Columns 673-682 in Migne PG vol. 61

Verse 1: Brothers, if someone is overtaken by a trespass [NIV: caught in a sin],

[1.] They often gratified their private feelings of revenge when giving a rebuke. They said that they gave these rebukes for good reasons, but really they were just advancing their own ambition. That is why he says, “Brothers, if someone is overtaken.” He did not say, “if a man commits,” but rather if he “is overtaken,” that is, if he is carried away.

Verse 1: You who are spiritual should restore him

He does not say “rebuke” or “judge,” but “restore.” He does not stop there, but goes on to show that it is necessary to be sensitive to those who have lost their footing:

Verse 1: In a spirit of meekness [NIV: gently].

Note that he does not merely say “in meekness,” but rather “in a spirit of meekness,” showing that this is acceptable to the Spirit, and that it is a spiritual gift to be able to correct someone with sensitivity. Then, to prevent anyone from getting a false sense of pride when he corrects another, Paul puts the same fear in him by saying:

Verse 1: But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.

Rich men make their contributions to the needy well known, so that if they should happen to become poor, they might receive similar treatment. We ought to do the same spiritually. He states this logical reasoning in these words, “but watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.”

He shows sympathy for the offender in three ways: first he says “if someone is overtaken.” Second, he uses the term “trespass,” indicating weakness. Finally he says “or you also may be tempted,” which blames the malice of the devil rather than the shortcomings of the offender’s soul.

Verse 2: Carry each other’s burdens.

It is impossible for man to be without failures. So he encourages them not to severely scrutinize the offences of others, but instead to carry the failures of others, so that their own failures may in turn be carried by others. In the building of a house, each stone has a different position. One is fitted as a corner and not the foundation, another for the foundation and not a corner—so also within the body of the church. The same thing holds in the frame of our own flesh. One body part deals with another, but we do not require each body part to master every function. A body and a building both consist of the sum total of its various parts.

Verse 2: and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

He does not say “fulfill (plēroō),” but, “completely fulfill (anaplēroō)” That is, you all fulfill it together as one by carrying one another. For example, perhaps this man is short-tempered, while you are overly patient. Carry him in his aggression that he in turn may carry you in your inactivity. You will keep him from sinning, and he will keep you from falling into your own weaknesses. In this way, by reaching out a hand to the one who is about to fall, you will fulfill the law in common, each completing what is wanting in his neighbor by his own endurance.

If you don’t do this, but instead you only concern yourself with the faults of your neighbor, you will never do anything right. The family of God will meet with constant frustration, just like the body would experience if you tried to get each part to perform every possible function.

Verse 3: If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.

Here again he reflects on their arrogance. Anyone who thinks he is something is nothing, and proves it by his very attitude.

Verse 4: Each one should test his own actions.

Here he shows that we ought to scrutinize our own lives. This should not be taken lightly. We ought to carefully weigh our actions. For example, if you have performed a good deed, consider whether it was not out of vanity for glory, or because of necessity, or malevolence, or with hypocrisy, or from some other human motive. Gold appears to be bright before it is placed in the furnace, but is fully exposed when committed to the fire where all that is spurious is separated from what is genuine. Similarly, if we closely examine our works, they will be made visible, and we shall find that we have exposed much that is worthy of criticism.

Verse 4: Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else.

He is not laying down a rule, but making a concession. His meaning is this: “Boasting is senseless, but if you must boast, don’t boast against your neighbor, as the Pharisee did.” Anyone given this advice will soon give up boasting altogether. For this reason Paul concedes a part so that he may gradually destroy the whole. Paul realized that he who boasts only about himself, and not against others, will soon stop boasting completely. He who does not consider himself better than others – for this is the meaning of “without comparing himself to somebody else,” – but is thrilled to examine himself to himself, will soon cease to be so thrilled. So that you may be sure this is what Paul is getting at, observe how he uses fear to keep their boasting in check, saying, “each one should test his own actions.”

Verse 5: For each one should carry his own load.

He states a reason not to boast against another, but at the same time he corrects the boaster himself. He teaches him not to think so much of himself by bringing to mind his own errors, and pressing upon his conscience the idea of a burden, and of being heavily yoked.

Verse 6: Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor.

[2.] Now he moves to the topic of teachers, explaining how they ought to be taken care of by their disciples. What is the reason that Christ commanded this? For this law, “that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel,” is laid down in the New Testament (1 Cor 9:14); and likewise in the Old, a great amount of income accrued for the Levites from the people (Num 31:47, 35:1-8). What is the reason he ordained this, I ask? Was it not in order to lay a foundation of humility and love? As much as the dignity of a teacher often increases his pride, God has imposed on him, for the purpose of repressing his spirit, the necessity of requiring aid at the hands of his disciples. God has given to students the means of cultivating kind attitudes, by training them, through the kindness required of them for their teacher, in gentleness towards others also. This cultivates great warmth on both sides. If the cause of this is not what I stated it to be, why should God, who fed the dull-minded Jews with manna, have reduced the apostles to the necessity of asking for aid? Is it not clear that he aimed at the great benefits of humility and love, and that those who were under teaching might not be ashamed of teachers who appeared to be poor? To ask for assistance bears the mark of disgrace, but it loses its shame when the teachers ask for it with boldness as part of their instruction. Their disciples receive great benefit from this practice, as they are taught not to judge by appearances. This is why he says, “Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor,” that is, let him show him all generosity. This he implied by the words “all good things.”

He urges disciples to keep nothing for themselves, but share everything with their teachers. The teaching he receives is better than anything he might give—as much as heavenly things are better than earthly things. He expresses this in another place, “If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you?” (1 Cor 9:11). This is why he calls this procedure “sharing (Greek imperative verb: koinōneitō),” showing that an interchange takes place. This greatly fosters and confirms their mutual love. If the teacher merely asks for enough assistance to sustain himself, he does not lose his dignity. He is praiseworthy for so busying himself with the word that he requires the financial assistance of others. He is in obvious poverty, but doesn’t bother himself trying to find more means of income. However, if he asks for more than is appropriate, he injures his dignity, not because he receives assistance, but because he receives too much.

But Paul wants to make sure that students will not use the vices of their teachers as a reason to neglect sharing possessions with them. To make sure they will not omit assisting an impoverished teacher on account of his conduct, he later adds: Let us not become weary in doing good (verse 9). But here he points out the difference between ambition of this kind and temporal affairs by saying,

Verses 7-8: Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.

If someone sows beans, he isn’t able to reap corn, because what is reaped will be the same substance as what is sown. Our actions work the same way. If someone sows in the flesh, according to his sinful nature, in recklessness, drunkenness, or inordinate desire, he will reap the fruits of these things. And what are these fruits? Punishment, retribution, shame, derision and destruction. Deliciously prepared dinners and lavish foods are nothing other than destruction, because they destroy themselves as well as the body. But the fruit of the Spirit is not similar to these in any way, but in every respect is contrary to them. Have you sown by giving to the poor? The treasure of heaven awaits you with eternal glory. Have you sown temperance? The honorable applause of angels awaits you in heaven, where your reward will be a crown from the great Judge of all.

Verses 9-10: Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

Someone might suppose that they could neglect other teachers as long as they did not neglect their own. So Paul makes his next statement more general, and encourages zeal in giving charity to all. He carries it to such a height that he commands us to show mercy both to Jew and Greeks—in the proper amount, indeed—but still to show mercy. What is the proper amount? We are to give greater care to the faithful.

His goal here is the same as in his other letters. He does not merely write about showing mercy, but of doing it with zeal and perseverance. The expressions “sowing” and not giving up” imply this. After asking for such a great work, he sets forth an equally great reward and mentions a new and wondrous harvest.

[3.] Among farmers, not only the sower but also the reaper endures great labor, since both must struggle with drought and dust and grievous work. But these do not exist in the work described by Paul, as he shows by the words, “for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” With these words he drives them on.

He gives one other motive to press them forward, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people.” Just as it is not always in our power to sow, neither is it to show mercy; for when we have been carried there, though we may desire it a thousand times, we shall be able to do nothing more.

The Ten Virgins bear witness to this argument. Although they wished entrance a thousand times, they were shut out from the bridegroom, because they had not brought an abundance in charity with them (Matt 25:1ff). The rich man who neglected Lazarus found no relief. Although he wept begged, he won no compassion from the Patriarch, or anyone else, but continued destitute of all forgiveness, and tormented with perpetual fire. That is why Paul says, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people.” This especially sets them free from the narrow-mindedness of the Jews. The whole of Jewish benevolence was confined to their own race, but the rule of life which grace gives invites both land and sea to the table of charity, though it shows greater care for its own household.

Verses 11: See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!

See what grief possesses his blessed soul! Often when someone loses a family member or suffers an unexpected disaster, he can find no rest, night or day, because his soul is so overtaken with grief. The blessed Paul is similarly overcome, so that after a short moral discourse he returns again to the subject which weighed most heavily on his heart, saying, “See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand.” By this he signifies that he had written the whole letter himself, which was a proof of great sincerity. In his other letters he only dictated while someone else wrote, as is plain from the letter to the Romans. At its close it reads, “I, Tertius, who wrote down this letter, greet you in the Lord” (Rom 16:22). But on this occasion he wrote the entire letter himself.

He did not do this out of necessity, or from mere affection, but in order to remove a dangerous suspicion. He had been charged with actions he had never taken, and was reported as a preacher of circumcision who pretended not to preach it. So he was compelled to write this letter with his own hand, thereby providing written testimony against his accusers. By the expression “how large” it seems to me that he is not signifying the size of the letters, but rather the misshapen appearance of them, as if he had said, “Although I am not well skilled in writing, I have been compelled to write with my own hand to stop the mouth of these slanderers.”

Verses 12-13: Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. Not even those who are circumcised obey the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your flesh.

Paul shows that the Galatians did not suffer all of this willingly but out of necessity, and he offers them an opportunity to retreat. He sounds almost as though he is defending them, encouraging them to abandon their misleaders as fast as they can.

What does “that they may boast about your flesh” signify? It means to be esteemed by men. “Since they are reviled by the Jews for deserting the customs of their fathers, they desire to injure you,” he says, “in order to remove this charge and vindicate themselves before the Jews, using your flesh as the evidence.” His goal here is to show that they did not do this out of respect to God. It is as if he said, “This procedure is not founded in piety. It is all done through human ambition.” In order that the unbelievers may be gratified by the mutilation of the faithful, they choose to offend God to please men. This is the meaning of “that they may boast about your flesh.”

He gives another reason that they are unpardonable. They had introduced this teaching not only in order to please others, but also for their own glory. That is another reason Paul adds, “that they may boast about your flesh.” They want to boast as if they had disciples and were themselves teachers. What is the proof of this? He says, “Not even those who are circumcised obey the law.” Even if they did keep it, they would become liable to grave censure. But he has shown that their very purpose is corrupt.

Verse 14: May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

According to the world, this confession is contemptible. But this only a human judgment. In heaven and among the faithful, this confession is the highest glory. Poverty too is contemptible to the world, but it is our boast. To be cheaply thought of by the public is a matter of laughter to them, but we are delighted by it. Likewise, we boast in the cross.

He does not say, “I do not boast,” or, “I will not boast,” but, “May I never boast [employing the Greek optative].” By using this construction, he shows that he considers any other boasting absurd and that he invokes God’s aid in order to stay successful in this matter. But what is the boast of the cross? For my sake, Christ took on himself the form of a slave and bore my sufferings, though I am the true slave, the enemy, the senseless brute. Yes, he loved me so as to give himself up and become accursed for me. What can compare to this! If servants are delighted servants when they receive praise from their masters (with whom they share the same nature), how can we not boast when the Master who is God himself is not ashamed of the cross which he endured for us?

[4. – number missing in Greek column but found in Latin translation] So let us not be ashamed of his unspeakable tenderness. He was not ashamed of being crucified for your sake. Will you be ashamed to confess his infinite love? It is as if a prisoner who had not been ashamed of his King should, after the King had come into the prison and loosed the chains, become ashamed of him on that account. Yet this would be the height of madness, for that very act would be an exceptional ground for boasting.

Verse 14: through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

What he here calls the world is not the heavens nor the earth, but the affairs of life, the praise of men, bodyguards, glory, wealth, and all such things that display splendor. To me these things are dead. It befits a Christian to be like this and to always use this language. Nor was he content with the former being put to death, but adds also, “and I unto the world,” implying a double execution, and saying, “They are dead to me, and I to them. They cannot captivate or overcome me, for they are dead once and for all. I cannot desire them, for I too am dead to them.” Nothing can be more blessed than this putting to death, for it is the foundation of the blessed life.

Verses 15-16: Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation. Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God.

Observe the power of the cross, to what a pitch it has raised him! It makes worldly affairs seem completely unimportant, and ushers in a newer and more wonderful age than that of the Old Testament. What can compare to this power? The cross has persuaded Paul, who had previously been willing to be slain and to slay others for the sake of circumcision, to consider it of equal value with uncircumcision. He now has newer, greater, heavenly concerns.

He calls this manner of life “a new creation,” on account what already has happened to our souls, and what will happen to our bodies. Our soul, which had grown old with the oldness of sin, has been all at once renewed by baptism, as if it had been created again. For that reason we require a new, heavenly rule of life. But in the future, both heaven and earth and all creation shall, along with our bodies, be transformed into incorruption. He says, “Don’t tell me of circumcision, which means nothing.” What will circumcision matter once all things have undergone such a change? In the age of grace, we have newer, heavenly concerns. Those who pursue these shall enjoy peace and goodwill, and may properly be called by the name “Israel.” But those who are opposed to the new way of life, even if they are physically descended from Israel and bear his name, have lost the benefit of their relationship and the right to his name. But all those who desist in their old ways and follow the rule of grace may truly be called “Israel”.

Verse 17: Finally, let no one cause me trouble.

It is not that Paul is wearied or overpowered. This is Paul speaking, who would do and suffer anything for his disciples’ sake. It was Paul who said, “Be prepared in season and out of season,” (2 Tim 4:2). It was he who said, “in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil,” (2 Tim 2:25,26). Why does he now say this? It is to spur on their slothful minds and to impress them with a deeper fear. In this way he leads them to imitate his conduct and to bring an end to their fickleness.

Verse 17: For I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.

He does not say, “I have” but “I bear,” like a man priding himself on trophies and royal symbols. Although it might seem like a disgrace, he shows off his wounds like a military standard-bearer. Why does he do this? It is like saying, “I vindicate myself more clearly by those wounds than by any argument or speech. These wounds are louder than a trumpet against my opponents, and against those who say that I act hypocritically in my teaching and speak in order to please men.” No one who saw a soldier retiring from the battle bathed in blood, with a thousand wounds, would dare accuse him of cowardice and treachery, since he bears on his body the proofs of his valor. “Do you judge me?” he asks. “If anyone wants to hear my defense and learn what my sentiments are, let him consider my wounds, which provide a stronger proof than this letter.” At the beginning of his letter he showed his sincerity by the suddenness of his conversion. Now at the letter’s close he proves his sincerity by the perils he suffered after his conversion. Someone could possibly have objected that he had changed his course with upright intentions at his conversion, but that he had not acted according to those intentions. So he produces his trials, his dangers, and his stripes as witnesses that he had so continued.

He has clearly vindicated himself on all accounts. He has proved that he spoke nothing from anger or malevolence. He has shown that his affection toward the Galatians had not been injured. One final time, he establishes this same point by concluding his discourse with a prayer filled with a thousand blessings, in these words:

Verse 18: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.

With these last words he has sealed the entire letter. He does not say merely “with you” as at the close of other letters, but “with your spirit,” leading them away from things of the flesh, showing the goodness of God which is everywhere, and reminding them of the grace which they enjoyed, which was sufficient to recall them from their Judaizing error. The reception of the Spirit did not come from the law’s poverty, but from the righteousness which is by faith. The Spirit’s preservation among them did not come from circumcision but from grace. On this account he concluded his exhortation with a prayer, reminding them of the grace and the Spirit. He addresses them as brothers and asks God that they might continue to enjoy these blessings, which provided them with double security. Paul’s prayer and teaching were aimed at the same thing and together became to them as a double wall. His teaching reminded them of the many benefits they enjoyed and kept them in line with the doctrine of the Church. His prayer, calling upon God’s grace and asking him to give them a firm constancy, did not permit the Spirit to depart from them. The Spirit, abiding in them, has shaken off like dust all the error of such doctrines they held.

Chrysostom on Galatians – main page

Revised by LT

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