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Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians (1535)
by Martin Luther
Translated by Theodore Graebner

                                 CHAPTER 6

  VERSE 1. Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault ye which are
  spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness.

IF we carefully weigh the words of the Apostle we perceive that he does not
speak of doctrinal faults and errors, but of much lesser faults by which a
person is overtaken through the weakness of his flesh. This explains why
the Apostle chooses the softer term "fault." To minimize the offense still
more, as if he meant to excuse it altogether and to take the whole blame
away from the person who has committed the fault, he speaks of him as
having been "overtaken," seduced by the devil and of the flesh. As if he
meant to say, "What is more human than for a human being to fall, to be
deceived and to err?" This comforting sentence at one time saved my life.
Because Satan always assails both the purity of doctrine which he
endeavors to take away by schisms and the purity of life which he spoils
with his continual temptations to sin, Paul explains how the fallen should
be treated. Those who are strong are to raise up the fallen in the spirit of

This ought to be borne in mind particularly by the ministers of the Word
in order that they may not forget the parental attitude which Paul here
requires of those who have the keeping of souls. Pastors and ministers
must, of course, rebuke the fallen, but when they see that the fallen are
sorry they are to comfort them by excusing the fault as well as they can. As
unyielding as the Holy Spirit is in the matter of maintaining and defending
the doctrine of faith, so mild and merciful is He toward men for their sins
as long as sinners repent.

The Pope's synagogue teaches the exact opposite of what the Apostle  commands.
The clerics are tyrants and butchers of men's conscience. Every  small offense
is closely scrutinized. To justify the cruel inquisitiveness they  quote the
statement of Pope Gregory: "It is the property of good lives to be  afraid of
a fault where there is no fault." "Our censors must be feared, even  if they
are unjust and wrong." On these pronouncements the papists base  their
doctrine of excommunication. Rather than terrify and condemn  men's
consciences, they ought to raise them up and comfort them with the  truth.

Let the ministers of the Gospel learn from Paul how to deal with those
who have sinned. "Brethren," he says, "if any man be overtaken with a
fault, do not aggravate his grief, do not scold him, do not condemn him,
but lift him up and gently restore his faith. If you see a brother despondent
over a sin he has committed, run up to him, reach out your hand to him,
comfort him with the Gospel and embrace him like a mother. When you
meet a willful sinner who does not care, go after him and rebuke him
sharply." But this is not the treatment for one who has been overtaken by a
sin and is sorry. He must be dealt with in the spirit of meekness and not in
the spirit of severity. A repentant sinner is not to be given gall and vinegar
to drink.

  VERSE 1. Considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.
This consideration is very much needed to put a stop to the severity of
some pastors who show the fallen no mercy. St. Augustine says: "There is
no sin which one person has committed, that another person may not
commit it also." We stand in slippery places. If we become overbearing and
neglect our duty, it is easy enough to fall into sin. In the book entitled
"The Lives of Our Fathers," one of the Fathers is reported to have said
when informed that a brother had fallen into adultery: "He fell yesterday; I
may fall today." Paul therefore warns the pastors not to be too rigorous and
unmerciful towards offenders, but to show them every affection, always
remembering: "This man fell into sin; I may fall into worse sin. If those
who are always so eager to condemn others would investigate themselves
they would find that the sins of others are motes in comparison to their

"Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." (I Cor.
10:12.) If David who was a hero of faith and did so many great things for the
Lord, could fall so badly that in spite of his advanced age he was overcome
by youthful lust after he had withstood so many different temptations with
which the Lord had tested his faith, who are we to think that we are more
stable? These object lessons of God should convince us that of all things
God hates pride.

  VERSE 2. Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of

The Law of Christ is the Law of love. Christ gave us no other law than this
law of mutual love: "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love  one
another." To love means to bear another's burdens. Christians must  have
strong shoulders to bear the burdens of their fellow Christians.  Faithful
pastors recognize many errors and offenses in the church, which  they oversee.
In civil affairs an official has to overlook much if he is fit to  rule. If we
can overlook our own shortcomings and wrong-doings, we  ought to overlook the
shortcomings of others in accordance with the  words, "Bear ye one another's

Those who fail to do so expose their lack of understanding of the law of
Christ. Love, according to Paul, "believeth all things, hopeth all things,
endureth all things." This commandment is not meant for those who deny
Christ; neither is it meant for those who continue to live in sin. Only those
who are willing to hear the Word of God and then inadvertently fall into
sin to their own great sorrow and regret, carry the burdens which the
Apostle encourages us to bear. Let us not be hard on them. If Christ did not
punish them, what right have we to do it?

  VERSE 3. For if a man think himself to be something, when he is
  nothing, he deceiveth himself.

Again the Apostle takes the authors of sects to task for being hard-hearted
tyrants. They despise the weak and demand that everything be just so.
Nothing suits them except what they do. Unless you eulogize whatever
they say or do, unless you adapt yourself to their slightest whim, they
become angry with you. They are that way because, as St. Paul says, they
"think themselves to be something," they think they know all about the

Paul has their number when he calls them zeros. They deceive themselves
with their self-suggested wisdom and holiness. They have no understanding
of Christ or the law of Christ. By insisting that everything be perfect they
not only fail to bear the burdens of the weak, they actually offend the weak
by their severity. People begin to hate and shun them and  refuse to accept
counsel or comfort from them.

Paul describes these stiff and ungracious saints accurately when he says of
them, "They think themselves to be something." Bloated by their own silly
ideas and schemes they entertain a pretty fair opinion of themselves, when
in reality they amount to nothing.

  VERSE 4. But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have
  rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another.

In this verse the Apostle continues his attack upon the vainglorious
sectarians. Although this passage may be applied to any work, the Apostle
has in mind particularly the work of the ministry.

The trouble with these seekers after glory is that they never stop to consider
whether their ministry is straightforward and faithful. All they think about
is whether people will like and praise them. Theirs is a threefold sin. First,
they are greedy of praise. Secondly, they are very sly and wily in suggesting
that the ministry of other pastors is not what it should be. By way of
contrast they hope to rise in the estimation of the people. Thirdly, once they
have established a reputation for themselves they become so chesty that
they stop short of nothing. When they have won the praise of men, pride
leads them on to belittle the work of other men and to applaud their own.
In this artful manner they hoodwink the people who rather enjoy to see
their former pastors taken down a few notches by such upstarts.

"Let a minister be faithful in his office," is the apostolic injunction. "Let
him not seek his own glory or look for praise. Let him desire to do good
work and to preach the Gospel in all its purity. Whether an ungrateful
world appreciates his efforts is to give him no concern because, after all,
he is in the ministry not for his own glory but for the glory of Christ."

A faithful minister cares little what people think of him, as long as his
conscience approves of him. The approval of his own good conscience is
the best praise a minister can have. To know that we have taught the Word
of God and administered the sacraments rightly is to have a glory that
cannot be taken away.

The glory which the sectarians seek is quite unstable, because it rests in the
whim of people. If Paul had had to depend on this kind of glory for his
ministry he would have despaired when he saw the many offenses and
evils following in the wake of his preaching.

If we had to feel that the success of our ministry depended upon our
popularity with men we would die, because we are not popular. On the
contrary, we are hated by the whole world with rare bitterness. Nobody
praises us. Everybody finds fault with us. But we can glory in the Lord and
attend to our work cheerfully. Who cares whether our efforts please or
displease the devil? Who cares whether the world praises or hates us? We
go ahead "by honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report." (II Cor.

The Gospel entails persecution. The Gospel is that kind of a doctrine.
Furthermore, the disciples of the Gospel are not all dependable. Many
embrace the Gospel today and tomorrow discard it. To preach the Gospel
for praise is bad business especially when people stop praising you. Find
your praise in the testimony of a good conscience.

This passage may also be applied to other work besides the ministry. When
an official, a servant, a teacher minds his business and performs his duty
faithfully without concerning himself about matters that are not in his line
he may rejoice in himself. The best commendation of any work is to know
that one has done the work that God has given him well and that God is
pleased with his effort.

  VERSE 5. Every man shall bear his own burden.

That means: For anybody to covet praise is foolish because the praise of
men will be of no help to you in the hour of death. Before the judgment
throne of Christ everybody will have to bear his own burden. As it is the
praise of men stops when we die. Before the eternal Judge it is not praise
that counts but your own conscience.

True, the consciousness of work well done cannot quiet the conscience. But
it is well to have the testimony of a good conscience in the last judgment
that we have performed our duty faithfully in accordance with God's will.

For the suppression of pride we need the strength of prayer. What man
even if he is a Christian is not delighted with his own praise? Only the
Holy Spirit can preserve us from the misfortune of pride.

  VERSE 6. Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that
  teacheth in all good things.

Now the Apostle also addresses the hearers of the Word requesting them
to bestow "all good things" upon those who have taught them the Gospel. I
have often wondered why all the apostles reiterated this request with such
embarrassing frequency. In the papacy I saw the people give generously for
the erection and maintenance of luxurious church buildings and for the
sustenance of men appointed to the idolatrous service of Rome. I saw
bishops and priests grow rich until they possessed the choicest real estate.
I thought then that Paul's admonitions were overdone. I thought he should
have requested the people to curtail their contributions. I saw how the
generosity of the people of the Church was encouraging covetousness on
the part of the clergy. I know better now.

As often as I read the admonitions of the Apostle to the effect that the
churches should support their pastors and raise funds for the relief of
impoverished Christians I am half ashamed to think that the great Apostle
Paul had to touch upon this subject so frequently. In writing to the
Corinthians he needed two chapters to impress this matter upon them. I
would not want to discredit Wittenberg as Paul discredited the
Corinthians by urging them at such length to contribute to the relief of the
poor. It seems to be a by-product of the Gospel that nobody wants to
contribute to the maintenance of the Gospel ministry. When the doctrine
of the devil is preached people are prodigal in their willing support of
those who deceive them.

We have come to understand why it is so necessary to repeat the
admonition of this verse. When Satan cannot suppress the preaching of
the Gospel by force he tries to accomplish his purpose by striking the
ministers of the Gospel with poverty. He curtails their income to such an
extent that they are forced out of the ministry because they cannot live by
the Gospel. Without ministers to proclaim the Word of God the people go
wild like savage beasts.

Paul's admonition that the hearers of the Gospel share all good things with
their pastors and teachers is certainly in order. To the Corinthians he
wrote: "If we have sown unto you spiritual things is it a great thing if we
shall reap your carnal things?" (I Cor. 9:11.) In the old days when the Pope
reigned supreme everybody paid plenty for masses. The begging friars
brought in their share. Commercial priests counted the daily offerings.
From these extortions our countrymen are now delivered by the Gospel.
You would think they would be grateful for their emancipation and give
generously for the support of the ministry of the Gospel and the relief of
impoverished Christians. Instead, they rob Christ. When the members of a
Christian congregation permit their pastor to struggle along in penury, they
are worse than heathen.

Before very long they are going to suffer for their ingratitude. They
will lose their temporal and spiritual possessions. This sin merits the
severest punishment. The reason why the churches of Galatia, Corinth,
and other places were troubled by false apostles was this, that they had so
 little regard for their faithful ministers. You cannot refuse to give God a
penny who gives you all good things, even life eternal, and turn around
and give the devil, the giver of all evil and death eternal, pieces of gold,
and not be punished for it.

The words "in all good things: are not to be understood to mean that
people are to give all they have to their ministers, but that they should
support them liberally and give them enough to live well.

  VERSE 7. Be not deceived; God is not mocked.

The Apostle is so worked up over this matter that he is not content with a
mere admonition. He utters the threatening words, "God is not mocked."
Our countrymen think it good sport to despise the ministry. They like to
treat the ministers like servants and slaves. "Be not deceived," warns the
Apostle, "God is not mocked." God will not be mocked in His ministers.
Christ said: "He that despiseth you, despiseth me." (Luke 10:16.) To Samuel
God said: "They have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me." (I Sam.
8:7.) Be careful, you scoffers. God may postpone His punishment for a time,
but He will find you out in time, and punish you for despising His
servants. You cannot laugh at God. Maybe the people are little impressed by
the threats of God, but in the hour of their death they shall know whom
they have mocked. God is not ever going to let His ministers starve. When
the rich suffer the pangs of hunger God will feed His own servants. "In the
days of famine they shall be satisfied." (Ps. 37:19.)

  VERSE 7. For whatever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.

These passages are all meant to benefit us ministers. I must say I do not
find much pleasure in explaining these verses. I am made to appear as if I
am speaking for my own benefit. If a minister preaches on money he is
likely to be accused of covetousness. Still people must be told these things
that they may know their duty over against their pastors. Our Savior says:
"Eating and drinking such things as they give; for the laborer is worthy of
his hire." (Luke 10:7.) And Paul says elsewhere: "Do ye not know that they
which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple?" and
they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar? Even so hath the
Lord ordained, that they which preach the gospel should live of the
gospel." (I Cor. 9:13, 14.)

  VERSE 8. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap
  corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap
  everlasting life.

This simile of sowing and reaping also refers to the proper support of
ministers. "He that soweth to the Spirit," i.e., he that honors the ministers
of God is doing a spiritual thing and will reap everlasting life. "He that
soweth to the flesh," i.e., he that has nothing left for the ministers of God,
but only thinks of himself, that person will reap of the flesh corruption,
not only in this life but also in the life to come. The Apostle wants to stir
up his readers to be generous to their pastors.

That the ministers of the Church need support any man with common
sense can see. Though this support is something physical the Apostle does
not hesitate to call it sowing to the Spirit. When people scrape up
everything they can lay their hands on and keep everything for themselves
the Apostle calls it a sowing to the flesh. He pronounces those who sow to
the Spirit blessed for this life and the life to come, while those who sow to
the flesh are accursed now and forever.

  VERSE 9. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we
  shall reap, if we faint not.

The Apostle intends soon to close his Epistle and therefore repeats once
more the general exhortation unto good deeds. He means to say "Let us do
good not only to the ministers of the Gospel, but to everybody, and let us
do it without weariness." It is easy enough to do good once or twice, but to
keep on doing good without getting disgusted with the ingratitude of those
whom we have benefited, that is not so easy. Therefore the Apostle does
not only admonish us to do good, but to do good untiringly. For our
encouragement he adds the promise: "For in due season we shall reap, if
we faint not." "Wait for the harvest and then you will reap the reward of
your sowing to the Spirit. Think of that when you do good and the
ingratitude of men will not stop you from doing good."

  VERSE 10. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all
  men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.

In this verse the Apostle summarizes his instructions on the proper
support of the ministers and of the poor. He paraphrases the words of
Christ: "I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the
night cometh, when no man can work." (John 9:4.) Our good deeds are to
be directed primarily at those who share the Christian faith with us, "the
household of faith," as Paul calls them, among whom the ministers rank
first as objects of our well doing.

  VERSE 11. Ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with mine
  own hand.

With these words the Apostle intends to draw the Galatians on. "I never,"
he says, "wrote such a long letter with my own hand to any of the other
churches." His other epistles he dictated, and only subscribed his greetings
and his signature with his own hand.

  VERSE 12. As many as desire to make a fair shew in the flesh, they
  constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer
  persecution for the cross of Christ.

Paul once more scores the false apostles in an effort to draw the Galatians
away from their false doctrine. "The teachers you have now do not seek the
glory of Christ and the salvation of your souls, but only their own glory.
They avoid the Cross. They do not understand what they teach."

These three counts against the false apostles are of so serious a nature that
no Christian could have fellowship with them. But not all the Galatians
obeyed the warning of Paul.

The Apostle's attack upon the false apostles was not unjustified. Neither
are our attacks upon the papacy. When we call the Pope the Antichrist and
his minions an evil brood, we do not slander them. We merely judge them
by the touchstone of God's Word recorded in the first chapter of this
Epistle: "Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel
unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be

  VERSE 13. For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the
  law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your

In other words: "I shall tell you what kind of teachers you have now. They
avoid the Cross, they teach no certain truths. They think they are
performing the Law, but they are not. They have not the Holy Spirit and
without Him nobody can keep the Law." Where the Holy Ghost does not
dwell in men there dwells an unclean spirit, a spirit that despises God and
turns every effort at keeping the Law into a double sin.

Mark what the Apostle is saying: Those who are circumcised do not fulfill
the Law. No self-righteous person ever does. To work, pray, or suffer apart
from Christ is to work, pray, and to suffer in vain, "for whatsoever is not of
faith is sin." It does a person no good to be circumcised, to fast, to pray,
or to do anything, if in his heart he despises Christ.

"Why do the false apostles insist that you should be circumcised? Not for
the sake of your righteousness," although they give that impression, but
"that they may glory in your flesh." Now what sort of an ambition is that?
Worst of all, they force circumcision upon you for no other reason than the
satisfaction they get out of your submission.

  VERSE 14. But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our
  Lord Jesus Christ.

"God forbid," says the Apostle, "that I should glory in anything as
dangerous as the false apostles glory in because what they glory in is a
poison that destroys many souls, and I wish it were buried in hell. Let them
glory in the flesh if they wish and let them perish in their glory. As for me
I glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." He expresses the same sentiment
in the fifth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, where he says: "We glory
in tribulations"; and in the twelfth chapter of the Second Epistle to the
Corinthians: "Most gladly, therefore, will l rather glory in my infirmities."
According to these expressions the glory of a Christian consists in
tribulations, reproaches, and infirmities.

And this is our glory today with the Pope and the whole world persecuting
us and trying to kill us. We know that we suffer these things not because
we are thieves and murderers, but for Christ's sake whose Gospel we
proclaim. We have no reason to complain. The world, of course, looks
upon us as unhappy and accursed creatures, but Christ for whose sake we
suffer pronounces us blessed and bids us to rejoice. "Blessed are ye," says
He, "when men shall revile you, and persecute you. and shall say all
manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding
glad." (Matt. 5:11, 12.)

By the Cross of Christ is not to be understood here the two pieces of wood
to which He was nailed, but all the afflictions of the believers whose
sufferings are Christ's sufferings. Elsewhere Paul writes: "Who now rejoice
in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions
of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church." (Col. 1:24.)

It is good for us to know this lest we sink into despair when our opponents
persecute us. Let us bear the cross for Christ's sake. It will ease our
sufferings and make them light as Christ says, Matthew 11:30, "My yoke is
easy, and my burden is light."

  VERSE 14. By whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.

"The world is crucified unto me," means that I condemn the world. "I am
crucified unto the world," means that the world in turn condemns me. I
detest the doctrine, the self-righteousness, and the works of the world. The
world in turn detests my doctrine and condemns me as a revolutionary
heretic. Thus the world is crucified unto us and we unto the world.

The monks imagined the world was crucified unto them when they
entered the monastery. Not the world, but Christ, is crucified in the

In this verse Paul expresses his hatred of the world. The hatred was
mutual. As Paul, so we are to despise the world and the devil. With Christ
on our side we can defy him and say: "Satan, the more you hurt me, the
more I oppose you."

  VERSE 15. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything,
  nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.

Since circumcision and uncircumcision are contrary matters we would
expect the Apostle to say that one or the other might accomplish some
good. But he denies that either of them do any good. Both are of no value
because in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avail

Reason fails to understand this, "for the natural man receiveth not the
things of the Spirit of God." (I Cor. 2:14.) It therefore seeks righteousness
in externals. However, we learn from the Word of God that there is
nothing under the sun that can make us righteous before God and a new
creature except Christ Jesus.

A new creature is one in whom the image of God has been renewed. Such
a creature cannot be brought into life by good works, but by Christ alone.
Good works may improve the outward appearance, but they cannot
produce a new creature. A new creature is the work of the Holy Ghost, who
imbues our hearts with faith, love, and other Christian virtues, grants us
the strength to subdue the flesh and to reject the righteousness of the

  VERSE 16. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them,
  and mercy.

This is the rule by which we ought to live, "that ye put on the new man,
which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness." (Eph. 4:24.)
Those who walk after this rule enjoy the favor of God, the forgiveness of
their sins, and peace of conscience. Should they ever be overtaken by any
sin, the mercy of God supports them.

  VERSE 17. From henceforth let no man trouble me.

The Apostle speaks these words with a certain amount of indignation. "I
have preached the Gospel to you in conformity with the revelation which I
received from Jesus Christ. If you do not care for it, very well. Trouble me
no more. Trouble me no more."

  VERSE 17. For I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.

"The marks on my body indicate whose servant I am. If I was anxious to
please men, if I approved of circumcision and good works as factors in our
salvation, if I would take delight in your flesh as the false apostles do, I
would not have these marks on my body. But because I am the servant of
Jesus Christ and publicly declare that no person can obtain the salvation of
his soul outside of Christ, I must bear the badge of my Lord. These marks
were given to me against my will as decorations from the devil and for no
other merit but that I made known Jesus."

Of the marks of suffering which he bore in his body the Apostle makes
frequent mention in his epistles. "I think," he says, "that God hath set forth
us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a
spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men." (I Cor. 4:9.) Again,
"Unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are
buffeted, and have no certain dwellingplace; And labour, working with our
hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it; being
defamed, we intreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the
offscouring of all things unto this day." (I Cor. 4:11-13.)

  VERSE 18. Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your
  spirit. Amen.

This is the Apostle's farewell. He ends his Epistle as he began it by wishing
the Galatians the grace of God. We can hear him say: "I have presented
Christ to you, I have pleaded with you, I have reproved you, I have
overlooked nothing that I thought might be of benefit to you. All I can do
now is to pray that our Lord Jesus Christ would bless my Epistle and grant
you the guidance of the Holy Ghost."

The Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior, who gave me the strength and the grace
to explain this Epistle and granted you the grace to hear it, preserve and
strengthen us in faith unto the day of our redemption. To Him, the Father
and the Son and the Holy Spirit, be glory, world without end. Amen.

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