Monday, 23 May 2016
And I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why do I still suffer persecution? Then the offense of the cross has ceased. Galatians 5:11
There is an emphasis here intended to bring in a stark contrast to the false teachers with the words “And I.” This is immediately followed up with “brethren.” He is speaking to them as saved believers and those that he was in fellowship with. His contrast is to show them that he has their best interests in mind. If this is so, then those he is contrasting himself with do not. He is their brother in right doctrine; they are their enemy in false doctrine.
His next words, “…if I still preach circumcision,” are taken by some that he once proclaimed that circumcision was a necessary part of the faith and that he had now changed his position on this matter. This is unlikely for several reasons. First, the book of Acts shows no such change in position. Secondly, he was instructed by Christ on his doctrine and Christ does not change. Third, though he circumcised Timothy (Acts 16:3), it was for a special reason and not out of compulsion or as a necessary doctrine. There is no reason at all to assume that Paul ever proclaimed the necessity of circumcision in regards to salvation.
Rather, those who saw that he had circumcised Timothy may have thought he was setting a precedent for all others he preached to. Or, they may have seen that he lived as an observant Jew in order to win those under the law (1 Corinthians 9:20). It may also be that his early teachings before becoming a Christian concerning the law were being recalled by those who knew him then. Or, it might be that the false teachers may have simply maligned Paul by stating he once proclaimed circumcision, but now did not. Whatever is the case, the record supports Paul’s doctrine of salvation by grace through faith – apart from circumcision – during all of his time as a believer in Christ.
In support of this, he asks “…if I still preach circumcision, why do I still suffer persecution?” Vincent’s Word Studies notes that the first use of the word “still” refers to the time before his conversion. He then notes that the second “still” which is given “is not temporal but logical.” One thing logically follows after another, but in this case the logic was skewed. Where could the Jews and the false teachers find fault in him and persecute him if he were teaching that circumcision (and thus adherence to the Law of Moses) was necessary? The answer is that they couldn’t. But they did, thus confirming his stand against such things. As Charles Ellicott states, “The two things are alternatives. If one is taught there is no need for the other.”
And this is exactly what his final point is. “If I were not being persecuted, ‘Then the offence of the cross has ceased.'” His gospel presentation was that only the merits of the work of Christ, culminating in the cross of Calvary, were sufficient to save a person’s soul. This was an offense to those who held that adherence to the Law of Moses was necessary. They were depending on their own works, under the law, to establish their righteousness before God. But the gospel says that God has rejected that approach. To the Jews, and to those who feel that their deeds can please God more than the cross, this is the highest of offenses. It takes away their feelings of pride, and it takes away their ability to boast before God.
For Paul to change his mind about the all-sufficient nature of the work of Christ, and to claim that adherence to the law was necessary, would then take away any need to persecute him. But his persecution in this regard continued. Thus, it proved that he was being misrepresented concerning circumcision. Rather, he held completely and solely to the merits of Christ as a means of being justified before God.
Life application: The law is fulfilled in Christ. The law is nailed to the cross of Christ. The law is annulled through the work of Christ. If you can’t understand this, then you may need to take remedial English. The Bible is rather clear on these things.
Lord God, surely we are prone to stray from Your chosen path for us. We fall in to temptation and we fall into sin. How miserable we are in Your presence without the shed blood of Christ to cover our failings. But… but how great You are that through His atoning Sacrifice our faults are covered, our wanderings are corrected, and we shall stand in Your presence pure and undefiled; acceptable to You because of the work of Another. Thank You for this marvelous assurance! Amen.