Teaching series from Galatians

Two Different Operational Motives

Galatians 6:11-18

Teaching t12633


Review setting (MAP). The Judaizers attacked both Paul’s apostleship and the content of his message. Paul has defended both his apostleship and his message (chapters 1-4) and applied his message (5:1-6:10).

Now he closes his letter (read 6:11). Why does Paul write these last verses in his own hand and with large letters, rather than continue to dictate to his amanuensis? Probably to emphasize the importance of this last section (i.e., like underlining, bolding, italicizing), in which he contrasts his own operational motive in ministry to that of the Judaizers.

The Judaizers’ motive: seeking human approval

Read 6:12,13. The Judaizers’ motive for urging the Galatians to be circumcised is not because of honest conviction before God or love for them. It is rather because they want to avoid their Jewish countrymen’s censure (“so they won’t be persecuted for the cross of Christ”) and to gain their esteem (“desire to make a good showing in the flesh”/ “boast in your flesh”). In other words, they live to get and/or keep human approval.

What’s the big deal? This motivation is so common and applauded in our culture that it seems normal to us. But it is a key aspect of what the New Testament calls “the world” (kosmos), the satanically-inspired system of self-centered values that distract people from coming to Christ and seduce Christians from loyalty to Christ. John calls this motivation “the boastful pride of life” (1Jn.2:16) – seeking people’s approval, praise, or admiration. So this operational motive is godless; it is also extremely dangerous (read Prov.29:25a NLT). Consider these passages which explain why:

Read Jn.5:44. Jesus says that these people are unable to believe in Him, not because of lack of evidence (see 5:32-39), but because people’s approval is more important to them than God’s approval. I have seen this on many occasions (EXAMPLE), as you probably have also. Was it not this that kept many of you from receiving Christ long after you knew you should? It would be the ultimate tragedy for you to let this keep you from receiving Christ!

Read Jn.12:42,43. These people truly believed in Jesus as the Messiah, but weren’t sharing their faith because they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God (see also Jn.19:38). They didn’t want to jeopardize their social and/or political and/or economic standing. Even though there is no present danger of overt persecution, isn’t this the most common reason why we hold back from telling people about Jesus? Isn’t this far more of an issue than lack of knowledge and/or inadequate training? How tragic when we withhold the key to eternal life from people simply because we’re afraid they might dislike us!

Read Gal.1:10. Paul says that living to please people will prevent you from being an effective servant of other Christians. This motive leads to distorting the gospel, like the Judaizers were doing, to make it more compatible to people (2Tim.4:3,4; e.g., LIBERAL THEOLOGIANS ON MIRACLES; EMERGENT MOVEMENT ON GOD’S JUDGMENT & MORAL ISSUES). This also leads to withholding needed warning or correction from our brothers and sisters, imperiling their spiritual health simply because we don’t want to risk their disfavor (contrast to Acts20:20a,31; 2Cor.13:7b,8). Is this not a far more common failing for most of us than rude and/or over-aggressive correction?

So relating to people to get or keep their approval is extremely dangerous for you and others! How would you know if this is an operational motive in your life? Ask God to show you (Ps.139:23,24). As you ask God, ask yourself these questions:

“Do I ‘boast’ – draw attention to my accomplishments (overt/subtle; in secular/spiritual areas) – to impress certain people (see Gal.6:13), or to feel superior to certain people (Gal.6:4)?” Isn’t this living for people’s approval?

“Do I engage in flattery (see 1Thess.2:5,6)?” This is different than sincere praise and encouragement, which are motivated by love. This is insincere praise to curry certain people’s favor.

“Do I itch to be in the “in crowd,” or to have people seek to be “in my crowd” (Gal.4:17; in society or in the church)?” I remember the germination of this lust/fear in my heart in seventh grade, and it corrupted my life in terrible ways. I also carried it right into my Christian life, where I have been fighting it ever since.

“Do I obsess on what certain people think about me?” Or at least, what I think they think about me. (Usually, people aren’t thinking about me at all!) Isn’t this fear of people’s disapproval?

“Do I focus inordinately on external matters (Gal.6:17)?” Are things like physical appearance, fashion, degrees, job titles, new toys, etc. important to me because they are status symbols? Isn’t this living for people’s approval?

“Am I hooked on social media to “keep up with the Joneses?” Why is having lots of “followers” or “fans” so important? Studies show the correlation between social media and increase in jealousy and envy (e.g., VACATIONS). Isn’t this living for people’s approval?

“Do I violate my conscience (e.g., lie; avoid disagreement; conform; etc.) in order to avoid certain people’s disapproval (see Gal.6:12; 2:12,13)?” We use a therapeutic name for this (“co-dependent”), but the Bible calls it living for people’s approval.

Who in this room can say that they do not experience this sinful desire (Gal.5:17)? I surely do! I can identify with this 19th century Christian leader: “(I have) a most abominable fear of men’s faces, especially in personal (confrontation). I have been forced to fight every inch of my way against this... I have hardly courage to this day in (private confrontation) to act on the offensive. This is evidently from a love of (people’s) esteem, supported by a constitutional timidity.” Another Christian leader from the 19th century confessed: “This is the last victory the Christian gains. Here I find my own deficiency... and often I feel an inward timidity when about to preach on an unpopular doctrine, or expose a foible... In every instance I feel the greatest reluctance to (jeopardize) the good opinion... of those for whom I have esteem... The fear of man... hinders (me) from performing the most important parts of (my) ministry... Its expulsion is the gift of God, and is especially to be sought for from Him.” I find these quotes extremely encouraging! To be sensitized to this inner battle and struggle with it is a sign of spiritual health, not of spiritual sickness. To fail here, and yet to confess it as wrong and learn from it is spiritual progress, not defeat. But to habitually submit to it and rationalize it is a sign of worldliness that is destructive to yourself and others.

But God has an alternative– read Prov.29:25 (NLT). The only alternative to fearing people is trusting in God and His approval. What does it look like to trust God in this way? Paul answers this question in Gal.6:14,15 (read).

Paul’s motive: to trust in God’s approval

While the Judaizers boast to get and/or keep their Jewish countrymen’s approval, Paul “boasts in the cross of Christ.” This means to trust in God’s approval because it is through Christ’s death that God forgives us and extends His approval to us. Our root problem (which fear of human disapproval echoes) is that we are disapproved by God because of our sins against Him. Jesus alone lived a life that earned God’s approval (Matt.3:17) – and on the cross bore God’s disapproval for our sins. This is why Paul says that the cross liberates him from bondage to this aspect of the world. Trusting in God’s approval by boasting in the cross of Christ involves three essential steps:

It means to receive God’s approval by asking Jesus to pay for all of your sins through His death and to make you a new creature. This must be your personal, conscious decision. The moment you make this decision, you have a new operational motive: “As a result, we and the world have parted company. Each has been ‘crucified’ to the other... Previously we were desperately anxious to be in favor with the world. But now that we have seen ourselves as sinners and Christ crucified as our sin-bearer, we (have a basis to) not care what the world thinks or says of us or does to us.” This is the foundational step – have you taken it?

It means to focus on God and His approval rather than on people and their approval. What we focus on grows. Suppose you are walking down a dark alley with a Navy Seal friend and are accosted by thugs. Your focus matters. If you focus on the thugs, they “grow” and so will your fear of their disapproval! But if you focus instead on your Navy Seal friend, he “grows” and the thugs and your fear of them “shrink.”

God is with you if you have received Christ. He is far greater than people, and His approval is far greater than their potential disapproval. But your mental focus is what matters. If you focus on people, God “shrinks,” people “grow” – and your fear of their disapproval also grows. But if you focus on God, He “grows,” people “shrink” and so do your fears of their disapproval. The title of the books Your God Is Too Small and When People Are Big & God Is Small capture this principle better than they explain how to practice it. The best way to practice this is to memorize and regularly meditate on key biblical passages that emphasize God’s greatness and His approval (read Ps.27:1-3; Rom.8:31-39). This is absolutely necessary if you want to grow in trusting God’s approval and experience growing liberation from living for people’s approval! But there is another essential step...

It means to obey what God asks you to do even at the risk of people’s disapproval. This is the both the proof that we believe that God’s approval matters most, and a critical means of experiencing greater liberation from living for human approval. The New Testament speaks of two different ways of doing this:

Choose this mind-set daily. This is what Jesus meant when He called us to “deny yourself and take up your cross daily” (Lk.9:23). Capital criminals had to carry their cross outside the city walls as a kind of public excommunication from society. In the same way, we need to affirm daily our willingness to follow Jesus even if it means human disapproval. Heb.13:12,13 re-states this (read). Choosing this mind-set at the beginning of the day prepares us for the day’s battle in this area.

Do what God asks in concrete situations. You don’t need to try to engineer these situations (not that many of us are tempted to do this!). God will allow only what you can handle (1Cor.10:13). His Spirit will alert you to them, and He is there to help you (2Tim.1:6-8). The key is to “entrust your soul to a faithful Creator in doing what is right” (1Pet.4:19) – to take whatever step of obedience He requires. Is it to talk about your faith in Jesus? Is it to choose an unpopular path? Is it to have a difficult conversation? Is it to confess a sin or weakness? Do it, and God will meet you there to protect you and empower you and guide you!

Read 6:16-18. This way of life will bring human rejection and censure for us, just as it did for Paul. But it also will deepen our experience of God’s peace and mercy (6:16). We will become more free from fear of people’s disapproval (1Cor.4:3,4). These gifts are precious beyond measure, and they are available as we take these steps! Conversely, caving into fear of human disapproval increases its corrupting and enslaving and blinding power over you (BOA CONSTRICTOR). Which kind of life do you want?


NEXT WEEK: Start 1John (“Authentic Christianity & Authentic Spirituality”)


Here Paul uses “flesh” in a different way than he was using it in 5:16-6:10 (i.e., sinful nature). To “make a good showing in the flesh” means to be outwardly impressive to their Jewish countrymen. Similarly, to “boast in your flesh” means to brag to their Jewish countrymen others about the Galatians’ conversion to Judaism, to brandish their foreskins for this purpose.

Mr. Walker, cited in Charles Bridges, The Christian Ministry, pp.122,123

Mr. Scott, cited in Charles Bridges, The Christian Ministry (Banner of Truth Trust, 2006), p.122.

Stott, J. R. W. (1986). The message of Galatians: Only one way (InterVarsity Press), p.180.

“The want of this (aim) obscures the work of grace in our own hearts; nor can we maintain our peace of mind, except we feel that we have One to please – that ‘One is our Master, even Christ.’” Charles Bridges, The Christian Ministry (Banner of Truth Trust, 2006), p.125.