As we enter the final chapter of the book of Galatians, it may be helpful to reflect upon the path we’ve traveled through this great Biblical book before proceeding to the end of our look at this epistle.
In Galatians chapter one, we found that those who heard of God’s work in Paul the Apostle’s life and his Christ-oriented message were prompted to glorify God. While the world may be filled with those who do little to inspire us to offer thanks to God, Paul’s example reminds us that we can be different- we can be people who inspire others to glorify God as well.
Chapter two discussed the Apostle Peter’s decision to exclude certain members of the church congregation in the town of Antioch. That led to the following rebuke from Paul: “But when Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him in public, because he was clearly wrong” (Galatians 2:11 GNT). Although we may be challenged to relate to those who have little in common with us, this incident tells us that it is wrong to intentionally exclude other Christians on that basis.
Chapter three opened with a very uncomplimentary statement: “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified?” (Galatians 3:1). This declaration served as a “wake up call” to the Galatian churches and an important reminder for us: a persuasive but heretical doctrine may sound convincing to someone who should know better if he or she is not diligent to check it against the Word of God.
Galatians three also examined the differences between grace and the Law with support from the Old Testament patriarch Abraham: “just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham” (Galatians 3:6-7). Chapter four then went on to remind us that bad ideas often result in bad decisions that lead to serious consequences as illustrated in the real-life examples of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar.
Finally, Galatians chapter five tells us, “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16). A decision to pursue the works of the flesh always carries negative consequences as detailed in the list given to us in Galatians 5:19-21. However the following verses go on to tell us that those who walk in the Spirit can expect to see the positive effects that flow from that decision.
“Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted” (Galatians 6:1).
The element of surprise can often teach us much about ourselves. For instance, if we respond to an unexpected test in an inappropriate manner, we may learn hidden truths about ourselves that underscore the harsh reality of Jeremiah 17:9: “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” (NLT).
Galatians 6:1 captures this idea when it says, “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently…” (NIV). This reference to caught in a sin identifies someone who has been “apprehended, taken by surprise, (or) caught red handed” (1) in an action or behavior that is out of character for a God-honoring man or woman.
In other words, the person in our example didn’t intend to do something wrong nor was he or she engaged in a life of habitual sin. Instead, this passage refers to someone who has made a Biblically inappropriate choice in a moment of weakness or vulnerability. In such instances, Galatians 6:1 tells us that we are responsible to restore someone who meets these parameters and gently help that person back from his or her mistake.
We should note that this responsibility is directed toward “…those of you who are spiritual” (GW). This tells us that the obligation to restore someone who has been “…overtaken in misconduct or sin of any sort” (AMPC) extends beyond the church’s leadership to include anyone who exhibits the fruit of a Godly life.
On a related note, this passage also helps to explain why God may sometimes allow us to struggle to overcome the thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors that are not reflective of His character. You see, it may be difficult to appreciate the challenges that others experience in overcoming such things. But those who have successfully fought such battles often possess a great deal of sympathy and appreciation for the challenges others face in similar areas.
This may also help to explain something we read in the New Testament epistle of 1 Corinthians…
“…(God) comforts us in all our troubles so that we may be able to comfort those experiencing any trouble with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ overflow toward us, so also our comfort through Christ overflows to you” (2 Corinthians 1:4-5 NET).
(1) Ryrie, Charles Caldwell Ryrie Study Notes [Galatians 6:1] © 1986, 1995 by The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. Database © 2004 WORDsearch Corp.
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).
Since the false teachers of Galatia seemed enamored with the Law, Paul the Apostle obliged them with a law to follow: “Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (HCSB).
When used in this context, a “burden” represents something that goes beyond the ordinary challenges of life. It expresses a difficulty, trial, or problem that produces a hardship that is too great for one to bear alone. For instance, a natural disaster, a serious health issue, the death of a loved one, a job loss, or other catastrophic life event may all serve as examples of a burden when used in this sense.
One source illustrates this idea with an analogy that should be familiar to anyone who has ever had to transport a weighty piece of luggage…
“This is an allusion to the custom of travelers, who when too heavily laden with their baggage, relieve one another, by bearing the burden of the weak or fatigued, and in that manner show their good disposition toward each other.” (1)
This directive is followed by a reference to “the law of Christ.” Since this law is not specifically defined within the Scriptures, the exact meaning of this term is subject to some debate. Therefore, we can turn to Jesus for insight into the law that bears His name. When Jesus was asked to state the greatest commandment in the law, He responded in the following manner…
“…’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).
The Apostle John also touched upon the active nature of love in the New Testament epistle of 1 John…
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:16-18).
With these passages in mind, we can associate the law of Christ with the idea of love in action. We’ll consider some practical aspects of this concept next.
(1) Ice, Rhoderick D. “Commentary on Galatians 6:2”. “The Bible Study New Testament”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ice/galatians-6.html. College Press, Joplin, MO. 1974.
“Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2 HCSB).
In the words of one commentator, “…freedom from the Mosaic Law does not mean freedom from all responsibility.” (1) Part of that responsibility involves “bearing one another’s burdens” as we read in the verse quoted above.
From a practical standpoint, we can bear one another’s burdens in several different ways. For instance, we might share our financial or material resources with those in need. We might help others by offering short-term assistance with the responsibilities of daily life when they are overtaken by adversity. There may be other instances where we can assist by providing an opportunity for others to express their emotional pain.
Nevertheless, a wise person will exercise discretion in seeking to apply this principle. For example, we can turn to the Biblical experience of a man named Job for a cautionary message in this regard. You see, Job was a God-honoring man who endured a succession of catastrophic life events for no discernible reason. When three of Job’s friends learned of his misfortune, they sought to comfort him in his grief. Unfortunately, their responses only added to the burden of his suffering.
Their example reminds us that its easy to say the wrong thing in seeking to bear one another’s burdens. It also emphasizes the need to seek God’s wisdom for an appropriate response in such instances.
We should also guard against the impulse to “fix” another person’s problem in helping to carry his or her burden. A perceptive person will prayerfully consider the right time to address the behavior of those who create their own burdens as a result of their foolishness, negligence, or misconduct.
We might also remember that a burden does not necessarily comprise the things we are capable of doing ourselves. Notice the mutual obligation in this passage: “Share each other’s burdens…” (NLT emphasis added). We’ll examine this concept in greater detail when we reach Galatians 6:5 but for now, we can say that “bearing one another’s burdens” does not necessarily mean we are obligated to allow others to encumber us with every problem they encounter.
Remember that a “burden” refers to a difficulty, trial, or adversity that is beyond one’s capacity to bear. When the challenges of life become too great to endure, we can help others by carrying their burdens in a practical manner and directing them to the Biblical principle found in 1 Peter 5:7: “Cast all your care upon Him, because He cares for you.”
(1) Constable, Thomas. DD. Notes on Galatians 2017 Edition (6:2) Copyright © 2017 Thomas L. Constable. https://www.planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/html/nt/galatians/galatians.htm
“If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves” (Galatians 6:3).
The practical nature of God’s Word offers a valuable benefit that may be easy to overlook. For instance, the verse quoted above alerts us to a specific area of vulnerability: the self-deception that may arise from an attitude of self-importance. We can find an effective way to guard against this kind of self-deceit in Romans 12:3: “I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he should think. Instead, think sensibly, as God has distributed a measure of faith to each one” (CSB).
Notice that Romans 12:3 and Galatians 6:3 do not tell us that we ought to think less of ourselves than we should. However, we should not think more of ourselves than is warranted either. Instead, we should prayerfully take a modest, sensible estimate of the qualities we possess and honor God for the talents, skills, abilities, and opportunities He has provided for us.
Those who take this approach can employ their gifts in a spirit of humility and dedicate the recognition they receive to the One who provided those gifts. The alternative is summarized by the following warning from 1 Corinthians 3:18: “Don’t deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise in the ways of this world, you should give up that wisdom in order to become really wise” (GW).
Instead, we should follow the pattern that Jesus established in the gospel of Matthew…
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:1-6).
“Let each one examine his own work. Then he can take pride in himself and not compare himself with someone else” (Galatians 6:4 NET).
Galatians 6:4 continues with some useful instruction that can help us maintain a God-honoring self-image. While it may be natural to compare our accomplishments to those of others, this passage encourages us to take an honest, realistic look at our achievements and measure them by God’s standards. We can find one example of a God-honoring standard of measurement in the New Testament epistle to the Colossians…
“Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ” (Colossians 3:23-24 NLT).
So Galatians 6:4 serves to warn us against the tendency to measure ourselves against the strengths or deficiencies of others. One source offers a sobering observation in this regard…
“This seems to be a warning against the habit of comparing ourselves with others, and finding cause for satisfaction. The apostle points out that we will be examined individually and not in comparison with others at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Therefore, we should take heed to ourselves, so that we might be able to rejoice in our work rather than in others’ failures.” (1)
As used here in Galatians 6:4, the word “pride” conveys a sense of personal satisfaction. It expresses the gratifying fulfillment we often experience following a job well done or when we have shown wisdom in our choices and decisions.
When we keep our focus upon Christ, we can take pride in what He has accomplished in and through us. If we occupy ourselves with the pursuit of excellence in fulfilling God’s agenda for our lives, we will have less time to focus upon the faults and weaknesses of others. It will also help us maintain the right attitude whenever we are tempted to compare ourselves with those whose talents and achievements exceed our own.
One commentary closes our look at this passage with several thought-provoking observations that are worth our attention…
“People make comparisons for many reasons. Some point out others’ flaws in order to feel better about themselves. Others simply want reassurance that they are doing well. When you are tempted to compare, look at Jesus Christ. His example will inspire you to do your very best, and his loving acceptance will comfort you when you fall short of your expectations.” (2)
(1) William Macdonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary Edited by Arthur Farstad Thomas Nelson Publishers p.1896
(2) Life Application Study Bible, Galatians 6:4 Copyright © 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1996, 2004 by Tyndale House Publishers Inc., all rights reserved. Life Application® is a registered trademark of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
“For each one shall bear his own load” (Galatians 6:5).
Earlier in Galatians 6:2 we read, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Yet here in Galatians 6:5 we are told, “…each of you have to carry your own load” (GNB). While there may seem to be an apparent contradiction between these two verses, these passages feature some important differences that merit a closer look.
We can begin by examining the underlying distinctives between Galatians 6:2 and Galatians 6:5 in the original language of these verses…
“There is no contradiction between verses 2 and 5; different Greek words are translated ‘burden.’ In verse 2 the word is the Greek baros and denotes a heavy, crushing, overtaxing weight; our extra load, which can and must be relieved. Here in verse 5 the word is the Greek phortion and is used to designate a pack carried by a soldier. It is the word used by Christ to describe the burden He lays on His disciples (Mt 11:30), which He says is light. This word is the diminutive form of the Greek phortos which is used of the lading or cargo of a ship (Acts 27:10).” (1)
With this in mind, we can say that Galatians 6:2 focuses upon the importance of practical support for those who are…
- Struggling with a challenging difficulty that goes beyond the ordinary circumstances of life, or
- Beset with a hardship that is too great for one to bear alone.
However, Galatians 6:5 places an emphasis upon the need to take personal responsibility for our lives. Biblical translators have worked to express this idea in a variety of ways…
“Each person must be responsible for himself” (NCV).
“Assume your own responsibility” (GW).
“For we are each responsible for our own conduct” (NLT).
So the concept of a load does not denote anything beyond the normal duties and responsibilities of everyday life. We are responsible for fulfilling these routine obligations instead of seeking to offload those demands upon others. As one scholar observes, “There is no conflict between being accountable for our own lives and being helpful to others.” (2)
Another commentator finds a correlation between this verse and the passage that immediately precedes it: “…each saint should bear his own burden in the sense that he must recognize his personal responsibilities towards God and man. He is responsible for the kind of life he lives. Again, when he sees his own failings, he will have no inclination to compare himself with others.” (3)
(1) Hindson, E. E., & Kroll, W. M. (Eds.). (1994). KJV Bible Commentary (p. 2400). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
(2) Geisler, N. L., & Howe, T. A. (1992). When critics ask : a popular handbook on Bible difficulties. Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
(3) Kenneth S. Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament (Galatians 6:5) Copyright © 1942-55 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
“Let him who is taught the word share in all good things with him who teaches” (Galatians 6:6).
The position of “teacher” is one of a number of spiritual offices (1) that have been established by God for a specific purpose: “…to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12 ESV). The teacher’s role involves communicating the Scriptures in a manner that others can understand, remember, and apply within their lives.
In many instances, the role of a teacher often involves long hours of study and preparation. It may involve learning ancient languages or studying the nuances of particular words to effectively communicate their meaning. Nevertheless, a God-honoring teacher is driven by the sentiment expressed in the following passage from the Old Testament book of 1 Samuel: “Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you; but I will teach you the good and the right way” (1 Samuel 12:23).
Although an effective teacher is a valuable resource, good teachers are sometimes underpaid, underappreciated, and undervalued by those they serve. This may be why Galatians 6:6 encourages those who receive the benefit of a teacher’s ministry to share in his or her support. The preponderance of bad teaching among the Galatian churches made support for the good teachers especially important and the same is true of our generation as well.
The concept of good things conveys the notion of something useful and may encompass financial resources, material goods, or other types of support. The idea is that those who devote themselves to a teaching ministry (especially those who serve on a full-time basis) deserve the support of those who benefit from their work. This should prompt us to examine our support for those who labor to communicate the Scriptures and ensure that we are contributing to their material and financial well-being.
The alternative is summarized by a quote from the following commentator…
“No minister, Paul in particular, can do his best in presenting the gospel if he has to give too much time to the task of making a living, or, as it often happens, to living on what he makes. On the other hand, no man should enter the ministry as a means of gaining a livelihood. When churches awake to their opportunities and privileges, the minister and the missionary will be more adequately supported.” (2)
Portions of this study originally appeared beginning here
(2) T. R. Applebury, Studies in First Corinthians, College Press Bible Study Textbook Series [pg. 164] © Copyright 1977 College Press. All Rights Reserved. https://archive.org/stream/BibleStudyTextbookSeries1And2Corinthians/121And2Corinthians-Applebury_djvu.txt
“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap” (Galatians 6:7).
For decades, a television game show known as “Truth Or Consequences” served as a staple of American daytime TV. During the course of the game, the host would challenge each contestant by asking a question with an answer that no average person would likely know. Not surprisingly, most contestants got the answers wrong and suffered the consequences. Those “consequences” usually involved doing something ridiculous for the entertainment of the audience.
While these game show contestants were engaged in a bit of harmless fun, the “choices and consequences” expressed in Galatians 6:7 are much more serious. For instance, the familiar old expression, “You reap what you sow” has its origin in the passage quoted above. This imagery recalls the picture of a farmer who plants (or “sows”) the seed that he or she will harvest (or “reap”) later.
Of course, a farmer who plants one type of seed would not normally expect to harvest a different crop later on. Instead, he or she would expect to reap the same crop that was planted earlier. Galatians 6:7 tells us this idea can be applied spiritually as well. In the context of this verse, the word “mocked” means “to sneer at” or treat with contempt. Yet this definition may seem puzzling because people are often heard to mock God in various ways with no apparent repercussions.
For instance, we can see this sort of attitude expressed whenever someone uses Jesus’ name as a swear word or an exclamation. We can find a similar example whenever someone uses God’s name in a trivial or frivolous manner such as in “ohmigod” or OMG. To speak of God in such a flippant, superficial manner demonstrates scorn or contempt for Him because it indicates that God’s name is not worthy to be taken seriously.
In light of this, we might then ask why Galatians 6:7 says that God cannot be mocked when many seem to do so regularly. Well, the answer is not that it is impossible to mock God; this passage tells us that we can’t mock God and get away with it. It means that those who act disrespectfully towards God will eventually face the consequences or “reap what they sow,” so to speak. Those who choose to ignore this tenet should not lose sight of an important reality: just because God has not acted to discipline those who mock Him doesn’t mean He can’t or won’t act.
We’ll see how this principle was expressed in the life of a well-known Biblical personality next.
Screen capture: Classic Truth or Consequences Starring Bob Barker https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tgDx_N7bUWo
“Make no mistake, God is not mocked. A person will harvest what they plant” (Galatians 6:7 CEB).
We need not look any further than the Biblical example of King Solomon to see the principle behind Galatians 6:7 in action: “…you reap whatever you sow” (NRSV). The Old Testament book of 1 Kings tells us that Solomon became the king of Israel following the death of his father, King David (1 Kings 2:10-12). Shortly after Solomon assumed the throne, God made the following offer…
“At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, ‘Ask for whatever you want me to give you’” (1 Kings 3:5 NIV).
Here was Solomon’s response…
“‘…give to Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?’ The speech pleased the Lord, that Solomon had asked this thing.
Then God said to him: ‘Because you have asked this thing, and have not asked long life for yourself, nor have asked riches for yourself, nor have asked the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern justice, behold, I have done according to your words; see, I have given you a wise and understanding heart, so that there has not been anyone like you before you, nor shall any like you arise after you. And I have also given you what you have not asked: both riches and honor, so that there shall not be anyone like you among the kings all your days.
So if you walk in My ways, to keep My statutes and My commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days” (1 Kings 3:9-14).
So God honored Solomon’s decision to ask for wisdom and gave him the additional blessings of riches, honor, and prosperity. The consequences associated with that request made Solomon the wisest, wealthiest, and most powerful leader of his day. But that decision also led to an effect that spread far beyond Solomon’s personal life. Since Solomon was the king of Israel, the entire nation shared in those blessings by extension.
So this decision led to consequences that were not only good for Solomon but good for many others as well. Unfortunately, Solomon turned away from God as he grew older- and that decision led to other consequences that we’ll consider next.
“Make no mistake about this: You can never make a fool out of God. Whatever you plant is what you’ll harvest” (Galatians 6:7 GW).
King Solomon’s decision to ask God for “…an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and evil…” (1 Kings 3:9 ASV) led to positive consequences for himself and many others. But Solomon later made some other choices that led to far different consequences…
“But King Solomon loved many foreign women, as well as the daughter of Pharaoh: women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians, and Hittites — from the nations of whom the Lord had said to the children of Israel, ‘You shall not intermarry with them, nor they with you. Surely they will turn away your hearts after their gods’
…For it was so, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned his heart after other gods; and his heart was not loyal to the Lord his God, as was the heart of his father David… Solomon did evil in the sight of the Lord, and did not fully follow the Lord, as did his father David” (1 Kings 11:1-6).
Here’s what happened as a result…
“So the Lord became angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned from the Lord God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice, and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods; but he did not keep what the Lord had commanded. Therefore the Lord said to Solomon, ‘Because you have done this, and have not kept My covenant and My statutes, which I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom away from you and give it to your servant’” (1 Kings 11:9-11).
Solomon’s experience illustrates the truth of Galatians 6:7 in a positive and negative sense. Solomon made a good initial choice and reaped the benefit. Unfortunately, he later made several bad decisions that led to negative consequences for himself and many others. Of course, Solomon is hardly an isolated example in this regard, and his experience reminds us that our choices (and their associated consequences) have an impact upon others for better or worse.
So Galatians 6:7 tells us that we cannot escape the consequences that result from our choices, positive or negative- and Solomon’s example tells us that it is far wiser to make good, God-honoring choices so we reap the right kind of consequences for ourselves and others.
“For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life” (Galatians 6:8)
We can illustrate Galatians 6:8 with the imagery of a great feast, But unlike the usual depiction of a feast, this will not be a feast of eating and drinking- this feast will be a feast of consequences. (1)
You see, Galatians 6:8 tells us that every human being will eventually be served with his or her own feast of consequences. Each unique feast will be created by the choices we’ve made throughout our lives. In fact, everyone is working now to prepare this feast. We are preparing our ingredients, setting our table, and arranging our seats for this banquet.
The latter portion of Galatians 6:8 describes one such feast: “…those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit” (NLT). The alternative is described in this passage as well: “Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature…” (NLT). Everyone is ordering his or her feast of consequences from one of these two menus.
We can also turn to the fictional classic, A Christmas Carol to illustrate this idea. This famous tale revolves around a stingy, tightfisted businessman named Ebenezer Scrooge who was visited by the ghost of Jacob Marley, his former business partner. Like Scrooge, Marley had been selfishly preoccupied with the accumulation of wealth during his life. That choice led to terrible consequences, for Marley was condemned to walk the earth while chained with money-boxes, padlocks, and financial records following his death.
Seven years after his passing, Marley’s ghost was permitted to visit Scrooge to warn him to change his selfish ways. In the course of their conversation, Scrooge asked Marley to explain why he was chained. Marley responded with this anguished reply…
“I wear the chain I forged in life… I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it …no space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused! Yet such was I! Oh! such was I!”
So Marley’s selfishness became a chain that haunted him following his death. Now admittedly, A Christmas Carol is not a Biblical account, but the author was right in one sense: like Jacob Marley, the choices we make today will result in the consequences we will face later.
(1) The image of a “banquet of consequences” has been attributed (although perhaps inaccurately) to Scottish writer and poet Robert Louis Stevenson.
Image credit: Scrooge and the Ghost of Marley Arthur Rackham [Public domain] https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:%27Scrooge_and_the_Ghost_of_Marley%27_by_Arthur_Rackham.jpg
“The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:8 NIV).
The New Testament book of First Timothy expands on this principle from Galatians 6:8 with a thought-provoking statement…
“Some people’s sins are obvious, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others surface later. Likewise, good works are obvious, and those that are not obvious cannot remain hidden” (1 Timothy 5:24-25 HCSB).
There are some who care little for what others think of their inappropriate behavior while others are highly skilled at hiding those thoughts and activities that are evil, dishonest, or morally wrong. But as 1 Corinthians 4:5 reminds us, “…wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.”
While it may seem as if the guilty will never have to answer for their actions, we should be clear on an important point- no one “gets away with it” forever. The consequences always come; it’s just a matter of time. As we’re also reminded in Romans 2:6, God “…will give to each person according to what he has done.”
In their devotional book, Discovering God’s Daily Agenda, Henry and Richard Blackaby make the following observation regarding this concept…
“Some actions that result from poor decisions naturally have consequences that teach the foolishness of (that) decision: Not thinking before speaking, for instance, inevitably leads to wounded relationships. At other times, parents establish logical consequences that match the infraction: when a child has been told not to throw the ball in the house and does so anyway, resulting in a broken vase, that child pays for a replacement. Natural consequences and logical consequences can teach important lessons.” (1)
The value gained from our experiences might also explain why God may sometimes allows us to experience the consequences that result from our choices. Good, God-honoring decisions often lead to beneficial consequences even if we are the only ones who recognize them. Poor, ungodly choices often lead to other consequences that stay with us like a scar we must learn to live with. While God can bring something positive from an ungodly choice, its better to start with a God-honoring decision even if its difficult to see the immediate benefit of that choice.
(1) Discovering God’s Daily Agenda © 2007 by Dr.’s Richard and Henry Blackaby
“And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:9-10).
This passage closes the agricultural illustration that Paul the Apostle began earlier in Galatians 6:7. These verses are important to remember during those periods when the road of life seems long and there are many miles to go before we take our rest. (1) When faced with that prospect, we can find encouragement in the agronomic word-picture given to us here in Galatians 6:9-10.
For instance, there is a period of time when there seems to be no apparent growth in the life-cycle of a crop after a farmer has planted it. But that does not serve as a source of discouragement for the farmer despite the fact that he or she has spent a great deal of effort with no immediate return on that investment. Instead, a good farmer must continue to exercise patience and work to ensure that the crop is watered and kept free of weeds and insects even when there is no visible growth.
The point is that a farmer will eventually begin to see the positive effect of his or her efforts, but that unseen process takes time. The same may be true of God’s work in our lives as well. Just as a farmer cannot perceive the germination of a seedling within the soil, our efforts to honor God within our personal area of responsibility may not produce immediate results.
Nevertheless, Galatians 6:9 encourages us to continue our efforts in expectation of a good harvest. As 1 Corinthians 3:7-8 reminds us, “…neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor.”
Finally, one source offers some additional insight on this passage…
“Christians have a measure of responsibility to all people to do good, when the occasions arise. When Jesus fed the 5,000, both saved and unsaved participated. So the benevolence of Christians should not be restricted, except that believers are to have the priority. As in a home, family needs are met first, then those of the neighbors. This passage then speaks clearly about Christian social responsibility, but it should be noted that it is addressed to individual believers. The church is not an agency for social work, though individual Christians are charged to minister in this way as they are able and have opportunity (cf. Rom_12:17-21).” (2)
(1) See Robert Frost, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/42891/stopping-by-woods-on-a-snowy-evening
(2) John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, Bible Knowledge Commentary [p.610]
“See with what large letters I have written to you with my own hand!” (Galatians 6:11).
Although Paul the Apostle has issued a number of challenges to the Galatian churches throughout this letter, he paused for a personal aside here in Galatians 6:11: “This is my own handwriting. You can see how big the letters are” (ERV). This handwritten message served an important purpose.
You see, first-century letters were typically composed by a scribe known as an amanuensis. The amanuensis served as a secretary for the author and usually assisted in one of two ways. For example, an author might dictate a letter for the amanuensis to convert into a written document. Or, the author might provide a basic idea of what he or she wished to say and allow the amanuensis to draft the letter.
If a first-century author was not directly involved in the composition of a letter, this handwritten portion thus served to authenticate his or her message. Not surprisingly, this practice represented a distinguishing feature in several of Paul’s New Testament epistles…
“The salutation with my own hand—Paul’s” (1 Corinthians 16:21).
“This salutation by my own hand—Paul” (Colossians 4:18)
“The salutation of Paul with my own hand, which is a sign in every epistle; so I write” (2 Thessalonians 3:17).
Its also interesting to note how Paul drew attention to his distinctively large handwriting in this passage. Perhaps Paul’s eyesight had deteriorated to the point where it became necessary for him to write in this manner. Its also possible that his years of labor as a tentmaker had impacted his ability to form small handwritten characters. Whatever the reason, this portion of Paul’s letter to the Galatians tells us that his message was important enough to expend the effort necessary to authenticate it.
Finally, two sources expand on these possibilities and offer some additional insight into this portion of Galatians chapter six…
“This (passage) can be interpreted in two ways: 1) Paul’s poor eyesight forced him to use large letters (cf. 4:13, 15); or 2) instead of the normal cursive style of writing used by professional scribes, he used the large, block letters (frequently employed in public notices) to emphasize the letter’s content rather than its form. It was a visible picture that contrasted his concern with the content of the gospel for the Judaizers’ only concern: appearances.” (1)
“Whatever the purpose of ‘large letters’ here, the main point is that not a scribe but Paul himself writes this section, as the handwriting shows. Paul’s special effort indicates that they must pay special attention.” (2)
(1) MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Ga 6:11). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
(2) Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament © 1988 Craig S. Keener [p.540]
“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).
The Living Bible paraphrase of Galatians 6:12 translates this passage in a manner that is easily accessible to 21st century audiences: “Those teachers of yours who are trying to convince you to be circumcised are doing it for just one reason: so that they can be popular and avoid the persecution they would get if they admitted that the cross of Christ alone can save.”
So by uncovering the motives of these false teachers, Paul the Apostle took aim at the root of their heretical message. That “root” was comprised of a selfish desire to “look good outwardly” (CJB) and produced two malignant branches. The first branch represented a false concern for the Galatians’ spiritual well-being. The second branch involved a desire to avoid persecution for the cross of Christ.
One commentator makes a timely observation that can help us identify those who engage in similar behaviors today…
“The ones who trouble the Galatians are considered to be hypocritical opportunists, attempting to build their own misguided view of spirituality (vv. 12–13) by forcing the Galatians into a dependent relationship. The Judaizers’ motivation in all this is considered to be fear—a desire not to be persecuted (v. 12), presumably by their own nonbelieving brethren (the same who have resoundly persecuted Paul!).” (1)
As mentioned earlier, we should be alert to those who seek to impose a similar degree of spiritual dependency. For instance, note the use of the word “compel” within this passage. The false teachers of the New Testament era sought to coerce the Galatians into dependence upon Christ and “something else” for salvation. In this instance, that “something else” involved the physical act of circumcision. Today, that “something else” might involve any number of additions to the finished work of Christ.
Therefore, Galatians 6:12 serves as an important benchmark that we can use to distinguish those who are traveling the same path taken by the false teachers of Galatia. While the act of circumcision was not wrong in itself, the pressure exerted by those who taught that circumcision was a necessary prerequisite for salvation certainly was. In light of this, we should be diligent to guard against modern-day expressions of this idea lest we fall into a similar legalistic trap.
(1) McClelland, S. E. (1995). Galatians. In Evangelical Commentary on the Bible (Vol. 3, p. 1019). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.
“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. 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 6:12-13).
There is very little that is truly new when we stop to consider it, at least not in the sense of something that has never existed before. For instance, much of what we call “new” today is often nothing more than an existing product, service, idea, or belief that has been packaged in a different way. In fact, the same is true of this very observation, for the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes expressed this same idea long ago…
“Whatever has happened before will happen again. Whatever has been done before will be done again. There is nothing new under the sun. Can you say that anything is new? It has already been here long before us” (Ecclesiastes 1:9-10 GW).
We can apply this same premise to the passage from Galatians 6:12-13 quoted above. For instance, there are no shortages of those who “desire to make a good showing in the flesh” today. However, there is a fine line between the desire to honor God in our accomplishments and an attempt to “impress others by… external appearance” (ISV).
For example, consider the hard-hitting observation made by one commentator…
“When we’ve got something to boast about, we work it into conversation, don’t we? We are so sneaky, so effectively dropping those statements that let people know that we got the raise, that we won the prize, that we were so spiritual, that we did so well. We can work anything into any conversation, no matter how much of a stretch it is. But instead, we should be doing that with the cross of Jesus! Instead of boasting about our accomplishments, we should be boasting about what Jesus has accomplished.” (1)
This passage also identifies the hypocritical nature of the false teachers who had infiltrated the Galatian churches. You see, Galatians 6:13 tells us, “…those teachers who submit to circumcision don’t try to keep the other Jewish laws; but they want you to be circumcised in order that they can boast that you are their disciples” (TLB).
While it is not necessarily wrong to expand our sphere of influence, these verses remind us that we must not do so hypocritically, nor should we do so at the expense of sound Biblical doctrine.
(1) Ron Daniel, Study Notes Galatians 6:6-18 http://rondaniel.com/library/48-Galatians/Galatians0606.php
“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:15-16).
Galatians 6:15-16 contains two phrases that are worth our attention. The first refers to a “new creation” and appears in verse fifteen: “It doesn’t matter whether we have been circumcised or not. What counts is whether we have been transformed into a new creation” (NLT). The New Testament book of 2 Corinthians expresses a similar concept when it says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
These passages serve to communicate an important spiritual truth. They tell us that an attempt to find favor with God through an external act (like circumcision) has been superseded by the new creation initiated by Jesus’ sacrificial death. They also tell us that a person who has accepted Jesus as Savior need not be shackled to the sins of the past, for he or she is a new creation in Christ and such things have passed away through His death on the cross.
The second phrase involves this reference to “the Israel of God” in Galatians 6:16. This phrase takes on significance when we consider the origin of the name “Israel” within the Biblical book of Genesis. You see, “Israel” was the new name that God gave to Jacob, the great Old Testament patriarch (see Genesis 32:28). Although the name “Jacob” is associated with the idea of a swindler, deceiver, cheater, or thief, God gave him a new identity in the form of the name “Israel.” This act carried great significance for one meaning of the name “Israel” is “governed by God.”
Much like Jacob in the Old Testament, God has also given us a new identities as new creations in Christ. However, Paul the Apostle also made the following observation in Romans 9:6: “…not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.” In other words, there are some who are ancestrally related to Israel but are not governed by God. In a similar manner, there may be others who self-identify as “Christians” but are not truly followers of Christ.
Therefore, we can say that our ancestral and cultural affiliations matter very little in a spiritual sense. The same is true of our external efforts to get right with God. The more important questions are these: are we new creations in Christ and are we governed by God?
“From now on let no one trouble me, for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus. Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen” (Galatians 6:17-18).
The penultimate verse of Galatians chapter six features a disquieting remark from the Apostle Paul: “From now on, don’t let anyone trouble me with these things. For I bear on my body the scars that show I belong to Jesus” (NLT). We can paraphrase this emotional appeal and consolidate the message of these final verses in the following manner…
“Please don’t cause me any further trouble by following the doctrines of these false teachers. They want to secure your allegiance but they only wish to do so to make themselves look good. They seek to inflict you with a physical wound through the act of circumcision but I carry far greater wounds as a result of my commitment to Christ- and I never pressured you to engage in this practice. If you continue to entertain these heretical teachers, you will only add to the pain I have already endured.”
In commenting on these verses, one expositor notes that the scars Paul received in his service to Christ “… spoke more eloquently than the mark of circumcision that the Judaizers sought to impose.” (1) Another source underscores the human element present within Paul’s heartfelt request…
“Paul’s last words alert us to the toll such battles take on an apostle. The constant harassment concerning his apostolic credentials and the problem of legalism as an excuse for Jewish prejudice toward Gentiles are exhausting him. His authenticity is really not a matter of speculation; it is a matter of evidence, the evidence of a man scarred (Gk. stigmata; lit. a brand mark on an animal or slave) by a world that has persecuted him as it did his Lord.” (2)
This passage also reminds us that Paul’s message to the churches of Galatia was more than just a theological exercise. At the time of Paul’s letter, the Galatians were making real choices that would eventually lead to real consequences under the influence of these false teachers. Since our beliefs are certain to lead to actions that follow from those beliefs, the Epistle to the Galatians underscores the need to consider what others want us to believe and why.
But more importantly, the Biblical letter to the Galatians should prompt us to examine our spiritual beliefs and reject those that do not align with sound Biblical doctrine.
(1) Ryrie, Charles Caldwell Ryrie Study Notes [Galatians 6:17] © 1986, 1995 by The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. Database © 2004 WORDsearch Corp.
(2) McClelland, S. E. (1995). Galatians. In Evangelical Commentary on the Bible (Vol. 3, p. 1019). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.
“From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear the marks of Jesus on my body. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen” (Galatians 6:17-18 NET).
Paul the Apostle opened his letter to the churches of Galatia with this message: “Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:3). Here now in the final verse of this epistle, Paul closes this great Biblical letter in the same manner in which he began: “Dear brothers and sisters, may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit” (NLT).
Remember that “grace” refers to God’s unmerited favor towards undeserving human beings- and its appearance within the opening and closing portions of this letter is highly significant. You see, we have watched as Paul has challenged the Galatians throughout this letter with statements such as these…
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all (Galatians 1:6-7 NIV).
“You stupid people of Galatia! Who put you under an evil spell? Wasn’t Christ Jesus’ crucifixion clearly described to you?” (Galatians 3:1 GW).
“…have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?” (Galatians 4:16 NET).
But now, Paul ends this epistle by expressing his affirmation for the Galatians as his brothers and sisters in Christ and his desire to see the Lord’s continued display of grace within their lives. This tiered approach provides us with a good example to follow whenever we are called upon to share difficult truths with others.
So now that we have reached the end of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, the final word belongs to a commentator who places these closing verses in their historical context…
“Paul gave no commendation at the beginning of Galatians, and the tone of the whole letter is one of hurt surprise, sorrow and indignation; but in this final word ‘brethren,’ one finds the loving heart of Paul yearning for his beloved converts in Galatia. It is a final word of love and hope for all of them. He had not given them up; they were still brethren.
History gives no clue to the manner of their receiving this letter, nor to the continued success or failure of the Galatians; but as McGarvey said: We have no word of history which reveals to us the immediate effect of Paul’s epistle; but the fact that it was preserved argues well that it was favorably received. Due to its vigor and power, it could not have been otherwise than effective.” (1)
(1) Coffman, James Burton. “Commentary on Galatians 6:18”. “Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/galatians-6.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
Image Credit: Ben White benwhitephotography [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons