|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
5:1-6 Christ will not be the Saviour of any who will not own and rely upon him as their only Saviour. Let us take heed to the warnings and persuasions of the apostle to stedfastness in the doctrine and liberty of the gospel. All true Christians, being taught by the Holy Spirit, wait for eternal life, the reward of righteousness, and the object of their hope, as the gift of God by faith in Christ; and not for the sake of their own works. The Jewish convert might observe the ceremonies or assert his liberty, the Gentile might disregard them or might attend to them, provided he did not depend upon them. No outward privileges or profession will avail to acceptance with God, without sincere faith in our Lord Jesus. True faith is a working grace; it works by love to God, and to our brethren. May we be of the number of those who, through the Spirit, wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. The danger of old was not in things of no consequence in themselves, as many forms and observances now are. But without faith working by love, all else is worthless, and compared with it other things are of small value.
Verse 6. - For in Jesus Christ (ἐν γὰρ Ξριστῷ Ἰησοῦ); .for in Christ Jesus. "For;" to prove that it is from the ground of faith that we look for the final awards due to righteousness, and not from obedience to any ceremonial law. "In Christ Jesus" means more than in Christ's religion. We had the phrase above, Galatians 3:28, "All ye are one man in Christ Jesus." It occurs frequently in St. Paul's writings; remarkable instances are supplied in Romans 16:17, "who were in Christ before me;" ibid., 11, "which are in the Lord;" 1 Corinthians 1:30, "of him [i.e. of God] are ye in Christ Jesus." It is, perhaps, best illustrated by our Lord's own parable of the vine in John 15:1-4. The spiritual union with Christ therein portrayed is maintained and operative through the action of the soul habitually cleaving to and depending upon him, and constantly receiving from him responsive gifts of spiritual vitality and power. Neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith which Worketh by love (οὔτε περιτομή τι ἰσχύει οὔτε ἀκροβυστία ἀλλὰ πίστις δἰ ἀγάπης ἐνεργουμένη); neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith operative through love. In two other passages the apostle makes a very similar statement. One is below, Galatians 6:15, "For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature." The other is 1 Corinthians 7:19, which with its context runs thus: "Was any one called being circumcised? let him not become uncircumcised (μὴ ἐπισπάσθω). Hath any been called in uncircumcision? let him not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing; but the keeping of the commandments of God." The comparison of these three passages suggests:
(1) That the "availeth not anything" now before us is tantamount to the "neither is anything" and to the "is nothing" of the other two passages; and that the meaning in each case is that neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any effect for good; for since the anti-thetic affirmation in all three cases states what is effectual for good, it is obvious to infer that it was of a beneficial effect only that the apostle was thinking in the foregoing statement.
(2) This leads to the question why "uncircumcision" should be thus repeatedly affirmed, twice to the Galatians, to be of no beneficial effect. More must be meant than a mere completing of the sentence by adding to the mention of "circumcision" the mention of its opposite. It is clear that there were those who imagined that uncircumcision made a favourable difference in men's religious condition, just as there were others, like these Galatian reactionaries, who imagined that circumcision did. That there were persons to be found in the Church who held the former view is put beyond doubt by the exhortation," Let him not become uncircumcised," which immediately precedes 1 Corinthians 7:19, now under review with the passage immediately before us; with reference to which exhortation comp. 1 Macc. 1:15; Josephus, ' Ant,,' 12:5. I. It was in no such ways, the apostle tells them, that the Divine approval was to be either gained or secured; and only mischief would result from entering upon them.
(3) The antithetic affirmation of what really is effectual for our spiritual well-being varies in the three passages; but it is natural to infer that that which in all three is declared to be the thing of vital importance, either is at bottom one and the same thing, or at least necessarily involves it. "Faith operative through love" must be identical with, or involve, "the keeping of the commandments of God," and "a new creature." A close examination of the first of these three sentences will show that it is so. The participle ἐνεργουμένη cannot be a passive, as Estius maintained; who even asserted a passive sense for the verb ἐνεργεῖσθαι in all the eight other passages in which it is found (Romans 7:5; 2 Corinthians 1:6; 2 Corinthians 4:12; Ephesians 3:20; Colossians 1:29; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Thessalonians 2:7; James 5:16). In perhaps not one of these passages is a passive meaning probable; while in some of them, as Ephesians 3:20; Colossians 1:29; 1 Thessalonians 2:13, it is palpably inadmissible. In the case before us, if a passive sense were admitted, we should have the expression, "faith wrought in us by love;" an account of the genesis of faith which must be judged to be in the strictest sense of the word preposterous. Faith does indeed grow and become perfected through love; but it is not in the first instance wrought in us by love, except indeed it be God's love to us (Ephesians 2:4). In those passages of the New Testament in which the verb ' ἐνεργεῖν occurs in the active voice (Matthew 14:2; Mark 6:14; Galatians 2:8, twice; 1 Corinthians 12:6, 11; Ephesians 1:11, 20; Ephesians 2:2; Philippians 2:13), the subject of the verb is a personal agent, or one which, as in Matthew 14:2 and Mark 6:4, is probably spoken of as such. It is most commonly followed by an accusative of the thing wrought, which, however, is sometimes left to the reader to supply. The middle voice appears in St. Paul always to have for its subject an impersonal agent (Winer, ' Gram. N. T.,' § 38, 6); and such an agent is said ἐνεργεῖσθαι in the sense always of "proving, acting out, its vitality and power," and never of simply "doing" such and such things. It is nowhere followed by an accusative. It is thus distinguished from ἐργάζομαι, which either is followed by an accusative of the work done or is used absolutely of "doing work," as in Matthew 21:28; Romans 4:4, 5; 1 Corinthians 4:12. The apostle, therefore, by the words, πίστις δι ἀγάπης ἐνεργουμένη means not, "faith through love doing works of beneficence,' 'but "faith evincing its vitality and power through the love which it begets in us;" "faith by love operative and influential.' 'Love is not contemplated as a separate acting of the Spirit, added on to faith as it were by an extrinsic effort of the soul, but as a product of faith itself, by which faith exerts its own internal energy. The apostle's meaning becomes clearer if we consider the object on which the justifying faith of the Christian fastens. This the apostle describes in this Epistle as Christ, "who gave himself for our sins;" "who loved me and gave himself for me" (Galatians 1:4; Galatians 2:20). When this marvellous exhibition of Divine compassion and love is through faith in very deed caught sight of and realized, it naturally becomes a truth-power, exercising over the man an influence imperative and supreme. This was the apostle's own experience; so much so that he seems to struggle with language while compelling it to describe the intensity of self-devotion with which it animated him. In this Epistle we may cite the passages Galatians 2:20; Galatians 6:14. And in other Epistles he writes in a similar strain. Let it suffice to cite 2 Corinthians 5:14, 15: "The love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that one died for all, therefore all died; and he died for all, that they which live should no longer live unto themselves, but unto him who for their sakes died and rose again;" adding, in ver. 17, "Wherefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature;... all things are of God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ" - words which show what he meant by the "new creature" mentioned below, Galatians 6:15. Thus the apostle evinces how in his own case faith through love became operative and influential. Christ's love to himself, on being realized by him, awakened in his soul a sentiment of grateful affection to his Redeemer, which was so strong and influential as thenceforward to sway and regulate the whole of his life. To complete, however, our estimate of the apostle's view of this matter, we must not forget to take account of the words "by the Spirit" in the preceding verse. The Spirit alone can make even the love of Christ thus influential with our souls, which but for his quickening grace remain, even in sight of the cross, still numbed and cold. The accordance of the notion of "faith through love operative and influential" with that of a "new creature" has been already indicated; and no other principle than this can enable us for the "keeping of the commandments of God;" and this does, and even constrains the soul to keep them. "But," it may be asked, "does the ordinary experience of Christian men and women as we see them bear out this representation? Is faith in their case thus operative and influential?" It would be foolish to say that it is; with the average, even of those Christians who make a religious life their most serious concern, it is not. And the case was no doubt the same with the average of Christian believers in the apostle's own time. But this we can affirm: in proportion as our faith in Christ's being our reconciling Redeemer is vivid and real, in that proportion is it energizing and transforming. It is in its own nature essentially love-inspiring and consecrating. It argues a miserable defect in our faith when we have to supplement, as we so often must, its vitalizing power by injunctions and restraints of "the letter" and "the Law;" so far as it is so with us, so far we live as "bondmen" and not as "free." If "the Son makes us free, then are we free indeed;" and this is how he makes us free - he imparts to us the gift of love to himself; and that makes obedience to be no longer a constrained service, but a very instinct of our nature.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
For in Christ Jesus,.... The Arabic version reads, "in the religion of Christ"; in the religion of Moses, or of the Jews under the former dispensation, the things after mentioned were of some moment and consideration; but are of no account in the Christian religion, and under the Gospel dispensation: circumcision and uncircumcision make no difference in the church of Christ, or are any bar to communion with it; nor do they make any alteration in the love and favour of Christ, who is all in all to his people, whether Jews or Gentiles; nor have they any influence at all on salvation, Christ being a common Saviour to the circumcised and uncircumcised; nor are they any evidence for or against a person's being in Christ, or having an interest in him:
neither circumcision availeth anything; not now as a command and ordinance of God, being abolished by Christ; nor as a type, having its accomplishment in him, and his people; nor as a privilege, giving any preference in any respect to the Jew above the Gentile; nor is it of any weight or consequence, or has any concern in the business of salvation:
nor uncircumcision; it is no hinderance to the enjoyment of the Gospel, to entrance into a Gospel church state, or to admission to the ordinances of it; nor to the participation of the blessings of grace, as justification, pardon, adoption, and eternal life:
but faith which works by love; faith has a concern in justification and salvation, not by way of causal influence, but as it is that grace which receives the righteousness of Christ, through which we are saved, and kept by the power of God unto salvation; yet not any sort of faith, but that which is operative, is attended with good works; and which works itself by love to God, to Christ, to his people, ways, worship, truths, and ordinances. The Syriac version renders it, "which is perfected by love"; that is, is showed to be right, true, and genuine thereby; see James 2:22.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
6. For—confirming the truth that it is "by faith" (Ga 5:5).
in Jesus Christ—Greek, "in Christ Jesus." In union with Christ (the Anointed Saviour), that is, Jesus of Nazareth.
nor uncircumcision—This is levelled against those who, being not legalists, or Judaizers, think themselves Christians on this ground alone.
faith which worketh by love—Greek, "working by love." This corresponds to "a new creature" (Ga 6:15), as its definition. Thus in Ga 5:5, 6, we have the three, "faith," "hope," and "love." The Greek expresses, "Which effectually worketh"; which exhibits its energy by love (so 1Th 2:13). Love is not joined with faith in justifying, but is the principle of the works which follow after justification by faith. Let not legalists, upholding circumcision, think that the essence of the law is set at naught by the doctrine of justification by faith only. Nay, "all the law is fulfilled in one word—love," which is the principle on which "faith worketh" (Ga 5:14). Let them, therefore, seek this "faith," which will enable them truly to fulfil the law. Again, let not those who pride themselves on uncircumcision think that, because the law does not justify, they are free to walk after "the flesh" (Ga 5:13). Let them, then, seek that "love" which is inseparable from true faith (Jas 2:8, 12-22). Love is utterly opposed to the enmities which prevailed among the Galatians (Ga 5:15, 20). The Spirit (Ga 5:5) is a Spirit of "faith" and "love" (compare Ro 14:17; 1Co 7:19).
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