November 19, 2017

Boasting in the Cross

Galatians 6:6-18

We will consider this passage under two headings which I am borrowing from Tim Keller’s Galatians commentary:  #1 Paul’s Final Warning (v.6-10) and #2 Paul’s Final Invitation (v.11-18).

#1 Paul’s Final Warning

6Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. 7Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 8For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. 9And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.    Galatians 6:6-10

Verse 6.  As we saw in the last passage (Gal 6:1-5), we are not to seek to use others but to serve others.  One of the ways we can serve others is by sharing “all good things” with our teachers.  The teacher who is “sowing” the Word is to be able to “reap” from that harvest.  Nearly all commentators including Martin Luther assert that sharing “all good things” includes material support.  In his commentary on Galatians, he explains how at one time he was puzzled as to why the apostles were so diligent in commanding that teachers be provided for.  After all, when he looked around at the clergy of his day, he saw that they were rich and the people were poor.  But as the Reformation revival went on, he noticed that those clergy preaching the gospel were no longer wealthy but poor.   Hence, he came to see the need to encourage churches to support their pastors.

Verses 7 & 8. The main warning of this passage is found here in verse 7.  Paul says we might succeed in fooling others, and we might even fool ourselves, but we cannot fool God.  How do we fool or mock God?  By forgetting that whatever we sow we will also reap.  No one plants cucumber seeds and expects corn to grow.  If you plant tomato seeds, you will get tomato plants.  As this principle applies to the world of farming so it applies to the spiritual world as well.  If we sow to the flesh, we will also reap from the flesh.  If we spend the day in impure fantasies, nurturing resentment, replaying scenarios from last night of what we “should have” said, we should not be surprised by the results. Paul is saying that growth is inevitable.  It’s just a matter of what is growing.  We will grow in the flesh or we will grow in the Spirit.  We could picture two different plants – one called flesh and the Spirit.  The more you nurture one plant the more it will grow.

When we feel the tug of our flesh, we fool ourselves into thinking that if we give in just this time, the tug will go away and we will feel better.  Paul says each time you give in to the flesh you are nurturing your flesh.  We are not called to nurture our flesh but to strangle it – to crucify it!

Verse 9.  This is continued encouragement for us.  Tending to the Spirit rather than the flesh can be arduous.  Sometimes we feel as if we are getting nowhere.  I had a seminary professor who related our lives to a yoyo in the hands of a man walking up a flight of stairs.  The general direction of our lives is upward but all the while that yoyo is going up and down.  We feel every one of those ups and downs–particularly the downs!  Paul says do not give up.  Keep your hand to the plow and keep going.  We will reap a harvest in “due season.”

Verse 10. One of the ways we sow to the Spirit is in doing good to others.  Notice that Paul says we should do good to “everyone.”  Not just when we deem someone worthy of our good deed.  Not just when you are surrounded by people who will see your good deeds.  Everyone.  However, within this “everyone” there is a priority.   Our brothers and sisters in Christ in particular have a claim on us.   This is the principle of “moral proximity.”  The priest and the Levite in the parable of the good Samaritan are condemned because they saw a neighbor in need and did nothing.  They were close to the situation and therefore had a responsibility to act.  This is why Paul denounces the man who does not provide for the members of his own household saying “he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever (c.f. 1 Timothy 5:8).”

#2 Paul’s Final Invitation

11See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand. 12It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. 14But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. 16And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. 17From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. 18The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.    Galatians 6:11-18

Verse 11. Most commentators agree that verses 11 to 18 are some form of a  “post script” to the letter.  It would seem that Paul dictated most of the letter to a scribe, but then in verse 11 he takes the pen in his hand and begins to write himself.

Verse 12 & 13.  Paul continues to reiterate what he has already said throughout the letter. We are no longer under law but under grace.  If you accept circumcision as means of making you right before God, you must accept the rest of the law as well.  And no one will be declared righteous by God on account of his obedience to the law.  Circumcision is really a way of “sowing” to the flesh, and if we sow to the flesh, we will reap only corruption.  We learn in these verses that the false teachers were pushing circumcision not only to boast in the flesh but also to avoid persecution (presumably from the Jews).

Verse 14 & 15.  Paul says we do not boast in the flesh.  We do not boast in circumcision.  We do not boast in uncircumcision.   But rather we boast in the cross of Christ.  Tim Keller makes the case that boasting originated in warfare.  How does the leader of an army motivate his troops to charge the enemy when death is a very real possibility?  He leads them in a boast.  We might think about the lines uttered by the king in Shakespeare’s Henry V as he sought to rally his troops into battle.  Here is the last part of that speech:

And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

Or maybe that classic moment in Braveheart where William Wallace rallies the troops who would just as well turn and walk away:

Aye, fight and you may die. Run and you’ll live — at least a while. And dying in your beds many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that for one chance, just one chance to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom.

Now of course the object of our boast matters.  The prophet Jeremiah reminds us: “Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth (Jeremiah 9:23-24).”

The conceited person (Galatians 5:26) boasts in themselves.  The false teachers boast in circumcision.  Others boast in uncircumcision.  But Paul says he boasts in nothing except the cross of Christ.  This is our boast as well.  We do not boast in our performance — what we have done or what we haven’t done.

Verse 16-18.  Paul’s closing words include a blessing asking for peace and mercy to be on the “Israel of God,” that is the people of God.  He reminds the Galatians that he bears on his body the marks of Jesus.  It is not clear exactly what he refers to here.  It could the physical persecution he has experienced.  It could be the effects on his body of bearing such a weight.  And the last verse repeats a theme we have seen throughout the letter: grace through Jesus Christ.

Discussion Questions

Coming Soon!



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