Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth? Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may be zealous for them. It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always and not just when I am with you. (Galatians 4:16-18)
The specific contextual issue here was one of apostolic authority. Paul was concerned that the Galatians had quickly been drawn into legalism by those who denied the sufficiency of the cross.
But there is a human dynamic at work here. In fact, the older I get, the more I believe apostasy is about 20% doctrinal and 80% personality. This personal estimate isn’t intended to diminish the significance of false teaching. It’s just that I have become convinced dysfunctional relationships provide the breeding ground for the spread of bad doctrine. Conversely, healthy relationships nurture productive discussions, which in turn can restore the truth. Allow me to expand this notion.
When people feel they are being unfairly attacked for their beliefs, they become more entrenched. The attacks may be real, as there are plenty of people who prefer labeling and bullying over a sincere examination of the scriptures. On the other hand, the attacks can be imagined by those who suffer from past hurts and insecurities.
Sins of the heart can drive false doctrines that hold the promise of a pay-off for their share-holders. Perhaps you have been approached by those who claim to be doing a God-ordained work, which in the end turned out to be a carefully devised scam, or at the least an unethical scheme. These unfortunate occurrences are often driven by greed, envy and a host of other human fears and ambitions.
In the case of the Galatians, it appears there were those who were using the “wedge” approach to accomplish their ill-conceived objectives. They were attempting to discredit Paul and his ministry associates in an effort to turn the hearts of the Galatians against them. These false teachers specialized in creating false perceptions, which made those returning to legalism more zealous than ever. And, the climate of dysfunction that already existed in the church due to the presence of Jews, Gentile converts to Judaism, and Gentiles only fueled the fire.
If the struggle in Galatia was as simple as Paul telling them the truth, the matter would have been settled quickly. But this was not the case. Human emotions were out of control, and truth was the victim.
In the church I serve we have a slogan: “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty and in all things love.” This statement provides the framework for a healthy discussion of doctrine. If a doctrine is not essential to salvation, or is not clearly explained in scripture, we should give one another space to disagree. If it is essential, we should study together to come to the truth. And in the process, we should practice love. After all, when it comes to the truth, we all want to get it right. There is no room in truth-seeking for problems of the heart.
Of course, when we are stirred up with zeal it is hard to discern these things. But we should practice self-awareness and do our best to seek truth for truth’s sake. Any other motive is 100% guaranteed to create a problem.
Dear God, help me not to be a part of the dysfunction. In Jesus’ name, Amen.