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True love cares enough to confront.
Better is open rebuke
than hidden love.
Wounds from a friend can be trusted,
but an enemy multiplies kisses. (Prov 27:5-6)
Paul demonstrates true love for his Galatian friends by confronting them. In all of his other letters to churches, Paul follows his introductory greetings with a thanksgiving section ("I thank my God for you . . ."). But in Galatians there is no thanksgiving section. The absence of a thanksgiving indicates how extremely serious the problem in the Galatian churches was from Paul's perspective. Instead of offering a thanksgiving, Paul moves right into a lengthy rebuke. He begins the body of his letter with an expression of rebuke, a statement about the reason for his rebuke (1:6) and a reminder of previous instructions. He restates the rebuke in the form of rebuking questions in 3:1-5 and 4:8-10, which add rebukes for foolishness (3:1-3) and negligence in not following the knowledge they had (4:9). The first rebuke regarding a change of mind in 1:6 is restated in 3:3 and 4:9. An expression of distress in 4:11 communicates Paul's negative reaction to this change of mind. The tone of rebuke pervades the entire section of the letter from 1:6 to 4:12.
We know that this rebuke comes from a heart of love. Paul views his friends with affection as "brothers" (1:11; 3:15; 4:12, 28, 31; 5:11, 13; 6:1, 18) and even as "dear children" for whom, he says, "I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you" (4:19). His rebuke expresses strong, deep love. As a wise pastor, he knows that "the corrections of discipline are the way to life" (Prov 6:23).
A young Chinese pastor recently told me that the overriding concern to "save face" in his culture makes confrontation rare and difficult. I responded that in my Southern California home culture, the limitless tolerance for "doing your own thing" often means that confrontation is viewed as illegitimate, judgmental interference in someone's private affairs. Yet we agreed that when confrontation is necessary in certain circumstances because it best expresses our love for others and our commitment to the gospel, we must dare to rebuke with humility and gentleness (see 6:1), even if such a confrontation is countercultural.