Marks of Service
In My Own Hand (Galatians 6:11)
Paul didn't write most of his letters personally. Instead, he dictated them and someone else served as the scribe (Romans 16:22). Paul is stating that either this letter was personally penned by him or that he is writing this section of the letter personally and they can tell because of his poor handwriting (see also I Corinthians 16:21; Colossians 4:18). It was a personal touch to let the Galatians know how much they meant to him as well as authenticating his letter.
Why the false teachers were pushing circumcision (Galatians 6:12-13)
The false teachers aren’t nearly as concerned about the Galatians as Paul is. Ever since Paul became a Christian, he has been battling his own Jewish brethren as they sought to preserve the Law. At the root of the problems was the Jewish pride in their heritage and a mark of that heritage was circumcision (II Corinthians 11:18; Philippians 3:3-4). Circumcision was a part of God’s law, but it didn’t make a person righteous according to the law because the law wasn’t just about circumcision.
Recall that some Jews tried to justify circumcision by appealing to Paul’s own actions. After all, he had Timothy circumcised! (Acts 16:3). But Paul pointed out that if he was teaching circumcision then the Jews would not have been persecuting Paul or taking offense at the teaching of the cross (Galatians 5:11). Thus, acceptance of the cross and acceptance of circumcision was something even these people understood were contrary purposes. Though technically Christians, these false teachers did not want to suffer persecution, so they were advocating circumcision in order to be accepted by the Jews. In other words, this mark in the flesh is not due to a concern for the Galatian’s salvation but a concern for the false teacher’s own comfort. They glory in how many they convert to their ways.
Even those demanding this physical sign from the Old Law don’t keep that same Law they are pushing on others. Circumcision would demand keeping the whole law, something no one was able to keep (Galatians 5:3; Romans 3:19-20). Thus, they demonstrate that circumcision does nothing to make a person righteous before God.
What really matters (Galatians 6:14-15)
In contrast to these Judaizing teachers, Paul would rather only boast in the fact that Jesus died to change the world and among those changed was Paul himself (Philippians 3:10; Galatians 2:20). Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, Paul has given up on the world. He doesn’t need the acceptance of others when he has the Lord (Philippians 3:7-8). As a result, the world doesn’t accept Paul (which explains why the worldly false teachers oppose Paul).
It isn’t the outward marks, but the inward change that matters. As Paul pointed out earlier, circumcision does nothing but faith, working through love, does hold meaning (Galatians 5:6). It is the new person created by obedience to God through faith (I Corinthians 7:19).
Paul’s prayer for the obedient (Galatians 6:16)
Those who walk the separate path from the world, Paul prays that they receive peace and mercy. Peace and mercy will not come from the world, it will only come from God. Such people are the true Israel of God (Philippians 3:3; Galatians 3:29; Romans 2:28-29).
The marks Paul bears (Galatians 6:17)
Paul has been dealing at length the various disputes that he wasn’t a real apostle. He concludes his letter by declaring that this matter should be settled and no one should trouble him further. His detractors wanted proof, so Paul offers his own body as evidence.
If a physical sign is so important, Paul points out that he wears the marks of Jesus on his body. The word Paul uses is “stigma.” It means a mark or a brand. Paul has suffered much in the cause of Christ (II Corinthians 11:24-25). They left scars as reminders – reminders Paul was willing to collect (Colossians 1:24).
A stigma was the mark a slave owner placed on a slave to indicate ownership. Paul saw himself as the Lord’s slave (Romans 1:1; Titus 1:1). Jesus had picked him to bear His word (Acts 9:15). It was Paul’s job (II Timothy 1:11). He preached from necessity, though it was a command that he willingly followed (I Corinthians 9:16-18).
Stigmas were also the tattoos pagans put on their bodies to indicate what god they served. That is why tattoos were forbidden (Leviticus 19:28). The practice is alluded to in the mark of the beast (Revelation 13:16-18), though this mark was not necessarily a physical mark but the signs that showed who a person gave his loyalty to. Now, Paul didn’t scribe Jesus’ name literally in his body, but his body did show the fact that he served Jesus. And Christians should also show the marks of their God in their lives (Revelation 14:1). This idea of marking a person as to who he serves has been used before in Ezekiel 9:3-7.
Paul isn’t primarily speaking of external marks on his body but of marks in his body. The Greek word en can be translated as either “on” or “in.” Sin leaves marks on the practitioner (Jeremiah 2:22). God marks those sinners for correction (Habakkuk 1:12; Jude 4). If God marks, who can stand (Psalm 130:3)? What misery (Job 10:14-15)! However, God can change the marks of condemnation by the blood of Christ! We now show new signs of acceptance by the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-25) when we put on a changed life (Colossians 3:12-17).
What will you choose to show to the world? The scars of a sin-filled life? Or, the marks of service to God (James 2:18)?
Salutation (Galatians 6:18)
All of Paul’s letters bear a similar salutation near the end of his letters. They are one of the indicators that the letter was from Paul (II Thessalonians 3:17-18).