By Edward O. Bragwell, Sr.
“O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you and crucified” (Gal. 3:1, NKJV).
As Christians, we are not immune from making fools of ourselves. The Galatians not only became foolish, they did it with such speed that it made Paul marvel (1:6).
In Paul’s short letter to them, he points out various ways in which they had acted foolishly and were in danger of doing so. He does this by direct reference to their foolishness or else relating the examples of others for their benefit.
Satan is no fool. If he can’t get us to play the fool one way, he will try another-even in almost opposite ways. This can be seen from Galatians.
The Galatians had played the fool with doctrine. They had taken the bait of false teachers (likely Judaizers) — hook, line and sinker. Having escaped the spiritual bondage of paganism, they are now about to jump into another bondage — the Judaizer’s brand of Christianity (4:8,9).
How could a people, “before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly, portrayed,” act so foolishly-so quickly? Paul hints that the spirit of compromise may have had something to do with it, by relating his own experience with “false brethren.” He says that he did not “yield submission even for an hour.” This was the same Paul, who willingly yielded personal rights and advantages for the cause (1 Cor. 9), but when the truth of the gospel was in danger of being taken from his brethren-“‘yield” was out of the question, even if it meant publicly withstanding a fellow apostle to his face (Gal. 2:11-21).
The very fact that Peter was an influential figure in the church made it the more imperative that his actions not go publicly unnoticed. He was not walking uprightly and others were being influenced by him. This was no time for softness and timidity-the brethren’s relationship to the truth of the gospel was at stake. Would this make an enemy of Peter? It was a risk that Paul had to run. This public exposure of Peter’s hypocrisy did not ruin Peter’s usefulness in the Lord’s work, but rather increased it. And what about relations between the two men? We are told little of the immediate reaction, but in the long run we know about Peter’s attitude. He later wrote of “our beloved brother Paul” (2 Pet. 3:15).
Too often, mere attention is more persuasive than solid information. It has not been long since Paul had, at great personal sacrifice, supplied them with the truth of the gospel. They had been willing to pluck out their own eyes for him. Now, he asks, “Have I become your enemy because I tell you the truth?” What had happened? False brethren had “come-a-courtin”‘ and had turned the heads of the Galatians by the attention given. Paul wrote, “They zealously court you, but for no good” (Gal. 4:17). The truth had not been nearly as influential as “courting” of the false brethren. Like the young man courting the young lady, care is given to saying just what he thinks she wants to hear. She enjoys every minute of it and is often swept off her feet by it, even though most of it is just “sweet nothings.” False brethren have some advantages in battle for the minds and affections of brethren. They have no problem with using means of persuasion that true teachers dare not use. They give attention to courting, while true teachers are giving “attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine . . . meditation” (1 Tim. 4:13-16).
As a young preacher, I almost ran myself up the wall trying to stay ahead of the attention that other religious people were giving to some of the brethren. A brother or sister would begin to slack off (or even become a little disgruntled) and some well-meaning soul -would find a way to tell me how much attention the preacher and/or members of the Church Down The Street had been giving these folks. The message was clear, if I didn’t get on the ball and out-do them, we would lose out in the competition. It took me a while to learn that I could not out Church Down The Street the Church Down The Street. If I had the truth, then I could. do nothing better than teach it and admonish the brother or sister to obey it. If that would not do the job, then all the courting in the world that I might do would not do it. Once I learned that lesson, preaching sure has been a lot easier on me.
If Satan can’t get us through the front door, he will try the back. In this same letter, where Paul urged a kind of hard-nosed approach toward false brethren and com promise, the Galatians are warned against a general hard-nosed disposition — one that showed little softness and tenderness toward brethren, but geared more toward selfish ambition.
He warns against “biting and devouring one another . . . lest you be consumed one of another.” While they were to “Stand fast in the liberty by which Christ (had) made (them) free” (5:1) – no room for softness here – they had to be careful lest their need to stand fast in, and faithfully defend their liberty in Christ, did not become an excuse to resort to the works of the flesh (5:13). It is easy to get so involved in fighting the influence of false brethren (and there is plenty of that to do) that we simply cannot find any place to quit fighting. It is so easy to turn to biting and devouring one another until we are consumed one of another.
We pay a lot of attention to some of the “works of the flesh”: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, licentiousness, murders, drunkenness, revelries and the like. And we should. In fact, many of us could stand to give more attention to these things in our teaching and preaching than we do. But, we may miss the very point that the writer had in bringing up this list at the time he did. The attitudes that caused them to bite and devour seem to be the real target of the apostle. These attitudes are linked to those more easily recognized works of the flesh to show these foolish Galatians the kind of company they were in by their hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions and heresies. He then lists the “fruit of the Spirit” to counter this bad disposition (5:22-24). He then says, “And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another” (emphasis mine, EOB5:24-26). In the next chapter, he calls for a spirit of gentleness in restoring brethren overtaken in faults, the bearing of one another’s burdens, the sharing with teachers in good things, the sowing to the spirit rather than the flesh, and the doing good to all men as they had opportunity (6:1-10). All this reflecting a tenderness of heart and gentleness of disposition befitting one walking after the Spirit. Thus, if they would “through love serve one another” and put aside selfish ambition and conceit, they would not likely be biting and devouring one another. They could have this soft touch and still be firm for the truth and hard against error. It might take a good balancing act, but it could and must be done.
Let us not be so foolish as to think that we can compromise with “false brethren” even for an hour without getting hurt. Let us not be so foolish as to think, that we can just ignore error and it will go away. Let us not be so foolish as to think that we cannot be deceived by the favorable attention (courting) of false brethren. Let us not be so foolish as to think that time is on our side in the battle for truth. Brethren can “so soon” be carried away into error.
But, neither let us be so foolish as to fall into the habit of biting and devouring one another-jumping down each other’s throats at the slightest disagreement and/or provocation. Let us not be so foolish as to allow our desire to stand fast in the faith, to cause us to become hard-nosed, unkind, unforgiving, ungentle and cold in our dealings with one another.
Guardian of Truth XXIX: 11, pp. 323-324
June 6, 1985