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Paul places all advocates of a gospel that differs from his gospel under condemnation. Adherence to the true gospel is the final test of true authority. Even the authority of a messenger from heaven or the authority of Paul himself must be tested by loyalty to the gospel. It is important to note that Paul holds himself accountable to this ultimate measure of authority. His apostolic authority is not arbitrary; it is valid only as long as he is faithful to the true gospel.
In the history of the church we can observe two extremes in the use of authority. Sometimes those who have leadership roles do not exercise their God-given authority; leaderless churches drift into compromise and divide into competing factions. This was the condition of the Corinthian church. But on the other hand, some persons in leadership roles attempt to exercise absolute control over the church and place themselves above any criticism; enslaved churches lack freedom to grow in faith and love. This was the condition of the Galatian churches. The intruders campaigned for the exclusive devotion of the Galatian Christians (4:17).
The extremes of anarchy and tyranny can be avoided in the church only when we implement Paul's combination of authority and accountability. Leaders in the church should lead with authority, because God is the ultimate source for their position; but they should also lead with humility, because God has set the final standard in the truth of the gospel, by which all are judged. Leaders must be held accountable to this final standard by those who are led.
In verse 9 Paul repeats his previous instruction, which eternally condemns anybody for preaching a gospel other than what the Galatian converts had originally accepted from Paul. Paul's double condemnation sounds terribly harsh and severe in our ears. It expresses an absolute intolerance for anyone who differs from his gospel. How can we seek to maintain harmony in a context of religious pluralism, we might respond, except by showing tolerance for all religious alternatives? Doesn't Paul himself argue for a tolerant acceptance of differences in other situations?
We need to understand that Paul was willing to accommodate himself to differences in matters such as what foods to eat or what days to celebrate (Rom 14—15; 1 Cor 8—10), but when the central truth of the gospel was at stake, he drew a clear line and refused to compromise. He was unyielding in his defense of "the truth of the gospel" (2:5, 14), because he wanted to protect the freedom of God's people. Paul did teach that Christians should "live at peace with everyone" (Rom 12:18); but when anyone negated the core of the gospel, especially the significance of the cross, he did not hesitate to forcefully refute that person, as we see here in Galatians and in his other letters (see 2 Cor 11:13-15; Col 2:8). While we should seek to maintain harmony in a context of religious pluralism by showing tolerance and respect for people of other religious persuasions, this should not lead us to compromise in any way the exclusiveness of the true gospel of Christ.
Of course our unwillingness to compromise the truth of the gospel will sometimes make us quite unpopular. In verse 10 Paul recognizes that his double condemnation of all who preach a gospel different from his gospel will certainly not be seen as an attempt to please people. His rhetorical questions call for a negative answer: "No, Paul, you are obviously not trying to win human approval, but God's." Perhaps Paul had been accused of trying to please people by preaching a gospel that did not require Gentiles to follow Jewish customs. But now after pronouncing judgment on all who preach a perversion of his gospel, he considers himself to be cleared of any accusation that his ambition is to please people. Such an ambition would indicate that he was not a true servant of Christ. By his loyalty to the gospel despite opposition, Paul proves his complete submission to the lordship of Christ. As a faithful servant to Christ, he is a rebuke to the Galatian believers who are so quickly deserting the One who called them and turning to a different gospel (1:6).
True servants of Christ will not win popularity contests with people who "gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear" (2 Tim 4:3). But even when they are unpopular, true servants of Christ are marked by unswerving loyalty to Christ. We can still hear the clear gospel message today because courageous men and women suffered greatly for their uncompromising defense of it in years past. They resisted immense pressure to renounce their faith in Christ, and they boldly declared, as Martin Luther did, "Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me."