|Series Theme: Meditations in Galatians|
Meditation No. 24
Meditation Title: Beware Yeast
Gal 5:7-9 You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. "A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough."
It is almost funny reading Paul sometimes – you have to either laugh or cry – because of the way he sometimes mixes metaphors! He is so intent on conveying the truth that he grabs for whatever pictures come to mind, and he has a very agile mind! In the next few verses, which we have above, he jumps from one to another.
First of all he speaks of the Christian life as a race. You, he says, were running a good race. Earlier in the letter he expressed “ fear that I was running or had run my race in vain.” (2:2). To the Corinthians he used a similar picture when he said, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.” (1 Cor 9:24 ). Facing death, he said to Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Tim 4:7). Similarly the writer to the Hebrews (thought by some to have been Paul) wrote, “let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Heb 12:1) Briefly, a race is a specific activity, aiming for a specific end, a competition to do as well as you can. That is the Christian life.
But he envisages in this race, some runner cutting in front of you and hindering your progress: “Who cut in on you” and the effect of being cut in on was that it kept you from obeying the truth? Our short term but constant goal is to stick to and obey the truth that God has revealed to us through the Gospel. This race is all about the truth. We faced it about ourselves when the Holy Spirit convicted us, then heard about the truth of Jesus dying for us at Calvary, and we faced the truth that we needed his forgiveness and cleansing, and then received it, so that now today we live by it. Paul wasn't happy about that “cutting in”: “That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you.” (v.8). i.e. you weren't cut in by Jesus, is what he is saying. Realise what it was, something that will hinder your race, something that gets in your way and slows you down, if not completely pushes you off track!
But then he changes the picture completely: “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” (v.9) What? Hang on, now what is he saying? He's speaking about yeast. Where do we use yeast and what does it do? We use it in baking and put a small amount in the dough so that, as it works through the dough, it makes the whole batch rise. What is he inferring by this sort of language? Surely it is that by allowing one apparently insignificant thing to be brought into their lives from Judaism (circumcision) it will spread through and affect the whole of their lives. Once you start working on adhering to one rule, then you will soon start thinking about all the other rules that we find in Scripture and focus on them instead of your living relationship with Christ through his Spirit. Moreover, once you start trying to abide by rules, you become conscious of failing them and so guilt starts to permeate your life, replacing the joy you had, and very soon it's like there is this cloud of guilt that hangs over your whole life, spoiling it.
Paul then seeks to be encouraging. “I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view.” (v.10a) i.e. I'm sure as you think about this you'll come to see the truth of what I am saying and will agree with me. As for those who have come in and upset you… “The one who is throwing you into confusion will pay the penalty, whoever he may be.” (v.10b) i.e. I don't know these people who have come to you insisting that you adhere to their Judaistic practices that have been confusing you, but God will deal with them. Then he makes an appeal to them on the basis of an awareness which they must have had: “Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished.” (v.11).
They obviously knew of the persecution Paul had received from the Jews, wherever he went, because of preaching the Cross, of Jesus being crucified for our sins. It would appear that these Judaistic believers had said, “It's all right; Paul would agree with this, he's a good Jew.” but of course he doesn't. Look, he goes on, if I agreed with circumcision, if I agree with these Jewish believers, why would they still be against me – because they are! – because if I had changed my gospel to conform to their dictates then they wouldn't be upset about the Cross any longer. Yet, he continues, they obviously are, because they make out that the Cross isn't all that is needed and they say we still need to do things that were required by the Jews of old!
Finally out of exasperation he declares, “As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!” (v.12) Emasculate simply means to cut off, and so he's saying, I wish they would cut themselves off from us completely and disappear off and never be seen again, so we could be free from their folly. That is what he is implying here. It is interesting to note that he doesn't express any desire to win them over beyond what he says in his argument. He is simply annoyed that they have been causing so much upset in the church. The simple answer as far as he is concerned is that they repent and stop promulgating this wrong teaching. Sometimes that is all that is needed – a conformity to the truth. May it be so!