In a survey of the Pauline Epistles, one of the features of Paul’s writing that is often neglected is the model of ministry that Paul sets forth. Many approach the Scriptures as a collection of aphorisms and jump to specific verses in order to consider a systematic understanding of certain Biblical doctrines. Hence, the larger picture and overall “feel” of the individual books of the Bible is often lost as trees are examined and the larger forest is ignored. The Book of Galatians is often studied as a solid treatise on the nature of the Gospel and this paper does not intend to extend any doctrinal insights into the epistle that are not well attested. Rather, this survey of Galatians will look at the heart of Paul as a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the care and concern he expresses for the believers in Galatia as he writes not merely with doctrinal concern but with deep anguish over the state of their souls.
Prior to examining any specific verses in the text, it is worth noting an overall character of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Implicit in many of Paul’s arguments in the letter is that the man is under attack both for the character of his ministry as an Apostle, that he soft-peddles the requirements of the Law, and that his teaching is sub-standard. Some of these characteristics will be topics of discussion but the important issue here is the response of the minister to public denunciation and charges.
In this epistle, and the Pauline corpus as a whole, it is worth considering how often Paul’s writing and testimony is in response to open challenges to his ministry and teaching. Any person in Church ministry for a short time realizes that the ministry brings complaint and opposition. It is frequently suggested that the Godly man is to let the Lord be his defender and to be silent in the face of spurious charges or gossip. The problem with this notion is that the character of Paul’s writing is precisely the opposite. He does not remain silent and, if he had, we may lack some Epistles whose fundamental character would be gutted except that he spends so much time explaining and defending himself.
It’s important to note that he does not rise to his own defense merely out of a sense of pride or personal injury. Rather, he is defending his ministry because Christ gave it to him. He is defending his ministry because the attacks on his ministry are fodder for those who would destroy believers who would buy into the lies they propagate. Thus, a minister of the Gospel is right to consider how, like Paul in Galatians and elsewhere, the defense of his ministry serves the cause of Christ.
6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—
Paul opens with an apostolic greeting and then expresses astonishment that those whom he dearly loves are departing from the grace of Christ to another Gospel. The minister of the gospel is never ambivalent about the faith of those under his care. We are increasingly plagued by the error that a minister must be milquetoast and non-confrontational. The ministry is not a call to simply proclaim what “I believe” and leave it to the consciences of others to take or leave. Paul anguishes over this departure and denounces their departure from the Gospel in the sharpest possible terms. There is no respect for human convention or authority here – if a man dares to teach a gospel other than that which is true, the curse of God resides upon him. The eternal souls of men and women depend upon the proper apprehension of the grace of God and Paul models a passionate concern that the integrity of the Gospel be preserved.
10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.
Standing for the truth of the Gospel has consequences. The minister is often standing with Christ contra mundum (against the world). Many are those who “heal the wounds of my people lightly” (Jer 6:14). They seek to please men with therapeutic words. Paul raises the bar for ministry where it belongs. The Gospel ministry demands that men stand with Christ even when the reproach of neighbor, friends, and family is at stake.
5 to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.
As Paul describes an episode in a visit to Jerusalem, he mentions opponents who would have stolen the liberty of those who had been set free by Christ and bring them under bondage. The purpose in highlighting this verse is to demonstrate the steadfast character of the man who must, at all costs, withstand the tyranny of false doctrine that stands in the way of the Gospel. There are times when a minister must work with those within the Church with whom he disagrees and there are times when he must stand resolutely against that which would destroy the truth of the Gospel. Ministers of the Gospel do not only have a responsibility to preach the truth of the Gospel but also to be bodyguards of the Lord’s Gospel to preserve its truth for those under their care. They are to stand in opposition to any man, including those in Ecclesiastical authority, who would undermine the truth of the Gospel.
11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.
Paul recounts an ugly episode in Antioch where Peter was led astray by the circumcision party to separate himself from the Gentile believers. His actions, in a sense, “spoke” to a dividing wall that Christ had broken down that was being re-erected by the Judaizing sect. Peter probably never intended to buy fully into the false theology of the Judaizers but, as a leader of the Christian Gospel, his actions might have led to severe misunderstanding that undermined the Gospel’s cause. Those who were tempting Gentile believers with the false notion that Christianity was only “full” when the believer took on obedience to Torah might have pointed to Peter’s actions as supporting evidence. Paul, however, would have none of this. He rebuked Peter to his face for this affront to the Gospel.
A few considerations of the Gospel ministry arise from this episode. The first is to dispense with the notion, which was growing popular even in his day, that there was a class of “important” men, namely Peter, James, and John, who were really “something” in the Church. It is apparent that part of Paul’s opposition in Galatia arises from the idea that Paul’s ministry is second-tier to the “heavyweights” of the Church. Paul’s purpose is not to note that he ought to be at the same level of hero worship as the other three. Rather, he notes that God is no respecter of men. By this he does not intend to communicate that no man or office is worthy of respect but it is their commissioned office and authority (from the same Lord) that is to be considered and not the person himself. One subset of Apostles cannot be appealed to as the group “I prefer to follow” because they all serve and derive their authority from the same Lord.
Next, this episode serves to remind us that no minister or ministry, in spite of its perceived importance, is beyond criticism. In an age today where men and women show no respect for the authority of ministers this can be easily abused. The temptation of the man today seems to lend little respect to ministers or to the ministry of the Gospel. Paul’s call here is not to support an egalitarian notion that “no respecter of men” entails that there is no ministerial office or authority. Rather, his larger lesson to us as elders and ministers of the Gospel ministry is that there are times when we might stand condemned for our conduct and there are times to call one another out in sharp rebuke or debate concerning these issues.
Furthermore, although this generation of Christians is less likely to show proper respect to superiors, there is an increasing tendency to operate according to a party spirit with respect to celebrity. Large ministries collect a large following and, like Peter, they are subject to rebuke when their ministries imperil the Gospel by word or implication. It is not sub-Christian to openly criticize those who would seem to be “pillars” even in our own times and those who would be respecters of men ought to heed Paul’s example.
A final exhortation from Paul’s example is that elders and ministers cannot become prideful. We are needful of regular external encouragement and rebuke from our fellow elders to warn us of the blind spots from indwelling sin. We are not super-Christians who never fail even when we believe our intentions are God-honoring. Paul’s rebuke exemplifies the wisdom of a plurality of elders. How impoverished is the minister in a sub-Biblical form of Church government who can hear no voice but his own because no other person in equal authority can come beside him to frustrate his ends when he is in the wrong.
3 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?
The strength of Paul’s rebuke comes as a shock to our postmodern sentiments. For one thing, religion is to be thought of as in the domain of personal experience and expression. Many view the ministry as suggesting certain ideas that are of perceived therapeutic value to encourage basically good people with coaching or cheerleading when life presents difficulties. That which is increasingly lauded are those who can find “middle ground” or compromise. The ability to work together with and affirm others in their felt needs is commendatory. Any suggestion that a deeply held belief or desire ought to be denounced is unthinkable.
Paul, however, demonstrates the necessity for a firm backbone in the ministry. The minister must know what he believes and proclaim this historic reality. His ministry is a public spectacle of the crucified Savior. He presses home the necessity of repentance and faith in the Gospel. The Gospel is not a work of men but of the Spirit and it calls men into a vital relationship with Christ to be saved by and to live in the Gospel by the Spirit’s help. Ministers are to continually call men to that reality and away from the snares and wisdom of the world. Paul reasons strongly with these believers because it is the ministry’s work to argue the case of Christ and thereby tear down every snare or principality or power that would compete for the believer’s affections.
14 and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus. 15 What then has become of your blessedness? For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me.
The minister who fails to note this well may long be in sorrow over the fickleness of those under his charge. Paul is not naïve. He knows the answer to his own question in a real sense. Paul knows well how the Galatians have gotten to this point but his intention is to demonstrate how false teaching has changed their entire demeanor toward him. He had brought them the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They were slaves to sin and unrighteousness and when he brought them the Gospel, he was their best friend. He was like an angel to them. Indeed! How beautiful are the feet of the bearer of good news! Do we not each feel a special affinity and debt to the person who first brought us the Gospel?
What Paul demonstrates herein is the truth that the ministry brings sorrow upon sorrow and one of those sorrows is seeing a child of God embrace the Gospel with joy one minute and despise the minister who brought him that news the next minute. We ministers ought to know better. The people of God are cheering at their redemption one minute and killing the prophets the next. Yet, many a minister wonders what he must change when the people turn on him. As noted previously, the minister must surround himself with those who help him see his blind spots but he cannot measure the success of his ministry based on his popularity within the congregation.
The ministry of faith and repentance leads to tremendous conflict. The tearing down of dominions and powers leads to strife. A minister must be willing to be despised of those he once held dear as friends for the sake of the Gospel. He must love his own sheep enough to call them to repentance even when it means the loss of close friendships. He must love the sheep enough to warn them of impending destruction even when they now consider him an enemy that he would dare now so do.
But this is important: the character of Paul is not bitter anger toward the Galatians here. His attitude is not to return, in kind, what they are dishing out to him. He still very much tenderly loves them. The harshness of his tone is as of a father who loves the child who is reaching out to a burning stove. It is not of the character of a man who now so hates in return that he relishes to watch the foolish child destroy his hand.
We see from this two aspects then: on the one hand, it is the sorrow of the minister who must lean on Christ as those he has loved and rejoiced over not only destroy themselves but hate him for warning them; on the other hand, he must not become embittered by this sorrow so as to begin to hate those under his charge. This call is impossible in the strength of the flesh and is only possible by the supply of Christ for He Himself knows sorrow upon sorrow with more measure than we.
19 my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! 20 I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.
Written by a man who was gifted with celibacy, Paul demonstrates a remarkable acquaintance with the love of a mother for a child. Having witnessed the birth of my five children, physical labor is something I never desired for myself except that it was always such a tremendous blessing of my wife to hold the fruit of her labor. She experienced the joy of childbirth in a way I could never enjoy.
Paul reminds ministers here, again, the deep concern a minister ought to have for the conversion of souls. By this the minister is not only concerned that men, women, boys, and girls would once believe in the Gospel but that their lives would be marked by repentance and faith. The ministry is not a call to a professional detachment where he clinically prescribes good things and watches over the results with a small degree of satisfaction or disappointment. Rather, the minister is fully invested in the lives of people. He labors over their souls desirous for their growth: rejoicing at the fruits of righteousness and weeping over their shrinking back.
Ministry leadership has some parallels to military and other forms of business leadership but many apply worldly leadership principles as a grid from which to view ministry leadership and are impoverished in their Gospel ministry as a result. One military leader I know very closely regularly speaks about the difference between sympathy and empathy. The latter was to be desired and the former always avoided. Empathy, he describes, is a desire to care for the person sincerely but not to get so caught up in the problem of the person that you lose your professional detachment. The danger is sympathy: you become so invested in the life of the person that their problems might affect your own emotional state.
Paul has no room for such a philosophy of leadership. It is not necessary to use terms such as sympathy or empathy. He appeals to the image of a parent and a child. What father or mother can remain “professionally detached” at the successes and failures of a child? What father does not groan to his inner core when his child is devastated emotionally or physically? What father shows only faint concern when his own son repudiates the faith? Heaven forbid! It breaks the heart. Our pillows are soaked with tears over our children because they are dearly beloved of us. Let us learn to have the same deep affection for those children Christ has placed before us!
11 But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. 12 I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!
Paul speaks to the expectation of persecution for the sake of the offense of the cross. Opposition for Paul arose many times from those outside the Church but here, clearly, is an example of opposition arising from those who are “inside the wire”. He has already condemned theirs as a false Gospel and called for their excision from the Church. Nevertheless, it has not yet happened and, as soon as one false teacher is eliminated, others will take his place. Paul is an exemplar of one who has experienced sorrow over men who were (or ought to have been) his allies for the Cross of Christ, who publicly opposed him. Those in the Gospel ministry can expect nothing less.
There is also here a character of ministry that has affection to those who are still named of Christ and opposes those who would meddle with the flock of God. There is room for an “us vs. them” view when it comes time to give battle in the Christian Church.
I grew up with two brothers and I was not a good brother to either. I often picked on my little brother and had very few things good to say about him. Yet, when anyone dared to pick on him I came to his defense. My experience is borne out by many families. If the world knows how to defend members of its family how much more ought the Church?
We have friction within the Body of Christ because we’re still learning to love one another. We often sinfully malign or treat our brothers and sisters in Christ poorly. Yet, when it comes down to the world coming after one of our own it’s time to close ranks. It is the time to put on the full armor of Christ and go to battle quarters. We do not wish well to those who would destroy those in our family. The call to ministry is a fight to the death and a holy hatred for principalities and powers that would destroy our own.
The analogy is certainly imperfect. A minister is not to be a petulant child and we must be longsuffering and patient with those outside the household of faith. Yet there is a picture here of a righteous anger against the destruction of the souls of those within our charge. We cannot hesitate to consider whose side we are on when it comes to the Church versus those who would trouble her. Especially when a wolf comes in sheep’s clothing it is time to place ourselves in the way of any harm and be resolute against any who would destroy.
6 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.
There are a few reminders to Pastors and Elders here. I think most would recognize this verse as it is oft cited. Sadly, it is infrequently practiced within the Church. On the one hand the admonishment to restore the person caught in a transgression is necessary because the person caught in a transgression does not often want the help of the spiritually mature. They are, after all, caught in a transgression and the work of restoring a brother or sister requires a level of personal intrusion that is often costly.
It is more often the case that, when a brother is caught up in a transgression, they remove themselves from regular fellowship and do not want elders or other believers challenging them in their sin. They desire to be left alone. As Paul laments in a previous discussion, those who once considered ministers their greatest friends now consider the minister or elder an enemy when repentance from the transgression is sought.
What kind of Churches might we have if we all had the courage to not only confess sin in our own members but were resolute about restoring transgressors? Sadly, many of our congregations are a “transgression’s distance” away from losing a member because it is the occasion of being caught up in transgression that leads to his deparature and a “live and let live” mentality pervades our thinking when it ought not to be so. We need to desire to pursue and not only when the transgressor desires to be restored.
Ministry is also to be characterized by a frank discussion of sin and its ensnarements that we might be honest about our battles with sin as well as confessing our failures and need for fresh encouragement from one another. The Christian life is a life of continuous repentance and turning in faith. We need to instill a culture of ministry that helps Christians to understand that we do not confess or sorrow only over the big sins. The Church is to be marked by a regular ministry of confession and restoration. Otherwise, the only time restoration will be practiced only in extreme circumstances by the Church courts and most will think restoration belongs only to those caught up in egregious public sin.
When the Church’s ministry is characterized by daily encouragement to press in and to not shrink back then we who are leaders also become more acutely aware of the danger of being tempted even as we’re trying to restore a brother or sister from a particular sin. Paul’s note here is one of being humble concerning the power of sin and the need for Christ’s strength in the restoration of others. It is not as if we are mature innately. That is, we who are spiritual did not attain to the status of the “mature” by our own doing but it was the will of Christ through the Spirit to persevere and grow us. We must therefore never lose sight of our source of strength and neglect the means of grace or ever proceed out of our own strength. It is a call to regular prayer, being prayed for, and attending to the hearing of the Word and the Sacraments that will strengthen us for the task.
There is likewise practical wisdom in Paul’s admonishment. We ought to carefully consider the circumstances of the sin and take measures to enlist the aid of another brother or sister to go in the strength necessary to avoid temptation.
9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
Ministers and elders have been given a tremendous privilege to serve the flock of God but the privilege often comes at great personal cost. The Scriptures provide some encouragement for the task as Paul and others remind us of the hope set before us that we might rightly take stock of what truly brings joy as opposed to those leisure activities or sins that bring temporal pleasures and respite. It is, however, a seemingly endless and exhausting task.
The admonishment here is not just for Elders and Deacons but to the entire congregation. We’ve been set free from the slavery of sin and death that we might live in light of the Kingdom of the Age to Come. As we have the firstfruits of that Kingdom and live sure in the light of its Promises, we are called to do good to everyone we encounter with priority given to those in the household of faith. As a need arises, when we have the capacity to do good to another, we do good first to those in our Church and then to those outside but the pattern is set: we are to constantly do good to all.
It is instructive to consider that Paul regularly enjoins Christians to do things that are in keeping with their status in Christ. I do not have to be reminded constantly not to betray my country. I am an American citizen and I am never tempted to do otherwise. It is practically second nature to attain to some measure of good citizenship in the Kingdom of this Age. Yet, spiritual callings seem particularly tedious. The war of the flesh against the spirit makes even the call itself to do good to all seem like so much endless toil. The sun rises and the sun sets. You clean your house to provide a sanitary, safe, and welcoming environment for your children and guests and the next morning it is completely trashed and the drudgery begins anew. There are times when it seems to us that, having been good to all men for a season, we are entitled to a period of shrinking back and serving our own flesh for a season. We might even imagine that, before the Lord, we deserve a time to not do good.
Does not this charge to us, combined with the others, press home to ministers and elders the necessity of the “one to another” ministry of the saints? Does it not press home the necessity of grace that we might not grow weary or faint? Paul’s exhortation here is not to sinless perfectionism. It is in light of the Gospel that we’re called to this and not that we might possess salvation but, because we possess it, that we are called to this ministry.
We need to be reminded of the privilege of this calling to constantly do good to others but also the sobriety to consider the sin that would entangle us and keep us from it so we might be resolute, in Christ’s strength, to press forward. We cannot look forward to sabbaticals or vacations from doing good as if sin will leave us alone for a season while we recharge our own batteries. It is often in times of leisure or sloth that temptation to sin is most strong because we’ve left our armor behind.
This is a call for us to remember how much we need the constant help of others. Ministers and elders cannot isolate themselves and assume that everyone else will have encouragement from them but they will receive no prayers, encouragement, or accountability from others. The call to constantly doing good to others is a constant call to doing battle with sin in our own members that would call us to do otherwise. While we are confident that Christ will conquer all our enemies and preserve us to the end, we must remember that He has ordained the means of “one another” and His means of grace that we might all press in together. The minister needs to be reminded that he is not outside the Body watching it press in as he encourages all to remain fixed on Christ but he is also in and among. He is needful, as all are, of the protection from right, left, and behind. He will be strengthened as Christ supplies by his fellow elders as well as the prayers and encouragement of those whom he serves.
In conclusion, we see in Paul not only a master theologian and revealer of the mysteries of God but one who lived out and articulated the struggles of ministry. There are a few keys in the Scriptures that bring tremendous clarity to the nature of the Church and salvation. Though it is not the hinge or primary doctrine of the Church, the character of the Christian life as a battle where each person supplies strength toward the end that the entire Body might be perfected is critical. Each of these aspects that we’ve discussed in Paul’s ministry deals with a particular attack, sorrow, emphasis, or other reminder that being brought into a vital relationship with the Son of God is extremely costly. It is, however, the kind of cost where we sell everything because we consider the value of what we possess in Him to be of such surpassing value that we would give up everything else to possess it. We are reminded, however, that the constant battle with indwelling sin, the world, and the devil will mean great sorrow and require a steeled resolution in the minister to keep these principles ever before him.