When we last saw our hero Paul – I am just kidding because it has been weeks since I stepped away from my commentary on Galatians. Like most of Paul’s letters, this letter to the followers in Galatia is an admonition to those who grasp the expanse of this grace; it is the grace under which we live. Though we do not live under the Law/Torah of God, we still have constraints, such as walking in love. We call those never-ending rules, the perfect law of liberty.
If you followed my commentaries on Galatians, then you understand that Paul’s target audience was, believing Jews. The letter to the Galatians was not written to a particular body of believers; he addressed what is effectively the Messianic Jewish congregations of Asia Minor.
Some might question, how do I know this?
Galatians 1:2 says,”… To the churches of Galatia:”
He is telling us to whom he is writing, and he continues with his customary greetings and blessings.
After Paul’s conversion, all we see him do was take his message into the synagogues. We see examples of this in:
Acts 13:13-44 NASB “Now Paul and his companions …arrived at Pisidian Antioch, and on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down.”
A significant portion of the chapter details what Paul said, and how the attendees clamored for more the following Sabbath.
Acts 13:45-48 details how the Jews got jealous and began contradicting Paul and Barnabas.
Paul’s response, recorded here, is one of the primary places we find him saying, I am taking this message to the Gentiles. This reference about the Gentiles was convenient because there were a number of them that heard his voice as he spoke in the open, and they were excited about what they heard. And yet, Paul never explicitly took this message to the Gentiles. The other place we find multiple references to Paul taking the gospel to the Gentiles, is here in Galatians. The fact that most of us have found a relationship with Jesus Christ is evidence that Paul did just what he said; however, it is difficult to find a vast number of references to his doing so.
Because we can perceive the book of Acts as chronological, then virtually every example we find of Paul’s preaching in the book shows him first entering a synagogue.
Acts 14:1 they entered the synagogue.
Acts 17:10 they went into the synagogue.
Acts 19:8 And he entered the synagogue.
Since Gentiles were not allowed in the Synagogues, then it is safe to say there are only Jews there.
In Galatians 1:13-15 Paul tells the reader that he had a former life in Judaism, and how he, as one skilled in the Law and Prophets, persecuted the church, which was primarily comprised of Jewish followers. He also speaks of how God set him apart and called him to this grace that is found in the Messiah. None of this would have made sense to the Gentiles for they were not subject to Saul’s (as he was known then,) brutal persecution.
Galatians 2:15-16 gives us the statement, “We are Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles;” Would make no sense to a Gentile, and they might find it insulting. The reason being that it is a Jewish way of thinking. Paul straightens this all out by pointing out that man is only justified through faith in Christ Jesus, not obedience to the Torah (law.) The Torah, or Law, also meant nothing to a Gentile.
One last passage to demonstrate who Paul was writing too.
Galatians 3:1 NASB You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?
If you read the letter to the Galatians, you would know that Paul went before the Jewish elders of this new Christian faith in Jerusalem, and told them the message that he preached before the Jews and the Gentiles. In a sense then, the statement, “you foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you,” could apply to anyone who has fallen back into their legalistic patterns. What makes this such a Jewish statement, is that the Gentiles had nothing to fall back into. Regarding law, the Gentiles only understood the law to mean whatever the Romans were enforcing. The Jews, however, had Roman law and their own, called the Torah.
Previously, we read this.
Galatians 3:17-19 NASB What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. 18 For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise. 19 Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made.
What happened, according to this section of scripture, 430 years previous? God made a covenant; a pact; a contractual agreement, with Abraham. That contract has never ceased to be valid; it has never stopped working as it should. Paul asks, why then add the Law? We are told the answer, although we may not grasp the reasoning, “it was added because of transgressions.” And, this Law would have to hold “until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made.” That seed and the mediator was none other than the Son, Jesus Christ.
With the concept of a mediator tightly in place, we continue.
Galatians 3:20-21 NASB Now a mediator is not for one party only; whereas God is only one. 21 Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law.
Webster’s dictionary defines “MEDIA’TOR,” n. As “one that interposes between parties at variance for the purpose of reconciling them.”
Because of Adam’s transgression we were all put at variance with God.
Who then became the mediator, and what was the outcome?
The answers are found in scripture.
1Timothy 2:5 For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,
The entire eighth chapter of Hebrews explains the whys but focus on verse 6.
Hebrews 8:6 NET. But now Jesus has obtained a superior ministry since the covenant that he mediates is also better and is enacted on better promises.
As for reconciliation.
Romans 5:10-11 NET. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, how much more, since we have been reconciled, will we be saved by his life? 11 Not only this, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received this reconciliation.
So, not only do we find Jesus in the role of mediator, He has enacted and obtained better promises. Note, that it says promises, not laws.
Since one of the themes of Galatians is the grace and freedom we have in Christ, then shouldn’t we be able to do anything without regard? The answer is NO because we live under the Law of liberty. Paul talks about this in 1 Corinthians 8.
I suggest that you pay attention to the entire selection.
1 Corinthians 8:9-12 NET. 9 But be careful that this liberty of yours does not become a hindrance to the weak. 10 For if someone weak sees you who possess knowledge dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience be “strengthened” to eat food offered to idols? 11 So by your knowledge the weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed. 12 If you sin against your brothers or sisters in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.
What are some of the variables in this passage?
“This liberty of yours.”
Given the freedom of grace, it seems that many of us set our own standards for liberty. In trying to make a firm point about the grace we live under, the late Pastor Gene Scott would sit in a chair, in front of the television cameras, sipping Scotch whiskey and smoking a cigar. In the church, I grew up in, where grace was spoken of, you understood there were limits to this grace. These boundaries, it seems, were imposed by the church, and the older people who had been forced to live sterile, non-indulgent lives.
Having spent some time in recovery, as a participant and a leader, you become acutely aware that some people are spiritually and emotionally fragile. Many, on a regular basis, “fall off the wagon.” Talking freely about what you are comfortable with can provoke, often unknowingly, others into pushing boundaries they don’t need to keep exploring. I, put myself in recovery because I had anger issues. After time and some understanding, I have learned, most of the time, to step away from things that will agitate me and set off.
“If someone weak sees you who possess knowledge.”
I get it, you and I are not mandated to encourage co-dependency and weakness in others. But what harm does it do to set aside your so-called freedoms for a moment? Imagine the believer who lives in Amsterdam, where Marijuana is sold like Starbucks’s coffee. Just knowing what it used to do to me when I was younger, precludes me from indulging.
When someone recently tried examining the hows and whys involved with Jesus not sinning. I calmly responded with; He was born without the driving force that makes us do, what we want to do. Think about for a moment. When challenged, Jesus replied, I only do what I see and hear the Father do, NOT his own thing. So then, our so-called liberties are more a satisfaction of wants as we take advantage of this freedom we have in Christ, often to extremes.
“dining in an idol’s temple.”
Wait a minute; this just took a twisted turn. That so-called weak person didn’t just see you in the market; they saw you in an idol’s temple. I am not sure what to equate this too, as we rarely find a building that is openly identified as an idol’s temple. What we do have is other forms of worship that do not honor God. Such as: lodges, fraternal organizations, bars, strip clubs, and organizations that qualify as cultist in nature.
I suppose the question is, what do they idolize there?
A former father-in-law paid for our steak dinners at a particular bar years ago. Since they were known for their inexpensive steaks, I thought little of it. But, if I were spotted frequenting a topless club, I can’t imagine the “I go for the steaks” plea working.
My first reaction when I read “dining in an idol’s temple,” is that I am dealing with a Gentile world. But that is not the context here in Galatians. I already established that Paul was addressing a Jewish audience, and by Jewish law, there should be no idolatry. And yet, idolatry has been God’s problem with His people since their inception.
1 John 2:15-17 NET. Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him, 16 because all that is in the world (the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the arrogance produced by material possessions) is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away with all its desires, but the person who does the will of God remains forever.
“will not his conscience be “strengthened” to eat food offered to idols?”
Strengthened typically implies something good happening, but that is not the case here. The concept is that the weak brother or sister in the Lord, who sees you, taking full advantage of your liberties by eating dinner in the temple of an idol, will be bolstered or reinforced to partake in behaviors that will cause them harm. You surely know that pathetic expression, if you can do it, then so can I.
“So by your knowledge the weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed.”
Your knowledge equates to your understanding of this grace given to us, through our relationship with Christ. However, taking advantage, without regard, can cause a person not just to stumble, they are destroyed.
“If you sin against your brothers or sisters in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.”
What do I make of all this? My unnecessary self-indulgence and misuse of liberty can cause the weak believer to be destroyed, and God calls this sin. Are they damaged to the point of losing God’s love toward them? Probably not, but why, once again, do we think we need to test God to see if He has any boundaries.
What do you think was happening when God sent Jonah to Nineveh or, destroyed all humankind with a flood? God had reached the limit of His boundaries. And yet, there was still enough mercy left for a short reprieve in Nineveh’s case, and, here we are, a great expanse of time after the flood, discussing such matters. In my mind, this is merely one of the proofs that we serve a merciful God.