COMMENTARY ON GALATIANS
LESSON NUMBER 60
Gal 6:11 "Ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with mine own hand. As many as desire to make a fair show in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ." (Gal 6:11-12)
THE URGENCY OF THE SITUATION
Paul could not wait to deal with the situation that existed in the churches of Galatia. There were several of them (Gal 1:2), and the circumstances were at a dangerous juncture. Already there had been a departure from God, who had called them into the grace of Christ. Yet, it was not the grace of God that they were embracing, but a system of Law. The people had been seduced, bewitched by those with little or no understanding of the nature of the salvation that is in Christ Jesus "with eternal glory" (1 Tim 2:10). Paul knew that this was not the kind of situation that would correct itself. It was not a circumstance out of which believers simply grew. A person may, indeed, grow out of error if they maintain a good conscience and are living unto the Lord (Rom 14:4; Phil 3:15; 2 Pet 2:19). However, this is not true when the error is at the foundational lever! In such a case, there is no cognizance of the realities that enable a person to make advancement in the faith. That is why it is written, "If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?" (Psa 11:3). There are spiritual dilemmas that, left unaddressed, will lead to certain destruction. In the case of the Galatians, they stood in danger of Christ profiting them nothing (Gal 5:2). They were also in danger of falling from grace (Gal 5:4), and Christ becoming of "none effect" to them (Gal 5:4). It is difficult to think of a more precarious position. Yet, the Galatians appeared to have been proceeding in life just as though these conditions could not possibly apply to them. Cognizant of their situation, Paul takes an aggressive stance, seeking to penetrate their conscience with the seriousness of their state. He apparently does this at great personal inconvenience. In an effort to waken them from their lethargic state, he also speaks candidly about the teachers that have been taking advantage of them. We see in Paul's words that politeness and tolerance are not used when speaking of those who have led the people of God astray. He does not assume that the motives of the teachers of reference were pure, or that they were really trying to help the people.
SEE HOW LARGE A LETTER. Ye see how large a letter . . ." Other versions read, "see with what large letters I have written,": NKJV "see what large letters I make," NRSV "See the size of the handwriting." BBE "Look at the large letters I use," CSB "see what big letters I make," NET "See how large I have to make the letters!." LIVING and "Now, in these last sentences, I want to emphasize in the bold scrawls of my personal handwriting." MESSAGE
Some versions assign the word "large" to the length of the epistle: "how long a letter I have written." DARBY
Technically, the word "letter" can refer a character, which is its first meaning, or to an entire document. THAYER However, this epistle is not a lengthy one, so I doubt that the sentence refers to the epistle itself - 13,149 characters and 3,084 words. By way of comparison, Romans has 40,801 characters, 9,422 words; First Corinthians has 39,465 characters and 9,462 words; Second Corinthians has 25,660 characters, and 6.135 words; and Hebrews has 28,177 characters and 6.625 words. Comparatively speaking, Galatians is not a lengthy epistle, or long letter.
There are a variety of opinions as to the meaning of these words. Some assign them to the length of the letter - but the letter is not lengthy. Some think it refers to the weight and sternness of the letter - but it is not Paul's manner to speak of weighty things in this way. The Greek word employed here is used only two times in Scripture: the other text is Hebrews 7:4 where it is used to describe how "great" Melchizedec was.
This is not something about which we can be contentious, but I take this to refer to the largeness of the characters Paul wrote. This harmonizes with the conclusion that he had trouble with his eyes. He alludes to this circumstance when he earlier reminded the Galatians they were willing to pluck out their eyes for him (Gal 4:15).
SEE HOW I HAVE WRITTEN
I HAVE WRITTEN WITH MINE OWN HAND. " I have written unto you with mine own hand." It probably would have been more convenient to have another brother write what Paul had written - as when Tertius wrote the book of Romans for Paul (Rom 16:22). However, in dealing with the Galatians, Paul to had a special interest, putting his own hand to the letter - either to the whole of it, or to its concluding remarks. If the assessment of his vision is correct, this would have required special physical effort. If "large" is taken in the sense of straightforward and weighty language, the meaning remains essentially the same. Special conditions require special attention. We see this in The manner in which the presence of the prejudicial treatment of the Grecian widows was handled in the early church (Acts 6:1-7). It is also seen in the manner in which the binding of the Law upon Gentile churches was handled (Acts 15:1-31).
The manner in which this epistle is written, confirms the priority of an informed and improperly directed church. As important as recruitment may be, the stability and maturity of the saints of God ranks higher, requiring more time and greater wisdom.
APPEALING TO THE FLESH
6:12a "As many as desire to make a fair show in the flesh . . ."
Paul now does something that many absolutely fear to do: assess the desires of others. He does this because things, particularly religious circumstances, are not always what they appear to be. There are at least two things that contributed to Paul's assessment of the false teachers at Galatia.
First, he was acquainted with the nature of "the flesh," and could easily spot it rising to the surface. "The flesh," like the new creation, is identified by its nature. Only those who walk in the Spirit, and are able to truly discern both good and evil, can identify the flesh. They do so by its sharp contrast with the Spirit.
Second, Paul was knowledgeable of the manner of the Kingdom of God, the objective that is being fulfilled in the church, and the means through which it is achieved. He was, we might day, Kingdom literate.
WRONG DESIRES. There are things it is wrong to want, or desire. For example, "Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God" NKJV (James 4:4). We are to "abstain" from such desires, for they "war against the soul" (1 Pet 2:11). These are among the desires, or lusts, that the grace of God teaches us to reject (12 Tim 2:11). Yet, those who had taught the Galatians wrongly had entertained unlawful desires, deliberately ignoring the revealed will of God on such matters.
Because it was evident the Galatians had not detected these illicit desires, Paul now points them out. It is important that those in Christ not be uninformed or naive in such matters. The fact that Paul's assessment of these men might not set well with them seems to be of no concern to the apostle. He speaks as a guardian and instructor of the flock of God, and sometimes that requires direct and candid words that cannot be misinterpreted.
A FAIR SHOW IN THE FLESH. Other versions read, "make a good showing in the flesh," NKJV "make a good impression outwardly," NIV "seem important in the flesh," BBE "have a fair appearance in the flesh," DARBY "desire to please in the flesh," DOUAY "make a big deal out of a physical things," GWN "are disposed to glory in the flesh," MRD "make a good showing in external matters," NET "make a good impression outwardly," NIB "want to cut a figure by human standards," NJB "want to look good to others," NLT "desire with outward appearance to please carnally,"TNT "so that they can be popular," LIVING "simply want to make a fine outward show," WILLIAMS "want to make a good impression and a fine show in the flesh," AMPLIFIED "are only trying to show how important they are," CEV "want to show off and boast about external matters," GNB and "They want an easy way to look good before others." MESSAGE
This was the desire that drove the false teachers of reference. They were interested in appearing noble and successful before men. In so doing, they were of the same generation as the scribes and Pharisees, of whom Jesus said, "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness" (Mat 23:27). And again, "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous" (Matt 23:29).
Paul compares glorying in appearance with a good heart: "For we commend not ourselves again unto you, but give you occasion to glory on our behalf, that ye may have somewhat to answer them which glory in appearance, and not in heart" (2 Cor 5:12). Believers are told not to look at things "after the outward appearance" (2 Cor 10:7). Jesus said, "Judge not according to appearance" (John 7:24).
The desire to make a "fair show in the flesh" is a quest to "please men," which inevitably leads to an abrupt cessation of being "the servant of Christ" (Gal 1:10). The quest for fleshly honor is a growing monstrosity in the professed Christian community. It is seen in fervently seeking to advance a particular denomination. It drives appeals to the multitudes like, "We have something for everyone," or "faithfully adhering to the principles of" a particular "movement."
This text may be viewed in two ways - and both are true, with the initial one being preeminent. First, it applies to those preachers, teachers, and leaders who seek to use men to advance their own careers and movements. Second, it applied to all who adhere to false teaching in order to be accepted by the teacher or sect. Both of these are a grievous transgressions that ignore God the Father, and Jesus Christ the Son. They contradict the posture of the Son of God Himself, who came to do the will of the Father (John 4:34). He did not dance to the tunes of the worldly minstrels, even though others did. He likened that rejecting generation to those who say, "We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented" (Matt 11:17). The Father had set the agenda for Him, and He adhered to it. Likewise, Jesus has set the agenda for His church, and Paul was sticking to it, while others inserted their own agenda, and sought the approval of mere men.
MOTIVES THAT ARE NOT HONORABLE
6:12b " . . . , they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ."
Paul now comes to grips with why men glory in appearance, and seek the approval of men. Such desires are driven by deliberate spiritual ignorance. There is a fundamental aspect of "pure religion" that they were avoiding - to keep oneself "unspotted from the world" (James 1:27).
THEY CONSTRAIN YOU TO BE CIRCUMCISED. Other versions read, "compel you to be circumcised," NKJV "put force on you to undergo circumcision," BBE "trying to get you to be circumcised," CJB "urge you to become circumcised," MRD and "trying to convince you to be circumcised." LIVING
Why were these Judaistic teachers so zealous in pressing circumcision upon the Galatians? Some might say they simply did not see things correctly, or that they had a misplaced zeal, or were teaching what they had been taught. However, that is not how the apostle describes the situation. He gets past the appearance and human speculation, and gets down to the root of the matter. It is quite possible that the perpetrators of circumcision did not view themselves in this way. However, this is still the inspired view of their real motivation. This is why they maintained their emphasis, and were so insistent that men adopt their view of things.
LEST THEY SHOULD SUFFER PERSECUTION. Other versions read, "simply that they may not be persecuted," NASB "the only reason they do this is to avoid persecution," NIV "they are doing it is to escape persecution," CJB and "simply so that they may escape being persecuted." AMPLIFIED
For the teachers of reference, as well as all who follow their way of thinking, the thought of being rejected or opposed by men is dreadful. They live to be accepted by men, and popular with men. They shape their religious careers around this preference. If men say they will not listen to them unless they have certain credentials, they will do everything they can to obtain them. If only men will accept them, they will change the message they preach, and how they deliver it. Even though Jesus said, "in the world ye shall have tribulation" (John 16:33), they do everything in their power to avoid the circumstance. Although John wrote, "Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you" (1 John 3:13), they do everything in their power to avoid such an experience. Such people know nothing of the blessing of being "persecuted for righteousness sake" (Matt 5:10). Their affection is not placed on things Above (Col 3:1-2), and thus they willingly and consistently mind and speak of"earthly things" (Phil 3:19). "They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them" (1 John 4:5); and they will do anything to maintain that status.
Behind this carnal approach is the fact that men are quite willing to embrace a form of godliness that permits them to maintain their fleshly desires - a "form of godliness that denies the power thereof" (I2 Tim 3:5). Those who are in love with the world do not want to give it up, and therefore they are glad to embrace "another Jesus" who allows them to maintain their love of the world and the things that are in it. However, they will oppose those who insist they embrace the truth, which sets them at a variance with "this present evil world."
FOR THE CROSS OF CHRIST. Other versions read, "because of the cross of Christ," BBE "of the cross of Christ," DOUAY "on account of the cross of the Messiah," MRD "for teaching that the cross of Christ alone can save," NLT "only that for the cross of the Christ they may not be persecuted," YLT and "for allegiance to the cross of Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One." AMPLIFIED
Those who preached circumcision were delivering a cross-less message. You may recall that the church at Corinth was noted for its carnality, or worldly-mindedness (1 Cor 3:1-4). To these people Paul boldly said, "For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (1 Cor 2:2). Why did Paul make such a statement? Did he not peach Jesus Christ and Him risen, glorified, making intercession, and mediating? Why is it that He did not mention Christ's exaltation, intercession, or mediation to the Corinthians? Why were very few references to Christ's Second coming made in the Corinthian letters (1 Cor 1:7,8; 4:5; 11:26; 15:23)? It was because of the level of their carnality! They had not crucified their flesh, and were allowing it to be expressed profusely among themselves. Walking in the flesh, they were noted for division (1 Cor 3:3), suing one another at the law (1 Cor 6:1-6), denying the resurrection (1 Cor 15:12-13), questioning Paul's apostleship (1 Cor 9:3-10; 2 Cor 10:7-11), tolerating a fornicator among them(1 Cor 5:1-5), corrupting the Lord's Supper (1 Cor 11:20-32), being unmindful of brethren with a weak conscience (1 Cor 8:7-12), and failing to carry out their commitment to send aid to the poor saints in Jerusalem (2 Cor 8:10-11).
The cross of Christ calls for the crucifixion of the flesh, when we are "crucified with Christ" (Gal 2:20). It requires the mortification, or putting to death, of "the deeds of the body" and our "members that are upon the earth" (Rom 8:13; Col 3:5). For the carnally minded, it is much easier to avoid the repercussions of identity with the cross of Christ, and adopt an approach to religion that allows for the pampering, and even exaltation of the flesh.