Galatians – Responsibility and Liberty

September 27, 2008

In Galatians 5:13, Paul begins a pivotal discourse on the life in the Spirit. He writes, "for you were called to freedom; brethren, only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for flesh." His discourse aptly begins with exhortations to live in the maturity that is freedom and love; he then makes a statement that seems peculiar at first glance: "But if you bite and devour one another take heed that you are not consumed by one another" (v 14). To better understand this passage, one can recall that churches in Paul’s age were frequently beset by fierce disputes between opposing ecclesial factions. As any good shepherd, he does not wish the victors to take vengeance on those who lose theological disputes. To do this, he highlights the sins of pride, "enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy," within his litany of sins of the flesh (v 20, 21). Finally, he presents the Fruits of the Spirit as the expression of a harmonious and fruitful community life and further encourages the strife-filled Galatians to "walk by the Spirit" and have "no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another" (v 25-26).

In light of the vicious disputes in Galatia, Paul begins Chapter 6 with an underlying confidence in the ability of the Church to heal and return to harmony. He begins by instructing those who consider themselves "spiritual" Christians to restore fallen brothers and sisters, and to fulfill this responsibility with a "spirit of gentleness" that is fair and never that of a pushover (v 1). He demands that a man watch out for his brothers but warns against pride: "Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself" (v 2-3). In the Galaitian Church, the burden "spiritual" Christians must bear is likely the shame and guilt they feel towards those who followed the Judaizers as well as the humility to allow them to return to the fold after reform.

The verse "Let him who is taught the word share all good things with him who teaches" speaks to the just wages due to all clerics, presupposing that they are teaching well (v 6). Given the abysmal state of our catechesis, Catholics have a long way to go to attain the standards of the Galatian church, let alone the expectations of a true disciple of Jesus Christ.

Music: Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture performed by the Skidmore College Orchestra. www.musopen.com

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