O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain. He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?
Having given his testimony and experience of life in the Spirit, as opposed to that in the flesh, Paul returns to the Galatians’ condition. In Chapter 1 he chides them for turning to a message that is opposite in character to the gospel of Christ. Now he uses stronger words to describe their condition: he calls them foolish, bewitched and disobedient. All of which sums up those who go away from the gospel of grace to a message of legalism.
Now to some this may seem to contradict what Jesus said in Matthew’s gospel.
Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.
But what we need to understand is that the Greek words used are very different. In Matthew’s gospel the word used infers the person as being morally unworthy, whereas in Galatians Paul is talking of something different altogether.
According to Vine’s dictionary the word, in the Galatian passage, signifies a senseless, an unworthy lack of understanding, of not applying the mind. It seems to give the impression that these Galatians had accepted this false message without thinking it through, or testing the spirits, or being like the Bereans and searching the Scriptures to see if these things were so. They had gone away from reason, and their experience after having begun in the Spirit. Paul then goes on in the epistle to give the understanding to what the Galatians evidently lacked , and should have known. That is, they were without stability in character and were easily led astray, to going off in the flesh by the arguments of false teachers.
The idea then is one of lack of maturity and understanding. This theme is seen through the NT.
Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.
I Cor. 14:20
And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?
I Cor. 3:1-4
For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
This idea of maturity is important. When we are born again we are but babes in Christ and have to grow I Pet. 2:1-3 . It’s a principle of natural life itself, living things grow, and if they don’t then we know that there is something wrong. Likewise in spiritual things we have to grow. There is nothing of self effort here though. In the natural we just eat and drink and the physical life just grows. There is no effort on our part it just is.
So in the spiritual as we abide in Christ and feed off Him and drink of Him the life planted in us, by new birth, will develop and grow up into Him. However, unlike the natural, we can hinder it , and we do so by remaining in or returning to the carnal sate, that is living in the flesh.
In the Corinthian letter Paul talks of carnality as being walking as the unregenerate men of the world do. In their particular case it was by having a party spirit – following this one or that one.
The Galatians were the same, they had decided to behave like the unregenerate and follow the fashion of the day. In their case following the Judaisers. Consequently they had not grown up, or if they had, they had gone back, and were carnal. This tying up with the teaching of the fifth chapter: that being fallen from grace they had allowed an occasion for the flesh, and consequently had gone walking off in the flesh with all its results.
The Hebrew quote has to do with feeding and coming to a maturity and understanding. The believers of the Galatian assemblies had not done so, and hence were foolish. They had lacked understanding. We are continually encourage to come to an understanding of the truth so that we are not tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine.
Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
It is God’s intention to bring us to full maturity and away from childish understanding. And Paul in Ephesians tells us the reason for maturity. Not to be tossed about with every wind of doctrine by the craftiness of men. Any false teaching that comes along we need to recognise and reject it . In the Acts of the Apostles we read that when Paul and his companions went to Berea the citizens searched the scriptures to see if those things we so Acts.17:10-12.
Today there are so many Siren voices calling out to God’s people to follow this way or that. They all would take us in the opposite direction with their perverted gospel, and yet there are so many believers being carried off. We need to be established in God and grow up, so that we don’t allow ourselves to be carried away with the latest fad of teaching or practice. The Galatians had being foolish in this because of a lack of understanding, yet they shouldn’t have ! They ought to have known better. Let us make sure that we are not labelled as being foolish in the sense of not maturing and understanding the salvation we are in.
The word bewitched means to fascinate, and Paul is in effect asking; “who has fascinated you, to the extent that you have gone astray?” The idea behind the word is connected to the previous thought, that is the Galatians had not been led by sober judgment, but rather by charm, and it had taken them away from what they KNEW to be true. There was something that pleased the flesh, whether it was the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, or the pride of life, and they gave way to it going away from the truth that they had and in the opposite direction.
There is much that can fascinate and draw God’s people away from the truth, religion is usually the culprit! For religion, by definition, is an attempt to please God by the works of the flesh, and this is pleasing to men and women. It has always been the case, but one trend that is noticeable in some quarters these days is the fascination of all things Jewish in Christian circles. The very error the Galatians were guilty of. There are believers who try and spread their enthusiasm for the Jews to others, by trying to get Christians to practise Jewish customs such as the Passover. Now the issue here is not whether a truly born again Jew should continue in their cultural practices, but rather should those from a Gentile background be obliged to adopt them? In light of all our previous studies the answer is a simple negative, the OT law was only the shadow, we have the substance, why do we need to go back?
There are other places in the NT where believers are warned about going back from the truth in Christ. There are too many here to list, but consider this one :
Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ….. Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ. Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind….. Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (Touch not; taste not; handle not; Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men? Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.
The epistle to the Colossians has a very similar message to Galatians, albeit from a different perspective. In the passage quoted we see the believers are warned against being spoilt through philosophy; being judged in respect to OT practices; being beguiled in false worship and being warned as to following the commandments and doctrines of men.
To be spoilt here means to be carried off, or lead captive, and this is what men’s vain philosophy does. It does not matter whether the philosophy is the classical type, such as Plato, Aristotle, or whether it’s that of religion. It all leads to the same thing – being carried off into bondage to someone or something else, maybe a particular line of teaching or thought. These things take people away from Christ. It might be worthy of note that Josephus calls the three Jewish sects of his day as philosophies, if this be true then Paul’s warning in the Colossian letter is of great significance in the context of the Galatian warnings.
Let no one judge you! That is let no one sit in judgment to decide for you on these matters. The whole tenor of NT is that we are responsible to Christ for our lives directly and not to any man, Jesus alone is the mediator of the New Covenant. No man, nor woman for that matter, has the right to impose any burdens on us. By allowing people to judge us we are submitting ourselves to their ideas and so become subject to them! It could be individuals or a denomination. No one whether an individual, or any organisation has the right to lay down rules as to how we should live, nor by what rules and regulations we should follow in the spiritual realm. We all live and die before the Lord. Rom.14:8 It is when we allow men to make judgments on and for us that we begin to slip in to bondage and end up in Galatianism.
The idea behind the phrase: let no man beguile you of your reward comes from the giving out of prizes at the Greek games. Picking up Paul’s analogy of running the race for the prize in I Cor.9:24 we are exhorted to run so that we may obtain, here in Colossians the quoted phrases means: let no one rob you of that prize. In other words these false teachers who would seek to bring us back into bondage of some sort, and away from Christ would have us loose our prize of the high calling of Christ!
The third and final thing Paul accuses the Galatians of is disobedience. This is the final step in this downward spiral. Disobedience to the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ: ” that ye should not obey the truth”. By lacking maturity and understanding, the Galatians allowed themselves to be bewitched and spoilt to the extent that the gospel they once followed they were now disobedient to. It was the truth that they failed to obey, now the gospel truth is not some abstract theological concept, but rather a person: JESUS CHRIST.
Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.
So these Galatians had failed to obey the Lord Jesus, the only way to the Father is through Him and Him alone; they had allowed some form of legalism get in the way of them and the Lord Jesus. As we saw in the second chapter they had, by their practice, denied the gospel of grace and thus falsified the message they originally had.
[ye] search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.
And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him;
The problem with the Jews was that they thought that they had to do something to earn God’s favour. They ended up trying to please God by rules and regulations, and even to trusting the scriptures so as far as to worship them. Jesus’ complaint was that they wouldn’t not go to Him for eternal life, for He alone is the source. Applying this to the Galatians we note that they disobeyed by going back to the Law and trusting that to live the Christian life, rather than trusting in Christ alone.
This is the disobedience! To go to the Father we must come through Christ, and to live the life out then it is Christ in us, not us trying to keep it up. The gospel is grace through faith, and to do any other is plain disobedience.
Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences [=stumblings] contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple. For your obedience is come abroad unto all men. I am glad therefore on your behalf: but yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil. And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.
Here is another similar warning from Paul. Those who would cause divisions and bring about stumbling to believers where possible, are not serving Christ but their own bellies [i.e. interests whatever they may be]; by good works and flatteries they deceive the simple, the immature ones. The warning here from Paul is clear, to note who these people are and avoid them, this is what the Galatians did not do. Instead they listened to them.
There is no suggestion about trying to correct them at all, but just to avoid them. Such teachers would appear to be so far sold down this line of falsehood that it is of no value in arguing with them; they have flattering words ready to deceive the simple, we are told to avoid them, later on Jude exhorts us to keep ourselves in the Faith.
But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. And of some have compassion, making a difference: And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.
In summary then we see that the Galatians were foolish in not coming into a proper understanding of truth: they remained, or returned to the carnal state, and consequently were easy prey for these false teachers. It is vital for us to go on and become men in understanding.
Secondly, they either failed to mark out these false teachers and /or avoid them, that is to shun them. We too must mark out and shun such false teachers. Today we are told to be tolerant to all and sundry, but there can be no compromise with eternal truth. We are exhorted to speak the truth in love, but we must speak the truth otherwise we will bearing false witness to the gospel and be found liars.
Finally, they were disobedient by trying to live the Christian life by walking in the flesh, trying to keep and go back to the law. And as a result removed themselves from the gospel. This was the final stage and natural consequence of the first two. Let us beware that we don’t fall into any of these traps.