Devotional # 92. 6/23/14. Galatians 5:1-25.
Intro: Paul’s letter to the Galatians has called them out on their problem of knowing the truth but not living like it. They came from a Jewish religious background but recognized that Jesus fulfilled the Law and the prophets (Matthew 5:17). So after agreeing with Him and committing to becoming a Christian why did they want to add extra requirements to their spiritual lives? Many times its because we allow our flesh to influence our spiritual decision making. As humans we feel guilty about living sinfully and want to be punished or try and earn righteousness.
vv. 1-6. Through all of this section we must remember that Paul’s point is that nothing we do or don’t do improves our standing with Jesus, instead it’s “faith working through love” (v. 6). Notice Paul uses his name here which should call to our mind what his background is. Who was Paul? He was Saul, the religious leader. Remember we talked about his conversion in Acts 9 (Devotional 50). Paul has realized that once a person knows the Savior there is no religious ceremony (“circumcision”) that can bring them closer to God. Anything that a person trusts in addition to Jesus’ all encompassing sacrifice is just “a yoke of bondage.” What is a yoke? A yoke is the wooden beam that keeps two cows together so that a farmer can plow straight lines. A yoke itself isn’t bad. In anything from marriage to business partnerships, if both parties are believers they are considered “equally yoked” (2 Corinthians 6:14). And if we take Jesus’ yoke it is easy (Matthew 11:28-30) but if a yoke is like the stocks that prisoners used to be put in that’s bad. That’s never what God ever intended for His children.
vv. 7-10. Sometimes Paul compares things to sports to help us understand. He’s saying ‘you started well, “you ran well”, so finish strong. If you know the truth why aren’t you obeying it?’ The people trying to put the Galatians in religious bondage weren’t sent from God. In fact Paul says whoever they are they will be judged for causing division and confusion among the Christian church. The word for “judgment” here is krima (G2917). Krima has a meaning of temporary judgment. So the person leading this church astray will be held accountable by God while on earth, but they will still have the opportunity to be forgiven and have eternal life. It is important to note that God is always good. He gives plenty of chances for people to come to Him and accept His love and transformation.
v. 11. Paul says if he was still teaching circumcision and the ways of Judaism then he wouldn’t be persecuted for his faith. But obviously he was persecuted for his faith so there had to be something distinctive between Christianity and the Jewish religion. He calls the cross offensive, which I believe many Christians today would actually be offended at! But it is offensive it makes us look at our sins and realize that the only penalty for our sins is death. And the only substitution must be blood. This forces non-Christians to come to terms with being a sinner and being incapable of saving themselves. Yes, the cross is offensive to the unrepentant sinner, but a beautiful image of love to the repentant sinner.
vv. 12-15. Verse 12 is a sarcastic, funny comment. Paul, recognizing that circumcision is cutting off foreskin, says if these people love cutting stuff off so much then the only cutting they should do is their ties to your church. In verses 13-15 Paul reminds them that it is love that changes men, not religious rituals. Jesus told them love was the second most important commandment (“love your neighbor as yourself” comes from Leviticus 19:18 and He said it in Matthew 22:39, Mark 12:31). And we love ourselves! We feed ourselves, wash ourselves, go to the doctor, watch entertainment. If we took care of others with the half the amount of time we spend on ourselves the world would be a better place.
vv. 16-18. Paul explains that the way of our old life is in contradiction to our new life. A person who doesn’t have Jesus in their heart and hasn’t asked the Holy Spirit to help them understand the Bible will not be able to really understand it. 1 Corinthians 2:14 says “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them,because they are spiritually discerned.” So just as Paul expertly explains the war between our flesh and the Spirit in Romans 7 we can understand that this is because they are contrary and can never enjoy each other’s company. My favorite part of verse 17 is that Christians no longer get to do what we wish. We must be subject to God and self-control. The things of the flesh are what we want to do but the things of the spiritual are the only thing worth doing.
vv. 19-21. Paul says that it is obvious what is from the Holy Spirit and what is sinful and from the flesh. He gives us a list, some of the lesser known words I’ll expound on:
adultery– This is unfaithfulness in your marriage covenant. Unfaithfulness isn’t limited to sexual intercourse; we can cheat on our spouse emotionally or intellectually. Remember that Jesus said if a person looks at someone other than their spouse with lust then they are committing adultery (Matthew 5:27-28).
fornication– This is “unlawful sexual intercourse” (Source 1). We know that according to God we shouldn’t have sex if we’re not married but what is the heart of God in this? Marriage was set up to be a picture of God’s relationship with each of us. Isn’t the Church called the Bride and Jesus the Groom (Ephesians 5:25-27 & many, many more references)? So if we don’t have a covenant and relationship with God then we are cheating on Him if we practice “idolatry” (see note below) or if we sin against Him.
lewdness- This is “shameless conduct involving absence of restraint” (Source 1).
idolatry– As mentioned above worshipping an idol is cheating on God. It is pretending as if some created thing deserves glory more than the Creator. It is also “the immorality that accompanies demon worship” (p. 52). If there are things that sit on the “throne of your heart”, things that are a priority over God, that you love more than God then those are idols. Whether it’s your car, music, relaxation, your job, hobbies, your family, or food (these are just examples, ask God what is sitting on your heart) if they overrule God then we need them to take a backseat or be completely eradicated.
dissensions- These are “separations caused by disagreements” (Source 1). This list is in reference to sins that all people participate in. If you, being a Christian, immediately thought of dissensions between other brothers and sisters of the faith how much worse is it if you participate in disagreements that cause sinful division with non-Christians?
heresies- These are “sects formed by men with self-willed opinions” (Source 1). Have you heard of a religion that doesn’t fit with what the Bible says? Stay away. Have you gone to a Bible study or a church that doesn’t apply God’s word to every aspect of life? Do they pick and choose certain parts? Do they even use the Bible? Is the sermon more about the speakers’ soapbox for the week? Don’t get caught up in what men say, what does God say?
envy– What’s the difference between jealousy and envy? “Envy is the displeasure at the success or prosperity of others” (Source 1). When we wanted a position and someone else gets it, are we bitter towards them?
revelries-These are “riotous gatherings for entertainment, accompanied by drunkenness” (Source 1).
And Paul notes that from the beginning he has said these things are bad. This isn’t a new list. Notice he says those who “practice” these sins. To practice is to have it be habitual, you have made it a habit. I am not saying it’s OK to do these sometimes but I am saying don’t beat yourself up over an angry outburst.
vv. 22-26. The best part about God is that He doesn’t wallow in the negative. He gives us guidelines (like the verses we just read) but even the 10 Commandments aren’t just a list of “do’s and don’ts”. God is getting us to see the heart of the issue. So we must see that the heart of God was love in the Ten Commandments. So what is our “positive” list filled with? These are the “fruit” of the Spirit. Why “fruit”? Because just like a tree grows fruit as a measure of usefulness a Christian grows spiritual fruit as a measure of usefulness. Next week I will spend more time on the fruit of the spirit.
Conclusion: If we’re continually worried about how close we can get to sin without it being sin, then we’ve missed the heart of God. When we are fruit-bearing we don’t care about walking the fence, we just care about loving others. We see a measure of the maturity of a Christian when they have stopped trying to touch the fire without getting burned and they have steadfastly, effortlessly been bearing fruit for the kingdom. There will be trials and difficulty but those who continue on caring for others will bear fruit without trying.
Source 1: William MacDonald, The Letter to the Galatians, 2007, p. 52-53.