"Simply That They May Not be Persecuted for the Cross of Christ"
Sometimes, the desires and expectations of popular culture can have way too much effect on the teachings of religious leaders. Today, what is heard in many pulpits reflects more about what is politically correct than what the Bible teaches. As a church of Christ, we must exercise diligence to be on guard. Faith in the Lord Jesus requires that we teach it His way, as revealed in His New Covenant, delivered by the Spirit of God through His first century apostles and prophets.
But this is not an unique situation. Culture and popular belief sought to make inroads in the church of the first century as well. For example, the epistle to the Galatians deals with the influence Judaizing teachers were having on the churches in that region. This doctrine had become a formidable force among the churches in that region and the faith of many Christians was tried by their negative influence. Essentially, they were demanding that the Gentile Christians were obligated to keep the Law of Moses to be justified. This false teaching had more impact in some geographical areas than others. It seems that at Rome and in Galatia it made some impact. Note the similarities of the message to each: "For by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified" (Galatians 2:16). "By the deed of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight" (Romans 3:20). Today, we must also be on guard against false teaching as well, though it may not come in the form of the same doctrines as it did in the first century. Today there is modernism, moral issues such as abortion and homosexuality, and other pressures from society in general. They often expect us to teach things contrary to Biblical doctrine. We must give the same answer to this pressure as the apostle Paul did.
Galatia is a region in central Asia Minor. The churches of Galatia most likely included the churches of Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch Pisidia. These churches were established during Paul's first missionary journey.
The problem addressed in this letter was that Judaizing teachers
had come in and were teaching that Gentile converts needed to be circumcised in
keeping with the old Jewish Law. This was not just a bad idea. It was wrong. It
could be ruinous to a person's salvation. But it was making inroads there, the
pressure being to alter the gospel of Jesus so that they might be accepted by
the culture out of which these teachings came.
Words of Concern
Paul often expressed concern in this letter. He said, "I marvel that you are turning away so soon" (Galatians 1:6) and "O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?" (Galatians 3:1) and "I am afraid for you" (Gal. 4:11). He asked, "Have I become your enemy because I tell you the truth?" (Galatians 4:16) and "You ran well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth?" (Galatians 5:7) and even "I have doubts about you" (Galatians 4:20). They were trying much too hard to please culture and not hard enough to please the Lord Jesus!
Condemnation of the False Teachers and their Doctrines
Concerning those who were twisting the gospel to fit their approach Paul was very plain and his words were sharp. This great worker for the Lord was willing to compromise in matters of personal opinion, but when it came to the doctrine of Jesus, there would be no compromise with those who sought to inject social and cultural preferences into its message. Of these Judaizing teachers Paul wrote that even if they were angels their different gospels should not be accepted (Galatians 1:7-9). He said, "He who troubles you will bear his judgment" (Gal. 5:10) and "I could wish that those who trouble you would even cut themselves off" (Galatians 5:12).
To alter the teachings and doctrines just to be accepted by our
society and avoid persecution is disloyal to the cross of Jesus. Paul wrote,
"Those who desire to make a good showing in the flesh try to compel you to be
circumcised, simply that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ"
Rebuke and Encouragement to the Galatians
They had once been enslaved to idols, now they were following teachers who would enslave them to religious rituals that God had not commanded of them. (Galatians 4:8,9). Putting their confidence in these things would interfere with their putting their confidence in Christ and cost them their salvation. In fact, those who had done so had already "fallen from grace" (Galatians 5:4).
Paul encourages them to take a firm and loyal stand on the
gospel they had once received. Concerning the false teachings of the world and
its expectations of them, he tells them to stand fast and do not be entangled
with a yoke of bondage (Galatians 5:1). We must not become slaves of popular
opinion of cultural expectations. They were to, through love, serve one another
(Galatians 5:13) as they walked by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16, 22-25). They were
not to become conceited, provoking one another and envying one another
(Galatians 5:26). Often such affinity for the world's acceptance leads to such.
They were to seek to restore those who had fallen in a spirit of gentleness
(Galatians 6:1). They were to bear one another's burdens as they fulfilled the
law of Christ (Galatians 6:2). They were not to allow themselves to grow weary
in doing good (Galatians 6:9) and do good to all (Galatians 6:10).
The way to prevent our own apostasy is to stand fast in the gospel of Jesus Christ. (Galatians 5:1; cf. 1 Corinthians 15:1; 15:58; Ephesians 6:14-16; Philippians 1:27). It is possible to fall from grace, and Paul says some of the Galatians had done so (Galatians 5:4; cf. 1 Corinthians 10:12; Hebrews 2:1; 3:12,13 10:38).
False teachers pervert, bewitch, court and persuade. There are
various motives for this. One motive is to impress upon the world how much alike
we are, or as Paul puts it, to make a good showing and to avoid persecution
(Galatians 6:12). Other motives: material self enrichment (Philippians 3:19);
popularity (2 Timothy 4:3,4); power (3 John 9-11). How do you tell if one is
such a false teacher? It may not always be as easy as you think (2 Corinthians
12:13-15) but it is easy enough if you use the right tools (Matthew 7:15,16;
Acts 17:11; 1 John 4:1,2; 5,6). We are about pleasing the Lord, not man. "For am
I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I
were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ."
(Galatians 1:10). That is the reason we continue to teach Biblically sound
doctrine even when most around us consider it foolish to do so. We are seeking
the favor of God, and this is the only way to find it.
By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 13.8; August 2006