Fellowship in the Book of Galatians (1)

By Mike Willis

Several years ago, I wrote an article on “Fellowship and First Corinthians” (Truth Magazine, Vol. XIX, No. 14, p. 8) in which I presented the teaching of that book pertaining to the subject of fellowship. I thought that the material was relevant to the discussion of the issues of the day. As somewhat of a sequel to that article so far as style is concerned, I would like to consider the teaching of the book of Galatians as to the subject of fellowship. I have sought to use the material in this book in such a manner as to relate it to our problems today.

The churches of Galatia were troubled by men who were coming among them disturbing them. The peace and harmony which normally characterized the local church were broken by these brethren. Consequently, Paul had to write instructions explaining how these false men needed to be handled in order that whole churches would not be led away from the teachings of Christ.

The Nature of the Apostasy

In order to understand the subject of fellowship in Galatians and to relate it to modern problems, we need first to know what the apostasy in the churches of Galatia was like. The book speaks of those who were minded to revert to the Law of Moses as a means of justification. However, there was not a total break with Christianity; instead, they wanted to keep the best of both systems. The Judaizers did riot deny the virgin birth, the atoning death of Jesus Christ, His burial, His resurrection, His ascension, His present position as Lord of lords and King of kings, or baptism. By present day definitions among the “grace-fellowship” brethren, they believed the “gospel.” Rather, the Judaizers tried to compel their Gentile brethren to be circumcised, observe the Jewish holy days, and otherwise to keep the law. Their apostasy pertained to “doctrine.”

One of their reasons for wanting to bind these Mosaical laws upon their Gentile brethren was to avoid persecution. The Jews were persecuting their brethren who became Christians because they abandoned observance of the Mosaical law. Paul wrote, “But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also” (4:29). Later, he asked, “But I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? Then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished” (5:11). As he concluded his letter he stated the motive of the Judaizers; he said, “Those who desire to make a good showing in the flesh try to compel you to be circumcised, simply that they may boast in your flesh” (6:12). By persuading the Gentiles to be circumcised, the Judaizers could avoid persecution from their Jewish brethren; they could brag about how many Gentiles they had proselyted.

The book of Galatians shows that the two systems of salvation through observance of the Mosaical law and the obedience of faith to the Law of Christ are incompatible. One cannot mix the two. The man who tries to go back to the Mosaical law to receive circumcision falls from grace, severs his relationship with Christ, and is a debtor to observe the entire law of Moses (5:1-4).

From these comments, we see that the apostasy that was going on in Galatia was from within the church. By today’s terminology among the “grace-fellowship” brethren, it was a “doctrinal” apostasy. With this in mind, it is interesting to notice some of the passages which speak about fellowship found in the little book to the Galatians. How did Paul treat the subject of fellowship with those who reverted to the law of Moses? Did he say, “We may as well expect everyone to like the same kinds of food as to expect everyone to agree on doctrinal matters in the church”? Did he believe in a unity-in-diversity of the sort which is advocated by Carl Ketherside and Leroy Garrett with reference to this “doctrinal” matter? Let us consider several of the important passages in this book with this in mind.

I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you, and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed.

Gal. 1:6-9

1. The apostasy led by the Judaizers perverted the gospel of Christ. Notice the several things which Paul said of the Judaizers. They were following a different gospel; they distorted the gospel of Christ; the gospel which they preached was not really a gospel at all; the gospel which they preached was contrary to that which the apostles preached to them. Hence, this doctrinal error destroyed the very heart of the saving gospel, although it neither denied any of the seven facts or denied the one act (baptism) which,, brought men into fellowship with God’s Son.

2. The doctrinal apostasy damned one’s soul. The man who preached this doctrine was accursed. Brethren, I have read several different descriptions of what awaits the saints in heaven, but this is not one of them. The men involved in this doctrinal apostasy were destined to hell! They were not pleasing to God and, therefore, stood condemned before Him. We shall see later in this article that not only were the ones who taught this heresy condemned but also they who followed it.

3. The Judaizers were disturbing the churches. They went everywhere to teach their apostasy of binding the law of Moses upon Gentile Christians. Everywhere they went, churches were disturbed. Even as the church in Antioch was disturbed by these brethren, so were the churches in Galatia.

Gal. 2:1-10: Paul’s Trip To Jerusalem

Space will not permit me to reproduce this long passage, but open your biblical text to that place and notice the points which we observe from it. Paul went to Jerusalem as a result of a direct revelation from God (2:2). While there, certain Jewish brethren attempted to compel Titus who accompanied him to be circumcised. Paul described these brethren as “false brethren” (2:4). To these brethren, Paul refused to yield by way of subjection for even such a short period of time as one hour (2:5).

(In light of the fact that Paul circumcised Timothy to avert Jewish prejudice (Acts 16:3), his refusal to cir-cumcise Titus becomes even more significant. The former was done because Timothy was a Jew who would be working among Jews; the latter was not done because such would have been tantamount to accepting the Judaizer’s legislation that Gentiles had to be circumcised in order to be saved. Inasmuch as this would have been to compromise the gospel, to bind where God had loosed, Paul refused to allow Titus to be circumcised.)

Consequently, Paul presented the gospel which he preached to “those who were of reputation” in private. When they saw that he was preaching the revelation of God through Jesus Christ, they gave to Paul and Barnabas “the right hand of fellowship” (2:9). This right hand of fellowship would not have been extended to the Judaizers nor would it have been extended to Paul and Barnabas had they been preaching a gospel contrary to the revelation of Jesus Christ. Hence, the apostles and elders in Jerusalem somehow concluded that they must have doctrinal agreement before the right hand of fellowship could be extended to these men.

Those who preach “unity-in-diversity” would have extended the right hand of fellowship to the Judaizers as well. They would have told us that it would be ridiculous to expect all brethren to understand this matter alike. Not so, the first century apostles! They believed that all brethren had to accept and believe the same thing about this. They did not write about poor, ignorant brethren with imbecility of intellect who could not understand these matters.

Truth Magazine XXII: 24, pp. 387-388
June 15, 1978