Just what is it that fills the Apostle Paul with the gumption to blast the Galatians: “You foolish Galatians!”? The apostle has a purpose, however; this rebuke is a lesson to us, also, about how to receive negative feedback, besides the doctrinal issues at stake.
A perplexed indignant anger boils within Paul. The very worst thing that he could conceive as occurring for the Galatians, spiritually, has happened. There was evidence that the Judaisers—those that apparently influenced the Apostle Peter and Barnabas—had swayed the Galatians away from grace and back toward the compunction of the Law.
Paul is livid, so concerned is he that an investment in the salvation of the Galatians seems to have soured. So, he has managed to contain himself for most of the letter thus far, besides an adversative section (1:6-10) after the opening salutation.
Perhaps Paul’s best expression is genuine concern; that emanating by the fact that faith has not stuck to the Galatians as he had have hoped. Not unlike Paul’s approach with the Thessalonians, the apostle sees himself in a parental, mentoring role. When mentoring, we do have some expectation that those being mentored will be influenced positively—to that end, to stay influenced.
To the church, there is an important message. Notwithstanding the core of the message of chapter 3, that of the power of faith over the powerless rigour of the Law, there is a deeper issue at stake. The evil of false teaching, then and today, threatened and threatens the cohesiveness and direction of the church.
There is hardly a more cancerous element set to destroy a unified fellowship than that of splits over relatively small differences in doctrine that generate large divides between the mass.
Paul’s message is primarily set in reteaching and reaffirming the Christian basics, but this is underpinned by the need to quell a phenomenon known to cause ructions through every age of the church.
The message necessarily pushes us on toward a mandate—what to do.
The mandate of Paul to the Galatians—and hence to us as well—is that all humankind, conditional in the acceptance of Jesus, whose deeds on the cross and his resurrection redeem us, is now justified by the simple action of faith. No laws, rules or obedience in any way besides faith earns the slightest salvation.
We don’t thumb our noses at a costly grace (costly for God). We don’t cheapen it. The deed of salvation cost our Saviour his life. We don’t undermine the grace-gift by being ‘talked around’ by charismatic individuals. We hold steadfastly to the Power that has released us from the condemnation of our sin.
“Paul’s mandate is: never forget what has been done for us; a thing we could never do; that is, capture our own salvation.”
© 2011 S. J. Wickham.