NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES
CHAPTER ONE (Lesson XXX)
William Ramsey (1861-1939) quotes a Professor William Locke about how the Apostle Paul often handles the taunts and criticism launched against him by the Judaizers. He does so by putting these phrases between commas in the text. One example is found here in verse ten with such phrases as “persuade men,” “seek to please men.” Such people should not be considered servants of the Anointed One.”1 This helps us see better what Paul was being accused of in the Judaizer’s attempt to discredit him in the eyes of his converts. But mentioning these provocative accusations was not enough. Paul goes on to give his explanation of why they could not be more wrong. He starts by saying in verse sixteen that God’s Son was to be seen in him. He did this so he could preach about the Anointed One to the people who are not Jews. When this happened, he did not consult with other apostles.2
But Paul makes another point, and that was to show that his loyalty was to God first, not people. That’s why he could not claim to be a servant of the Anointed One with anything less than complete loyalty to God the Father who sent Him. I like the way verse ten is paraphrased in one version: “Do I sound to you like someone who is wishy-washy, someone who isn’t clear about what he believes, who suits his preaching to the whims and desires of his audience, as some claim I do; that to Jews I preach obedience to God’s Law and circumcision, and to non-Jews I preach faith and free forgiveness; or instead, do I sound like someone that is trying to please God? Or am I trying to seek human approval? If I were adulterating the truth of God for the sake of conciliating men and winning their favor, I could never be a slave of the Anointed One.”3 Yes, Paul stresses his independence from the original disciples, but leaves no doubt about his dependence on the One who sent him, and the message He gave him to preach. How insightful this is for every minister of the Gospel.
Paul reminds us of something many Christians have forgotten today. Our first obligation, responsibility, and duty is to the Anointed One. Perhaps, after we have done all that we can possibly do for Him; and after we have exhausted every possible way to please the Anointed One; if we do have any time left over at the end of each day, then maybe, but just maybe, we can appreciate worldly people’s acknowledgment that what we’re doing is good. But how many of us even accomplished our basic duties for Jesus – which, in Paul’s opinion came as an inherent motivation to follow Jesus, and not something a believer acquires after long thought or consideration – let alone done anything above and beyond the call of duty. Someone might say, “But I serve the Anointed One through the church.” I would disagree. We serve the church through the Anointed One as a member of His body. Over the years I’ve seen many who thought they backslid from the Anointed One, when in fact they backslid from following the church’s requirements, some of which even the Anointed One did not require. By putting the Anointed One first it helps us to deal with these other issues much easier.
Duncan Heaster throws some light in what Paul may be thinking of when he talks about seeking the applause of the audience. He tells us that in the first century AD, it was common for philosophers and orators to present themselves to others by means of what was called an “encomium,” which means “praise by another person.” In other words, one’s résumé. This speech usually consisted of five sections, clearly defined in the various manuals of rhetoric which have survived, and something Paul surely would have learned. The purpose of this encomium was to demonstrate how worthy a person was of being respected for their expertise.
Jewish writer Avi ben Mordechai first points out that he believed that Paul fully understood what it meant to be a true servant, especially a servant of Yeshua. Jesus made it very clear that any servant of His must do things His way because He will always be there watching them.4 In like manner, Mordechai speaks to converted Jews today by telling them that if they continue to submit to the authority of the Rabbis or Jewish leaders in any community whose doctrines replace the authority and teachings of Moses in the Written Torah, it means that we are taking what they say and adding to the Word of Yahweh. If the Word of Yahweh is added to, it is thereby His Word that is being altered.5 How could anyone do that and still claim to be a servant of Yahweh and His the Anointed One, Yeshua?6 They will end up being called liars, and, therefore, do not qualify to be called servants of Yahweh.7 Not only that, but they place themselves under a curse,8 as well as in violation of what the Anointed One Yeshua Himself said9.10
Some scholars of this letter to the Galatians have detected these sections of the encomium in the first part of Paul’s letter. There are as follows: I. Opening: Paul’s Gospel – 1:10-12; II. Lifestyle: Persecutor of the Church and preacher of the Gospel – 1:13-17; III. Achievements: Deeds of the body – 1:18-2:10; IV. Comparison with others: Paul and Peter: Paul and the Jews – 2:11-20; V. Conclusion: Paul and grace – 2:21. But instead of using the encomium as an instrument of self-praise, Paul almost mocks it by using its elements to show how radically different are the standards of thinking and behavior for a Christian communicator.11
I like the way commentator N. T. Wright finishes this section. In his summary, the opponents of Paul suggested that he got his apostleship, and the message that he preached, from other early Christians, not from Jesus himself. By contrast, they got theirs from Jerusalem, from the original Apostles such as Peter and James, the brother of Jesus. But Paul objects. His apostleship, his commission to build this new family, came from God Himself, and from Jesus the Anointed One. Paul’s vision of Jesus on the road to Damascus is absolutely central for him and his work. So too is the Gospel.
For Paul, this isn’t an alternate system of salvation, or a new way of being religious. It’s the announcement that Jesus, the crucified, the Anointed One, is exalted as Lord of the whole world. Therefore, he is calling into existence a single worldwide family. This is the true Gospel, so beware of illicit imitations. Indeed, shun them; they are a curse, not a blessing. Paul’s apostolic aim to build a single Jesus-based family by announcing this Gospel has been designed for both Jew and Gentile alike. However, it’s as much a challenge in our day as it has ever been. In the wider world, ethnic rivalry and religious hostility continue unabated. Isn’t it time for the church to rediscover the Apostolic Gospel, and to live by it?12
And Grant Osborne gives us an excellent summation of what Paul was attempting to say here in this first part of his letter to the Galatians. The opening of this letter, while following ordinary letter-writing protocol, goes far beyond to highlight both the authority of Paul’s apostleship (speaking with authority from God) and salvation by the Anointed One alone via his death on the cross (not by the law). In the Anointed One the new age has arrived, and with Him this world moves toward its intended destiny. The glory of God is paramount, and God’s people must center upon that which leads to the praise and pleasure of God and the Anointed One rather than of self or others. Based on the Galatians’ surrender to the false views of the Judaizers, they failed miserable in doing this. In our day, too, we must make certain that we do not allow false theology to destroy our usefulness to God and endanger our relationship with Him.13
So Paul starts out this section with the heartbreak of finding out that all the seeds of the true Gospel he planted were not being dug up and a new crop of modified seeds were being planted in the hearts and minds of the Galatians, and he ends with his declaration that whether they accept his admonition or not, his goal is not to please them but to please the One who sent him. He did not seek the accolades of mankind because in so doing he ran the risk of becoming an unworthy servant of the Most High God. So his motto was pure and simple, stick with the pure gospel through thick and thin because in the end it’s the only thing that will survive in order to bring salvation and eternal life.
I like what Pastor Phil Newton of Memphis, Tennessee says about this subject of being a person-pleaser. He asks, how do we fall prey to this danger of being men-pleasers with the gospel? When our focus is on impressing others with our evangelistic prowess, then we’ve begun to curry the favor of men. When we can water-down the message of the gospel with the rationale that we are trying to be more “seeker-friendly,” we are seeking the favor of men and not of God. When we can eliminate or gloss over the cross of Christ and its centrality in the Gospel message, placing our emphasis in salvation upon what a person prays or upon some outward profession, then we are seeking to please men. Plenty of sinners will be glad to do anything you ask of them in terms of outward response, as long as they do not have to abandon themselves to the grace of God alone revealed in Jesus Christ and His atoning work. But leave them shut up with the Gospel alone and the power of God revealed in the Gospel alone, then you will have them running for the cover of self-righteousness, until the Holy Spirit graciously regenerates them.14 Paul wasn’t afraid to tell it like it is when it came to the Gospel and salvation, so why should we?
British Sunday school teacher J. L. Nye, collected stories from all around the world to illustrate what was being said in the Bible. So here in verse ten where Paul speaks of not speaking to please men but his Lord Jesus the Anointed One, Nye tells about the great preacher Charles Spurgeon. Spurgeon was invited by a lecture committee in America to come and give a series of twenty lectures. All of his travel expenses would be paid plus a $1,000 stipend given to him. Spurgeon’s response was, “I have no time for lecturing, I am a minister of the Gospel, and if I ever do come to America no one shall pay a penny to hear me preach.”15
1 W. Locke: The Expositor, Vol. 8, July 1897, p. 66
2 Wm. M. Ramsay: On Galatians, op. cit., pp. 266-267
3 Aiyer, Ramsey, The Contextual Bible Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.
4 John 12:26
5 Deuteronomy 4:2
6 Ibid. 33:1-2
7 Proverbs 30:6
8 Deuteronomy 27:26
9 John 15:6
10 Avi ben Mordechai: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 8
11 Duncan Heaster: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.,
12 Wright, N.T.: Paul for Everyone: Galatians and Thessalonians (New Testament for Everyone), Westminster John Knox Press, 2002, loc. cit., p. 6
13 Osborne, G. R: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 29–309
14 Phil Newton: Pastor, South Woods Baptist Church, Memphis, TN., Sermon, “When ‘A’ Gospel is not ‘The’ Gospel,” Text: Galatians 1:6-10, February 8, 1988
15 Anecdotes on Bible Text: Corinthians and Galatians, by J. L. Nye, Sunday School Union, London, 1881-1900, p. 105