Paul now turns to the practical implications of the arguments he has made in Gal. 1-4. In particular, he focuses on how the Galatians should treat each other. The introduction of the teaching of the Judaizers was destabilizing and led to division (2:11; see Acts 15:2).The unity of the church was threatened, which may explain why Paul says so much about love and warns so much about factionalism in these two chapters (5:6; 5:13-15; 5:20; 5:22—23; 5:26; 6:1-2). In some respects 5:2-15 is a bridge between the arguments Paul made and the applications he intended to make.
“Mark my words” (NIV)
I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision,
I assume that the Galatians had not as yet accepted that practice, although 4:10 indicates they had started observing certain parts of the Jewish calendar. Perhaps the false teaches were using an incremental approach, starting with holy days and moving toward circumcision.
Christ will be of no advantage to you.
As he said in 2:21, if the Law is the basis of right standing before God, Christ’s death was needless.
3 I testify again
Maybe he had mentioned this issue in an earlier visit, or maybe he is just re-emphasizing his current letter.
to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.
Circumcision was a sign of obedience to an entire covenant, and to accept it meant making a commitment to keep the whole law.
4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law;
The NLT translates this “cut off from Christ.” This may be a play on the cutting of circumcision. As Dunn observes: “To insist on formal identification 9through circumcision) with the Jewish people is to so diminish the significance of the Gentile converts’ earlier relationship with Christ as to be equivalent to ending that relationship.” (Dunn 268)
you have fallen away from grace.
From the beginning of this letter Paul warned of the serious consequences of accepting another gospel (1:8-9).
5 For through the Spirit, by faith,
In contrast to through the flesh and by the Law.
we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.
Remember that “righteousness” and “justification” come from the same root Greek word. Justification has both a present and future aspect, thus here Paul speaks of the hope of justification/rightesouness.
6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything,
Similar to 3:28-29.
but only faith working through love.
Biblical faith is active, and energized by love (as in James 2:14-26).
7 You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth?
“Hindered” can refer to cutting in front of someone in a race, as the NIV suggests (“who cut in on you”).
8 This persuasion is not from him who calls you.
9 A little leaven leavens the whole lump.
Using the same proverb he does in 1 Cor. 5:6, Paul compares the effect of these false teachers to leaven that can spread (5:9). See also Matt. 16:6.
10 I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view,
Paul did not believe the Galatians would ultimately succumb to this effort to Judaize.
and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty,
Perhaps an allusion to the anathema in 1:8-9.
whoever he is.
Paul does not identify one particular ringleader.
11 But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision,
The Judaizers may have claimed that Paul was still teaching that one must be circumcised.
why am I still being persecuted?
See references to persecution in 4:29 and 6:12.
In that case the offense of the cross has been removed.
“Here Paul probably has in mind also the particular significance of the cross which he has been drawing out in this letter - the cross as marking the end of the clear dividing line between covenant Jew and outlaw Gentile” (Dunn 281).
12 I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!
Paul wishes that those who unsettled the Galatians with this teaching would not stop at circumcision by go all the way and “cut themselves off” (NKJV). This not only would have been a great indignity, it would have also excluded someone from the assembly of Israel (Deut. 23:1). Perhaps this is another colorful way of Paul saying what he did in 4:30 – throw these people out!
13 For you were called to freedom, brothers.
It would have been easy for Paul’s opponents to accuse him of teaching that you can live any way you wish. That is not at all the case, and Paul will now begin to explain how Christians live in the Spirit.
Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
Throughout the letter Paul has emphasized the freedom we have “in Christ.” But this freedom is not only from the Law, it is for serving Christ. And in particular, to love (5:13).
14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Quotation is from Lev. 19:18. For a similar line in Paul’s writings, see Rom. 13:8-10. Of course Jesus taught that the Law was based on love in Matt. 22:39-40.
“What he is calling for is not an abandonment of the law…but for a different way of ‘doing’ the law” (Dunn 289).
15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.
By contrast, the result of the Judaizers’ teaching was dissension and turmoil (cf. Acts 15:1-2).