Today’s Chocolate: Endangered Species Dark Chocolate with Forest Mint
Today’s Passage: Galatians 6
Paul concludes his letter to the Galatians with a return to that much-loved topic of circumcision. It may just be the cumulative effect of the whole letter, but this chapter strikes me as giving the clearest picture of his opponents and their motivations yet.
A key reason why they’re such strong advocates for circumcision is that it’s less controversial than preaching the actual gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul writes: “Those who desire to make a good showing in the flesh try to compel you to be circumcised, simply so that they will not be persecuted for the cross of Christ” (6:12). The first Christians, who were Jewish by heritage, got driven out by Jewish persecution first from Jerusalem (Acts 8:1-3) and then from the whole nation of Judea (Acts 11:19). 1st-century Jews often saw the message of a Messiah who was god in the flesh as blasphemous, and I expect that the notion that right standing with God couldn’t be earned by sinful humans was likely a blow to the Jewish ego. I could cite other factors for widespread early Jewish rejection of Jesus Christ and his followers, not the least of which would be Jesus’ controversial ministry and ignominious crucifixion, but the point stands: a Torah-based false gospel is much more palatable to Jewish ears, to the point where Jews are even trying to sell non-Jewish, Galatian Christians on circumcision.
If circumcision advocates preach a false gospel of salvation through obedience, they spare themselves opposition from their Jewish brethren. Paul, in contrast, is willing to preach the gospel of the cross even when it’s to his own detriment: “But I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? Then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished” (5:11). Paul is telling his readers: I’m in this for you. If I were in this for me, I’d be preaching circumcision right along with the others.
Paul goes on to point out the hypocrisy of his opponents. He observes: “For those who are circumcised do not even keep the Law themselves, but they desire to have you circumcised so that they may boast in your flesh” (6:13). Painful as it might be, following that one point of the Law is easy compared to the impossible task of keeping every single divinely-issued commandment of the Torah. The Judaizers are looking to prove themselves and elevate themselves in the eyes of their peers by drawing people into their movement; they’re out for power. And if they actually think they can achieve righteousness before God through works, through following God’s moral code, through doing the right thing every waking moment of every day, they’re not looking at themselves (or the Law) very closely.
But all that stuff about circumcision isn’t what hit me about this chapter. It’s one verse right near the beginning: “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ” (6:2). That’s what being the church is about. That’s the law of Christ! It’s about helping your brothers in the community of believers. It’s about stepping out of your individualistic and isolated safety hole, connecting with the body, and daring to have each other’s back when the chips are down.
And here’s real talk, fam: while I remain 100% convinced that Jesus Christ, in his death on the cross, forgives me for failing to keep his law, I have to confess that I haven’t even begun to measure up.