Bible Book of Galatians Commentary | Free Bible Commentary | Agape Flashcards
If you came to Galatians to find some good ‘ol New Testament messages about love and hope and a pat on the back for following Christ, you may have come to the wrong place! Before you read Galatians, you must prepare yourself for a good tongue lashing. Paul takes of a very different tone in Galatians, the result of interesting circumstances in Galatia where the Christians are struggling with navigating their spiritual lives between The Law and Faith. Many of the Christians feel the need to earn their salvation through The Law by doing things like becoming circumcised, mostly at the behest of some other Christians and Jews who are leading them astray. This could not make Paul angrier!
In Galatians, Paul addresses the crux of Christianity and one of the most compelling as well as slippery aspects of our religion. We as humans, cannot possibly earn our salvation. There is no possible way for us to live a life worthy of God’s perfection. It literally doesn’t matter how much good you do or how much bad you do. Even the smallest sin is cause enough for our eternal separation from a perfect God. Yet, He still offers us forgiveness and mercy, not on our own accord, but for Christ’s, who did live the perfect life that God’s magnificence demands. After re-explaining this to the Galatians, he drives home his final point: God doesn’t want us obsessing or even worrying about our sins. We always have and will sin. He wants us to devote ourselves to loving and serving Him, then he will do the rest.
Galatians Chapter 1- Only One Good News
“I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who called you to himself through the loving mercy of Christ.”
Until just recently, like maybe 2 weeks ago, I had no clue that I never read Galatians before. I was pretty confident that I was quite familiar with all of Paul’s letters, until Pastor Kirk preached a sermon on this great book and I was lost! Perhaps if it was any other of Paul’s letters that the pastor preached I would have tricked myself into thinking I’d read it, but in Galatians, Paul is singing a different tune than what I am accustomed too.
In Galatians one thing is abundantly clear; Paul is pissed. It seems that someone or some group in Galatia is intentionally twisting the good news that Paul taught them before and it seems to be leading the Christians away from God’s truth. This is not ok. In fact, Paul goes on to say that whoever does such a thing is to be cursed. I mean in vs 8, we can tell Paul is just out of his mind angry when he says that even if it is an angel preaching this false message he is hearing about, then they need to be cursed! I would love to see what Paul looked like and what he was grumbling to himself when he wrote this. I can just picture him grumbling and shaking his head and breaking a quill every couple minutes then shaking his fist as he reaches for another haha.
What I find most interesting about this though is the lesson it teaches us in how to react to different peoples’ different interactions with the Truth. You see in 2 Timothy 2, Paul advises Timothy to “gently instruct those who oppose the truth.” He tells us to have patience with those who don’t know God’s love and truth, even if they oppose you and talk bad about our faith, be gentle and just continue to instruct them. Our reaction is to be much different with those who claim to be of the faith and are deliberately twisting it. Though Paul goes into details as to who is twisting the truth and how in later chapters, he doesn’t give us much here. We will have to wait and see!
Galatians Chapter 2- Dead to the Law
“And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law.”
After Paul’s heavy handed reprimand in chapter 1, Paul transitions to showing the credibility of his teachings through explaining that the other Apostles and church leaders are in complete agreeance with his teachings. He even goes on to explain that he had to correct Peter and put him in his place for acting out of line with their beliefs!
It is interesting that Paul talks this way, and makes me wonder why he needs to build his street credibility this way. In this chapter Paul explains how he and his fellows are Apostles to the Gentiles, just as Peter is the Apostle to the Jews. So Paul is taking the Good News to the Gentiles. Now in Galatia, Paul is up against a big problem with the Jews negatively influencing and instructing the Gentiles, convincing them that they have to follow all of these laws and regulations for salvation, such as being circumcised. In the Gentiles eyes, the Jews are God’s People, so what they are telling them probably carries a lot of weight you know? Paul has to make it clear to them that he is even more legit than they are.
The end of this chapter is a fantastic summary of what it means to now live in Christ, out from underneath the suffocating weight of the Law. Paul asks, suppose we are found guilty for not trying to uphold the law because we seek to be made right in Christ. Does this mean Christ led us into sin??? Certainly not! Rather, we are sinners if we try to adhere to the old law while following Christ, for the law condemns us, and there is no condemnation in Christ! Paul directly tells us here too that he, “stopped trying to meet all the requirements [of the law].” A lot of the New Testament, especially Hebrews, explains what it means to follow Christ (abandon the old law!) and what Christ really did for us. I think this is the clearest and most concise explanation I’ve seen of why we should not be holding onto the law.
Galatians Chapter 3- Mechanics of a Perfect Justice
““Oh foolish Galatians! Who has cast an evil spell on you? For the meaning of Jesus Christ’s death was made as clear to you as if you had seen a picture of his death on the cross.”
Paul gets into something very interesting in this chapter, something I’ve rolled in my mind many times, and that is what was the purpose of the law to begin with? If we so clearly cannot be good enough to earn salvation through obeying the law, then why not just start us off with Christ and salvation through faith? I’m not completely satisfied with how Paul explains it, but I’ll let you decide once we get to that.
So Paul opens up chapter three berating us (the gentiles) for our foolishness in suddenly deciding that we should try and earn God’s favor and salvation through obeying the law rather than our faith in Christ. He says “after starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?” It makes me feel pretty foolish! I mean heck here I am thousands of years later and I still fall into this trap sometimes.
After this, Paul moves into some pretty doctrinally heavy stuff that I feel like can be analyzed for quite a while. A lot of it has to do with referencing other prophetic scripture. In vs 11 and 12 we see that “it is through faith that a righteous person has life,” and that “it is through obeying the law that a person has life.” I find these two verses fascinating, particularly with the omission of the word righteous in the second verse. I don’t know if this is an accurate interpretation, but it seems to me that what it is saying is that anyone who manages to live according to the law, any person, finds life, or salvation. So perhaps even someone who has no relationship with God, if they somehow manage to obey the law, then they will find their salvation. This of course is not possible, so God tells us that our faith in him is an adequate substitute and it makes us righteous. It would seem that obeying the law does not make us righteous. Now maybe this is how salvation through faith in Christ works to begin with. You see, he was the only person able to obey the law, so perhaps he earned his salvation through the law, then passed that salvation on to us by dying for us, opening the door to salvation through faith in him. It gives us access to the salvation he earned through the law. An interesting puzzle for sure. What adds to it is the next two verses, where we see that Christ inherited our curse of not following the law by being hung on a cross, as the word says that anyone hung on a tree is cursed. It’s almost as if he was robbed of the life that he earned through obeying the law, so as compensation his life is extended to us.
The way I imagine this all tying in is that in heaven, or in God’s administration of his perfect kingdom, there is a perfect justice system. The injustice caused by the only man to ever be able to fulfill the law being cursed upon a tree can only be amended by extending his life to all men, hence how we have our life through faith in Jesus Christ. The rest of this chapter approaches this dynamic in different terms, but I believe it is all getting at the same point. Take some time and roll it around in your mind and see what you come up with! Ultimately, is it imperative or even important for us to understand the intricacies of our salvation like this? No. But is it fun to think about? Absolutely!
Galatians Chapter 4- Why Wait?
“Tell me, you who want to live under the law, do you know what the law actually says?”
This is a fascinating chapter touching on a couple heavy topics, the first of which I’ve contemplated and even wrote about elsewhere; why did God wait to send His Son?
I had this conversation with God who knows how long ago now, but at one point after reading Hebrews 8, I wrote out my thoughts, “why God did you have to wait so long to give your children your spirit, why wait to put your laws in our minds and write them on our hearts? I mean couldn’t you have done that from Adam and Eve on?” I thought and continue to think that an aspect of it was that the world’s technology simply did not support the spread of God’s word, the message of personal salvation, until around the time Jesus came where we have the Roman Empire everywhere and communications are quite good. Here, in Galatians 4, Paul is getting at something along the same lines. He straight tells us that during the time of the law, we were like children not yet grown enough to receive their father’s inheritance (the Spirit). While we waited, we obeyed the guardians (the law) and were slaves to basic spiritual principles of the world. This doesn’t completely answer the question for me, perhaps it even reveals how little I still understand. I mean there must be some real, identifiable, physical, mental, developmental reasons that in a way forced God to wait to write his law in our minds and hearts. Right now I would say two of the things that can be identified are the lack of technology as previously discussed, and humanities understanding of spirituality in the most simple of terms: morality (basic spiritual principles). I think up until the time Christ came (heck, maybe Christ was the catalyst for our change in understanding) our understanding of spiritual principles (much more than simple morality) was simply non-existent. Anyways, I look forward to God revealing more and more about this topic!
Next, starting in vs 21, Paul explains to us how Abraham’s sons (Isaac and Ishmael) represent the law and the spirit. It is a beautifully crafted illustration. Ishmael is born of a slave wife out of human’s attempts to bring about God’s promises. Ishmael represents the first covenant, where man attempts to earn salvation and is enslaved to the law. Isaac is born to a free woman, to Abraham’s true love, and can only be explained as a fulfillment of God’s promises and a miracle. He represents the new covenant, where we simply accept his blessing and love him with all of our hearts.
One thing that I find particularly interesting is how this illustration is still so fitting today. Islam (as well as some strict sects of Christianity) is still very heavily based on a strict adherence to the Law. You must live in obedience to earn righteousness, where most of Christianity now lives by Grace.
Galatians Chapter 5- Don’t Count on It
“So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives.”
Paul opens up this chapter continuing his reprimand haha. I’ll highlight something that I haven’t yet though, and that is Paul’s constant reference to circumcision. In the previous chapters and here again Paul uses circumcision as his example of foolishness with trying to follow the law. As we are listening to him, really we can substitute any other word that we think can make us holy and it means the same thing. Paul says, “If you are counting on circumcision to make you right with God, then Christ will be of no benefit to you...” “For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ!” Basically we can edit this to say “if you are counting on circumcision to make you right, then you are cut off from Christ.” Now substitute that with something you may be guilty of trying. “if you are counting on church attendance to make you right, then you are cut off from Christ;” “if you are counting on your righteous image…” “if you are counting on serving others….” “if you are counting on not sinning….” And to all of these we say “then you are cut off from Christ!” Pretty powerful message huh?
So then what is the point? I mean what is it that Paul expects of us if he’s telling us to not count on these things? Aren’t some of these the fruits of the spirit? Serving others, clean living, and fellowship? Yes and absolutely! But they aren’t what makes us worthy, “for when we place our faith in Christ Jesus, there is no benefit in being circumcised or being uncircumcised.” Our righteousness simply comes from Christ, and all we have to do is have faith in him and accept that we have earned nothing. Then and only then, can we begin to live in the way God wants us to, the way Paul explains is “faith expressing itself as love.” You see, when we live to earn our holiness, we are wasting all of our efforts to accomplish something that Christ already accomplished for us. What God wants us to do is to express our faith in him through love, love of ourselves, and love of one another. This is what Paul wants the Galatians (and us) to understand!
Galatians Chapter 6- What are You Planting There?
“So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.”
The last chapter of the wonderful book of Galatians is Paul’s last bit of advice to us. He ends this letter in much the same way he does all of his letters, encouraging the church to boldly follow Christ and recapping some of the points he made earlier on. However in verses 1-10, Paul opens up a new topic of discussion that I would like to highlight as I think he makes some very fine points.
My NIV Bible titles this section of verses 1-10 as “We Harvest What We Plant.” In my first read through it just seemed to be good advice in different topics, then in verse 7 he specifically tells us that we will always harvest what we plant. Then he tells us “Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit.” Pretty simple and straightforward right? I would say so. But just to make sure it was that straightforward, I read this section again. Read it again! Did you notice anything? What I noticed is that I think Paul is showing us that there are four things to focus on to ensure we have a good harvest. First, we should gently and humbly help each other with our sins and staying on the right path. Second, we should pay careful attention to our own work, giving it our best. Third, we should share all good things with our mentors and teachers. And fourth, we should not be misled. To make this even more complete, you could probably add a fifth, which is down in verse 10, and that is whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone.
Think about it, if we manage those five things, will we always harvest a bountiful crop in the spirit? Will the fruit always be pleasing to God? I think so. I’m sure it is not all encompassing, but definitely an interesting way to look at what Paul is telling us, and not necessarily a clear lesson just reading through it once.
With that, I will wish you farewell as Paul does, “Dear brother or sister, may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen!”