On the heels of the allegory of the slave woman and the free woman, Paul declares that Christ has set us free for the purpose of freedom and that we should not, therefore, put the slave collar back on. The rite of circumcision has been used by both Paul and the Judaizers as a shorthand for the whole law of Moses. Now, though, Paul is saying that it’s more than a representation, but inseperable from the rest of the law. One can’t just become a Jew only in the body, but in one’s whole life. And if one thinks becoming a Jew is what counts as righteousness, then it is not the one obvious distinctive that makes it count, but a whole lifestyle. But again, it isn’t keeping the law that saves anyone, and anyone who thinks it does is saying to Christ, “No, thanks. I’ll handle this justification thing on my own.” Of course, doing the works of the law out of love for the Lord is not a bad thing, either.
Paul encourages the Galatians to say they had been living out the Christian life well. They just needed to not listen to the agitators who were causing divisions. It sounds as if Paul believes that it is the work of only a very small group. Leaven, or yeasted flour, is often a metaphor for sin in Scriptures, and just as yeast makes bubbles throughout the dough, a little bit of sin gets into everything it touches.
Again Paul refutes the accusation that he has been changing up his message for different audiences, and this time pointing out that it contradicts some of the other things he had been accused of. Either he’s a rogue apostle who’s going against the leaders in Jerusalem, or he’s trying to please them by preaching the need for circumcision to Jewish audiences and preaching something else to Gentile audiences in order to please them, but he can’t really be both. Of course, neither one is true, and Paul is just so fed up with these people leading Christians astray. If circumcision makes someone holy, maybe they shouldn’t settle for just the tip, he says.
As believers we have been freed from the laws demands, but the freedom we have is not a freedom to please our sin-loving flesh. Instead it is a freedom to serve God and His church. The divisions that have sprung up in the churches of Galatia are nearly as important as the division between God and His people. There is a danger that the churches could collapse under the strain.
You empower us to do Your will so that Your church may be built up and Your kingdom is advanced.