The Pulpit Commentary

Galatians 5:19 (Galatians 5:19)

Now the works of the flesh are manifest ( φανερὰ δέ ἐστι τὰ ἔργα τῆς σαρκός ). The apostle's purpose is here altogether one of practical exhortation. Having in Galatians 5:13 emphatically warned the Galatians against making their emancipation from the Mosaic Law an occasion for the flesh, and in verse 16 affirmed the incompatibility of a spiritual walk with the fulfilment of the desire of the flesh, he now specifies samples of the vices, whether in outward conduct or in inward feeling, in which the working of the flesh is apparent, as if cautioning them; adducing just those into which the Galatian converts would naturally be most in danger of falling. Both in the list which he gives them of ,ins, and in that of Christian graces, he is careful to note those relative to their Church life as well as those bearing upon their personal private life. Instances of enumeration of sins which may be compared with that here given, are found, with respect to the heathen world, in Romans 1:29-31 ; with reference to Christians, Romans 13:13 ; 1 Corinthians 6:9 , 1 Corinthians 6:10 ; 2 Corinthians 12:20 , 2 Corinthians 12:21 ; Ephesians 5:3-5 , followed by a brief indication of fruits of the Spirit in Ephesians 5:9 ; Colossians 3:5-9 ; 1 Timothy 1:9 , 1 Timothy 1:10 ; 2 Timothy 3:2-4 . "Manifest;" namely, to our moral sense; we at once feel that these are the outcome of an evil nature, and are incompatible with the influence of the Spirit of God. "Works of the flesh" means works in which the prompting of the flesh is recognizable. The phrase is equivalent to "the deeds or doings of the body," which we are called to "mortify, put to death, by the Spirit" ( Romans 8:13 ). In Romans 13:12 and Ephesians 5:13 they are styled "works of darkness," that is, works belonging properly to a state in which the moral sense has not been quickened by the Spirit, or in which the light of Christ's presence has not shone. Which are these ( ἅτινά ἐτι ); of which sort are. Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness ( πορνεία [Receptus, μοιχεία πορνεία ], ἀκαθαρσία ἀσέλγεια ) . This is the first group, consisting of offences against chastity—sins against which the Church has to contend in all ages and in all countries; but which idolatry, especially such idolatry as that of Cybele in Galatia, has generally much fostered. The first in our English Bible, " adultery ," is rejected from the Greek text by the general consent of editors. But in fact, " fornication " ( πορνεία ) may be taken as including it ( Matthew 5:32 ), though it may also stand at its side as a distinct species of unchastity. " uncleanness " covers a wider range of sensual sin ("all uncleanness," Ephesians 4:19 ); solitary impurity, whether in thought or deed; unnatural lust ( Romans 1:24 ), though it can hardly be taken as meaning this lust alone. "Lasciviousness," or " wantonness ," is scarcely an adequate rendering of ἀσέλγεια in this connection; it appears to point to reckless shamelessness in unclean indulgences. In classical Greek the adjective ἀσέλγης describes a man insolently and wantonly reckless in his treatment of others; but in the New Testament it generally appears to point more specifically to unabashed open indulgence in impurity. The noun is connected with "uncleanness" and "fornication' 'in 2 Corinthians 12:21 ; with "uncleanness' ' in Ephesians 4:19 ; is used of the men of Sodom in 2 Peter 2:7 ; comp. also 2 Peter 2:18 ; l Peter 4:3; Jude 1:4 (cf. 7). Only in Mark 7:22 can it from the grouping be naturally taken in its classical sense.

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Galatians 5:19-21 (Galatians 5:19-21)

Classification of the works of the flesh.

The picture here exhibited by the apostle is a frightful abyss into which he asks us to look down. We have sin in its many varieties pictured in many parts of Scripture ( Romans 1:18-32 ; 2 Corinthians 13:2 ), but here we have a most complete account of the works of the flesh.

I. THE WORKS OF THE FLESH . The flesh and the body are not synonymous. The apostle usually speaks of the body in terms of respect—unlike ascetics, who regard it as an enemy, load it with abusive epithets, and try to weaken it with fasts and vigils and penances. He always depreciates and condemns the flesh as a constantly evil tendency in our actual nature. There are sins in this catalogue of an intellectual nature, which cannot be properly ascribed to the body, though they are true works of the flesh. The flesh represents, then, the whole system of corrupt nature, as it breaks forth into seventeen different forms of transgression. They fall naturally under four heads.

1 . Sins of sensual passion. "Fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness:" the first hardly reckoned a sin in pagan countries; the second including unnatural sins, which had a fearful import in the East; the third, the impure propensity indulged without check of reason or shame. All three are grouped together elsewhere ( 2 Corinthians 12:21 ).

2 . Sins of superstition. "Idolatry, sorcery:" the first referring to the worship of false gods and of images, which was familiar to the Galatians in connection with idol-feasts; the second to the occult dealings with the world of spirits, so common in Asia Minor.

3 . Sins of social disorder. "Hatred, strife, envy, outbursts of anger, cavillings, divisions, factions, envyings, murders." It has been remarked that there is a climax in this catalogue of nine evils, for what begins in hatred ends in murder, after it has passed through a whole succession of disturbing and distracting experiences. They are all violations of brotherly love, representing the selfish, unyielding, bitter spirit, which too often enters into reactionary agitations both in Church and state.

4 . Individual excesses. Drunkenness, revellings: having exclusive relation to ourselves, not to others. The two terms refer to scenes of gay and wanton dissipation.

II. THE WORKS OF THE FLESH HAVE AN OVERT CHARACTER . They are "manifest." The flesh, as the sinful principle, breaks out into open acts of transgression, which are manifest alike to God and man, manifest by the light of nature and by the Law of God. We see the history of the flesh in the whole record of man's moral degradation and his resulting misery. These seventeen sins may not all be equally manifest, for some are gross and others more refined; they may not all be equally heinous in the sight either of God or of man; and many of them, hateful in God's sight, carry no brand of social reprobation with man. Yet they are all manifest, open, tangible proofs of a life at enmity with God.

III. THE APOSTOLIC WARNING . "They who practise such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God."

1 . The kingdom of God, founded by Christ, is a holy kingdom, and consists of those who have entered it by regeneration, who are led by the Spirit, who are heirs of the promise, who are "made meet for the inheritance of the saints in light."

2 . Transgressors prove their want of meetness for it; they find no enjoyment in it; it has no attraction for them; for these works of the flesh are altogether inconsistent with the character of the kingdom of God.

IV. THE NECESSITY THAT EXISTS FOR REPEATED WARNINGS AGAINST SIN . "I tell you before, as I have already told you in time past." We need "line upon line, precept upon precept," to deepen the impression of the hatefulness of sin. It is well to convince sinners of their individual sins, that they may be shut up to fly to the Refuge.

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Galatians 5:16-26 (Galatians 5:16-26)

Christian progress realized through antagonism.

We must not suppose, however, that the love which God gives us as our liberty can work out its will without experiencing opposition. Opposition we know it will meet in the world of selfish men; but Paul here points out the antagonism it meets within our own personalities. The flesh antagonizes the Spirit. Love does not get its own sweet way as often as we would. Self becomes a battle-ground, and God contends with the flesh for the supremacy of the soul. So violent is the contention that the flesh is actually "crucified with its affections and lusts." We are introduced, therefore, to the law of Christian progress which, because of our sinful nature, has to be through antagonizing the sinful tendencies in the interest of love. Observe—

I. SIN LEADS MAN TO FALL OUT WITH HIMSELF . ( Galatians 5:17 .) As Ullmann has beautifully said, "Man forms a unity, which is, however, only the foundation of that higher unity which is to be brought about in him, as a being made in the Divine image, by means of communion with God. Now, sin does not merely obstruct this unity, but sets up in its place that which is its direct opposite. He who has fallen away from God by sin, does, as a necessary consequence, fall out both with himself and with all mankind. True unity in man is possible only when that which is Godlike in him—that is, the mind—acquiesces in the Divine order of life, and governs the whole being in conformity therewith. But when he has once severed himself from the true centre of his being, that is, from God, then also does that element of his being, his mind, which is akin to God, and which was intended to be the connecting and all-deciding centre of his personal life, lose its central and dominant position; he ceases to be lord of himself and of his own nature; the various powers which make up his complex nature begin to carry on, each for itself, an independent existence; the flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit wages a fruitless war with the flesh ( Galatians 5:17 ); sinful desire becomes dominant, and while the man seems to be in the enjoyment of all imaginable liberty, he has lost the only true liberty and has become a slave to himself; for ' whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin' ( John 8:34 ; Romans 6:16-23 ). He is the dependent of self; and being thus the slave of self, he is also the slave of pleasure, and of all those objects which it requires for its satisfaction." Man becomes thus a distracted manifold, instead of a God-centred unity.

II. THE SPIRIT OF CHRIST ANTAGONIZES THE DISTRACTING TENDENCIES AND REDUCES MAN TO A UNITY AGAIN . The way in which we are united in heart and being is by having Jesus Christ pressed resistlessly upon our attention. Faith realizes in Christ not only a perfect personal Ideal, but also a Saviour on whom man may evermore depend. "The Christ of Christendom is not simply a Master to be loved and revered; he is a Saviour to be leaned upon. His followers are to have that profound sense of their own weakness and sinfulness which renders them sensitive to the purifying and reforming influences that radiate from the personality of Jesus. Without this, their love for the ideal would lead to no practical results; it would be merely an aesthetic sentiment, expending itself in a vague and fruitless admiration. But combine the two and you have the most effective reforming influence that the world has ever known." Christ is not only the unifying element in Church life, but in the individual life as well. He fuses all the distracted faculties into a glorious unity, and makes man his own master instead of his own slave. Hence, to quote the writer last referred to, "Christianity alone among all religions maintains a constant antagonism to the special tendency which controls the nature of its followers."

III. BUT POSITIVE FRUIT IS PRODUCED BY THE ANTAGONIZING SPIRIT AS A GLORIOUS SET - OFF TO THE WORKS OF THE FLESH WHICH HE DESTROYS . ( Galatians 5:19-24 .) Religion is not to be regarded as a negative thing, contenting itself with antagonisms, but has positive and most important fruits. It is not a system of severe repressions, but a system full of stimulus towards a better and fuller life. It does not merely forbid "fornication, uncleanness," etc., under the penalty of exclusion from the kingdom of God, but it produces "love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control. What a catalogue of virtues! What a contrast to the works of the flesh! Thus is man restored to something like his true and better self. The gospel of Christ is not a weary round of prohibitions, but is a glorious system of positive attainment, in a Divine life, which is loving, joyful, peaceful, and humane to its deepest depths.

IV. AGAINST SUCH SPIRITUALLY MINDED ONES THERE CAN BE NO LAW OF CONDEMNATION . ( Galatians 5:18-23 .) Law, when translated into love, becomes light. God's commandments are not grievous to the loving soul. In the keeping of them there is a great reward. Hence the Law presses heavily and hardly upon no loving spirit. "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit" ( Romans 8:1 ). It is to such a blissful experience we arc asked to come.—R.M.E.

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Galatians 5:13-26 (Galatians 5:13-26)

Freedom sustained by the Spirit.

I. USE OF CHRISTIAN FREEDOM . "For ye, brethren, were called for freedom." Paul, having wished the Judaizing teachers off Galatian soil, justifies the strength of his wish. They would have led the Galatians into bondage, but God had called them for freedom. He makes a distinction between the possession of freedom and the use of freedom. He had been under the necessity of making prominent their possession of freedom in contending against the Judaists; he would, however, remind them, as brethren, that there was responsibility connected with t heir use of freedom. It is thus that he slides into the more practical part of the Epistle.

1. Dangers of freedom. "Only use not your freedom for an occasion to the flesh." By the flesh, which here becomes a leading word with the apostle, we are not to understand our corporeal nature. Nor are we to understand by it depraved tendency in connection with our corporeal nature. But we are to understand by it depraved tendency as a whole, extending to our higher nature as well as to our lower nature. It is true that in this depraved tendency our lower nature has the preponderance. And that is the reason why the whole goes by the name of flesh. But the constant element in depravity is not sense, but it is self as opposed to God and to the good of others. The admonition of the apostle, then, is, not that we abstain from all bodily gratification, as though sin were seated in the body, nor simply that we abstain from all fleshly sin, but that we abstain from all selfish gratification. The Galatians had been called for freedom, i.e. for ultimate and complete freedom; they were not, with their first experiences of freed-m, or with their strong realization of it as against Judaistic error, to imagine that they were free to indulge the flesh. That is what, as free, we must be on our guard against, if we would not fall back into bondage, if we would come to the goal of our freedom in Christ. Let us not turn our liberty into licentiousness.

2 . The binding of freedom.

II. THE FLESH AND THE SPIRIT .

1 . The Christian rule is walking by the Spirit. "But I say, Walk by the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh." The apostle calls attention to a point to which he advances in the subject he has in hand. This is laying down the Christian rule as between the flesh and the Spirit. In the flesh, or our depraved nature, there is lust or desire for sinful gratification in some form or another. How are we to be delivered from this, so that it shall not be fulfilled? The way is positively to follow the leading of the Spirit. The idea is not that we are to follow the tendencies of our renewed nature. That is missing the personal aspect of the leading. The Spirit, indeed, renews the nature, and excites within it holy desires which seek for gratification. But the Spirit gives personal guiding, especially in and by the reason and conscience in connection with the Word. And as a Guide he is all-sufficient. He is an internal Guide. He throws all the light that we need upon the character of desires and actions, upon the path of duty. And he affords timeous guidance. For whenever we are disposed to turn from the straight path to the right hand or to the left, it is then that we hear his voice behind us, saying," This is the way, walk ye in it."

2 . The Christian rule is founded on a contrariety between the flesh and the Spirit. "For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are contrary the one to the other; that ye may not do the things that ye would." The lust excited within the flesh is against the desire excited by the Spirit; the desire excited by the Spirit is against the lust excited within the flesh. This conflict of desires is necessary. For the flesh and the Spirit are contraries. They represent depraved self and God. They are as far apart as light and darkness. What is true of the one, then, cannot be true of the other. What the one moves toward in desire, the other necessarily moves against. Of this conflict of desires we are conscious in our own experience. When the Spirit impels to good, the flesh opposes; when the flesh impels to evil, the Spirit opposes. Thus in two ways we cannot do the things that we would. And we have in this conflict of desires, as free beings, to determine whether the Spirit or the flesh shall have the dominion of our hearts.

3 . The Christian rule excludes regulation by the Law. "But if ye are led by the Spirit, ye are not under the Law." The Spirit is an nil-sufficient Guide. His regulation renders unnecessary all other regulation. He regulates within, and that is better than outward regulation. He regulates in connection with all circumstances that arise, and that is better than having the rule to apply for ourselves. He is a timeous monitor, warning when the danger arises, and that is better than being dependent on memory.

4 . There is contrast in the manifestations of the flesh and the Spirit.

(a) What they are. " Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these." Before enumerating them the apostle describes them as manifest , i.e. easily distinguishable or glaring. It may be pointed to as a proof of depravity that vocabularies have more words descriptive of forms of sin than words descriptive of forms of holiness. Under the fruit of the Spirit he gives a list of nine. But under the works of the flesh his list extends to fifteen, properly sixteen. And the word translated "which" implies that he did not profess to give an exhaustive list—it would have been easy for him to have added other instances. This comparison is confirmed by the relative number of words for sins and graces employed in Scripture.

( α ) Sins of uncleanness. "Fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness." The second is the generic word; the first describes a special form; the third describes a special aggravation, namely, open disregard of propriety. There is a sad prevalence of these sins still; it can only be said that they have been made more to hide their head.

( β ) Illicit intercourse with the unseen world. "Idolatry, sorcery." What is illicit in idolatry is the use of images to represent the unseen powers. What is illicit in sorcery (literally, "pharmacy" ) is the use of drugs, potions, and other things, with the idea that they can influence the unseen powers to produce love or hatred, prosperity or adversity. It can be said that this class of sins has almost disappeared with the diffusion of Christianity.

( γ ) Breaches of charity. "Enmities." This is the generic word; including not only the graver, but all breaches of charity. "Strife, jealousies." In strife the variance may be slight; in acts of jealousy there is more deep-seated variance. "Wraths, factions." The former describes outbursts of anger. The latter describes deliberate and concerted compassings of selfish ends, especially by means of intrigue. "Caballings" some translate it, "cabal" being made up of the initials of an English ministry in the reign of Charles II ., who were credited with sacrificing principle to place. "Divisions, heresies." The former may only be of a temporary nature. Heresies, by which we are to understand not heretical opinions, but rather their embodiments in heretical sects, are divisions of a decisive nature. There is conveyed the idea of complete separation from the Church of Christ. Hence what is said of the heretic that he is condemned of himself, i.e. in cutting himself off he has carried out the extreme sentence on himself. "Envyings, murders." The latter is omitted in the Revised translation, against the manuscripts, and against the form of classification followed by the apostle under this head. The former is want of love to our neighbour in his property; the latter is want of love in that which is most precious to him.

( δ ) Sins of intemperance. "Drunkenness, revellings." The first is the generic word; the second brings in a special association, viz. joviality. The special point of view is to be noticed here. There are some who lay the blame of intemperance on the manufacture of drink, on facilities for its sale, on the customs of society. And it does bear a relation to these things. But the apostle goes to the root of the matter, in tracing it to the depravity of the human heart. Drunkenness and revellings are works of the flesh, manifestations of alienation from God. The advantage of this point of view is that it points to what can be the only effective remedy, viz. a change of heart through the operation of the Spirit. "And such like." He could have mentioned others. We may suppose that those are named which it was important for the Galatians to note. We can see that some of them would be connected with their temperament, which was neither melancholic nor phlegmatic, and also with their surroundings. We are not all inclined to sin in the same form or forms. That has a dependence on idiosyncrasies and surroundings. But we have all the same depraved heart for which to be humbled before God, and against which to pray.

(b) What they entail. "Of the which I forewarn you, even as I did forewarn you, that they which practise such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God." He is very emphatic in his warning of the Galatians. He had forewarned them when with them. Again he forewarns them. He acted on the principles enunciated in Ezekiel: "Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore, hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me. When I say to the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life: the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity, but thou hast delivered thy soul." What the apostle, in the spirit of these words, says, is that they which are in the habit of doing such things shall certainly be punished. Their very characters unfit them for the kingdom of God. Moreover, they are rebels against the government of God; and as such they must be dealt with. Their punishment is represented as exclusion from the inheritance which otherwise they would have gained.

(a) What it is. "But the fruit of the Spirit is love." This stands at the head of the list as comprehending or carrying with it all the rest. This is a characteristic result of the Spirit's working. The apostle beseeches by the love of the Spirit. And we are told of the love of God, i.e. apparently the love which constitutes the very essence of God, being shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Ghost given unto us. Therefore we need not be surprised at the apostle connecting the Spirit, first, with the imbuing, dyeing deep of our nature with love. "Joy, peace." These two go together, not as good dispositions, but as feelings which always accompany good dispositions. With the former we associate movements, thrills; with the latter we associate repose. God is infinite Love, and therefore he is infinite Joy and Peace. And our being, through the Spirit, pulsating with his, now he sends a thrill of joy through us, and now he introduces his own calm. Oh what a joy in what God is! What a height of ecstasy does it admit of! And what a calm too in what God is! It takes away all the feverishness of sins and quiets us to the very depths of our being. And ever, as love animates us as it animates God, does the thrill pass through us, and the calm come into us, expelling doubt and fear and all restlessness of spirit. "Long-suffering, kindness, goodness." These three go together. The first is bearing with others for their good. It is that which marks the outgoing of the Divine love toward us as sinners. And therefore it is fitting that it should be reflected in us. Love (not only in God, but in all beings) , suffereth long," and, it is added, "is kind." The word translated "kindness" seems to point to delight in men as our fellow-beings. God delights in us as beings whom he has made. He feels kindly disposed toward us, as a father does toward his children. And so are we to delight in others for what they are, especially as having come from God, wearing a noble nature. And we are to feel kindly disposed toward them, wishing especially that, as they have a noble nature, they may not fail of having a noble character. The word translated "goodness" seems to point to a disposition to benefit others, extending to all forms in which they can be benefited. The highest form of goodness is when we are impelled to help others to live well. "Faithfulness, meekness, temperance." The first is having such a love for our neighbour that we would not injure him by breaking our promise to him. God is a Rock, while infinite tenderness, and there should be something of the rock in us, that dependence may be placed on us in the various relations of life. Meekness is required when wrong has been inflicted on us. It especially points to us having the command of our feelings under wrong. Temperance is self-command. It has come to have a special reference to our having the command of our appetites. When temperance is born of worldly prudence or of self-reliance it is not what it should be. It is only real and beautiful and everlasting when it is produced by the Spirit, when it is the outcome of a changed heart.

(b) What it does not entail. "Against such there is no Law." The apostle might have extended his list. He would have us think not of these only, but of all such, and think this regarding all such, that against them there is no Law. If these things are in us, then the Law can never be adverse to us. We shall be removed beyond the condemnation of all Law. That is his way of saying that we shall be blessed. We shall be blessed in the very possession of these dispositions and feelings. We shall be blessed in our enjoying the smile of God.

5 . Christians are being delivered from the flesh. "And they that are of Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with the passions and the lusts thereof." At a past period, in idea, they crucified the flesh. That idea is now being carried out into fact. There is a deadening, a slow and painful crucifying going on in the flesh. Its passions are being depleted of their heat; its lusts are being depleted of their force. The conflict is still going on; but the Spirit is gaining triumphs over the flesh, and there is promise of the Spirit gaining a complete triumph, of the flesh with all its inclinations to sin being annihilated.

6 . The Christian rule re-enforced. "If we live by the Spirit, by the Spirit let us also walk." If the life of the Galatians had depended on the Law, then their first and imperative duty would have been to have submitted to circumcision; and their duty after that would have been to have subjected themselves to the whole discipline of the Mosaic ordinances. But, as they were in the better position of depending entirely for their life on the Spirit, it was their duty to take the rule of their life simply from him.

7 . The Christian rule is applied to vain-glory. "Let us not be vainglorious, provoking one another, envying one another." Vain-glory is glorying in what we do not have, or in what we have in a way that is not real or according to a false standard. The spirit of the practice is sufficiently brought out in the language hero. There is a provoking, literally a calling forth, to the field of contest. As the result of the trial, some are filled with a sense of their importance as superior in strength or in agility, in birth or in wealth, in culture or in honour. And others are filled with envy of those who are thus superior. ]Jut as we are not to glory in fancied possessions, so we are not to glory in possessions as though we had bestowed them on ourselves, or with an exaggerated idea of their importance. That would be glorying in what had not foundation in reality. "But he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord." Let us glory in what God is, and let us glory also in what God has bestowed upon us. Let us glory especially in having a covenant standing before God, and in covenant grace which has passed into our characters. That is having a foundation of reality for our glorying.—R.F.

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