Day 5: Galatians 5–6
In day 5 of our 30 Days of Paul Reading Challenge and we’re finishing off his letter to the followers of The Way of Jesus in Galatia (Galatians 5-6). As we’ve noted previously, these people were Celts (Gauls) who had started following The Way of Jesus but had been diverted into Judaism (circumcision and following Torah) by some false teachers. This letter’s Paul’s attempt to steer them back onto the correct path.
In Chapter 5, Paul starts out stating that Christ has set us free “for freedom” (5.1). His point is that, even though the Galatian followers are now free, that doesn’t mean they’re free to do what they want. It means they’re free to serve others in Love (5.13). This freedom, however, doesn’t mean one can now start following first century Judaism. On the contrary. He then states that those who have recently been circumcised, are “required to do the whole law” (5.3; cf. James 2.10).
Again, Paul sees first century Judaism as a step away from Messiah. He’s very emphatic about this, “You people who are trying to be made righteous by the Law have been estranged from Messiah. You’ve fallen away from grace” (5.4). It’s not that people who were Jewish are without hope. That is, if one has come up through first century Judaism and reach the “goal” of Messiah, that’s one thing. But to leave the Messiah and go back to Judaism? That’s where Paul takes issue. As he states later, “Being circumcised or not being circumcised doesn’t matter in Messiah Jesus, but faith working through love does matter” (5.6). And later still, “ All the Law has been fulfilled in a single statement: Love your neighbor as yourself” (5.14).
Some people take issue with Paul’s thoughts in the next section. Depending on the translation, one can get caught up in dualism. In 5.16ff, Paul starts talking the “flesh” versus the “spirit.” That’s one of the reasons I like the Common English Bible (CEB). It really captures Paul’s meaning, I believe. Paul, being a Jew, didn’t believe the material world was a “bad” place. On the contrary. It was the “supremely good” world created by the supremely good G‑d. So, “flesh” or the physical isn’t what Paul’s getting at. He’s talking about “selfish desires” (5.16). The problem is thinking only about oneself and acting out for one’s own interests. Paul teaches that the G‑d’s Spirit leads people away from their own “selfish desires” and towards loving actions towards others. As he states in the next section —
“Make no mistake, God is not mocked. A person will harvest what they plant. Those who plant only for their own benefit will harvest devastation from their selfishness, but those who plant for the benefit of the Spirit will harvest eternal life from the Spirit. Let’s not get tired of doing good, because in time we’ll have a harvest if we don’t give up. So then, let’s work for the good of all whenever we have an opportunity, and especially for those in the household of faith” (6.7-10).
Paul seems to be telling the Celtic followers of Jesus, “Look, I get that you want to ‘do something’ while following The Way, but to go into Judaism is a step away from Messiah. If you really want to do something, work for the good of everyone when you have the chance. That’s where the Spirit is leading. That’s where G‑d’s new creation is growing” (see 6.15).
Well, that’s been a whirlwind of a letter! Paul seemed to have a very strong opinion about the Judaism of his day (see 1 Thessalonians 1.6; 2.14 and my reflection here). And for the Galatian followers of The Way of Jesus to adopt Judaism was a definite move away from Jesus in Paul’s thinking. After all, it was no longer about being Jewish or not; it was about New Creation. Are there things in our own lives that lead us away from Jesus? Do we look at people of other faith traditions and think that they’re “outside” of G‑d’s people? What can we do to move past that type of thinking? What faithful actions can we commit to do that will help implement G‑d’s New Creation here and now?
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC