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Bible readingThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Galatians 6:17-18

17 From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.

18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.

—————————————————————————————-

Last week’s post discussed Paul’s righteous anger with the Judaizers and his hope that the Galatians would return to the eternal truth of the Gospel that he had taught them.

Today’s post ends Galatians. Much of Chapters 5 and 6 will be read in 2022 — Year C — on the Second and Third Sundays after Trinity.

In today’s verses we have Paul’s farewell to the Galatians.

By now, he is weary of his flock, the Galatians, being led astray by false teachers, the Judaizers. So he expresses an imperative about no one causing him any further trouble as he bears the physical marks of Jesus for his preaching and teaching (verse 17).

John MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

Who’s he talking to? Everybody. Talking to the people in the church who are making his life miserable because they’re listening to the false teachers. He’s talking to the false teachers who are attacking him. But on what basis, Paul? Why should we leave you alone? “For I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus.” Whoa. “I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus”? What does that mean? “I have the scars for my service to Christ.”

You know, in 2 Corinthians chapter 11 when he was defending his apostleship, he defends it by saying, “I was beaten with rods, I was whipped, I was thrown in prison,” and he goes through this whole litany of things. “And these are the marks of Christ, these are the brand-marks of Christ. Don’t add any more suffering to me.”

He was stoned, by the way, in Galatia at Lystra; he had scars from that. “Look, I’m branded” – he says – “with the scars of an apostle.” Colossians 1:24, “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” What do you mean? “They can’t, they can’t hit Christ, He’s not here, so they hit me in His place. So I bear in my body the marks of Jesus. The reason I am beaten, the reason I am abused is not because of something I’ve done, it’s because of who I represent. These are my apostolic credentials. Don’t question my authority, I have the marks of Jesus.”

In the ancient world slaves were branded. In the ancient world criminals were branded as a mark of identification for life. In the ancient world soldiers were branded to demonstrate their allegiance. Religious devotees were branded. And people who were hated, vilified, social pariahs were branded.

Paul says, “I’m all of that. I’m a slave a Christ, a soldier of Christ, devoted to Him. I’m a criminal as far as the world is concerned, and I’m hated because I have Jesus branded on me.” Every scar he ever got was a brand, a brand for Christ. “These are the scars of Jesus. Don’t trouble me; I represent Him, and I have the scars to prove it.”

We can contrast Paul’s suffering with the lack of it in the Judaizers. They escaped persecution because they preached a false halfway house of Christianity: believe in Jesus, by all means, but also obey Mosaic law, especially circumcision. Such a heresy denies Christ as Redeemer.

The Judaizers preached that so that they could avoid persecution. Their own Jewish families and social circles would still accept them as long as they preached about Mosaic law.

They were emissaries of Satan, especially in persuading Gentiles who had become Christians to embrace the Old Covenant.

The Judaizers never suffered a moment of hardship because they had a foot in each camp. Furthermore, as Paul rightly points out, they could rejoice in every Gentile Christian male whom they persuaded to be circumcised (Galatians 6:13):

13 For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh.

Contrast that abominable approach with Paul’s, which is one of holiness (Galatians 6:14):

14 But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which[b] the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

As such, Paul asserts his unquestionable authority as an Apostle, as Matthew Henry points out:

He had already suffered much in the cause of Christ, for he bore in his body the marks of the Lord Jesus, the scars of those wounds which he had sustained from persecuting enemies, for his steady adherence to him, and that doctrine of the gospel which he had received from him. As from this it appeared that he was firmly persuaded of the truth and importance of it, and that he was far from being a favourer of circumcision, as they had falsely reported him to be, so hereupon, with a becoming warmth and vehemence, suitable to his authority as an apostle and to the deep concern of mind he was under, he insists upon it that no man should henceforth trouble him, namely by opposing his doctrine or authority, or by any such calumnies and reproaches as had been cast upon him; for as, both from what he had said and what he had suffered, they appeared to be highly unjust and injurious, so also those were very unreasonable who either raised or received them. Note, (1.) It may justly be presumed that men are fully persuaded of those truths in the defence of which they are willing to suffer. And (2.) It is very unjust to charge those things upon others which are contrary not only to their profession, but their sufferings too.

As always, Paul ended his letter with a generous benediction — blessing — upon the Galatians, praying that the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be upon their spirit, adding an Amen (verse 18), ‘so be it’.

Henry has a marvellous analysis of what Paul is praying for:

The apostle, having now finished what he intended to write for the conviction and recovery of the churches of Galatia, concludes the epistle with his apostolical benediction, Galatians 6:18; Galatians 6:18. He calls them his brethren, wherein he shows his great humility, and the tender affection he had for them, notwithstanding the ill treatment he had met with from them; and takes his leave of them with this very serious and affectionate prayer, that the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ may be with their spirit. This was a usual farewell wish of the apostle’s, as we see, Romans 16:20; 1 Corinthians 16:23. And herein he prays that they might enjoy the favour of Christ, both in its special effects and its sensible evidences, that they might receive from him all that grace which was needful to guide them in their way, to strengthen them in their work, to establish them in their Christian course, and to encourage and comfort them under all the trials of life and the prospect of death itself. This is fitly called the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, as he is both the sole purchaser and the appointed dispenser of it; and though these churches had done enough to forfeit it, by suffering themselves to be drawn into an opinion and practice highly dishonourable to Christ, as well as dangerous to them, yet, out of his great concern for them, and knowing of what importance it was to them, he earnestly desires it on their behalf; yea, that it might be with their spirit, that they might continually experience the influences of it upon their souls, disposing and enabling them to act with sincerity and uprightness in religion. We need desire no more to make us happy than the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. This the apostle begs for these Christians, and therein shows us what we are chiefly concerned to obtain; and, both for their and our encouragement to hope for it, he adds his Amen.

When I read these verses, I thought of the Gospel reading from John 13 for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 15, 2022, in which Jesus commanded the Apostles to love one another the way He had loved them:

13:34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.

13:35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Paul certainly exemplified Christlike love towards all the churches he planted during his ministry. It is not an easy love to give, because it involves a seemingly infinite amount of patience, fortitude and kindness. A Christlike love must, in imitation of our Lord, overlook weakness, slights and fickleness. We read in the Gospels how Jesus treated His disciples. He forgave their spiritual frailties and did not forsake them.

Such a love also shows the world that we are followers of Christ, which leads to infinite, eternal blessings but is not without the possibility of serious temporal risk, as Paul found through his suffering and anguish for the Gospel.

Next week, I will begin a study of Ephesians, most of which is in the three-year Lectionary.

Next time — Ephesians 1:1-2

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