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Galatians 5:1316, 2226; 6:710comment (0)

July 28, 2011

By James R. Strange

Related Scripture: Galatians 5:1316, 2226; 6:710

Bible Studies for Life
Assistant Professor of Religion, Department of Religion, Samford University

Personal Service
Galatians 5:13–16, 22–26; 6:7–10

In this letter Paul was fighting a message that some people were preaching: People who have turned to Christ must keep the Torah; in particular, they should circumcise their men. Paul argued at length and with some ire that this idea nullifies what God has achieved, namely justification accomplished through Christ’s death and resurrection and activated through faith. Having begun harshly, Paul ended in a more conciliatory mode, and near the end of the letter, he wrote one of the best-known passages in the New Testament.

The Heart of Service (5:13–15)
In this passage, Paul picked up on a theme he had been touching on since Galatians 3:23 and that he made explicit in Galatians 5:1. Remember the July 3 lesson? In English, “freedom” carries the idea of full participation in a family or clan. That is the kind of freedom that Paul was talking about. The people who are freed from sin’s power by Christ’s death and resurrection are not at liberty to live as they please but become “slaves to one another.” That sounds like a contradiction, doesn’t it? When Christ sets us free from sin, we are freed to serve Him completely, and one of the ways we serve Him is to serve one another (see Galatians 6:2).

This is not entirely good news. Certainly Paul was expressing that wonderful unity of purpose and love that many churches experience. But becoming slaves to one another also means serving those people in our church (and elsewhere) whom we just don’t like. We should come clean: As much as we hate to admit it, there are some brothers and sisters in Christ with whom we simply struggle to get along. Too bad for us, Paul’s admonition doesn’t leave them out.

When Paul said, “The whole law is summed up in a single commandment,” he was repeating an idea Jesus expressed (Mark 12:28–34). To love God and to love our neighbor both require action, not (merely) sentiment.

The Power of Service (5:16, 22–26)
Southern Baptists learn to recite the “Fruit of the Spirit” in Sunday School, Mission Friends, Royal Ambassadors and Girls in Action and — in the olden days — Training Union. Paul’s admonition has become central to our understanding of the moral life. Notice how every fruit listed is an attitude. The implication is that once these attitudes and others like them are in place (given to us by God’s Holy Spirit), right actions result.

We should point out that when he listed bad behaviors and attitudes (“vices”) and good ones (“virtues”), Paul was using a type of moral exhortation typical of Greek and Roman philosophers. However, Paul disagreed with his contemporaries about how to avoid the one and take up the other. Remember under the power of sin (see the July 24 lesson), we cannot help but do the “works of the flesh” (flesh = this world and the self that are under sin’s sway). In the same way, under the power of the Spirit, the Spirit’s fruit grows naturally. The ability to do what is right is a gift from God through the Holy Spirit.

The Reward of Service (6:7–10)
Note Paul’s “reality check.” Why must he encourage us to “not grow weary in doing what is right?” Because one does grow weary of doing the right thing. Why? For any number of reasons: Our work goes unnoticed and underappreciated; someone else gets credit; it’s a pain in the neck, quite frankly; it puts us out, makes us work harder than we want to; and in the end, there’s apparently so little return for all our effort. We are reminded of the complaints lodged in many Psalms and the books of Job and Ecclesiastes.

Paul knew this full well. In verse 7, he might have been alluding to Scripture (see Job 4:8; Proverbs 22:8). What does this agricultural metaphor refer to? By doing good, one does not gain a worldly reward (“corruption from the flesh”: prosperity, good health, admiration, etc.). Instead one is living “eternal life”: a quality of life granted by God alone — life lived, no longer alienated from Him but unified with His purpose in the world. Such a life does not depend on our economic status, health, how our peers regard us or any other worldly thing.

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