… In the final two verses of this glorious book, Paul essentially gives three words. First, he gives a word of exhortation. Then, he offers a word of explanation. And finally, he ends with a word of benediction.
The word of exhortation is simple enough. In the first half of verse 17, the apostle pleads that no one causes him strife. “From now on,” he writes, “[from this point onwards] let no one cause me trouble…”
The difficulty Paul wishes to avoid arises out of the epistle’s occasion in writing what he wrote. You do recall why he wrote. Certain men, teachers zealous for the law, influential, persuasive men appealing to the flesh, who perverted the gospel by adding law to it, seduced the Galatian Christians, perhaps new converts (cf. 1:6). The key to understanding this seduction is the 6th verse of chapter one. Paul there expresses his astonishment that the Galatians were deserting the gospel and turning to “a different gospel.” We understand there is but one gospel. But the fact of the matter is, that gospel is often distorted. The Galatians weren’t duped by something that had no resemblance to the gospel at all. What caught their attention looked alright. It made sense to them. It glittered as though it was gold. But as the saying goes: All that glitters isn’t gold. And so, the apostle curses anyone who preaches a gospel out of step with the one the apostles preached, the one that they, the first century Galatians, previously received.
What they received was simple. Sinners are justified by faith apart from law. Sinners are also sanctified by faith apart from law. God justifies because of Christ alone. God sanctifies through the Spirit of Christ alone, He who dwells in the hearts of believers (4:6). The apostle’s question, with all its grit & abrasiveness, is as relevant to the modern, conservative, orthodox evangelical as it was to the Galatians. He asks them if they were foolish. They had begun by the Spirit of God. They were to continue by the Spirit of God. “Are you so foolish?” he interrogates in the 3rd chapter. “Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected [or, ‘Are you now being brought “to a successful finish”] by the flesh” (3:3)? “Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith” (3:5)? Paul’s intention is to demonstrate to the Galatians their folly. Their position was simple. The ‘gospel’ to which they were turning asserted essentially this: One begins as a believer by the Spirit and he continues to the end by the law. Christian life starts by the Spirit. But it continues by the law. Law is needful for a successful finish. That’s the ‘gospel’ to which the Galatians were turning. That ‘gospel’ was and is a far cry from the truth of the gospel. Paul’s gospel, the only true gospel, could be expressed in these terms: Having begun by the Spirit, a successful finish comes by the Spirit. Having begun by the Spirit, by faith, apart from works of law, you are now being perfected by the Spirit, by faith, apart from law. So, keep in step with the Spirit. Walk by the Spirit, the One who produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness…and self-control. He will lead you and guide you and make you walk as you ought. The Lord is our Shepherd; we shall lack nothing. He makes us lie down in green pastures. He leads us beside still waters. He restores our souls. He leads us in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
To learn the Galatians were abandoning this gospel, the one he received by divine revelation, from Christ Himself, choosing instead a distortion, even a gross distortion of the gospel, caused Paul no small amount of consternation. He speaks of being ‘astonished” (1:6). He speaks of being fearful that his past labors over the Galatians were to no good result, in vain even (4:11). He even likens his pain to that of a woman bearing a child. “My little children,” he writes, “for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you” (4:19)! This whole letter is to that end. Paul writes with all grit and grace that Christ be formed in them and they be established in the truth of the gospel. He states the truth. He argues for it. He contends for it without apology and without wavering. He does not occupy the space between two opinions, trying to appease two parties, or two interpretations. Not at all. He rather shoots straight, sharply cuts his doctrine, sets his argument on the table, and exhorts the Galatians to stand firm. And then he says, “From now on let no one cause me trouble.” ‘From now on, from this point forward, let no one cause me trouble, undermining my ministry, calling me a man-pleaser, as if my aim & goal was to contradict the Scriptures and make it easy for sinners to be numbered amongst God’s people.’ ‘Let no one cause me trouble & grief by neglecting my doctrine, my gospel, by deserting God in turning to a gospel that is no gospel.’
Foundational to such matters is the matter of Paul’s authority. This had been questioned. His apostleship had been doubted. His message therefore did not hold the Galatian’s attention. Hence, the departure from truth and drift from the gospel, Paul’s grit and consternation, his defense of his apostleship, and his clear gospel statement. On these matters, Paul presses that no one causes him any more trouble. Essentially, he was saying, “Enough already!” “No more!” “Let this be the end of my troubles over these things!” ‘Let this, let what I’ve said to you in this letter, forever settle the matter!’
Why the apostle presses this is more than fascinating. Again verse 17, but note the second half: “From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.” It is hard to miss the comparison with the Judaizers, Paul’s detractors, the other kind of man. Their external mark was circumcision, the seal of Abraham, the sign marking, identifying the people of the old covenant. But the marks of Jesus donned the apostle. The marks of Jesus Paul bore on his body. As a Jew, he would have been circumcised. He would’ve had that mark in his flesh. But that is nothing to him. What matters to him is what matters this side of Calvary: close identification with Christ, even at tremendous personal cost.
The nature of Paul’s relationship with Christ is defined by the phrase ‘I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.’ Let me stress something here before moving on. What defined Paul’s relationship with God was not his circumcision. It wasn’t defined in terms of law or law-keeping, by things Old Covenant. Paul defined his relationship with Christ by something far more radical than that.
The word rendered ‘marks’ is ‘stigmata.’ ‘Stigmata’ are brand-marks. Brand marks were marks engraved on the bodies of slaves. So Paul is saying he bears in his body the marks of a slave. He defined himself as a slave of Christ.
This is not new. In many of his epistles, Paul often introduced himself as a slave of Jesus Christ. In Romans 1:1 for example, we read “Paul, a servant [but more accurately ‘a slave’] of Jesus Christ, set apart for the gospel of God.” Philippians 1:1- “Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi…” Titus 1:1 – “Paul, a slave of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect…” In the first chapter of Galatians tenth verse, Paul refers to himself as a “slave of Christ.”
But Paul wasn’t alone in this. Other New Testament writers also viewed their relationship to Christ in terms of slavery. Peter begins his second epistle introducing himself as “Simon Peter, a slave and apostle of Jesus Christ…” Jude begins his short epistle calling himself “a slave of Jesus Christ…” To the twelve tribes of the Dispersion, James also identifies himself as “a slave of God and the Lord Jesus Christ” (James 1:1). But lest we think such phraseology is exclusive to a select few, allow me to make reference to the opening words of ‘The Revelation To John.’ In Revelation 1:1, the apostle John writes, “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his slaves the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his slave John, who bore witness to the word of God…” We see here that the apostle John calls himself a slave of Christ. And he calls every Christian a slave of Christ. So, we must not think this small verse has nothing to say to us. It has much to say, especially to those of us with ears to hear.
Paul’s Brand-Marks & John Huss
But one may ask what it is to bear the marks of Jesus. Such a phrase conjures up images of disfiguration and even bloody mutilation: flesh ripped open by scourging, a brow pricked open by thorns, hands and feet nailed, and a wounded side pierced by the thrust of a spear. Of course, the apostle could not be saying he bore these marks. These marks speak of one who died, who was crucified in the flesh. Paul knew nothing of these in his body. Paul knew nothing of that level of public disgrace, and even…. stigma.
But what Paul did know, what the apostle did bear in his body, are marks as a result of his ministry. Paul loved Jesus. He was sold out to Christ and His cause. Paul’s was a life and ministry in which the cross was larger than life to him. The cross on which the Prince of Glory died was his theme and joy and doctrine and hope. Foundational to this is the fact of that which transpired on the cross. What transpired on the cross was this: Christ bought Paul (cf. 1 Cor. 6:20). With His blood, Christ purchased the apostle. Paul was therefore, not his own. Paul did not belong to Paul. He was not free to pursue freedom as culture understands it. He wasn’t even free to be a mere servant of Christ, not at all. Here’s why: one hires, or employs a servant, but Christ bought Paul. Christ thus owned the apostle, which made him Christ’s slave. “To be a slave of God (one writes)…involves more than merely being His servant. Servants retain their independent status. They have only specific duties and limited responsibilities. Slaves, on the other hand, have no rights [with regard to] their owners, because they are deemed the property of the latter” (Walter S. Wurzburger, as quoted in “Slave,” by MacArthur, p. 17). It flies in the face of not just our culture, but modern evangelicalism also: Christians belong to Christ: Therefore, they are His slaves. We need to let this sink in this morning. This is a truth that needs to shape us. Christ purchased us with his blood. And since He did that, He owns us. And if He owns us, now hear this, we are bound to obey His will without hesitation. AND we are His to do with as HE pleases. If we truly believed this and understood this, our church would look radically different, don’t you think? I mean, I need go no further than the man in the mirror. How different would our lives look if we understood and believed that Christ bought us, that the cross places demands upon us, that Christ is truly Master and we His slaves?
This turned Paul upside down. We know the life he lived after he encountered Christ. Persecution and slander, beatings beyond number, imprisonments, afflictions, hardships, scourges and whippings, stoning: this was the life to which Christ called Paul. Hardly healthy, wealthy, and happy was it in the eyes of men. No one would naturally sign up for this, not if left to themselves. It is remarkable to read and see the source of such treatment. The apostle tells us that five time he received at the hands of the Jews the fort lashes less one” (2 Cor. 11:24). And Luke tells us in Acts 14:19 that Jews from Antioch “stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead.” Why this is so needful to point out is simply to underscore the difference between the two kinds of men (and teachers) on display in Galatians. Both were religious. Both were believers. But one kind of man, one kind of believer/teacher, insisted upon the necessity of keeping the law (cf. Acts 15:5). The other kind of man, that is, the one named Paul, the one who gloried in the cross, bears “scars for the cause of Jesus” (HCSB), thus proving him to belong to Christ. The marks on Paul’s body proved he was no politician, seeking to satisfy his own ambitions and appetites. They proved Paul wasn’t interested in self-preservation. The only thing he wished for is pleasing his master, even if it meant tremendous, unbearable pain, let alone mere discomfort or even inconvenience on a Sunday morning.
On the morning of July 6th, 1415, John Huss was burned at the stake. For seven months he endured tortuous imprisonment. The conditions were dark and rancid. His feet were bound. His hands chained to the wall. His trials were nothing more than mockeries. His attempts to defend himself were lost in the sea of accusations against him. Even his silence, a position he took when it was clear whatever he said made no difference, was construed as admission of guilt. And so, on a summer’s day, in a field outside the city, John Huss was tied to a stake and burned. What makes a man choose to endure jail time and mockery and being labeled a heretic and a painful death over simply recanting and life, even life free from trouble? For John Huss, he believed what he preached. And what Huss preached was in step with Scripture, namely that no man but Christ Himself is Lord of the Church. Christians therefore must not submit to the pope, but Christ alone. Just listen to what he wrote: “If the papal utterances agree with the law of Christ, they are to be obeyed. If they are at variance with it, then Christ’s disciples must stand loyally…with Christ against all papal bulls [edicts or decrees] whatsoever and be ready, if necessary, to endure malediction and death. When the pope uses his power in an unscriptural way, to resist him is not a sin, it is a mandate.” John Huss was a slave. Christ was his master. Consequently, he bore in his body the marks of Jesus even unto death.
Slavery & Biblical Christianity
There are five points of contact between slavery in the first century and Biblical Christianity. First, slaves were the property of and in the absolute control of their respective owners. Unlike hired servants, slaves were not free to quit. Nor were they free to engage in that which was a matter of choice. The slave was always subject to another’s will, namely his lord’s or master’s, the one who bought him & thus owned him.
And so, Paul speaks of those who “belong to Christ” (Gal. 5:24), of those He redeemed from all lawlessness, “a people for His own possession” (Titus 2:14), even those with a master in heaven (Col. 4:1). Listen: If Christ died for you, you are not your own. Christ is your Savior. He is also your owner. He is your Master. You are at His disposal; He is not at yours.
Second, slavery also means obedience & submission. Just listen to this! “Slaves know no law but their master’s word; they have no rights of their own; they are absolute possessions of their master; and they are bound to give their master unquestioning obedience.” That ‘slaves know no law but their master’s word’ is cause for pause and deep reflection here. I remind you of that which Paul pens in Galatians 6:2. Keeping in step with the Spirit means bearing “one another’s burdens, and so [fulfilling] the law of Christ.” Does freedom from Mosaic Law give permission for unholy living? The life and Spirit-inspired writing of the one who wrote this very epistle unequivocally say, ‘Not on your life!’ Freedom from Old Covenant Law does not equal loose living according to some subjective notion of the Spirit’s ministry. The Ten Commandments, as the summary statement of the Old Covenant Law, do not govern the believer. That is true. But equally true is this: What governs the believer is the Law of Christ. Christ, who is superior to Moses, governs the believer, the one who belongs to Christ. And He does so from the inside out, by His Spirit, and not from the outside in. Why did God the Father choose whom He chose? Peter tells us in the introduction of his 1st letter. He tells us that the Father did so “for obedience to Jesus Christ.” So, let us be reminded: Disobedience to Christ is at odds with slavery to Christ. And only the enslaved to Christ is a Christian.
Third, slaves had one aim in life, namely to do what they were told. When they weren’t told what to do in explicit terms, they were to find ways to please their masters. To please Christ in all respects, to do that which pleases Him, which finds His approval and comes from devotion to Him, is in view here.
Fourth, slaves were absolutely dependent upon their masters for everything. Food, shelter, and all the essentials for living came from the one who owned the slave. Slavery had its benefits, especially if you had a good and merciful master. The Greek translation of the Old Testament (LXX) renders Psalm 123:1-2 in such a way that brings it to bear on this. Where most English translations say ‘servants,’ the LXX uses the word for ‘slaves.’ The Psalmist writes, “To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens! Behold, as the eyes of ‘slaves’ look to the hand of their master…so our eyes look to the Lord our God…” So, Jesus says, “….do not be anxious for your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on…your heavenly Father knows you need them all…” (Mat. 6:25ff.). Slaves obeyed their masters. But masters, good masters, provided for their slaves.
Fifth, slaves were 100% accountable to their masters. Whatever they did, they were answerable to their owners. A pleased master resulted in a rewarded slave. But disciplinary action rewarded the slave whose master was unimpressed. Though rare, under Roman law such action could include crucifixion, amputations, hot tar, or the rack.
Christians are also accountable to their Master. Elsewhere, the apostle writes that “each one of us will give an account of himself to God,” standing before the judgment seat of Christ (Romans 14:10, 12). To the one who perseveres, the Master will say, “Well done, good an faithful slave. Enter into the joy of your Master” (Matthew 25:21). To the other slaves, He will say, “You wicked and slothful slave!” and then cast them into the outer darkness, the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth (Mat. 25:26ff.).
There is one thing that needs to be underscored at this point. Slavery in the Bible does not mean doing something against one’s will necessarily. It can mean, and often does mean, doing that which is more desirable. Take sin, for example. Why do people sin? Why do people do what they do, whatever it might be? We do what we do because we want to do it. Our wills our enslaved to our wants. Our desires and affections determine everything we do. It doesn’t matter if we’re 2, 22, or 52: we will do what is most desirable to us at any given moment. So, Christ says that if we love Him, we will keep His commandments. Do not, therefore, think the slave-master relationship between believer and Jesus in terms of a cold and frigid, duty-bound, affectionless, joyless arrangement. It isn’t that.
But what is Paul saying?
But what is Paul saying here in Galatians 6:17? Is he saying ‘Let this epistle settle the matter because I bear on my body proof that I am Christ’s and thus His slave?’ If this is what he means, it would be true. But I doubt that’s what he means. I doubt it because every Christian, as the Bible defines the term, is a slave of Christ. Surely, to exhort a group of churches to give him no further trouble on the matters addressed throughout this epistle, simply because he was a Christian, could not be what he’s saying here. Otherwise, any Christian could make the same appeal regarding any matter of doctrine, any interpretation of the Scriptures, and any novel perspective on that which is forever fixed. The result would be doctrinal chaos, doctrinal confusion, and the eternal doom of millions upon millions upon millions of men. Why did Paul write Galatians? He doesn’t state explicitly per se what lies deep in his heart. But the apostle might as well have. Beginning in chapter 2 third verse [Paul tells of a previous trip to Jerusalem he made with Barnabas and Titus]:
“But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised [and thus obligate himself to the law], though he was a Greek. Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in – who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery [i.e. to the Mosaic Law] – to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.”
Question: It is true that every slave of Christ be about the business of preserving the gospel, but by whose authority? Who’s to say that that slave’s interpretation is correct and this one’s incorrect? Do you understand? “Let this settle the matter because I’m a Christian, because I’m a seminary grad, because I’m a pastor with 50 years of Bible study under my belt doesn’t quite cut it! Seems real shaky to me!
I will not recite the entire chapter. But if I did, we would together discover that in 2 Corinthians 11, Paul again defends his apostleship. He defends his apostleship against those he refers to as ‘super-apostles,’ at least in their eyes. What they truly are is false apostles, boasting in their mission. What we would also discover is that Paul uses the terms for ‘servant’ and ‘apostle’ as if they were interchangeable. This isn’t always the case. Context determines such things. But in this chapter it is evident that a servant is an apostle and an apostle a servant. And so when one gets to the 23rd verse, it all falls into place. “Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one,” Paul says, “I am talking like a madman- with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one…” and on he goes, listing his experiences as a slave of Christ, but also as an apostle of Christ. In other words Paul appeals to his “brand-marks of Jesus” as the marks and seal of his apostleship.
So hear verse 17. Paul essentially says this: “Let what I have written settle the matter of the gospel. Let what I have written settle the matter of Law and Gospel. Let what I have written settle the matter on the role of law in the one who embraces the gospel. Let this be forever settled because I bear in my body proof of my apostleship and thus authority in these matters. Authority is always the issue, isn’t it? It is. It is indeed. To whom do we listen? Upon what do we rely?
A word of exhortation, of explanation: and finally, a word of benediction. The 18th verse: “The grace of our lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.” Let me close with the words of the commentator. I cannot improve upon them:
“After all his sorrow, amazement, censure, and despondency, he parts with them in kindness; after all the pain they had cost him, yet were they dear to him; and ere he lifts his hand from the parchment, it writes, as a parting love-token” (John Eadie).
As we conclude our studies in Galatians, I urge you all to not forget all that we’ve covered. Forget not Galatians. Don’t let the dust of time blow over it and bury it. It’s too crucial of a book for that to happen. So read it often. And whatever you do, remember: “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” He who bore the marks of Jesus on his body presses this upon us.