Not Man’s Gospel, part 1

Last time we looked at Galatians 1v1-9.

We looked at Paul’s greeting to the Galatians compared with his greetings in his other letters, and saw that Paul appeared to be distinctly less pleased with what he’d heard about the churches in Galatia than the other churches he wrote to.

In v3-5 we saw a very succinct summary of the gospel: “grace and peace to you… glory to God.”

Our only contribution is our sin. Jesus gave himself to deliver us from our sin and to give us grace and peace, and he gets all the glory.

But the Galatians were turning to a different gospel. They were listening to preachers who told them they could add something to the righteousness they’d received from God by grace.

Paul made it clear that this was a very serious problem. In distorting the gospel in that way, they were preaching a message that’s contrary to the gospel of Christ, so “let them be accursed”. And he said that the people choosing to listen to that kind of teaching were effectively deserting Christ.

This week, we’re going to look at v10-24.

(read the passage)

v10: “If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

You cannot try to please man and also be a servant of Christ at the same time. It just doesn’t work. Like in Luke 16 when Jesus said you can’t serve two masters, because either you’ll hate one and love the other, or you’ll be devoted to one and despise the other. This is not to say that if you’re serving Christ then nothing you ever do can ever please men in any way, but you have to pick either Christ or man as your goal. If you try to both serve Christ and please man, you’re going to have problems. If you’re trying to please men, then Paul says you’re not a servant of Christ.

v10 starts with the word “For”, so what Paul’s saying here about only being able to serve Christ or please man relates to what he’d said previously, and previously he was talking about preaching the gospel (either the true one or a different one). So how does this dichotomy between serving Christ and pleasing men relate to preaching the gospel? Well, serving Christ includes making disciples, and making disciples involves showing men that Christ is a pleasure to follow. But we have to present Christ to people as he is and then try to show them why that makes him a pleasure to follow. We can’t start by asking what pleases man and then try to make our presentation of Christ fit what they want. If we start with what men want Christ to be, then we’ll end up keeping quiet about certain parts of Christ’s character that we don’t think they’ll like, and/or we’ll embellish our presentation of Christ with things they’ll like but aren’t actually true. And if we do either of those, we won’t be serving Christ. And we won’t really help the men and women we’re trying to please either, because if they come to Christ with a distorted understanding of who he is, at best they are likely to struggle in their relationship with him until they learn the truth about him, or worse, we might find they didn’t actually come to Christ at all, that the Christ they thought they knew was actually a fake, and either they’ll abandon Christianity when they realise who Jesus really is, or perhaps they’ll continue following their fake Jesus until the end of their lives, and when they come to judgement, they’ll say “Lord, Lord, did we not… do many mighty works in your name?” but the real Jesus’ response will be “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matt 7:22-23). So it’s vital that as we present the gospel to people, our aim must be to serve Christ rather than trying to please men, which means encouraging people to come to Christ for who he is, not for what they want from him.

In v8-9, Paul made it quite evident that he wasn’t trying to please man. If you’re trying to please men, you don’t tell them “let those preachers you’re listening to be accursed”. I’m afraid that if I say things like that to people, then I’ll lose them, but Paul apparently didn’t have that concern. Because his goal was to serve Christ rather than please men, he wasn’t worried about losing people. The most loving thing he could do was tell them the truth, and he could trust God to do the work in people’s hearts. If God wants someone in our church, then us telling them unpopular truths won’t stop him bringing or keeping that person in our church… although obviously we are to speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15), and there are ways of telling people the truth so that those people can see that our motivation is love for them, and there are ways that show that our motivation is not love.

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