A Commentary by John Stott
Galatians 5.10-12. c). Its end.
Verse 10: *I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view than mine; and he who is troubling you will bear his judgment whoever he is.*Paul is quite sure that error is not going to triumph, but that the Galatians will come to a better mind and that the false teacher, however exalted his rank, will fall under the judgment of God. Indeed, so concerned is Paul about the damage which the false teachers are doing, that he even expresses the wish that they ‘would mutilate themselves’ (verse 12) or ‘make eunuchs of themselves’ (NEB) like the priests of the heathen goddess Cybele in Asia Minor. His sentiment sounds to our ears both coarse and malicious. We may be quite sure, however, that it was due neither to an intemperate spirit, nor a thirst for revenge, but to his deep love for the people of God and the gospel of God. I venture to say that if we were as concerned for God’s church and God’s word as Paul was, we too would wish that false teachers might cease from the land.
With verse 11 (*But if I…*) Paul turns from them (the false teachers hindering the Galatians) to himself (their true teacher sent from God). It seems that these teachers had dared even to claim Paul as a champion of their views. They were spreading the rumour that Paul also preached and advocated circumcision. The apostle flatly denies it, and goes on to give evidence of the falsity of their claim. Verse 11: *If I, brethren, still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? In that case (i.e. if I were still preaching circumcision) the stumbling-block of the cross has been removed*.
Thus Paul sets himself and the false teachers in stark contrast. They were preaching circumcision; he was preaching Christ and the cross. To preach circumcision is to tell sinners that they can save themselves by their own good works; to preach Christ crucified is to tell them that they cannot and that only Christ can save them through the cross. The message of circumcision is quite inoffensive, popular because flattering; the message of Christ crucified is, however, offensive to human pride, unpopular because unflattering. So to preach circumcision is to avoid persecution; to preach Christ crucified is to invite it. People hate to be told that they can be saved only at the foot of the cross, and they oppose the preacher who tells them so.
Now since he was being persecuted, Paul argues that he was not preaching circumcision. On the contrary he was preaching Christ crucified, and the stumbling-block of the cross had not been removed. It was the false teachers who were pressing the Galatians to be circumcised, in order to avoid persecution for the cross of Christ (see Gal. 6:12).
Persecution or opposition is a mark of every true Christian preacher. As we saw in Galatians 4:29, the Isaacs of this world are always persecuted by the Ishmaels. The Old Testament prophets found it so, men like Amos, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel. So did the New Testament apostles. And down the centuries of the Christian church, until and including today, Christian preachers who refused to distort or dilute the gospel of grace have had to suffer for their faithfulness. The good news of Christ crucified is still a ‘scandal’ (Greek, *skandalon*, stumbling-block), grievously offensive to the pride of men. It tells them that they are sinners, rebels, under the wrath and condemnation of God, that they can do nothing to save themselves or secure their salvation, and that only through Christ crucified can they be saved. If we preach this gospel, we shall arouse ridicule and opposition. Only if we ‘preach circumcision’, the merits and the sufficiency of man, shall we escape persecution and become popular.
Ours is an age of tolerance. Men love to have the best of both worlds and hate to be forced to choose. It is commonly said that it does not matter what people believe so long as they are sincere, and that it unwise to clarify issues too plainly or to focus them too sharply.
But the religion of the New Testament is vastly different from this mental outlook. Christianity will not allow us to sit on the fence or live in a haze; it urges us to be definite and decisive, and in particular to choose between Christ and circumcision. ‘Circumcision’ stands for a religion of *human* achievement, of what man can do by his own good works; ‘Christ’ stands for a religion of *divine* achievement, of what God has done through the finished work of Christ. ‘Circumcision’ means law, works and bondage; ‘Christ’ means grace, faith and freedom. Every man must choose. The one impossibility is what the Galatians were attempting, namely to add circumcision to Christ and have both. No. ‘Circumcision’ and ‘Christ’ are mutually exclusive.
Further, this choice has to be made by both the people and the ministers of the church, by those who practise and those who propagate religion. It is either Christ or circumcision that the people ‘receive’ (verse 2), and either Christ or circumcision that ministers ‘preach’ (verse 11). In principle there is no third alternative.
And behind our choice lurks our motive, It is when we are bent on flattering ourselves and others that we choose circumcision. Before the cross we have to humble ourselves.
Tomorrow: Galatians 5: 13-15. The nature of Christian freedom.