One of the ways that we can understand the Letters in the New Covenant is by looking at the ways that arguments were structured in Sha’ul’s day.[i] The first section of this letter after the introduction (between 1:6 to 4:11) has been an admonition to the congregations in Galatia. Up to this point Sha’ul has acknowledged the situation that gave rise to the writing of the letter (exordium, 1:6-10), established his credibility with his audience, set out his case (narratio, 1:11-2:14) and established his arguments (propositio, 2:15-21). Each week we have read Chapter 2:16 because this verse is the very crux of Sha’ul’s argument, “Yet we know that a person is set right not by deeds based on Torah, but rather through … [the faithfulness of Messiah Yeshua]. So even we have put our trust in Messiah Yeshua, in order that we might be set right based on trust in Messiah and not by deeds based on Torah—because no human will be justified by deeds based on Torah.”[ii]
All of Chapter 3 and up to 4:11, Sha’ul has provided supportive evidence (probation) or proof of his argument. Today we close out this first major section of admonition and begin the second section, an appeal to action. This appeal will be against both Legalism and Libertinism, but before we get there Sha’ul adamantly expresses his fears for the congregations.[Read Gal. 4:8-11]
Fears for the Congregations
(Vs. 8-11) TO begin to understand this passage, we must understand where the Gentile people of Galatia were coming from. How many here have lived in or visited a country where idols are worshiped? I remember waking up in Nepal and watching as people would daily come and lay wreaths of flowers in front of a stone idol in the street below. This was not done out of love for that god, but rather a fear of retribution. This fear was explained to Eleanor and I recently by some friends of ours. The Wife expressed that when she left Hinduism and accepted Jesus as Lord, that she had not realised just how much fear she had been living under. She had come to realize that she was accepted and loved by God, not based upon what she did to appease him but because of what Yeshua had done on the Cross.
Joseph Shulam points out that that, “Paul’s immediate and overwhelming concern is that his gentile Galatian disciples are not conducting themselves [in accordance with] their standing before God.”[iii] Instead their expressed desire to attain Jewish identity as a social status, demonstrates that they are no longer following the true good news. David Stern, the translator of “The Complete Jewish Bible” points out the distinction between Jewish life and Gentile observance. He writes that although Jewish life
is a religion based on the sanctification of time”, and “Jewish communal life thrives on celebrating biblically prescribed times… when Gentiles observe these Jewish holidays neither out of joy in sharing what God has given the Jewish people nor out of spiritual identification with them, but out of fear induced by Judaizers who have convinced them that unless they do these things, God will not accept them, then they are not obeying the Torah but subjugating themselves to legalism; and legalism is just another species of those weak and miserable elemental demonic spirits, no better than the idols left behind.[iv]
Both Rom. 14 and 1 Cor. 8 have been used to show that Gentiles are not required to follow Jewish customs to be accepted before Adonai, but these passages “cut both ways.” Any Gentile Christians who desire to add a cultural identification with the Jewish people along with the spiritual identification that they already have through trusting in Messiah Yeshua, are completely free to do so. I love going to the multicultural festival and enjoying the food and cultures from all around the world. There is nothing with wishing someone a happy Chinese New Year, or a Merry Christmas. But …. “a Gentile who supposed he earns God’s approval by conforming his religious ceremonies to Jewish practice violates the message of Galatians by subjugating himself to legalism.”[v]
Just as important to remember, is that this letter to the congregations in Galatia, was written to correct a Gentile error, therefore have no relevance to Jewish believers in Yeshua. So, these words cannot be used to stop Messianic Jews from keeping the Chaggim (Feast Days). At most they can be a warning to Messianic Jews to watch out for legalism.
The biggest problem with legalism, is that we end up majoring far too much on the minors and minoring on the majors. In (Mark 7) Yeshua was asked why his talmidim did not follow the “traditions of the elders.” Yeshua stated, “There is nothing outside the man that can make him unholy by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of the man that makes the man unholy.” Far too many times we focus on the food we eat or the clothes that we wear, and we think that these things will make us acceptable before God and men. But in focusing on the external, we forget that Adonai is far more concerned with the state of our hearts. “For from within, out of the heart of men, comes evil intentions, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustfulness, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things come from within and make [us] unholy.”
When we are in bondage to legalism, we are living a life of fear. Always afraid that if we disappoint God. We feel that if we let Him down by not acting perfectly, or eating the wrong thing, or not giving Him the right amount, that He will withhold his favor, or bring on us His punishment. This place becomes a place of slavery and bondage. We are no longer free in Messiah.
We serve a living God, who has promised to walk with us and fill us with His Spirit. We serve a God who loves us and is always ready to forgive us when we repent. John reminds us that, “we have an Intercessor with the Father- the righteous Messiah Yeshua. He is the atonement for our sins.” (1 Jn. 2:1-2) For “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn. 1:9)
[i] The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Rev. Ed., Vol 11, Robert Rapa, pg. 564.
[ii] All Scripture quotations are taken from the Tree of Life (TLV) version unless otherwise noted.
[iii] A Commentary on the Jewish Roots of Galatians, Hilary Le Cornu with Joseph Shulam, pg. 274.
[iv] The Jewish New Testament Commentary, David Stern, pg. 557.
[v] Ibid, pg. 558.