When the apostle Paul wrote by the Spirit the epistle to the churches in Galatia, he asked: "Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?" (Gal. 4:16). Some very strong things were said by Paul -- their removal to "another gospel" and their false teachers were directly spoken of by the apostle, yet Paul assured them that it was in no sense a personal pleasure to have to shame them. Now, was he to be looked upon by them as an enemy just because he told them the truth about their departure from the faith?
It is an act of kindness, an expression of love, a sign of sincerity, to tell another the truth, even when it "hurts" the one to whom the truth is told. Gospel truth, more than any other, tends to make enemies of those who tell it to erring and sinful men. This is an experience that many of us have known who preach the gospel of Christ. There are many former friends who now consider us enemies for no reason other than that we told them the truth of God's word.
There are possibly three different things about telling the truth to sinful men that make the hearers consider the bearers of truth as enemies: (1) It hurts personal pride and ambition of most people. They consider it a personal attack rather than an attempt to help them. (2) It requires more sacrifice than the individual is willing to make to repent and correct the error. It sometimes demands a complete denunciation of the very things or persons that caused the sin to begin with. (3) Truth is usually considered to be what one believes rather than what God says. To say that we tell someone the truth about a certain matter is not usually convincing to him because he denies that we are telling him the truth. His view of the matter is that truth is what he already believes, and error is what we are trying to get him to accept. Truth, of course, is determined by what God says and not by speculations and opinions.
I have known men and women in years past who were considered the closest of friends, but who now stand so far apart as not to even speak to each other. This parting of the ways did not result from an evil act by one toward the other. It came about because one told the other the truth touching spiritual things, especially regarding some of the current problems involving the church. One of the most regrettable things to me is that some who now consider me their enemy were once my best friends and closest brethren in the Lord's work. They encouraged me in the preaching of the very things that now make me their enemy. This is by no means an unusual experience to me; thousands of brethren know exactly what I speak of in this matter.
Let us note two or three things about this passage in Galatians 4:16. First, Paul did not ask, "Have you become my enemy because I tell you the truth?" It was not from Paul's point of view that this alienation between himself and the brethren in Galatia existed. The one who preaches the truth is doing so for the purpose of helping the one in error. Paul did not write to these brethren because he did not love them, but because he did love them and wanted them to be blessed by the truth.
I have been accused of writing or speaking because I did not love certain ones. If it were true that I did not have any love for them, it would be far easier for me to leave them alone and not even waste the energy on them. If I knew of a step that was missing in a dark stairway, and one whom I did not love was approaching that stairway, how could I better express my dislike than to tell him nothing of the missing step and let him fall? On the other hand, if I saw one whom I loved approach, how could I better express my love and concern for him than to stop him and tell him the truth about the missing step? But he might say to me (if he wanted to climb the stairway more than he wanted the truth): "You are my enemy; you do not love me because you are trying to keep me from doing what I want to do." This, of course, is childish, but it is exactly the same in principle as the truth of the gospel in saving those who are lost.
Second, Paul asked: "Am I BECOME your enemy . . . ?" In plain words, "Have I ceased to be your friend?" He had become their enemy at some time and for some reason. The reason stated is: "because I tell you the truth." The time was between his teaching the gospel to them at first and as he now writes to them.
In Galatians 4:13 Paul tells about his first preaching the gospel to them. At this time they had received him tenderly. His infirmity in the flesh did not keep them from receiving him "as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus." He also says that at that time they would have "plucked out [their] own eyes and have given them to me." This was the affection they held for Paul when he first preached the gospel unto them, but now he asks, "Have I therefore BECOME your enemy . . . ?" Paul did not change his preaching. Any other gospel was condemned (Gal. 1:6-7). The time between his first preaching to them and the time of this epistle Paul writes, "I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel; which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ" (Gal. 1:6-7). Somebody had perverted the gospel of Christ and the Galatians had been "removed" to another gospel. Paul spoke against this change to "another gospel" and became their enemy.
But the Galatians may have said, "Oh, we have not changed. We believe the same old gospel you preached to us. We have learned more and have grown under these teachers of Judaism. But you, Paul, are the one who has changed." Now what difference does it make whether one changes or not if truth is at stake? Paul admitted his "change" in this very letter, but not a change from what he preached to them in the beginning. "For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews' religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it..." (Gal. 1:13-14).But Paul is showing that he had changed FROM the very traditions of Judaism that they were now changing toward. He taught them the gospel truth after he had learned it. Paul had changed! It is no point in proof to claim that "I have not changed." Sometimes to make such a claim is to admit continuing in error. But the Galatians had "changed" by turning back again to the "weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?" (Gal. 4:9)
Paul had BECOME their enemy because he told them the truth about their change from the true gospel to "another gospel."
Third, Paul asks if he has become their enemy "because I tell you the TRUTH." The "truth" means different things to different people. Mathematical truth must be determined by the science of mathematics. Scientific truth must be determined by the proved experiments and conclusions of science the facts of science and not the theories of scientists. Gospel truth must be determined by the New Testament of Jesus Christ. Any gospel that does not come from the New Testament is not the truth. Infant baptism is not gospel truth because it is not taught in the New Testament. Keeping the Law of Moses is not the truth which Paul preached because it is not taught in the New Testament. This is the heart of the issue between Paul and the churches of Galatia. False teachers had invaded this area with the law and their traditions and had "bewitched" the Galatians not to obey the truth. Paul exposed these false teachers and teaches the truth. For this Paul asked if he had become their enemy.
One of two choices is before the person who has been told the truth. He can accept the truth and repent of his sins and obey the truth, or. he can continue in the sin and consider the person who tried to teach him the truth as his enemy. Our best friend may be the one who "hurts" by telling us the gospel truth, but if we consider the truth, our friend will not become an enemy because he tells us the truth. "Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful" (Prov. 27:6).
By H. E. Phillips
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