The Gift of Grace –William Barclay

Galatians 3:1-9

O senseless Galatians, who has put the evil eye on you – you before whose very eyes Jesus Christ was placarded upon his cross? Tell me this one thing – did you receive the Spirit by doing the works the law lays down, or because you listened and believed? Are you so senseless? After beginning your experience of God in the Spirit, are you now going to try to complete it by making it dependent upon what human nature can do? Is the tremendous experience you had all for nothing – if indeed you are going to let it go for nothing? Did he who generously gave you the Spirit, and who wrought mighty things among you, do so because you produced the deeds the law lays down, or because you heard and believed? Was it not with you exactly as it was with Abraham? Abraham trusted God, and it was that which was credited to him as righteousness. So you must realize that it is those who make the venture of faith who are the sons of Abraham. Scripture foresaw that it would be by faith that God would bring the Gentiles into a right relationship with himself, and told the good news to Abraham before it happened – in you shall all nations be blessed. So, then, it is those who make that same venture of faith who are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

William Barclay 1907-1978

William Barclay 1907-1978

PAUL uses a further argument to show that it is faith and not works of the law which puts us right with God. In the early Church, converts nearly always received the Holy Spirit in a visible way. The early chapters of Acts show this happening again and again (cf. Acts 8:14–17, 10:44). There came to them a new surge of life and power that anyone could see. That experience had happened to the Galatians and had happened, said Paul, not because they had obeyed the regulations of the law – because at that time they had never heard of the law – but because they had heard the good news of the love of God and had responded to it in an act of perfect trust.

The easiest way to grasp an idea is to see it embodied in a person. In a sense, every great word must become flesh. So, Paul pointed the Galatians to a man who embodied faith – Abraham. He was the man to whom God had made the great promise that in him all families of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 12:3). He was the man whom God had specially chosen as the one who pleased him. How did Abraham especially please God? It was not by doing the works of the law, because at that time the law did not exist; it was by taking God at his word in a great act of faith.

Now, the promise of blessedness was made to the descendants of Abraham. The Jews relied on that; they held that simple physical descent from Abraham set them on a different footing with God from other people. Paul declares that to be a true descendant of Abraham is not a matter of flesh and blood; the real descendant is the one who makes the same venture of faith. Therefore, it is not those who seek merit through the law who inherit the promise made to Abraham, but those of every nation who repeat his act of faith in God. It was by an act of faith that the Galatians had begun. Surely they are not going to slip back into legalism – and lose their inheritance?

This passage is full of Greek words with a history, words which carried an atmosphere and a story with them. In verse 1, Paul speaks about the evil eye. The Greeks had a great fear of a spell cast by the evil eye. Time and again, private letters end with a sentence such as this: ‘Above all I pray that you may be in health unharmed by the evil eye and faring prosperously’ (G. Milligan, Selections from the Greek Papyri, No. 14).

In the same verse, Paul talks about Jesus Christ being placarded before them upon his cross. It is the Greek word (prographein) that would be used for putting up a poster. It is actually used for a notice put up by a father to say that he will no longer be responsible for his son’s debts; it is also used for putting up the announcement of an auction.

In verse 4, Paul talks about beginning their experience in the Spirit and ending it in the flesh. The words he uses are the normal Greek words for beginning and completing a sacrifice. The first one (enarchesthai) is the word for scattering the grains of barley on and around the victim, which was the first act of a sacrifice; and the second one (epiteleisthai) is the word used for fully completing the ritual of any sacrifice. By using these two words, Paul shows that he looks on the Christian life as a sacrifice to God.

In verse 5, he speaks of God giving generously to the Galatians. The root of this word is the Greek choregia. In ancient times in Greece, at the great festivals, the great dramatists like Euripides and Sophocles presented their plays. Greek plays all have a chorus; to equip and train a chorus was expensive, and public-spirited Greeks generously offered to pay the entire expenses of the chorus. (That gift is described by the word choregia) Later, in wartime, patriotic citizens gave free contributions to the state, and choregia was used for this too. In still later Greek, in the papyri, the word is common in marriage contracts and describes the support that a husband, out of his love, undertakes to give his wife. Choregia underlines the generosity of God, a generosity which comes from love, of which the love of citizens for their city and of a husband for his wife are pale shadows.

Barclay, William (2010-11-05). The Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians (New Daily Study Bible) (pp. 28-31). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.

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