Paul segues from talking about the freedom that the Galatian believers should have because they are (supposed to be) spiritual children of Isaac to the fact that all believers in the Galatian churches...regardless of race, social status, age or gender (3:26-28, once again)...are free in Christ. Chapter 5, verse 1 could be a one line definition for the entire letter, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." This is Paul's appeal...to come back to the freedom they all should be enjoying. But, some have allowed themselves to be burdened by those (Judaizers) who would keep the regulations and traditions (particularly circumcision, here) associated with the Law, as these principles have been forced upon the Gentile believers in the Galatian churches. These "weighty" matters of law are like a yoke on their necks. Paul may be reflectively considering a principle dear to Jesus' heart, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30). Paul once again uses some strong words in order to make his point, saying that those who seek to be justified by Law have "become alienated from Christ" and have "fallen away from grace." In fact, he declares for the Galatians and the whole world, that the only principle that truly has any weight is "faith expressing itself through love" (5:6). I will come back to this in a bit.
Paul uses a track and field metaphor to describe how the Galatians have allowed the Judaizers to rob them of Biblical and spiritual truth. It is language describing one who changes lanes in a race and "cuts off" and opponent, and is, therefore, disqualified. Paul does not want the Galatian believers to get cut off in the Christian race and, therefore, miss the prize. He uses a baking expression (because baking and athletics have so much in common :-) in order to solidify his case. All it takes is a little bit of leaven to go through the whole lump of dough...and in the same a way, all it takes is a little bit of infection to begin to affect the whole body. This can take place not only physically, but spiritually, as well...and so the reason for the illustration. An entire church can be undone because a little sin...in attitude or in practice... is left unchecked (see the Corinthian church for an example of this, 1 Corinthians 5:1ff). The Galatian churches are going to experience the same thing if they do not deal with the infection in "their body." Paul expresses his confidence in them that they are going to make the right decisions (5:10).
Paul has one final interjection for the false ones among the believers in those places...and it is not intended to be humorous. It is the strongest thing he has to say in any letter, "As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!" (5:12) It is important to understand the context concerning why Paul appears to be saying that they should go and make themselves eunuchs. It is true that some cultures at that time would have eunuchs who would serve kings and queens, but such barbaric practices were not to be practiced by God's people. Yet, what Paul is doing is giving the Judaizers' arguments concerning the necessity of circumcision their proper perspective. Although, it may have been an important "ritual marking" at one time, circumcision has no meaning whatsoever now that Christ has come...but only as it is figuratively related to the "heart" (Romans 2:29). When a person accepts Christ, neither circumcision or uncircumcision are any good. So, for the Judaizers to enforce this regulation makes no spiritual difference for those whom they are persecuting. God's Holy Spirit is now the mark for believers, as we have discussed (and will pursue further in the next posting).
In vv.13-15, Paul is creating a bridge to his next discussion, beginning in verse 16. Just as he does not want the Galatian believers to give up their freedom in Christ for the sake of law, neither does he want them to give it up for the flesh. It is probable that many of them had come from pagan religious backgrounds where giving themsleves to immorality was the norm. He descibes how dangerous such practices are for those who seek to "be spiritual." He offers a contrast that is going to be given much more detail in the verses to come, but he wants them to understand -- Spirit-filled and led people are going to behave in ways that do not give any advantage to the Law or to the flesh. Freedom is the goal for the spiritual person...freedom to love as God has commanded and shown us to love. Failure to practice the love of God and live according to the Spirit is going to lead discord, dissension and division. They, and we, were called to this much higher calling...the way of love.
This brings me back around to the thought in verse 6. I have heard Christians in my life say (and practice) -- it can't be just about love, we have to be obedient to the commandments (and even traditions). What is usually indicated by this is similar to the matters that the Judaizers were struggling with...and it is this -- we have to be "right thinking" and "right believing" in all of our Christian practices, or else we are in error. If this self-sufficient belief system is the case, then we are always going to be lacking, spiritually. Paul says just the opposite here -- if we are right loving and living according to "the only thing that counts," then we will come to and be able to maintain the proper perspective concerning all of the other matters pertaining to life and godliness. If not, then we will struggle just as the Judaizers were practicing and influencing other believers to be "biting and devouring one another" over things that really do not matter. So, when it all comes down to it...if verse 6 is good enough for Paul, it is good enough for me. :-)