Summary: A message from an expository series from the book of Galatians.
From comment cards to online customer service surveys our culture encourages us to be critical of everything from food to services. I know, it comes in the package with freedom. It’s a first amendment thing. Recently Time Magazine featured an article entitled “When Everyone’s a Critic.” The article examines the growing popularity of websites that feature consumer reviews of products and services. These websites are based on an economic theory that states, “Perfect information leads to perfect competition.” The only problem is, “What happens when you live in an imperfect world?” When we become a critic we are expecting something or someone to be changed to match what we consider to be the ideal. We would much rather have something else change, instead of changing ourselves. Sound familiar? It should this is exactly the battle going on in the Galatian churches. Paul showed the danger of giving into the critics. Paul showed that if the Galatians would bow to the pressures of the Judaizers not only would they lose their freedom; they would be giving up their very salvation. In our text Paul presents very clearly the steps to prevent this tragedy. Let’s look at the lessons we can learn from this text.
I. You don’t always have to listen to your critics.
A. Having reminded his readers of the bondage imposed by the law, Paul urges them to resist all who would seek to put them back under the Law.
1. Paul here compared the Christian life to the running of a race, an athletic image found in many of his writings.
2. Paul was fond of using athletic imagery to describe the Christian life. To him life is a race, demanding adherence to rules and discipline if the race is to be completed successfully and a prize obtained.
3. Like runners in a marathon they had been running well when Paul had last seen them. They were headed in the right direction and making good progress. At that point Paul had every right to think they would finish in victory.
4. Paul asks, “Who cut in on you?” Someone had hindered them. The verb enkopto—a military term—refers primarily to setting up an obstacle or breaking up a road. In this context, it probably refers to the illegal interference of a runner who cuts in ahead of another and thereby disadvantages him.
B. They were doing so well until the Judaizers got a hold of them; why had they let themselves be talked into changing?
1. Paul doesn’t seem to be dealing with a large body of Judaizers, but a very few persuasive ones.
2. One cannot help but guess that the Galatians are going along with them more out of a desire for peace rather than real conviction.
3. The truth is it is always easier to follow the lead of traditional dictators of religious taste rather than to chart your own course.
4. The criticisms of the Judaizers were turning young Christians away from grace and freedom in Christ toward the binding structures of legalism.
5. To a person of a Judaizing mentality, clinging to the apparent certainties of their prescribed religion, claims of freedom in Christ seems ludicrous.
C. Criticism is inevitable.
1. Paul identifies with the pressure the Galatians are feeling from the Judaizers, because he is suffering the same.
2. Paul’s confidence was in the Lord, not in his own ability to reverse the situation. At the same time, he may have found some encouragement in the fact that the Galatians had not yet submitted to the demand for circumcision. The churches of Galatia were in turmoil and they were wavering.
3. Jesus’ substitution was unacceptable to law keeping Jews, for it left them nothing by which they could earn at least part of their own salvation. If there could have been a kind of Christianity that included circumcision and excluded the cross, there would have been no conflict. Neither would there have been salvation.
4. Paul shows that we do not have to give into the critics, because if we do we will strip the Gospel of its effectiveness.
II. Do not use your freedom to indulge yourself.
A. After dealing with the danger of submitting to their critics Paul shows the Galatians the danger of going to the opposite extreme.
1. There is a huge temptation to view Christian liberty as a license to do whatever they please.
2. The irony of true freedom is that it is found in servitude. When Paul says, “serve one another” he uses a word normally employed in the context of slavery (douleuete). The person who is set free from both slavery to law and slavery to self will find true freedom as the slave of Christ, an eager servant of the community of believers.
3. Just as real faith expresses itself through love (5:6), the joy of a Christian’s freedom is discovered to rest upon love. Just as the old law brought bondage and death, the new “law of Christ” (6:2) introduces the believer into an exciting new community where people are free to love each other and serve each other’s needs.