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The Blue Letter Bible

David Guzik :: Study Guide for Galatians 6

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Final Instructions

A. Personal responsibility and helping others.

1. (Gal 6:1) Restoring those overtaken in sin.

Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.

a. If a man is overtaken in any trespass: Paul recognized that there may be those among the Christians in Galatia who had been overtaken in a trespass. Paul didn’t seem to exclude the overtaken one from the brethren, yet they should never stay in the place of being overtaken.

i. Paul’s wording here speaks not of a determined and hardened sinner. Instead, the idea is of someone who has fallen into sin, finding themselves trapped in a place they never thought they would be. Overtaken “Contains the idea of falling. It is not the deliberate, the planned, aspect of sin that is stressed here, but rather the unwitting element. Mistake rather than misdeed is the force of the word, though without absolution of responsibility.” (Ridderbos, cited in Morris)

ii. “If we carefully weigh the words of the Apostle we perceive that he does not speak of doctrinal faults and errors, but of much lesser faults by which a person is overtaken through the weakness of his flesh. This explains why the Apostle chooses the softer term ‘fault.’ To minimize the offense still more, as if he meant to excuse it altogether and to take the whole blame away from the person who has committed the fault, he speaks of him as having been ‘overtaken,’ seduced by the devil and of the flesh... This comforting sentence at one time saved my life.” (Luther)

b. Restore such a one: The overtaken ones need to be restored. They are not to be ignored. They are not to be excused. They are not to be destroyed. The goal is always restoration.

i. Stott on restore: “The verb is instructive. Kataritzo means to ‘put in order’ and so to ‘restore to its former condition’... It was used in secular Greek as a medical term for setting a fractured or dislocated bone. It is applied in Mark 1:19 to the apostles who were ‘mending’ their nets.”

ii. This job of restoration is often neglected in the church. We have a tendency to either pretend the sin never happened, or we tend to react too harshly towards the one who has sinned. The balance between these two extremes can only be negotiated by the spiritual. It should be normal to do what God says here, but it isn’t. It is all too easy to respond to someone’s sin with gossip, harsh judgment, or undiscerning approval.

c. Restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness: Restoration must always be done in a spirit of gentleness, with full understanding of our own weakness and corruption. Those doing the restoring must guard against the temptation of pride, as well as the same temptation the overtaken one struggled with.

i. “Let the ministers of the Gospel learn from Paul how to deal with those who have sinned. ‘Brethren,’ he says, ‘if any man be overtaken with a fault, do not aggravate his grief, do not scold him, do not condemn him, but lift him up and gently restore his faith.” (Luther)

ii. “This suggests that gentleness is born of a sense of our own weakness and proneness to sin.” (Stott)

iii. The influence of the legalists among the Galatians made this warning necessary; “Nothing reveals the wickedness of legalism better than the way the legalists treat those who have sinned.” (Wiersbe)

2. (Gal 6:2-5) Bearing each other’s burdens and bearing our own load.

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For each one shall bear his own load.

a. Bear one another’s burdens: When Paul brought up the idea of the one overtaken in any trespass, it painted the picture of a person sagging under a heavy load. Here he expanded the idea to encourage every Christian to bear one another’s burdens.

i. The focus isn’t on “expect others to bear your burdens.” That is self-focused, and always leads to pride, frustration, discouragement, and depression. Instead, God always directs us to be others-focused, and says, “Bear one another’s burdens.”

ii. This is a simple command to obey. Look for a brother or a sister with a burden, and help them with it. It isn’t complicated, and it doesn’t take a huge program or infrastructure to do it. Just look for a burden to bear and bear it.

iii. “Notice the assumption which lies behind this command, namely that we all have burdens and that God does not mean us to carry them alone.” (Stott)

b. And so fulfill the law of Christ: As we bear one another’s burdens, we are fulfilling the simple law of Christ: A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:34-35).

i. Through this whole letter Paul battled the legalists among the Galatian Christians. Here, he hit them again. Paul essentially said, “Do you want to fulfill the law? Here is your law to fulfill. Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

ii. “So Paul may be saying to them, in effect, that instead of imposing the law as a burden upon others, they should rather lift their burdens and so fulfill Christ’s law.” (Stott)

c. If anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself: Pride prevents us from bearing one another’s burdens and fulfilling the law of Christ. It is often pride that keeps us from ministering to one another as we should.

i. As much as anything, pride is self-focus. Pride doesn’t necessarily say, “I’m better than you are.” Pride simply says, “I’m more important than you are, so I deserve more of my own attention and love than you do.” Instead, Biblical humility tells us, “I am no more important than you are. Let me care about your burdens and needs.”

ii. When anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, it also stifles ministry in another way. Out of pride, people will refuse to receive help when someone else reaches out to help bear their burden.

iii. It is important to understand that Paul wrote to every Christian when he said, “When he is nothing.” In the sense Paul uses the idea here, it isn’t that some Christians are something, and others are nothing, and the problem is that the nothings think they are one of the somethings. Instead, Paul writes with the same idea behind Philippians 2:3b-4: In lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. If I esteem you above me, and you esteem me above you, a marvelous thing happens: we have a community where everyone is looked up to, and no one is looked down on.

iv. “The meaning is more general and should therefore be expressed thus, ‘Since all men are nothing, he who wishes to appear something and persuades himself that he is somebody, deceives himself.’ ” (Calvin)

d. He deceives himself: There are few things more self-deceptive than pride. To be proud is to be blind – blind to the freely given favor and gifts of God, blind to our sin and depravity, blind to the good in others, and blind to the foolishness of self-centeredness.

i. We often get angry when someone deceives us. Yet don’t take the danger of deceiving ourselves as seriously as we should. It is a serious and terrible thing to deceive yourself. “The misery of most men is, that their minds are as ill set as their eyes, neither of them look inwards.” (Trapp)

ii. This helps explain the greatest deception of the greatest of deceivers – Satan himself. If there was anyone who thought himself to be something when he is nothing, it was Satan both before and after his fall. And if there is anyone who deceives himself, surely it is Satan – who works on and on against God in the self-delusion that he may one day triumph.

e. But let each one examine his own work: Instead of deceiving ourselves, we must take a careful and a sober examination of our works before God. If we don’t, and if we carry on under our self-deception, then we may think our works are approved before God, when really they aren’t. We want to have our work approved before God, so that our rejoicing on the day of reward can be for our own work (himself alone), and not in the work of another.

i. There is another aspect to rejoicing in himself. It means having joy at your own walk with the Lord, instead of feeling spiritual because someone around you perhaps is overtaken in any trespass.

f. For each one shall bear his own load: The Bible speaks of a day when our works will be examined before the Lord. This is the judgment seat of Christ described in Romans 14:10 and 2 Corinthians 5:10. On that day, each one shall bear his own load.

i. There is no contradiction between bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2) and each one shall bear his own load (Galatians 6:5). In Galatians 6:5, Paul spoke of our final accountability before God. In Galatians 6:2, he spoke of our need to care for others in the body of Christ.

ii. There is also a difference in the wording Paul uses. The word for load in Galatians 6:5 was a common term for a man’s backpack. The word for burdens in Galatians 6:2 was a different word meaning “heavy burdens” – those that are more than a man should carry. In the end, we will are all responsible for our own work, but we can help bear the burdens of others.

3. (Gal 6:6-10) Doing good to others in the household of faith.

Let him who is taught the word share in all good things with him who teaches. Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.

a. Let him who is taught the word share in all good things with him who teaches: In this context of caring for one another, Paul instructs those who are taught to support (share in all good things) those who teach them.

i. To share in all good things has the idea focused on financial support, but not limited to it. “Of the variety of interpretations of Paul’s words here the most common is also the most likely: this takes share in the sense of active giving and all good things in the sense of physical goods (Luke 1:53; 12:18-19; 16:25).” (Fung)

ii. Lightfoot translates the sense of this: “I spoke of bearing one another’s burdens. There is one special application I would make of this rule. Provide for the temporal needs of your teachers in Christ.”

iii. Passages like this are important, yet can be awkward for the preacher. Martin Luther wrote, “These passages are all meant to benefit us ministers. I must say I do not find much pleasure in explaining these verses. I am made to appear as if I am speaking for my own benefit.”

iv. “The right relationship between teacher and taught, or minister and congregation, is one of koinonia, ‘fellowship’ or ‘partnership’. So Paul writes: ‘Let him who is taught the word share (koinoneito) all good things with him who teaches.’ ” (Stott) It isn’t payment; it is sharing.

v. This is a basic, though sometimes neglected spiritual principle. Those who feed and bless you spiritually should be supported by you financially. Paul repeated this principle in several other places. If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things? (1 Corinthians 9:11). Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:14). Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine (1 Timothy 5:17). If you trust them with your spiritual health, you should also trust them to steward the gifts of God’s people (Luke 16:11).

vi. “I have often wondered why all the apostles reiterated this request with such embarrassing frequency... We have come to understand why it is so necessary to repeat the admonition of this verse. When Satan cannot suppress the preaching of the Gospel by force, he tries to accomplish his purpose by striking the ministers of the Gospel with poverty.” (Luther)

b. Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap: For those who are hesitant to share in all good things with those who teach them, Paul reminded them of God’s principle of sowing and reaping. Their giving (to share in all good things with him who teaches) isn’t like throwing away money; it is like planting seeds, and whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.

i. To regard sharing in all good things with him who teaches as a waste is to mock God. It is selfishness that mocks God’s generosity towards those who give to Him. Luther put it strongly: “Be careful, you scoffers. God may postpone His punishment for a time, but He will find you out in time, and punish you for despising His servants. You cannot laugh at God.”

ii. Paul’s point is that God’s people should not share in all good things with him who teaches because it is good for the teacher. They should do it because it is good for the one who is taught and shares, and the principle of reaping and sowing demonstrates this.

c. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life: If we want to reap to the Spirit, we should not hesitate to sow to the Spirit with whatever resources God has given us.

i. A farmer reaps the same as he has sown. If he plants wheat, wheat comes up. In the same way, if we sow to the flesh, the flesh will increase in size and strength.

ii. The farmer reaps the same as he has sown, but not exactly. The apple seed doesn’t just grow more apple seeds, but more apples with seeds. Even so, when we sow to the Spirit – even with material things – what we reap is not necessarily material things, but something better: of the Spirit we reap everlasting life. So we don’t give as a crude “investment” or money-making scheme, though we are completely confident we will never be the loser for giving.

iii. The farmer also reaps more if he has sown more, and the relationship between what he sows and what he reaps is exponential. A farmer can plant one apple seed and receive hundreds of apples over time.

d. Whatever a man sows, that he will also reap: This principle has application beyond giving and supporting teachers and ministers. It has a general application in life; what we get out of life is often what we put in. Yet, Paul is not promoting some law of spiritual karma that ensures we will get good when we do good, or always get bad when we do bad. If there were such an absolute spiritual law, it would surely damn us all. Instead, Paul simply relates the principle of sowing and reaping to the way we manage our resources before the Lord. He used the same picture in 1 Corinthians 9:11 and 2 Corinthians 9:6-10.

i. We may fool ourselves by expecting much when we sow little, but we cannot fool God and the results of our poor sowing will be evident.

e. Let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart: As we wisely manage our resources before God under the principle of sowing and reaping, we need patience. This is because the harvest does not come immediately after the seeds are sown.

i. It is easy but dangerous to lose heart. In the ancient world, this phrase translated lose heart was used for the kind of fear and weariness a woman experiences during labor before delivery. It describes a time when the work is hard and painful, but also unfinished and unrewarded. It’s easy to lose heart when we feel like that, but that is exactly when we must hang on and not grow weary while doing good.

f. As we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith: Not losing heart, we seek to do good with our resources, and to do good to all – but especially to those who are of God’s family.

i. When Paul wrote as we have opportunity and let us do good, he clearly included himself in what he wrote. He spoke to himself here as much as to the Galatians. Because of the danger brought in by the legalists, Paul’s work among them had not yet really been rewarded, so he needed to remember not to lose heart himself.

B. Final words.

1. (Gal 6:11) Introduction to Paul’s personal postscript.

See with what large letters I have written to you with my own hand!

a. I have written to you with my own hand: Paul’s custom, typical in the ancient world, was to dictate his letters to a secretary. But he would often personally write a short portion at the end, both to authenticate the letter and to add a personal touch.

i. Other examples of this kind of postscript are 1 Corinthians 16:21-24 (The salutation with my own hand – Paul) and Colossians 4:18 (This salutation by my own hand – Paul). One reason Paul may have done this was to prove that he really wrote the letter, as in 2 Thessalonians 3:17: The salutation of Paul with my own hand, which is a sign in every epistle; so I write.

b. See with what large letters I have written: Paul points out that he wrote his postscript with large letters. Many speculate this was because he had poor eyesight and could not read or write small print. But it is more likely that he made the letters large simply for emphasis.

i. “At this point the Apostle takes the pen from his amanuensis, and the concluding paragraph is written with his own hand... He writes it too in large bold characters, that his handwriting may reflect the energy and determination of his soul.” (Lightfoot)

ii. “Most commentators consider that he used large letters deliberately, either because he was treating his readers like children (rebuking their spiritual immaturity by using baby writing) or simply for emphasis... much as we would use capital letters or underline words today.” (Stott)

2. (Gal 6:12-13) A final word regarding the motives of the legalists among the Galatians.

As many as desire to make a good showing in the flesh, these would compel you to be circumcised, only that they may not suffer persecution for the cross of Christ. For not even those who are circumcised keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh.

a. As many as desire to make a good showing in the flesh, these try to compel you to be circumcised: Paul here referred to the legalistic Christians among the Galatians and wrote frankly about their motive – to make a good showing in the flesh. They worked to bring the Galatian Christians from a Gentile background under circumcision because it would be a good showing for them – but a good showing in the flesh.

i. The legalists pretended to be motivated out of concern for the ones they tried to bring under the law. But Paul saw through this deception and saw their motive was really selfish, simply desiring the honor and glory of a good showing in the flesh. They wanted the Galatians to become circumcised so they could wear the submission of these Gentiles as a badge of achievement. Even as David had boasted in the two hundred foreskins of the Philistines he had killed, so these legalists wanted the allegiance of these Gentiles primarily as a trophy.

ii. Compel is an important word. There was nothing wrong with a Gentile being circumcised. There was everything wrong in compelling a Gentile to be circumcised, saying he could not be right with God without coming under the law of Moses.

b. Only that they may not suffer persecution for the cross of Christ: Beyond their own glory, their other motive was to avoid persecution for the cross of Christ. If these legalists had said, “We are saved only by the work of the cross of Christ, not by our obedience under the law,” they would have been persecuted. Probably the persecution would have come from other legalistic Christians or from those still in Judaism. Their unwillingness to stand in the face of this pressure made them stand for false doctrines.

i. There is also another way to consider this. By aligning Christianity with Judaism through emphasizing circumcision and the Law of Moses, men could escape persecution from the Romans. “To advocate circumcision was to align the new movement with Judaism, a religion that had official Roman sanction, and therefore one that avoided persecution. The preachers Paul was opposing may have included the cross in their proclamation, but by adding the necessity of circumcision they avoided persecution.” (Morris)

3. (Gal 6:14-15) Paul writes about his motives.

But God forbid that I should glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation.

a. But God forbid that I should glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ: Paul’s heart cared nothing for the glory that came from fame. He cared nothing for the glory that came from riches. He cared nothing for the glory that came from status and power among men. He only cared about the glory of the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

i. It is hard for us to appreciate how strange Paul’s words are here. For people who knew what crucifixion was all about, the words “cross” and “glory” just did not go together. They were direct opposites because there was not a more humiliating, shameful way to be executed than the cross. It seemed much more logical to glory in your good showing in the flesh, instead of the cross. But Paul thinks and writes with a heavenly logic that surpasses anything of this earth.

ii. “The word crux was unmentionable in polite Roman society... even when one was condemned to death by crucifixion the sentence used was an archaic formula which served as sort of an unlucky euphemism: arbori infelici suspendito, ‘hang him on the unlucky tree.’ ” (Bruce, cited in Morris) But Paul not only used this unmentionable word; he gloried in it.

iii. “What did he mean, however, by the cross? Of course he cared nothing for the particular piece of wood to which those blessed hands and feet were nailed, for that was mere materialism, and has perished out of mind. He means the glorious doctrine of justification-free justification-through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.” (Spurgeon)

b. By whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world: In Galatians 5:24, Paul wrote about having crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Now with the flesh on the cross he also put the world on the cross, and considers himself dead to the world. The world could not have any influence over Paul if it were dead, and Paul could not respond to any influence from it if he were dead to the world.

i. The world, in the sense Paul means it here, was not the global earth; nor was it the mass of humanity (which God Himself loves, John 3:16). Instead, it was the community of sinful humanity that is united in rebellion against God.

ii. There is nothing more worldly than trying to make a good showing in the flesh. When we live for the glory that comes from fame, from riches, from status, or from power among men we are very alive to the world and the world is very alive to us.

iii. Paul and the world could agree together on one thing: they didn’t like each other. ” ‘The world is crucified unto me,’ means that I condemn the world. ‘I am crucified unto the world,’ means that the world in turn condemns me.” (Luther) “The world and I are well agreed. The world cares not a pin for me, and I care as little for the world.” (Trapp)

iv. “To live to serve men is one thing, to live to bless them is another; and this we will do, God helping us, making sacrifices for their good. But to fear men, to ask their leave to think, to ask their instructions as to what we shall speak, and how we shall say it – that is a baseness we cannot brook. By the grace of God, we have not so degraded ourselves, and never shall.” (Spurgeon)

c. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation: Without doubt, Paul knew Christians had a moral standard to live by (described in passages like Galatians 5:19-21). But what really mattered was not what we do in keeping the law, especially in its ceremonies, but what God has done in us – making us a new creation.

i. For the legalists among the Galatian Christians, circumcision was a big issue, because it was the initiation to living under the Mosaic Law. Even though it was important to the legalists, Paul knew that it didn’t matter at all (avails nothing). If you were circumcised, but not a new creation, you did not belong to Jesus. If you were uncircumcised, but were a new creation, you did belong to Jesus.

ii. We don’t make ourselves a new creation; God does it in us. At root, Christianity is something God does in us, not something we do for God. This can simply define the difference between the systems of grace and law.

4. (Gal 6:16) A blessing on those who walk in God’s truth.

And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.

a. And as many as walk according to this rule: Lightfoot on rule, the ancient Greek word kanon: “The carpenter’s or surveyor’s line by which a direction is taken.” There is a rule for the Christian life, revealed by God’s Word. We just don’t make it up as we go along. We are to measure ourselves according to this rule.

b. Peace and mercy be upon them: Just as Paul was willing to pronounce a curse on those who taught false doctrines (Galatians 1:8-9), he was also willing to give a blessing to those who walk according to this rule. These are those who are the true Israel of God, the descendants of Abraham according to faith.

5. (Gal 6:17-18) Last words.

From now on let no one trouble me, for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus. Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.

a. I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus: Paul wrote as someone who had suffered for Jesus, and who bore those marks on his body. Having suffered so, he can say from now on let no one trouble me, in the sense that it is fruitless for anyone to try, because he has already endured the worst.

i. In 2 Corinthians 11:23-25, Paul described his physical suffering for Jesus’ sake. What he endured was plenty enough to leave scars, marks of the Lord Jesus.

ii. Some think “let no one trouble me” was Paul’s way to say to the Christians of Galatia, “Don’t be a trouble to me by continuing to play around with these false doctrines – I’ve suffered enough already.”

b. The marks of the Lord Jesus: Some have thought that Paul speaks here of a phenomenon known as the stigmata. These are said to be marks on the body similar to wounds of Jesus, such as wounds in the hands, feet, side, or head as a result of an intense mystical identification with Jesus. Such a view reads too much into the simple words of the text, and often they are used to justify an unhealthy mysticism.

i. The marks of the Lord Jesus were not wounds similar to Jesus’ wounds; they are marks that identify – or even “brand” – Paul as a follower of Jesus. In the ancient world, slaves were branded with the name of their master. “Often a master branded his slaves with a mark that showed them to be his. Most likely what Paul means is that the scars of the things he had suffered for Christ are the brands which show him to be Christ’s slave.” (Barclay)

ii. The practice of branding was also known in military life: “Instances are recorded of soldiers branding themselves with the name of their general in token of their absolute devotion to his cause.” (Rendall) Paul said that his marks were his “brands” of allegiance.

iii. “For even as earthly warfare has its decorations with which generals honour the bravery of a soldier, so Christ our leader has His own marks, of which He makes good use in decorating and honouring some of His followers. These marks, however, are very different from the others; for they have the nature of the cross, and in the sight of the world they are disgraceful... but before God and the angels they surpass all the honours of the world.” (Calvin)

c. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit: Paul could wish nothing greater for the Galatians than this. If this were so, they would walk in a grace relationship with God instead of the legal, performance-based relationship that endangered them so. This is an appropriate end for the letter and prayer for all our lives.

i. “After the storm and stress and intensity of the letter comes the peace of the benediction. Paul has argued and rebuked and cajoled but his last word is GRACE, for him the only word that really mattered.” (Barclay)

©2013 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
[A previous revision of this page can be found here]

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