Galatians 5:13–6:18. Paul Teaches the Celts Some Practical Lessons.
Key Notes: Walking in the Spirit. Our character traits in the old life. A list of character traits given by the Spirit. Conceit. Bearing another's burden. Expect to be better.
The last part of Galatians deals with practical living. Theology comes first in the letter, then ethics; theory, then practice. Paul divided Romans, Ephesians, and Colossians in the same way. This lesson contains two famous lists, the sins of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit. The lists are not intended to be correlated as the previous table of Sarah and Hagar are, but they are interesting to compare and they are as different as darkness and light.
5:13 You were called to freedom. Freedom is not an option in the Christian life, it is a mandate. However, it is not unconditional. We are under Jesus’ command to love each other, and this command undergirds the rest of the book.
5:15 “Bite” “devour”, “consume one another” may have been typical Gallic behavior, but it is the opposite of loving, and demands character change, radical change. Recall Julius Caesar’s impression of the Galls: “fickle, boastful, quarrelsome, immoral, lovable and exasperating”.
5:16–17, with 24–25. Character change is not accomplished by an order, not even Paul’s. It is accomplished by the Spirit of God working in the believer’s life. Paul speaks of walking in the Spirit (5:16,25), being led by the Spirit (5:18), living by the Spirit (5:25), and sowing to the Spirit (6:8)—which sounds like investing.
What is the Holy Spirit’s work?
He focuses our minds on Christ.
He gives gifts and abilities.
He enables and empowers.
He facilitates our mental processes.
When we walk with Him, we are given these resources.
5:17–18 Walking with the Spirit is also not an optional process, since we are in combat with what is called “the flesh”. The flesh is different from the body, which the Bible speaks well of. The flesh usually points to human nature, our old nature, in a negative sense. Rom.7:4–25
“While we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.” (Rom.7:5)
“For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh.” (Rom.7:18)
The Spirit refers to the Holy Spirit in Whom we are to walk, and Who is in combat with our old nature. The struggle is real and often prevents us from doing right. Crucifying the flesh, giving it up for dead, is our conscious effort in the struggle. The table of works of the flesh takes liberties with the RSV but the list follows in order.
5:19–24 The works of the flesh.
All of these words in Greek have extended meanings.
*Impurity or uncleanness comes from the Greek word “akarthasia” from which we have “catharsis”— cleansing in English. Not cleansed (a-catharsis) is dirty.
*Licentiousness, lasciviousness or wantonness expresses the idea that the person is ready for anything. “Anything goes” was quoted of an executive about TV programming. He rightly understands that the American people are ready for profanity, visual sex and violence as never before.
* Iddolatry is transliteration of "eidololatria"-(idol +latria--worship) in Greek.
*Witchcraft in Greek is “pharmakeia”--from which we get pharmacy-- the use of drugs or poisons. It is a rare word in Scripture. Is.47:9 (LXX) uses the word in connection with sorcery and enchantment. Marijuana, cocaine and morphine addiction may not be so modern after all.
*Jealousy ("zeelos") may be good or bad; it is good if a third party should try to break up a marriage. Irrational jealousy is intended here and it is destructive.
*The Greek word for anger means “boiling over”. Its counterpart is patience, a fruit of the Spirit, which expresses the idea that boiling over is put a long way off.
*The word for discord means to stand away, like a bunch of college guys milling around in the parking lot, “starting a rumble”.
*Party spirit is transliterated “heresy” in English, and means a personal opinion or deviating from the right position. In our modern usage it is deviation from sound doctrine.
*Drunkenness. The Greek word is "methai" and we have one form we just call "meth".
*Envy is grief at someone else’s good fortune. It is a pernicious sin, found in the church and even among peers in the family. "The quietest of all sins of man". --from Barclay's commentary, p.48.
*Carousing can also be translated “orgies”.
The good words are more difficult to describe.
*God's love is "agape" , and it is the best of human loves.
*"Chara" is the Greek word for joy, and is the root of many other beautiful words like charisma, and eucharist.
*Love, joy and peace appear to be a set, and may even represent a progression: Love comes , then joy and peace.
*Peace is “shalom” in Hebrew, and expresses a comprehensive idea of health and inner harmony. The Greek for peace ("eirene") has a similar idea, not the absence of conflict, but of well-being, peace of soul, and salvation.
*Kindness can be elaborated as mellow, sweet, and agreeable.
*Goodness is virtue in society, providing for the needs of others. Doing charity and other good deeds gets praise in the secular press.
*Faith and faithfulness are two translations of the same word; trustworthiness is one meaning.
*Gentleness has the sense of being mild, benevolent, courteous, honorable.
*Self-control comes from Greek roots that express the idea of inward power.
5:25 Walking in the Spirit is to be without conceit, provoking one another, or envy.
6:1–5 On conceit. It is necessary occasionally to help restore a believer caught in a trespass, bearing his burden. A spiritual person should counsel gently, being aware of his own temptations, and testing himself in the process. As soon as we become exalted in our own minds, we have lost our usefulness.
We all have to carry our own baggage, that is, deal with our own problems as well.
6:6 On provoking. This may appear tangential, but many who labor for the Lord are underpaid and feel undervalued. Missionaries have to beg for support? They see “laymen” living lavishly while they must scrimp to keep food on the table and it grates on their souls. We suppose that it is part of their ministry to be deprived of this world‘s goods. Let us do good to them, and lift their spirits. Let us invest in them abundantly and be part of the harvest.
6:11–18 Paul’s final words are written by his own hand. We understand that he usually dictated to a secretary. Romans is an example. Rom.16:22
The circumcisers have an agenda: they are putting “notches in their gun-stock” by getting believers on their roster. It is the new life in Christ, not a mark on the body that counts. Paul will glory only in the Cross. He carries around the scars of suffering for the Gospel.
“The Israel of God” is the Church of Jews and Gentiles.
“This rule” ("canon") is the love of Christ working itself out in a new creation with us by the Holy Spirit.
The contest between our fleshly human nature and the Spirit of God goes on throughout our lives. The problem of the Galatians is our problem. We suppose the battle will become less difficult as hormones decline and wisdom increases. But that is to confuse the body with the flesh. The mind that is corrupted does not become uncorrupted with age. “Dirty old man / dirty old woman” is not a joke. If the natural mind of the child is an unbridled ID, the natural mind of the aged is the bruised EGO. We must die to the old ways and allow the Spirit of God to occupy our inner space, subduing and disabling our old nature. His occupation may never be complete but we should see progress over the decades. That is our quest for freedom.
The Christian life must not be a static experience. Will I be a better human being, a better Christian when I am seventy? May God make it so.