Galatians Chapter 5
Gal. 5:1 Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.
The chief problem in Galatia was that some were trying to make the believer think he was underneath the Mosaic Law and, therefore, liable to all its ordinances and ceremonies, plus the necessity or obligation for all males to be circumcised. It is true that circumcision was instituted before the Law, but it was carried into the Law. The ritual was instituted in Genesis, which is part of the Pentateuch, and the whole Pentateuch was the Law from the standpoint that Paul used here. In other words, sometimes, as in this case, we have to take into consideration the context in which something is done. Even though we draw valuable lessons and corelationships with other pictures, we first have to ascertain if we have gotten the correct thought that was originally applicable.
Gal. 5:2 Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.
Gal. 5:3 For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.
Paul was firm on the matter of circumcision. If one were deceived into thinking that Christians have to come under the yoke of the Law, then Christ would profit them nothing. Character and doctrine are both important, and here Paul showed that doctrine is very important, for a Christian cannot make his calling and election sure if he is mixed up on this subject. One who believes he is under the Law may get life, but he cannot be of the Little Flock, for the Christ calling—”Christ in you, the hope of glory”—would profit him nothing (Col. 1:27). The hope of being members of that future class would be profitless.
Why did Paul advise Timothy, a Christian Jew, to be circumcised yet tell Titus, a Greek Christian, not to be circumcised? Timothy was circumcised quietly and not under pressure. In this case, circumcision was a wise stratagem. Since Timothy was born a Jew but was never circumcised, this would have been an immediate stumbling block and deterrent to his efforts to preach the gospel to Jews. By being circumcised, Timothy was not admitting that the Law required circumcision for Christians. On the other hand, if Paul had advised Titus to get circumcised when he was a Greek, the act would have implied that Gentile Christians should be circumcised in order to be bona fide. It would indicate that they were obliged to undergo the Jewish ritual of circumcision. When one comes into Christ, he is neither Jew nor Gentile, for God deals with each one as an individual.
Taken out of context, verse 2 could be misunderstood as forbidding Christians to be circumcised—period!
The Living Bible is good for verse 2: “Listen to me, for this is serious: if you are counting on circumcision and keeping the Jewish laws to make you right with God, then Christ cannot save you.”
If the motivation of circumcision for the Christian is to obey the Law, then the individual misunderstands the subject, and verse 3 shows he is then required to keep the whole Law. “For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.” If the Christian’s motivation for circumcision is to obey the Law, then he is indebted to the Law and should also observe holy days, eat only clean meats, etc. The individual would be trying to justify himself by works. However, circumcision for sanitary reasons is permissible—that is a different subject.
Verse 3 is emphatically repetitious: Paul was saying, “Again I am telling you!” “To repeat again!”
Gal. 5:4 Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.
Christ is of no effect to those who believe they are justified by the Law.
Those Galatians who first correctly understood this matter and then went into error were responsible, for they had “fallen from grace.” When Paul originally preached the gospel to the Galatians, he had preached a correct message, but now they had fallen into this other situation. There was hope for those who were temporarily off the course doctrinally, for they could be straightened out and recovered. However, to remain in this error for the rest of their life would mean a fall from grace with no possibility of making the Little Flock.
Gal. 5:5 For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.
Paul was saying, “We are waiting for the hope of actual righteousness in the future.” God deals with us now according to our heart intentions, but the hope is that we will be faithful unto death and thus obtain actual justification, actual righteousness, in the next life. Those who are faithful in Christ and in grace will then indeed be actually and literally justified forever. “We through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.” Having offered us this proposition in the present life, God is dealing with us in a tentative manner.
Gal. 5:6 For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.
Verse 6 is a qualifying statement lest we take things out of context and draw wrong lessons.
Whether or not one is circumcised does not determine whether he is a Christian.
Why did Paul bring “love” into this situation? Only a few times in Scripture are faith and love purposely mixed this way, being in the same frame of reference. Paul had been talking about justification (righteousness) by faith and not by works, when all of a sudden, he said, “Faith ...worketh by love.” There was turmoil in the ecclesias in Galatia. (This condition in Asia Minor occurred 50 or so years earlier than what the Apostle John spoke of in his epistles and hence was a different situation.) To understand the turmoil, we will read Galatians 6:12,13, “As many as desire to make a fair show in the flesh [in the ecclesias], they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ. For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh.” Paul was talking about Jews who had accepted Christ and then subsequently went back to the Law. The Judaizing Christians were exerting pressure on the Gentile Christians to be circumcised. And what was their motivation? They were trying to avoid persecution. Moreover, although they were urging obedience to the Law, they themselves did not keep it.
At least momentarily, the great majority were guilty of this error and had thus fallen from grace. Therefore, this situation was serious. In fact, it was so desperate that Paul did not know how to extricate the Judaizing element except to try to reindoctrinate them with truth and show they would lose out on the high calling if they did not change their attitude.
Paul said that if he were there in person, he would change his voice and thunder at them. The epistles are sobering. Even with the apostles on the scene and teaching the early Church, errors in both doctrine and conduct were, at times, adversely affecting the majority. We are not beyond that condition today. The Laodicean period is one of contentment, with Christians feeling they are clothed and rich with a sufficiency of truth and understanding. The majority can be wrong, so we should beware.
Therefore, “faith ... worketh by love” was a pertinent statement because of the prevalent friction in Galatia whereby Christians who had not acquiesced to circumcision were being constrained to do so. The great majority had given in and fallen from grace by going over to this new doctrine, but instead of stopping there, the Judaizing element exerted strong pressure on the others to be like them. Paul was saying, “The very ones who promote this error are not keeping the Law.” Sometimes, we need to back off and study a situation to understand what is happening. He was saying, “You were under the Law before the gospel was preached to you. Then you accepted Christ with great joy and were even willing to pluck out your eyes for me, but now you have drifted back into the very condition you were in before I knew you.”
There is an emotional display in the New Testament epistles, but sometimes when we read, we do not get the intonation of the apostle’s voice. If Paul were reading the epistle himself, we can be sure that his inflection and manner would be very meaningful.
The implication is that if those who had fallen from grace did not repent—if the situation was not corrected—the faithful would have to separate, for it would be intolerable for a little minority to remain under that constant pressure. As verse 9 says, “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.” The faithful Christian does not want to stay in that leaven; he must get out.
Gal. 5:7 Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?
“Ye did run well” indicates that the Galatians had previously correctly understood the matter of the Christian not being under the Law. Also, this statement indicates a time interval between their initial conversion and the writing of this letter. The only question would be, How much time? Some assign a later date than we would be prone to accept. At the end of the epistle, we will try to show some evidence to support our reasoning.
“Who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?” This was a stern remark in the sense that Paul was challenging those who were urging circumcision for the Christian and obedience to the Law. He was asking, “Who among you are teaching this error?” He was trying to cause consternation in the group, particularly among those who were responsible for this wrong teaching, and to let them know he would not treat the matter lightly. The false teachers would benefit if they realized that he meant business. Paul’s strong writing was needed, for it would encourage any who were thinking of repenting or any who had not yet yielded to the error. In other words, if any were inclined to repent or give in on this point, then casting fear and concern was the best method to bring this about.
Gal. 5:8 This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you.
The error came not from God.
Gal. 5:9 A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.
Verse 9 expresses an axiom or principle. Here the principle applies to doctrine; in 1 Corinthians 5:6, it applies to Christian walk and character.
It is good that Paul expressed this principle in regard to two different circumstances, for over the years, Christians tend to emphasize just conduct and morals or just doctrine, whereas both have to be guarded.
Gal. 5:10 I have confidence in you through the Lord, that ye will be none otherwise minded: but he that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be.
Paul had confidence that the minority who had not yielded to this error would continue to stand fast and resist. As verse 1 said, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” He also hoped that some who had yielded would repent and return to their former belief. If they had taken the step without much assurance because of being weak or wobbly in their conscience or faith, they might be persuaded to return to the correct doctrine.
Notice the stern wording of the second half of verse 10: “He that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be.” Considerable responsibility was incurred by the leaders who hindered the Galatians by promoting this doctrinal error.
Gal. 5:11 And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? Then is the offence of the cross ceased.
Why did Paul say, “If I yet preach circumcision”?
In order to appreciate and understand this Epistle to the Galatians, especially certain succinct statements, we should corelate Paul’s reasoning here with that in his Epistle to the Romans. A comparison of both letters gives us the degree of Paul’s intent.
The word “yet” can have another application, namely, the thought of “in addition.” The false element taught that while one had accepted Christ as Savior, in addition, he had to keep the ordinances of the Law of Moses in order to obtain justification.
Not enough information is given to be conclusive, but it is possible verse 11 is saying that some who were promoting the error claimed Paul believed the same as they did. In that case, he was now refuting their attempt to give his stamp of approval to the false teaching. They claimed that Paul agreed with them, and in his absence, they exerted pressure on the others to agree that Christians should also be under the Law to obtain justification. (See verse 4, where Paul soundly rejected this idea.) The concepts of works versus grace are in direct conflict and cannot be combined under the Christian faith.
Paul asked, “If I yet preach circumcision [that is, if I yet preach the ordinances of the Law and the necessity to obey them], why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offence of the cross ceased.” By preaching salvation through grace and faith in Christ Jesus (instead of the Law), Paul brought persecution on himself, whereas those who preached the Law as a means of salvation avoided persecution. Thus this false gospel was easier to preach because it brought less persecution. In other words, much of Paul’s persecution was incurred because of his making a clear-cut distinction between being under the ordinances of the Law and being under grace.
It is interesting that Paul, who previously, before becoming a Christian, was such a staunch supporter of the Law, now saw the Law in its proper perspective.
The doctrine of free grace in Christ is related to the Cross. “Then is the offence of the cross ceased.” We immediately think of 1 Corinthian 1:23, “But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness.”
Gal. 5:12 I would they were even cut off which trouble you.
The pronoun “they” refers to a number of individuals in the province of Galatia who taught the false doctrine that the Christian must obey the ordinances of the Law. One or more individuals in each of the several ecclesias or congregations in Galatia promoted this false teaching. Paul desired that these opponents of the doctrine of free grace in Christ would be “cut off,” that is, disfellowshipped.
Earlier, in Galatians 1:9, Paul had said, “As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.” The Galatians were not in any way to countenance the proponents of such doctrinal error. A “proponent” would be one who is more crystallized in his thinking and actually preaching the doctrine, rather than just being sympathetic to it.
Thus there is a time to take a strong stand. However, in every case, the matter should be weighed very carefully before considering the other party “accursed.” With regard to doctrine, only a serious error would require disfellowshipping. For instance, Paul said that we should not destroy our brother with knowledge but that we should “let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind” (Rom. 14:5). There should be a give-and-take on doctrine and matters of conscience unless fundamentals are involved. The importance of the doctrine or morals issue has to be weighed. Here in Galatians, the basic platform of faith was being tampered with: justification by faith versus justification by the works of the Law. Incidentally, works based upon a foundation of faith are proper. In other words, a live faith has works, and a dead faith has no works (James 2:26). Works must be based on faith, and under the Law, that was not the case.
In summary, we are not to support proponents of serious doctrinal error. There is a time to take a strong stand on issues of both moral conduct and doctrine. But before separation and disfellowshipping, we should carefully consider the matter, which must be a serious one.
Gal. 5:13 For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.
Notice, we “have been called unto liberty,” but that liberty can be carried too far. “Use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh.” Paul stated this same thought in Romans 6:1, using different words: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?” In other words, in Christ was deliverance made possible from the Law, but we are not to use grace and liberty as a license to do whatever we want. We must not feel that because grace abounds, we can sin willfully and grace will forgive us. Paul made a distinction between liberty and license, which is uncontrolled liberty. In contrast, scriptural liberty is controlled liberty.
“Use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.” Love should be used in the exercise of liberty. For example, love means that we should yield to our brethren on opinions but not on principles. We are not to yield if, in so doing, we would be violating our own conscience, and we should not destroy our brethren by overriding their conscience. For example, in his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul said that one individual ate meat for conscience’ sake toward God, and another did not eat meat for conscience’ sake toward God. In such a case, we are to let each one be persuaded in his own mind. That issue pertained to conduct within the class, and those with more knowledge of Scripture were not to destroy those with less knowledge by taking too strong a stand. Those with knowledge could talk with strength yet manifest that they still loved the others as brethren. Teachers, especially, must be careful not to infringe on the liberty of others. When they get on the platform, they must not put a yoke of bondage on those who want to stand fast in their liberty. If teachers try to force their views on others, a principle is being violated.
And another aspect must be considered. A distinction should be made between (1) a newly consecrated one who does not see a point of truth but who has been in relative darkness all along and is in need of enlightenment and (2) one who has been consecrated for some time, once clearly understood the matter, and then went into darkness on that point. Especially with the newly consecrated, we should not keep harping on something that is not principle. The circumstances are to be weighed, for there are instances when we should discern and make a difference. In other words, the same degree of sternness should not be applied to everyone.
However, if teachers invade the liberty of the ecclesia or congregation, they must be stopped regardless of their motive.
Therefore, “by love serve one another” means that before we do anything too hastily, we are to consider whether our action will really benefit the other party, whether our attitude will truly enlighten him—or whether we will damage the party or destroy his faith altogether so that on this subject henceforth, no one will be able to approach him because of the way we handled the matter. We do not want to completely turn him off.
In addition to sinning promiscuously and feeling we will be forgiven, there are other ways of using liberty as “an occasion to the flesh.” Paul provided a whole list in verses 19-21 and 26.
Malice and ill will are ingredients in much of this list, and so are pride and vainglory. The listing is “adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, [and] revellings.” As an example of pride, the opponents of Paul, who were teaching false doctrine about the Christian having to obey the ordinances of the Law, prided themselves on espousing a neglected doctrine (the Law). They liked being looked up to as “proper” guides of faith to the class. Moreover, the very ones who preached the Law were not really practicing what they preached; they were not good exemplars of the Law.
Gal. 5:14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
How would we explain this verse, “For all the law is fulfilled in ... [the commandment] Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,” especially when Jesus summed up the Law in two commandments (“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” and “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”—Matt. 22:37,39)?
Phillips Modern English translation has, “For after all, the whole Law toward others is summed up by this one command, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.’”
The King James faithfully translates the Greek in this verse, but Phillips faithfully translates Paul’s thought. Thus we can see the value of comparing the apostle’s utterances in his various epistles. When Paul said, “all the law,” he was writing with regard to the subject matter of how we treat one another. Loving one’s neighbor embraces most of the Ten Commandments and the “works of the flesh” (listed in verses 19-21), which deal with our relationship toward others. For example, if we love our neighbor, we do not covet his goods, money, property, etc. If verse 14 were taken out of context, the statement would not be true.
Gal. 5:15 But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.
On one occasion, Jesus showed how biting and devouring one another can happen, although he did not use the word “consume.” “But whoso shall offend [stumble] one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matt. 18:6). Death with a millstone, riveting one to the bottom of the ocean, would be much better than the real punishment for stumbling someone, which is Second Death. Therefore, the “offending,” the stumbling, that the Master was speaking of does not mean merely hurting the feelings of a person, because some are sensitive and hurt when they are properly corrected. If we render a proper and needed correction, we are acting aright—as long as we speak the truth in love. However, if we stumble someone in the sense of causing him to go out of the truth into Second Death, we, too, will go into Second Death. If we cause someone to perish, we will share the same penalty. The Law teaches this very principle—that a person who murders another is put to death himself. The principle is the same with the new creature, only on a higher plane.
We must know the Scriptures in order to determine when to take a strong stand. Otherwise, we might take a strong stand for the wrong reason and stumble someone. On the other hand, if a strong stand should be taken and we neglect to do so, we incur responsibility. The Apostle James said we should pray for wisdom along this line.
There are different degrees of lack of development where one does not attain the prize of the high calling because he did not sufficiently heed the Word to be made a minister of Christ in the next age. But responsibility is also incurred for causing injury to another wherein the one at fault receives the same fate. Some testify later that they will have no more association with the brethren because of what Bro. A or Sr. B did. But the point is, What exactly caused them to go out of the fellowship? The Scriptures say that in many cases, one is led astray by his own lust, so the going astray may not be Bro. A’s or Sr. B’s fault. Hence blame is often wrongly ascribed to others when it actually is one’s own fault. But if it is true that a person left because of something a brother or a sister did, then that individual will share the fate and degree of judgment.
If someone states that he left the brethren because of Bro. C, we are responsible for searching out the matter and for clearing that brother’s name if the situation merits it. If a derogatory accusation is made about a brother or sister, we are obligated to search out and stop the slander if it be untrue.
The Law stresses this principle, saying that if a party hears of another’s guilt and does not search it out, that party will incur the same judgment. It is one thing to claim to be justified by the letter of the Law, by deeds, but the principles of the Law are another matter. The Law is God’s mind, His thinking, on various subjects, and those principles do not change. Those same principles will be put into operation in the Kingdom but under a new arrangement, under the New (Law) Covenant.
Being “consumed one of another” applies in a drastic sense. If we destroy someone as a new creature, we will receive a similar fate. A single “bite” is one thing, but a process of biting that leads to “devouring,” or destroying, is another matter. “Devouring” is a series of bites leading to the destruction of the carcass, the life of the animal. Each offense (bite) incurs more responsibility. Incidentally, a fratricidal (killing of a brother or sister) spirit can develop in a congregation if they have no faith and love and do not handle matters according to God’s instruction.
Gal. 5:16 This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.
Gal. 5:17 For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.
Gal. 5:18 But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.
Verses 16-18 are again a parallel to Paul’s thinking in Romans, although some of the terms are different. The “Spirit” excels the Law; it is a higher idealism. We should exercise ourselves to try to attain the goal of the Spirit. As long as we are going energetically in that direction, we will do the best we possibly can with regard to obeying God’s laws and precepts; that is, from the standpoint of God’s principles, we will try to obey because in being led of the Spirit, we are being led by the calling of God, which is grace in Christ Jesus. God makes provisions for the failures of our flesh, but our goals, aspirations, and efforts must be in the right direction. If we are thus “led of the Spirit,” we are not under the condemnation of the Law.
Gal. 5:19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,
Gal. 5:20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,
Gal. 5:21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
The last clause is significant, showing the apostle’s disapproval of the “works of the flesh”: “They which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” To oppose these “works,” we walk after the Spirit. This is a walk of liberty in Christ whereby our shortcomings are covered (forgiven) if our heart intentions are pure.
Verses 19-21 list various “works of the flesh.” Paul did not explain each one because they “are manifest”; that is, everyone knows generally what these words are describing, even though the terminology may vary a little in the various translations.
These verses also disprove the doctrine of once in grace, always in grace. As Christians we are being trained and fitted for an inheritance in the Kingdom of God—but if after being washed by the blood, we entangle ourselves again with these works of the flesh, we will NOT inherit the Kingdom. This is serious business.
2Pe_2:20 For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning.
Gal. 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,
Gal. 5:23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
In verses 19-21, Paul categorized the “works of the flesh.” In now categorizing the “fruit of the Spirit,” he showed that there is a radical difference in behavior or deportment. The contrast is ill will, strife, disputation, etc., versus love, peace, joy, goodness, etc., for one another in the truth. In other words, verses 22 and 23 describe exemplary conduct in one form or another that is a fruit and not a veneer.
Scofield makes a nice comment on these two verses. “Christian character is not mere moral or legal correctness but the possession and manifestation of nine graces: love, joy, peace (character as an inward state); long-suffering, gentleness, goodness (character and expression toward man); faith, meekness, temperance (character and expression toward God). Taken together, they present a moral portrait of Christ and may be taken ... as a definition of fruit. This character is possible because of the believer’s vital union to Christ and is wholly the fruit of the Spirit in those believers who are yielded to him.”
Gal. 5:24 And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.
Those who are Christ’s “have crucified the flesh.” The thought is that they will continue to crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts. In other words, this effort is ongoing for the Christian. The old man is a monkey on our back in one way or another throughout our Christian walk, and we do not get full liberty until actual death. The old man is wily and always thinking of its own interests, which are contrary to the Spirit. The battle between the flesh and the Spirit is not over until death. Those who have the Spirit of God want to combat what they do not like in their own character.
Gal. 5:25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.
In verse 25, Paul’s point was, “If [we say] we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit,” for our conduct should match our profession. Sometimes when we are together with brethren, we get a lovely euphoria, but that influence wears off quite quickly when we go back into the world for, say, secular employment. The analogy is something like the difference between reading and studying. Reading is a superficial, cursory examination of God’s Word, whereas study is done with purposed intent. We read in order to be more familiar with God’s thinking—what He approves and disapproves—so that we can do the same, but we need to start with self, with our own vessel.
Gal. 5:26 Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another.
Then he said, “Let us not be desirous of vain glory [of excelling in disputation], [thoughtlessly] provoking one another [to their damage and detriment], envying one another.” We are not to provoke one another into disputes, which lead to wrath and railings. Paul was describing a negative and/or evil condition of heart, envy being one example. He continued to give general counsel to a group that was much in need of help.
What people think of us now is really meaningless because measured against eternity, the present life is like a puff of wind. Therefore, to have vainglory in the present life at the expense of the possibility of having glory in the future is foolishness. We want to have the long-range view, for the will of God for us is our sanctification (1 Thess. 4:3).
The opposite of “provoking one another” in this context is to provoke one another “unto love and to good works” (Heb. 10:24).