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Paul to the Galatians

chapters  5,  6

Life guided by the Spirit



When Christ set us free he meant us to stay free.   So don't let yourselves be trapped into slavery again.

Let me say it plainly:  if you accept circumcision Christ can do nothing for you.   Anyone who accepts circumcision is obliged to keep every detail of the law.   When you seek righteousness by way of the law you are cut off from Christ,  and you have fallen out of the realm of God's grace.   Our hope for righteousness lies in the work of the Spirit,  responding to our faith.   If we are in union with Christ Jesus,  circumcision  -  or the lack of it  -  is irrelevant.   All that matters is faith,  active in love.      [5:1-6]

You were going so well!   Who was it led you away from the truth?   Whatever their arguments,  they did not come from the God who is calling you.   Unfortunately it takes only a little leaven to work through the whole lump.   And yet I feel confident,  in the Lord,  that you will not go down the wrong road.   But the one who is unsettling you is going to have to answer to God for it.   As for me,  friends,  if I were still preaching circumcision  (as they claim)  why would I be persecuted?   If I did that,  my preaching of the cross wouldn't disturb anybody.   Those agitators should do the job properly and castrate themselves!      [5:7-12]

My friends you have been summoned to freedom  -  but freedom is not licence.   You should not concentrate on your own wants,  but rather on loving service one to the other.   The whole range of the law can be summed up in one single commandment:  'love your neighbour as yourself  (Leviticus 19:18)'.   If you go on clawing at one another all you can expect is to destroy one another.   Live by the Spirit,  I urge you,  and don't be self-indulgent.   The Spirit is not in harmony with self-indulgence,  and if you choose that path you will find yourself unable to do things you know you really should.   If you are led by the Spirit the law cannot draw you into such conflict.      [5:13-18]

When people focus on their own wants the outcome is obvious enough:  fornication,  impurity,  licentiousness;  idolatry and sorcery;  quarreling,  arguments,  envy and rage;  division,  intrigue,  factions;  violence,  drunkenness,  orgies  -  and the rest.   I warn you again,  people who behave like this will never inherit the kingdom of God.   The harvest of the Spirit,  on the other hand,  is love,  joy,  peace,  forbearance,  kindness,  goodness,  trustworthiness,  gentleness,  and self-discipline.   There is no law forbidding things like that.   Those who belong to Christ have crucified their selfish nature with its passions and desires.   And if our life comes from the Spirit then we must let the Spirit choose our path.   That means we must not be self-opinionated,  contentious,  or envious.      [5:19-26]

The harvest of the Spirit   . . .   The harvest is a practical and public one.   This is the quality of life that truly fulfils the law and pleases God.

Some people would want at this point to remind us that Paul also recognized the gifts of the Spirit  -  speaking in tongues and the like.   In spite of his earlier disclaimer Paul inevitably did enter into aspects of Christian life and faith that preceded him.   Some of it worried him.   He saw,  for instance,  that the atonement theology could too easily become a mystification that changed one's status in heaven without altering anything on earth.   ('If Christians sin it just provides more scope for God's grace.')

In the ancient world any personal religion worthy of the name had to prove itself through ecstatic phenomena,  and the new Christian departure was no different.   It did what its converts,  and even Paul,  expected.   But Paul shows,  especially in the later chapters of 1 Corinthians,  that he had considerable reservations.   'If I speak in tongues  . . .  but do not have love,  I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.'  (1 Corinthians 13:1)   He would never have turned that the other way round.   He saw that it was too easy for people to interpret the superficialities as the heart of the matter.

If someone in your fellowship should slip,  friends,  the more spiritual among you should gently set them right.   Don't forget that there could be a time when you yourself fall down.   Support other people in their troubles  -  that is the way to fulfil the law of Christ.   If people imagine themselves to be great when in truth their attainment is only modest,  that is obviously self-deception.   Keep a check on yourself,  each one of you.   Test your progress against your own achievements,  rather than by comparison with someone else.   We are all individuals,  each with our own obstacles to overcome.      [6:1-5]

Do realise that you can't put anything across God.   What you sow is what you reap.   Sow in the field of your selfishness and you will end up with decay.   Sow in the field of the Spirit for a harvest of eternal life.   Don't get tired of doing good things.   If we refuse to give up we will in due time reap the harvest.   Take every opportunity to help people,  and especially members of the fellowship.      [6:7-10]

I am ending off this letter in my own large script.   You know it is people who want to save their own reputation who are urging circumcision upon you.   Their real aim is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ.   You can be sure that even those who have become circumcised don't observe all the law.   They just want to boast of winning you for that outward rite.   I myself will never boast in anything other than the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.   Through him I am crucified to the world and the world to me.   Being circumcised is nothing.   Being uncircumcised is nothing.   The only thing that matters is having your life made new.   Peace and mercy upon those who take this as their guide,  and upon all God's Israel.   Let no one make trouble for me from now on.   The scars on my body are the marks of Jesus.   The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit,  my friends.   Amen.      [6:11-18]



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