The book of Galatians was written by Paul to the churches in Galatia to root out some erroneous doctrines and to fortify them in the true faith they had previously been instructed in. Some were pressuring Christians to go back to (or embrace) the Law of Moses for their justification (cf. Gal. 5:4). Some were being seduced to recognize circumcision as a requirement of Christian faith (cf. Gal. 5:2,6).
Let us consider several verses from Galatians where Paul describes their corrupt state:
Paul was afraid he had worked for them "in vain" (Gal. 4:11). They were not being faithful to the gospel that had been delivered to them. Paul rebuked them with the truth in this book, and, in so doing, he asks a powerful question - "Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth?" (Gal. 4:16).
On my office door I have several statements (including this question from Paul) that I personally find to be encouraging and helpful. Well Stephen, how is this statement helpful or encouraging to you? Please allow me to elaborate upon the reasons in this feature lesson.
1. PAUL REMINDS ME THAT SIN SHOULD BE REBUKED CLEARLY, REGARDLESS OF WHERE IT IS FOUND.
Ephesians 5:11 reads - "And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them." This is precisely what John the baptizer did toward Herod. He plainly told Herod that he had no right to his brother Philip's wife (cf. Matt. 14:4). John exposed the truth and it eventually led to his decapitation. He spoke the truth and made an enemy.
Some might wonder why John didn't exclusively speak encouraging words and pleasant thoughts. He didn't take this approach because it cannot please God. When one neglects to offer correction and rebuke when needed, he disobeys the Lord. II Timothy 4:2 plainly instructs - "Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching." Also, Acts 20:26,27 - "Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God."
Although rebuking sin (with a proper attitude) wherever it is found is appropriate and needed, most of the New Testament was written to instruct, rebuke, and encourage Christians, not sinners out in the world. For example, Peter rebuked Simon who, a short time previously, had obeyed the gospel (cf. Acts 8:18-23). Paul rebuked Peter to his face (cf. Gal. 2:11,12). The apostle John even went so far as to mention in a letter the name of Diotrephes, a Christian, and the sin he had committed (cf. III John 9). Paul gave this instruction to Timothy - "Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest may also fear" (I Tim. 5:20). The context implies that Paul is referring to Christians who sin and refuse to repent (cf. Matt. 18:15-18). There are other examples, but these are sufficient to establish the point. There is sometimes a need to rebuke our brothers and sisters in Christ. This isn't necessarily easy and it will likely make us feel uncomfortable, but it still needs to be done.
2. PAUL REMINDS ME THAT THE PREACHING OF TRUTH WILL SOMETIMES PRODUCE ENEMIES.
Paul's question in Galatians 4:16 implies the possibility of such happening. Biblical examples of this are plentiful. For instance:
This cry has been heard in every age - "Do not prophesy to us right things; speak to us smooth things, prophesy deceits" (Isa. 30:10). The greatest fault in the religious world is man's efforts to change the Bible to fit himself rather than change himself to fit the Bible. Too many today preach - "Peace, peace! When there is no peace" (Jer. 6:14).
It is so tempting to try to win everyone's approval and be a friend to all. But, first and foremost, we should desire to be the Lord's friend. And we can be His friends if we do as He commands us (cf. John 15:14). There is nothing wrong with trying to please people, as long as we don't displease God in so doing. Galatians 1:10 - "For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ."
I have had a number of instances in my years as a preacher where I have offended certain ones. I have tried to speak the truth in love, but nevertheless, doing such has created some enemies for me. This will happen to any faithful preacher sooner or later. It will happen to any uncompromising proclaimer of truth eventually--even you!
My good friend, Larry Fryer, has had difficulties both here and abroad because he will not compromise the truth. I distinctly remember some folks he offended on the subject of remarriage (because he often refused to perform wedding ceremonies). When a couple desired to be married, Larry would study with them and ascertain whether or not they had a Scriptural right to do such (cf. Matt. 19:9). If he believed that they did not (or if he had any doubts about the situation), he would not go through with the ceremony. I have a similar practice, because, quite simply, it is the right thing to do. If a couple really wants to please God, then they will heed the advice of God's word--even on the subject of marriage--and they will not be offended when they are shown what the Bible says on the matter. They will be thankful to receive the truth, and they will be thankful that the preacher cares enough about their souls to show them what God says about their situation.
3. PAUL REMINDS ME THAT PEOPLE FIGHT TRUTH FROM TWO DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVES.
Some are unconscious enemies of truth. They fight it ignorantly. Paul, prior to his conversion to Christ, is an outstanding example of fighting truth unknowingly. Listen to his own testimony - "Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth" (Acts 26:9); "Although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief" (I Tim. 1:13). But, those who seek truth will find it as Paul did (cf. Matt. 7:7,8). One who has a good heart but is an unconscious enemy of God's way will eventually change when confronted with the truth. Others remain blinded by error, however, because they do not love the truth (cf. II Thess. 2:10-12), and this brings us to our second perspective.
Some knowingly fight against truth. Jesus explained the cause when He said - "Men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil" (John 3:19). Creatures of darkness, physical and spiritual, despise light. Have you ever rolled a rotting log over in the forest? Do you recall seeing those little creatures run in every direction? They were creatures of darkness running from and fighting light. Likewise, some people prefer darkness to light and error to truth, because they are creatures of darkness and their deeds are evil. But, no matter how much truth is opposed, it shall survive. It can be crushed to the ground, but it shall rise again! A person can reject God's truth, but no one can destroy it.
Because the truth is opposed from these two different perspectives, we must take this into consideration when offering rebukes. As Jude 22,23 instructs - "And on some have compassion, making a distinction; but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh."
4. PAUL REMINDS ME THAT THE TRUTH MUST BE PREACHED CLEARLY, DESPITE THE RESULTS.
A compromising attitude toward preaching leads to apostasy. Paul gives the steps in the development of apostasy in II Timothy 4:3,4:
Friends, where did it all begin? With an improper attitude! It is urgent that we realize this. There are some attitudes today, which, if universally accepted, would weaken and eventually destroy the church. Let me share three examples that come to mind.
(1) Some say: "Preach the Bible, but leave everybody alone."
This is an impossibility! Under this approach you could not preach the first verse in the Bible since it refutes the atheist. Exodus 20:3 would have to be skipped over since it condemns the heathen. You could not preach against any moral sins (e.g., sexual immorality, drunkenness, modesty, etc.) since this would certainly step on some toes. Suppose the commander of an army were to say, "Boys, shoot, but be sure that you don't hit anybody!" Such a foolish tactic would bring certain defeat.
(2) Another improper attitude is: "Don't preach a negative message."
Ironically, the person who lays down this rule violates his own rule by using a negative! It also indicts God, for He did not follow it. Eight of the Ten Commandments are negative (cf. Exo. 20). Paul wrote - "Reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering" (II Tim. 4:2). Two out of the three are negatively focused. Paul, in listing the works of the flesh, names seventeen negatives. In listing the fruit of the Spirit, only nine positive qualities are mentioned (cf. Gal. 5:19-23).
(3) Another improper attitude is attempting to please people instead of save people.
Paul's statement to the Galatians is very appropriate and needs to be read and re-read today - "For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ" (Gal. 1:10). This attitude of attempting to please people instead of saving them is partially to blame for the moral decay in our land. Standards have been lowered in an effort to draw the crowds. One preacher lowers the standard in an appeal to the crowds and draws a certain number. The preacher on the next corner sees what is happening, and he drops the standard even lower, in an effort to appeal to the multitudes. Man-made churches are, in many ways, a mad race to see which one can make religion the easiest (or most entertaining) instead of the safest spiritually. It's been said, "As the pulpit goes, so goes the church." There is much truth to that.
In the 21st century, sin still needs to be rebuked--even if we acquire some enemies in so doing. May we always be willing to preach the truth in patient humility, regardless of what others may think or how they might respond.
Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.