By Justin Borger with assistance from Generous Giving staff
Paul’s letter to the Galatians was written on account of a corrupted version of the gospel that had infiltrated the churches in the first century A.D. After Paul had moved on to preach the gospel elsewhere, false teachers arose who taught that Christians must keep the Old Testament law in order to be accepted by God. Appealing to his apostolic authority, Paul rebuked this teaching, focusing his message on gospel purity. Accordingly, Paul’s letter emphasizes some of the most basic principles of the Christian faith, such as justification by grace through faith, our adoption and inheritance as God’s children, the equality of Jew and Gentile in the new covenant and the call to remember the poor.
Our study of Galatians consists of two parts. In the first section, readers will find our stewardship study notes. These notes analyze, in a passage-by-passage fashion, the implications of the book’s teaching for Christian generosity and related issues. The second section consists of short essays describing the book’s major stewardship themes. These notes and essays are not intended to be comprehensive explanations of Paul’s goals in writing this book, nor do they exhaust the book’s possible applications in matters related to stewardship and generosity.
While Generous Giving’s Bible study material will aid anyone who is searching the Scriptures for guidance, they may prove especially useful as sermon helps for pastors and as a resource for teachers, advisors and lay leaders interested in obeying and teaching the message of Scripture in matters of generosity and stewardship. We readily acknowledge our fallibility in writing these study notes, for they are the work of humans, not God. Please search the Scriptures (Acts 17:11) as you read this material critically, carefully and prayerfully. May God bless you in your studies.
Passage-by-Passage Study Notes
Galatians 1:4 (Key Passage) — Redemption from the Evil Age: Our redemption from the “present evil age” (Galatians 1:4) is a gift of God through the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Those of us who are tempted to think of generosity as a merely mundane or polite Christian virtue should remember that Jesus freed the world from the tyranny of sin, Satan and death through a gift. Thus, in order to see the power and beauty of Christian generosity, we must fix our eyes on Jesus and his work on the cross. Moreover, this liberation that we have been given means that we are freed from the world’s destructive patterns. We no longer need to use our power and possessions for ourselves because everything we will ever need has been paid for by Jesus’ generosity. Thus, God’s new age is already present in this world because Jesus is raised from the dead (Galatians 1:1), and we are already a “new creation” because his Spirit dwells in us (Galatians 6:15; see notes on 6:14-16). By walking in the Spirit, we manifest the reality of God’s reign, and our works of the Spirit serve as tangible proof of his new age in this present world. Thus, the initial gift of Jesus (Galatians 1:4) paves the way for innumerable gifts to follow as the spiritual fruit of Christ’s generosity.
Galatians 1:6-9 — We must be committed to the good news recorded in the Scriptures, the gospel story of God’s victory through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Our money won’t save us, nor does economic success constitute good news. The gospel includes physical and economic aspects, but it can never be limited to these things (i.e., a “social gospel” apart from a “spiritual gospel”). See Galatians theme essay Faith and Greed.
Galatians 1:10 — We cannot please both God and man. In fact, pleasing God appears foolish and even offensive to the natural man because it calls for us to give ourselves away. Nevertheless, pleasing God has eternal value and will bring great reward. See Galatians theme essay Inheritance.
Galatians 2:10 (Key Passage) — Remember the Poor: Generosity toward the poor is an activity that captures the essence of the gospel. After Paul and the church in Jerusalem came to an agreement concerning their understanding of the gospel, Paul makes special mention of the fact that he and the church in Jerusalem were specifically concerned for the poor. Paul says that, “they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do” (Galatians 2:10). The mandate to remember the poor, then, is central to the work of the church. In the original context “remembering the poor” refers directly to the poor in Jerusalem who were suffering persecution and poverty; however, it also carries a normative reminder with regard to the way in which the gospel is supposed to be expressed at all times. See Galatians theme essay Remembering the Poor.
Galatians 2:15-16 — Even almsgiving won’t save us, apart from faith in Jesus. We must be careful to remember that by caring for the poor we are not accomplishing anything for our own salvation; we are simply remembering others as a response to the way Christ has remembered us. See Galatians theme essay Faith and Greed.
Galatians 2:20 — New life depends on our sharing in the life of Christ. However, in order to share in his life, we must also share in his death, giving of ourselves as Christ gave. In Christ, we have been crucified to the world and the world’s way of operating (Galatians 6:14).
Galatians 3:7-9 (Key Passage) — Heirs of Abraham: As children of Abraham through faith, we are also heirs. The promise of inheritance to Abraham is given to all who are in Christ. We have access to the riches of grace and the inheritance of eternal life and the new heavens and the new earth. However, those who walk according to the flesh have no inheritance (Galatians 5:21b). This is a very important theme in Galatians (3:23-4:7; 4:28; 6:8). See Galatians theme essay Inheritance.
Galatians 3:13 — Jesus’ substitutionary example establishes a pattern for our own giving, laying down our lives. Notice that in order to give as Christ gave we must give our whole lives away, the giving of our possessions and resources comes from first giving ourselves to God. Nevertheless, even as we imitate Christ, we must remember that his generosity remains unique. Jesus paid a debt that only man owed and only God could pay.
Galatians 3:17 — God planned his giving in advance, for the right season, which functions as an example for our own giving. Although we should always be ready to give spontaneously on any occasion, we should be careful to plan our giving when possible so as to make the most of what God has entrusted to us as stewards.
Galatians 3:18 (Key Passage) — Our Inheritance: Our inheritance does not depend on our ability to keep the law, but upon God’s ability to keep his promise. However, this in no way diminishes our obligation to keep God’s law. God demonstrated how serious he is about our obedience by giving us the ability to obey through the work of Jesus Christ. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection we are able to inherit Christ’s obedience and receive the gift of the Spirit, which enables our own obedience to ensue. Thus, just as someone provides a key when they desire another person to unlock a door, God showed us that he really does expect us to obey him perfectly because he gave us the perfect obedience of Jesus and the Spirit, who leads us into all righteousness. Moreover, we should remember that the primary way in which Christ was obedient was in his willingness to be sent by his Father as a gift for the world. Likewise, we must be willing to practice the same sort of obedience through sacrificial generosity.
Galatians 3:23-25 — All of God’s gifts are good, even the Law (Torah). Gratitude for God’s gifts focuses our concentration on God’s redemptive provision rather than on our own destructive desires.
Galatians 3:23-4:7 — Paul again emphasizes the theme of inheritance and sonship; see notes on Galatians 3:7-9. See Galatians theme essay Inheritance.
Galatians 4:14-15 — Paul is thankful to the Galatians for helping him in his trial; they are an excellent example of physical care for spiritual leaders. Paul is an example of both a cheerful giver and a grateful recipient. Note, however, that good givers can have other spiritual problems.
Galatians 4:28 — Again Paul emphasizes our status as children of the promised inheritance; see notes on Galatians 3:7-9, 3:23-4:7. See Galatians theme essay Inheritance.
Galatians 5:6 (Key Passage) — The Only Thing That Counts: Paul rejects legalism and the Old Testament’s system of ceremonial law as insignificant and unsubstantial apart from Christ. He believes that, in Jesus, behavior that truly counts is the expression of faith in love through good works. Such works of love manifest our true identity. (Elsewhere in the New Testament we learn that faith isn’t faith unless it works, James 2; and that love that does not care for others is not love, 1 John 3.) Paul, like the other New Testament writers, does not believe in a “faith” that fails to make itself known in good works. See Galatians theme essay Faith and Greed.
Galatians 5:13-14 — Our “freedom” from being bound to the Old Testament’s civil and ceremonial law is not license to live however our flesh may desire. Rather, by the Spirit we do the things to which the Law pointed—such as sacrificial generosity—and we fulfill the Law by aiming at its heart: “loving others like you love yourself” (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:39-40). We should also point out that when we say that we are not under the Law, which commanded circumcision and others rituals, we do not mean that we are not required to keep the Moral Law or the Ten Commandments. God always requires us to keep his Moral Law because it reflects his character though our justification before God rests on Christ’s perfect obedience on our behalf. See Galatians theme essay Faith and Greed.
Galatians 5:15 — The consequences of not loving others (Galatians 5:14) are not good. The freedom we have in Christ is not from generosity in giving and self-control and discipline in spending and consumption; rather, it is freedom to be generous.
Galatians 5:18 — Jealousy and envy: These are produced when we desire that which God has given others, or that which should not be desired (like “wanting to get rich,” 1 Timothy 6:9-10). These evils sometimes manifest themselves in harsh attitudes toward those with money (Marxist revolutions, class envy, etc.).
Galatians 5:21 — Orgies and drunkenness: These evils represent an abuse of God’s gifts. When we engage in this type of behavior, we demonstrate our emptiness and our need to be filled with the gift of the Spirit, which Jesus promises to give us if we ask (Luke 11:13).
Galatians 5:22-24 — What attitudes and practices do these fruits of the Spirit produce in matters of stewardship and generosity? (1) Love: sacrificial care for other people’s physical and spiritual needs; (2) joy: an abundant life that gives away what it has received in Jesus; (3) kindness and goodness: mercy for the weak and oppressed and the desire for justice for the outcast and oppressed, particularly in economic matters; (4) faithfulness: expressed through loving perseverance, steady, committed support for the church, missionaries, ministers, ministries and the poor themselves; (5) self-control: learning to resist desires of the flesh, holding back from the world’s encouragements to consume, absorb and accumulate rather than to give.
Galatians 5:23 — Jesus teaches that “the gentle” and “meek” will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5). The rewards of heaven are not for the ambitious, aggressive, assertive or selfish. See Galatians theme essay Inheritance.
Galatians 6:6-10 — We must support Christian laborers with adequate financial provisions. Ignoring them in favor of oneself will literally finance the corruption of the flesh. Sowing to the Spirit will lead to a harvest of eternal life. Why spend money on our contaminated desires when we can support Christian labors to bring people to Jesus? Paul promises that we will have a great harvest when we steward the gospel and persevere. See Galatians theme essay Inheritance.
Galatians 6:10 (Key Passage) — Good to All: Paul’s admonition to do good to all seems to provide us with ample opportunity to serve and love all other people. Our priority must be set on the service of other Christians—not our own ethnic group, social class or nation, but believers in need regardless of their race or nationality. (“Household of faith,” in our view, probably refers to the body of Christ as a whole, given the usual use of the metaphor in Paul and the New Testament.)
Galatians 6:14-16 — What truly matters is the new day—the kingdom and “new creation”—that is brought by Jesus and perfected by the Spirit. God’s program of healing and recreation is worked by the Spirit, seen in the resurrection and in our deliverance from this present evil age. Paul tells us the Spirit is the down payment of the restoration of the fallen universe (Galatians 1:4; Romans 8:18-24). Our participation in the cross of Christ (Galatians 2:20-21) has caused “the world” and its foolish ways to be crucified to us, and us to the world. We now have an identity beyond this present world, citizens in the “new creation,” of which we are already a part. Therefore, we have a call to live in light of our new identity in the new age, walking by the Spirit as we express faith in Jesus through love. See Galatians theme essay Inheritance.