Tough Love — Is Paul truly loving in Galatians?

(Previously posted on on January 27, 2017 under the title “Tough Love – liL fytr in Galatians.” This re-post has been edited and updated from the original.)

The following post is excerpted from:

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Having a day off work is super helpful, especially when your cat has a vet appointment early in the morning the same day because it forces you to get up early and be productive. As such, i decided to return to Galatians, and look specifically at the following question: “Is Paul really living in love when he talks harshly against the people who are leading the Galatians astray?”

Statements that could be taken harshly occur as early as 1:8. “But even if we or an angel from heaven might evangelize to you all different from what we evangelized to you all, let [such a one] be cursed.”[1] Then in 4:30, Paul says, “Throw out the servant-girl and her son; for the son of the servant-girl will not inherit with the son of the free-woman.” [2] And then Paul goes off (for lack of a better phrase) in 5:2-12:

Behold, I, myself—Paul—say to you all that if you might get circumcised then [the] Messiah is of no benefit for you all. Now I testify again that every man who is getting circumcised is obligated to keep the whole Law. You all were cut off from [the] Messiah, the ones of you all who are trying to be made righteous by Law; you all fell away from grace. For we ourselves are eagerly awaiting faith, hope, and righteousness by [the] Spirit. For in [the] Messiah Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is any influencer, instead faith working itself out through love. You all were running well, [so] who cut in on you all to persuade you all to disobey the truth? The persuasion [is] not from the One who called you all. “A little yeast spreads throughout the whole lump [of dough].” I myself have confidence in [the] Lord that you all will think nothing different, but the one who is troubling you all will bear the judgment, whoever he might be. But if I myself, brothers, still preach circumcision, then why am I still being persecuted? Then the scandal of the cross has been abolished. I wish that the ones who are troubling you all might also emasculate themselves.[3]

I hold to this statement: “The whole point of the Bible is love. Each of the 66 books in our canon emphasizes a different aspect, but they all describe and promote love.”[4] As such, i hold that the Gospel of God’s love for sinful man can be expressed clearly from each passage (rightly exegeted and exposited), and I hold that the personal application of every passage should have something to do with love (either for God or man) as well. So the question for today is: “How do we apply love from the above passages that show Paul blasting dudes?”

The first thing to say is that love is not defined as telling people that they’re great no matter what they do or say. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Teach a youth about the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it,” and it is better translated/interpreted, “The way you train a child is the way he will turn out.” The point being: “Love your child enough to discipline them.” While discipline may seem harsh to some, it teaches valuable lessons that will prove invaluable later in life. Proverbs pulls no punches when it says, “The one who will not use the rod hates his son, but the one who loves him disciplines him diligently” (13:24). Love is therefore defined as thinking of others ahead of yourself. It would be much easier to let someone go on in their destructive behavior, especially when society says, “Physical discipline isn’t good for a child’s self-esteem.”[5]

If you genuinely love your children, then you will teach them that bad decisions cause pain (and a spanking is a lot less pain then a gunshot wound to the head because a lack of physical discipline allowed your child to join a gang [cf. Proverbs 1:8-18]).

By way of comparison, Paul loved the Galatians enough to rebuke them and say, “You’re wrong if you listen to these other people.” And, as Paul made clear throughout his letter, theology matters because wrong thinking leads to wrong living. Paul wanted the Galatians to prove that their salvation was real, but they couldn’t do this if they reverted back to the Law. Paul said, “You all were cut off from [the] Messiah, the ones of you all who are trying to be made righteous by Law; you all fell away from grace.” (5:4). MacArthur explains, “To attempt to be justified by law is to reject the way of grace . . . Law and grace cannot be mixed. As a means to salvation they are totally incompatible and mutually exclusive. To mix law with grace is to obliterate grace . . . Legalism does not please God but offends Him.”[6] Earlier, he explained, “Whether before or after conversion, trust in human works of any kind is a barrier between a person and Christ and results in unacceptable legalism.”[7]

Paul didn’t want anyone to be separated from Christ. He made this truth abundantly clear in Romans 9:1-3, “I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience is testifying to me with the Holy Spirit— that I have intense sorrow and continual anguish in my heart. For I could almost wish to be cursed and cut off from the Messiah for the benefit of my brothers, my own flesh and blood.” As such, he boldly rebuked people who were apostatizing from the faith (cf. Galatians 1:6) and pleaded with them to return to the truth (cf. 5:1). It takes real love to actually be willing to tell someone that they are wrong—to risk alienating yourself from them. False love—which is not love at all—tells people precisely what they want to hear.

“But what about the people that Paul said should be cursed (cf. 1:8) or thrown out (cf. 4:30) or castrated (cf. 5:12)?” you object. “How is that loving?”

And I will admit that you bring up a good point. But the first thing to note is that the recipients of this letter were not those people. Those statements were written to the deceived, not the deceivers, to show the deceived the gross error of their heeding the teaching of the deceivers. Paul’s love is primarily reaching out to the deceived to set them back on the right path so that they can end up at the right destination.

However, i firmly believe that Paul expected the Judaizers (deceivers) to hear/see the content of the letter. And I also firmly believe that while they probably were greatly offended at what Paul wrote, he was no doubt hoping for conversion from them. I back up this thought by quoting Titus 1:13, where Paul says rebuke is to make someone more sound in faith: “Rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith.”[8]

The most literal translation of Galatians 5:10 says, “The one who is troubling you all will bear the judgment, whoever he might be.”[9] Paul is warning the false teacher(s) of the fact that judgment awaits them. This judgment was described in 1:8 when Paul said that the one who teaches a different Gospel is to be cursed. One scholar explains that the word translated “judgment” “means the ‘decision’ of the judge . . . as the result of the action, the sentence . . . Usually the decision is unfavorable, and it thus bears the sense of condemnation.”[10] As such, Paul wants the Judaizers to know that they are standing over the pit of hell, and unless they turn from their ways, they will be damned eternally.

A problem with many who call themselves Christians today is that they are too comfortable with the fact that millions of people who don’t know Jesus are headed to hell. Jesus taught, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44), and there’s nothing more loving than telling someone that they are in danger of hell. Even secular society would agree with me; check out the following quote from atheist Penn Jillette, of the famous magician duo, Penn & Teller:

I’ve always said that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward—and atheists who think people shouldn’t proselytize and who say just leave me alone and keep your religion to yourself—how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?

I mean, if I believed, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe that truck was bearing down on you, there is a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that.[11]

Paul does not hate the false teachers. He hates the spiritual terrorism they are inflicting on the converts whom he loves deeply. He hates the fact that they are undermining the work of his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He hates the fact that they are blind to their error. And he loves them enough to try to help them see their need for repentance. He points out the coming judgment as the curse of God, and he trusts God to awaken those whom He will. Paul’s whole letter is a call to wake up, regardless of who the reader might be.

He told the Galatians to throw the deceivers out (cf. 4:30) because he wants his readers to separate from false brothers. If the Judaizers were allowed to stay, then they would think that there was no need for them to change, and they would continue to influence the Galatians harmfully. By telling the Galatians to throw them out, it forced everyone involved to ask themselves, “Do I trust Christ or my works?” Isolation gives people time to think, and Paul wanted everyone in Galatia to think about the foundation of their faith. He risked sounding hateful because he loved them enough to counsel them for the best.

And then, we come to Galatians 5:12 (which i did not do enough justice to in my original post on 5:2-12). Here Paul says, “I wish that the ones who are troubling you all might also emasculate themselves.” I do not believe that Paul was so angry that he was telling them that he hoped they would accidentally neuter themselves. Instead, i think he was challenging their assumed spirituality based on works. Cole explains,

If they are so enthusiastic about circumcision, one ‘mutilation’ of the flesh, why not go the whole way and castrate themselves, as did the indigenous eunuch priests of Asia Minor in honour of their strange, barbarous gods? That is the only possible meaning of apokopsontai, mutilate themselves. The language is bitter, but it is not merely a ‘coarse jest’, as is sometimes said. It is designed to set circumcision in its true light as but one of the many ritual cuttings and markings practised in the ancient world. True, God had once used circumcision as the ‘sign of the covenant’ in Israel; but, since he was not now using it in the Christian church, it had no more relevance to the Gentile Christians than any other of these strange customs. Indeed, the eunuch priests of paganism undoubtedly thought that they were acquiring great ‘merit’ by their action. In this sense at least, therefore, there is a real comparison.[12]

If they were to heed this advice by Paul, which no one in their right mind would, it would still accomplish nothing for them. This is yet a final attempt by Paul to say, “To add any human effort or act to God’s gracious provision through the death of His Son is to exchange the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ for the damning falsehood of paganism.”[13] Trust Christ! Don’t trust works.

So, with that, i argue that Paul’s whole underlying motivation throughout the letter of Galatians is love. He wants people to be reconciled to God in the only way possible: The blood of Christ!

Now, when i go to pick up my cat from the vet, i’ll ask him if the Judaizers really should get themselves castrated because he’ll know firsthand what it’s like. I guarantee that he’ll say, “Meow,” which i’ll translate as “No!” And i think that Paul would say the same because his point was only to show the Judaizers the foolishness of trusting the work of circumcision when other pagans were “much more devoted.”

In this with you.

Soli Deo Gloria
Solus Christus
Sola Scriptura
Sola Fide
Sola Gratia

Thanks for reading.

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[1] All Galatians verses are my translation. Emphasis added.

[2] If you’re reading this book in order, then you will remember that this analogy refers directly to Paul’s antagonists.

[3] Emphases added.

[4] Joshua Wingerd, “Living to Love (3 of 3),” live in Love; find your true reward (May 20, 2016),

[5] Staff Writer, “Spanked Children more likely to have low self-esteem,” Guelph Mercury Tribune (January 7, 2011), Excerpt from article:

“Spanking a child is not a quick fix for bad behaviour. Spanking teaches children not to trust their parents. It hurts the parent-child relationship as fear, anger and resentment builds up. Fear of being spanked along with a weak parental bond can damage a child’s self-esteem. Children who are spanked are more likely to have screaming tantrums, get into fights, hurt animals and refuse to share. Using spanking to correct behaviour distracts the child from learning to resolve conflict effectively. What he or she is learning is that when adults get mad, they use hitting as a way to express anger and solve problems.”

[6] John MacArthur, Galatians, 135.

[7] Ibid., 134.

[8] Emphasis added. Our hope and prayer should always be that false teachers would repent and return to the straight and narrow path of the Gospel. This was Paul’s hope and prayer.

[9] Emphasis added.

[10] Kittel, TDNT, III:942.

[11] Penn Jillette, quoted in Justin Taylor, “How Much Do You Have to Hate Somebody to Not Proselytize?” The Gospel Coalition (November 18, 2009),
. Emphasis in original.

[12] R. Alan Cole, Galatians, 203.

[13] John MacArthur, Galatians, 142.

2 thoughts on “Tough Love — Is Paul truly loving in Galatians?

  1. Any post that combines cats and Christianity is absolutely gold in my eyes. As a fellow christian, I feel a bit like a failure that I don’t mention my Christianity anywhere on my blog. I’m not sure why I don’t.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for the feedback. I greatly appreciate it.

      Don’t think of yourself as a failure though. That’s not healthy. Use your blog for the focus you feel called to, and after drawing people in, use those relationships to have more personal mentions of Christianity. Just an idea… But in this day and age, relationships are more beneficial than “screaming” from the rooftops about it.

      God bless you 😃


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