“From now on let no one cause trouble for me, for I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus.” – the Apostle Paul in Galatians 6:17
In any context this verse would pull you up short and arrest your attention. Paul’s defense against the attacks of his critics is the scars that he has earned in the service of the Lord Jesus Christ. If you wanted to know what was inside Paul, you could look on the outside and see. The external scars for Jesus revealed the internal zeal for Christ. But what makes this verse even more profound is its specific context. Paul has spent most of this letter declaring to the Galatian believers that the external mark of circumcision has no value in your salvation. First he says, “. . . neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything.” Then he says again, “For neither is circumcision anything nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.” (Galatians 5:6; 6:15) But now in seeming contrast to what he has been saying in this epistle, he almost boasts in his external marks, “the brand-marks of Jesus,” that he has received on Christ’s behalf. What are these “brand-marks of Jesus?” These are the scars on the physical body received by those who proclaim Jesus in hostile places. Here are some thoughts about those brand-marks.
Consider how these brand-marks of Jesus are received. These are worn only by those who have gone to a place where the gospel of Jesus Christ is violently opposed and who, having gone to such a place, have boldly proclaimed that gospel, knowing the possible consequences of that proclamation. Thus the brand-marks of Jesus are a display of faithfulness and bold courage.
While the world prizes beauty and safety, the one who would bear the brand-marks of Jesus despises both beauty and safety and exalts in the honor of bearing shame and scars for Jesus’ sake. (Acts 5:41) It is remarkable that Paul repeatedly went to places where he would earn brand-marks. (Acts 9:15-16)
Consider how few believers are given the privilege of bearing the physical brand-marks of Jesus. While all believers are called to suffer for Jesus’ name (2 Tim. 3:12; Luke 9:23; Matthew 10:22; 24:9), not all believers suffer physical persecution and only a very few bear the brand-marks.
The brand-marks of Jesus are the world’s violent response to those who tell of the Prince of peace. Jesus Christ brings peace and love, yet those who proclaim His name often meet with the world’s violence and hatred.
While Paul has made clear in Galatians that the external “brand-mark” of circumcision has no value for righteousness or for justification before our holy God, and is actually anathema as part of another gospel (Galatians 1:6-9), the brand-marks of Jesus that he wears declare to his opponents his zeal for the true gospel of the Lord Jesus.
Application: Since most of those reading this (including the author) are probably not going to bear in their bodies the physical brand-marks of Jesus, how do we apply this teaching to our lives? I see two applications here. First, there is an application to our lives as believers regarding our call to suffer persecution. Second, there is an application to our lives in that, while we may not suffer the external brand-marks of Jesus, our lives should certainly be marked as belonging to the Lord and as distinct from the world.
So first, the gospels, Acts, the epistles and the book of Revelation all make clear that the follower of Jesus Christ EXPECTS to suffer for the name of Jesus (that is, he expects to suffer for the sole reason that he has become an obedient disciple of Jesus), the believer ENDURES suffering for the sake of Jesus (that is, the way the believer suffers is a testimony to Jesus Christ and should give glory to the Lord), and the believer EXALTS in suffering for the sake of Jesus (Romans 5:3; Acts 5:41). All suffering in the life of the believer is allowed by God to test and to strengthen the believer’s faith and to prove to the watching world the inestimable value of knowing Christ.
And second, in Galatians 6:17 Paul is certainly talking about physical scars which he has received in the service of our Lord Jesus Christ, marks that most of us will not experience. Nevertheless, despite the fact that our bodies will not bear the scars that Paul bore, our lives should be unmistakably marked because of our commitment to Jesus. That is, we ourselves also should bear the brand-marks of Jesus so that “no (can) cause trouble for us.” Our lives should be marked by a consistent holiness that is evident to others. In attitude, behavior, demeanor and character people should see obedience in our daily lives. The believer should bear the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Our speech should be distinctly different from that of unbelievers, not only in the words that we say, but also in the gospel that we proclaim. In other words, the life of the believer should bear the brand-marks of Jesus by the distinct way that he lives, so that the world will be drawn to the Savior.