by Dr. Robert R. Seyda



Augustine of Hippo (354-430) also picks up on this same theme of correcting errant members and cautions those given the task or opportunity to counsel the straying believer to be understanding. He wants them to be careful not to take on the role of a teacher when, in fact, they end up disrespectfully rebuking and ridiculing the one sinning, or even arrogantly dismiss them as being incurable.[1] The Bishop goes on to explain that nothing makes people more inclined to be merciful than the thought of one day ending up in the same predicament. So, while Paul did not want them to be neglectful of family discipline, neither did he want them eager to fight. Many people will quarrel when suddenly opposed and prevented from having their say. So, let peace and love be preserved in our hearts by the thought of fighting the same enemy – sin.

Ambrosiaster (366-384), a contemporary of both Chrysostom and Augustine, sees Paul’s new theme here as a continuation of what he just said before about believers not being puffed up and arrogant with their fellow believers just because of their position in the Church or society. In this section, the Apostle addresses those who are not only ministry leaders in the congregation but spiritual leaders as well. In their position as elders and deacons, they are usually the first to find out that someone in the body of believers has strayed from the truth. That’s why they become a first responder in trying to get them back on track. Ambrosiaster cautions them about being so comfortable in their blessed life that they are quick to reject someone led astray by sin and throw them out as damaged goods.

In Ambrosiaster’s opinion, if they are sharply attacked by a superior, they will not put up with the assault and become very defensive and look ashamed and appear to be worse than they are. Rise above that, make your appeal as an argument against sin, but be willing to show the steps to take to recovery humbly. This is the best way of chastening the proud, says Ambrosiaster. And ensure that all of this is applied equally with all humility and gentleness.

Ambrosiaster also sees an effort on Paul’s part to soften those who are giving advice, because they too may find themselves in need of counsel and guidance. By keeping this in mind, these more influential Christians will avoid the temptation to reject the person in need, knowing that they, too, are capable of sinning. In this scholar’s eyes, the Anointed One came to save all who would believe.[2] Therefore, whoever counsels a sinning brother or sister and persuades them to return to the right way is fulfilling the will of the Anointed One.[3]

Pope Leo the Great advised John, the Bishop of the City of Ravenna in Northern Italy, on the subject of counseling those who’ve fallen into temptation’s trap. When a believer commits a fault, not out of spite, but only from ignorance or weakness, it is undoubtedly necessary to tone down the admonishment to the erring member with moderation. For it is true that all of us, so long as we subsist in this mortal flesh, are subject to the sinful tendencies of our Adamic nature. Everyone, therefore, ought to be aware of how needful it is to show love and concern for another believer’s weakness. It will help prevent them from lashing out with hurried words of scolding against a neighbor’s wrongdoing, instead of thinking about how they would feel if it happened to them under the same circumstances.

That’s why states Leo: Paul counsels the Galatians here in verse one. He tells them that if a person finds themselves overtaken by temptation, spiritually healthy believers, in the spirit of humbleness, must work to restore such a person to spiritual health. One day, that person may help you in the same way. That is another way of saying, says Leo, of admitting that you have overcome weaknesses and imperfections yourself. But it was through spiritual counseling you recovered, not something you did yourself. Therefore, let the Spirit moderate the zeal of your reborn spirit when you feel forced to call into question their shortcomings. Think about how you would feel if someone treated you the same way when trying to help you get your life straightened out again.[4]

Early church commentator, Haimo of Auxerre (820-865), says that the person being pointed to here as the wayward sheep, is someone who did something and suddenly realized that it was wrong. In other words, they unexpectedly got caught in a mistake that was not premeditated. As such, we should admonish a person who sins unexpectedly differently because the offense was not intentional. As such, we must correct these precious people with a gentle spirit, so they don’t end up slipping into despair. If that happens, then they will need sharp chastisement He goes on to say such persons are those who are fragile and frail, and especially the ones who quickly slip into guilt, especially the ones who with an immature understanding and not prone to being deceitful.[5] Let us remember as we read these comments of early church priests and bishops that it was back in the day when everyone believed that it was the Church who saved you. Therefore, they had control over you going to heaven or hell.

Robert of Melun (1100-1167), born in England and raised in France, notes that in verse one, they translated the Greek verb prolambanō (“to anticipate” [“overtaken” KJV]) into Latin as præoccupatus (“preoccupation”). He then points to the Latin version of the Psalms that reads in English: “Let us anticipate His presence with confession and let us sing joyfully to Him with psalms.” [6] So, as Robert sees it, every believer should anticipate that temptations will confront them along life’s highway. In other words, don’t ever become complacent and think that you need not worry about the sins you are carrying around in your life. God will see to it that conviction by the Holy Spirit will warn you. Fascination with wrongdoing can catch up to you, even from behind, when you are not observant of its presence.[7]

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) gives a more scholarly treatment of Paul’s instructions here. First, he says that the one chosen to deal with the errant member is to make sure they know what type of error is involved. Think of it the same way a teacher correcting a paper turned in by a student gives them credit for correct answers and then explain how they answered the other ones wrong. And do so humbly and mercifully. Secondly, consider the frequency of this sin. Some are done quite often, such as cursing, lying, lusting, etc., and must be dealt with differently. And thirdly, view the quality of the sin. For instance, whether committed through commission or omission.

Aquinas perceived sinning by commission as a graver sin than sinning by omission. Sins of commission are opposed to the principle of wrongdoing, which is in effect every moment of the day. Sins of omission are often in conflict with the ethics of right doing. However, since it is not binding on us every moment, and since it cannot be known ahead of time whether deciding not to do what we should do will turn out to be harmful, the decision of omission is only seen after the fact. That’s why it is asked: “Who can understand sins?” [8] And when taking a second look, says Aquinas, it is a sin committed through ignorance.[9]

Martin Luther (1483-1564) offers a picture of how these things were thought of by the church in his day. Back then, he says, the Vatican taught the exact opposite of what the Apostle commands here. They must carefully scrutinize every small offense. And to justify their intrusive curiousness, they quote the statement of Pope Gregory that advises people living law-abiding lives to be afraid of a fault even if they can’t see one at the moment. Church moral evaluators must be respected, although they are sometimes unjust and wrong. It is on this kind of thinking, says Luther, the Roman Catholic Church bases its doctrine of ex-communication. Rather than terrifying and condemning people’s consciences, they ought to help lift them and comfort them with the truth gently and humbly.[10]

John Calvin (1509-1564) does not hold back in what he has to say about the way some church leaders dealt with those in the congregation who did not live up to their expectations. As he sees it, uncontrolled ambition in enforcing church rites, rituals, and regulations is a dangerous and alarming evil when utilized to condemn and destroy. But the same goes for ill-timed and excessive severity in discipline, which, under the name of zeal for what is right, springs up in many instances from pride, and dislike and contempt of others.

Some people seize on the faults of other believers as an excuse to criticize them for doing wrong, especially when using offensive and humiliating language. Any pleasure they may take from rebuking someone in the name of discipline, they should not do disrespectfully. Strict reprimands are of severe offenders. But while we must not be afraid of speaking out against sin, neither should we omit to mix the oil of kindness with the vinegar of correction.[11] In other words, it is alright to use the fist of correction, but do it while wearing a soft glove.

Calvin goes on to explain that we are taught here by Paul to correct the faults of believers mildly and to consider no rebuke as representing a religious or Christian character if it does not breathe the spirit of meekness. To gain this objective, Paul explains the design of godly discipline, which is to restore those who are fallen so they can retake their place among the righteous. Such efforts will never be accomplished by hostility, or by a disposition to find fault, or by the intensity of using harsh language. We must first display a gentle and meek spirit if we intend to heal our brother or sister. As we can see, even in early Protestantism, strict church discipline was practiced. However, today the pendulum has swung to the opposite. Today there is minimal correction given to erring members; making them comfortable with their habits seems to be the motto of the day.

Anglican Bible scholar and commentator John Trapp (1601-1669) looks at what Paul says here about a person overtaken in a fault. It entrapped them before they realized they got caught. They had no time to consider the consequences and decide it wasn’t worth the risk – many saints sin by not thinking things over. However, once they are made aware, they repent and make things right. We usually attribute such faults to a person’s emotions, and we know that feelings do not last that long. Trapp says that the best remedy for this is to adopt the ways of the believer that David speaks of in Psalm One.[12] [13]

[1] Augustine of Hippo: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[2] John 3:17

[3] Ambrosiaster: Commentary on Galatians, loc. cit., p. 31

[4] Leo the Great: The Book of Pastoral Rule, Part 2, Ch. 10, p. 523

[5] Haimo of Auxerre: Commentary on Galatians, loc. cit.

[6] Psalm 94:2

[7] Robert of Melun: On Galatians, op. cit., Kindle location (1686-1686)

[8] Psalm 18:13

[9] Aquinas, Thomas: Commentary on Galatians, loc. cit.

[10] Luther, Martin: Commentary on Galatians, loc. cit.

[11] Calvin, John: Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, loc. cit.

[12] Cf. Psalm 139:24

[13] Trapp, John: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 586

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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