by Darrel Cline (darrelcline biblical-thinking.org)
Chapter # 3 Paragraph # 1 Study # 5 November 20, 2011 Dayton, Texas
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:
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? [See Notes for Nov. 6, 2011(131)].
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)
1. With this question Paul reinforces his thesis that God responds to faith as opposed to works.
2. The question shifts the issue somewhat, but holds the methodological question without variation.
a. Instead of "received ye" (3:2), or "having begun" (3:3), it is now "does He minister...and work".
1) At issue in this text is God's "ministry" and "work".
2) The issue of "ministry" is bound up in a word only used in five texts in the New Testament. It is a word that shows up in texts where the main idea is that of someone "giving" something to another, but it is not the typical word for "to give".
a) 2 Corinthians 9:10 uses the term to identify "God" as the One Who "ministereth seed to the sower" in a metaphor wherein "seed" is provided. The thing about this is that seed is "provided" through an extremely well-known methodology of seeds being bound up in the "fruitfulness" of the plants from which "seeds" come. In other words, the "provision" is a built-in part of creation-function and "God" is seen as the "Provider" in the sense that He created the process by which seeds come throughout His creation (Genesis 1:11). Thus, "ministereth" in this text means "provides through a creation-function that is not normally frustrated". The initial impact of this context is a sense of "distance" from God as the "Actor". The action is attributable to Him, but the actual provision of seed to the sower is quite a distance down the pipeline from what initially transpired so that seeds show up eventually.
b) Colossians 2:19 uses a different metaphor, but produces an exact replication of the sense found in 2 Corinthians 9:10: "ministereth" means "to provide through a most basic creation function" at a level so close to the "bottom-line" (cells actually getting nourished) that most folks never even think about the Initial Cause. Paul, it seems, viewed his word ("ministereth") as, perhaps, accomplishing the most basic "intended result" of an original "cause" (seeds are intended to produce seeds, and the Head's intent is to nourish every cell in the body).
c) 2 Peter 1:5 carries this concept within it also: Peter considered "ministering" -- translated "add" -- to be a root level issue of intended result. "Faith", Peter seems to be saying, is the most basic level of "how" one pursues all downline "results" no matter how long a time is involved or how many incremental steps have to be taken.
d) 2 Peter 1:11 is the last time we find this word in the New Testament and it clearly makes "supply" a matter of "initial action" that produces, through many stages, an "intended result".
e) Our conclusion, then, is this: Paul characterized God as the One Who provides His Spirit (after a very long time and after a great host of incremental steps) as an initial "seed" Whose intentions are to replicate Himself in the attitudes and actions of the person in whom He dwells. His point is this: "Life" begins when God "supplies" His Spirit, but the level of quality in experience that the recipient experiences is not very great early on. The "point" of the "point" is, however, that if God supplies the Spirit as an Initial Element of Life "by faith", then, obviously, the modus operandi of God is "faith", not "works". But, Paul strongly implies in Galatians 3:25 that "faith" is not a simple issue that can arise immediately, because its complexity requires a great amount of time and many, many intervening stages.
3) Additionally, Paul inserts the divine activity of "working miracles" as a "norm" of God's dealings with His people.
a) The question, then, becomes: What constitutes a "miracle" in Paul's mind? This is a word that is used 120 times in the New Testament and is only translated "miracle" seven of those times.
b) His words are actually "He Who energizes powerful events" in you.
i. Interestingly, the word translated "worketh" is used in two other places in this letter and we might conclude from those places that Paul was considering God's "works of power" (translated "miracles") when he chose that term.
ii. In 2:8 God "worked" to make both Peter and Paul "apostles", and in 5:6 "faith" is characterized as "working" through "love" as the only approach to God that "avails" anything.
c) Tragically, most people do not realize that God's "powerful events" are not so much physical as they are phenomenal. Is it a greater "work of power" to heal physical eyes so that the blind can see or to open the closed understanding of the heart/mind complex of a man so that he can understand? Which takes the greater "power"? If Paul could get God to heal the physical diseases of the Galatians, but ignore their spiritual poverty, would he be satisfied? Or, if God were to open the hearts and minds of the Galatians to "Life by the Spirit", but ignore their physical aches and pains, would Paul be content?
d) The point seems to be thus: "producing works of power" is the "norm" for God in the lives of His people, but those "works" are far more focused upon character changes than in phenomenal physical events.
b. The method remains consistent throughout: Is God responding to faith or works? The issue here is not a sideline issue. Man's corruption is profound. If God has to respond to "works", man is in serious trouble in that none of his "works" can hope to measure up to the standards of "holiness" (i.e., "perfection"), and he has a potent penchant for refusing to change some of his most fundamental character flaws.
1) But what about Paul's end-of-life claim that "the righteous Judge shall give me a crown of righteousness" (2 Timothy 4:8)? Does this not tie Paul's "life" to "Justice"? Actually, not at all in terms of Paul's fundamental New Testament "life by grace" thesis because the issue in that text is Paul's "I have kept the faith" claim. "The Faith" is the content of doctrine which declares how one is made righteous in the eyes of God. In that content of doctrine, the methodology is "by grace through faith" (Romans 4:16). Paul is not claiming that he will get a "crown of righteousness" because he has lived "righteously". He is claiming that he will get that "crown" because that is the promise of "the faith", and he "believes" ("has kept") it.
2) But does not Paul's thesis that the "fruit of the Spirit" will produce godliness in the lives of believers mean that those believers' works will measure up to the standards of holiness? Does not John's thesis that those who are born of God cannot sin mean that the actions of those born of God are "perfect"? Yes and No. The answer is "Yes" if we keep in mind that any "work" that a person's body performs that is sufficiently righteous to pass the test of "standards of holiness" is not of that person, but of the Spirit of Jesus within that person (this is the thesis of Galatians 2:20). If it is the Spirit Who produces the work, no man can claim to be its origin. Alternatively, the answer is "No" if the meaning of "works" is tied to the actions that a person's body produces as a result of that person's "spirit" and not of the Spirit of God. I can only legitimately lay claim to some "act" if I have been the one to actually produce it. It is blasphemous for any man to lay claim to a "work" that is fundamentally "of the Spirit of God", even if that work is produced out of that man's body.
3) Additionally, the bottom line in relational interaction between persons is actively corrupted when "works" is the fundamental motivation. "Works" is, inherently, manipulative because it seeks to use "justice" in order to "keep the relationship on an even keel" (as soon as a "good" is done to another, that other falls under obligation to reciprocate: this is nothing more or less than "you owe me"). "Faith", on the other hand, simply operates on the basis of "Truth". I can count on anyone who is operating by Truth, but I cannot count on anyone who is seeking to put me in their debt.