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The WELS Mission for the Visually Impaired presents The Peoples Bible – Galatians by Armin J. Panning, published by Northwestern Publishing House, Copyright 1997
Galatians Chapter 5, verses 22-24
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.
Quite different from the acts of the sinful nature are the lives and activities of those who walk in the Spirit. Again Paul gives us a list, this time of things that mark (or should mark) the Christian life. Like the acts of the sinful nature, these actions too are obvious. They’re observable in the day-to-day life of the child of God.
Note, however, a difference in how Paul describes the two sets of activities. The acts of the sinful nature are things that sinful people can do by themselves. They need no help. The good things, on the other hand, are not things that come naturally. They are the “fruit of the Spirit.” God the Holy Spirit produces them in and through us.
As he did with the negatives, Paul now lines up the positives in a list. This time there are nine items. Attempts have been made to group these also. It’s fair to say that the first item, “love,” really embraces all the rest and could stand by itself. Scripture gives warrant for that when it says that love is the fulfillment of the whole law (Romans 13:10; see also 1 Corinthians 13:4-6).
If one wants to see a pattern, it would seem that three groups of three virtues yield a workable scheme. The first three, “love, joy, peace,” are inner qualities that reflect our Christian relationship to God. The next three, “patience, kindness, goodness,” show themselves in the Christian’s attitude and actions toward his neighbor. The last three, “faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” reflect how the new man conducts himself in view of the duties, opportunities, and obligations that come to him in his Christian calling.
When Paul says, “Against such things there is no law,” he is using a figure of speech called a litotes. In a litotes the writer uses a major understatement to make an important point. Not only is there no law against the good Christian virtues Paul enumerates, but these virtues are highly desirable! They are what God wants. Such attitudes and actions in the Christian conform completely to God’s holy will.
These qualities, in ever-increasing measure, show themselves in the Christian life. People whom the Holy Spirit has brought to faith in Christ have renounced their old sinful pasts. So complete is this break that Paul can say, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.” Hence not the “acts of the sinful nature,” but the “fruit of the Spirit” is the hallmark of the Christian life.
Galatians Chapter 5, verse 25
Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
We have previously indicated that the original Greek does not determine for us whether the author intended a capital S “Spirit” or lowercase s “spirit.” The context must help us determine that. In this verse the NIV translators have chosen “Spirit” both times the term is used. That is not an impossible interpretation. It does, however, seem a little redundant and doesn’t give much progression of thought from the first half of the verse to the second half. “Living by the Spirit” seems to be almost the same as “keeping in step with the Spirit.”
A somewhat likelier thought progression suggests itself if one takes the first use of the term in the sense of “spirit” or the “spiritual life” that characterizes believers in Christ Jesus, who have crucified their old sinful nature. The verse would then say, “Since by faith we have this new spiritual nature dwelling in us, let us keep in step with the Holy Spirit, who created and made that new life possible.”
Be considerate of the weak and erring
Galatians Chapter 5, verse 26 through Chapter 6, verses 1-5
Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. 3 If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load.
Although the words Paul wrote to the Galatians are inspired and inerrant, the chapter and verse divisions of the letter are not of divine origin but of a later human arrangement, designed merely to make it easier for us to locate specific passages. Hence we need not be bound by these divisions. We have therefore chosen to put 5:26 with the opening five verses of chapter 6.
In this section Paul is giving advice regarding the delicate matter of interpersonal relations. When we recall the situation that occasioned this letter, we can appreciate the fact that the Galatian congregations had a great deal of patching up to do. If Paul’s letter is heeded by all the readers, some of them will have to back down from their previously held position. And others will need to let them back down as quietly and painlessly as possible.
Paul urges considerate treatment of the weak and erring. Those who were misled and temporarily held to a wrong position would feel chagrin. How easy it would have been for those who were on the right side of the Judaizing question to become conceited by their having been right all along. If they obnoxiously rubbed it in, they would undoubtedly provoke the others.
Paul is not restricting himself just to problems with Judaizing, however. He speaks in general terms when he writes, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
Paul is putting oil on troubled waters here as he winds down his letter and waits for favorable results from it. He uses the winsome term “brothers” in addressing the Galatians. Tactfully, he prefaces his advice with the conditional clause “If someone is caught in a sin”—or as it could also be translated, “Whenever someone is caught in a sin.” Paul is not coming down hard on those who need help. Neither should the strong brothers, the “spiritual” Galatians.
But the strong Christians are to help the weak. Sin detected in a brother’s life dare not be ignored. It needs to be rebuked and repented of. The brother’s spiritual health needs to be “restored.” (See Matthew 18:15: “If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.”) The correctors, however, are to render this service “gently.”
Paul again uses picture language when he urges, “Carry each other’s burdens.” Correcting and admonishing a brother is not lording it over him. It is helping him. It is sharing a burden, making it our own and showing a genuine concern about it, so that in a real sense we are joining him in carrying it.
“In this way you will fulfill the law of Christ,” the apostle says. We need to keep two things in mind so as not to misunderstand Paul here. “Law” does not in this instance mean a legal requirement, but, rather, a pattern, a model to follow. Furthermore, the new man in the Christian does not follow Christ’s pattern to earn favor or merit with God; rather, he acts out of appreciation for all that his gracious God has done for him. Paul uses much the same encouragement with the Ephesians when he writes, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (4:32).
Not only is the stronger brother’s kindness and consideration important for the weaker brother, but such action is important for the stronger brother also. If he would act otherwise, he would in fact jeopardize his own spiritual status. Paul sounds both a note of caution and suggests a useful procedure: “If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load.”
The temptation is always there for the stronger brother to compare himself to the weaker brother and then feel smug in his relatively greater strength. As an antidote to such an unwarranted approach, Paul reminds us that “each one should carry his own load.” We must all individually give account of ourselves before a righteous and holy God. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10).
In view of that day of reckoning, “each one should test his own actions.” That means measuring ourselves not against the conduct of weak and fallible sinners but against God’s holy and just law. That law demands perfection. That law looks not only at deeds and actions but at thoughts and motives as well. That law makes the observation that out of the heart come “evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery,” and so on (Mark 7:21).
“Each one should test his own actions,” Paul advises. There is something of an edge on his words when he continues, “Then he can take pride in himself.” Actually, he means just the opposite! “Look at yourself in the mirror of God’s holy law,” Paul says, “and you will see absolutely no basis for pride. You will see only sins and shortcomings, and you will feel shame and remorse over your shabby record. You will realize that you daily need God’s grace and mercy just as much as the ‘weaker’ brother does, to whom you were originally inclined to feel superior.”
Paul’s main purpose in writing the letter to the Galatians was to address the confusion caused by the Judaizers. They insisted that in addition to believing in Christ, the Galatians also had to observe the Law of Moses with its rites and ceremonies. Paul countered that with a ringing defense of salvation by faith alone, without the addition of any law-works. Paul followed that with the double encouragement to stand fast in their freedom from the law but not to use this freedom as a license to sin. He then moved on to encourage them to show considerate treatment toward any brothers who may still have some difficulty grasping the doctrinal significance of all this and applying it to their everyday lives.
Paul now moves on to more general encouragements, not tied directly to the doctrine of justification. Encouragement to support messengers of the gospel
Galatians Chapter 6, verse 6
Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor.
Paul lays on the Galatian congregations the obligation to care for the physical needs of their workers. “Anyone who receives instruction in the word,” he says, “must share all good things with his instructor.” Recall that after Paul started a congregation, he would put local congregational leaders in charge and then move on to another location (Acts 14:21-23). Undoubtedly such leaders were serving the congregations of Galatia when Paul wrote this letter. It is these local leaders in the congregations—call them pastors, if you will—of whom Paul is speaking.
Paul was very firm on the principle that the person who bears the gospel message to others has the right to expect material support from the people to whom he is bringing that message. (See 1 Corinthians 9:3-11.) For himself Paul chose not to take support (1 Corinthians 9:12,15), preferring rather to earn his own living by tentmaking (Acts 18:1-3; 20:33-35). But Paul did not require or expect other ministers of the gospel to follow his pattern of not taking support. Nor does he allow congregations to force their ministers to follow his pattern. Paul insists that congregations support their church workers.
It is interesting to hear Paul refer to the money and material possessions congregations are to share with their church workers as “good things.” From time to time, movements in the church have extolled poverty and considered it a virtue. Speaking by inspiration, Paul does not reflect that view. Money and property are “good things,” a gift from the Lord. It’s not a sin to be rich. The sin lies in improper use of wealth—and that can happen in any number of ways. At one end of the spectrum lies the nonuse of material things: having them and hoarding them and letting them be the goal of one’s life. That is the sort of greed Paul calls idolatry (Ephesians 5:5). At the other end lies the reckless and indulgent squandering on self with no thought for others. Paul cautions against both misuses and warns that they will not go undetected by God.
Galatians Chapter 6, verses 7-9
Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
Paul, good teacher that he is, again helps us see his point by using picture language. This time the picture is sowing and harvesting. How a person uses (sows) the material things God gives will determine which outcome harvest) he experiences. If a person’s sinful nature makes the decisions as to how wealth and property are used, then his actions will be totally selfish and self-serving. Such a person, with no thought for God or God’s creatures, will come to a bad end. He “will reap destruction.” (See the parable of the rich man and Lazarus—Luke 16:19-31.) Conversely, the person whose new man “sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (For a parallel thought, also using the picture of sowing and harvesting, see 2 Corinthians chapters 8 and 9, particularly 9:6-11.)
In Paul’s encouragement to the Galatians, as in many other places in Scripture, it is very important to realize that the activities he is discussing are the fruits of faith. The activity of proper “sowing” is not in and of itself the thing that leads to “reaping” eternal life. Rather, the “sowing” is a Christian’s response, his proper use of the material things a gracious God has given him. The primary gifts of forgiveness of sin and a place in heaven are accepted by faith in Christ. That’s always separate from and prior to the Christian’s response. The Christian’s subsequent activity of “sowing” is simply the proof, the outward indication, that living faith is at work in the Christian’s life as he travels the road toward heaven.
Encouragement to do good to all, especially to believers
To people with a spiritual outlook created by the gospel, Paul can give the encouragement:
Galatians Chapter 6, verse 10
Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
Recall that Paul began this section by encouraging the Galatians to be generous in sharing material “good things” with their church workers. Now he broadens that out considerably to include helping “all people” as opportunity allows. And he takes special care to include those who are closest, the members of the family—especially the family of believers. Paul expresses virtually the same thought in writing to Timothy: “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). Notice also how proper use of material things is viewed as a fruit of faith, whereas misuse of them signals a lack of saving faith and makes one “worse than an unbeliever.” Here is food for thought for many a deadbeat dad and for parents in general who neglect their children, as well as for children who neglect aging parents.
End of Part Five
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