February 23, 2014

The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians

Tom Lowe


Chapter V.B.2: The Motives of Paul (6:14-17)

 

Galatians 6:14-17 (KJV)

 

14 But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.

15 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.

16 And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.

17 From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.

 

Introduction

 

Those who truly believe in Christ see things differently; all things are considered utterly useless compared to Him. There is a new creation; old things are passed away, and new views and dispositions are brought in under the regenerating influences of God the Holy Spirit. Believers are brought into a new world, and being created in Christ Jesus to do good works, are enlisted into a life of holiness. It is a change of mind and heart whereby we are enabled to believe in the Lord Jesus, and to live for God; and where this inward, practical religion is missing, outward professions and religious rituals and traditions are worthless.

 

Commentary

 

14 But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.

Paul keeps returning to the cross (Gal. 2:20-21; 3:13; 4:5; 5:11, 24; 6:12). He said earlier in the letter, “I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain (Gal. 2:21). The wounds of Calvary certainly make Christ a “marked man,” but those same wounds mean liberty for those who will trust Him. The Judaizers boasted about their circumcision, but Paul boasted of a crucified and risen Savior. He gloried in the cross, but certainly this does not mean that he gloried in the brutality or suffering that Jesus experienced while He was fastened to the cross. He did not think of the cross as two rough pieces of wood on which a criminal was put to death. He was looking at the cross on which Christ died, and he was glorying (reveling) in it. But what was there about the cross that caused the apostle to be so jubilant. There was three things that He knew about the cross that he shares with us in this passage:

  1. He knew the Man on the cross personally. Jesus Christ fascinated and enthralled him, and He made the cross glorious to Paul. In his early years he was a prominent Jewish Rabbi, and he had much to glory in. Read these passages in Galatians and Philippians, because they show that he was an enthusiastic and successful Rabbi and Pharisee, devoted to the destruction of Christianity and everything associated with it:
    1. “For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews' religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it: And profited in the Jews' religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers” (Gal. 1:13-14)
    2. “Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh—though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless” (Phil. 3:2-6).

But after He met Christ on the road to Damascus, all his self-glorying turned to mere rubbish. The legalists did not glory in the cross of Christ, because they did not glory in Christ. It was Moses—and themselves—who got the glory. They did not really know the Man on the cross.

  1. He knew the power of the cross. To Paul, the highly educated Jewish Rabbi, a doctrine of a Savior who died on a cross like a common criminal was utterly preposterous. He believed that the Messiah would indeed come, he had no doubt about that, but the thought that He would come to die on a cursed cross—well, there was no place for this in Paul’s theology. The cross in that day was the ultimate in shame, weakness, and humiliation. Yet Saul of Tarsus experienced the power of the cross and became the Apostle Paul, arguably the greatest Christian who ever lived. The cross ceased to be a stumblingblock to him, and became, instead, the very foundation of his message: “Christ died for our sins.”

For Paul the cross meant liberty from SELF [“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. 2:20).]. The cross meant liberty from the FLESH [“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:24).]. And finally, the cross meant liberty from the WORLD [“But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Gal. 6:14).]. In the death and resurrection of Christ the power of God is released to give believers deliverance and victory. It is no longer we who live; it is Christ who lives in us and through us. As we yield to Him, we have victory over the world and the flesh. There is certainly no power in the Law to give a man victory over self, the flesh, and the Law. Quite the contrary, the Law appeals to the human ego and it says, “I can do something to please God,” and it encourages the flesh to work until the man is exhausted. And you know, the world doesn’t care if we are “religious,” just so long as the Cross is left out. In fact, the world approves of religion—so long as it doesn’t advance the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So, the legalist inflates the ego, flatters the flesh, and pleases the world; but the true Christian crucifies all three.

  1. He knew the purpose of the Cross. It was to bring into the World a new “people of God.” For centuries the nation of Israel had been the people of God, and the Law had been their way of life. All of this was preparation for the coming of the Son of God [“What I am saying is that as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. He is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba", Father." So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir” (Gal. 4:1-7).]. Now that Christ had come and finished His great work of redemption, God had set aside the nation of Israel and brought into the world a “new creation” and a new nation, “the Israel of God.” This does not mean that God is finished with the nation of Israel. Today, God is calling out from both Jews and Gentiles “a people for his name” (Acts 5:14), and in Christ there are no racial or national distinctions [“For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:27-29).]. Paul clearly teaches, however, that there is a future in God’s plan for the Jewish nation. (Rom. 11).

Before God there could be neither a self-made man nor a self-saved soul. Paul warned that boasting and unwarranted self-esteem were the ruin of human fellowship, and he found no place for them in the kingdom of God. He would glory only in the Lord, whose strength was perfected only in his disciple’s weakness [“But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 11:9-10).].

Between Paul and the world there was a cross. That should be the position of every believer today. That will have more to do with shaping your conduct than anything else. You will not boast about the fact that you are keeping the Sermon on the Mount, or that you belong to a certain church, or that you are a church officer, or a preacher, or a Sunday school teacher. You will not be able to boast of anything. You will just glory in the cross and the One who died there. Paul did not care for comfort and reputation as the Judaizers did

15 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.

One purpose of the cross was to bring in a new creation. This “new creation” is the church, the body of Christ. The old creation had Adam as its head, and it ended in failure. The new creation has Christ as its head, and it is going to succeed.

Paul explained to the Romans, the doctrine of the two Adams—Adam and Christ [“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned—for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come. But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God's grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man's sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 5:12-21).]. The first Adam disobeyed God and brought sin, death, and judgment into the world. The Last Adam (1 Cor. 15:45) obeyed God and brought life, righteousness, and salvation. Adam committed one sin and plunged all of creation into judgment. Christ performed one act of obedience in His death on the cross and paid for all the sins of the world. Because of Adam’s sin, death reins in this world. Because of Christ’s victory, we can reign in life through Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:17). In other words, the believer belongs to a “new creation,” a spiritual creation that knows nothing of the defects and limitations of the old creation [“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come”! (2 Cor. 5:17)].

Circumcision was the badge of religion and the Law. It signified that you belonged under the Abrahamic covenant; but it never availed anything. The Judaizers maintained that circumcision must not be set aside, because it was the foundation, sign, and seal of God’s covenant with Israel. Wearing a button or a badge saying you belong to a lodge or a fraternity can become almost meaningless. In Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision—uncircumcision is of no value either. These things carry no value whatsoever. Paul had discovered that circumcision could not guarantee that a man would love his neighbor as himself (Gal. 5:14), nor enable him to fulfill Christ’s law of mutual burden-bearing (Gal. 6:2, 5). The essential thing is: Has the Spirit of God come into your life and made you a new creature in Christ Jesus? This can come about only through faith in Jesus Christ.

Paul would never have had any difficulty with the legalism of his day if he would have presented the gospel as only a competitor in the field. If he would have said, “Judaism is good, but Christianity is better,” he wouldn’t have been in trouble. Notice that Paul is not saying that his religion is only a little better than Judaism; he is saying that Judaism is nothing, that circumcision is nothing, that whether you are circumcised or not circumcised is nothing. Why did Paul discount circumcision so much? Because it had been made merely a worldly ceremony by the crucifixion. He is saying that only the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life, giving you a new nature, is essential.

16 And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.

Another purpose of the cross was to create a new nation, “the Israel of God.” This is one of many names for the church found in the New Testament. Jesus said to the Jewish leaders, “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit” (Mat. 21:43). Peter identifies that nation as the family of God: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Pe. 2:9).

As mentioned previously, this does not mean that the church has permanently replaced the nation of Israel in the program of God, but only that the church is “the people of God” on earth today just as Israel was in centuries past.

What a rebuke to the Judaizers. They wanted to take the church back into Old Testament Law, when that law could not even be kept by the nation of Israel! That nation was set aside to make way for God’s new people, the church! I need to point out that there are those who contend that what Paul means to signify by “the Israel of God” is not the church, but the Jews who had come to Christ, and they make several arguments to support their position.

Believers today may not be “Abraham’s children” in the flesh, but they are Abraham’s seed” through faith in Jesus Christ (Gal. 4:28-29). They have experienced a circumcision of the heart that is far more effective than physical circumcision (see Rom. 2:29; Phil. 3:3; Col 2:11). For this reason, neither circumcision nor the lack of it is of any consequence to God.

“Peace and mercy” from God are available to those who “walk according to this rule,” that is, according to the message of salvation by grace through faith alone. This blessing is pronounced on believing Galatians and believing Jews. Peace is the believer’s new relationship with God [“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1).],and mercy is the forgiveness of all his sins, and the setting aside of God’s judgment [“His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation” (Luke 1:50).]. Whatever was not of faith in Christ was sin, but where this faith was, there was the liberty of the only right relationship with God. It was the “rule” of love, and only for those who walked by it could Paul’s benediction of peace and mercy come true.

17 From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.

There was a time when Paul was proud of his mark of circumcision [“For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh—though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless” (Phil. 3:4-6)], but after he became a believer, he became a “marked man” in a different way. He now gloried in the scars he had received and in the suffering he had endured in the service of Jesus Christ.

Stigmata is the Greek word that has been translated “marks,” and it means ‘scar marks.’ If you want to see the marks of Jesus, look upon Paul’s body. In 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 he tells us, “Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times, I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.” The stigmata were the sufferings of Paul which he endured for the sake of the Lord Jesus. Paul says, “I have on my body the stigmata of the Lord Jesus.” He is saying this in effect, “I have written to you out of deep emotion and with great conviction. If you want to know if I truly believe what I have written, and if these things are real in my own life, read my body—look at my scars.”

The contrast with the legalist is plain to see: “The Judaizers want to mark your flesh and brag about you, but I bear in my body the brands of the Lord Jesus Christ—for His glory.” What a rebuke! “If your religious celebrities have any scars to show for the glory of Christ, then let them be shown. Otherwise—stop bothering me.

Paul is not claiming that he bore the five wounds of Calvary on his body, Rather, he is confirming that he suffered for Christ’s sake (something the legalists never did), and he had on his body the scars to prove it. When you read 2 Corinthians 11:18-33, you have no difficulty understanding this claim of his, for in many ways and in many places Paul suffered physically for Christ.

In Paul’s day, it was not unusual for the follower of some heathen god or goddess to be branded with the marks of that idol. He was proud of his god and wanted others to know it. In the same way, Paul was “branded” for Jesus Christ. It was not a temporary mark that could be removed, but a permanent mark that he would take to his grave. Nor did he receive his brands in an easy way: he had to suffer repeatedly to become a marked man for Christ. Paul warned his churches that even martyrdom, if it was not of faith and hope and love, or if it was for a bad or mistaken cause, was of no avail. To be honorable, the marks of Jesus had to be the result of suffering in the right spirit, for the right Master, and for the right cause (2 Cor. 6:3-10).

It was also the practice in that day to brand slaves, so that everyone would know who the owner was. Paul was the slave of Jesus Christ, and he wore his mark to prove it.

It is worth noting that sin brands a person. It may mark his mind, his personality, even his body. Few persons are proud of the sin marks they bear, and conversion does not change them (Thank God, those changes will come when Jesus returns!). How much better it is to love Christ and live for him and be “branded” for His glory.

Believers today need to remember that it is the Christian leader who has suffered for Christ who has something to offer. The Judaizers in Paul’s day knew nothing of suffering. They may have been persecuted in some small way for belonging to a religious group, but this is far different from the fellowship of His (Christ’s) sufferings [“I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus” (Phil. 3:10).]. The persecution from the Judaizers came from them challenging Paul’s calling as an apostle and the message he preached. They charged him with pleasing men and preaching a man-made gospel. Some said his gospel was not valid because he had not been recognized as an apostle by the heads of the church in Jerusalem. He asked for an end to such trouble, and he offered as a final proof to his critics the marks of Jesus on his body, because they demonstrated he was a slave of Christ, not just a people-pleaser.

Beware of the religious leader who lives in his ivory tower and knows nothing of battling against the world, the flesh, and the devil, who has no marks to show for his obedience to Christ. Paul was no armchair general; he was out in the frontlines, waging war against sin and taking his share of suffering. The scars on his body were the unavoidable consequence of doing good in the world of his day, but he had scars which were not visible and unlike physical scars which heal and eventually stop hurting; Paul’s daily self-consuming care as he bore Christ’s burden of anxiety for all the churches, never ceased. For although the yoke of Jesus was kind to Paul’s shoulders, the burden itself was heavy; what made it seem light was the inner buoyancy which the Spirit furnished for bearing it. I Christ Paul was not exempt from suffering, but he was strengthened to resist temptation, to labor, to cope with critics, and to come through it as more than a conqueror (Rom. 8:37). Literally his “marks” were scars from beatings and stoning, and figuratively they resulted from the spiritual pain which he had to suffer until Christ was formed in his converts.

How Paul’s Christians in Galatia reacted to the challenge of his Christ-marks we have no means of knowing. All that can be said is that some person or group among them valued him and his gospel so highly that they preserved his letter.

 

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