Galatians 5:6 is one of the most important verses in the entire book. That's why we're saving it for last. We're going to first look at verses 7-12 as they act as a solid supporting cast.
In verses 7-8 we read:
You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you.
When I was in high school…the summer before my junior year…our cross country coach put together a workout with some elite runners in our county. One was Mark Covert, still a legendary long-distance runner, and another was Little Mary Decker. She was around 14. I think she weighed all of 85 pounds at the time. She was already, at that young age, one of the best female runners in the country. She went on to hold all kinds of records in distance running. To this day, she is considered one of the best female runners the world has ever known. It was quite an experience going on a long run with those two.
Fast forward to the 1984 Olympics. It was Mary Decker's best shot at an Olympic medal, the only thing missing from her extensive list of achievements. South African runner Zola Budd impeded Decker's position, tripped her up, and Decker fell, dashing her last shot at Olympic glory.
Paul loved sports analogies. The Galatians allowed someone to impede their growth in Christ. Paul was warning them to keep their head in the game.
Verse 9 was another warning:
A little leaven leavens the whole lump.
Here Paul used something positive to make a negative point. The little bit of leaven was the positive. That's all you need when making delicious bread. On the negative side, listening to a few false teachers is all it takes to spread error. It only takes a little to turn something into a life or death
situation. This was negative symbolism at its best.
Verse 10 held on to the hope that the Galatians weren't a lost cause:
I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is.
In other words, God is in charge. Where there is evil…where there is disobedience…where there are false teachers…you just keep being faithful and leave the rest to God. Sound advice. As I shared several weeks ago, when someone says they worship a different god than you do, whether in word or deed, simply believe them. Don't be bothered by them. Don't argue with them. Don't get mad at them or hold a grudge against them. Take them at their word and let God sort it out.
The word Paul used in verse 10 - "penalty" - is from the Greek krima, which literally means divine judgment. Anyone teaching false doctrine, leading people away from Christ, will be judged by God. As Hebrews 9:27-28 puts it:
And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes
judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.
As much as we would like to crush our opponents, leave the crushing to God's Day of Judgment. Trust it to God's sovereign will. Unless there is a threat of direct physical harm to you or someone you love, be like Paul and trust God with the end result.
Before moving on, notice how Paul held out hope that the Galatians would not go all in with the false teachers. He said, "I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view." I mean, even with all the legitimate accusations and charges against them, Paul still hoped the Galatians would return to the beauty of Christ's love and power. We see in verse 10 the fact that the Galatians did not yet make a final decision. Like Regis Philbin used to ask on Who Want to be a Millionaire, "Final answer?" the Galatians weren't there yet. Maybe this letter was their phone-a-friend opportunity, and it was a letter because the telephone hadn't been invented yet. Verse 10 suggests they hadn't yet reached the tipping point.
Lest we think Paul was going to take his foot off the pedal, he finished full throttle. Verses 11-12 are jarring:
But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!
Let's get the easy part out of the way. Verse 11 indicated that people were spreading false rumors about Paul. Has that ever happened to you? It's no good. They were trying to undermine both his teaching and his authority. After getting that out of the way, Paul went on to weightier matters. Verse 12.
Before we go there, don't forget that, while Paul was specifically talking about circumcision, even though it was a literal reference, it was also a placeholder, referencing any religion of human achievement. This was about attempting to earn God's grace and mercy through any sort of human achievement.
So verse 12. Remember when Jesus said, "If your hand causes you to sin,
cut it off?" And, "If your eye causes you to sin, then pluck it out?" Well, in
the case of what was going on in Galatia, Paul was simply taking that teaching to its logical conclusion.
There's no escaping the harshness of verse 12. Some have tried to finesse its meaning with a more defensive translation, but I think that reflects the sensitivities of the translator rather than the truth of the passage. Why are people so prissy about some things? Hand-wringing and pearl-clutching aside, Paul meant what he wrote.
Here was the strategy of verse 12. In Paul's day, there was a practice known as "diatribe preaching." Not only incorporating ridiculousness in an argument, Paul took it one step further by salting his point with an off-color joke. It's like being absurd to illustrate absurdity. In essence, Paul was saying if you think circumcision is a means to earn God's grace and mercy, finally and completely seal the deal by emasculating yourself. He was all about unsettling the unsettlers.
That unsettling rounds us back to verse 6:
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
Paul was bringing the Galatians back to their one true love. He was calling them to remember the joy that filled their hearts when they first heard the gospel of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Nothing added. God was not the employer you had to work for to earn your wages. Without Christ the wages of sin are death. But his crucifixion is the free gift of salvation. Paul asked, do you remember how that message set you free?
Here's something to remember:
We never work to compensate for our deficiencies. God is always working for us to overcome our deficiencies.
All we have to do is choose faith working through love. We choose to love and be loved. And those choices are free gifts of faith. God is giving us these two wonderful gifts - to love and be loved - and the most beautiful thing of all is He also provides the power in which to do them. As we'll see later, there are identifiable ways in which this love is expressed.
Our final point today is how faith produces love. And we see that pattern in Christ:
1 Corinthians 15:3 - "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures." Faith takes away guilt.
Ephesians 1:7 - "In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace." Faith brings confidence in our forgiveness.
Isaiah 41:10 - "Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." Faith takes away fear.
Romans 8:28 - "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." Faith brings unity of purpose.
Philippians 3:8 - "Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ." Faith pushes all worldly concerns and desires out of the heart.
And so, not only does faith take away barriers to love; it also provides the spark to move us to love.
Why are we moved to love others? Why are we moved to love our community? Why are we move to love our enemies? Why are we moved to love people in faraway lands, through something like Operation Christmas Child? We are we moved to love the unborn?
It is faith which pushes us to love. Our acts of love cannot and will not earn us anything. Our acts of love are an expression of faith in Jesus Christ. We love because he first loved us. And how did Jesus love us? By dying on the cross for us. So faith in what Christ did for us on the cross is the impulse to love. This faith in Christ removes all guilt and fear and greed, which are barriers to love. And so Paul says, the only thing that matters is faith working through love.
One final thought. This is what I call the cascade of love flowing out of verse 6:
Since Christ's death on the cross was an act of love;
…therefore when we "believe in Jesus Christ" we believe that
Jesus died on the cross because he loved us and gave himself up for us;
…and so, when we receive the Spirit of the Son of God, we receive the divine power of love which enabled Christ to do what he did;
…and this love is made manifest in us and in this community of faith;
…therefore, this is our one, only, and true hope. Not works, but faith working through love.
Here's how that Cascade of Love plays out in the hard places of life.
Melissa Ohden is an abortion attempt survivor. She was asked how she deals with the fact that her mother tried to kill her. This was her reply:
"Christ died for my abortionist. Christ died for my biological parents."
Melissa shows grace and mercy toward an abortion culture that wasn't shown her. That is faith working through love. Amen.