After Paul's introduction to a letter, he usually includes a thanksgiving prayer. However, in the letter to the Galatians, that does not happen. Instead, he opens with astonishment and rebuke over the situation in Galatia. Let's read Galatians 1:6-10. I will bold the main points to look back after reading and follow the flow of the passage.
"6 I am amazed that you are so quickly turning away from him who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—7 not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are troubling you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, a curse be on him! 9 As we have said before, I now say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, a curse be on him! 10 For am I now trying to persuade people, or God? Or am I striving to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ." (CSB).
When I read this passage, it terrifies me. Paul is talking to a church, a community of followers of Jesus, and he is astonished by what they are doing. What is it that is so terrible? The believers are quickly turning away. The words echo Exodus 32:8 and the golden calf incident. When we think about the incident, Israel had just been delivered from Egypt by Yahweh, and almost immediately, they turn to a god of their own creation. Israel had just witnessed God work greatly! It really is astonishing that they could so quickly turn to another god. But that is precisely what the church of Galatia is doing. They just received the true gospel in which humanity can be saved, yet they quickly turn and believe a different gospel.
Right after he says they are turning away, he then tells them there isn't another gospel. What they are following is a false gospel. A gospel that can't save them. This is so important for us! There is only one gospel in which humanity can be saved, and it's by the grace offered through Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection.
This next point is what scares me the most. Paul repeats the same phrase twice, "Let him be accursed!" Paul writes this to emphasize the strength of his words here. If anyone, even an angel from heaven, preaches a gospel other than Christ crucified, let him be doubly cursed. The truth of the message doesn't depend on the credentials of the messenger but on the content. Is the content of the teaching from the true gospel? If not, let the person teaching it be accursed.
Another gospel's proclamation is no minor defect; it is deserving of the highest cursing on a person possible. In 1 Corinthians 16:22, Paul writes those who fail to the Lord Jesus are accursed. In the Old Testament, those who sacrifice to other gods will be destroyed. The punishment Paul pronounces is an irrevocable eternal punishment on those who preach a different gospel. What a warning for us individually, for us as a church, and the universal church to keep the true gospel at the center of everything.
As we will see moving forward, the problem with this false gospel is that it pleases humanity, but not God. It is often when we try to please people that our gospel message is false. The prosperity gospel (a false gospel) is an example of this. It teaches if we do the right things and pray hard enough, we will be physically blessed with health and wealth. The focus is on us, not Jesus. The true gospel says if anyone wants to follow Jesus, he must lay down his life and follow him (Matthew 16:24-26). The apostles in Acts 5:41 praise Jesus because they were counted worthy to suffer for His name. Health and wealth aren't promised in the gospel. Jesus is promised, and that is a much better reward.
Galatians is not a friendly letter; it steps on toes in every passage. But I love the letter because it continually points me back to Jesus being the focus. There are many applications you can take from this passage. One would be to evaluate yourself and see if you have fallen captive to any false gospels, and if so, to see that you need to turn and run back to Jesus. Another is to remind ourselves of the grace we have received in Jesus and praise Him this week. This may sound weird, but I am excited to continue to get my toes stepped on through Galatians. Sometimes I need it so I can focus on what is really important: Jesus!
In His Name,