Paul and Zealous Evangelism

26 Apr
from Google Images

from Google Images

Jesus once revealed that some of the most zealous people in evangelism were those who tragically made their recipients or those who embraced their teaching twice the enemies of the Gospel than the offending teachers were (Matthew 23:15). What a testimony! How can anyone, who believes he is serving God, end up being an enemy of the work of God? I believe Paul addresses this very idea in his argument about relationships in Galatians, the fourth chapter.

Paul makes a point that he came to the Galatians by coming as one of them (Galatians 4:12), while at the same time inviting them to come to Christ. That is, the Galatians could enjoy the blessing of the Gospel and remain gentiles (Galatians 4:13-14). On the other hand, the Judaizers came to the Galatians, separating themselves from the gentiles, but invited the gentiles to join them (the Jews) by embracing Judaism, that is, rejecting their own national origin in order to become Jews (Galatians 4:17). The Judaizers zealously expressed their point of view (cf. Matthew 23:15) to affect the Galatian gentiles. They made the Galatians feel like they were important to God, but they also excluded them in preference to practicing their Jewish traditions. Thus, they gave the impression to the believing Galatians that circumcision (Judaism) was preferred by God over the gentile manner of living (Galatians 4:17).

While it is good to be passionately sought after (Galatians 4:18), embracing what one takes to be the will of God through peer pressure is a far cry from our being drawn by the Spirit of God (John 6:44; 12:32). When Paul came to the Galatians as one of them (Galatians 4:12), he deemphasized any difference there may have been between him and the Galatians. The only important matter was the Gospel he preached. Different traditions between Jews and gentiles were never a factor.

On the other hand the Judaizers made out like what they were doing was very important to God and caused others to want to join them in their exclusivist activity. This is nothing more than peer pressure, and there seems to be no difference in how it was done then as it is done today. It is done through dress codes, zoning regulations, etc. While much of this is a good thing, for example who wants to live next to someone who fills his yard up with junk cars, or appliances, or if one wishes to have a very special night out with one’s spouse or friends, why would one choose an environment like McDonald’s? Some exclusivist practices benefit all. There is a place for all things. Nevertheless, when one makes exclusivist practices the criteria for salvation, that is another matter entirely, and that’s what the Judaizers in Galatia were doing.

How can this be resisted? The exclusivist, or the leading brother who seems overcome in the web of the exclusivist, needs to be confronted as Paul did with Peter (Galatians 2:11-13). Once a brother is brought to his senses, the exclusive one’s trap is exposed and everyone is able to see it.

Paul compared his concern for his brethren to the emotion of a mother about to give birth (Galatians 4:19-20). Why would he do this? Some have concluded that Paul shows here that we can lose our salvation. Is this true? The simple answer is no, this is not what Paul is doing. Whether or not one could lose his salvation cannot be concluded from what Paul says in Galatians 4:19, because according to Galatians 4:6 one is a son or a child of God before the Spirit of Christ is given and is “formed” in us. The forming of Christ in us speaks to our sanctification not our justification or rebirth.

What Paul desired (viz. Galatians 4:19-20) was that the Galatians would give way to the Spirit of Christ within them, to again allow him to form Christ in them, because presently they were destroying the work of the Spirit within by embracing the works of the law (cf. Matthew 2:16-18). Paul was perplexed (Galatians 4:20) because he didn’t know if his arguments thus far would be effective enough to undo what the Judaizers had already done.

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Posted by on April 26, 2015 in Epistle to the Galatians, Paul


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