NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES
CHAPTER ONE (Lesson XXIX)
John Calvin interprets Paul’s statement that he is doing very little, if anything, to please people as a remarkable sentiment. What Paul is really saying is that ambitious persons, that is, those who hunt after the applause of their fellow believers, cannot be serving the Anointed One by doing such a thing. That’s why Paul quickly declares for himself, that he willingly renounced seeking the flattery of others in order to devote himself entirely to the service of the Anointed One. In this respect, he contrasts his present position with the one he once occupied during an earlier period in his life. He was regarded back then with the highest esteem, and he received from every quarter loud applause. Therefore, if he had continued to please his fellow Pharisees, he would have never found it necessary to change his condition. That’s why it must become a standard that those who resolve to serve the Anointed One faithfully, must also have the boldness to dismiss the idea of seeking the favor of what the world has to say about their mission.1
Puritan John Trapp (1601-1669) offers some insight into trying to please people instead of pleasing God. He is convinced that people-pleasers who seek favor with everyone, and do not want to be thought of as a persona non grata to the world, lose a real friend in God. Neither do they keep their popularity for long with those they are doing everything to please. Emperor Constantine once admonished a preacher who was so bold as to call him a “blessed man” to his face, thinking that by doing so the two of them would become best friends.2
In fact, Theodoric the Great, king of the Arians who migrated to Rome from the north during the 3rd and 4th centuries and became King of all Italy, really impressed a certain deacon of the East Orthodox Church with his kindness. The deacon, thinking to please King Theodoric better and get preferential treatment, became an Arian believer. When the king heard about it, his admiration for the deacon changed to anger, and ordered his head to be struck from his shoulders. Also, Erasmus, by seeking to please both sides, was neither esteemed by the Roman Catholics nor honored by the Protestants. He was too much of a coward and people-pleasing who other than that, did the Church a very good service.3 So we learn that when you try to please everyone you will end up being hated by everybody.
Brother Lawrence, whose real name was Nicholas Herman, (1614-1691) was a monk in the Carmelite monastery in Paris, France. In one of his conversations with an unnamed writer, Brother Lawrence talked about praising, adoring and loving God continually because of His infinite goodness and always doing what was right. No one should be discouraged about speaking to God on account of their mistakes. Rather, they should pray for His grace with a total confidence based on their reliance on the infinite merits of our Lord. That God never failed offering us His grace at each instance; that Brother Lawrence perceived and never failed to recognize it except when his mind let his thoughts wandered from a sense of God’s Presence, or he forgot to ask His help.
Another thing that Brother Lawrence said, was that God always gives us understanding concerning our doubts about what we did right or did wrong, especially when we wanted nothing else except to please Him. That our sanctification did not depend upon changing how we did it but in doing it for God’s sake. That it is distressing to see how many people mistake the means for the end, addicting themselves to certain works which they performed imperfectly by reason of their human or selfish desires. The most excellent method Brother Lawrence found in going to God was by doing what Paul says here in verse ten. That we do not do our work for God with any view of pleasing others,4 and, as far as is possible, purely out of love for God.
Brother Lawrence then adds, that we ought, once and for all, to heartily put our whole trust in God and totally surrender of ourselves to Him, being secure in knowing that He will never deceive us. That we ought never become weary of doing little things out of love for God who doesn’t regard the greatness of our work but the love with which we performed it. That we should not wonder if, in the beginning, we often fail in our endeavors but that should never stop trying, which will naturally produce more things we want to do for Him without any worries and bring us exceeding great joy.5
Matthew Poole focuses on Paul’s use of the word “now” to imply that he must have held a different opinion before. Poole believed that Paul is referring to when he was a Pharisee before he became a Christian. Back then, he thought like a Pharisee who was influenced by the unwritten teachings of the Rabbis from the past. But now that he’s a Christian, he isn’t interested in what people say is the truth but what God says is truth. That’s why Paul did not preach to get the applause of others because of his wit or wisdom. Everyone knows that it is the duty of inferiors to please their superiors. Other Apostles were all human beings like Paul was, they were not his superiors. His superior was none other than Jesus the Anointed One, the One who called him, the One who sent him, and the One who gave him his message.6
Frederic Rendall (1840-1906) makes an interesting point here in verse ten that will help us decipher the exact intent in what Paul is saying here to his critics. The KJV translates it: “For do I now persuade men, or God?” The NIV renders it: “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God?” When put either way it still leaves a cloud of doubt over what Paul means. Why would he try to persuade or win the approval of God? The Complete Jewish Bible uses the Western way of thinking instead the Eastern way looking at it when he said in Greek: “Now does that sound as if I were trying to win human approval? No! I want God’s approval! Or that I’m trying to cater to people? If I were still doing that, I would not be a servant of the Anointed One.”
So, instead of it being an attempt to win the approval of both people and God, it is either getting the people’s approval or God’s approval. Rendall thinks that it would be helpful if we take the Greek particle “ē” (which means “either” or “than”), and change it to the English adverb, “rather.” So Rendall would have Paul asking the Galatians: “Am I now persuading men rather than God?”7 This must certainly be the goal whenever a person preaches, sings, leads praise and worship, or prays, etc. That was Paul unchanging focus and purpose for going through so many heartaches and physical torment in traveling thousands of miles on ship and foot to get out the Good News about the coming of the Anointed One to set free those impounded by Satan, sin, and the Law so they can worship God in freedom and in spirit.8
For Joseph Beet (1840-1924), what Paul says here about doing things to be received favorably by others was not easy for him. As a Pharisee, that was his main aim and purpose. When a person does not have the Anointed One in their life then their happiness and self-esteem depends more or less on those around them. That’s why they will do almost anything to get close to those at the top as possible. No doubt, Paul being conscious of this bondage to the wishes of those on whom a person depends for support caused him to be adamant in his condemnation of that kind of allegiance to anyone but the Anointed One. The greatest reward for a servant after a job well done is the Master’s smile. And as servants of the Anointed One we should not be in a hurry to receive the applause of those around us before we are sure that we are pleasing the Anointed One, our Lord, and Master.9
Methodist scholar G. G. Findlay (1849-1919) is convinced that Paul calculated these words beginning in verse six through verse ten to startle the Galatians out of their stupor. He meant them to be like a lightning-flash to show these deluded believers that they were standing on the edge of a precipice. It was to enlighten them about the unending severity of the controversy between Judaism and Christianity; the profound gulf that lay between Paul and Judaizers. He is more or less declaring war on these false teachers who’ve come to kidnap his precious children. He did not hesitate to throw out a challenge in defiance to those who are enemies of the cross. With all his tactfulness and stern handling of the situation he was ready to confront the susceptibility of the Galatians to be easily fooled and their tendency of turning ant hills into mountains, even though they were sincere in the consciences. But in this case, Paul found no room for compromise with the Judaizers here.
He knew the sort of men he was dealing with. He was fully aware that the whole truth of the Gospel was at stake. Not circumstantials, but essentials; not his personal authority, but the honor of the Anointed One, The Doctrine of the Cross was involved in this act of desertion by the Galatians. He must speak plainly; he must act strongly, and at once; or the cause of the Gospel is lost. He made that clear when he said here in verse ten, “I am not trying to please you by sweet talk and flattery; no, I am trying to please God. If I were still trying to please men I could not be the servant of the Anointed One.”
Paul was determined to stand strong against these weak opponents who came to charm these Galatians into switching sides. To consider even looking at this “other gospel” would have been an act of treason for him. There is but one tribunal before which this quarrel can be decided. That was by “the One who called” the Galatians “to live in the grace of the Anointed One.” It was the same One who by the same grace called the Apostle to His service and gave him the message he preached to them. So it was in God’s name and the authority conferred upon him, and for which he must give account, he denounces these troublemakers in verse eight with strong words, “anathema.”10 They are sworn enemies of the Anointed One, and by their treachery they should be forever excluded from God’s kingdom.11
1 John Calvin: Bible Cabinet, On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit. pp. 14-17
2 Eusebius. Life of Constantine
3 John Trapp: A Commentary on the Old and New Testaments, Edited by W. Webster and Hugh Martin, Galatians, Still Waters Revival Books, 1647 Edition, p. 577
4 See Ephesians 6:5-6
5 The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence, Book for the Ages, Ages Software, Albany, OR, 1997, Fourth Conversation, pp. 13-14
6 Matthew Poole: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 641
7 See Matthew 18:8, Luke 15:7; 17:2; 1 Corinthians 14:19
8 Frederic Rendall: On Galatians, op. cit., loc., cit., p. 153
9 Joseph Beet: On Galatians, op cit., loc. cit., p. 22
10 The most common everyday use of this Greek noun meant, “you be damned.” And “damned” in this case was that they be sent to hell.
11 G. G. Findlay: Expositor’s Bible Commentary, op. cit., Galatians, pp. 35-37