Summary: In Galatians 5:7–12 Paul gives us tell tale warning signs to watch out for in false teachers in order not to fall into their trap.
One of Aesop’s Fables is about a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
A wolf had his eye on a certain flock of sheep, but he couldn’t get any of the sheep he wanted because of the vigilance of the shepherd and his dogs.
Then he saw the skin of a sheep that had been flayed, so he put the skin on as a costume and went among the sheep as one of their own.
The lamb who belonged to the sheep the wolf was wearing began following the wolf in sheep’s clothing. He led the lamb apart from the rest of the sheep and made a meal of her.
The wolf was able to deceive the sheep and keep feasting on them for some time.
But eventually, the shepherd, in examining his sheep, discovered the wolf, and killed him. (Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing by Jim Heidebrecht)
After exposing the dangers of the false doctrines that threatened the Galatians, Paul now exposes the wicked character of the wolves in sheep’s clothing among the Galatians.
Like his Lord, Paul had great patience with those who were caught in even the deepest moral sin. As much as they condemned the sin itself and warned against its consequences, their love for the sinner was always evident.
But also like the Lord, the apostle’s most scathing denunciations were reserved for those who pervert God’s truth and lead others into falsehood.
In an age of dangerous tolerance, the challenge for each of us is to recognize error and deal with it as God desires. Unchallenged, error can warp our judgment, poison our relationships and inhibit our worship. What seem like a little tolerance of a difference of opinion, especially in things essential for salvation, can bring ruin in a spiritual life, a household and even a church.
In Galatians 5:7–12 Paul gives us tell tale warning signs to watch out for in false teachers in order not to fall into their trap. He presents six characteristics of the Judaizers that are general enough to fit all other teachers of ungodliness, ancient or modern.
1) HINDER THE TRUTH: GALATIANS 5:7
Galatians 5:7 You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? (ESV)
The first and most obvious characteristic of the false teachers are that they distorted and hindered … the truth.
You were running well reflects the figure of a race, which Paul frequently used (see Rom. 9:16; 1 Cor. 9:24; Gal. 2:2).
• The verb is in the imperfect tense, referring to the Galatians’ past responses to the Gospel Paul preached (Witherington III, Ben: Grace in Galatia : A Commentary on St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. Grand Rapids, MI : Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998, S. 371)
While Paul had ministered among them, the Galatian believers had no trouble living their Christian lives by faith. They were running well until, apparently soon after Paul left, the Judaizers began leading them away from the way of grace and faith back into the way of law and works (see 1:6–7), which was crippling in its inconsistency.
Because Paul had already made clear who their spiritual enemy was, the question Who hindered you …? was rhetorical. The question was not about the identity of the false teachers but about their having been able so easily and quickly to deceive and mislead the Galatian believers.
• In essence, Paul was asking: “How could you have allowed those men to overturn what I carefully taught and you eagerly accepted as God’s Word?” he was asking “Who do they think they are and who do you think they are, that they can arrogantly undermine my own apostolic authority (see 1:1; 5:2) and the clear teaching of the Old Testament (3:6–29; 4:21–31), which they claim to revere?”
• We must never allow emotional appeal to be the determinant of truth. Too many people base what they believe on a personal feeling about the speaker. That is how con men deceive.
o Rule one in discernment is consider the source, before your heart.
The hindering action that Paul referred to here, the original usage of hinder/cut in (ἐνέκοψεν, enekopsen) was to chop up a road before an advancing army to impede their progress. Later the word seems to have been used also in an athletic context, as one runner might “cut in on” another runner, making that runner break stride and even fall (Boles, Kenneth L.: Galatians & Ephesians. Joplin, Mo. : College Press, 1993 (The College Press NIV Commentary), S. Ga 5:7)
• Galatians 5:7 could read: “You were running well. Who cut in on you so that you stopped obeying the truth?”
• The verb ‘hinder/cut in on’ is in the aorist tense, indicating an activity that has already transpired (Witherington III, Ben: Grace in Galatia : A Commentary on St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. Grand Rapids, MI : Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998, S. 371)