Text: Galatians 6:11-18
Date: 30 Sep 2018
Well, here we are at the end of our series looking at Galatians; this is the eighteenth and final sermon in the series. It has been a long and at times tortuous journey but one that I hope you have found worthwhile. What comes across loud and clear is that throughout this awesome letter Paul has been trying to deal with what could well be described as spiritual insurrection from the Galatians. Paul covered a lot of ground and dealt with a lot of issues within the Galatian fellowship particularly the way in which Cephas and the Judaisers had tried to disrupt the Galatian fellowship by preaching that faith in Christ wasn’t enough. In addition to that I believe that this wonderful letter shows Paul at his best, as a Pastor and as a true believer in Jesus Christ. It’s easy to see that there could well have been times when Paul may have felt that he was almost alone in his battle with the Judaisers. He wasn’t of course as he always had the Holy Spirit with him, just as we all do if only we would open our hearts and minds and realise that He is there right beside us.
As was his usual way of working Paul had arrived in a place and worked hard at establishing a fellowship of followers of Jesus Christ. By the time he had completed his mission in Galatia he believed that he had won over a lot of people to Christ; he undoubtedly felt that in Galatia he had left behind a solid fellowship of believers. That was of course until “certain men from Jerusalem” arrived and stirred things up with their ministry of a “false gospel”. The main issue throughout this letter has been this divisive argument between Paul and the Judaisers. These were the people who said that believers in Jesus Christ needed more than their faith; they needed to be circumcised and follow the Jewish way of life. Even in these closing few verses Paul once again brings up the subject of those who want believers in Jesus Christ to be circumcised.
In some ways these verses may seem a bit disjointed with no apparent flow. However, Paul is actually trying to finalise the letter by mentioning briefly some of the key points that he has been trying to make in the previous five and a half chapters.
Paul opens this closing section in 6:11 in what may seem a rather strange way. We need to understand that whilst all of Paul’s letters use his words as directed by the Holy Spirit, he always had a secretary or scribe to do the actual writing. However, in each of his letters he always added a few words in his own hand as a means of verifying that the letter was genuine. This was intended to combat the not uncommon practice whereby letters would be circulated that claimed to be written by Paul. Paul makes that comment, “see what large letters I use” (6:11a). As if to emphasise the point, the NLT actually has this verse in capitals! There could be a number of reasons for that although it is difficult to be 100% sure as to the precise reason. Firstly, you may recall that Paul mentioned an illness in 4:13-14 and went on to suggest that the Galatians “would have torn out their eyes and given them” (4:15b) to him. When you add those two things together the answer could be that Paul did have eyesight problems and had to write in large letters for his own benefit. A second possibility is that he was far more used to writing Hebrew than Greek and so may have struggled with the actual words to use. Finally, he was no scribe and so may not have not done too much writing, which would have meant that he was somewhat out of practice. On balance it isn’t overly important since the most important thing is that this was a genuine letter from Paul that contained a very important message.
Circumcision and the Law
In 6:12-13 Paul returns to the argument regarding circumcision. He is still very concerned about the motivation of the Judaisers in wanting the Galatians to be circumcised and then follow the Law. Interestingly in 6:13 he suggests that even those who are already circumcised don’t follow the entire law, and yet they still want the Galatian believers to be circumcised so that they could boast of their success in winning the Galatians over. The NLT sums it up rather well when it translates this part of the verse as “They only want you to be circumcised so they can boast about it and claim you as their disciples.” It is almost as if there is a competition between them and Paul over who can claim the most disciples. Salvation is not a competition; it is far more important than that.
The second half of 6:12 may suggest that there was an element of self protection in what the Judaisers were proposing. They seem to have believed that by promoting salvation through the cross of Christ alone they may have been open to persecution. By suggesting that to achieve salvation believers also needed to be circumcised and become Jews meant that they were aligning this ‘new’ religion with Judaism, a religious body that was recognised and sanctioned by the Romans. By proposing this the new group would have avoided any persecution from the Romans.
At the end of 6:13 Paul mentions that they probably wanted to boast about the number of disciples they had won over. However, in 6:14 Paul makes it very clear that he would never boast about such a thing and that he would only ever boast “in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ”. When you read Paul’s letters you can see that he had plenty to boast about; in fact a less humble person may well have boasted about the success that he had achieved. Whilst Paul does talk of boasting in 2 Corinthians 11 & 12, on those occasions he is only boasting about his weaknesses and how the Lord helped him deal with those weaknesses. In Philippians 3 Paul also talks of his personal credentials as a leading Jew; credentials that are indeed impressive. However, he adds in Philippians 3:7, “But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.” Paul of all people had plenty to boast about and yet he only ever wanted to boast about the cross of Christ.
There are of course those who do boast; some of whom have quite a lot to boast about. However, for believers in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour we don’t, of our own volition, have much to boast about. All that we have comes as a result of our faith in Christ coupled with the grace of God. If we do feel the need to boast then perhaps we should heed Paul’s words when he says, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (6:14a).
For me the real issue comes in 6:15 where Paul not only once again tells us that neither circumcision nor uncircumcision mean anything but “what counts is a new creation”. By way of emphasising that point, Paul said something similar to the Corinthians when he wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come; the old has gone, the new is here!” Once we place our faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour we truly do become a new creation; our old way of life has gone and our new way of life has arrived. This thought links very closely to what Paul had to say in 5:6 where Paul reminds us that “For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love”. We can come up with all sorts of thoughts and philosophies; all sorts of new age ideas; but at the end of the day the only thing that matters, the only thing that truly counts is faith in Jesus Christ. That is what God wants to see and that is what Paul had been faithfully preaching to the people of Galatia. The Judaisers had tried their best but their best simply wasn’t good enough. They tried to convince the Galatians that faith in Christ wasn’t enough, more was needed. To put it bluntly, that view is utter rubbish! All that is required to receive eternal life and a place in paradise with Jesus, is faith in Him as the crucified and risen Saviour. No add-ons are required; no subscription is required; the fee has been paid! The Dave Bilbrough song that we sang a few minutes ago says it all. The opening lines say, “I am a new creation, no more in condemnation, here in the grace of God I stand.” Only by placing our faith in Jesus Christ can we come to that wonderful place of standing in the grace of God; nothing else will do.
Paul won’t have heard that song although I’m sure that he would agree with every word of it. Let’s not forget that he preached the gospel of Jesus Christ and as he said so clearly in 1 Corinthians 1:23, “we preach Christ crucified”. Accepting the crucified Christ as Saviour is the only route to salvation; nothing else will do. The Judaisers may have tried very hard to convince the Galatians that that wasn’t the case but they undoubtedly failed in the face of Paul’s convincing argument, an argument that was very clearly backed up by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Marks of Christ
In 6:17 Paul appears to be making a personal plea that no one will cause him any more trouble. When we read through Acts looking at the various passages concerning Paul’s ministry, we see numerous references to the problems he faced and the suffering he endured. I suspect that he was now getting weary having been battered over and over by unbelievers who didn’t believe a single word that he said. Now, here in Galatia, he has been facing yet more problems and suffering even more at the hands of the enemies of Christ. This painful plea includes that comment that, “I bear on my body the marks of Jesus”. Very obviously Paul hadn’t been crucified. However, he had been beaten and flogged, stoned and on one occasion left for dead. His body must have been covered in the multiple scars of his suffering. Whilst I’ve no doubt that Paul was happy to suffer for the cause of spreading the good news of his Saviour, I’m also sure that there must have come a time when even he would have said, “enough is enough”!
I would humbly suggest that all who are engaged in any form of Christian ministry have suffered at one time or another. In the free world this wouldn’t necessarily have involved physical punishment as such but I’m sure that the scars of ridicule can accumulate and cause considerable pain.
Having read this passage quite a few times, I suspect that 6:16 is slightly out of place and would really be better if it followed 6:17. I say that because it seems to me to be part of Paul’s closing greetings.
Paul always closed his letters with a greeting of some sort and this letter is no different. However, there is a difference in that Paul doesn’t make any mention of thanking anyone in Galatia for all that they did for him. For instance, a quick look at his letter to the Romans will show that he devoted the whole of Romans 16, the final chapter, to thanking people and sending his greetings to them. Here in Galatians there are no such thanks or greetings.
In 6:16 Paul does write that he wishes “peace and mercy to all who follow this rule” that rule being that by coming to faith in Christ they have become a new creation.
Finally in 6:18 he closes the letter in what is a fairly typical way to close any letter by adding, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit”. On the surface that may sound perfectly reasonable and it is fairly similar to the way that we close some of our services when we say The Grace to one another. On this occasion though it comes across as being a bit cold and abrupt and not totally like Paul’s other letters. It is just possible, and I deliberately say just possible, that Paul was a little bit peeved with the fellowship in Galatia and wanted to keep the closing to the bare minimum. I may well be wrong but having read Paul’s other letters, this ending does come over as being rather short and abrupt.
There we have it; the end of this extremely interesting letter from Paul to the Christian believers in Galatia. I believe that this letter comes across as a mixture of anger, patience, pastoral care, teaching and encouragement. This is undoubtedly Paul at his best as he deals with those who almost denounce his ministry and argue that the route to salvation requires more than simple faith in the risen Jesus Christ.
Throughout the letter he has dealt with each point that the Judaisers threw at him and he continued to do his utmost to convince those wavering believers that faith in Christ was enough for them to receive the guarantee of salvation. It may have seemed too simple for the Galatians to fully appreciate which is why the Judaisers were able to gain a foothold in the fellowship. However, what Paul had to say was true when he said it and it is still true today. Despite the efforts of humanists, atheists and left wing politicians, the Promised Land of salvation and a place in heaven alongside Christ can only be achieved through placing our faith in the Son of God Who was crucified, placed in a tomb and then rose on the third day.
Paul believed that, I believe that and I hope and pray that you too believe that.