I can distinctly recall a particular occasion on which I attempted, in vain, to please men. In all honesty, it would be more accurate to say that I attempted to please other men. I was a sea cadet that had choose , SEAL Training. I endured a mental and physical nightmare that lasts for weeks. I had grown up in the inner city of Washington D.C., and I thought I knew all there was to know about swimming. While several of the trainers were watching, I decided to show them how a “pro” would dive. Running full force from the beach and plunging headlong into the water, I discovered to my dismay that the water was exceedingly shallow and my face scraped along the graveled bottom. There was no choice but to come to the surface (only inches above) and to expose my bloody face.
Likely each of you can remember stories about yourself, too. All of us have been guilty of trying to please men. Paul was accused of being a man-pleaser by those who proclaimed a gospel different from that which the apostle preached. This accusation was intended to undermine Paul’s authority and to accredit the “different gospel,” which the Judaizers had been preaching among the Galatian churches. Paul, however, was innocent. The passage which we are to study is a part of Paul’s defense against the charge of being a man-pleaser.
We need first to refresh our memories with respect to the context in which our passage is found. The first two chapters of Galatians are introductory and foundational. The Galatian Christians had deserted God by adopting a perverted version of the gospel (1:6-9). This, we shall see more clearly, was the result of the teaching of the Judaizers, who sought to add the keeping of the Old Testament law to faith as a requirement for salvation. The Judaizers attacked Paul’s apostleship as part of their teaching of a “different gospel,” a gospel different from that which Paul had proclaimed. Chapters 1 and 2 are a defense of both Paul’s apostleship and of the gospel which he had proclaimed. Chapters 3 and 4 expose the theological error of Judaism by turning back to the Old Testament law, demonstrating that it was neither intended, nor able, to accomplish what the Judaizers promised. Finally in chapters 5 and 6 Paul explains how God has made provision for holiness through the grace of the gospel. Thus, it is only grace which supplies the holiness which the law demanded.
The Issue of Paul’s Motives and Message
10 For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ. 11 For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. 12 For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
There is nothing indirect about Paul’s approach in chapter 1. He has already bluntly stated that some of the Galatian saints have forsaken God by following another gospel. Having outlined the false teaching within the church, he hastened to address the problem which the church seemed to have with him. The Judaizers could not attack the gospel Paul preached without attacking him. This they did by an assault on his character. They alleged that Paul had changed not for the better, but for the worse, and that his message was motivated by a desire to win man’s approval, rather than God’s. Such charges are implied by Paul’s statement in verse 10:
For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were stilltrying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.
The word “now” appears first in the Greek text, underscoring its emphasis. It centers upon the change in Paul since his conversion. Indeed, it almost begrudges his conversion. The charges infer that Paul once sought to please God, but now he only wishes to please men. Paul focuses on this change which has occurred and upon the motive which his opponents are suggesting underlies his gospel. Paul’s opponents charged that he had thrown out the requirements which had been historically laid upon Gentile proselytes to Judaism. Now, he was preaching that Gentiles could be saved apart from Judaism, by mere faith in a Jewish Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. They claimed that he acted not out of integrity, not out of necessity, but out of a desire to gain easy converts who would be indebted to Paul and who would look upon him with favor.
It is very difficult for us to feel the intensity of emotion involved in this issue. Let me attempt to illustrate it in a way that comes a little closer to home. Suppose that you were a white, southern aristocrat who belonged to a very private club. A reason for the club’s exclusiveness was the extremely high initiation fee. For years and years membership had been restricted to only those whom the members themselves chose to admit. The club even had its own religious rituals, all very formal and “high church.” Suddenly, with the change in federal law, such private clubs were now outlawed. Members could not be excluded on the basis of race, creed, or social status. One of the members radically changed his mind and began to bring in new members, precisely those who had previously been purposely excluded. To add insult to injury, this person had the audacity to bring in new members without requiring any initiation fee whatsoever.
There is a mentality, common among religious fundamentalists, which suspects anything which is too easy.31 This mindset distrusts anything that appears to be too tolerant and not sufficiently difficult and demanding. The underlying assumption is the more demanding the duty, the more painful the process, the higher the price of piety, the more likely it is to be of God. Thus, there is an immediate suspicion concerning anything which appears to be too easy. Contradictory to this attitude is the fact that biblical Christianity is founded upon the principles and the processes of grace. The danger of a fundamentalist mindset (as good as this may be), is that it may question the grace upon which salvation and sanctification rest. Paul not only preached grace, he practiced it, and in so doing brought about a strong reaction from the Judaizers who questioned both Paul’s message and his motives.
There is an element of truth in the accusation of the Judaizers against Paul. Paul admitted to changing his conduct depending upon the cultural preferences of his audience. This he did to avoid undue offense to the gospel (cf. 1 Cor. 9:19-23). While Paul was willing to make cultural concessions, he was unbending concerning any concession with regard to the gospel which he preached. He was unwilling to make any requirements of the Gentiles concerning the keeping of the Old Testament law, for this was contrary to grace.
The issue in question is whether Paul deliberately diluted his message to suit his audience in order to gain status among them. Paul’s defense begins with the word “still” in verse 10. He thus turned the tables on his opponents. His conversion was not a change for the worse, but a change for the better. It was not that he had begun to be a man-pleaser since his conversion, but that he had ceased to be so. As a zealous Pharisee he was a man-pleaser. Had he not been converted, he would still be a man-pleaser. In verses 11 and 12 Paul gives a general answer in his own defense: “For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.”
Paul’s motives, according to the Judaizers, were human. They claimed that he desired more to please men than he did to please God. Furthermore they charged that the divine message had been corrupted by Paul’s fallen humanity. Paul insisted that nothing could be farther from the truth. The details of his conversion and growth as a Christian (and an apostle) refute the charge that he was a man-pleaser. What he learned about the gospel, he learned apart from men (vv. 11, 12). No one could claim more independence from human contamination of the gospel than he. Paul buttresses his argument by more specific examples from his experiences: (1) his conversion (1:13-17); (2) his relationship to the apostles in Jerusalem (1:18–2:10); and (3) his confrontation of Peter (2:11-21).
13 For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure, and tried to destroy it; 14 and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions. 15 But when He who had set me apart, even from my mother’s womb, and called me through His grace, was pleased 16 to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus.
The gospel Paul preached was that same message by which he was saved; thus, his gospel and his conversion were intertwined. In verses 13-17 Paul outlines his conversion experience. Verses 13 and 14 describe him as he was before his conversion. He was devoutly religious as a defender of Judaism.32 Not only was Paul zealous for Judaism, but he was also successful as a Pharisee. He claimed that before his conversion he was “advancing in Judaism” beyond many of his contemporaries (1:14). No one advances in prominence and position unless people are pleased with his performance. Paul, therefore, informs us that it was his devotion to duty which earned him his status within Judaism.
Not only was Paul’s success as a Pharisee the result of pleasing men, but his belief in Judaism was based upon the teachings of men. According to verse 14 Paul was a devotee of Judaism with a zeal for his “ancestral traditions.” Would his opponents charge him with forsaking that which was divine for that which was human? They were wrong, for Judaism was a religion that men had prescribed and promoted. Paul’s zeal to advance within the ranks of Judaism was based upon his desire to win the favor and approval of his contemporaries.
Paul’s new faith came about in an entirely different way, as he describes in verses 15-17. His conversion was initiated by God, rather than by any human agent. God had set him apart, even while in his mother’s womb, for the express purpose of preaching Christ to the Gentiles (1:15-16). God revealed His Son in Paul, not just “to” him (1:16). Specifically, Paul’s conversion was one which took place “within” him through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit who brings the dead to life (cf. John 3:8; Eph. 2:5; Titus 3:5). You will remember that in Paul’s recorded encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus Paul was directly addressed by the risen Lord; however, though Paul’s companions heard the sound, they did not understand Christ’s voice (Acts 22:9). Paul’s conversion resulted from a direct confrontation with the risen Son of God.
To be sure, there was human instrumentality. It was through Ananias that the way of salvation was made known to Paul, along with his calling as God’s instrument to proclaim the gospel to the Gentiles (cf. Acts 9:10-18). Paul spent several days with the saints at Damascus (Acts 9:19). Apart from these minimal involvements with human instruments, Paul’s conversion and spiritual growth was primarily the result of direct divine encounter. Paul claims that he did not immediately confer with men in general, nor with the apostles in Jerusalem, but instead he grew largely in solitude (1:16b-17).33 During the critical, early formative years of Paul’s life as a Christian, he had few men about him to corrupt the gospel. Paul’s salvation and the gospel he was being taught were remarkably free from human contamination.
Paul’s First Visit to Jerusalem
18 Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas, and stayed with him fifteen days. 19 But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord’s brother. 20 Now in what I am writing to you, I assure you before God that I am not lying. 21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22 And I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea which were in Christ; 23 but only, they kept hearing, “He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith which he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they were glorifying God because of me.
It was not until three years after his conversion that Paul finally went to Jerusalem.34 This chronological fact easily meshes with Luke’s abbreviated account in the book of Acts.35 In Acts 9 we are told that Paul was converted in Damascus (vv. 8-19a), where he spent several days with the believers (v. 19b). We are told that he boldly preached Christ (v. 20), and that after “many days had elapsed,” Paul left Damascus because of a death plot (v. 23) and went up to Jerusalem (v. 26). As a result of a plot to kill Paul in Jerusalem, he was sent to Caesarea and then on to Tarsus, his home town36 (vv. 29-30). Thus we can account for a period of three years from the time Paul was first saved in Damascus to the time he fled “after many days” to Jerusalem, only to flee again after a very brief stay.
Even three years after his conversion, Paul did not seek to formulate his gospel on the basis of apostolic approval. Paul tells us in verse 18 that he went up to Jerusalem “to become acquainted with Cephas.” This expression does not suggest a desire to have his message given the “apostolic seal of approval.” Instead, it conveys Paul’s desire to know Peter better. What a wealth of information Peter could supply about the life of our Lord—matters about which Paul would have intense interest, just as you and I do. The visit with Peter lasted for fifteen days (v. 18). In addition to Peter, only James,37 the brother of our Lord, was seen by Paul.
The gospel which Paul preached had very little human input, especially from those who were regarded to be significant—the apostles and elders in Jerusalem. Paul was known more by reputation than by appearance to Christian leaders in Jerusalem. While he was an enemy of the church and trying to destroy it, no one wanted to see him. Once he became a believer, few were able to see him. Nevertheless, the saints in Jerusalem rejoiced at the report that Paul, who had once persecuted the church, now proclaimed the gospel himself (Gal. 1:22-24).
Living exceptionally for Christ requires a real relationship with Him. We all have a tendency to accept those who have come from the same tradition as ourselves much more readily than those who are from another tradition. Let us be content to accept men and women on the basis of the gospel which they profess and preach, rather than on the basis of the denomination or tradition from which they have come.
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