The apostle Paul opens this letter immediately defending the gospel message that he proclaimed. He summarizes the gospel message a couple times in the salutation. Rather than opening his letter with a section of thanksgiving, Paul declares his astonishment that these Galatian churches are deserting the Lord by leaving the grace of God and turning to another gospel, which is not a gospel at all. Paul is so concerned about what these Christians have left that he warns them that if anyone, human being or spiritual being, comes to them declaring a different message than what Paul proclaimed, then let that person be accursed.
As we continue to verse 10 we are able to get a sense of how these troublers are causing issues in the churches of Galatia. Verse 10 gives us the indication that the troublers are arguing to the Christians that Paul does not present the whole gospel. He is trying to please people as he preaches the gospel by leaving out certain requirements to belong in the kingdom of God. In Galatians 2:3 we will read that the issue the troublers say that Paul left out was circumcision. Paul is trying to win converts to Christ but he is leaving out something from his gospel message: the need for circumcision. So these troublers are proclaiming that Paul’s message is deficient. Paul is weakening the truth of the gospel and therefore these Christians must be circumcised to be saved and belong fully to the family of God. I believe Acts 15:1 records a useful summary of what these troublers are proclaiming.
But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” (Acts 15:1 ESV)
In Acts 15:5 we read another declaration concerning what the Gentile Christians are to do.
But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.” (Acts 15:5 ESV)
These are useful concepts for us to have in mind as we read what Paul is teaching the churches in Galatia. Jewish Christians have come to the churches in Galatia and proclaimed these messages of being circumcised and keeping the Law of Moses in order to be saved.
Pleasing People or Pleasing God? (1:10-12)
Galatians 1:10 sets forward the theme for this paragraph. “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man?” Notice the first word “for” which connects us back to his last declaration in verses 8-9. Paul said that anyone who does not teach what he taught is accursed. Does that sound like he is trying to gain the approval of people? Does that sound like he has weakened his message to gain the Gentiles into the kingdom? Paul’s exclaims, “Absolutely not.” He is not diluting his message at all. He is not trying to be a people pleaser.
Notice in verse 10 why he is not going to be a people pleaser. “If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” If I try to please people, I cannot be a servant of Christ. We need to hear this message. We must rather have Jesus than the approval of people. We must desire Jesus more than the approval of our friends, of our careers, or even of our family. We can either serve God’s desires or another person’s desires, but we cannot serve both. We must do what is right according to the revealed word of the Lord without concern for the world’s opinions or even the opinions of other Christians. The gospel removes a human-pleasing spirit from us. This is so freeing. You do not need your friends’ approval. You do not need your parents’ approval. You just need God’s approval. When we understand that God has delivered us from the present evil age, then all I want to do is please God, not others or myself. So we must ask ourselves which matters most to us: pleasing people or pleasing God. We cannot be a servant of Christ if we are trying to please people. Jesus said it this way to the religious leaders.
How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? (John 5:44 ESV)
The writer of the Proverbs said, “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe.” (Proverbs 29:25 NIV)
We must desire Jesus and his approval of our lives far beyond the approval of our spouse, or our children, or our parents, or our careers, or anything else. Further, this tells us that we cannot change the gospel message to make it so that it is more acceptable to the world. That is what these troublers claimed Paul had done. They claimed that Paul had softened the message. We must hold fast to the word of God and understand that the world will say that we are too hardline and fundamentalists with the scriptures and must soften the message. We must also understand that Christians may say that we are too soft proclaiming the gospel message. This is why we cannot concern ourselves with what others say about what we are doing. We are not here to please people. We are only here to please God. Our devotion to the word of the Lord must speak for itself. This is what Paul proclaims in verses 11-12. His message is not a human message, just as he said in the first verse as he opened this letter. The gospel message Paul proclaimed is not given to him from a person nor was he taught this message by anyone. He received the gospel by direct revelation of Jesus.
The Gospel Radically Changes Lives (1:13-24)
Paul uses himself as an example to show how the revelation of the gospel has radically changed his life. He describes his former life as he was advancing in Judaism beyond many of his own age. He was zealous for the traditions of the fathers. He was so zealous that Paul says he persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. Please think about the weight of those words and do not pass them by too quickly. He violently persecuted God’s community of saved people and did all he could to destroy it.
But God had a plan for Paul. God had set Paul apart before his birth to preach Jesus among the Gentiles. This was God’s mission for Paul and called Paul by grace. Only divine intervention could change him. His conversion and subsequent preaching could only be the result of the grace of God. The same is true for us. It is only by divine intervention and the grace of God that we are changed. This is what Paul wrote to the Ephesian Christians.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:1–7 ESV)
We are called by the grace of God and if we understand that we have been called by grace, then that changes everything about us. The gospel changes lives. In verse 16 Paul says that Jesus was revealed in him in order that he might preach Jesus to the Gentiles. To put this another way, God revealed Christ to Paul so that God would reveal Christ through Paul. It is when Jesus is in our lives that hearts and lives change. Paul preached the gospel and then asked people to look at his radically changed life. The gospel changes lives. We tell the world about Jesus and then ask them to see how different we live our lives because of Jesus.
Notice that this is message for the rest of this chapter. In verse 17 Paul says that he did not go to Jerusalem to see any apostles but went away to Arabia and then to Damascus. Then after three years he went to Jerusalem and saw Peter, seeing none of the other apostles. He only saw James, the brother of Jesus (1:18-19). Then he went about preaching the gospel in Syria and Cilicia. Notice verse 22. Paul was still unknown in person to the churches in Judea. Paul did not go to Jerusalem and get training in the gospel message. Paul did not get introduced to all the churches there. He did not even meet with the apostles. He was with Peter only 15 days. No one in Jerusalem had seen Paul in the years that transpired after his conversion to Jesus. But here is what they did know. Verse 23 says, “They only were hearing it said, ‘He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.'” The people heard about his changed life. People were hearing that the great enemy of the Christian faith was now preaching that same faith. The result was that God was glorified by Paul’s change (1:24). “And they glorified God because of me.” Our actions are to push people to see God, not ourselves. Think about how Paul made this very point in his letter to the Colossians.
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1–4 ESV)
You have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. People do not see us because our life is hidden. Our lives show Christ now. This is what happened with Paul. He is going around preaching Jesus and people are hearing about his radical life change. The gospel radically changes our lives if we have let the gospel work in our hearts. God is glorified when children of wrath and enemies of the cross become followers of Jesus and proclaim Jesus to those around them. This change only happens and God is only glorified when we desire to please God and not others. The gospel is not working in us if we are still people pleasing. We cannot be servants of Christ and try to make others happy. Seek to make God happy in your response to his grace. We have been called by his grace to show Jesus to the world.