Paul wrote his letter to the churches of Galatia because they were listening to people who told them that to be saved they had to be circumcised and obey the law of Moses in addition to believing in Jesus Christ. He asserted that Jesus Christ himself had called him to be an apostle to the Gentiles and revealed to him the gospel that he preached to them–that they were saved by faith in Jesus Christ and not by works of the law–and thus that their listening to the Judaizers (the name we give to the false teachers) was actually a deserting of the gospel rather than an assuring of it. He closes the letter with a final warning against the Judaizers.
11 See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand. 12 It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. 14 But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. 16 And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. 17 From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. 18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.
“See with what large letters I am writing to you with my hand.” Paul had probably dictated the letter up to here to a scribe, but now he closes it in his own handwriting. In a later letter he told the Thessalonians that this was his practice: “I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the sign of genuineness in every letter of mine; it is the way I write,” 2 Thessalonians 3:17. Why he wrote in larger letters than the scribe did we don’t know. Perhaps his eyesight was failing, or perhaps he wanted to give emphasis to his closing words.
Paul charges that the reason why the Judaizers insist that the Galatians be circumcised is they want “to make a good showing in the flesh” and “to boast in your flesh.” He claims that they want this so that they’ll not be persecuted for being Christians. R. C. H. Lenski explains the connection thus: “They want to make a fine showing with you Galatians by inducing all of you to get circumcised so that the Jews, who are otherwise so hostile to Christianity, may not persecute them…although they confess the crucified Christ” (The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Galatians to the Ephesians and to the Philippians, Minneapolis, Minnesota: Augsburg Publishing House, 1937, page 314). Paul’s saying that the Judaizers “do not themselves keep the law” is probably a reflection of his claim in Galatians 5:3 that “every man who accepts circumcision…is obligated to keep the whole law,” which nobody is able to do.
In contrast to the Judaizers’ boasting over getting Galatian Christians to be circumcised so that they won’t be persecuted because of the cross, Paul boasts only “in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Because of the cross Paul and the world have been separated from each other. Thus for him “neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision.” What is valuable to him is the “new creation” brought about by one’s being in Christ (see 2 Corinthians 5:17). In other places Paul contrasts circumcision and uncircumcision with “faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6) and “keeping the commandments of God” (1 Corinthians 7:19). Douglas J. Moo comments, “These texts together assert that the coming of Christ introduces a whole new state of affairs in the world…. All ‘simply human’ factors [such as circumcision and uncircumcision] become meaningless in the state of God’s world-transforming work in his Son Jesus Christ. The old state of affairs is ended” (Galatians, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 2013, page 397).
As in his other letters Paul closes with a benediction. But even in writing it he has the Judaizers on his mind, appealing to them and/or to those listening to them to stop causing him trouble “for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus,” the scars that he had received in ministering on behalf of Jesus Christ. The only incident recorded in Acts in which Paul would have received scars before the writing of Galatians was his being stoned at Lystra, Acts 14:19. However many such incidents occurred later; see 2 Corinthians 11:24-25. Those scars stand in contrast to the physical mark of circumcision which the Judaizers had been telling the Galatians was necessary for salvation besides believing in Jesus Christ.
As I’ve thought about Paul’s continually warning the Galatians against the Judaizers, I’ve wondered what he would warn our church about if he were writing a letter to it. (I’ve also wondered the same thing while listening to our lead pastor expound on John’s letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3 over the past weeks.) We may not have Judaizers in our midst, but undoubtedly we have teachings and practices which would disturb Paul and bring warnings against them from him.
Paul begins the benediction by wishing “peace and mercy” upon “all who walk by this rule [that is, on all believers] and upon the Israel of God” and ends it by again addressing the Galatians as “brothers” and by wishing that “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.” Instead of “and upon the Israel of God,” the NIV has “even to the Israel of God.” The former suggests that “the Israel of God” is a separate group from “all who walk by this rule,” and the latter suggests that it just another way of referring to “all who walk by this rule.” Those who think that it refers to a separate group disagree on whether it refers to the Jews as a whole, Jewish Christians, or the Israel destined for salvation according to Romans 11:26. However I think that the context favours its referring to “all who follow this rule,” with “of God” distinguishing it from ethnic Israel.
I’m sure that whatever warning Paul might have for our church if he were writing a letter to us, he would have the same wishes for us: “For all [of you] who walk by [the gospel], peace and mercy be upon [you], and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers [and sisters]. Amen.”