An Admonition to Serve One’s Neighbor in Love. Gal. 6, 1-10.
A warning against self-exaltation: V.1. Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. V.2. Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. v.3. For if a man think himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself. V.4. But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. V.5. For every man shall bear his own burden. The apostle here carries out in greater detail the admonition at the end of the preceding chapter, not to provoke and envy one another. With appealing kindliness he addresses the Galatian Christians as “brethren,” thus conveying the conviction which he has voiced, chap. 5, 10, that they are still, at least at heart, true to the message which he brought to them. He writes in a very general way: If a man, a person, be overtaken in any fault, you that are spiritual restore such a one in the spirit of meekness. With wise tact Paul says: A man, and not: A brother, for they should remember that the person that has fallen is a weak, sinful human being. “What fact is so obvious in the case of a human being as that he may fall, be seduced, and err?” 34) Before a person is aware of it, before he realizes the danger of his position, he is detected and caught, as one that suddenly stumbles. The fault is there, without a doubt, but the apostle purposely brings out the idea: To err is human. For his admonition to those that are spiritual, to those that live and walk in the Spirit and bring forth the fruits of the Spirit, is that they should not become angry with the brother whom the cunning malice of the devil and the weakness of his own flesh have led into sin, but help to restore him to the normal Christian state, bring him back into order as a member of the body of Christ, see to it that he reenters into the right relation with God. This is done by reminding the brother (or sister) of the great danger which is threatening his soul, that he may become terrified, cease from sinning, and be saved from eternal death. All this should be done, not in the spirit of supercilious superiority, but in the spirit of meekness, with cordial kindness. There is nothing more disgusting and repulsive than the patronizing airs assumed by people that consider themselves pillars in the Christian Church, when dealing with a fallen brother. The reproof must be so administered, with such kindly seriousness, that the brother at once feels that the only interest we have in the matter is to save his soul.
The necessity of performing this task in the spirit of meekness is emphasized by the apostle: And look to thyself lest thou also be tempted. The example of Peter and of David ought to be sufficient to serve as a warning for all times. The very people that indulge in overestimation of self, in self-exaltation, are most likely to be overtaken in a fault and to yield to a temptation. The proper relation that should obtain between Christians is therefore described by the apostle: One another’s burdens bear, and thus you shall properly fulfill the law of Christ. The believers have burdens to bear, manifold temptations to sin, moral faults and frailties especially coming into consideration here. These the Christians should bear mutually; they should beware of acting uncharitably in case a brother has offended them, for the brother is also obliged to be patient with many of their own faults and peculiarities. Thus the Christians help one another in the miseries of this present sinful world; thus they help one another to overcome the specific transgressions with which they are battling; thus they fulfill the law of Christ properly. “The law of Christ is the law of love. Christ having redeemed us, renewed us, and made us His Church, has given us no law but that we should love one another, John 13, 34.” 35) True, cordial brotherly love will not look down upon the stumbling brother and boast of its own holiness, but will come to his aid, shrinking back neither on account of inconvenience nor because of misconstruction of motives.
This lesson Paul proceeds to impress upon his readers: For if a man is of the opinion that he is something, when he is nothing, he is deceiving himself. The apostle’s first reason for opposing self-exaltation was that it is contrary to the law of love. He here adds the thought that it is also very foolish. For he that gets the idea concerning himself that he is something great and extraordinary thereby exalts himself above his neighbors. But in doing so such people are acting under a rain delusion, since in the eyes of God's holiness and wisdom they are neither perfect nor wise. "They have the opinion that they are something, that is, inflated by their foolish illusion and their vain dreams, they have a wonderfully high opinion of their wisdom and sanctification, whereas in truth they are nothing and merely deceive themselves. For it is a manifest deception if some one is convinced that he is something and yet is nothing. Such people are described in the Revelation of John, chap. 3, 17, in these words: "Thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked" 36)
Instead of being found engaged in such a foolish undertaking, therefore, Paul advises every Christian: But his own work let every man test; then shall he have reason for boasting only in what concerns himself, and not in what concerns the other. For each man shall bear his own pack, or load, his daily burden. Instead of indulging in vain imaginations and opinions, Christians will take care to test their own case, inquiring very earnestly how matters stand with them. The result will be that they will find so many things in need of improvement in their own heart and life that they will not find time to criticize their brother or sister. And all self-congratulation will not be the result of invidious comparison, but of actual merit, without any reference to the neighbor; and any improvement in his own case the Christian will ascribe all the more readily to the sanctifying power of the Spirit of God. At the same time, each man will find that he has his own burden, his own load, to carry, just as every soldier bears his own kit. His own self-examination will reveal as much, and the judgment of God on the last day will emphasize this still more strongly, 1 Cor. 3, 8 Luther writes of this testing of self which every Christian should practice: "'Let him test his own work,' that means, let him not concern himself about the work of another, let him not attempt to find out how bad the other is, but how good he himself is, and strive to be found approved in good works for his own person, lest he by reason of the work of another become secure and drowsy, as though he must be considered good by God, since he is better than that evil person, as a result of which he, on account of malice toward the other, ascribes more to himself than his own work justifies without malice toward the other. Your works will not become better through malice toward another. Therefore live so, act so, that you test your work, how much you may boast of yourself in your own conscience, as it is said 2 Cor. 1, 12: For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience.... But he tests his work when he marks how diligent he is in love to bear the frailty of others; and surely he that would pay attention to this would easily beware of malicious judgments and evil reports.” 37)
The apostle urges unselfish service: V.6. Let him that is taught in the Word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things. V.7. Be not deceived; God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. V.8. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. V.9. And let us not be weary in well-doing; for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. V.10. As we have, therefore, opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith. These single admonitions are not brought in as abruptly as might appear at first glance. Paul is still speaking of the life in the Spirit, which is opposed to all envious grudging. And he here voices a thought which he has emphasized also elsewhere: Let him that is taught in the Word communicate to him that teaches in all good things. He that is taught in the Word, either in the more restricted private and catechetical discussion or in the public instruction, in which the teacher expounds the Word of God before all, should communicate to, literally go shares with, the one that does the teaching, in all good things, not only in temporal support, but in all other benefits as well. They that preach the Gospel should live of the Gospel, 1 Cor. 9, 14. Thus the ministers, on their part, do not degrade their ministry to a mere business, especially since it is impossible to speak of adequate compensation in their case, and the parishioners, on their part, do not regard the money paid toward the minister’s support as charity, but as the proper sharing of goods demanded by God.
Solemnly the warning sounds in this connection: Do not let yourselves be deceived; God will not be sneered at. For what a man sows, this he also reaps. He that sows on his own flesh will harvest from the flesh destruction; he that sows to the Spirit of the Spirit will harvest everlasting life. In connection with the obligation of gratitude which he has enjoined upon them, the apostle warns the Galatian Christians against harboring or entertaining any erroneous thoughts. For it is nothing but self-delusion if a person tries to convince himself that he believes in Christ and can comfort himself with regard to the mercy of God and the forgiveness of sins, and yet permits his flesh to rule with all its passions and evil lusts, disregarding all duties which the law of love imposes. For it is impossible to sneer at God with impunity. He will not be disregarded and despised. Although our gracious and merciful Father, He is also the holy and righteous God, whose vengeance will find all the workers of iniquity. If a person, therefore, reaps God’s wrath and displeasure, temporal death, and eternal damnation, he has no one to blame but himself, since he sowed on his own flesh, since he served the lusts of his own evil nature. His harvest agrees with his sowing. Altogether different is the case of him that sows to the Spirit, that takes the proper care of the new man wrought in him through regeneration, that strives more and more to put on the new man, who after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. Such a person will enjoy the harvest of eternal life. By the grace of God the present spiritual life will mature into the life of glory and in glory, where there is fullness of joy at the right hand of God forevermore. What an incentive to every Christian to walk in the Spirit and thus to obtain this harvest of joy!
Unwearied efforts should therefore characterize the life of the Christians, as the apostle writes: But in well-doing let us not become weary; for at the proper season we shall harvest if we do not become faint. In well doing we should not become weary, which not only includes the manifold deeds of charity, by which we have an opportunity to assist our neighbor in spiritual and temporal distress, but refers to the entire spiritual life of the Christian. In this the Christians should not become weary; they should not lose courage; they should not permit the obstacles to wear them out. Only he that remains faithful to the end, the same shall be saved. As soon as our spirit grows weary, then our body will also become faint. This we cannot afford to permit, for the harvest is promised only to such as do not become weary and faint. The harvest of satisfaction and joy in this world may still be connected with much labor and exertion, but if we persist to the end, without growing faint, our reward will be unspeakable fullness of bliss, an everlasting harvest of joy in the presence of our Lord and Savior.
The apostle concludes his admonition with another urgent call: Now, then, as we have time, opportunity, let us do good to all men, but most of all to them that are of the household of faith. Here and now, in proportion to the opportunity offered and afforded to us on all sides, we can and should do good. Now is the chance of the Christians, the most opportune time for sowing deeds of kindness. We do not know how soon the Day of Judgment may be coming. We should practice deeds of love toward our neighbor, we should be of assistance to him, no matter whether the trouble which is bothering him be of the body or of the spirit, our neighbor in this case being every person that is in need of our help, whether Jew or Gentile, friend or enemy, known or unknown, grateful or ungrateful. Only one distinction should we observe; we should give the preference to those that are of the household of faith. Our companions in faith, our fellow-Christians, are united with us by the most intimate bonds of fellowship. To their wants and needs we should, therefore, attend first of all, to them we should give assistance by preference. That is the great duty which our living and walking in the Spirit places upon us. 38)
Concluding Remarks. Gal. 6. 11-18.
Paul’s love in contrast to the behavior of the false teachers: V.11. Ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with mine own hand. V.12. As many as desire to make a fair show in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised, only lest they should suffer persecution for the Cross of Christ. V.13. For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the Law, but desire to have you circumcised that they may glory in your flesh. V.14. But God forbid that I should glory save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me and I unto the world. V.15. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. The apostle here calls attention to a special evidence of his love for the Galatian Christians: See with what large letters I write to you with my own hand! As a rule, Paul dictated his letters, affixing only the conclusion or his personal greeting with his own hand, as a proof of the epistle’s authenticity, 1 Cor. 16, 21; Col. 4, 18; 2 Thess. 3, 17. In this case, however, the apostle seems to have written the entire letter personally, and with large characters, which seems to have been a mark of unusual favor and respect. 39)
But even as the love of Paul appeared in his every move, so the intrigues of his opponents stood out prominently, if one but drew the right conclusions from their actions: As many as wish to please in matters of the flesh, these constrain you to be circumcised, only that they should not suffer persecution for the Cross of Christ. The Judaizing agitators were not sincere; they wanted to make a show before men to gratify their own carnal vanity; they were trying to gain followers in order to boast of their popularity. In this sense only did they insist upon circumcision, not because they actually believed the rite to be necessary for salvation. At the same time (and here another carnal reason appears) they followed this course in order not to be persecuted by, or on account of, the Cross of Christ; they did not want to embrace the cause of the Cross of Christ because a plain Gospel-confession brought persecution. So they escaped persecution on the part of the Jews, and in most cases also on the part of the Gentiles, by this questionable method. But Paul lays bare their hypocrisy: For not even they themselves, although circumcised, keep the Law, but they desire that you be circumcised in order to boast in your flesh. The Jewish teachers, with all their bragging of being circumcised, were not concerned for the Law on its own account. They were like the scribes and Pharisees to whom the Lord addressed Himself, Matt. 23, 25-28. It was not their interest in the Law or in the spiritual welfare of the Galatians that prompted the Judaizing teachers to preach the necessity of circumcision, but merely their desire to boast of converts, of more persons gained for their own views and obedient to their wishes.
The position of Paul had nothing in common with such selfishness: But let it be far from me to glory but in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world is crucified to me and I to the world. That is the significance which the Cross has for him, that is the effect which it has had upon him and upon his entire way of thinking. He boasts of the triumph of the Cross of Christ, which overcame his own flesh, which effectually overcame the power of the world over him and his former carnal love for the world and its lures, whether of honor, pleasure, or wealth. He knows that justification and salvation have come to him through Christ Crucified, that atonement has been made for him by his Lord’s Passion and death. That is his one exultant boast. He has, therefore, forever severed fellowship with Jewish rites and Gentile vanities, which are an empty, hollow mockery to him. He knows, moreover: Neither circumcision has any value nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. Cp. chap. 5, 6. He that is a Jew by birth and religion for that reason cannot claim acceptance on the part of God, just as he that is a Gentile cannot for that reason hope to be more acceptable to the Lord. These conditions are mere accidents of outward circumstance, and have nothing to do with justification before God. The new creation, the regeneration of the heart through the power of God in the means of grace, that alone places a person into the right relation with God. That is the glorious comfort of all believers.
Conclusion: V.16. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them and mercy, and upon the Israel of God. V.17. From henceforth let no man trouble me; for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus. V.18. Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen. Crucified to the world, but alive to Christ and in Christ, that is the condition of the believers that have become new creatures by the regenerative power of the Holy Spirit. And therefore Paul, in a calm, but triumphant statement, calls out: And as many as shall walk according to this rule: peace upon them and mercy, yea, upon the Israel of God. All believers accept the principle formulated by Paul in v.15. it is the standard according to which they regulate their lives. And upon all such, as upon the true Israel of God, the apostle invokes peace and mercy. The peace of God, which passes all understanding, which assures them of the right relation to God, Phil. 4, 7, the peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, Rom. 5, 1, is the blessing which follows belief in the Gospel. For it has been made possible by the mercy of God, shown to us poor sinners for the sake of His Son, by which He forgives us all our sins and accepts us as His dear children.
Having thus finished his exposition of the truth, Paul has only one wish: Henceforth let no one cause me distresses, wearisome annoyances. He expects it of the Galatians, and feels sure that they will heed his appeal, that they will pay no more attention to the Judaizing teachers. For as for him, he was hearing the marks, or stigmata, of the Lord Jesus in his body. Such marks were branded upon the body for various reasons, the reference here probably being to the brand of freedom placed upon the slave when he was sold to the temple and thus liberated from his master. 40) Paul bore such marks on his body, all the traces, scars, wounds, and welts of the various persecutions which he had been obliged to endure in his apostolic calling. Also herein he had become like his great Master.
And so he concludes: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brethren. The grace which was merited by the atoning work of Christ is the highest gift which God can bestow, and it is Paul’s prayer that it may fill their spirit, their mind, with the calm certainty of salvation, a certainty which neither false teachers nor all the forces of the world could take from them. The very last word of the epistle proper is the kind and appealing address “brethren.” The severity of the entire letter is mitigated by this one word, in which unaltered brotherly love is expressed.
The apostle warns against self exaltation and every show of
pictures his love in contrast to the hypocrisy of the false teachers,
the Galatians to return to the proper spirit of peace in order that
enjoy the mercy of the Lord.