You were running well; who prevented you from obeying the truth? Such persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. A little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough. I am confident about you in the Lord that you will not think otherwise. But whoever it is that is confusing you will pay the penalty. But my friends, why am I still being persecuted if I am still preaching circumcision? In that case the offence of the cross has been removed. I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves! For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.
My goodness, there’s some loaded and strong language here! Sensitive ears are offended by verse 12 but with such open and bold speech Paul would have been at home in my Lancashire mill town where broad and bold speech is the order of the day. Paul clearly feels very strongly and he does so because he loves. The clue is in verse 14. The language is loaded too. “A little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough.” Does that remind you of anything? These are words quoted from Jesus, which is interesting, since the smart money says that Galatians was written about the early 50s before the final version of Mark’s gospel had been written. Jesus was talking about legalism; “the yeast of the Pharisees” and here we have a one time Pharisee now speaking out against the same thing. Paul is desperately saddened that, so early on in their life as a church, they had turned away from the Gospel. They had, seemingly, forgotten that all that is needed to reconcile us to God is the work of Jesus Christ on the Cross which in turn leads to a life of obedience to God fulfilling the Law of Love. Can you imagine, being Paul, freed from legalism, gloriously free, preaching this Gospel only to find some of the Christian communities you’ve birthed by God’s grace falling astray? Those churches had been persuaded by those who teach that God’s grace is not what reconciles you to God, but in fact the old understanding of the Law of Moses is necessary too. “The Apostle of the Free Spirit” ( as F.F. Bruce named him) was distressed and with the Galatians we too are reminded not to make our rules “the thing” but God’s love in Jesus. You are loved; now live it! ( As Paul might have said!)
God of vigorous life and love,
we praise you!
You have set us free
along with the Galatian Christians
to live and love strongly
in the Way of Jesus of Nazareth.
May passion for the Gospel of your Son,
gentleness and determination
to stay the course,
mark us out in the eyes of all,
so that we may bless others
with what we ourselves
have been blessed with.
The Rev’d Peter Meek, Moderator, URC East Midlands Synod