Paul, at his angriest
Cancel the circumcision1The Messiah set us free because he wanted us free. So stay free. Don’t go back to slavery.
2Listen. This is Paul talking. I’m telling you this, if you put your faith in circumcision, the Messiah won’t do you any good. 3I’ll tell you this, too. Every man who goes along with circumcision had better obey all the other Jewish laws, too. 4You’ve cut more than you know. You’ve cut your connection to the Messiah. That’s what you’re doing when you try to establish a good relationship with God by keeping the law. You’ve lost your connection to God’s kindness. 5We, however, have the Spirit. We have the faith, too, that God will accept us just the way we are. That’s our confident hope.
6As far as the Messiah Jesus is concerned, it doesn’t matter if a man is circumcised or not. What matters is faith—the kind that expresses itself in loving ways. 7You were cruising along, making great time. Who steered you off course, away from the truth? 8It certainly wasn’t the one who invited you. 9A little dab of yeast works its way through all the dough.
10I’m sure the Lord will get you back on track. As for the folks trying to confuse you, whoever they are, they’ll get what they deserve.
11Dear family, I want you to know that I’m not preaching that men have to get circumcised. If I’m preaching that, why am I still getting persecuted? I’ll tell you why. It’s because I’m preaching the cross. If I added circumcision to my sermons, I wouldn’t have this problem. 12I wish those circumcision lovers messing with you would just go ahead and cut their whole thing off!
13As for you, dear family, you’ve got a cordial invitation to freedom. But don’t go there thinking you’ve got a free pass to sin. This isn’t about lust. It’s about love, and about helping others. 14In fact, that’s the law summed up in a sentence. “Love your neighbor like you love yourself.” 15If you keep taking bites out of each other, you’ll eventually have nothing left to chew on. You’ll destroy yourselves.
Spirit, yes. Wild, no.16So I’m telling you, let the Spirit guide your life If you do that, you won’t give into unhealthy desires. 17Those harmful desires go to war with the Spirit. And the Spirit goes to war with those desires. The two sides are enemies, fighting for control of your life. This battle keeps you from doing what you want to do. 18But if you let the Spirit guide your life, Jewish law won’t control you anymore.
19The harmful desires I’m talking about are pretty obvious: sex sins, dirty minds, acting depraved, 20Idol worship, sorcery, arguing, bickering, jealousy, temper tantrums, selfish ambition, pointless debates, 21envy, getting drunk, sex parties. You get the idea. I’m warning you again, like I did before. If you live that kind of life, whatever you inherit, it won’t be God’s kingdom. 22It’s just the opposite when the Spirit’s in control. We live a life of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, devotion, 23gentleness, and self-control. There’s no law against any of that.
24People who follow Jesus the Messiah don’t let selfishness and self-destructive behavior control them. They’ve nailed all of that to the cross. 25Since the Spirit lives in us, we ought to go where the Spirit wants to take us 26And let’s not get a swelled head about this. We don’t want to get each other jealous and mad.
The context clue suggests Paul is talking about God.
Yeast pervades all the dough in a baker’s loaf of bread; it’s everywhere mixed into the dough. Paul’s point: distorted teachings are like that, working their way into a church congregation.
In what is perhaps the single angriest sentence Paul ever wrote in the Bible, he uses the Greek word apokopto. It’s the go-to word when a writer is talking about amputation or the mutilation of private parts. Some Bible versions translate the word as “castrate” (New Century Version).
Many Bible experts say this is the thesis of Paul’s letter: Believers live guided by the Spirit. But the freedom from the law that they have isn’t a freedom to live self-destructive lives. The Spirit will guide them in the opposite direction, toward upbeat character traits and virtues.
Paul describes Jewish law as slavery and life guided by the Spirit as freedom: “The Messiah set us free because he wanted us free. So stay free. Don’t go back to slavery” (5:1). In other letters, he called believers “slaves of the Messiah” (Ephesians 6:6). Why do you think he figured it was okay to be slaves to Jesus but not slaves to the law?
If Paul calls the Jewish law “slavery,” then circumcision is slavery’s flag. It’s the one topic in the law that keeps getting raised and waved around like a banner. Why do you think this became the hot topic when it came to whether or not non-Jewish Christians should obey Jewish laws?
Paul was asking non-Jews and Jews alike to trade up, spiritually speaking. He wanted them to trade in the Jewish law for God’s Spirit. Paul was asking them to stop obeying a bunch of well-known laws written on scrolls and easy to see. Instead, he was asking people to take their cues from the inner working of the Spirit. Why do you think the Jewish Christians resisted?
Some folks are apparently spreading the rumor that Paul is preaching that men have to get circumcised. Paul denies it. Then he makes the angriest statement he makes in anything he has written in the Bible: “I wish those circumcision lovers messing with you would just go ahead and cut their whole thing off!” (5:12). It’s not clear if he’s talking merely castration or something more. But it’s clear that he’s talking about sharp objects in a sensitive area. Do you think Paul went overboard here?
LIFE APPLICATION. Paul says the Jewish law doesn’t matter to God anymore. God has made a new agreement with people. Circumcision is out. “What matters is faith—the kind that expresses itself in loving ways” (5:6). When have you seen that kind of faith at work? Maybe it’s something you witnessed. Maybe you were the one compelled to show that kind of faith. Or maybe you were on the receiving end of it.
LIFE APPLICATION. Paul apparently quotes an old saying, in what sounds like a warning that the false teaching of a few people can wreck the church: “A little dab of yeast works its way through all the dough” (5:9). When have you seen a trace of either dissent or kindness catch on, and then change the dynamic of what was happening in a group?
LIFE APPLICATION. Paul has a wonderful line of advice: “Since the Spirit lives in us, we ought to go where the Spirit wants to take us” (5:25). Where has the Spirit taken you lately? Where have you felt the Spirit leading you, perhaps to a place or a person or a project?