As we go through the epistle of Paul to the churches at Galatia, we come now to the body of the letter. We already saw from both the salutation and the occasion of the letter the three main themes that he will expound in the rest of the letter. Galatians 1:1 deals with (1) Paul’s apostleship, then in verses 3-5, it talks about (2) the gospel and in verses 6-9, (3) Paul’s rebuke to those who depart from the gospel and condemnation to those who preach another gospel.
Let me first begin by outlining for us the first half of the body of the letter.
APOSTOLIC AUTHORITY : PAUL A SLAVE OF CHRIST 1:10-24; 2:1-21
The body of the letter begins with Paul’s claim as an apostle of Christ. It is only natural to begin there because his opponents attacked not only the gospel but also its messenger. One of their charges was that Paul’s claim as an apostle was illegitimate, and so therefore he preached an easy form of the gospel just to please the gentiles and the ones who sent him as a missionary in order to gain their support. But these attacks were aimed at a straw. They’re attacking a gospel, the kind that is appealing to men, which Paul himself never taught. Contrary to their accusations, Paul’s message of justification by grace and through faith alone, apart from works of the law, is an offense to all who rely on themselves for their own salvation. The cross was and is inherently offensive to all self righteous people, and that is all people. Paul’s claim to apostolic authority is not so much about claiming power for himself. It really does boils down to whether you’re a pleaser of God or of men. Your authority is only as good as the person whom you’re trying to gain approval from. On the other hand, Paul’s opponents were the men pleasers according to Galatians 6:12-17. They add works of the law in the gospel in order to avoid persecution.
One of the difficulties in the interpretation of our passage today in Galatians 1:10 is to answer the question whether it belongs to the preceding verses or to what follows. In greek, verse 10 begins with a conjunction γαρ, which is used to join a main clause with a subordinate clause. The subordinate clause functions logically as the grounds of the main clause. There lies the difficulty. If you treat verse 10 to be part of the preceding verses as its ground, then it would be an odd way of giving support. The logic of the text would go something like this: “if any one is preaching another gospel, let him be accursed, for am I now trying to seek the approval men or God?” That sounds incongruent. But if we take it to be connected to what comes after, it makes much more sense. We can render it as “Now am I then trying to seek the approval of men or God?” In other words, on account of what was said before, does it sound like Paul was trying to please men? Then the rest of chapters 1-2 serves to support Paul’s main claim that indeed he’s not a man pleaser but a pleaser of God. I’m leaning towards the second option because it makes much more sense logically. So the structure of the passage would look something like this:
Paul rebuked the Galatians in verses 6-9, and as he anticipate the opponent’s’ response that his apostleship was bogus and he’s just trying to please men for his own selfish ambitions, he then said in verse 10; “Now am I then trying to please men or God?”
Robert Gundry seems to suggest the same thing : “The initial “For” makes the whole of 1:10 an elucidation of what the maledictions in 1:8-9 imply regarding Paul’s motive. He wants to be winsome to God and pleasing to Christ by defending the gospel from distortion even at the cost of displeasing human beings.”
Paul here invites his opponents to test or to challenge not only his apostleship but also his motives.
Unlike many pastors and so called “apostles” and “prophets” today, the authoritative apostle Paul was willing to undergo scrutiny by his very opponents.
So Paul begins with two rhetorical questions. Now am I then seeking the approval of men or of God? Or am I trying to please men? But before I give the implied answers, it must be noted first that the greek word translated as “seeking the approval” literally means “to persuade”. If that were the usage here, then the implied answer to the first question would be men. For it is impossible to persuade God. However, the literal translation does not conform with the context where the following clause is clarifying the former. It says “or am I trying to please men?” So we can say that “seeking the approval” is more likely to get the sense of the greek. Therefore if that’s the question, “am I seeking the approval of men or of God?”, then the implied answer is God. So the answer demanded by the next question is no. Paul was not trying to please men. I don’t think hurling curses in verses 8-9 pleases men.
One commentary said; “Paul’s previous anathemas (which could potentially include himself; 1:8) were designed to show that it was not popularity he sought but faithfulness to the gospel as he understood it. The final statement of the verse indicates that if pleasing humanity was his goal, being a “servant of Christ” would not be the most logical way to proceed (1:10). His words are reminiscent of the warning, spoken by Jesus, regarding the serving of two masters (see Matt. 6:24).” – (Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary)
Paul then gave the grounds by defining for us one of the criteria in order to pass as a slave of Christ. He said; “If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a slave of Christ!”
There are few things to take note of here:
1) Paul claims apostolic authority not by saying; “I’m an apostle sent by God, therefore listen to me”, even though it’s true. Instead, he immediately point to where his authority is coming from. Not from the title or the office “Apostle” but from his liege Lord. His concern was that he must be seen first as a slave of Christ and his authority was not his but Christ’s.
Today, the number of initials and abbreviated titles that comes before your name gives you authority. The more the better. For others, it’s the number of following, or what tradition you are in.
2) He said “If I were still”. Paul was not denying that he once were a man pleaser. He was the best when it comes to being righteous on the outside but rotten inside. Paul was a zealot for Judaism according to verses 14. There was time when he was seeking the approval of men rather than the approval of God. Or at least he thinks God also approves of his self righteousness.
3) Being a slave of Christ is incompatible with being a man pleaser. In John 5:44, Jesus speaks of the same thing, only that it refers to the incompatibility of believing and seeking the praise of men.
We are shown to be a slave of Christ not by wearing earrings nor by showing off trendy t-shirts that says “doulos” for Christ or any bible verses for that matter. It is by serving not with eyeservice, as people-pleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; with good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men (Ep. 6:6-7). It is by knowing that of the Lord we shall receive the reward of the inheritance: because we serve the Lord Christ (Col. 3:24). It is by being entrusted with the gospel, and so to speak; not as pleasing men with flattering words, but pleasing God(1 Th. 2:4-5). It is by proclaiming not ourselves but Jesus Christ our Lord and being a servant to others for the sake of Christ.(2 Corinthians 4:5)
“Nah, I don’t buy that Paul. Enough of this talk about being a slave of Christ because you’re contradicting yourself again. You said to our brothers at Corinth that they are to give no offense to the Jews or the Gentiles(1 Corinthians 10:32-33) or to our brothers at Rome, you told them to please their neigbor(Romans 15:2)”, one might respond to Paul. In which Paul may have replied, “you are misrepresenting and misquoting me again”.
So what did Paul meant when he said that we are not to be pleasers of men? He meant that we are not to remove the offense that is already present in the gospel. We are not to modify it just so make it appealing to men, lest the power of the cross be nullified. The cross is a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks but the power and wisdom of God to those who are being saved.
Just as Matthew Henry says : “In preaching the gospel, the apostle sought to bring persons to the obedience, not of men, but of God. But Paul would not attempt to alter the doctrine of Christ, either to gain their favor, or to avoid their fury. In so important a matter we must not fear the frowns of men, nor seek their favor, by using words of men’s wisdom.”
Now this doesn’t mean that the more people we can displease or offend the more we become spiritual or Pauline like or as some people say; “I’m imitating Paul as he imitate Christ.” Paul never aimed to push away or alienate people under the pretense of proclaiming the truth. Oh how wicked our hearts can be!
When Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10:32-33 that they are not to give an offense to the Jews or to the greeks or to the church of God, just as he try to please all men in everything he does, what he’s saying was to remove all unnecessary offense that will hinder them from being saved. In other words, the offense of the cross is enough. Don’t add to it. Then in Romans 15:2, when he told them to please his neighbor, it is not at the expense of good but for their good and edification. Meaning being a slave of Christ is learning to become a slave to others for their edification for the sake of Christ(2 Corinthians 4:5). Don’t be offensive for offense sake, let the cross be the offense and your manner of speaking be gracious, seasoned with salt(Colossians 4:6).
There are two kinds of people pleasers.
1) The duplicitous, inclusivist, relativist people.
It is quite easy to spot someone who belongs to this group. They are very inclusive except that they don’t want to include the exclusivist. This is the “Don’t judge lest ye be judged” people. They are duplicitous because they have different faces depending on the people they’re trying to please.
2) The exlusivist niche people pleaser.
This one is much harder to detect. Because at first glance they seem to be very offensive to all people and they will justify being offensive by saying that they’re just telling the truth. They’ll ride every and any controversies that trends on social media. They will even criticize those who are not as actively answering every issues the way they do. The patrons of this group usually get their theology more from memes, bumper sticker statements and sound bites from sermon mash ups. They’ll post and share them in order to gain the approval of the people within the niche. Like the inclusivists they’re just pleasing people and not God. They will offend those outside the niche in the guise of rebuke and correction, but the moment you criticize a favorite pastor or a theologian that belongs to that niche, you’ll surely be kicked out or branded as a disrespectful and proud person.
The sin of seeking the approval of men comes in many forms so beware brethren lest you fall.
I will end with a quote from Charles Spurgeon.
“Those whom we try to please are our masters! If a man tries to please the populace, or to please the refined few, those are his masters and he will be their slave. But if he tries to please his God, then is he a free man, indeed!” – Charles Spurgeon
Trying to please every man, whoever they may be, for the sake of their approval, would be very enslaving. But if we are to truly live our lives as Christ’s slaves and so please him, it would be very liberating. You’ll learn when to please God by pleasing men indiscriminately and when to please God by letting the offense of the cross do the offending indiscriminately.