Whereas the Corinthian error had been licence, the Galatians were apt to be slaves to ritual. Flesh manifests itself in different ways. The Galatians had sought to restrain the flesh by law. Restraints view the flesh as living whereas God's method is to treat it as dead. That is not congenial to nature! The Apostle is more scathing in his indictment of the Galatians than of the Corinthians. The Galatians did not detract from the Lord's person (as the Colossians did), but they sought to add to His work. That God doing part and man completing the remaining part is very plausible! Legality militates against grace, declaring indeed that Christ has died in vain (Gal. 2:21, also v. 4).
The introduction to the epistle comprises the first five verses. Human authority and apostolic succession are set aside in Gal. 1:1. The glory of God the Father required that One who could accomplish the work of redemption should be raised from the dead. He is the centre of authority, the source of the Apostle's commission. He is the Lord requiring undivided allegiance. Albeit grace and peace came from Him. He gave Himself for our sins with the express object of delivering from the present evil age (where law operates), i.e., all in accordance with the will of God the Father. The world is under the control of the devil; hence evil. He led the world to crucify Christ. Christianity does not shift the metropolis from Jerusalem to Rome, but to the right hand of God, i.e., outside the world altogether. Hence the goal of christianity is heaven! Thus the doxology "to God be glory throughout the ages." Immediately Paul denounced the subverters of the Gospel with a terrible anathema! The apostle's gospel and ministry were by revelation (the apocalypse of Jesus Christ), (Gal. 1:11, 12). He claimed scope for his ministry apart from the confirmation of men. The only way to keep the flesh in subjection is to be under the control of the Spirit. But we shall not boast about the Spirit's work in us, or think ourselves superior to others, who may appear to be less favoured with knowledge of divine things. Paul proceeded to unfold some details of his life. His conversation (or conduct) in the Jews' religion, his persecution of the Christians, his zeal for the traditions were all matters of common knowledge. All that proceeded from the pride of the heart of man! Legality or orthodoxy always persecuted grace. But it pleased God Who had in purpose, marked him out from his birth for his mission, called him by grace "to reveal His Son in me," (not "to me"), in order to enable him to preach Christ among the Gentiles. What a graphic description of a marvellous chain of events! In that sequence the Lord wrote death on everything that Saul was as a man. Immediately he was emancipated from the fear of man and he retired into Arabia for solitary meditation and to learn gradually the person of the Son who was to shine out from his person in such a marvellous way! But the main point was his emphatic disavowal of receiving certification from the highest authority on earth, viz., the Apostles in Jerusalem. The tendency to envy in the latter was completely disarmed in his brief interview with them, three years after his conversion. So that they glorified God in Paul, i.e., he was the occasion for giving praise to God. Gal. 2, opens with the incident 14 years later when Paul returned to Jerusalem and gave the orthodox a rude jolt by taking Titus, a Greek convert, with him. In spite of the usual clamour of the Judaizers, no one pressed the matter of circumcision to a logical conclusion. The interview was important as demonstrating that the acknowledged leaders in Jerusalem did not add any lustre to the Apostle in conference with him, because he recognised that God was no respecter of persons! Apparently the incident which brought about the conference in Jerusalem, was the "peaceful penetration" of false emissaries or spies from Judaea who sought to impose a yoke of bondage on the necks of the Gentile converts. Paul's communication of his gospel was not broadcast, but explained privately to the men of repute in Jerusalem (Gal. 2:2), lest a premature disclosure might wreck his mission! In all the apostle would not yield an inch to the encroachment of legality which had submerged christianity in Jewish circles. It has been well said that "Jewish environment was the cradle of christianity and but for God's mercy and grace, it would have become its grave." The result of the second interview was that James, Peter and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace in Paul, and gave the right hand of fellowship to Paul and Barnabas, recognising their work amongst the Gentiles, even as the apostles in Jerusalem had addicted themselves to the ministry to the Jews. They could not add anything to the Lord's equipment of Paul; "the mighty ordination of the pierced hands." Someone has said "it takes much grace in me to see a little grace in another." They only stipulated that the poor should be remembered. But Paul had already been diligent to follow Christ's example in that respect!
Paul's short interview with Peter is narrated (Gal. 2:11). The first interview displayed friendship; the second, recognition of equality in spheres of labour; but in the third, Peter, Barnabas and others dissembled for fear of offending the authorities in Jerusalem. But Paul publicly rebuked Peter. He would not yield an iota of the truth of the Gospel. At this point the Apostle leaves history to unfold the doctrine of the incongruity of legality and Christian standing. Justification was entirely by faith of Jesus Christ, Who gave Himself for us. The Law cannot justify, it can only condemn! The Apostle personally applied the truth in the power of a living faith! "I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live." (Only the erstwhile malefactor could say, "I was crucified with Christ"). But the Apostle could state that apparent anomaly as a present personal apprehension. By faith's assessment he could see the old "I" (that life to which sin and the Law attached). "Dying Christ's death is in order that I (the individual) might live Christ's life!" The penalty was borne by my substitute thus I no longer live as the old I, but Christ lives in me. So these three usages of "I" are identified, viz., the old "I," the individual "I" and the new "I" which is essentially Christ. The individual becomes the transparent casket for the display of the jewel, the new "I" (Christ); but we are not yet in the home of that life and since on earth we must live by faith, that of the Son of God as object. (So that Law not the rule of life!) The personal love of Christ to me as an individual is the motive, and the proof of that love is that He gave Himself for me. But His love went through death and continues unchanged in His present exalted position now all that is faith's assessment. Judicially the foregoing is true of every Christian, but experimentally it is true only of those who count on God, and who practise what they believe. (Observe the singular first personal pronoun "I and me" throughout). Peter was frustrating the grace of God by His contention. Circumcision and Christianity were mutually inconsistent. If righteousness could effected by the Law then Christ's death was unnecessary. In Judaism man was under probation; but in Christian doctrine, man is proved hopeless, helpless, corrupt, and that is confirmed by his murder of Christ. Hence all is of the grace of God. Christianity is Christ! Justification faith, the ground of Christianity was recovered in the Reformation, but that the old man was crucified at the Cross was not maintained. They refused the exactions of Romanism but recognised the flesh as before God and thus became subject to impositions, so a new ritualism sprang up. If man is dead, there is no room for form or exaction!
Galatians 3 opens with reference to the strange fascination that the Law had for man. The Galatians had been deceived! The Apostle demonstrated that the Galatians inherited the blessing of Abraham, the first in the line purpose and thus the progenitor of the line of faith. . Promise is the declaration of purpose. Abraham believed God and his faith was an example for the Gentiles. God promise was to his seed being as the sands of the sea relative to earth and as the stars of heaven as to the heavenly aspect of the promises. Abraham knew nothing about the Law! The Law could only curse. Then the 600 years old dictum of Habakkuk "the just shall live by (out of) his faith" is adduced to show that no one is justified in virtue of the Law. The just lives by faith not by law-keeping. Faith, not law, is the rule of life, hence Law and faith are incompatible. The legalist never attains to justification, so "doing the best one can" is a principle nearly 2000 years out of date! The only deliverance is through the redemption in Christ Jesus Who was made a curse for us. Ever in the mind of God was the promise of the Spirit, who would subdue everything in a subjective way. The blessing of Abraham was righteousness, not circumcision! (On the 430 years problem of Gal. 3:17, see Q. and Ans.). Then the thought of "mediator "is presented (Gal. 3:20). He is, normally, between two parties, but mediation was vitiated in the first covenant, because of the failure of one party (man) to do his part; but the second covenant is based on the absolute promise of One (God), on Whom all depends. The Law did not oppose the promise not simply demonstrated to man his inability. The Scripture shuts up all under sin, in order that the promise by faith may be given to the believer. The Law was a pedagogue, i.e. , the servant who led the child to school, but when faith had come that was no longer needed. "Ye are all the children (sons) of God by faith in Christ Jesus "(Gal. 3:26). As children of God we have part in the reproach of Christ sharing His rejection by the world and are under discipline and are the special objects of the Father's love. As sons we are in relation to God, possessing unique dignity which connects with the coming day of glory, the real attainment of majority! Being baptised unto Christ we have put on Christ, why then should we seek to put on Moses? In Christ Jesus, the greatest racial, social and human distinctions disappear and we are all one therein, i.e., in blessing and privilege but not in responsibility! (Gal. 3:28). The great distinction to be recognised in responsibility is that between the Christian and the world, of which the Cross of Christ is the symbol! Life, righteousness, the Spirit, the inheritance, Sonship (and all other blessings) are secured on the principle of faith in Christ Jesus. Christ is proved to be the Seed of promise. Since He is Son, we are also sons by faith.
Galatians 4 presents sonship with heirship and liberty as a consequence of what came out in Galatians 3. Blessings, the fruit of the purpose of God, are involved in the promises which are also the fruit of purpose. The Apostle insists that the heir while a minor is as a servant. So the Jew knew nothing of liberty! He was under authority until the appointed time (Gal. 4:2). He was in bondage under the rudiments of the world (the Law), i.e., until the full proof of his failure had been demonstrated. God sent forth His Son made of a woman (by whom sin came) made under the Law (which brought transgression). Sonship conferred on us is a transcendent dignity! We have the confidence of God the Father through the Spirit of His Son sent forth into our hearts giving consciousness of the Father, thus effecting deliverance. There will be liberty in place of servitude. Abraham's heir is a great honour, but that is quite eclipsed by the heirship of God. The inheritance is two-sided. We inherit suffering with Him for a brief period and then we share in the incorruptible inheritance reserved in heaven for us; Galatians 4:8, 9, refers to the previous Gentile condition, after conversion there had been a reversion to the effete practices of Judaism. They had turned back to these weak beggarly rudiments! The ritual of Christendom but illustrates the lack of the knowledge of God. The observation of saints'days is a mixture of the persistence of heathen ideas and the customs of obsolete Judaism. There is only one day in Christianity and that is the first of the week! The Apostle was free. He besought the Galatian Christians to imitate his example. His language at this juncture was very affecting. Their zeal was commendable, but nevertheless wrongly directed. Paul's consuming desire was that Christ might be formed in them. Their apparent condition led him to have grave doubts of them. In Galatians 4:22, the Apostle opened up a new section of the chapter dealing with liberty, illustrating the principle by an allegory (i.e., a description of A under the image of B), referring to Sarah and Hagar in the O.T. There are two principles or covenants and two cities contrasted, viz.:- a covenant tending to bondage connected with the earthly Jerusalem, while the heavenly Jerusalem, our mother (the true metropolis), is free. Even as of old, the attempt to retain the two sons in the same house was a failure so in this era Judaism and Christianity cannot stay together. The parallel features contrasted in pairs are:- bond and free, and their sons with births of flesh and promise, Sinai and Zion, law and promise, earthly and heavenly cities, servitude and liberty, fruitful and barren (yet ultimately reversed), persecuting and persecuted, expulsion and establishment, law displaced by grace. They are incompatible. Christians may well challenge themselves as to which city they belong! Will they decline the position of glory to grovel in the mire of earth?
That they were not children of the bondmaid-servant but of the free woman, is the antecedent to the exhortation opening Galatians 5. Christ has set us free in a free state, hence stand fast and do not revert to out-of-date practice. There can be no successful occupancy or progress apart from the recognition of the principle of the new life in the power of the Spirit (Rom. 8:2). Neglect of these considerations results in being enmeshed in the net of ritual. Slavery is inconsistent for free men. When the officials said, "does not your Master pay tribute?" Peter thought his Master as a good Jew would be sure to answer in the affirmative. The practice of earth was to exempt the sons and exact from the strangers. As sons they were really free, but so as not to offend the authority, His creatorial power presented the exact sum from the least likely place (Matt. 17:24-27). The proposition is adduced that if circumcision solved the problem, then Christ's death was invalid, but if they elected to adopt the former then they were indebted to fulfil every iota of the Law. No partial obedience would suffice! They were fallen from grace. V. 5 refers to the hope of righteousness by faith. The goal of the Law was to reach righteousness by effort. We have righteousness by faith. But that is not its absolute fulfilment in display, for that we wait through the Spirit. Hence the Spirit is that of hope directing to the glory of God, in which we rejoice (Rom. 5:2). In Christ Jesus, circumcision and uncircumcision are of no moment, but only faith working by love. The bright unfailing prospect manifests itself in our love towards all who belong to Christ. So faith is no theory based on ethereal nothingness! There are practical visible results, in conjunction with continuous expectancy that the prospect will at any moment give place to the actual transition to the glory of God (our destiny).
In Galatians 5:7, the Apostle was obviously disturbed by his converts having been frustrated in their obedience to the truth by legal advocates. The Law suited men of earth but was unsuitable for those with a heavenly calling. The Law shows what man should be for God; the truth shows what God is for man, and that was evinced in the Cross. They had been called out of paganism to liberty and glory and not to Judaism! The insidious nature of the addition is illustrated in the thorough permeation of leaven in the lump. Subtle and hidden in action at first but ere long complete, every particle partakes of the foreign character. Evil doctrine makes evil people! Nevertheless faith in God leads him to have confidence that they will respond to his exhortation. The Cross is death to the flesh, but entailed persecution. Although the cross is worn frequently as an adornment, the wearers do not see its significance applied to that which it adorns! Our calling is to liberty. The new life will exhibit love in service to do the will of God. But liberty for the new life is not license for the flesh. Love fills the Law to overflowing; previously the Law only yielded sparingly, but under Christianity love is the prime mark of the life. Legality only leads to wolfish tendencies (v. 15). Galatians 5 deals mainly with holiness and sanctification. Righteousness was previously the principle in view. They run perfectly together. All of the nature of God loves good and hates evil. Sanctification is the practical result of holiness in the power of the Spirit. We are judicially sanctified by (1) the will of God, (2) the blood of Christ and (3) by the Spirit; but here sanctification wears the practical aspect in walk, i.e., general conduct. The Spirit enables the new entity to effect the desires of its holiness and to lift it above the desires of the flesh; e.g., a flying fish is delivered from its enemies in the water when it rises into the air! Flesh and Spirit are opposed in nature and action. The works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit are contrasted. The fruit is of one character! Love, joy and peace are Godward primarily. Long-suffering, gentleness and kindness are to those around. Faith, meekness and self-control are individual assets. God produces the graces of Christ in those precious to Him. Thus the Spirit is the rule of life!
In Galatians 6, we are not to indulge delusions of superiority, hence we are to deal kindly with the fallen, for we may fall. Restoration is analogous to "setting a broken bone" which if properly done is stronger than before breaking. We are not to criticise others but to test our own work. In any case everyone will bear his own burden (phortion) or responsibility. (The burden (baros) in verse 2 is a weight which can be shared). Verse 6 speaks of the learner sharing material things with the teacher. But we cannot trifle with God for what a man sows he will reap! Corruption results from flesh and everlasting life from the Spirit! These are the principles of God's administration. The whole universe will yet display the precision of the ways of God in the same administration; therefore we should not slacken our Christian efforts. Let us do good to all but especially help the household of faith. It seems a moot point in Galatians 6:11, whether the Apostle refers to the size of the letters in his calligraphy or the extent of his writing. The advocates of the former urge that as evidence of his failing eyesight and that he merely took the pen from his amanuensis and wrote the concluding part. But we prefer to think that Paul departed from his usual practice and wrote the whole epistle with his own hand despite his disability. Circumcision was used as a ground of boasting and to evade persecution. But the only ground on which the Apostle would rely was the Cross whereby the world was crucified unto Him. In the blissful sphere of Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor its omission was applicable. All therein is new creation, and that is all that God recognises. On such peace and mercy are invoked. They constitute the Israel of God who are circumcised in heart and not in flesh and who rely on the Cross. Finally, the Apostle bore the marks of the Lord Jesus, just as a slave bore the brands of his master. So the criticism was irrelevant. His salutation was brief; he does not utter affectionate words. Nevertheless, that grace alone will preserve a local company in allegiance to an absent Lord.(Galashiels, 1940).