Galatians 4-6
(The Only Thing That Counts)
December 7th

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

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Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verse

- For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.

- Galatians 5:1 (NAB)

Summary of Chapters

In chapter 4 Paul continues the theme of sons and heirs. He uses the analogy of rights withheld until a child becomes an adult, and then says that God has determined that it was time to make the inheritance available. Paul tells us that we are to consider ourselves sons (and daughters), and refer to the Father in heaven in endearing terms such as “Abba (Daddy).”

Paul reminds the people what it was like before the Good News of Jesus Christ. Previously they had been slaves to laws and rituals. He uses the Genesis story of Abraham and Sarah as an allegory for the difference between life in freedom and life in slavery. Isaac, the child of Abraham and Sarah represents the freedom of living under grace, while Ishmael the child of Abraham and Hagar represents life under bondage to the law. Those who recognize faith by salvation are spiritual sons and daughters of Isaac, regardless of their ethnic heritage.

Paul softens his tone at the end of the chapter as he remembered how hospitable the Galatians were to him and says he wishes he could change his tone but he is “perplexed” by them.

In chapter 5 Paul explains what it means to be free in Christ – free from the need to be circumcised and free from the need to be justified by the law:

    I suspect you would never intend this, but this is what happens. When you attempt to live by your own religious plans and projects, you are cut off from Christ, you fall out of grace. Meanwhile we expectantly wait for a satisfying relationship with the Spirit. For in Christ, neither our most conscientious religion nor disregard of religion amounts to anything. What matters is something far more interior: faith expressed in love.

    - Galatians 5:4-6 (MSG)

However, freedom from the law does not mean we are free to sin as our body desires, instead we are to “serve one another in love (Gal 5:13 - NIV).” Paul quotes the book of Leviticus and the person of Jesus in explaining how love and the law converge:

    Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the Lord.

    - Leviticus 19:18 (KJV)

    One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

    - Mark 12:28-31 (NRSV)

    You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.

    - Galatians 5:13-14 (NIV)

Paul then describes the Fruit of the Spirit that will be manifested if we allow ourselves to be guided by the Holy Spirit:

    If we let the Spirit guide us we will be able to abstain from the typical sins of man and instead will be filled with the fruits of the Spirit: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

    - Galatians 5:22 (NIV)

Paul closes in chapter 6 with a set of final instructions. In the spirit of loving one another he reminds the Galatians to correct each other gently, share their wealth with their instructors, and to persist in doing good: "Let us not grow tired of doing good, for in due time we shall reap our harvest, if we do not give up. So then, while we have the opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who belong to the family of the faith (Gal 6:9-10 - NAB)."

Paul offers one last warning about the false apostles, explaining that these ones only seek to boost themselves, and then signs off in his own hand by asking for the Lord’s grace to be bestowed upon the Galatians.

Reflection and Application

In his Bible Study series on this letter, the Rev Gregory Doll pointed out how Paul related a theological concept to local customs. The Jews, Greeks, and Romans each had distinct processes and ceremonies to transition a boy into manhood. In Judaism, a boy becomes a man at 12, and becomes a son of the law.

In the Greek world, a boy became a man at age 17 and passed from the care of his father to the care of the state. In the Roman culture the transition would occur at the father’s discretion sometime when the boy was between 14 and 17 years old.

Therefore, everyone in Paul’s diverse audience had a framework with which they could understand Paul’s explanation. At one time the human race was like a minor – subject to the law but not able to receive the inheritance and full rights offered by the governing body. The resurrection of Jesus from death represented an invitation for us to experience the transition from childhood to adulthood in faith.

Are we ready to make that step and accept that invitation, or are there elements of our childhood that we don’t want to let go?

In the earlier chapters, Paul had made his best arguments to explain salvation by faith, thus he uses most of the remainder of the letter to explain how to live our lives under this umbrella of freedom. If we truly love God then we are free to do whatever we desire – because then we will only desire things that are consistent with his will.

If we find that hard to grapple with we can refer to Paul’s statement in 5:14: “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’.” If we chose to follow this command, then we first have to love ourselves by accepting the gifts we have, forgetting about the gifts we don’t have that we would like, and forgiving ourselves for wanting things we don’t have and other transgressions. We have to offer ourselves unconditional love and then we have the mindset and ability to offer it to others.

If we approach every situation with the idea of unconditional love and respect than we fulfill God’s will and the commandments without getting bogged down in remembering or following all the rules. If we observe a fault in others we can turn to chapter 6 where Paul says to correct gently, or turn back to the Gospel where Jesus tells us to take the plank out of our eye before mentioning a speck in our neighbor’s eye. How would we like to be corrected? Do so with others.

How about the false apostles, are we to love them too? Yes, we can show respect by engaging in a civil discourse or we can let them be, but respecting is not the same as following.

The Fruit of the Spirit discussion from 5:22 is worthy of a much deeper study and reflection. In a sermon on November 6th, 2011, the Rev. Sam Schreiner focused on one of the fruits: Self-control (1). Schreiner noted that “intelligence is at the mercy of self-control,” in other words, we can’t apply our intelligence if we don’t control our emotions. He quoted the Greek philosopher Socrates, who took this concept even further when he said, “Self-control is the cardinal of all other virtues.” Schreiner emphasized that if we have self-control that it will “weed out all the bad traits” and noted that self-control is “key for all the other fruits to take root.”

How can we achieve self-control? Not by our own strength. Instead, as pointed out by Schreiner, we can believe that “God helps us to grow our self-control if we invite him through prayer.” So we ought to pray that we fulfill God’s will and that he gives us the self-control to do that.

For further reflection on Paul's statements in Galations 4:4-7, I recommend a sermon from Mark Daniels, Pastor at St. Matthew Lutheran Church, in Logan Ohio: Am I Saved?

How do we express joy, which is a fruit of the Spirit? Check out the manner in which a seemingly random group of people at a mall expressed joy one December day:

"Joy to the World" Flash Mob

Over 200 singers helped in this awesome food court flash mob which took place at the Burnsville Center in Burnsville Minnesota. It was organized by Prince of Peace Lutheran Church!

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions
    1. What are your favorite fruits to eat?
    2. Which Fruit of the Spirit is your greatest strength? Be careful, because this is the one that the enemy attacks first.
    3. Which Fruit of the Spirit is your greatest weakness? Be encouraged, because Jesus left his Spirit on earth to help us overcome weaknesses like these.

    Recommended Prayer
    Father in heaven, we know you have given us the Fruit of the Spirit to help us fulfill our role on earth. Help us to feed this fruit and harvest it according to your plans.

    Prayer Concerns
    Apple Farmers

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: Overview and Study of the Book of Ephesians (The Church is the Working Body of Christ)

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