For the Love of God, Volume 1/September 30
From Gospel Translations
1 Kings 2; Galatians 6; Ezekiel 33; Psalms 81—82
THE END OF GALATIANS 6 brings several themes together.
(1) Paul’s practice was to dictate his letters. Nevertheless, in order to authenticate them, he commonly wrote the last little bit in his own distinctive hand (compare 2 Thess. 3:17). So here (Gal. 6:11). Some have suggested that his “large letters” betray failing eyesight. That is possible but not certain. The important issue is that Paul wants his readers to recognize the real voice behind this epistle.
(2) The agitators are trying to get the Galatian Gentile believers to accept circumcision (6:12). That would make them (they thought) good Jews—a necessary condition for them to become genuine Christians. Yet Paul detects that at least part of their motivation is to maintain acceptability in Jewish synagogue circles. At this stage in the church’s history, most persecution came from synagogue councils exerting discipline. Paul himself had suffered his share: the thirty-nine lashes, endured five times (2 Cor. 11), was a synagogue punishment. Paul holds that some Jews who call themselves Christians and who insist that Gentile Christians become Jews are simply unwilling to face the opprobrium they will have to suffer from some fellow Jews if their closest “brothers” and “sisters” are unkosher Gentiles.
(3) Not only so, but circumcision was a mark of professed covenant fidelity. Here, Paul insists, lies the real problem: those who have been circumcised find it impossible to “obey the law,” so why should they try to compel others to go down that track (6:13)? Some of them want to count converts to Judaism like scalps on a spear. But Paul insists that the Christian boasts in nothing but the cross of the Lord Jesus (6:14). That is the sole basis of our acceptance before God, nothing else—not circumcision, not law-keeping, not kosher tables, not belonging to the right community. The sole ground is the cross, so that is our sole “boast.” If you believe that, what the world thinks will matter little: it is as if the world has been crucified so far as you are concerned, and you are crucified so far as it is concerned.
(4) Out of this cross-work of Jesus Christ rises the “new creation” (6:15). That is what counts—men and women so transformed, because of faith in Jesus, that they belong to the new creation still to be consummated. This is invariably true, even for “the Israel of God”—which might refer to the church as the true Israel, or may be saying that racial Israel must face this truth the same as everyone else.
(5) At the personal level, Paul quietly reminds his Galatian readers that he has paid for his beliefs in suffering. Can the agitators claim the same? So why should any true Christian now be adding to Paul’s sufferings?