Love and Polemics

We have already seen that the lines of descent from Sarah and Hagar are fluid. We are now coming to the great truth that the family resemblance borne in these lines is also obvious. Sons of Abraham do the works of Abraham. The text today closes on the threshold of Paul’s great description of the two lines of the children of men, and how he builds up to this is very important.

I have confidence in you through the Lord, that ye will be none otherwise minded: but he that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be. And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offence of the cross ceased. I would they were even cut off which trouble you. For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another. This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law

(Gal. 5: 10-18).

Paul expresses his confidence that the Galatians will not in fact fall away (v. 10). But this is his faith in the final outcome; Paul is not complacent about it—if he had been there was no need for this letter. But the troublemaker will bear his own judgment. Paul points out that if he was still preaching circumcision, he would not be in the trouble he was in. Circumcision removes the offense of the cross (v. 11). Paul then wishes that those zealous for circumcision would overachieve (v. 12). He desires this because the Galatians were called to liberty and love (v. 13). The entire law is summed up in the second greatest commandment (v. 14). In contrast to this, biting and devouring one another would destroy them all (v. 15). Walking in the Spirit and fulfilling the lusts of the flesh are mutually inconsistent (v. 16). In fact, the two are at war with one another (v. 17). And if you are under the Spirit, you are not under the law (v. 18).

When it comes to justification, faith and works do not go together. Paul is confident that the Galatians will hear him (v. 10). He is also certain that the one who got them all stirred up will bear his judgment. This is not a mere academic debate. Paul fights this as an evangelist, and not as a detached, academic scholar. But even though Paul is confident that the Galatians will not fall away, he has nevertheless been distressed by their actions, and has rebuked them strongly for those actions. It is like Paul and the impending shipwreck (Acts 27:22, 31). He knows the outcome, but we still have personal responsibility. Calvinism is not fatalism.

Immediately after his expression of confidence, Paul points out that if he were still preaching circumcision (as a requirement for Gentiles), then he would not be assaulted as he was being assaulted. To admit the requirement of circumcision was to remove the offense of the cross (v. 11). Religious self-sufficiency is (in every age) insulted by the cross. And those who preach the cross will always find themselves in trouble. Now a simple question: would the Judaizers in Galatia accept this description of their teaching? No, but that is not the point. The description was still true.

Paul then delivers a remarkable polemical blow. He wishes that the Judaizers (the troublers) were “cut off.” This layered insult is about as offensive as it was possible to be. The word (apokopto) means to castrate, which would exclude an old covenant worshipper from the Temple (Dt. 23:1). It would also identify the religion of the Judaizers with pagan castration, which was common. It also caricatures what they were demanding of the Galatians, which was circumcision. So this was the mother of insults.

But in the next breath . . . without missing a beat, Paul then tells the Galatians to love one another. They were called to liberty, but they were not to use their liberty to indulge the flesh (v. 13). Remember that flesh here does not mean physical body. They were called to insult the flesh, not indulge it. That is what Paul has just finished doing—he insulted the religious flesh-mongers. And that is what he wants the Galatians to do as well. This is not merely consistent with love; it is the foundation of it. The law is fulfilled in love, not in circumcision (v. 14). For love and circumcision to make a peace treaty is for the flesh to defeat the Spirit. So Paul says not to bite and devour one another—which the religion of the Judaizers will necessarily lead to (v. 15).

There are only two ways to walk. Either we will walk in the Spirit or we will walk in the flesh (v. 16). We will see the descriptive characteristics of each in the next section. Here we see that it is one way or the other. The two cannot be combined into a third way because the two ways are mortal enemies (v. 17). They contend against one another, and the one excludes the other (v. 18). In a fallen world, love is not indiscriminate or promiscuous. If a doctor loves cancer, then he hates cancer patients. If a shepherd loves wolves, he hates sheep. If a farmer loves the weeds, he hates the crop. And if we love the flesh, as Paul describes it here, then we hate the Spirit. Not only so, but we hate His work, His fruit, His children, and His promises.

Now what does love look like? What does hate look like? What does polemical discourse, over the souls of men, look like? The Scriptures do not leave this question unanswered.

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