
For weans and wife,
That’s the true pathos and sublime
O’human life.

Paul’s God-given task was to evangelize a world; to most of us it will simply be to make one or two folk happy in the little circle of those most dear.

Right at the beginning of his letter Paul sums up his wishes and prayers for his friends in two tremendous words.

(i) He wishes them grace. There are two main ideas in this word. The first is that of sheer beauty. The Greek word charis (GSN5485) means grace in the theological sense, but it always means beauty and charm; and even when theologically used the idea of charm is never far away from it. If the Christian life has grace in it, it must be a lovely thing. Far too often goodness exists without charm and charm without goodness. It is when goodness and charm unite that the work of grace is seen. The second idea is that of undeserved generosity of a gift, which a man never deserved and could never earn, given to him in the generous love of God. When Paul prays for grace on his friends, it is as if he were saying, “May the beauty of the undeserved love of God be on you, so that it will make your life lovely, too.”

(ii) He wishes them peace. Paul was a Jew, and the Jewish word shalowm (HSN7965) must have been in his mind, even as he wrote the Greek eirene (GSN1515). Shalowm (HSN7965) means far more than the mere absence of trouble. It means everything which is to a man’s highest good, everything which will make his mind pure, his will resolute and his heart glad. It is that sense of the love and care of God, which, even if his body is tortured, can keep a man’s heart serene.

Finally, Paul sums up in one sentence of infinite meaning the heart and the work of Jesus Christ. “He gave himself… to rescue us.” (i) The love of Christ is a love which gave and suffered. (ii) The love of Christ is a love which conquered and achieved. In this life the tragedy of love is that it is so often frustrated; but the love of Christ is backed by an infinite power which nothing can frustrate and which can rescue its loved one from the bondage of sin.


Gal. 1:6-10

I am amazed that you have so quickly deserted him who called you by the grace of Christ, and that you have so soon gone over to a different gospel, a gospel which in point of fact is not another gospel at all. What has really happened is that certain men are upsetting your whole faith and are aiming at reversing the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven were to preach a gospel to you, other than that which you have received, let him be accursed. Is it men’s favour I am trying to win, or is it God’s? Or am I seeking to curry favour with men? If after all that has happened to me I were still trying to curry favour with men, I would not be bearing the brand; of the slave of Christ.

The basic fact behind this epistle is that Paul’s gospel was a gospel of free grace. He believed with all his heart that nothing a man could do could ever earn the love of God; and that therefore all a man could do was fling himself on his mercy in an act of faith. All a man could do was take in wondering gratitude what God offered; the important thing was not what we could do for ourselves but what he had done for us.

It was this gospel of the free grace of God that Paul had preached. After him there came men preaching a Jewish version of Christianity. They declared that, if a man wished to please God, he must be circumcised and then dedicate his life to carrying out all the rules and regulations of the law. Every time a man performed a deed of the law, so they said, that was a credit entry in his account with God. They were teaching that it was necessary for a man to earn the favour of God. To Paul that was utterly impossible.

Paul’s opponents declared that he was making religion far too easy and doing so to ingratiate himself with men. In fact that accusation was the reverse of the truth. After all, if religion consists in fulfilling a mass of rules and regulations, it is, at least theoretically, possible to satisfy its demands; but Paul is holding up the Cross and saying, “God loved you like that.” Religion becomes a matter, not of satisfying the claims of law, but of trying to meet the obligation of love. A man can satisfy the claims of law, for they have strict and statutory limits; but he can never satisfy the claims of love, for if he gave his loved one the sun, the moon and the stars he still would be left feeling that that was an offering far too small. But all that Paul’s Jewish opponents could see was that he had declared that circumcision was no longer necessary and the law no longer relevant.

Paul denied that he was trying to ingratiate himself with men. It was not men he was serving; it was God. It made no difference to him what men said or thought about him; his master was God. And then he brought forward an unanswerable argument. “if,” he said, “I were trying to curry favour with men I would not be the slave of Christ.” What is in his mind is this–the slave had his master’s name and sign stamped on him with a red-hot branding iron; he himself bore on his body the marks of his sufferings, the brand of the slavery of Christ. “If,” he said, “I were out to curry favour with men would I have these scars on my body?” The fact that he was marked as he was was the final proof that his aim was to serve Christ and not to please men.

John Gunther tells us of the very early communists in Russia. Many of them had been in prison under the Czarist regime and bore on their bodies the physical marks of what they had suffered; and he tells us that, so far from being ashamed of the marks which disfigured them, they were their greatest pride. We may be convinced that they were misguided and misguiding, but we can not doubt the genuineness of their allegiance to the communist cause.

It is when men see that we are prepared to suffer for the faith which we say we hold that they begin to believe that we really hold it. If our faith costs us nothing, men will value it at nothing.


Gal. 1:11-17

As for the gospel that has been preached by me, I want you to know, brothers, that it rests on no human foundation. for, neither did I receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but it came to me through direct revelation from Jesus Christ. If you want proof of that you heard of the kind of life I once lived when I practised the Jewish faith, a life in which I persecuted the Church of God beyond all bounds and devastated it. I was making strides in the Jewish faith beyond many of my contemporaries in my nation, for I was zealous to excess for the traditions of my fathers. It was then that God who had set me apart for a special task before I was born, and who called me through his grace, decided to reveal his Son through me. that I might tell the good news of him amongst the Gentiles. Thereupon I did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was; but I went away to Arabia; and then I went back again to Damascus.

It was Paul’s contention that the gospel he preached was no second-hand tale; it had come to him direct from God. That was a big claim to make and it demanded some kind of proof. For that proof Paul had the courage to point to himself and to the radical change in his own life.

(i) He had been a fanatic for the law; and now the dominant centre of his life was grace. This man, who had with passionate intensity tried to earn God’s favour, was now content in humble faith to take what he lovingly offered. He had ceased to glory in what he could do for himself; and had begun to glory in what God had done for him.

(ii) He had been the arch-persecutor of the Church. He had “devastated” the Church. The word he uses is the word for utterly sacking a city. He had tried to make a scorched earth of the Church and now his one aim, for which he was prepared to spend himself even to death, was to spread that same Church over all the world.

Every effect must have an adequate cause. When a man is proceeding headlong in one direction and suddenly turns and proceeds headlong in the opposite direction; when he suddenly reverses all his values so that his life turns upside down; some explanation is required. For Paul the explanation was the direct intervention of God. He had laid his hand on his shoulder and arrested him in mid-career. “That,” said Paul, “is the kind of effect which only God could produce.” It is a notable thing about Paul that he is not afraid to recount the record of his own shame in order to show God’s power.

He has two things to say about that intervention.

(i) It was no unpremeditated thing; it was in God’s eternal plan. A. J. Gossip tells how Alexander Whyte preached the sermon when he was ordained to his first charge. Whyte’s message was that all through time and eternity God had been preparing this man for this congregation and this congregation for this man and, prompt to the minute, he had brought them together.

God sends every man into the world with a part to play in his purpose. It may be a big part or it may be a small part. It may be to do something of which the whole world will know or something of which only a few will ever know. Epictetus 2: 16 says, “Have courage to look up to God and to say, `Deal with me as thou wilt from now on. I am as one with thee; I am thine; I flinch from nothing so long as thou dost think that it is good. Lead me where thou wilt; put on me what raiment thou wilt. Wouldst thou have me hold office, or eschew it, stay or fly, be rich or poor? For all this I will defend thee before men.'” If a pagan philosopher could give himself so wholly to a God whom he knew so dimly, how much more should we!

(ii) Paul knew himself to be chosen for a task. He thought of himself as chosen not for honour but for service, not for ease but for battles. It is for the hardest campaigns that the general chooses his best soldiers and for the hardest studies that the teacher chooses his best students. Paul knew that he had been saved to serve.


Gal. 1:18-24

Then, three years after that, I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and I stayed with him a fortnight. I saw no other apostle except James, the Lord’s brother. As for what I am writing to you–before God I am not lying. Then I went to the districts of Syria and Cilicia. But I remained personally unknown to the Churches of Judaea which are in Christ. The only thing they knew about me was that they were hearing the news–our one-time persecutor is preaching the faith which once he tried to devastate and they found in me cause to glorify God.

When we look at this passage alongside the last section of the preceding one we see just what Paul did when the hand of God arrested him.

(i) First, he went away to Arabia. He went away to be alone and for two reasons. First, he had to think out this tremendous thing that had happened to him. Second, he had to speak with God before he spoke to men.

There are so few who will take the time to face themselves and to face God; and how can a man meet the temptations, stresses and strains of life unless he has thought things out and thought them through?

(ii) Second, he went back to Damascus. That was a courageous thing to do. He had been on the way to Damascus to wipe out the Church when God arrested him and all Damascus knew that. He went back at once to bear his testimony to the people who knew best what he had been.

Kipling has a famous poem called Mulholland’s Vow. Mulholland was a cattle-man on a ship. A storm broke out and in the storm the steers broke loose, Mulholland made a bargain with God that, if he saved him from the plunging horns and hooves, he would serve him from that time on. When he got safely to land he proposed to keep his part of the bargain; but his idea was to preach religion where no one knew him. Then came God’s command, “Back you go to the cattle-boats and preach my gospel there.” God sent him back to the place that he knew and that knew him. Our Christian witness.. like our Christian charity, must begin at home.

(iii) Third, Paul went to Jerusalem. Again he took his life in his hands. His former friends, the Jews, would be out for his blood, because to them he was a renegade. His former victims, the Christians, might well ostracize him, unable to believe that he was a changed man.

Paul had the courage to face his past. We never really get away from our past by running away from it. We can deal with it only by facing it and defeating it.

(iv) Fourth, Paul went to Syria and Cilicia. It was there that Tarsus was. It was there that he had been brought up. There were the friends of his boyhood and his youth. Again he chose the hard way. They would no doubt regard him as quite mad; they would meet him with anger, and, worse, with mockery. But he was quite prepared to be regarded as a fool for the sake of Christ.

In these verses Paul was seeking to defend and prove the independence of his gospel. He got it from no man; he got it from God. He consulted no man; he consulted God. But as he wrote he unconsciously delineated himself as the man who had the courage to witness to his change and preach his gospel in the hardest places of all.


Gal. 2:1-10

Fourteen years afterwards I again went up to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and I took Titus with me too. It was in consequence of a direct message from God that I went up; and I placed before them the gospel that I am accustomed to preach among the Gentiles. because I did not want to think that the work which I was trying to do, and which I had done, was going to be frustrated. This I did in private conference with those whose reputations stood high in the Church. But not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, although he was a Greek. True they tried to circumcise him to please false brothers who had been furtively introduced into our society and who had insinuated themselves into our company to spy out the liberty which we enjoy in Christ Jesus, because they wished to reduce us to their own state of servitude. Not for one hour did we yield in submission to them. We took a stand that the truth of the gospel might remain with you. Now from those who are men of reputation–what they once were makes no difference to me–there is no favouritism with God those men of reputation imparted no fresh knowledge to me; but, on the other hand, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the preaching of the gospel in the non-Jewish world, just as Peter had been in the Jewish world–for he who worked for Peter. to make him the apostle of the Jewish world, worked for me too to make me the apostle to the non-Jewish world–and when they realized the grace that had been given to me, James, Cephas and John, whom all look upon as pillars of the Church, gave pledges of partnership to me and to Barnabas. in complete agreement that we should go to the non-Jewish world, and they to the Jewish world. The one thing which they did enjoin us to do was to remember the poor–the very thing that I myself was eager to do.

In the preceding passage Paul has proved the independence of his gospel; here he is concerned to prove that this independence is not anarchy and that his gospel is not something schismatic and sectarian, but no other than the faith delivered to the Church.

After fourteen years’ work he went up to Jerusalem, taking with him Titus, a young friend and henchman, who was a Greek. That visit was by no means easy. Even as he wrote there was agitation in Paul’s mind. There is a disorder in the Greek which it is not possible fully to reproduce in English translation. Paul’s problem was that he could not say too little or he might seem to be abandoning his principles; and he could not say too much, or it might seem that he was at open variance with the leaders of the Church. The result was that his sentences are broken and disjointed, reflecting his anxiety.

From the beginning the real leaders of the Church accepted his position; but there were others who were out to tame this fiery spirit. There were those, who, as we have seen, accepted Christianity but believed that God never gave any privilege to a man who was not a Jew; and that, therefore, before a man could become a Christian, he must be circumcised and take the whole law upon him. These Judaizers. as they are called, seized on Titus as a test case. There is a battle behind this passage; and it seems likely that the leaders of the Church urged Paul, for the sake of peace, to give in, in the case of Titus. But he stood like a rock. He knew that to yield would be to accept the slavery of the law and to turn his back on the freedom which is in Christ. In the end Paul’s determination won the day. In principle it was accepted that his work lay in the non-Jewish world, and the work of Peter and James among the Jews. It is to be carefully noted that it is not a question of two different gospels being preached; it is a question of the same gospel being brought to two different spheres by different people specially qualified to do so.

From this picture certain characteristics of Paul emerge clearly.

(i) He was a man who gave authority its due respect. He did not go his own way. lie went and talked with the leaders of the Church however much he might differ from them. It is a great and neglected law of life that however right we happen to be there is nothing to be gained by rudeness. There is never any reason why courtesy and determination should not go hand in hand.

(ii) He was a man who refused to be overawed. Repeatedly he mentions the reputation which the leaders and pillars of the Church enjoyed. He respected them and treated them with courtesy; but he remained inflexible. There is such a thing as respect; and there is such a thing as the grovelling, prudential bowing to those whom the world or the Church labels great. Paul was always certain that he was seeking the approval not of men but of God.

(iii) He was a man conscious of a special task. He was convinced that God had given him a task to do and he would let neither opposition from without nor discouragement from within stop him doing it. The man who knows he has a God-given task will always find that he has a God-given strength to carry it out.


Gal. 2:11-13

But when Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he stood condemned. Before some men arrived from James it was his habit to eat with the Gentiles. When they came he withdrew and separated himself. because he was scared of the circumcision party. The rest of the Jews played the hypocrite along with him, so that even Barnabas was led away along with them by their hypocritical actions.

The trouble was by no means at an end. Part of the life of the early Church was a common meal which they called the Agape (GSN0026) or Love Feast. At this feast the whole congregation came together to enjoy a common meal provided by a pooling of whatever resources they had. For many of the slaves it must have been the only decent meal they had all week; and in a very special way it marked the togetherness of the Christians.

That seems, on the face of it, a lovely thing. But we must remember the rigid exclusiveness of the narrower Jew. He regarded his race as the Chosen People in such a way as involved the rejection of all others. “The Lord is merciful and gracious” (Ps.2:5). “But he is only gracious to Israelites; other nations he will terrify.” “The nations are as stubble or straw which shall be burned, or as chaff scattered to the wind.” “If a man repents God accepts him, but that applies only to Israel and no other nation.” “Love all but hate the heretics.” This exclusiveness entered into daily life. A strict Jew was forbidden even to do business with a Gentile; he must not go on a journey with a Gentile; he must neither give hospitality to, nor accept hospitality from, a Gentile.

Here in Antioch arose the tremendous problem, in face of all this could the Jews and the Gentiles sit down together at a common meal? If the old law was to be observed it was obviously impossible. Peter came to Antioch and, at first, disregarding the old taboos in the glory of the new faith, he shared the common meal with Jew and Gentile. Then came certain of the Jewish party from Jerusalem. They used James’ name although quite certainly they were not representing his views, and they worked on Peter so much that he withdrew from the common meal. The other Jews withdrew with him and finally even Barnabas was involved in this secession. It was then that Paul spoke with all the intensity of which his passionate nature was capable, for he saw certain things quite clearly.

(i) A church ceases to be Christian if it contains class distinctions. In the presence of God a man is neither Jew nor Gentile, noble nor base, rich nor poor; he is a sinner for whom Christ died. If men share in a common sonship they must be brothers.

(ii) Paul saw that strenuous action was necessary to counteract a drift which had occurred. He did not wait; he struck. It made no difference to him that this drift was connected with the name and conduct of Peter. It was wrong and that was all that mattered to him. A famous name can never justify an infamous action. Paul’s action gives us a vivid example of how one strong man by his steadfastness can check a drift away from the right course before it becomes a tidal wave.


Gal. 2:14-17

But when I saw that they were straying away from the right path which the gospel lays down, I said to Peter in front of them all, “If you who are a born Jew choose to live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. why are you forcing the Gentiles to live like Jews? We are by nature Jews; we are not Gentile sinners as you would call them; and we know that a man is not put right with God because he does the works which the law lays down, but through faith in Jesus Christ. Now we have accepted this faith in Jesus Christ, so that we might be right with God, and that faith has nothing to do with the works the law lays down, because no man can ever put himself right with God by doing the works the law lays down. Now if in our search to be made right with God through Christ Jesus we too become what you call sinners, are you then going to argue that Christ is the minister of sin? God forbid!”

Here at last the real root of the matter is being reached. A decision is being forced which could not in any event be long delayed. The fact of the matter was that the Jerusalem decision was a compromise, and, like all compromises, it had in it the seeds of trouble. In effect the decision was that the Jews would go on living like Jews, observing circumcision and the law, but that the Gentiles were free from these observances. Clearly, things could not go on like that, because the inevitable result was to produce two grades of Christians and two quite distinct classes in the Church. Paul’s argument ran like this. He. said to Peter, “You shared table with the Gentiles; you ate as they ate; therefore you approved in principle that there is one way for Jew and Gentile alike. How can you now reverse your decision and want the Gentiles to be circumcised and take the law upon them?” The thing did not make sense to Paul.

Now we must make sure of the meaning of a word. When the Jew used the word sinners of Gentiles he was not thinking of moral qualities; he was thinking of the observance of the law. To take an example–Lev.11 lays down which animals may and may not be used for food. A man who ate a hare or pork broke these laws and became as inner in this sense of the term. So Peter would answer Paul, “But, if I eat with the Gentiles and eat the things they eat, I become a sinner.”

Paul’s answer was twofold. First, he said, “We agreed long ago that no amount of observance of the law can make a man right with God. That is a matter of grace. A man cannot earn, but must accept the generous offer of the love of God in Jesus. Therefore the whole business of law is irrelevant.” Next he said, “You hold that to forget all this business about rules and regulations will make you a sinner. But that is precisely what Jesus Christ told you to do. He did not tell you to try to earn salvation by eating this animal and not eating that one. He told you to fling yourself without reserve on the grace of God. Are you going to argue, then, that he taught you to become a sinner?” Obviously there could be only one proper conclusion, namely that the old laws were wiped out.

This is the point that had to come. It could not be right for Gentiles to come to God by grace and Jews to come to him by law. For Paul there was only one reality, grace, and it was by way of surrender to that grace that all men must come.

There are two great temptations in the Christian life, and, in a certain sense, the better a man is the more liable he is to them. First, there is the temptation to try to earn God’s favour, and second, the temptation to use some little achievement to compare oneself with our fellow men to our advantage and their disadvantage. But the Christianity which has enough of self left in it to think that by its own efforts it can please God and that by its own achievements it can show itself superior to other men is not true Christianity at all.


Gal. 2:18-21

If I build up again these very things that I destroyed, I simply succeed in making myself a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. True, I am alive; but it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. The life that I am now living, although it is still in the flesh, is a life which is lived in faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to cancel out the grace of God; for if I can get right with God by means of the law, then Christ died quite unnecessarily.

Paul speaks out of the depths of personal experience. For him to re-erect the whole fabric of the law would have been spiritual suicide. He says that through the law he died to the law that he might live to God. What he means is this–he had tried the way of law, he had tried with all the terrible intensity of his hot heart to put himself right with God by a life that sought to obey every single item of that law. He had found that such an attempt produced nothing but a deeper and deeper sense that all he could do could never put him right with God. All the law had done was to show him his own helplessness. Whereupon he had quite suddenly abandoned that way and had cast himself, sinner as he was, on the mercy of God. It was the law which had driven him to God. To go back to the law would simply have entangled him all over again in the sense of estrangement from God. So great was the change that the only way he could describe it was to say that he had been crucified with Christ so that the man he used to be was dead and the living power within him now was Christ himself.

“If I can put myself to rights with God by meticulously obeying the law then what is the need of grace? If I can win my own salvation then why had Christ to die?” Paul was quite sure of one thing–that Jesus Christ had done for him what he could never have done for himself. The one man who re-enacted the experience of Paul was Martin Luther. Luther was a showpiece of discipline and penance, self-denial and self-torture. “If ever,” he said, “a man could be saved by monkery that man was I.” He had gone to Rome; it was considered to be an act of great merit to climb the Scala Sancta, the great sacred stairway, on hands and knees. He toiled upwards seeking that merit and suddenly there came to him the voice from heaven, “The just shall live by faith.” The life at peace with God was not to be attained by this futile, never-ending, ever-defeated effort; it could be had only by casting himself on the love and mercy of God as Jesus Christ revealed them to men.

“Pining souls’ come nearer Jesus.
And O come, not doubting thus,
But with faith that trusts more bravely
His huge tenderness for us.
If our love were but more simple,
We should take him at his word;
Arid our lives would be all sunshine,
In the sweetness of our Lord.”

When Paul took God at his word, the midnight of law’s frustration became the sunshine of grace.


Gal. 3:1-9

O senseless Galatians, who has put the evil eye on you–you before whose very eyes Jesus Christ was placarded upon his Cross? Tell me this one thing–did you receive the Spirit by doing the works the law lays down, or because you listened and believed? Are you so senseless? After beginning your experience of God in the Spirit, are you now going to try to complete it by making it dependent upon what human nature can do? Is the tremendous experience you had all for nothing–if indeed you are going to let it go for nothing? Did he who generously gave you the Spirit, and who wrought mighty things among you, do so because you produced the deeds the law lays down or because you heard and believed., Was it not with you exactly as it was with Abraham–Abraham trusted God, and it was that which was credited to him as righteousness. So you must realize that it is those who make the venture of faith who are the sons of Abraham. Scripture foresaw that it would be by faith that God would bring the Gentiles into a right relationship with himself, and told the good news to Abraham before it happened–In you shall all nations be blessed. So, then, it is those who make that same venture of faith who are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

Paul uses still another argument to show that it is faith and not works of the law which puts a man right with God. In the early Church converts nearly always received the Holy Spirit in a visible way. The early chapters of Acts show that happening again and again (compare Ac.8:14-17; Ac.10:44). There came to them a new surge of life and power that anyone could see. That experience had happened to the Galatians and had happened, said Paul, not because they had obeyed the regulations of the law, because at that time they had never heard of the law, but because they had heard the good news of the love of God and had responded to it in an act of perfect trust.

The easiest way to grasp an idea is to see it embodied in a person. In a sense, every great word must become flesh. So Paul pointed the Galatians to a man who embodied faith, Abraham. He was the man to whom God had made the great promise that in him all families of the earth would be blessed (Gen.12:3). He was the man whom God had specially chosen as the man who pleased him. Wherein did Abraham specially please God? It was not by doing the works of the law, because at that time the law did not exist; it was by taking God at his word in a great act of faith.

Now the promise of blessedness was made to the descendants of Abraham. On that the Jew relied; he held that simple physical descent from Abraham set him on a different footing with God from other men. Paul declares that to be a true descendant of Abraham is not a matter of flesh and blood; the real descendant is the man who makes the same venture of faith. Therefore, it is not those who seek merit through the law who inherit the promise made to Abraham; but those of every nation who repeat his act of faith in God. It was by an act of faith that the Galatians had begun. Surely they are not going to slip back into legalism–and lose their inheritance.

This passage is full of Greek words with–a history, words which carried an atmosphere and a story with them. In Gal. 3:1 Paul speaks about the evil eve. The Greeks had a great fear of a spell cast by the evil eye. Time and again private letters end with some such sentence as this: “Above all I pray that you may be in health unharmed by the evil eye and faring prosperously” (Milligan, Selections from the Greek Papyri, No. 14).

In the same verse he talks about Jesus Christ being placarded before them upon his Cross. It is the Greek word (prographein, GSN4270) that would be used for putting up a poster. It is actually used for a notice put up by a father to say that he will no longer be responsible for his son’s debts; it is also used for putting up the announcement of an auction sale.

In Gal. 3:4 Paul talks about beginning their experience in the Spirit and ending it in the flesh. The words he uses are the normal Greek words for beginning and completing a sacrifice. The first one (enarchesthai, GSN1728) is the word for scattering the grains of barley on and around the victim which was the first act of a sacrifice; and the second one (epiteleisthai, GSN2005) is the word used for fully completing the ritual of any sacrifice. By using these two words Paul shows that he looks on the Christian life as a sacrifice to God.

In Gal. 3:5 he speaks of God giving generously to the Galatians. The root of this word is the Greek choregia (compare GSN5524). In the ancient days in Greece at the great festivals the great dramatists like Euripides and Sophocles presented their plays; Greek plays all have a chorus; to equip and train a chorus was expensive, and public-spirited Greeks generously offered to defray the entire expenses of the chorus. (That gift is described by the word choregia, compare GSN5524.) Later, in war time, patriotic citizens gave free contributions to the state and choregia was used for this, too. In still later Greek, in the papyri, the word is common in marriage contracts and describes the support that a husband, out of his love, undertakes to give his wife. Choregia underlines the generosity of God, a generosity which is born of love, of which the love of a citizen for his city and of a man for his wife are dim suggestions.


Gal. 3:10-14

All who depend on the deeds which the law lays down are under a curse, for it stands written, “Cursed is everyone who does not consistently obey and perform all the things written in the book of the law.” It is clear that no one ever gets into a right relationship with God by means of this legalism, because, as the Bible says, “It is the man who is right with God through faith who will live.” But the law is not based on faith. And yet the scripture says.. “The man who does these things will have to live by them.” Christ ransomed us from the curse of the law by becoming accursed for us–for it stands written, “Cursed is every man who is hanged on a tree.” And this all happened so that in Christ Abraham’s blessing should come to the Gentiles, and so that we might receive the promised Spirit by means of faith.

Paul’s argument seeks to drive his opponents into a corner from which there is no escape. “Suppose,” he says, “you decide that you are going to try to win God’s approval by accepting and obeying the law, what is the, inevitable consequence?” First of all, the man who does that has to stand or fall by his decision; if he chooses the law he has got to live by it. Second, no man ever has succeeded and no man ever will succeed in always keeping the law. Third, if that being so, you are accursed, because scripture itself says (Deut.27:26) that the man who does not keep the whole law is under a curse. Therefore, the inevitable end of trying to get right with God by making the law the principle of life is a curse.

But scripture has another saying, “It is the man who is right with God by faith who will really live” (Hab.2:4). The only way to get into a right relationship with God, and therefore the only way to peace, is the way of faith. But the principle of law and the principle of faith are antithetic; you cannot direct your life by both at one and the same time; you must choose; and the only logical choice is to abandon the way of legalism and to venture upon the way of faith, of taking God at his word and of trusting in his love.

How can we know that this is so? The final guarantor of its truth is Jesus Christ; and to bring this truth to us he had to die upon a Cross. Now, scripture says that every man who is hanged on a tree is accursed (Deut.21:23); and so to free us of the curse of the law, Jesus himself had to become accursed.

Even at his most involved, and here he is involved, one simple yet tremendous fact is never far from the mind and heart of Paul–the Cost of the Christian gospel. He could never forget that the peace, the liberty, the right relationship with God that we possess, cost the life and death of Jesus Christ, for how could men ever have known what God was like unless Jesus Christ had died to tell them of his great love.


Gal. 3:15-18

Brothers, I can use only a human analogy. Here is the parallel when a covenant is duly ratified, even if it is only a man’s covenant, no one annuls it or adds additional clauses to it. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his seed. It does not say, “and to his seeds,” as if it were a case of many, but, “and to his seed,” as if it were a case of one, and that one is Christ. This is what I mean, the law which came into being four hundred and thirty years later cannot annul the covenant already ratified by God and thus render the promise inoperative. For. if the inheritance is dependent on law, it is no longer dependent on promise; but it was through promise that God conferred his grace on Abraham.

When we read passages like this and the next one, we have to remember that Paul was a trained Rabbi, an expert in the scholastic methods of the Rabbinic academies. He could, and did, use their methods of argument, which would be completely cogent to a Jew, however difficult it may be for us to understand them.

His aim is to show the superiority of the way of grace over the way of law. He begins by showing that the way of grace is older than the way of law. When Abraham made his venture of faith, God made his great promise to him. That is to say. God’s promise was consequent upon an act of faith; the law did not come until the time of Moses, four hundred and thirty years later. But–Paul goes on to argue–once a covenant has been duly ratified, you cannot alter it nor add additional clauses to it. Therefore, the later law cannot alter the earlier way of faith. It was faith which set Abraham right with God; and faith is still the only way for a man to get himself right with God.

The Rabbis were very fond of using arguments which depended on the interpretation of single words; they would erect a whole theology on one word. Paul takes one word in the Abraham story and erects an argument upon it. As the King James Version translates Gen.17:7-8, God says to Abraham, “I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee” and says of his inheritance, “I will give it unto thee and to thy seed after thee.” (Seed is more clearly rendered descendant, as the Revised Standard Version has it.) Paul’s argument is that seed is used in the singular and not in the plural; and that, therefore, God’s promise points not to a great crowd of people but to one single individual; and–argues Paul–the one person in whom the covenant finds its consummation is Jesus Christ. Therefore, the way to peace with God is the way of faith which Abraham took; and we must repeat that way by looking to Jesus Christ in faith.

Again and again Paul comes back to the same point. The problem of human life is to get into a right relationship with God. So long as we are afraid of him, there can be no peace. How are we to achieve this right relationship? Shall it be by a meticulous and even self-torturing obedience to the law, by performing endless deeds and observing every smallest regulation the law lays down? If we take that way we will be forever in default, for man’s imperfection can never fully satisfy God’s perfection; but if we abandon this hopeless struggle and bring ourselves and our sin to God, his grace opens its arms to us and we find ourselves at peace with a God who is no longer judge but father. Paul’s argument is that this is what happened to Abraham. It was on that basis that God’s covenant with Abraham was made; and nothing that came in later can change that covenant any more than anything can alter a will that has already been ratified and signed.


Gal. 3:19-22

Why, then, have the law at all? The law was added to the situation to define what transgressions are, until the seed should come, to whom the promise, which still holds good, had been made. That law was enacted by angels and came by means of a mediator. Now there can be no such thing as a mediator of one; and God is one. Is, then, the law contrary to the promises of God? God forbid! If a law which was able to give life had been given, then indeed right relationship with God would have come through the law. But the words of scripture shut up everything under the power of sin, for the very reason that the promise should be given to those who believe through faith in Jesus Christ.

This is one of the most difficult passages Paul ever wrote, so difficult that there are almost three hundred different interpretations of it! Let us begin by remembering that Paul is still seeking to demonstrate the superiority of the way of grace and faith over the way of law. He makes four points about the law.

(i) Why introduce the law at all? It was introduced, as Paul puts it, for the sake of transgressions. What he means is that where there is no law there is no sin. A man cannot be condemned for doing wrong if he did not know that it was wrong. Therefore the function of the law is to define sin. But, while the law can and does define sin, it can do nothing whatever to cure it. It is like a doctor who is an expert in diagnosis but who is helpless to clear up the trouble which he has diagnosed.

(ii) The law was not given direct by God. In the old story in Exo.20 it was given direct to Moses; but in the days of Paul the Rabbis were so impressed by the holiness and the remoteness of God that they believed that it was quite impossible for him to deal direct with men; therefore they introduced the idea that the law was given first to angels and then by the angels to Moses (compare Ac.7:53; Heb.2:2). Here Paul is using the Rabbinic thoughts of his time. The law is at a double remove from God, given first to angels, and then to a mediator; and the mediator is Moses. Compared with the promise, which was given directly by God, the law is a second-hand thing.

(iii) Now we come to that extraordinarily difficult sentence–“There can be no such thing as a mediator of one; and God is one.” What is Paul’s thought here? An agreement founded on law always involves two people, the person who gives it and the person who accepts it; and it depends on both sides keeping it. That was the position of those who put their trust in the law. Break the law and the whole agreement was undone. But a promise depends on only one person. The way of grace depends entirely on God; it is his promise. Man can do nothing to alter that. He may sin, but the love and the grace of God stand unchanged. To Paul it was the weakness of the law that it depended on two persons, the law-giver and the law-keeper; and man had wrecked it. Grace is entirely of God; man can not undo it; and surely it is better to depend on the grace of the unchanging God than on the hopeless efforts of helpless men.

(iv) Is, then, the law antithetic to grace? Logically Paul should answer, “Yes” but, in fact, he answers, “No.” He says that scripture has shut up everyone under sin. He is thinking of Deut.27:26 where it is said that everyone who does not conform to the words of the law is cursed. In fact, that means everyone, because no one ever has, or ever will, perfectly keep the law. What, then, is the consequence of the law? It is to drive everyone to seek grace, because it has proved man’s helplessness. This is a thought that Paul will soon develop in the next chapter; here he only suggests it. Let a man try to get into a right relationship with God via the law. He will find he cannot do it and will be driven to see that all he can do is to accept the wonderful grace of which Jesus Christ came to tell men.


Gal. 3:23-29

Before faith came we were under guard under the power of the law, shut up and waiting for the day when faith would be revealed. So that the law was really our tutor to bring us to Christ so that we might get into a right relationship with God by means of faith. But now that faith has come we are no longer under a tutor; for you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is no longer any distinction between Jew and Greek, slave and free man, male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are the seed of Abraham, and heirs according to promise.

Paul is still thinking of the essential part that the law did play in the plan of God. In the Greek world there was a household servant called the paidagogos (GSN3807). He was not the schoolmaster. He was usually an old and trusted slave who had been long in the family and whose character was high. He was in charge of the child’s moral welfare and it was his duty to see that he acquired the qualities essential to true manhood. He had one particular duty; every day he had to take the child to and from school. He had nothing to do with the actual teaching of the child, but it was his duty to take him in safety to the school and deliver him to the teacher. That–said Paul–was like the function of the law. It was there to lead a man to Christ. It could not take him into Christ’s presence, but it could take him into a position where he himself might enter. It was the function of the law to bring a man to Christ by showing him that by himself he was utterly unable to keep it. But once a man had come to Christ he no longer needed the law, for now he was dependent not on law but on grace.

“As many of you,” says Paul, “who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” There are two vivid pictures here. Baptism was a Jewish rite. If a man wished to accept the Jewish faith he had to do three things. He had to be circumcised, to offer sacrifice and to be baptized. Ceremonial washing to cleanse from defilement was very common in Jewish practice (compare Lev.11-15).

The details of Jewish baptism were as follows: The man to be baptized cut his hair and his nails; he undressed completely; the baptismal bath had to contain 40 seahs, that is 2 hogsheads, of water. Every part of the body had to be touched with the water. He made confession of his faith before three men who were called fatherly of baptism. While still in the water, parts of the law were read to him, words of encouragement were addressed to him, and benedictions were pronounced upon him. When he emerged he was a member of the Jewish faith; it was through baptism that he entered into that faith.

By Christian baptism a man entered into Christ. The early Christians looked on baptism as something which produced a real union with Christ. Of course, in a missionary situation where men were coming direct from heathenism, baptism was for the most part adult baptism and the adult would necessarily have an experience a child could not have. But just as really as the Jewish convert was united with the Jewish faith, the Christian convert was united with Christ (compare Rom.6:3ff.; Col.2:12). Baptism was no mere outward form; it was a real union with Christ.

Paul goes on to say that they had put on Christ. There may be here a reference to a custom which certainly existed later. The candidate for baptism was clothed in pure white robes, symbolic of the new life into which he entered. Just as the initiate put on his new white robe, his life was clothed with Christ.

The result is that in the Church there was no difference between any of the members; they had all become sons of God. In Gal. 3:28 Paul says that the distinction between Jew and Greek, slave and free man, male and female is wiped out. There is something of very great interest here. In the Jewish morning prayer, which Paul must all his pre-Christian life have used, the Jew thanks God that “Thou hast not made me a Gentile, a slave or a woman.” Paul takes that prayer and reverses it. The old distinctions were gone; all were one in Christ.

We have already seen (Gal. 3:16) that Paul interprets the promises made to Abraham as specially finding their fulfilment in Christ; and, if we are one with Christ, we, too, inherit the promises–and this great privilege comes not by a legalistic keeping of the law, but by an act of faith in the free grace of God.

Only one thing can wipe out the ever sharpening distinctions and separations between man and man; when all are debtors to God’s grace and all are in Christ, only then will all be one. It is not the force of man but the love of God which alone can unite a disunited world.


Gal. 4:1-7

This is what I mean–so long as the heir is an infant there is no difference between him and a slave, although he is owner of everything, but he is under the control of stewards and overseers until the day which his father has fixed arrives. It is just the same with us. When we were infants we were in subjection to the elementary knowledge which this world can supply. But when the fulness of time came, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order that he might redeem those who were subject to the law. so that we might be adopted as sons. Because you are sons, God sent forth the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying “Abba! Father!” The consequence is that you are no longer a slave but a son; and if a son. an heir because God made you so.

In the ancient world the process of growing up was much more definite than it is with us.

(i) In the Jewish world, on the first Sabbath after a boy had passed his twelfth birthday, his father took him to the Synagogue, where he became A Son of the Law. The father thereupon uttered a benediction, “Blessed be thou, O God, who has taken from me the responsibility for this boy.” The boy prayed a prayer in which he said, “O my God and God of my fathers! On this solemn and sacred day, which marks my passage from boyhood to manhood, I humbly raise my eyes unto thee, and declare with sincerity and truth, that henceforth I will keep thy commandments, and undertake and bear the responsibility of mine actions towards thee.” There was a clear dividing line in the boy’s life; almost overnight he became a man.

(ii) In Greece a boy was under his father’s care from seven until he was eighteen. He then became what was called an ephebos, which may be translated “cadet,” and for two years he was under the direction of the state. The Athenians were divided into ten phratriai, or clans. Before a lad became an ephebos, at a festival called the Apatouria, he was received into the clan; and at a ceremonial act his long hair was cut off and offered to the gods. Once again, growing up was quite a definite process.

(iii) Under Roman law the year at which a boy grew up was not definitely fixed, but it was always between the ages of fourteen and seventeen. At a sacred festival in the family called the Liberalia he took off the toga praetexta, which was a toga with a narrow purple band at the foot of it and put on the toga virilis, which was a plain toga which adults wore. He was then conducted by his friends and relations down to the forum and formally introduced to public life. It was essentially a religious ceremony. And once again there was a quite definite day on which the lad attained manhood. There was a Roman custom that on the day a boy or girl grew up, the boy offered his ball, and the girl her doll, to Apollo to show that they had put away childish things.

When a boy was an infant in the eyes of the law, he might be the owner of a vast property but he could take no legal decision; he was not in control of his own life; everything was done and directed for him; and, therefore, for all practical purposes he had no more freedom than if he were a slave; but when he became a man he entered into his full inheritance.

So–Paul argues–in the childhood of the world, the law held sway. But the law was only elementary knowledge. To describe it Paul uses the word stoicheia (GSN4747). A stoicheion was originally a line of things; for instance, it can mean a file of soldiers. But it came to mean the ABC, and then any elementary knowledge.

It has another meaning which some would see here the elements of which the world is composed, and in particular, the stars. The ancient world was haunted by a belief in astrology. If a man was born under a certain star his fate, they believed, was settled. Men lived under the tyranny of the stars and longed for release. Some scholars think that Paul is saying that at one time the Galatians had been tyrannised by their belief in the baleful influence of the stars. But the whole passage seems to make it necessary to take stoicheia (GSN4747) in the sense of rudimentary knowledge.

Paul says that when the Galatians–and indeed all men–were mere children, they were under the tyranny of the law; then, when everything was ready, Christ came and released men from that tyranny. So now men are no longer slaves of the law; they have become sons and have entered into their inheritance. The childhood which belonged to the law should be past; the freedom of manhood has come.

The proof that we are sons comes from the instinctive cry of the heart. In man’s deepest need he cries, “Father!” to God. Paul uses the double phrase, “Abba! Father!” Abba (GSN0005) is the Aramaic word for Father. It must have been often on Jesus’ lips, and its sound was so sacred that men kept it in the original tongue. This instinctive cry of man’s heart Paul believes to be the work of the Holy Spirit. If our hearts so cry, we know that we are sons, and all the inheritance of grace is ours.

For Paul, he who governed his life by slavery to the law was still a child; he who had learned the way of grace had become a mature man in the Christian faith.


Gal. 4:8-11

There was a time when you did not know God, and when you were slaves to gods who are no gods at all; but now that you know God or rather now that god knows you–how can you turn back again to the weak and poverty-stricken elementary things, for it is to them that you wish to be enslaved all over again? You meticulously observe days and months and seasons and years. I am afraid for you, lest all the labour I spent on you is to go for nothing.

Paul is still basing on the conception that the law is an elementary stage in religion, and that the mature man is he who takes his stand on grace. The law was all right in the old days when they did not know any better. But now they have come to know God and his grace. Then Paul corrects himself–man cannot by his own efforts know God; God of his grace reveals himself to man. We can never seek God unless he has already found us. So Paul demands, “Are you now going back to a stage that you should have left behind long ago?”

He calls the elementary things, the religion based on law, weak antipoverty-stricken. (i) It is weak because it is helpless. It can define sin; it can convict a man of sin; but it can neither find for him forgiveness for past sin nor strength to conquer future sin. (ii) It is poverty-stricken in comparison with the splendour of grace. By its very nature the law can deal with only one situation. For every fresh situation man needs a fresh law; but the wonder of grace is that it is poikilos (GSN4164), which means variegated, many-coloured. That is to say, there is no possible situation in life which grace cannot match; it is sufficient for all things.

One of the features of Jewish law was its observance of special times. In this passage the days are the Sabbaths of each week; the months are the new moons; the seasons are the great annual feasts like the Passover, Pentecost and the Feast of Tabernacles; the years are the Sabbatic years, that is, every seventh. The failure of a religion which is dependent on special occasions is that almost inevitably it divides days into sacred and secular; and the further almost inevitable step is that when a man has meticulously observed the sacred days he is liable to think that he has discharged his duty to God.

Although that was the religion of legalism, it was very far from being the prophetic religion. It has been said that, “The ancient Hebrew people had no word in their language to correspond to the word `religion’ as it is commonly used today. The whole of life as they saw it came from God, and was subject to his law and governance. There could be no separate part of it in their thought labelled `religion.’

“Jesus Christ did not say, `I am come that they may have religion,’ but, `I am come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.'” To make religion a thing of special times is to make it an external thing. For the real Christian every day is God’s day.

It was Paul’s fear that men who had once known the splendour of grace would slip back to legalism, and that men who had once lived in the presence of God would shut him up to special days.


Gal. 4:12-20

Brothers, I entreat you, become as I am, because I became as you are. I have no complaints against the way that once you treated me. You know that it was because I was ill that I first preached the gospel to you. It must have been a temptation to you to do so, but you did not look on me with contempt or turn with loathing from me, but you received me as if I were an angel of God, as you would have received Christ Jesus. I once had cause to congratulate you. Where has that cause gone to? I am prepared to give evidence in your favour that you would have dug out your eyes and given them to me. So then have I become your enemy because I tell you the truth? It is not for any honourable reason that these other people pay court to you, but because they wish to put the barriers up so that you will have to pay court to them. It is always a fine thing to be zealous in a fine affair, and that not only when I am actually present with you. My little children, for whom I suffer the birth-pangs all over again, until you have taken the form of Christ, I wish I could be with you now! I wish that I had not to talk like this to you, because I am worried about you.

Paul makes not a theological but a personal appeal. He reminds them that for their sake he had become a Gentile; he had cut adrift from the traditions in which he had been brought up and become what they are; and his appeal is that they should not seek to become Jews but might become like himself.

Here we have a reference to Paul’s “thorn in the flesh.” It was through illness that first he came to them. We discuss this thorn more fully when dealing with 2Cor.12:7. It has been held to be the persecution which he suffered, the temptations of the flesh, which he is said never to have succeeded in suppressing; his physical appearance, which the Corinthians regarded as contemptible (2Cor.10:10). The oldest tradition is that it was violent and prostrating headaches. From this passage itself there emerge two indications.

The Galatians would have given him their eyes if they could have done so. It has been suggested that Paul’s eyes always troubled him because he had been dazzled so much on the Damascus Road that ever afterwards he could see only dimly and painfully.

The word translated you did not turn from me with loathing literally means you did not spit at me. In the ancient world it was the custom for a man to spit when he met an epileptic in order to avert the influence of the evil spirit which was believed to be resident in the sufferer; so it has been suggested that Paul was an epileptic.

If we can find out just when Paul came to Galatia, it may be possible to deduce why he came. It is possible that Ac.13:13-14 describe that coming. That passage presents a problem. Paul and Barnabas and Mark had come from Cyprus to the mainland. They came to Perga in Pamphylia; there Mark left them; and then they proceeded straight to Antioch in Pisidia, which is in the province of Galatia. Why did Paul not preach in Pamphylia? It was a populous district. Why did he choose to go to Antioch in Pisidia? The road that led there, up into the central plateau,. was one of the most difficult and dangerous in the world. That is perhaps why Mark went home. Why, then, this sudden flight from Pamphylia? The reason may well be that, since Pamphylia and the coastal plain were districts where malarial fever raged, Paul contracted this sickness and his only remedy would be to seek the highlands of Galatia, so that he arrived amongst the Galatians a sick man. Now this malaria recurs and is accompanied by a prostrating headache which has been likened to “a red-hot bar thrust through the forehead.” It may well have been that it was this prostrating pain which was Paul’s thorn in the flesh and which was torturing him when first he came to Galatia.

He talks about those who were sedulously paying court to the Galatians; he means those who were seeking to persuade them to adopt Jewish ways. If they were successful, the Galatians would in turn have to pay humble court to them to be allowed in order to be circumcised and enter the Jewish nation. Their sole purpose paid court to the Galatians, but they only did so to get control of the Galatians and reduce them to subjection to themselves and to the law.

In the end Paul uses a vivid metaphor. His bringing the Galatians to Christ cost him pain like a mother’s travail; and now he has to go through it all again. Christ is in them, as it were in embryo; he has to bring them to birth.

No one can fail to see the deep affection of the last words. My little children–diminutives in Latin and Greek always express deep affection. John often uses this expression but Paul uses it nowhere else; his heart is running over. We do well to note that Paul did not scold with bitter words; he yearned over his straying children. It was said of Florence Allshorn, famous missionary and teacher, that if she had cause to rebuke any of her students she did so, as it were, with her arm around them. The accent of love will penetrate where the tones of anger will never find a way. AN OLD STORY AND A NEW MEANING

Gal. 4:21-5:1

Tell me this–you who want to be subject to the law, you listen to it being read to you, don’t you? Well, then, it stands written in it that Abraham had two sons; one was the son of the slave girl and one was the son of the free woman. But the son of the slave girl was born in the ordinary human way, whereas the son of the free woman was born through a promise. Now these things are an allegory. For these two women stand for two covenants. One of these covenants–the one which originated on Mount Sinai–bears children who are destined for slavery–and that one is represented by Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai, which is in Arabia, and corresponds to the present Jerusalem; for she is a slave and so are her children. But the Jerusalem which is above is free and she is our mother. For it stands written, “Rejoice, O barren one, who never bore a child; break forth into a shout of joy, O you who know not the pangs of bearing a child; for the children of her who was left alone are more than those of her who had a husband.” But we, brothers, are in the same position as Isaac; we are children of promise. But in the old days the child who was born in the ordinary human way persecuted the child who was born in the spiritual way; and exactly the same thing happens now. But what does the scripture say? “Cast out the slave girl and her son, for the son of the slave girl must not inherit with the son of the free woman.” So we, brothers, are children not of the slave girl but of the free woman. It is for this freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand, therefore, in it and do not get yourselves involved all over again in a slavish yoke.

When we seek to interpret a passage like this we must remember that for the devout and scholarly Jew, and especially for the Rabbis, scripture had more than one meaning; and the literal meaning was often regarded as the least important. For the Jewish Rabbis a passage of scripture had four meanings. (i) Peshat, its simple or literal meaning. (ii) Remaz, its suggested meaning. (iii) Derush, the meaning deduced by investigation. (iv) Sod, the allegorical meaning. The first letters of these four words–P-R-D-S–are the consonants of the word Paradise–and when a man had succeeded in penetrating into these four different meanings he reached the joy of paradise!

It is to be noted that the summit of all meanings was the allegorical meaning. It therefore often happened that the Rabbis would take a simple bit of historical narrative from the Old Testament and read into it inner meanings which often appear to us fantastic but which were very convincing to the people of their day. Paul was a trained Rabbi; and that is what he is doing here. He takes the story involving Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Ishmael and Isaac (Gen.16-17, Gen.21), which in the Old Testament is a straightforward narrative and he allegorises it to illustrate his point.

The outline of the story is as follows: Abraham and Sarah were far advanced in years and Sarah had no child. She did what any wife would have done in those patriarchal times and sent Abraham in to her slave girl, Hagar, to see if she could bear a child on her behalf. Hagar had a son called Ishmael. In the meantime God had come and promised that Sarah would have a child, which was so difficult to believe that it appeared impossible to Abraham and Sarah; but in due time Isaac was born. That is to say, Ishmael was born of the ordinary human impulses of the flesh; Isaac was born because of God’s promise; and Sarah was a free woman, while Hagar was a slave girl. From the beginning Hagar had been inclined to triumph over Sarah, because barrenness was a sore shame to a woman; there was an atmosphere charged with trouble. Later Sarah found Ishmael “mocking” (King James Version) Isaac–this Paul equates with persecution–and insisted that Hagar should be cast out, so that the child of the slave girl should not share the inheritance with her freeborn son. Further. Arabia was regarded as the land of slaves where the descendants of Hagar dwelt.

Paul takes that old story and allegorises it. Hagar stands for the old covenant of the law, made on Mount Sinai, which is in fact in Arabia, the land of Hagar’s descendants. Hagar herself was a slave and all her children were born into slavery; and that covenant whose basis is the law turns men into slaves of the law. Hagar’s child was born from merely human impulses; and legalism is the best that man can do. On the other hand Sarah stands for the new covenant in Jesus Christ, God’s new way of dealing with men not by law but by grace. Her child was born free and according to God’s promise–and all his descendants must be free. As the child of the slave girl persecuted the child of the free woman, the children of law now persecute the children of grace and promise. But as in the end the child of the slave girl was cast out and had no share in the inheritance, so in the end those who are legalists will be cast out from God and have no share in the inheritance of grace.

Strange as all this may seem to us, it enshrines one great truth. The man who makes law the principle of his life is in the position of a slave; whereas the man who makes grace the principle of his life is free, for, as a great saint put it, the Christian’s maxim is, “Love God and do what you like.” It is the power of that love, and not the constraint of law, that will keep us right; for love is always more powerful than law.


Gal. 5:1-12

Look now it is I, Paul, who am speaking to you I tell you that if you get yourself circumcised Christ is no good to you. Again I give my word to every man who gets himself circumcised that he is under obligation to keep the whole law. You who seek to get yourselves right with God by means of legalism have got yourself into a position in which you have rendered ineffective all that Christ did for you. You have fallen from grace. For it is by the Spirit and by faith that we eagerly expect the hope of being right with God. For in Jesus Christ it is not of the slightest importance whether a man is circumcised or uncircumcised. What does matter is faith which works through love. You were running well. Who put up a road-block to stop you obeying the truth? The persuasion which is being exercised on you just now is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. I have confidence in you in the Lord; I am sure that you will take no other view. He who is upsetting you–whoever he is–will bear his own judgment. As for me, brothers, if I am still preaching that circumcision is necessary, why am I still being persecuted? So the stumbling-block of the Cross is removed, is it? I wish that those who are upsetting you would get themselves not only circumcised but castrated!

It was Paul’s position that the way of grace and the way of law were mutually exclusive. The way of law makes salvation dependent on human achievement; the man who takes the way of grace simply casts himself and his sin upon the mercy of God. Paul went on to argue that if you accepted circumcision, that is to say, if you accepted one part of the law, logically you had to accept the whole law.

Suppose a man desires to become a naturalized subject of a country and carefully carries out all the rules and regulations of that country as they affect naturalization. He cannot stop there but is bound to accept all the other rules and regulations as well. So Paul argued that if a man were circumcised he had put himself under an obligation to the whole law to which circumcision was the introduction; and, if he took that way, he had automatically turned his back on the way of grace, and, as far as he was concerned, Christ might never have died.

To Paul all that mattered was faith which works through love. That is just another way of saying that the essence of Christianity is not law but a personal relationship to Jesus Christ. The Christian’s faith is founded not on a book but on a person; its dynamic is not obedience to any law but love to Jesus Christ.

Once, the Galatians had known that, but now they were turning back to the law. “A little leaven,” said Paul, “leavens the whole lump.” For the Jew leaven nearly always stood for evil influence. What Paul is saying is, “This legalistic movement may not have gone very far yet, but you must root it out before it destroys your whole religion.”

Paul ends with a very blunt saying. Galatia was near Phrygia and the great worship of that part of the world was of Cybele. It was the practice that priests and really devout worshippers of Cybele mutilated themselves by castration. Paul says, “If you go on in this way, of which circumcision is the beginning, you might as well end up by castrating yourselves like these heathen priests.” It is a grim illustration at which a polite society raises its eyebrows, but it would be intensely real to the Galatians who knew all about the priests of Cybele.


Gal. 5:13-15

As for you, brothers, it was for freedom that you were called, only you must not use this freedom as a bridgehead through which the worst side of human nature can invade you, but in love you must serve one another; for the whole law stands complete in one word, in the sentence, “You must love your neighbour as yourself.” But if you snap at one another, and devour one another, you must watch that you do not end up by wiping each other out.

With this paragraph Paul’s letter changes its emphasis. Up to this point it has been theological; now it becomes intensely ethical. Paul had a characteristically practical mind. Even when he has been scaling the highest heights of thought he always ends a letter on a practical note. To him a theology was not the slightest use unless it could be lived out. In Romans he wrote one of the world’s great theological treatises, and then, quite suddenly, in Rom.12 the theology came down to earth and issued in the most practical advice. Vincent Taylor once said, “The test of a good theologian is, can he write a tract?” That is to say, after his flights of thought can he reduce it all to something that the ordinary man can understand and do? Paul always triumphantly satisfies that test, just as here the whole matter is brought to the acid test of daily living.

His theology always ran one danger. When he declared that the end of the reign of law had come and that the reign of grace had arrived, it was always possible for someone to say, “That, then, means that I can do what I like; all the restraints are lifted and I can follow my inclinations wherever they lead me. Law is gone and grace ensures forgiveness anyway.” But to the end of the day there remained for Paul two obligations. (i) One he does not mention here but it is implicit in all his thinking. It is the obligation to God. If God loved us like that then the love of Christ constrains us. I cannot soil a life which God paid for with his own life. (ii) There is the obligation to our fellow men. We are free, but our freedom loves its neighbour as itself.

The names of the different forms of government are suggestive. Monarchy is government by one, and began in the interests of efficiency, for government by committees has always had its drawbacks. Oligarchy means government by the few and can be justified by arguing that only the few are fit to govern. Aristocracy means government by the best, but best is left to be defined. Plutocracy means government by the wealthy and is justified by the claim that those who have the biggest stake in the country have a logical right to rule it. Democracy means government of the people, by the people, for the people. Christianity is the only true democracy, because in a Christian state everyone would think as much of his neighbour as he does of himself. Christian freedom is not licence, for the simple but tremendous reason that the Christian is not a man who has become free to sin, but a man, who, by the grace of God, has become free not to sin.

Paul adds a grim bit of advice. “Unless,” he says, “you solve the problem of living together you will make life impossible.” Selfishness in the end does not exalt a man; it destroys him.


Gal. 5:16-21

I tell you, let your walk and conversation be dominated by the Spirit, and don’t let the desires of the lower side of your nature have their way. For the desires of the lower side of human nature are the very reverse of the desires of the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are the very reverse of those of the lower side of human nature, for these are fundamentally opposed to each other, so that you cannot do whatever you like. The deeds of the lower side of human nature are obvious fornication, impurity, wantonness, idolatry, witchcraft, enmity, strife, jealousy, uncontrolled temper. self-seeking, dissension, heretical division, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and all that is like these things, I warn you, as I have warned you before, that those who do things like that will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

No man was ever more conscious of the tension in human nature than Paul. As the soldier in Studdert Kennedy’s poem said;

I’m a man and a man’s a mixture
Right down from his very birth;
For part of him comes from heaven,
And part of him comes from earth.

For Paul it was essential that Christian freedom should mean not freedom to indulge the lower side of human nature, but freedom to walk in the life of the Spirit. He gives us a catalogue of evil things. Every word he uses has a picture behind it.

Fornication; it has been said, and said truly, that the one completely new virtue Christianity brought into the world was chastity. Christianity came into a world where sexual immorality was not only condoned, but was regarded as essential to the ordinary working of life.

Impurity; the word that Paul uses (akatharsia, GSN0167 is interesting. It can be used for the pus of an unclean wound, for a tree that has never been pruned, for material which has never been sifted. In its positive form (katharos (GSN2513), an adjective meaning pure) it is commonly used in housing contracts to describe a house that is left clean and in good condition. But its most suggestive use is that katharos (GSN2513) is used of that ceremonial cleanness which entitles a man to approach his gods. Impurity, then, is that which makes a man unfit to come before God, the soiling of life with the things which separate us from him.

Wantonness; this word (aselgeia, GSN0766) is translated licentiousness in the Revised Standard Version (Mk.7:22; 2Cor.12:21; Gal. 5:19; Eph. 4:19; 1Pet.4:3; Jd.4; Rom.13:13 and 2Pet.2:18). It has been defined as “readiness for any pleasure.” The man who practises it has been said to know no restraint, but to do whatever caprice and wanton insolence may suggest. Josephus ascribed it to Jezebel when she built a temple to Baal in Jerusalem. The idea is that of a man who is so far gone in desire that he has ceased to care what people say or think.

Idolatry; this means the worship of gods which the hands of men have made. It is the sin in which material things have taken the place of God.

Witchcraft; this literally means the use of drugs. It can mean the beneficent use of drugs by a doctor; but it can also mean poisoning, and it came to be very specially connected with the use of drugs for sorcery, of which the ancient world was full.

Enmity; the idea is that of the man who is characteristically hostile to his fellow men; it is the precise opposite of the Christian virtue of love for the brethren and for all men.

Strife; originally this word had mainly to do with the rivalry for prizes. It can even be used in a good sense in that connection, but much more commonly it means the rivalry which has found its outcome in quarrellings and wrangling.

Jealousy; this word (zelos, GSN2205, from which our word zeal comes) was originally a good word. It meant emulation, the desire to attain to nobility when we see it. But it degenerated; came to mean the desire to have what someone else has, wrong desire for what is not for us.

Uncontrolled temper ; the word Paul uses means bursts of temper. It describes not an anger which lasts but anger which flames out and then dies.

Self-seeking; this word has a very illuminating history. It is eritheia (GSN2052) and originally meant the work of a hired labourer (erithos). So it came to mean work done for pay. It went on to mean canvassing for political or public office, and it describes the man who wants office, not from any motives of service. but for what he can get out of it.

Dissension; literally the word means a standing apart. After one of his great victories Nelson attributed it to the fact that he had the happiness to command a band of brothers. Dissension describes a society in which the very opposite is the case, where the members fly apart instead of coming together.

Heretical division; this might be described as crystallized dissension. The word is hairesis (GSN0139), from which comes our word heresy. Hairesis was not originally a bad word at all. It comes from a root which means to choose, and it was used for a philosopher’s school of followers or for any band of people who shared a common belief. The tragedy of life is that people who hold different views very often finish up by disliking, not each others’ views, but each other. It should be possible to differ with a man and yet remain friends.

Envy; this word (phthonos, GSN5355), is a mean word. Euripides called it “the greatest of all diseases among men.” The essence of it is that it does not describe the spirit which desires, nobly or ignobly, to have what someone else has: it describes the spirit which grudges the fact that the other person has these things at all. It does not so much want the things for itself; it merely wants to take them from the other. The Stoics defined it as “grief at someone else’s good.” Basil called it “grief at your neighbours good fortune.” It is the quality, not so much of the jealous, but rather of the embittered mind.

Drunkenness; in the ancient world this was not a common vice. The Greeks drank more wine than they did milk; even children drank wine. But they drank it in the proportion of three parts of water to two of wine. Greek and Christian alike would have condemned drunkenness as a thing which turned a man into a beast.

Carousing; this word (komos) has an interesting history. A komos was a band of friends who accompanied a victor of the games after his victory. They danced and laughed and sang his praises. It also described the bands of the devotees of Bacchus, god of wine. It describes what in regency England would have been called a rout. It means unrestrained revelry. enjoyment that has degenerated into licence.

When we get to the root meaning of these words, we see that life has not changed so very much.


Gal. 5:22-26

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, fidelity, gentleness, self-control. There is no law which condemns thing; like that. Those who belong to Jesus Christ have crucified their own unregenerate selves ;hong with all their passions and their desires.

If we are living in the Spirit let us also keep step with the Spirit. Don’t become seekers after empty reputation; don’t provoke each other: don’t envy each other.

As in the previous verses Paul set out the evil things characteristic of the flesh, so now he sets out the lovely things which are the fruit of the Spirit. Again it is worth while to look at each word separately.

Love; the New Testament word for love is agape (GSN0026). This is not a word which classical Greek uses commonly. In Greek there are four words for love. (a) Eros (compare GSN2037) means the love of a man for a maid; it is the love which has passion in it. It is never used in the New Testament at all. (b) Philia (GSN5373) is the warm love which we feel for our nearest and our dearest; it is a thing of the heart. (c) Storge (compare GSN0794) rather means affection and is specially used of the love of parents and children. (d) Agape (GSN0026), the Christian word, means unconquerable benevolence. It means that no matter what a man may do to us by way of insult or injury or humiliation we will never seek anything else but his highest good. It is therefore a feeling of the mind as much as of the heart; it concerns the will as much as the emotions. It describes the deliberate effort–which we can make only with the help of God–never to seek anything but the best even for those who seek the worst for us.

Joy; the Greek is chara (GSN5479), and the characteristic of this word is that it most often describes that joy which has a basis in religion (compare Ps.30:11; Rom.14:17; Rom.15:13; Php.1:4; Php.1:25). It is not the joy that comes from earthly things, still less from triumphing over someone else in competition. It is a joy whose foundation is God.

Peace; in contemporary colloquial Greek this word (eirene, GSN1515) had two interesting usages. It was used of the serenity which a country enjoyed under the just and beneficent government of a good emperor; and it was used of the good order of a town or village. Villages had an official who was called the superintendent of the village’s eirene (GSN1515), the keeper of the public peace. Usually in the New Testament eirene (GSN1515) stands for the Hebrew shalowm (HSN7965) and means not just freedom from trouble but everything that makes for a man’s highest good. Here it means that tranquillity of heart which derives from the all-pervading consciousness that our times are in the hands of God. It is interesting to note that Chara and Eirene both became very common Christian names in the Church.

Makrothumia (GSN3115); this is a great word. The writer of First Maccabees (1Macc.8:4) says that it was by makrothumia (GSN3115) that the Romans became masters of the world, and by that he means the Roman persistence which would never make peace with an enemy even in defeat, a kind of conquering patience. Generally speaking the word is not used of patience in regard to things or events but in regard to people. Chrysostom said that it is the grace of the man who could revenge himself and does not, the man who is slow to wrath. The most illuminating thing about it is that it is commonly used in the New Testament of the attitude of God towards men (Rom.2:4; Rom.9:22; 1Tim.1:16; 1Pet.3:20). If God had been a man, he would have wiped out this world long ago; but he has that patience which bears with all our sinning and will not cast us off. In our dealings with our fellow men we must reproduce this loving, forbearing, forgiving, patient attitude of God towards ourselves.

Kindness and goodness are closely connected words. For kindness the word is chrestotes (GSN5544). It, too, is commonly translated goodness. The Rheims version of 2Cor.6:6 translates it sweetness. It is a lovely word. Plutarch says that it has a far wider place than justice. Old wine is called chrestos (GSN5543), mellow. Christ’s yoke is called chrestos (GSN5543) (Matt.11:30), that is, it does not chafe. The whole idea of the word is a goodness which is kind. The word Paul uses for goodness (agathosune, GSN0019) is a peculiarly Bible word and does not occur in secular Greek (Rom.15:14; Eph. 5:9; 2Th.1:11). It is the widest word for goodness; it is defined as “virtue equipped at every point.” What is the difference? Agathosune (GSN0019) might, and could, rebuke and discipline; chrestotes (GSN5544) can only help. Trench says that Jesus showed agathosune (GSN0019) when he cleansed the Temple and drove out those who were making it a bazaar; but he showed chrestotes (GSN5544) when he was kind to the sinning woman who anointed his feet. The Christian needs that goodness which at one and the same time can be kind and strong.

Fidelity; this word (pistis, GSN4102) is common in secular Greek for trustworthiness. It is the characteristic of the man who is reliable.

Gentleness; praotes (GSN4236) is the most untranslatable of words. In the New Testament it has three main meanings. (a) It means being submissive to the will of God (Matt.5:5; Matt.11:29; Matt.21:5). (b) It means being teachable, being not too proud to learn (Jas.1:21). (c) Most often of all it means being considerate (1Cor.4:21; 2Cor.10:1; Eph. 4:2). Aristotle defined praotes (GSN4236) as the mean between excessive anger and excessive angerlessness, the quality of the man who is always angry at the right time and never at the wrong time. What throws most light on its meaning is that the adjective praus (GSN4239) is used of an animal that has been tamed and brought under control; and so the word speaks of that self-control which Christ alone can give.

Self-control; the word is egkrateia (GSN1466) which Plato uses of self-mastery. It is the spirit which has mastered its desires and its love of pleasure. It is used of the athlete’s discipline of his body (1Cor.9:25) and of the Christian’s mastery of sex (1Cor.7:9). Secular Greek uses it of the virtue of an Emperor who never lets his private interests influence the government of his people. It is the virtue which makes a man so master of himself that he is fit to be the servant of others.

It was Paul’s belief and experience that the Christian died with Christ and rose again to a life, new and clean, in which the evil things of the old self were gone and the lovely things of the Spirit had come to fruition.


Gal. 6:1-5

Brothers, if a man is caught out in some moral slip-up, you whose lives are dominated by the Spirit must correct such a man with the spirit of gentleness, and, as you do it, you must think about yourselves, in case you too should be tempted. Carry one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. For, if anyone thinks of himself as important while he is of no importance, he is deceiving himself with the fancies of his mind. Let every man test his own work, and then any ground of boasting that he has will be in regard to himself and not in comparison with others. For each man must carry his own pack.

Paul knew the problems that arise in any Christian society. The best of men slip up. The word Paul uses (paraptoma, GSN3900) does not mean a deliberate sin; but a slip as might come to a man on an icy road or a dangerous path. Now, the danger of those who are really trying to live the Christian life is that they are apt to judge the sins of others hardly. There is an element of hardness in many a good man. There are many good people to whom you could not go and sob out a story of failure and defeat; they would be bleakly unsympathetic. But Paul says that, if a man does make a slip, the real Christian duty is to get him on his feet again. The word he uses for to correct is used for executing a repair and also for the work of a surgeon in removing some growth from a man’s body or in setting a broken limb. The whole atmosphere of the word lays the stress not on punishment but on cure; the correction is thought of not as a penalty but as an amendment. And Paul goes on to say that when we see a man fall into a fault we do well to say, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

He goes on to rebuke conceit and gives a recipe whereby it may well be avoided. We are to compare our achievement not with the work of our neighbours but with what our best would have been. When we do that, there can never be any cause for conceit.

Twice in this passage Paul speaks about bearing burdens. There is a kind of burden which comes to a man from the chances and the changes of life; it is fulfilling the law of Christ to help everyone who has such a burden to carry. But there is also a burden which a man must bear himself. The word Paul uses is the word for a soldier’s pack. There is a duty which none can do for us and a task for which we must be personally responsible.


Gal. 6:6-10

He who is being instructed in the word must share in all good things with him who is giving instruction. Don’t deceive yourselves; no one can make a fool of God; whatever a man sows this he will also reap. He who sows to his own lower nature will from that nature reap a blighted harvest. He who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap life eternal. Don’t get tired of doing the fine thing, for, when the proper time comes, we will reap so long as we don’t relax our efforts. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are members of the household of the faith.

Here Paul becomes intensely practical.

The Christian Church had its teachers. In those days the Church was a really sharing institution. No Christian could bear to have too much while others had too little. So Paul says, “If a man is teaching you the eternal truths, the least you can do is share with him such material things as you possess.”

He goes on to state a grim truth. He insists that life holds the scales with an even balance. If a man allows the lower side of his nature to dominate him, in the end he can expect nothing but a harvest of trouble. But if he keeps on walking the high way and doing the fine thing, in the end God will repay.

Christianity never took the threat out of life. The Greeks believed in Nemesis; they believed that, when a man did a wrong thing, immediately Nemesis was on his trail and sooner or later caught up. All Greek tragedy is a sermon on the text, “The doer shall suffer.” What we do not sufficiently remember is this–it is blessedly true that God can and does forgive men for their sins, but not even he can wipe out the consequence of sin. If a man sins against his body, soon or late he will pay in ruined health–even if he is forgiven. If a man sins against his loved ones, soon or late hearts will be broken even if he is forgiven. John B. Gough, the great temperance orator, who had lived a reckless early life, used to declare in warning, “The scars remain.” And Origen, the great Christian scholar and a universalist, believed that, although all men would be saved, even then the marks of sin would remain. We cannot trade on the forgiveness of God. There is a moral law in the universe. If a man breaks it he may be forgiven, but, nonetheless, he breaks it at his peril.

Paul finishes by reminding his friends that sometimes the duty of generosity may be irksome, but no man who ever cast his bread upon the waters found that it did not return some day to him.


Gal. 6:11-18

See in what large letters I am writing in my own handwriting. Those who wish to make a pretentious display from the merely human point of view are trying to compel you to get yourselves circumcised, but their real object is to avoid persecution because of the Cross of Christ. For those who advocate circumcision do not themselves keep the law, but they wish you to get yourselves circumcised that they may boast about the way in which you are observing the outward and the human rituals. God forbid that I should boast except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ through whom the world has been crucified to me and I to the world. To be circumcised is of no importance, and to be uncircumcised makes no difference. What does matter is to be re-created. May peace and mercy be upon all who shall walk by this standard and on the Israel of God. For the future. let no one trouble me for I bear the brands of Jesus in my body.

Brothers, the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. So let it be.

Ordinarily Paul added only his signature to the letter which the scribe wrote to his dictation; but in this case his heart is running over with such love and anxiety for the Galatians that he writes this whole last paragraph. “See,” he says, “in what large letters I am writing in my own handwriting.” The large letters may be due to three things. (a) This paragraph may be written large because of its importance, as if it were printed in heavy type. (b) It may be written large because Paul was unused to wielding a pen and it was the best that he could do. (c) It may be that Paul’s eyes were weak, or that the blinding headache was on him, and all he could produce was the large sprawling handwriting of a man who can hardly see.

He comes back to the centre of the matter. Those who wanted the Galatians to get themselves circumcised did so for three reasons. (a) It would save them from persecution. The Romans recognized the Jewish religion and officially allowed Jews to practise it. Circumcision was the unanswerable mark of a Jew; and so these people saw in it a passport to safety should persecution arise. Circumcision would keep them safe from the hatred of the Jews and the law of Rome alike. (b) In the last analysis, by circumcision and by keeping the rules and regulations of the law, they were trying to put on a show that would win the approval of God. Paul, however, was quite certain that nothing that man could do could win salvation; so once again, pointing them to the Cross, he summons them to cease trying to earn salvation and to trust to the grace which loved them like that. (c) Those who desired the Galatians to be circumcised did not themselves keep all the law. No man could. But they wanted to boast about the Galatians as their latest trophies. They wanted to glory in their power over people whom they had reduced to their own legalistic slavery. So Paul once again lays it down with all the intensity of which he is capable that circumcision and uncircumcision do not matter; what does matter is that act of faith in Christ which opens a new life to a man.

“I bear,” said Paul, “the brands of Jesus in my body.” There are two possible meanings of this. (a) The stigmata have always fascinated men. It is told of Francis of Assisi that once as he fasted on a lonely mountain top he seemed to see the love of God crucified on a Cross that stretched across the whole horizon and as he saw it a sword of grief and pity pierced his heart. Slowly the vision faded and Francis relaxed; and then, they say, he looked down and lo! the marks of the nails were in his hands and he bore them to the end of his days. Whether it is truth or legend we cannot tell, for there are more things in this world than our matter-of-fact philosophy dreams of; and some think that Paul had so really passed through an experience of crucifixion with his Lord that he, too, bore the print of the nails in his hands. (b) Often a master branded his slaves with a mark that showed them to be his. Most likely what Paul means is that the scars of the things he had suffered for Christ are the brands which show him to be Christ’s slave. In the end it is not his apostolic authority that he uses as a basis of appeal; it is the wounds he sustained for Christ’s sake. Like Mr. Valiant-for-Truth Paul said, “My marks and scars I carry with me to be my witness to him who will now be my rewarder.”

After the storm and stress and intensity of the letter comes the peace of the benediction. Paul has argued and rebuked and cajoled but his last word is GRACE, for him the only word that really mattered.







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