The Perils of Telling the Truth

“They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them” (v. 17)  

- Galatians 4:15–17

The concern of Paul for his audience in Galatians 4:8–20 is expressed in emotive terms, for the love he and the Galatians had for one another was strong, at least at one time. When the apostle first met the Galatians, they did not give in to the common first-century belief that sick people could infect others merely by gazing at them. Instead, their affection for Paul was made clear in their refusal to consider his bodily ailment offensive (vv. 13–14). They were even ready to gouge out their eyes and give them to him, so eagerly did the Galatians receive Paul (v. 15). This may imply that Paul’s infirmity affected his eyes and that he needed something to improve his sight. But it is also likely that the apostle is using hyperbole to describe the great love the Galatians once had for him, especially since the ability to see was, to no surprise, highly valued.

This section of Galatians provides a helpful illustration for pastors and others in authority. It can be very easy to speak true words but not evidence any love for people. Yet truth without love is not the biblical way (Eph. 4:15). John Calvin comments, “It is not enough that pastors be respected, if they are not also loved; for both are necessary to make the doctrine they preach to be fully relished.”

Of course, the Galatians wandered from Paul’s teaching not because he lacked love for them; rather, his forthright proclamation of the truth of the gospel versus the lies his congregations were starting to believe about him lead them to doubt his friendship. The apostle’s question in 4:16 reveals the insanity of abandoning a friend when he speaks hard words. Martin Luther reminds us that an erring believer is grateful to a friend for correcting him, not angry: “In the world, truth causes hatred; he is accounted an enemy who speaks the truth. But among friends, this is not so; much less among Christians.”

Selfishness moved the Judaizers’ to “care” for the Galatians by disparaging the apostle and his gospel (v. 17). Sadly, professing believers today may also undermine their leaders for self-advancement. John Calvin says ministers of Satan, “by producing in the people a dislike of their pastor, hope…to draw them to themselves; and, having disposed of the rival, to obtain quiet possession.” 

Coram Deo

Matthew Henry offers this caution: “Ministers sometimes create enemies to themselves by the faithful discharge of their duty. Yet ministers must not forbear speaking the truth, for fear of offending others.” Pastors and leaders must love their people well, but this love is not authentic if it comes at the expense of the truth. Let us listen carefully to our pastors’ rebukes from the pulpit and not gossip about them when we do not like what they say.

Passages for Further Study

Proverbs 13:1
Jeremiah 26
1 Peter 1:22–25
2 John 4–6

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.