From now on let no one trouble me, for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus. (Galatians 6:17 NIV)
It has been my observation that preachers, ministers, and other public servants of God often receive a lot of harassment from the Christians that they shepherd and minister to. Preachers are not perfect, and sadly, many Christians use this as an excuse to savagely attack them and slander them when they make mistakes. The Apostle Paul, like preachers and evangelists today, received a lot of unfair accusations from troublemakers who wanted to undermine his influence in the church. In this passage, he warns the believers in Galatia not to join in these attacks against him, because he bears in his body the marks of the Lord Jesus. What I think Paul is saying here, is that he bears physical wounds and scars from being attacked and tortured by unbelievers. He had been stoned once for preaching the gospel. He identifies with Christ in his wounds in so far that Christ also received physical hurt as a result of doing what is right. He warns the young believers not to side with the ones who are causing Paul’s wounds, lest, symbolically speaking, they are identifying with Judas Iscariot who betrayed Christ and caused His wounds. It is a blessing for the church that there are ministers who are willing to accept wounds for Christ’s sake, but woe to those who cause the wounds! It is as if they were attacking Christ Himself.
Sadly, many Christians contribute to the deep psychological wounds that many good ministers bear to day. Many pastors, elders, missionaries, carry deep emotional wounds as a result of their involvement in the ministry, and many Christians make these wounds worse by slander and unfair attacks. I am not saying that we should never criticize our pastors or preachers, but we must be very careful that we do it the right way. Most criticism that is leveled against pastors should never be spoken in the first place. Rebuke, when necessary, should be done according to scriptural guidelines, which involves a thorough, fair examination of allegations and a public, transparent reproval, if indeed the pastor has sinned. Incessant gossip is not the way to deal with a pastor’s sin. That is wrong, and those who engage in it are the same sort as those who crucified Christ. May God grant us repentance and forgiveness for this sin when we commit it.
And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. (Galatians 6:16 NIV)
In the previous verses Paul has been explaining an important rule for Christian conduct; namely, that holiness comes through faith in the finished work of the blood of Christ, not through the performance of good deeds or religious rituals. Those who walk according to this rule, who trust in Christ for salvation rather than in their own effort, will be given peace and mercy by God, and will be part of the spiritual Israel of God. The physical Israel were those who were circumcised in the flesh, but not all of them were obedient to God in their hearts. Those who are truly God’s children may or may not be circumcised in the flesh, but they are definitely circumcised in the heart.
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation. (Galatians 6:15 NIV)
True Christians are a New Creation in Christ Jesus. We are changed from the inside. Religious rituals such as circumcision do not change us. Even baptism–which all believer are commanded to undergo–has no magical power in and of itself. It does not avail anything when performed on someone who does not have faith (See Acts 8:9-24). The Apostle Peter indicate that the “baptism” that counts in not what occurs on a person’s skin, but what takes place in their hearts:
and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God.[e] It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him. (I Peter 3:21-22 NIV)
But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 2:14 NIV)
In the verse above Paul is criticizing so-called Christians who try to boast in the “flesh” (verse 13) instead of in Christ. These Christians think that they are good Christians because of what they, have done, not what Christ has done. Specifically, he was taking a stand against Judaizers who judged personal holiness on the basis of whether or not a person had been circumcised. In our day physical circumcision is not considered a big deal among Christians religiously speaking, but there are other ways that people try to earn a superior level of holiness. Some Christians believe that they are better than the rest of us because they were baptized a certain way, were baptized by a specific clerical hierarchy, only eat special foods on certain days of the week, or speak in tongues. But none of these things are worthy of boasting about. All of us our sinners, condemned to hell apart from the saving power of Jesus’ blood. Therefore, God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. I cannot change myself or resist the devil by my own power, but through His power I can successfully conquer temptation, for through Him, and only through Him, the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
For not even those who are circumcised keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. (Galatians 6:13 NIV)
There are some Christians who act as if it is their personal job to make you seem insignificant. You may be worshipping God joyfully in your Christian walk, when all of a sudden they blind-side you with a bold declaration that God is unhappy with you because you are no following one of their special rules. They will tell you that you are not a very good Christian because you do not “observe” Sunday the right way, or because you do not fast enough, or because you have never prophesied in tongues. Do not be tricked into falling for their artificial rules of holiness. The reason why they are trying to force these new rules on you, is to make themselves look good. They know that you can never follow their special rules as well as they do, because you do not have as much experience with them as they do. Rather, they enjoy the feeling of self-importance that they derive from seeing you fail.
The Apostle Paul had to put up with these kinds of people when he planted young churches in Galatia. As soon as he had left, false teachers crept into these churches and told the new Christians that they needed to be circumcised in the traditional Jewish way in order to be saved. Paul warned this church that circumcision is not necessary to being a good Christian; in fact it does more spiritual damage then harm because it makes a person self-righteous and arrogant. Paul reminds his audience that not even those who are circumcised are capable of keeping the whole Old Testament Law. They have zero success in purchasing holiness through their supposed good works and rituals. Their real motivation for preaching this doctrine was their desire to boast in the flesh of their new converts. That is, they wanted to boast in the supposed holiness of the Galatians only in so far as they could convince the Galatians to follow their own rules. Thus when they bragged about the Galatians, they were really just bragging about themselves. They wanted to make themselves look good through the Galatians’ inability to live by the Jewish traditions without their help. They were essentially creating new game-rules for holiness in an attempt to give themselves an advantage over others.
But God has already set the game rules for holiness. You do not need to follow a lot of complicated traditions in order to be holy. All you have to do is to love God and others, to repent of your sins, and to serve God with a humble heart. It is my opinion that an unorthodox humble person has a closer relationship to God than any arrogant, supposedly-orthodox, theologian.
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8 NIV)
As many as desire to make a good showing in the flesh, these would compel you to be circumcised, only that they may not suffer persecution for the cross of Christ. (Galatians 6:12 NIV).
Genuine, faith based Christianity is always under attack. In the Apostle Paul’s day it was under attack first and foremost by ritualistic judaizers, Jewish converts to Christianity who thought that they could earn their salvation by keeping all the laws in the Mosaic Law. These trouble makers openly taught that salvation is by works in addition to faith, because they were confident that they could make a good showing in the flesh. They indeed understood the Jewish rituals better than most Christians, since they were raised in them. They tried to compel Gentile believers to be circumcised just like them. But the Apostle Paul warned the Galatians not to submit to this pressure. If they were to start observing the rituals, than none of the Jews, including the unbelieving ones, would be threatened by them any longer, and they would no longer suffer persecution for the cross of Christ. Now this may sound like a good thing–to not suffer persecution for their beliefs–but the Apostle Paul knows that it is a bad thing. He knew that persecution will never lack for those who are clinging diligently to pure faith; persecution only stops when we stop living holy lives. Paul knew that if he started preaching a gospel of works in addition to faith that he would stop being persecuted. But He also know that the gospel would be stripped of it’s power. Religious people are 0ffended by the gospel because it teaches that the worst sinner, if he repents and believes, can be accepted by God just the same as the most devout clergymen. Religious people think of themselves as being spiritually superior to others, and they are angry that Christ has leveled the playing field through His death on the cross. These religious people will always be offended by the true gospel. If the message that you are preaching does not offend, them, then it is because you have compromised and are no longer speaking the truth. We must not compromise on the gospel. It is more important to please God than to please humans.
“See with what large letters I have written to you with my own hand!” (Galatians 6:11)
Many commentators think that the Apostle Paul may have been partly blind, and therefore probably had a transcriptionist writing his letters for him. But he would usually finish the epistle himself, writing with large letters in his own hand in order to give the document a personal touch. He did not want it to be a cold, distance, document; he wanted the believers to feel as if he were right there with them. He wanted them to know that he was genuinely concerned for their well being, as evidenced by the fact that he prayed for them daily.
Today more than ever I think it is important for pastors/preachers to keep their relationship with their congregations personal. teachers need to guard against being too “professional.” They should try less to overawe and impress their audience, and instead get to know them, as brothers and sisters in Christ. The Apostle Paul is a good example of this in the way that he lovingly and willingly shows his personal side in his epistles.
Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. (Galatians 6:10 NIV)
If we are godly Christians, if we really care about others, then we will be characterized by doing good for others, ESPECIALLY FOR OTHER CHRISTIANS.
Sadly, some famous leaders and theologians of the church prove that they are lacking in faith by the way that they mistreat others, ESPECIALLY OTHER CHRISTIANS. Some so-called leaders are very intolerant and judgmental of other Christians, to the extent that they do them great harm. One example that comes to my mind is saint Augustine, how he persecuted his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ’s, the Donatists, ruthlessly supporting the killing of many of them. Many people today praise Augustine’s virtues, but I will not praise that man. I will praise God: the great God who created and sustained the humble men and women whom Augustine put to the sword. One cannot easily deny that there were true Christians on both sides of the debate, and all of them were loved by God. Let us make sure that our personal holiness is never used as an excuse to abuse other Christians, rather, true holiness is demonstrated in our helping of other Christians.
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. (Galatians 6:9-10 NIV)
In the book of Galatians, the Apostle Paul argues that God does not require Christians to follow complicated rituals in order to be saved. Rather, He reminded the Christians in Galatia that they were saved by grace, not by the law. One of the benefits of being saved by faith rather than by strict rules, is that we thus have more freedom to focus on doing good to others. We will naturally spend less time genuinely caring about others if we spend our entire lives trying to follow a stringent set of rules in order to save ourselves. It is much easier to be helpful if we do not spend every week worrying about what kind of food is kosher, what kind of activities are permissible, what kind of prayers to repeat, etc. The Christian life is full of opportunities, not rules. We have the opportunity to change our routine day to day in whatever way will best benefit our fellow man. Let us not go back to bondage, but let us use our God-given liberty to do good to others.