Maligning Paul’s Character
“For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (v. 10). - Galatians 1:10
Besides preaching a gospel other than the one Paul delivered to the Galatians, the false teachers also attacked his character. Apparently, they charged him with “flip-flopping” — changing his message with the blowing of the wind.
We reach this conclusion from today’s passage wherein Paul deals with the question as to whether he is a man-pleaser (Gal. 1:10). There would be no need for him to address this issue if people were not accusing him of such, and the false teachers were likely saying that Paul sought to tickle the ears of the Galatians with an “easy believism,” a “cheap grace.” The apostle’s opponents refused to see that the gospel that frees us from the curse of the old Law does not free us up to be licentious. Actually, in a sense, the gospel of grace is more exacting than the works of the Law the Judaizers demanded. Let us be clear: the deeds that always flow from the regenerate heart never secure our right standing before the Father. Nevertheless, it is harder to bear one another’s burdens spiritually, financially, and relationally (6:2) than it is to be circumcised in the body. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit enables those of us who are justified by faith alone to fulfill the law of Christ, though not in a way that merits
Probably, the false teachers also contrasted Paul’s circumcision of Jewish Christians like Timothy (Acts 16:1–5) with his refusal to impose the Mosaic law on Gentiles in order to label him a “flip-flopper.” Paul’s willingness to “become all things to all people” (1 Cor. 9:19–23) could also be twisted to malign his character. Yet this criticism cannot stand. Paul preached justification by faith in Christ alone to Jew and Gentile alike (Gal. 2:15–16), and he only circumcised Jewish converts so as not to unnecessarily offend non-Christian Jews. Circumcision was an essential part of their ethnic heritage, and, provided they knew it did not save them, there was no need to bar Jews from practicing it. He did not circumcise Gentiles, however, because circumcision was culturally foreign to them. Requiring circumcision, the situation in Galatia reveals, confused Gentiles into thinking salvation depended upon a mark on their bodies.
The context of Galatians 1:10 refutes any notion that Paul was a people-pleaser. Would a man concerned to win the acclaim of all people call down curses upon some of them (vv. 8–9)? Paul’s becoming “all things to all people” reflects a godly practicality that holds to the gospel without doing anything that would cause unnecessary offense. This principle should guide the church today, though we must beware lest we water down the gospel in our drive to reach the lost.
Passages for Further Study
- Exodus 20:16
- Matthew 22:15–22 Acts 21:17–26
- Galatians 6:15, 17