Galatians 5:26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
Paul has spend the entirely of Chapter 5 encouraging and counseling the various Galatian churches about the practical application of the theology he presented in Chapters 1-4. He has discussed freedom in Christ, and walking/living by the Holy Spirit. Those are supernatural, life changing concepts. Yet, at every turn there is a warning – don’t let your freedom allow yourself to indulge in your sin nature. If you walk in the Spirit, the acts of the sinful nature should cease, the fruit of the spirit should manifest. There is an underlying, interwoven theme throughout of spiritual discipline, as seen, for example, in the previous verse.
Again, it must be emphasized that this is not the kind of discipline borne out of simply following rules or striving – Paul has spent the bulk of this chapter deriding the concept of going back to a relationship with God based on obedience to the Law, or to the rules, or on outward performance instead of an inner change. It is a discipline borne out of habit – and a habit that is founded on a RELATIONSHIP. I would compare it to a marriage. There are things, concepts, ideas, customs, traditions etc. that my wife and I have developed with each other over the years. It may range from the mundane – who makes coffee in the morning, or who regularly drives when we go out together in the car – to how we communicate, how we react to a crisis, how we make important decisions etc. We know each other so well, that all of this becomes second nature. That is how its got to become in our relationship with God.
Verse 25 makes that very connection. The underlying theme of Galatians is to set aside religion, tradition, the Law, ethnicity, politics etc. and exchange all of that for a RELATIONSHIP. A living relationship with God, through Jesus, which then transforms our relationship with each other. Paul emphasizes over and over in all of his writings in the New Testament that the barometer of our relationship with God is how we relate to each other. So in keeping with his warnings about indulging the sinful nature, here he warns about making sure that our relationship with each other stays “right.”
“Let us not become conceited” “Conceit" is commonly viewed as the concept of thinking more of yourself or your abilities than you should. But the original Greek word here goes deeper than just vanity or self-centeredness. The King James Version translates this as “desirous of vain glory.” It is the only place in the New Testament this word used. It literally means glory without reason, an eagerness for empty glory, or a conceit that simply doesn’t make sense. Like someone who is tone deaf thinking they could be a professional singer, or someone with no basic hand-eye coordination believing they could be a professional athlete. Sadly, if we look around our neighborhoods, or even more sadly, our churches, we see these two examples and others just like them to varying degrees. But even in instances where people are objectively gifted or talented, this concept, the “vain glory” can be just as bad or worse as an above average skill or natural talent is overrated in that person’s mind. The popularity of reality TV shows like “American Idol” or “America’s Got Talent” is based on this kind of “conceit.”
This kind of “vain glory” is particularly dangerous in the Body of Christ because this kind of person thinks they deserve recognition, responsibility and respect when the reality is the matter for which they want this recognition is only recognizable in their own mind. And the danger of this concept leading to “provoking and envying” in the concept of Freedom in Christ and walking in the Spirit is particularly great. Why? Because the grace and mercy of God welcomes everyone, and the kindness and acceptance we show in Christ towards each other can be interpreted as affirmation of our vainglorious conceit.
We have a tendency to indulge our sinful nature in our self centered pride. Paul is warning all of us to be objective. We need to see ourselves as Christ sees us, yes, as new creations, free from sin. But we cannot use that freedom, to exalt ourselves, or to judge others. Otherwise, we’re back to the negative side of Galatians 5:1, burdened by that yoke of slavery, or like 5:16, gratifying our “flesh,” our “sinful nature.” Because the Kingdom of God is a RELATIONSHIP above all else, keeping a right relationship with each other, and viewing that relationship through the lens of God’s reality is essential.