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"Walk According to this Rule"
Wednesday Evening Home Bible Study
September 13, 2006
These are the closing words of Paul's letter. And in a way, they are among the most significant. For one thing, it may be that Paul chose to write them personally. He often used an 'amanuensis' (a Latin words that means 'by hand'; that is, a person who wrote by hand at his dictation) in the writing of his letters. But in verse 11 he makes it clear that he wrote with his own hand. It may be that he wrote the whole letter by his own hand; but more than likely, he wrote these closing words in his own hand (see also 2 Thessalonians 3:17). If he chose to take the pen away from his amanuensis and write these closing words personally, then this would underscore their great significance. But these closing words are also important because they summarize the key essentials of the gospel message that he was preaching.
Twice in this salutation, he uses the words “As many as . . .” (Greek: hosoi; see verses 12 and 16). And in doing so, he is highlighting two different groups. “As many as desire to make a good showing in the flesh” (v. 12) highlights the “Judaizers”—those who were compelling the Galatian believers to be circumcised as a way to be made righteous before God. They seek to avoid persecution because of the cross, make a pretense of keeping the law, and boast in how they have made others comply with their demands regarding the flesh. “And as many as walk according to this rule” (v. 16) highlights those who walk according to the message of complete trust in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. They make their boast in the cross of Christ, are crucified to the world and the world to them, and seek to stand before God on the basis of God's gracious work of “a new creation”.
It's those who walk according to “this rule”—that is, according to the rule of faith in the cross of Christ alone—that are able to enjoy the “peace and mercy” of God. They stand before God as the true “Israel”. They don't trust in outward works of the flesh, but in an inward work of God's grace by faith. They don't trust in themselves, but rather in Christ. This is the essence of true Christianity!
I. THE HANDWRITING OF THE APOSTLE (v. 11).
A. The apostle calls them to notice what large letters he uses to write this closing with his own hand. It may be that he was calling attention to the fact that he was not a professional scribe, but rather a humble servant. He didn't seek to impress his friends with worldly-wisdom but rather with genuine sacrifices of love. Or it may be that he was pointing to a fact that they already knew—that his eyes were not good. This was already suggested in 4:13-15. Together, it gives authenticity to the letter and underscores the authority with which it was written.
B. This causes Paul to stand in stark contrast to those who were seeking to make a show of the flesh. His trust was not in his own abilities or in the things that he could boast in outwardly. Rather, he gloried in his infirmities so that Christ's strength might be made perfect in his weakness (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).
II. THE SHOW OF THE FLESH (vv. 12-13).
A. He doesn't mention the Judaizers as such; but it is clear that this is who he means by those who “desire to make a good show in the flesh”. They are those who emphasized outward signs in order to demonstrate their conformity to rules and regulations. This was their prime boast in keeping the law—that they were circumcised.
B. With regard to the Galatians, they “compelled” them to be circumcised. They would be among those who said, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1). But their motives were not, in any way, for the true advancement of the Galatian's spiritual condition. They were motivated by two things:
1. They wanted to avoid persecution for the cross of Christ. The cross is an insult to the very self-sufficiency that they sought to emphasize. It demonstrated that our need is so great that we cannot be saved by our own efforts but by humble submission to the grace of God.
2. They also wanted to be able to boast in the flesh of those who were circumcised. They wanted to be able to point to how many people followed them and how many “works of the flesh” they had performed (see Gal. 4:17).
C. They were thus making their boast in the law (v. 13); but they were, in the end, not even keeping it. The law demanded perfect obedience; which they had not rendered. Nor had they sought God by faith, as the law demanded (Gal. 3:10-11).
III. THE RULE OF THE CROSS (vv. 14-16).
A. By contrast, Paul—in the strongest way possible—denies that he can boast in anything except the cross of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).
1. It is by the cross of Christ that—far from seeking the approval of the world—Paul was crucified to the world and the world to him. He had nothing more to do with it; and it had nothing more to do with him. He was all about Christ; and looked to nothing in the flesh (Col. 2:20-3:4).
2. It was by the cross that Paul was able to assert that circumcision did not make him more righteous before God. “In Christ” (as some ancient texts have it), it is not a matter of circumcision or uncircumcision that is important. What is important is “a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
B. Paul maintains that it is those who walk according to this “rule” or “standard” that may enjoy the peace and mercy of God. Such people are the “true Israel”; that is, “the Israel of God” that is circumcised in the heart and not merely in the flesh (Phil. 3:3; Gal. 3:29; Romans 2:28-29). This is as was spoken in the law (Deut. 30:6; Jer. 31;31-34; 32:39; Ezk. 11:19-20).
IV. THE CLOSING AFFIRMATION (vv. 17-18).
A. Paul says, “From now on” (tou loipou; meaning “finally”; see also Phil. 4:8), “let no one trouble me”. He claimed that he bore in his own body “the marks (stigma) of Christ. This may have been a reference to the things he suffered in his own body for Christ (2 Corinthians 11:23-25; Acts 14:19); or it may be a reference to the shame he was willing to bear as one who was persecuted for Christ. Persecution may be called 'the Christian's tattoo' (see John Stott, p. 182).
B. His closing benediction is his last word—which, by the way, was pretty much the same as his first word in this letter (see 1:3). He affirmed the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the core theme of the good news of the Gospel!