Steve K.

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Reading Galatians: Pride, Grace and Heirs
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Now that I've actually managed to read through the whole Bible, which I originally intended to do in a year, but it took closer to two years to complete, I've thought about what and how to read further into God's Word. I could always read through the whole thing again, but it's very obvious to me that doing a once-over every once in a while is not going to stick in my memory. Instead, I've decided that the best option to immerse myself is to read through one part of it multiple times.

I'm not sure what led me to choose Galatians as the first book, but I would say that I've spent a lot of my life reading and listening to discussion on more popular books like Genesis and John and Revelation. I kind of want to understand some of the less talked about books because it's not just the popular books that are useful for teaching, but we should know the whole word in order to have an answer in any situation. Also, Galatians is very short, so reading the whole book can happen multiple times in a month.

At the start of April, I started reading Galatians through over and over. Toward the end of the month, I started to wonder why I chose to read this book. It's very simple to understand and not the most interesting book. Paul writes to the Galatians after witnessing and hearing news about Jews pressuring Gentile believers to be circumcised as well as follow traditional Jewish laws, such as segregation. He then explains trusting in God's grace versus attempting to fulfill the law, why grace precedes the law, the intention of the law, and why we should follow grace instead of the law. Easy to understand; you can read it yourself if you want to know more.

It wasn't until this last read-through for the month that a specific passage finally clicked in my brain. Specifically, Galatians 6:2-5. This is a passage that I've heard people argue as a contradiction, a very weak contradiction, but still two versus that appear to say two opposing things--if you're surface reading and not paying any attention to context.

2 Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. 5 For each will have to bear his own load.

I've discussed this passage in study groups before, and generally people have always said that the two statements are completely related to the same "burden". And then the explanation goes that we should, "bear each other's burdens until we can bear our own burdens." That makes sense, but this last time reading through I've realized Paul isn't trying to say that.

I believe Paul was actually addressing the two different crowds (the "circumcision party" and the "non-circumcision" grace party) in this statement. First, go back to Galatians 5:14 where Paul states that the law is fulfilled by loving our neighbor as ourselves. I believe this is at the heart of verse 6:2, and it speaks to the grace party. We are to love one another enough to bear their burdens in love. Certainly, God wants us to lay our burdens entirely on Him, but where we can't, we should be able to trust our brothers and sisters to show us love and lift us up until then. But Paul wasn't trying to say that in verse 6:5.

I believe Paul was speaking to the circumcision party, those who are seeking salvation through following the law. To understand this second statement, step forward to verse 6:13. Here, Paul says that the circumcision party is looking to "have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh." Essentially, the circumcision party isn't perfect, but they are technically following the law better than the grace party; they are Jews, so they do know the law better than the Gentiles. This is something that separated the Jews from anyone else for a very long time, and it's something I'm sure they don't want to throw off easily.

Instead of that element of love that Paul intends in verse 6:2, Paul is expressing in verse 6:5 the element of pride that is plaguing the Jews. Essentially, the circumcision party wants to throw off the burden of fulfilling the law onto the uncircumcised/newly-circumcised Galatians. They can attempt to gain a better position in Heaven by saying, "God, look lightly on my sins for they are small compared to these uncircumcised Gentiles." This is that "I'm better than him" pride mentality, and Paul wants to debunk that by saying we should bear our own burdens before Christ. It also levels the field between the two crowds by pointing out sins that the circumcision party is unaware.

That was one epiphany I had while reading Galatians, and perhaps the hardest to explain. In addition to that it's been drilled into me now that I need to stop relying on following silly laws and live a life under grace, being an equal heir to the promise under Abraham as brothers and sisters in Christ. While following the law is good and righteous, I also need to love God as a father and not as a master.

Over the next month, I'm planning to read through Ephesians. Sure, it comes right after Galatians, but I've also had a lot of other reading lately that has referenced passages in Ephesians.


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