A Stern and Severe Graciousness (Galatians, Part 7)

Galatians week 7

This week we continue exploring the book of Galatians using a question-and-answer format.

10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.   

Why does Paul feel the need to insist that he is not “trying to please man”?

It seems that the false teachers were saying that the reason Paul neglected to teach circumcision was because he was trying to make it easier for the Gentiles in Galatia to follow Jesus. Perhaps their accusations went something like this: Since Paul knew that the Gentiles wouldn’t be eager to mutilate their genitals in order to follow Jesus (and who would, right?), he decided to “water down” the requirements to enter the kingdom and omit circumcision altogether. In other words, Paul was a people-pleaser, and that’s why he left out this supposedly all-important bit about Jewish law and circumcision.

And Paul’s response to this accusation is, “You’re crazy to think that.” Would a people-pleaser have started out this letter the way Paul did, with strong warnings about deserting Christ by following “another gospel”? Would a people-pleaser have called down curses from heaven on people who change the gospel message? (Which changes, by the way, the Galatians were very close to accepting, meaning they would have felt the sting of Paul’s condemnation pretty acutely.) Paul’s willingness to say what he said in 1:6-9 should have dispelled any concerns that he was a people-pleaser, or that he was the kind of guy who would water down the gospel in order to make it more palatable for the Gentiles.

How does Paul’s strong language in 1:6-9 and his willingness to offend in 1:10 square with passages like Colossians 4:6: “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer each person”?

Consider how gracious it is to lovingly correct someone who is on the verge of a serious error—one which will prevent them from putting their trust fully in the Lord, and which will lead them instead to trust in what they can do in their own strength to earn God’s favor.

Consider also Paul’s tone throughout the rest of the letter, and how much he clearly loves and cares for Galatians, despite his harsh words. Read 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, where Paul describes what love is like and what love does, and see how his love is displayed for them throughout the letter.

“Love is patient and kind”—Paul doesn’t just rebuke them and expect them to obey because he is an apostle. He carefully and patiently explains why the false teaching is wrong, using metaphors, examples, personal stories, and various other kinds of arguments.

“Love is not irritable or resentful”—When you read the letter, you don’t get the sense that Paul is bitter about his reputation being tarnished by the false teachers (although they were most certainly accusing him of being a false apostle). His main concern when defending his apostleship (in 1:11-2:10) is not out of some vindictive desire to prove the false teachers wrong, but to give the Galatians confidence that they could trust the gospel message he had preached to them.

“Love bears all things”—Again, even though the Galatians were turning their backs on Paul, he was much more concerned about the fact that they were turning their backs on Jesus. I don’t get the sense that Paul begrudges what the Galatians are putting him through, only that his main concern is for their spiritual health and well-being.

“Love believes all things, hopes all things”—Throughout his letter, Paul holds out hope that the Galatians will do the right thing and return to the gospel which he taught them. He speaks to them as true brothers and sisters in Jesus, and expects that they will respond positively to his letter.

Consider also that knowing “how to answer each person” means knowing when to gently encourage and when to bluntly admonish—and that this situation clearly called for the latter!

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