They Want to Shut You Out
Having laid out some serious theological arguments for the gospel of grace, Paul now reminds the Galatians of the time when he was among them, when he preached the gospel to them on his first missionary journey (Acts 13-14).
Paul begins this more personal part of his letter referring to some physical ailment that he suffered while he was with them, and even suggests that it was because of the ailment that he preached to them. And in response, the Galatians heard both the message of the gospel and cared for him, even though, Paul tells us, his ailment was a trial for them. On the contrary, they received him as an angel from God. So this tells us three things: 1) God brings trials into our lives for His own purposes, and in this case, so that Paul could preach the gospel to these specific people. Paul probably had different plans about what he was going to do while in Galatia. But as the saying goes, “Man proposes and God disposes.” 2) Paul was wise enough to understand this. He did not say, “Oh no! Now I’m ill. My plans are ruined. I’ll just sit and pout.” No. Paul instead saw this as God’s redirecting his path and thus preached the gospel as his illness gave him opportunity—and the opportunity bore fruit for the Kingdom. 3) How the gospel changes hearts! See how these Galatians responded not only to the gospel but to Paul himself. He writes, “If possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me.” This leads us to believe that Paul’s ailment had something to do with his eyes; regardless, the gospel changes hearts and now these former pagans who had been transformed by the gospel were gladly willing to give away their sight for the One who saved their souls.
Paul then turns his attention to the false teachers. What do these legalists want to do with you? They only want to “shut you out.” That’s what majoring on minors is about: drawing arbitrary and unnecessary lines for the purpose of creating a select group of people who then feel that they are holier than others. This is not the gospel of grace but a counterfeit thereof, which is basically a “gospel of works,” which of course is no gospel at all. And like all false teachers, they will make much over you at first; they will flatter you, coddle you, and make you feel good about yourself so that you will feel good about them. You will be able to call yourselves, “the circumcised,” “the vegans,” some identity group, and perhaps to my own chagrin, “the Reformed.” As we learned from 1 Corinthians, let us fly under the banner of Christ where the truth will set us free from both sin and labels.