Several years ago Dale Carnegie wrote one of the most famous self-help books ever published, How to Win Friends and Influence People. Not to knock the book, which actually has (based on my limited understanding) some pretty helpful tips, but today’s title was kind of a spoof off of it.
Before I get into my reasoning for the title, let’s talk just a wee bit about the book of Galatians. It’s a likely candidate for Paul’s earliest epistle, and to describe the book as passionate would be a massive understatement. What made Paul so passionate here, what was the driving force behind his writing this?
False teachers were corrupting the Good News of Jesus Christ. They were Judaizers, the heirs to the ones who'd told non-Jews in the days of the early church that “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” The first official church council was convened by the apostles and other church leaders (who were all Jewish, naturally) in order to settle this question, and here’s a great summary of their conclusion: “We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”
But apparently these gents hadn’t gotten the memo, or rather they were ignoring it. They were still teaching that you had to be circumcised, follow the Sabbath, follow the Mosaic dietary rules and holy days, etc., otherwise you couldn’t become a Christian. Basically they were saying “Yes, faith in Christ is a wonderful thing and gets you started, but you still need X in order to be saved and to please God.”
What was Paul’s reaction to this? He damned them. I don’t mean he just cussed them out or used bad language. I mean he literally proclaimed or announced that they were under God’s eternal curse. The Greek word is anathema, which basically means the same in English as it does in Greek (it’s a transliteration).
And he didn’t just pronounce them as being under God’s curse. He said that if he turned around at some later time and started to proclaim any message other than the one that he had already taught them, he’d be worthy of God’s condemnation. Furthermore, if even an angel from heaven came down and tried to teach some other message, that angel would be under God’s condemnation.
Not that an angel from heaven ever would, being sinless. And Paul would never do anything to backtrack from the message that he’d dedicated his life and had literally shed blood for. But he’s using hyperbole, exaggerating a hypothetical to make a point. But there’s an underlying warning here: There are angels which aren’t from heaven. And if an angel supposedly from heaven came to them and starting teaching something other than the message they’d heard, then they’d know that this particular angel was not from heaven. Same thing with any teacher/preacher who came along (itinerant teachers being really common): Teach something other than the message they’d heard, and they’d know he was a phony. This scenario is not hypothetical: There's at least one major cult out there, along with one major religion of the world, in which an angel claiming to be from God proclaimed to the alleged founder of said faith about a new revelation which supersedes the message of the Bible.
Now we come to my point I was trying to make with the title and with Carnegie’s book. I want to focus on verse 10, since it’s so profound and applicable to us. First off, I’d like to note (once again) that the true Message of Christ--the Good News as presented in the Bible--is at war with our sinful human nature. It’s our human nature, as corrupted by sin, to cling to pride, to self-righteousness: “It can’t be as simple as believing in Jesus. There has to be something more to it than that.” For us to concede that we can do absolutely nothing to bring ourselves back into a right standing with God is a huge blow to our image of ourselves as basically good people.
As a corollary to the point in the last paragraph, we need to understand that since the sinful human nature is going to be violently opposed to the Message, when we present it to the lost, we shouldn’t expect a positive response most of the time. If they respond in belief and surrender to Christ, that’s wonderful, but we need to be prepared for something a little less positive.
And finally from this verse we learn that trying to please people and trying to please God are mutually exclusive: “If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” You have to choose which one you’re going to do. Not that you go out of your way to offend people, but if you present them the truth, their first instinct will be to take offense.
It’s simply a matter of priorities. Which is more important to you? Making friends? Growing your influence? Or is it telling people the truth? And—to be brutally frank—keeping the blood of others off your hands? This is how the prophet Ezekiel put it: “When I say to a wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade them from their evil ways in order to save their life, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood.”
Look, I don’t want to be harsh here. I’ve let slip plenty of opportunities to share the Good News with someone, and I know that my Savior will hold me accountable for that someday. But I want to share this with them, not just to relieve myself of responsibility, but because when they do respond in faith, all Heaven rejoices. You’ve put a smile on your Lord’s face. And you’ve done someone the best favor you could ever do for them. Ever.
Lord Jesus, they say silence is golden, but that certainly isn’t true in this case. How often am I more afraid of offending someone than I am of offending you? Please forgive, and change.