Writ Large (Galatians 6:11–18)

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“See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand. It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:11–14).

“My Paul, what large handwriting you have!”

“The better to…?”

What is Paul hankering to draw the Galatians attention to? Some hypothesize that these “large letters” relate to Paul’s comment in 4:14–15 concerning the Galatians out of sympathy plucking their eyes out for him. They speculate that Paul had poor eyesight. Some will even surmise that Paul’s thorn in the flesh was a “thorn” in the eye. But I take the eye-plucking to be metaphorical and believe there is a clearer and more satisfying answer. To see it, let’s look at a couple of other instances where Paul expressly takes up the pen in his letters.

“I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you” (1 Corinthians 16:21–23).

“I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you” (Colossians 4:18).

In both instances, these are the last sentences of their respective letters. Why does Paul explain to his audience that he is writing the concluding blessing of his own letter? Near the end of Paul’s letter to the Romans we read, “I Tertius, who wrote this letter, greet you in the Lord” (Romans 16:22). Paul, like many in his day, wrote his letter using an amanuensis, a secretary. He dictated his letters, but then to authenticate them as genuine apostolic Pauline, he penned the closing benediction himself. Paul explains this in the conclusion of 2 Thessalonians.

“I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the sign of genuineness in every letter of mine; it is the way I write. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all” (2 Thessalonians 3:17–18).

Once again, these are the last sentences of that letter. Normally, Paul picks up the pen near the very end of his letter and simply to authenticate them. Here, Paul picks up the pen much earlier and draws attention to the LARGENESS of his letters. Why? Because the bold and italics function were broken on his secretary’s quill. Because this whole letter is a howler, and Paul means to grab yet another octave and more volume. Paul does not whisper, “Far be it from me to boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” He shouts it!

The cross of Christ isn’t alternative fine print to the Christian life, it is the essential banner writ large over all of it.

The Penning Pastor: A Motto

Come, let us not despair; the fountain is as full and as free as ever:—precious fountain, ever flowing with blood and water, milk and wine. This is the stream that heals the wounded, refreshes the weary, satisfies the hungry, strengthens the weak, and confirms the strong: it opens the eyes of the blind, softens the heart of stone, teaches the dumb to sing, and enables the lame and paralytic to walk, to leap, to run, to fly, to mount up with eagle’s wings: a taste of this stream raises earth to heaven, and brings down heaven upon earth. Nor is it a fountain only; it is a universal blessing, and assumes a variety of shapes to suit itself to our wants. It is a sun, a shield, a garment, a shade, a banner, a refuge: it is bread, the true bread, the very staff of life: it is life itself, immortal, eternal life!

The cross of Jesus Christ, my Lord,
Is food and medicine, shield and sword.

Take that for your motto; wear it in your heart; keep it in your eye; have it often in your mouth, till you can find something better. The cross of Christ is the tree of life and the tree of knowledge combined. Blessed be God! there is neither prohibition nor flaming sword to keep us back; but it stands like a tree by the highway side, which affords its shade to every passenger without distinction. —John Newton, Works