In his final reflection on living the life of faith begun in 5:13, Paul casts a vision for the kind of community the church is called to be as the body of Christ. This was a message the Galatians desperately needed to hear. The community of believers in Galatia, like many churches today, had fallen far short of God’s purpose for the church. Behind the insistence that male Gentile converts submit to circumcision was a critical and judging mentality that was destroying the spiritual life of the church. The situation had become so hostile Paul had warned them, “If you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another” (Gal 5:15).
Instead of being a community where only the “fittest survive,” Paul says that church should be a place where those who struggle to live the Christian life should find encouragement, hope, love, and restoration when they fall (v. 1). The only way this attitude can be manifest toward others is if we recognize that we are also not beyond temptation and sin (v. 1b). After all, not one of us is more worthy than anyone else. We are all sinners completely dependent on Christ’s forgiveness and grace (v. 3). How can we not, therefore, offer to others what Christ has given to us (cf. Gal 5:2; Rom 3:23-26; Matt 18:23-35)? Can you imagine the kind of place the church could be today if this were the reality—a place where we did “good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (v. 10)?
Paul concludes his letter with a final appeal to the Galatians to stand firm for the gospel. What matters most, he says, is not circumcision—or even the lack therefore—but the transforming power of the Risen Christ that changes the hearts and lives of people (v. 15). In this hope, Paul’s last word to the Galatians is the same word of blessing that began his letter—grace (v. 18). May we experience and share that same grace with all those who cross our path today!
Carl P. Cosaert
Walla Walla University