Galatians--Part 23--Freedom to Love
Sep 02, 2010
In Galatians 5:11 Paul engages in some irony, saying,
(11) But I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? Then the stumblingblock of the cross has been abolished.
In other words, if Paul had been preaching circumcision, he would not have been persecuted by the synagogues during all of his missionary journeys. Yet if he had taught circumcision, the cross would have been abolished, and its offence, scandal, or stumblingblock would have been removed. The Jews were greatly offended by the idea of the crucifixion of a Messiah. To them, if He had truly been the Messiah, God would never have allowed Him to be crucified.
So Paul puts circumcision in direct contrast and opposition to the cross. His refusal to circumcise Greeks as a requisite to a (new) covenant relationship with God is the prime reason for his persecution. Paul believed that physical circumcision did indeed give men a covenant relationship with God--but it was the Old Covenant, not the New. And the Old Covenant bound men to the vow of perfect obedience that Israel made at Sinai, which had worked against them. Their transgressions meant that they would live perpetually as slaves trying to pay off the restitution to their debt to sin.
Keep in mind, of course, that Paul did not try to change any racial customs. He did not tell Jews to refrain from circumcision. As a custom, circumcision was neither good nor evil. The problem was in thinking that it placed a man under covenant, for this meant the Old Covenant, not the New.
One might argue, though, that Abraham himself was circumcised. Genesis 17:26 says,
(26) In the very same day Abraham was circumcised, and Ishmael his son.
But Abraham's faith had come earlier, by which he was reckoned righteous, for Gen.15:6 says,
(6) Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.
Paul points out in Romans 4:10 that He was reckoned righteous prior to his circumcision.
(10) How then was it reckoned? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised, (11) and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be reckoned to them.
Physical circumcision was a type and shadow of heart circumcision. For the same reason, when God ratified the covenant with Abraham, animals were killed to typify the sacrifice of Christ. One cannot argue that animal sacrifices should be used under the New Covenant, just because Abraham sacrificed animals. Though Abraham was the prime revelator of the New Covenant in those days, he still lived before the cross changed everything.
The two-step sequence, Faith and Circumcision, also speak of Abraham and Moses--in that order. Abraham's circumcision prophesied of Moses who was yet to come. So Paul rightly associates circumcision with Moses and the Old Covenant vow that Israel made at Sinai.
Abraham received physical circumcision, certainly, but that circumcision is directly associated with Ishmael, who received it at the same time. That is the association that we must make.
(12) Would that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves.
This is a Hebrew expression. "Go do it to yourself, if you want, but leave me alone."
(13) For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. (14) For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
This requires some background explanation.
All men are sinners who cannot possibly pay the debt that they owe, according to the Law. So Jesus came to pay their penalty and set them free. In other words, He was our Redeemer. Leviticus 26:39-43 reveals to us the Laws of Redemption. When a man redeemed his near kinsman, the kinsman was to serve his redeemer, and the redeemer was not to abuse or oppress the kinsman. Verse 43 says to the redeemer,
(43) You shall not rule over him with severity, but are to revere your God.
Verse 53 then says to the one redeemed,
(53) Like a man hired year by year he shall be with him [the redeemer]; he shall not rule over him with severity in your sight.
We see from this that those who are redeemed are set free from the oppression and slavery of the non-family member, who has no love for the slave. A kinsman had the legal right to pay the debt of the slave. His slavemaster had no choice but to sell him to the kinsman. But the one being redeemed, then, was to serve the redeemer until the debt was paid, or until the Year of Jubilee.
Jesus was our kinsman-redeemer, not taking upon Himself the nature of angels, but flesh and blood (Heb. 2:14), so that He would qualify as a near-kinsman of mankind. For this reason, He was able to call us "brethren" (Heb. 2:12, 13). This gave Him the right to redeem all mankind, that is, all "flesh and blood." And He has done so, as 1 John 2:2 tells us,
(2) And He Himself is the expiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.
With this in view, we return to Gal. 5:13, where Paul makes the statement, "do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh." It is based on the idea that those who are redeemed are not free to do as they wish. They simply change masters. The first master did not love them; but their kinsman-redeemer does. The kinsman-redeemer is commanded not to mistreat his slaves.
So also is it with Jesus Christ, our Kinsman-Redeemer who has purchased us from the slavery of Mr. Sin. Jesus loves us and will not mistreat us, though we are His bondslaves. Yet we must continually remember that we were not redeemed so that we could now do as we pleased. We are not "free" to sin. The Law of Redemption says that we simply change masters.
Our new Master loves us and commands us to love one another as well, in order to conform to His character and the laws of His household. "Love" is not a replacement for the Law. Love IS the Law and always has been. "God is Love" (1 John 4:16). That is His very Nature. And out of His nature, He gave the Law to Moses. It was to tutor us how to love our neighbor and treat others equitably. Hence, the entire Law is summarized in one word--Love--or in one statement: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
Our main problem is that, being carnally minded, we do not know how to love perfectly. In our natural state, we tend to oppress others when it is to our advantage. It is because of these "transgressions" that God put us under the tutor. It was to teach us how to love our neighbors as ourselves.
One might argue that the penalty of the Law is not an expression of love. But consider our own children. If we do not discipline our children, do we really love them? The penalties of the Law were designed to correct us as well. In fact, they are God's judgment for our failure to love.
The first four Commandments are summarized by the greatest Law, as Jesus said in Matt. 22:37, 38. We are to love God with all of our heart, soul, and mind.
The last six Commandments are summarized by the second which is "like it," "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Matt. 22:39).
This is what our Redeemer-Master has commanded His bondslaves to do. He wants all of them to become like Him.
This is the twenty-third part of a series titled "Galatians." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones