Author: Ron Graham
Paul’s Five Appeals
—in his letter to the Galatians
Paul makes five appeals or pleas throughout the letter to Galatians, alternating with the main parts of the letter. We now turn our attention to these five appeals. These pleas give us a window through which we see how early Christians felt and reacted in the heat of religious controversy.
1 First plea (Galatians 1:6-9)
¶“6 I am astounded that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ, and that you are turning to a different gospel 7 —not that there is another gospel, but there are some who trouble you and want to twist the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a 'gospel' that is contrary to the gospel we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 We've told you this before, and now I say it again. If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:6-9)
The gospel Paul preached was being twisted and perverted. Paul felt surprised, quite astonished that such false teaching was disturbing and confusing the church.
Paul had strong feelings about anyone who taught falsely: "Let him be accursed!" Mind you, this remark does not show a lack of love on Paul’s part. Rather, it shows that Paul loved the gospel truth. That love was so strong that he even included himself in his curse if he should twist the gospel.
2 Second plea (Galatians 3:1-5)
¶“1 You foolish Galatians! Who has cast a spell on you? Your eyes were opened to see Jesus Christ as crucified. 2 Let me just ask you this: did you receive the Spirit by works of the law, or was it by hearing [the gospel] with faith? 3 Are you so stupid? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain —if indeed it was in vain? 5 Does he who gives the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or is it by hearing with faith?” (Galatians 3:1-5)
The false doctrine was finding acceptance among the Galatians, so Paul called them "foolish" because, by their acceptance, they were abandoning spiritual things in favour of fleshly things.
He asks them several questions:
- "Who has bewitched you?"
- "Did you receive the Spirit by the law or by faith?"
- "If you began in the Spirit, is the flesh going to perfect you?"
- "Have you suffered in vain?"
- "Does God work miracles among you through the law or through faith?"
These questions reveal Paul’s clear perceptions: the false teaching not only attacked the Galatians' gospel faith, but contradicted their experience which was twofold:
- Firstly they had experienced suffering because of the cross, or seen others suffer, and thus before their eyes Christ had been "publicly portrayed as crucified". This was an experience caused by faith in Christ, not mere obedience to the law.
- Secondly they had personally experienced miraculous powers from God. These came by faith, and by the Spirit, not the law.
3 Third plea (Galatians 4:10-20)
¶“ 10 You observe days and months and seasons and years! 11 I am afraid I may have laboured over you in vain. 12 Brethren, I implore you to become as I am, for I also have become as you are. You did me no wrong. 13 You know that I had a health problem when I first preached the gospel to you. 14 And although my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as you would an angel of God, or even Christ Jesus. 15 What has happened to your blessedness? For I bear you witness that, were it possible, you would have taken out your eyes and given them to me. 16 Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth? 17 They have a zeal for you, but for no good purpose. They want to exclude you [from us] that you may be zealous of them. 18 It is good to be zealous in a good way, and at all times, not just when I am present with you. 19 My little children, I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! 20 I wish that I could be present with you soon, and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.” (Galatians 4:10-20)
Paul points out that their acceptance of false teaching was threatening his intimate fellowship with them. They had treated him like an angel. Now he was becoming their enemy.
The tactics of the false teachers were to make people who identified with Paul feel unwelcome, and to create a tension of loyalties. Paul at this stage felt like an anxious mother giving birth; he had doubts and concerns about the outcome.
4 Fourth plea (Galatians 5:7-12)
¶“7 You were running the race well. Who cut in to hinder you from obeying the truth? 8 This [other] persuasion is not from the one who calls you. 9 'A little leaven leavens the whole lump'! 10 I am confident about you in the Lord, that you will not accept this other persuasion, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. 11 Brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? If I so preach, the offense of the cross has been done away! 12 I wish those who unsettle you would cut themselves off!” (Galatians 5:7-12)
Paul worried that the false doctrine was hindering the Galatians from running well in the Christian life. So he warns them about the insidious nature of false doctrine: "A little leaven leavens the whole lump".
But now that Paul has got these things off his chest and counteracted the false teaching, he seems to have lost his doubts about the outcome. He now feels confident, and he warns that the false teacher, whoever he may be, can expect to pay the penalty for the trouble he has caused.
5 Fifth plea (Galatians 6:11-17)
¶“11 See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand. 12 Those who want to look good from a fleshly point of view would force you to be circumcised. They only want to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 Indeed, even those who are circumcised don't keep the law, but they desire you to be circumcised so they may boast in your flesh. 14 May I, however, never boast in anything but the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything. What counts is a new creation. 16 Whoever will who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. 17 From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.” (Galatians 6:11-17)
Paul exposes the real motives of the false teachers: cowardice and pride. They wanted to escape persecution and they wanted to boast about winning people over to their way. Paul makes clear what is important and what is not in this issue.
The cross, and the rebirth made possible by the cross, were important. Circumcision and keeping the law of Moses were not.
Paul could see clearly how the problem would be resolved in the end —by the Galatians being willing and deciding to follow the rule of truth. It was up to them.