Galatians 1:8-9, “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.”
This morning, contrasts serve many different purposes. For example, if two people are contrasted in their looks, abilities, or otherwise, we might learn things about unique identities. The Bible does paint contrasts in such ways from time to time – such as the contrasts between Christ and Adam as shown in great detail in Romans 5. On the other hand, contrasts can also show, but are not limited to, completeness of scope. From time to time, we might paint a portrait of contrast to show to a greater degree the “big picture” or the overall sense of the subject matter at hand. It is this vein of thought that Paul employs contrast to the Galatian brethren in reference to the gospel that they had initially rejoiced in but strayed away from.
The book of Galatians seems to be one of the most popular books to discuss by ministers due to some of the language and nuance that Paul brings to the table. Some phrases seem hard to place in their meanings (particularly in the middle chapters of the book), but here Paul almost summarizes their situation by way of exhortation. The summary of the Galatian brethren – and the reason for Paul’s letter to them – was that they once rejoiced in the truth of the gospel but had turned again to the law service of the old covenant. This turning away from the full truth of the gospel (satisfaction made by Jesus Christ in all points) had led the Galatian brethren to return to weak and beggarly elements of bondage. (Galatians 4:9) So, knowing the heart of this letter, let us look at Paul’s strong exhortation and command and see the scope of his intent by the contrast brought to light.
Verse 8 is often quoted and quite popular to many preachers due to its far-reaching power to the authority of apostolic preaching. When looking at the hodgepodge of assorted “denominations” today, most of the newcomers claim something “special” that has not always been around. Perhaps their leader saw a vision, had a dream, received a private revelation, or even that God revealed some hidden portion of truth that was a secret from the first century church until this present hour. Whatever their scenario, Paul destroys the thought in this verse. It matter not who it is that preaches it. If the teaching goes against what Paul and his companions preached (which the word of God teaches), then let that man be accursed: cut off to receive the direst of circumstances. Do not give such a teacher a place or platform to promote ideas that fly contrary to Paul and his companion’s preaching.
On several occasions I had opportunity to visit with a man that believed his ideas superseded what I preached from the pulpit. When I asked him where his authority was to believe and want to teach things contrary to plain Scriptures, he proceeded to tell me of a heavenly vision that an angel had given him. While the story was quite involved and highly entertaining, I seriously doubt a celestial messenger gave him the ideas that he was putting forth. But, let us just give him, for the moment, the benefit and credit that an angel really did give him that vision while he was in a trance. Paul declares that even an angel himself should be accursed for teaching something contrary to Paul’s preaching!
The power of verse 8 shows that God’s authority was stamped and marked over the apostles to teach and preach things that the church needed. Yes, they were verily men who made mistakes: Paul recounts in chapter two of having to upbraid Peter for his faultiness in a Jew/Gentile matter. Yet, even these faulty men could authoritatively speak and preach about things that were unquestionable. These same things they preached, God inspired many of them (Paul particularly) to write. Ministers today have the benefit of being able to quote Paul’s authority with authority, as we know what they taught, stood for, and some of them even died for.
Yet, Paul brings the thought home in verse 9 in what “seems” to be the same statement. He initially starts the verse by saying that he is going to say something again. Then, he starts again by talking about how any man differing from this gospel should be accursed in his condition. Yet, notice the subtle change that Paul makes. Verse 8 describes the gospel “which we have preached unto you” while verse 9 describes the gospel “that ye have received.” Paul initially brings to light his authority of preaching what he does, and condemns those that bring in things contrariwise to it. Verse 9 contrasts what Paul brought to what they received.
We many times think of contrasts as different, but when contrasting to give the scope of something, we may not be giving different things so much as looking from different angles. Verse 8 shows the subject of the authoritative gospel from Paul’s angle of preaching it. Verse 9 shows the subject of the authoritative gospel from the angle of their reception of it. Are the two things different? No, for they received initially what Paul initially brought to them. Paul’s contrasting point is that these people are not ignorant sheep that have never heard the truth, nor know anything about it. His point is simply this: you have had it; stick with it!
If these people have had the truth of the gospel – gladly rejoiced in it as it were – what reason would there be to leave it? What if some teacher comes bringing errant thoughts, and they like the man bringing it? They might be willing to follow the man rather than true teachings. Sadly, hereticks sometimes have the most charming personalities, greatest smiles, and easiest to swallow speeches. These things might make the man appealing, but Paul says if “any man” which gets to any shape, form, fashion, or family he may belong to. Whether or not he is your relation, rich, famous, smooth, or otherwise, do not take the man over true teaching.
Another reason people might leave true teaching is that something else seems novel. Man’s nature at times desires new and fresh things rather than the same old tired and worn-out things. Different teachings sometimes gain popularity based on the fresh newness of them. Some actually revel in the fact that their theology’s paint has not dried yet and mock at those that have “antiquated” and “bygone” religion. Paul said to them then (and by extension to us today) that we should have what he had. We should preach what he preached, and no matter how “old” it might be or sound, we should rejoice in it and count the other accursed. Yes, the preacher should try to make the meal fresh and hot of the grill, but it should be food that people know what they are eating rather than some exotic delight that may be poisonous to the system.
Another point or reason that people might flock to some other system of teaching is that they find it either 1. less condemning to them personally, 2. more exalting to them personally, or both. God’s system in His Book is never popular with the masses. God’s system condemns man’s depravity, exalts only One: Him, and requires that we humbly and joyfully submit our lives to Him. Our grand salvation and home in heaven is completely removed from our control and placed in the secure hand of Christ. His success in His work stands in stark contrast to our daily failings, and consistent reading of His word and heeding His gospel brings out these points often. Not very inviting to the old flesh is it? Not particularly popular politically is it? May not make most people like you. Yet, the truth of God’s exalted work, understanding of our low condition and dependence upon Him, and willingness to follow after Him in thanks for what He has done is what Paul says they initially received.
We are no more immune today than the Galatian brethren were then of stumbling back into some inferior system of belief that deprives us of the rich peace and thanksgiving that our service to God should enjoy. While we may not turn back into Old Testament law service, we could turn back to something just as weak and beggarly in the bondage that it brings to our souls. We who have received the truth from the one true gospel should earnestly contend for it and zealously attend unto it. Zion’s rest will be benefited by such adamant adherence to the same gospel that Paul preached, and whoever may oppose it – whether an angel or otherwise – should be accursed.
This contrast shows that we not only have authority for what we preach, the authority and its associated consequences extend to what we believe. Belief in God’s system of free salvation to His elect family, liberty of walk in our discipleship due to the freedom from the shackles of bondage, love and affection one to another, and ultimately justification by faith (being confirmed righteous in our own mind and conscience) hinge upon Paul’s early warning to the Galatians. He will later discuss each of these other subjects in subsequent chapters, but without earnest heed given to retain and keep what is preached and hear the true gospel preached regularly and consistently, those other subjects will sadly not be realized as they can and should be in our lives. May we hold fast our profession, looking unto Jesus with the highest adoration of praise and thanksgiving for what He has done. By adding to or taking from what He says, we injure our peace with Him here in this world (Romans 5:1), but taking exactly what He says, we ascend with Him in joy unspeakable and full of glory. (I Peter 1:8)