Local churches are always on the alert from those who would perpetrate false teaching and division in the body and in the New Testament it is a recurring warning. As I am working through Galatians in Sunday school, we see that the problem existed in the churches in Galatia as well. The epistle serves to remind those of us who serve in leadership of our responsibility to protect local churches from men like this.
The epistle begins with Paul’s astonishment that the churches of Galatia had abandoned the true gospel for a different one (1:6). Paul takes a digression in 1:11-2:21 to defend his ministry and gospel. Then in 3:1 he picks up his thought from 1:6 and asks, “You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?” The churches of Galatia had begun to entertain a gospel of works because of certain “Judaizers” who had arrived in the region and begun saying that before Gentiles could be saved, they had to first become Jews! That meant having to be circumcised and obeying the law in order to have a right standing with God.
After using the allegory of Sarah and Hagar to make the point that the gospel of works and those who perpetuate it should be cast out (4:21-31), Paul addresses the men who had caused so much trouble in the local churches. After addressing how outward circumcision is not what God desires (5:1-6), Paul asks, “You were running, who hindered you from obeying the truth?” (5:7). Paul then says of those who were disturbing the Galatians with false teaching, “I have confidence in you in the Lord that you will adopt no other view; but the one who is disturbing you will bear his judgment, whoever he is” (5:10). He then says of these men, “I wish that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves” (5:12). This is pretty strong language.
Paul ends his thought in 5:13-15 by exhorting them to love one another. This comes on the heels of his exhortation to remove such men who bring such error and division. The church is to stand on truth, eliminate error, and demonstrate love. Failure to do this can only result in verse 15:
But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.