Troublers of Israel
“Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth? This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you. A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. I have confidence in you through the Lord, that ye will be none otherwise minded: but he that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be. And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offence of the cross ceased. I would they were even cut off which trouble you.” (Galatians 5:7-12)
The church of our Lord Jesus Christ is “a habitation of God, through the Spirit.” It is His kingdom of righteousness and peace. Yet, there have always been those who would do everything in their power to destroy the peace and joy of God’s people by taking their hearts and minds away from the true worship of God in Spirit and truth, and fixing them upon some external object or ceremony. They are troublers of Israel, who impede the progress and worship of the church of God by their corrupting influence.
The church of the Old Testament had many such troublers. The one who stands out most conspicuously in my mind is that wicked King Ahab. You will remember how that Ahab kept Israel in constant turmoil by his childish peevishness and constant sin. He hindered the worship of Israel, and turned them aside from worshipping Jehovah, the God of grace and mercy, to worship the works of their own hands. But in those dark days God had his prophet, whom he had reserved for the comfort, protection, instruction, and preservation of his church. That godly old prophet was Elijah. Elijah was a marvelous man. He was as bold as a lion in the cause of God. He was a man of righteousness and great faith.
Are you not surprised when you read of the meeting of Elijah and Ahab face to face, and that ungodly king charged the prophet of God with being the one “that troubleth Israel?” Indeed, we would all be surprised, were it not for the fact that this has always been the case. Those who trouble God’s people with their wicked ways are always the ones who turn upon God’s servants, who uphold the way of truth, and charge them with disturbing the peace of the saints. Thus, Ahab so charged Elijah. Israel so charged Moses. Hananiah so charged Jeremiah. Haman so charged Mordecai. And Zedekiah so charged Micaiah.
But this was not only true throughout the history of the Old Testament church. It was also true of the church in the New Testament. There are several examples of this in the New Testament; but we will limit our thoughts in this study to the ones exhibited in our text. The apostle Paul was the most zealous, self-sacrificing, and successful of all the apostles of Christ. Yet, he was incessantly charged by false teachers with inconsistency and troubling the church. This was exactly what had happened in the church at Galatia.
These troublers of Israel had come to Galatia after Paul left that region, and began to pervert the gospel of Christ. They were not teaching anything directly contrary to the facts of the gospel. They were, in fact, teaching the very same thing that Paul taught— that Christ, the Son of God, died for our sins, was buried, and rose again on the third day. They taught that salvation is by the grace of God in Christ. But, along with the message of grace, these false teachers were saying that it was also necessary for a man to be circumcised and keep the law of Moses in order to truly be a Christian.
Thus, they perverted the gospel. In doing this they had taken away the peace, joy, and comfort the Galatians had enjoyed in the grace of God. Instead of worshipping God in Spirit and in truth as free sons, they had been brought to “observe the days, and months, and times, and years” of the Jewish calendar as slaves in bondage to the law. And in order to buttress their weak, legalistic position, and deceive many into their persuasion, they said that Paul himself had taught this doctrine. In the passage before us this evening Paul takes these troublers of Israel and their legalistic doctrines to task.
Up to this point he has been addressing the saints at Galatia, and has expressed his confidence that they would recover from their error (v. 10). But here he condemns those false teachers who had led them astray from “the simplicity that is in Christ.” Those who, by their false teachings and corrupt practices, defile the church of God shall most assuredly bear the judgment of God (v. 10).
The Apostle goes back in his mind for the fourth time (1:8-9; 3:2-3; 4:9, 12-15) to the time when the Galatians had heard the gospel from his lips and had accepted Christ as their Savior and Lord. But someone had hindered them in their race. He says, in verse 7, “Ye did run well.” Then he asks, “Who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?”
Paul characteristically compares the Christian life to the famous Isthmian races (1 Cor. 9:24; Phil. 3:13-14; 2 Tim. 4:7-8; Heb. 12:1-4). There is a cloud of witnesses in heaven urging us on in the race (Heb. 12:10). These are the saints of God who have gone before us. There is a course of work set before us. It is the course of faith in Christ. The race must be run patiently and perseveringly. Christ our Savior has run the race before us, leaving us an example to follow; and he will carry us through to the end and crown us in the end. Let us ever look to and focus our hearts on him. “He that endureth to the end shall be saved” (Matt. 10:22).
“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds. Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.” (Hebrews 12:1-4)
When the Galatians first professed faith in Christ, they ran well. They were steadfast in the gospel and zealous for the glory of God. They were devoted to Christ and increasing in the knowledge of Christ. They ran cheerfully after him, and ran in the old paths of gospel truth (Jer. 6:16). But they had been “hindered,” checked in their course, and beat back.
“Who did hinder you?” — Paul and his fellow laborers in the gospel encouraged them to go forward, and did everything in their power to assist them. Those who hindered them were the false teachers who did all they could to turn them to another gospel, to turn them away from the truth.
“Who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?” — Paul is talking about the truth that is in Christ, the truth of the gospel. Specifically, he is talking about the righteousness of God, the righteousness of complete, free justification in and by Christ. The question is really rhetorical. He is speaking with indignation against the work-mongers who had been the means of hindering the Galatians in the pursuit of Christ, in the pursuit of that holiness that is found only in Christ, “without which no man shall see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). His purpose is to both condemn the legalists and to recover God’s saints from their error.
“This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you” (v. 8). — The Galatian believers had come to Christ as poor, needy, helpless sinners, finding all in him (1 Cor. 1:30). They had been turned back to the law, looking for righteousness in their own obedience to the commands of the law. Who persuaded them to make such a blunder? It was not God who called them by his grace. It was not Christ who fulfilled all righteousness for them. And it was not the Holy Spirit who had revealed the gospel to them, convincing them of the righteousness of God in Christ. Those who had hindered them were false apostles, the messengers of Satan who transform themselves into angels of light and preachers of righteousness attained by human effort (2 Cor. 11:2-3, 13-15). The Galatians had been encumbered by those legalists who bound them with the fetters of the law, so that they could not run with liberty in the course of the gospel.
“This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you” (v. 8). — Edgar Andrews writes, “What persuasion? Clearly, the Judaizers’ idea that to follow Christ one must submit to the law of Moses. This doctrine, avers the apostle, does not come from God (the one who calls them). He only calls men ‘in the grace of Christ’ (1:6), never by the works or religious observances of men.” Professor Andrews continues…
“Here is a most valuable test, which can be applied to all or any teaching purporting to be Christian. Any belief or ‘persuasion’ which does not testify to ‘the grace of Christ,’ is not from God. Here are twin pillars of the truth, namely the person and work of Christ, and the grace of God in Christ. They support and underpin all truly Christian teaching. No matter how attractive or pious a doctrine may appear, it is not to be received as coming from God unless it passes this double test namely:
1. Does it make Christ central, and glorify him?
2. Does it exalt the grace of God, over against the activity of man?
Whether it be instruction in salvation, in worship, in service, or in living for God, its precepts are only to be received if they flow from the grace of Christ. Had the Galatians applied this test to the teachings of the Judaizers, they would soon have realized that they detracted from Christ’s perfect, finished and sufficient work of atonement.”
The Lord Christ has called us to liberty. He brought us out from the bondage of the law. He gave us freedom. He continues calling us to liberty. The law bogs us down with doubts and fears. Christ urges us to serve with liberty. Legalistic teachings are inconsistent with the grace of God. Heed not their calls, but that of Christ.
“Day by day His sweet voice soundeth,
Saying, Christian, follow Me.”
“A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump” (v. 9). — The work-mongers might reply by saying, “We do not teach that believers are to obey the whole law, and we certainly do not teach that salvation comes by our obedience to the law. We are simply saying that there is still a sense in which believers are to live under the rule of the law; and that all who would live in true righteousness are to keep the commandments, observe the sabbath day, and certain of the Mosaic rituals, like circumcision. Surely, anyone who opposes that must be a promoter of licentiousness.” To such Paul says that a little error, especially regarding salvation by grace alone and righteousness in Christ alone, is like leaven in a lump of dough. It soon runs through everything, corrupts the whole gospel, and nullifies the work of Christ. It must be stamped out immediately and completely.
Our Lord said to his disciples, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees” (Matt. 16:6). Paul is talking about the same thing. A few corrupt principles corrupt the whole body of truth. The leaven of legalism had already begun to work among the Galatians, and Paul was afraid that they might become attached to it and abandon the truth (4:10-11). A few corrupt people can corrupt the whole body of a congregation (1 Cor. 5:6). Therefore, they must be avoided (Rom. 16:17). These false teachers must not be tolerated.
What Paul says in verse 10 regarding the saints at Galatia can be said with regard to all who truly trust the Lord Jesus Christ. — “I have confidence in you through the Lord, that ye will be none otherwise minded.” He had spoken to them sharply; but he was confident that, once they saw how utterly inconsistent legalism is with the grace of God, they would abandon it and those who taught it altogether. He was confident that God who had begun the good work of grace in them would perform it to the end. God will not allow his elect to perish in the error of the wicked. He will not allow the believer to abandon Christ and his gospel.
As sure as Paul was of the certain preservation of God’s elect from the damning influence of the wicked Judaizers at Galatia, he was equally emphatic in declaring that those who preached another gospel, a gospel of works, must bear the wrath and judgment of God. — “But he that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be “ (v. 10). Those who corrupt the churches of Christ shall bear the judgment of God in this world and in that which is to come (1 Cor. 3:16-17).
“And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offence of the cross ceased” (v. 11). — The false teachers at Galatia charged Paul with duplicity. They said in one place Paul preaches circumcision (on one occasion he had Timothy circumcised as a matter of expediency), and in another place he opposes it. Paul had Timothy circumcised (Acts 16:3) in hopes of being conciliatory to the Jews (It didn’t work.), not to make Timothy righteous or more spiritual. The fact is, those who oppose the gospel of God’s free, sovereign, absolute grace in Christ, claiming to be promoters of righteousness, never hesitate to slander any who preach free grace, hurling accusations against them that they know are not true.
Paul’s response is simple and pointed. He asks, “If I preach circumcision (law obedience) why do your legalistic teachers relentlessly oppose me?” They opposed him because the cross of Christ is now, ever has been, and ever will be an offense to work-mongers. Lost religious people do not object to the teaching that Christ is the Son of God, the Savior of sinners, the Lord our Righteousness, and our sin-atoning Substitute. They only object to that which offends their own self-righteousness — the plain revelation of the gospel that Christ is our Savior alone — that he is our complete Savior — that all who believe are complete in him who of God is made unto us “wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.”
“I would they were even cut off which trouble you” (v. 12). — The Apostle desired that the Judaizers would cut themselves off. It is as though he said, “I wish these agitators, these troublers of your souls, obsessive as they are about circumcision, would go all the way and castrate themselves! Since the Judaizers, who were upsetting the Galatians, believe a little physical mutilation is of spiritual value, then, let them cut even more radically. Let them be like the pagan priests of Cybele and make eunuchs of themselves.” He wanted the Judaizers cut off from the Galatian church altogether. This may seem severe to some; but it was most truly an act of love. Paul would rather have a few corrupt false teachers suffer the wrath and judgment of God, than see the entire assembly be destroyed by their doctrine. John Gill wrote…
“These words are a solemn wish of the apostle’s with respect to the false teachers, or an imprecation of the judgment of God upon them; that they might be cut off out of the land of the living by the immediate hand of God, that they might do no more mischief to the churches of Christ: this he said not out of hatred to their persons, but from a concern for the glory of God, and the good of his people.”