12 October 2012Galatians 5:25 - 6:10
"If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit." (v. 25)
Two important things to remember when reading Paul's letters: he didn't write them himself (he dictated them to a scribe) and he was often replying to letters he had received, and which we don't have, unfortunately. This may help to explain the slightly 'random' nature of his letter to the Galatians as it draws towards a close. So today's passage begins with Paul repeating what he has just said previously, about living by, and so being led by, the Spirit. This, he says, makes for good relationships and generous behaviour within "the family of faith" (v. 10).
Realising, perhaps, that his tone up to now could have the opposite effect, Paul urges his readers to be gentle in the way they treat each other. Specifically, those "who have received the Spirit" should be generous to those who have been "detected in a transgression" (v. 1). Given Paul's passionate argument up until now, it is reasonable to assume that this refers to those who have been persuaded by his opponents to be circumcised (Galatians 5:2-4). They should be treated gently in obedience to the 'law of Christ' - "you shall love your neighbour as yourself" (Galatians 5:14). And everyone should examine their own conscience.
The sudden change of emphasis in verse 6 is probably a response to a question that had arisen about whether it was right to give financial support to visiting preachers - a question that arose elsewhere too (eg 1 Corinthians 9:4-14). But Paul quickly gets back to his theme of the contrast between "flesh" and "Spirit", with a further warning to those who give in to the flesh (the pressure to be circumcised?) and an exhortation to be fruitful in "doing what is right" (v. 9), or to 'be righteous' (which means much the same), and to "work for the good of all" (v. 10). First-century letters of this kind usually included an 'ethical exhortation', and this one is no exception. But don't think Paul has calmed down…..
- Which is more important, do you think: right belief or right behaviour? Which mattered more to Paul? And what about you?
- "Let us work for the good of all" (v. 10), but why "especially for those of the family of faith"?
- What kind of 'ethical exhortation' do you think the Church needs to hear today?