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Sunday sermon 9 August – Paul to the Galatians (final)

Reading: Galatians 6:1-15

Sermon notes (especially indebted to Tom Wright’s commentary)

Galatians is a rough ride – if you are the kind of person who favours peace at all costs. We’ve seen that Paul has serious issues with people who pervert the Gospel in any way. He is direct, explicit, and confrontational in every sense as he takes these Galatian Christians on. Paul the Pharisee is equally zealous as Paul the Christian preacher.

And of course we have as a result some of the most profound passages in the New Testament. Let me remind you of some of them:

Gal 1:3  Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, Gal 1:4  who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, Gal 1:5  to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Gal 1:8  But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! Gal 1:9  As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!

Gal 1:11  I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. Gal 1:12  I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.

Gal 2:20  I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Gal 3:1  You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. Gal 3:2  I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Gal 3:3  Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?

Gal 3:22  But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe. Gal 3:23  Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. Gal 3:24  So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Gal 3:25  Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law. Gal 3:26  You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, Gal 3:27  for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. Gal 3:28  There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Gal 3:29  If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Gal 4:4  But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, Gal 4:5  to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Gal 4:6  Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” Gal 4:7  So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.

Gal 4:19  My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, Gal 4:20  how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you!

 Gal 5:1  It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

Gal 5:5  But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. Gal 5:6  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

Gal 5:11  Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. Gal 5:12  As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!  (we missed that one!)

Gal 5:13  You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. Gal 5:14  The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”

Gal 5:16  So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

Gal 5:19  The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; Gal 5:20  idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions Gal 5:21  and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Gal 5:22  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, Gal 5:23  gentleness and self-control. 

Gal 5:24  Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Gal 5:25  Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Gal 5:26  Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

The closing verses – chapter 6

In the last chapter of Galatians, Paul reveals his pastoral heart again. Freedom from sin comes through Christ. But this is not freedom to do anything you like! We are slaves of God – and we are set free to serve another. We are not without obligations – we need to be honest with each other too. We are to correct others who do wrong:

Gal 6:1  Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.

The restoration should be gentle! That is one of the fruits of the spirit – gentleness. And by the way “restoration” here is a word that would have been used to set a broken bone straight so that it can heal with the best possible outcome.Gal 6:2  Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

6:2 – our last week of preaching on Galatians – verse 2 is gold – what is the law of Christ? Transformed Torah? Reformed and Lutherans differ on this. Christ transforms the law to take away its ability to curse (Reformed). Love of neighbour is fulfillment of the law – pun on the Law of Christ (Lutheran). He doesn’t unpack it – just puts it there. No second letter to the Galatians.

Galatians 6:1-6 is about God’s intention for us to ensure the well-being of the neighbour – (and climaxes in v15 – new creation is the key (see below)).

One commentator put it like this: Verses 1-6 allow Paul to say more about what the life of people who live by the Spirit looks like. The list of virtues we saw in 5:22 are really all about relationships and how we manage life together.

Do you remember them from last week? “Love is the key. Joy is love singing. Peace is love resting. Patience is love enduring. Kindness is love’s touch. Generosity is love’s character. Faithfulness is love’s habit. Gentleness is love’s self-forgetfulness. Self-control is love holding the reins.”

The baptized, those brought into ancient people of God in a new way are to fulfill a new law –  that of Christ, by bearing one another’s burdens.

Paul describes the radical mutuality of such a life. Assist one another and evaluate only yourself. Do what is given you to do on behalf of your neighbour, as God on behalf of God’s people did what needed to be done for them.

By exhorting his hearers not to grow tired, Paul reminds us that this is indeed a hard way to live. (Sarah Henrich)

Listen to the next verses 6 to 10: – life in the spirit is practical: and financial!

Gal 6:6  Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor. Gal 6:7  Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Gal 6:8  The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Gal 6:9  Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Gal 6:10  Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

Tom Wright translates this passage in a helpful way: 6 If someone is being taught the word, they should share with the teacher all the good things they have. 7 Don’t be misled; God won’t have people turning their noses up at him. What you sow is what you’ll reap. 8 Yes: if you sow in the field of your flesh you will harvest decay from your flesh, but if you sow in the field of the spirit you will harvest eternal life from the spirit. 9 Don’t lose your enthusiasm for behaving properly. You’ll bring in the harvest at the proper time, if you don’t become weary. 10 So, then, while we have the chance, let’s do good to everyone, and particularly to the household of the faith. Wright, Tom (2002-03-22). Paul for Everyone: Galatians and Thessalonians (New Testament for Everyone) (p. 77). SPCK. Kindle Edition.

Another commentator puts it like this: (Elizabeth Johnson) What this means is clear – Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow,” Paul says (6:7). Our way of life will have its natural consequences. If we “sow to the flesh,” led by self-seeking desires, we will reap the only thing the flesh can produce—corruption. If we “sow to the Spirit,” led by the Spirit and investing in what is eternal, we will reap eternal life from the Spirit (6:8).

Tom Wright has this to say about these last verses:  I loved talking to people about the church and what it was doing: its worship, its life, its service to a wide community. People knew it was true, and they respected what we were doing. But when it came to suggesting that they give money, I found myself running out of words. Some people can do that easily, and I’m not one of them.

But I used to console myself by looking at how Paul went about it. The classic passage is 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, but the same thing that is true there is true here too: Paul manages to write about money without ever mentioning the word. Clearly the subject was as delicate in his world as it is in ours.

The result is the present little paragraph. Like the previous one, it has many wider applications, even though its central point is the quite specific one of financing the ministry and life of the church. Paul begins with a clear command, which most churches in the modern world studiously ignore: those who are taught the word should share ‘in all good things’ with their teacher. (By ‘the word’ here Paul probably means something wider than just ‘the Bible’, though the Bible remained at the centre of his message; he meant the whole gospel of Jesus, rooted in the Old Testament and worked out through the apostolic teaching.)

The natural meaning of this is financial, though gifts in kind are quite appropriate as well. It is perhaps because churches have often neglected proper payment of the ministry that the ministry itself, the teaching which could and should be building up the church, has sometimes been thin and unsatisfying.

This gives quite a sharp point to the verses that follow. The picture of ‘sowing’ and ‘harvesting’– a development in Paul’s mind, perhaps, from the fruit trees at the end of chapter 5 – seems to be tied also to the giving of money. We will come to the wider meaning later, but we should pause and reflect on this.

If church members ‘sow’ to the spirit, by giving solid practical support to the church’s ministry, especially in teaching and preaching, they themselves will in due course bring in a harvest.

If, however, they ‘sow to the flesh’, spending their resources on the numerous pleasures of ordinary life, then all they will have to show for it will be the corruption and decay to which everything in the world is ultimately subject.

Fine houses fall down. Splendid clothes wear out. The ministry of the word builds up people and communities, and the life they then have will gloriously outlast death itself.

So Paul is eager that the ordinary Christians in Galatia should ‘do good to everybody’ (general phrases like this were in regular use in Paul’s world, referring to financial contributions in civic and community life), especially to the family marked out by faith.Wright, Tom (2002-03-22). Paul for Everyone: Galatians and Thessalonians (New Testament for Everyone) (pp. 77-79). SPCK. Kindle Edition.

Final greetings in  11-15

After Paul’s personal few words (he would have had a scribe for the rest of the letter as he dictated it) he wraps things up:

Gal 6:11  See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand! Gal 6:12  Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. Gal 6:13  Not even those who are circumcised obey the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your flesh. Gal 6:14  May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Gal 6:15  Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.

Gal 6:15  Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation. (no verbs)

This reminds us of 5:6 – Gal 5:6  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

Tom Wright’s closing lines on Galatians say this: Grace reaches out and embraces the whole world. The sign of that embrace is not a mark in the flesh, but the presence and joy of the spirit.

So it was in the first century; so it is now, in the church and world that still needs the message of Galatians. So it will be until faith is rewarded with sight, patience with the final harvest, and eager hope with fulfillment. (Wright, Tom (2002-03-22). Paul for Everyone: Galatians and Thessalonians (New Testament for Everyone) (p. 84). SPCK. Kindle Edition.)