by Darrel Cline (darrelcline biblical-thinking.org)
Chapter # 3 Paragraph # 1 Study # 4 November 6, 2011 Dayton, Texas
4 Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain.
5 He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?
1901 ASV Translation:
4 Did ye suffer so many things in vain? if it be indeed in vain.
5 He therefore that supplieth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?
I. The Six Questions.
A. Who bewitched you? [See Notes for Oct. 16, 2011(125)]
B. Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? [See Notes for Oct. 23, 2011(127)]
C. Are ye so foolish? (A repeat of the first part of 3:1 upon which we will not expand because the Notes for Oct. 16, 2011(125) seem to us to be sufficient coverage).
D. Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? (A repeat of 3:2 upon which we will expand because of its introduction of a critical and fundamental principle). [See Notes for Oct. 30, 2011(129)]
E. Have ye suffered so many things in vain?
1. This question seems to come flying in from left field. What has happened that seems to be "in vain" and why does Paul raise the issue at this point?
2. This is Paul's only use of this particular verb in this letter. This makes it less than a "major theme". But this use is in the paragraph wherein he raises six questions about whether the Galatians "get it" in regard to Christ's "suffering".
3. In other letters Paul makes claims that "fit" this question. In 2 Timothy 3:12 he declares that all who will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. In Philippians 1:29 he says that it is a "given" that we will not only "believe" but also "suffer". In 1 Thessalonians 2:14 he commends the Thessalonians for having "suffered" for Christ as a pretty "common" reality.
4. At the heart of it all, though, is this question: What does Paul's question regarding suffering "in vain" imply?
a. The insertion of "in vain" puts the issue of "suffering" into the "this is to accomplish that" realm. If "suffering" has no objective, it cannot be "in vain". If "suffering" does not achieve its objective, it is said to be "in vain".
b. Though "suffering" is a universal human aversion, and the creator of all kinds of bad theology, the Bible is not silent about the fact that it is an integral aspect of the will of God in dealing with sinners (1 Peter 5:10 et. al.). It is even so much an integral aspect of His will that even His own sinless Son did not escape it as a "teaching" device (Hebrews 5:8). It is, after all, only the godly who do not have a strong aversion to suffering and do not actually mind its processes. Only the whiny, self-absorbed, sinner complains when he/she suffers.
c. The question at this point in Paul's set of questions, however, strongly implies that there is supposed to be a "settling" effect to suffering that enables a "believer" to become more confident, not less.
1) There has to be a legitimate link between the "point" of suffering and the effort by the Galatians to return to a "fleshly" methodology. Otherwise, Paul would not have raised the issue immediately after his question, "...are ye now made perfect by the flesh?"
2) The question, then, is this: what does "suffering" have to do with refraining from fleshliness? How is someone supposed to learn to remain committed to "the hearing of faith" by "suffering"?
a) Is Paul suggesting that "suffering" arises from "fleshliness" and, thus, one should learn from "suffering from fleshliness" not to be fleshly?
b) Or is Paul suggesting that "suffering" arises from "spirituality" and, thus, one should recognize that one ought to continue to be "spiritual" (so he/she can suffer more??).
c) It is a fact that Paul taught that "suffering" was an inescapable consequence to applying a legitimate methodology to living (2 Timothy 3:12). It is also a fact, however, that no one comes to faith out of a setting where there is no suffering.
d) So, is Paul claiming that the Galatians had "suffered" under "fleshliness" so that they should know better than to return to that methodology, or is he claiming that their "suffering" was "proof" that they were on the right track and, therefore, ought to not leave that track (an argument he made in 2 Thessalonians 1:5)?
e) The answer must lie somewhere within the biblical teaching regarding the motivational impact of "suffering" and the biblical teaching regarding the "purposes" of "suffering". On the one hand, the suffering that sinners endure is supposed to provide them with a hunger to find a better way to live (this is the root of the rather shocking observation of Revelation 9:20-21). On the other hand, the suffering of saints is supposed to provide them with a sure confidence that they are living properly and should not be dissuaded by it (Note Acts 5:41). So, "sinners" flee "suffering" and "saints" embrace it. Do we live in a weird world, or what? Is there a common thread here? It appears to be so: the "suffering" of those alienated from God is supposed to be sufficient to get them to seek Him; and the "suffering" of those embraced by Him is supposed to be discounted by them in favor of the embrace. Thus, there is a "suffering" that has to do with the pains of alienation from God, and there is a "suffering" that is imposed upon the godly by those in that alienation.
f) Conclusion: Paul asked the Galatians if they "suffered so much in vain" on the heels of his "are ye so foolish?" question. His meaning is completely dependent upon what he had in mind as "suffering" (what they had experienced before conversion in their alienated state, or what they had experienced after their conversion from others). Since his question is about the methodology of "being perfected", we are pushed in the direction of "post conversion experience" because he is concerned that they "have departed from Him Who called them"(1:6) and what they have done since then in order to "be perfected". Thus, we conclude that he was asking about the many things they had suffered after their conversion that moved them closer to God (i.e. "perfected them") and whether they were so "foolish" as to let that good result dissuade them from walking in the Spirit. Somehow, in their minds, they had begun to think that they would not have to "suffer so many things" if they could get "on the good side of God" by submission to Law.
F. He therefore that supplieth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? (A repeat of 3:2)