Because of their Loss of Joy. Page 3 of 4 (series: Lessons on Galatians)
by John Lowe
16 Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?
Here is Paul’s answer to the question he asked in the previous verse. Paul exclaims, “Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth?” Or better yet, “So, by telling you the truth, I have become your enemy!” He had to tell the truth even at the risk of making enemies, but this very compulsion may lead to religious controversy and threaten Christian harmony.
How fickle were these Galatians! They were turning against the Lord, the Gospel of Grace, and the messenger who brought them the news of justification by faith.
Unless counteracted, the effect of this controversy upon the fellowship would be as shattering as the religious convictions of both sides were sincere and deep-seated. There were perhaps three ways to approach this situation. First, there was the tolerant attitude which might have said, “My religion is the best for me, yours is the best for you; let’s not try to convert each other;” but that would have put the Christian missionary enterprise to sleep. A second approach is intolerance which would say something like this: “Since error is sin against God, religious liberty does not include freedom to err; therefore, we who have the truth have the right and duty to prevent you from believing and propagating anything contrary to my gospel.” Paul’s solution was neither of these; it is found in what he said in 1 Corinthians 3.21-23 ; he would test all things and hold fast to all that harmonized with his principal of salvation by grace alone through faith in Christ. But although the range of things that met this test was wide enough for eternity (Rom 8.32 ), the stress caused by the differences in interpretation of the one Gospel caused Paul to write “Anathema,” and led his spiritual children to sometimes call him their enemy. But the Galatians preserved this letter; and from that fact we may infer that the constructive love of Christ proved stronger than the corrosive effect of religious controversy.
“Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful” (Prov. 27.6). Paul had proved his love for the Galatians by telling them the truth; but they would not accept it. They were enjoying the kisses of the Judaizers, not realizing that these kisses were leading them into bondage and sorrow. Christ had made them sons and heirs, but they were rapidly becoming slaves and beggars. In our contemporary society, many people do not want the preacher to preach the truth from the pulpit. They would much rather he say something complementary that would smooth their feathers and make them feel good. We all like to have our backs rubbed, and there is a lot of back-rubbing from the contemporary pulpit instead of the declaration of the truth.
It is clear that the apostle did not incur their enmity for telling them the truth on his first visit, but his words here imply that it happened after that and before his writing this letter, which would mean that it occurred at his second visit (Acts 18.23 ).
17 They zealously affect you, but not well; yea, they would exclude you, that ye might affect them.
18 But it is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing, and not only when I am present with you.
A free translation of verses 17 and 18 would have Paul saying in effect: “They unfairly compete for your favor, because they want to exclude you from the fellowship so that you will seek to be associated with them. Now it is good to be sought after for good motives, but this is not always the case, and you should adhere to the Gospel I taught you even when I am not with you.” Paul charges his opponents with ulterior motives; that they do not seek supporters “well” (honestly, honorably, fairly) and not for a good purpose. These would-be leaders, who want to build up a following for themselves, claim to be the only true Christians, and they exclude—“shut out” those who disagree with them. They excommunicate men from their “true church” in order to frighten them into currying favor for readmission! Paul concedes that it is a good thing to be sought after if the motives of both the seeker and the sought are good, and if both are honestly serving a good cause. But in that case there is still another stipulation; it must “always” be that way, not just when the parties are together, but also when one is absent. When Paul was present, the Galatians responded favorably. Now he reminds them that the same Gospel was no less a joy and a blessing in his absence. He hints that if his competitors were absent, they might not care enough about the Galatians even to write letters to them.
Paul made it clear that he was not averse to having another man minister to them rather than himself, providing the ministry was of the right sort—aiding the cause of the truth.
19 My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you,
20 I desire to be present with you now, and to change my voice; for I stand in doubt of you.
A free translation of verses 19 and 20 would read: “I think of you as my dear children for whom my heart aches until Christ is fully formed in you; and I wish I could be with you now so I could deal first hand with your situation, because I am at a loss of what to make of you. Paul’s challenge to the Judaizers was to imitate him in being sincere and faithful “fathers” of spiritual “children,” as he called his converts. In a bold figure of speech he compares his anxiety to the throes of childbirth. But as usual with his comparisons, he suddenly shifts the reference and applies it to the Galatian Christians who are about to give birth to Christ. His own “labor’ now becomes the anxiety of one who is waiting until Christ is “formed” in them. Paul longed for these believers to be transformed into the image of Christ. This expression describes the Christian life as a kind of reincarnation of Christ in a believer’s life. This is, in fact, God’s ideal and purpose—for Christ to live His life in and then through each believer (Gal. 2.20 ). Yet the apostle was perplexed about the Galatians because he felt their spiritual development was being arrested. He had a deep desire to be with them, so that he could speak gently, but firmly, concerning his grave concerns. However, he was filled with misgivings. Had his approach and language been too severe, or had he not been forthright in warning his “children”? If only he could be in Galatia! Then he could gauge the situation more accurately and control it by changing his “tone” (voice). The apostle had strong feelings for these people. He used strong language in his letter, but you can see his tender heart.
The Galatians had not lost their salvation—they were still Christians; but they were losing the enjoyment of their salvation and finding satisfaction in their works instead. Sad to say, they did not realize their losses. They actually thought they were becoming better Christians by substituting Law for grace, and the religious deeds of the flesh for the fruit of the Spirit. Paul was deeply hurt (travail) to see them falling back into legalism. He longed to see Christ formed in them, just as we parents long to see our children mature in the will of God.
Paul felt that another visit was in order. It would accomplish more than a letter. Then he could speak softly to them, as a mother to an erring but still beloved child.