Most of the time Paul opens his letters with the “Grace to you” formula and some thanksgiving to God for his readers, specially for their support in the advancement of the gospel(Romans 1:8, Philippians 1:3, 1 Corinthians 1:4). Not so with his letter to the churches at Galatia. After wishing them grace and peace in verse 3, he then immediately rebuked them in verses 6-9 of their departure from that same grace he’s wishing them to have. No more pleasantries and thanksgiving as an expression of gratitude, instead Paul gave them a sudden rebuke. Sometimes we all need just that. A reminder of God’s grace and a sobering and shocking rebuke to show us how we have fallen from the grace we’ve once tasted. The more we realized what grace is, the more the rebuke becomes more and more convicting and piercing when we depart from it.
Paul expressed how astonished he was by their sin. His strong language here should not be taken as opposite of grace and love, but instead a demonstration of deep love for them. A jolting rebuke was needed to wake them up from being bewitched by the false teachers.
I really love what Marshall Segal said in one of his articles about grace.
“Some of the most precious grace feels harsh in the moment. But it will not seem harsh when we rehearse the same scene in heaven. “Turn back from your sin, or you will go to hell!” will be some of the sweetest words we’ve ever heard. Hearing those words in eternity, we would trade a thousand compliments for one correction spoken in love.” – Marshall Segal
Paul is not lying when he said that grace be to them. Grace is telling you what your sin is and what awaits you if you continue in sin and wandered away from grace. He’s not pushing them away from grace by his tone but dragging them back to grace.
Imagine a scenario where you are about to cross the street with your son. Then he wandered away from you, and all of sudden there’s a fast approaching vehicle that’s about to hit him. Love dictates that you’ll grab the kid by the hand and immediately pull him to the sidewalk. How you hold his hand wouldn’t matter, or how you pull him out of the street wouldn’t matter. The force by which you grabbed and pulled his hand can be very painful for the child but what matters is that you saved him. He may not understand it at the moment but as he matures he’ll remember how loving and gracious his father was to him.
Galatians were Paul’s spiritual children and so he did what any father would do if one of them was in harm’s way. He’ll rebuke them even if it means they would hate him for it(Galatians 4:16). You do what you’ve got to do.
Then verse 6 tells us what Paul was astonished about. Namely that they are so quickly deserting away from the One who called them by the grace of Christ for a different gospel.
so quickly deserting away from
The adverb quickly is quite interesting because it’s not really that clear what it is modifying. Is it how quickly or soon from their conversion, they are now deserting the gospel, or what’s being said is that regardless of how long they’ve been a Christian, they are quickly departing from grace without any thoughts. I think it means both because 1) for the new convert, it is astonishing that after you’ve freshly experienced God’s grace, you’ll depart from it, and 2) if you’re saying that you are mature and yet you turned quickly to another gospel without any thoughts, then that surely is astonishing. So how long you’ve been a Christian really doesn’t matter. Whether a new convert or a seasoned elder, it is the unreasonableness of departing from God’s grace that warrants Paul’s amazement and rebuke.
According to Dr. John MacArthur; “Tacheōs (quickly) can mean either easily and readily or soon, and sometimes both, as was probably the case with the Galatians’ deserting the true gospel. The believers apparently offered little and ineffective resistance to the false teachers and therefore were fickle in their allegiance to Paul and his teaching. They quickly and easily came under the influence of heretical doctrines.”
Another thing to take note of is Paul’s use of the term behind deserting(metatithēmi). It is in the middle voice which means that they acted voluntarily. Yes they were under the influence of the false teachers but they are not victims who were dragged away from the sphere of God’s grace. They were deserting God by themselves. Also notice that it’s in present tense and in the indicative mood which means that they were in the process of turning away. There’s still hope for them because they had not yet fully turned.
the One who called you by grace
See that they deserted not just the message and grace but the One who called them by grace, God the Father himself. And by saying that you are deserting Him for a different gospel, what Paul is saying is that God himself is the Gospel. In other words, when you prefer another gospel you are preferring another god. It’s not just a preference of doctrine but a preference of person.
Now remember how Israel had just been liberated from Egypt, and received the law at Mount Sinai and yet Exodus 32:8 says, “They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They made for themselves a golden calf..” The words “so quickly” (οὕτως ταχύς) in Galatians 1:6 is the same greek words used in Exodus 32:8 in the Septuagint. Just as how the Israelites preferred a different god when they left the commandments of God, the Galatians are preferring a different god when they depart from the true gospel.
for a different gospel
When you leave God you don’t become neutral. You’ll look for another. We are a preferring and desiring creatures and we will look for something that will satisfy us. There’s no middle ground. Some left the faith in order to be satisfied by a different gospel.
The word for “different” or “another” means a different kind. In this case an inferior kind. A.T. Robertson’s said; It means a different kind of gospel that presents…
not that there really is another gospel
Paul then clarifies immediately in verse 7 a possible misconception from what he said. He explicitly denies that there is another gospel. A so called “gospel” that draws you away from what can really save you, is no good news. Just as idols are not really another gods, so also the false gospels are not really another gospels.
but there are some who are troubling you and trying to distort the gospel of Christ
Rather it is a distortion of the true God and the true Gospel. A distortion meant to trouble believers. It says in verse 7 “not that there really is another gospel, but there are some who are troubling you and trying to distort the gospel of Christ.” The conjunction “and” in greek is very nuanced that it can also be construed as “by”. The participial clause functioning as an adverb of manner makes that plain to us. So they are troubling the saints by trying to distort the gospel of Christ.
After stating their sin, Paul turns now to rebuke them. But we must ask first; how the word “but” in verse 8 functions and what’s the main thought from the preceding verses that’s being joined to it?
1) Is it connecting verse 8a with verse 7c? Meaning, do as you would like with the gospel, distort it if you so desire, “but” remember that if you that you are to be accursed. So it’s functioning adversatively and verse 7c is a kind of concession. So what’s being highlighted is that there will be a damning consequence if you do preach a false gospel.
2) Maybe what’s being connected by the conjunction “but” is verse 7b and verse 8a and it is functioning like the word “now”. Which means that there are some that you can easily pinpoint to be distorting the gospel, “now” if we or an angel, who are not suspected of distorting the gospel, preached another gospel, then let them be accursed. The main idea here is that there are those in our opinion very unlikely to distort the gospel and yet may actually distort it, so be very careful.
3) The word “but” joins the whole idea of verse 6 and verse 8a. Similar to option 1, it is functioning adversatively but here the whole of verse 6 is the concession. That includes Paul’s astonishment. In other words even with Paul’s display of astonishment and disgust with others who prefer another gospel, he’s not exempted from his own warning. Paul is raising the stakes higher by including himself and others, along with the angels in the subject of the warning. I’m astonished by your departure “but” even if we, that is, I, Paul included, or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be condemned in hell! It highlights both the consequence of preaching a false gospel and the reality that someone of Paul’s caliber may actually distort the gospel.
I’m leaning towards number 3 because it makes more sense with Paul’s logic. He’s arguing for how the gospel is so precious that we can’t trifle with it. This is Paul the apostle, inspired by the infallible Holy Spirit, pitting himself not just against the other apostles like Peter when he lived inconsistently with the gospel in Galatians 2:11-16, and angels who may come as angels of light, but this is Paul against Paul. If Paul all of a sudden had a change of heart, that Paul is anathema! Yes the same Paul who once said that he was astonished, that he’s not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God unto salvation(Romans 1:16-17).
The gospel is greater than Paul, the other apostles, and angels and anyone of us because God is the Gospel, and the gospel is about Christ and the sufficiency of his life, death and resurrection that reconciles us back to God. This is God’s gospel according to Romans 1:1. It is not ours to change, modify, improve upon or make relevant to the ever changing culture.
I want you to notice how Paul phrased his words quite differently in verse 8-9.
First he said in verse 8 “if we or an angel” then in verse 9 “if anyone”. He moves from specific to the more general. It’s like saying if we’re not exempted neither anyone of you are exempted.
Second he said in verse 8 “contrary to the one we preached to you”, but in verse 9 it says; “contrary to the one you received.” This assumes that the gospel did not die with the apostles’ death. No! It’s handed down to us through the faithful preaching of the gospel. It is the faith once for all delivered to the saints. That’s amazing! The gospel that we receive today in churches who faithfully adheres to the gospel of grace is the very gospel taught by Paul!
Third, in other words, the gospel by which the false teachers today distorts is the same gospel these false teachers at Galatia was perverting, and so the same judgment and condemnation given to them is the same judgment and condemnation God decreed to deter any perversion and contamination to triumph over His gospel throughout the ages.
Fourth, the double indictment highlights the urgency and seriousness of the problem. This is a matter of life and death. Those who preach a different gospel will be held accountable. Anathema means to be condemned in hell, to be cut off from Chirst, to be damned, to be thrown in the lake of burning sulfur. This is clear from Paul’s use of the word in Romans 9:3 where he applies it to himself: “I could wish that myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for my brethren”.
Douglas Moo explains; “The Greek word ἀνάθεμα has come over into English in transliterated form, where it means much what the Greek original means: to be under a curse. The Greek word, in turn, reflects the Hebrew חֵרֶם (ḥērem), “something dedicated,” often “dedicated to destruction” (e.g., Num. 21:3; Deut. 7:26; Josh. 6:17; 7:12; Zech. 14:11). (All the NT occurrences have this sense: Rom. 9:3; 1 Cor. 12:3; 16:22; Acts 23:14). More than removal from the community (e.g., excommunication) is meant ; what is involved is nothing less than suffering the judicial wrath of God (e.g., Lightfoot 1881: 78; R. Longenecker 1990: 17).”
Therefore my brethren, hold fast to the gospel of grace and do not entertain another gospel. Sometimes grace at the moment can be very hurtful to us when we hear such awakening rebuke, but the same grace is the sweetest thing we’ll remember when we look back in light of eternity.