by Darrel Cline (darrelcline biblical-thinking.org)
Chapter # 6 Paragraph # 1 Study # 3 September 8, 2013 Dayton, Texas
3 For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself.
4 But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another.
5 For every man shall bear his own burden.
1901 ASV Translation:
3 For if a man thinketh himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself.
4 But let each man prove his own work, and then shall he have his glorying in regard of himself alone, and not of his neighbor.
5 For each man shall bear his own burden.
I. Paul's Declaration of "Nothingness".
A. Paul is clearly anticipating a certain level of arrogance in some of those to whom he writes.
1. The "setting" for this anticipation is his instruction for the restoration of the "overcome".
2. That "setting" includes the cautionary words: "...considering thyself lest thou also be tempted".
3. It seems apparent that Paul is anticipating the possibility that it will be the "legalists" among his readers who will "jump on" his instruction with alacrity. They are, after all, the root problem in Galatia and it would be natural for them to be critical and condemning of any who happened to be tempted into sin and guilt.
B. His words are "If anyone thinks (himself) to be something when he is nothing...".
1. He accomplishes two things here simultaneously, walking a tightrope: he squashes the inclination of the self-righteous; and he reveals the most fundamental issue of the "attitude" of "the spiritual" to be that of "self-nothingness".
a. The "tightrope" is this: when a person "thinks" he/she is "something", he/she will act in the flesh, and when he/she "thinks" he/she is "nothing", he/she will be sorely tempted to simply do nothing for the fallen brother/sister because "nothings" are unqualified to do "something".
b. There is pride in both of these responses. Those who think they are "something" when they are not are easily seen as "proud". Those who think they are "nothing" are sorely tempted to dismiss Paul's fundamental doctrine of God's use of the weak to confound the wise. It is only when we are "nothing" that we can be useful to God to permit His use of our bodies (particularly our tongues) to express Himself. He is all and in all and we have a desperate need to understand this. There is just as much "pride" in the unbelieving dismissal of God's willingness to use the "nothings" to accomplish "something" as there is in the proud assumption that a person is ever "something".
2. His words run completely contrary to modern pseudo-psychology wherein we must have "a good self image" in order to be productive people.
a. The bottom line: human beings are "nothing".
b. The major "hit": the human spirit longs for "recognition" and this statement makes such a thing impossible on the basis of "being" or "doing".
C. The "nothingness" of human beings.
1. What, exactly, does Paul mean here? That Christ was crucified for "nothings"? That God's love for human beings is a love for "nothings"?
2. The specific context is the issue of people being exhorted to "bear one another's burdens" in the specific context of believers getting overwhelmed by their own transgressions. These very specific issues raise certain fundamental theological realities. The Scriptures never present human beings as independent agents (a most basic and fundamental implication of being a "creature" -- creatures are, by definition, dependent for the simple reason that not even God can create "God" and He, alone, needs no one else).
3. This leads to a very solid conclusion: no "creature" can "be" or "do" as a "something of independent status". This means that no one can ever legitimately view him/her self as the significant element in the being or doing in which he/she is involved. Even the evil is rooted in "another" to a significant degree so that even the wicked cannot boast of their actions.
4. Therefore: "being nothing" specifically means "being totally without any basis for any sense of personal superiority".
a. Thus, God can legitimately "love" to a phenomenal degree (up to, and including, the death of Himself in the sense of the Cross) persons who are "nothings" because that "nothingness" has "nothing" to do with a person's intrinsic "value". Any who attempt to make "value" a "production-based" reality are completely void of biblical understanding. We are absolutely incapable of "production", but the biblical claim is that God "loves" us. His "love", then, is not rooted in what we can do.
b. For human beings, for whom all "value" is rooted in what another can "do" for them, this is beyond comprehension; but for God, since "value" is not rooted in what a creature can "do" for Him, "value" is rooted in a different soil than "performance".
II. Paul's Use of "Deceiveth".
A. This is the only place in the New Testament this particular verb is found. Its noun form is found in Titus 1:10.
B. The etymology of the word indicates the misleading of the "understanding" so that one is found going down a false path.