We have mastered the art of character assassination. If you don’t like what someone has to say, or if you disagree with his or her viewpoint, don’t worry about having to defend your position. Don’t engage in honest, thoughtful, intelligent dialogue. Just attack a flaw that you believe they have in their character. Tweet, post and move on. You can avoid the real issues and often the fact that you don’t have a better solution if you just assassinate the character of your opponent. Politicians are the masters of this, but we see it in every area and unfortunately it is very popular in Christian circles as well.
The book of Galatians opens with Paul addressing a faction of influential people in the churches, probably Judaizers, who were infecting the church with a message of bondage instead of one of freedom:
Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— 2and all the brothers with me,
To the churches in Galatia:
3Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
6I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! 9As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!
10Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ. -Galatians 1:1-10
Contrary to what we may expect about them, these individuals are not outsiders. It is an inside job. The most destructive forces in the church are rarely from the outside, but usually from the inside. These people are attempting to discredit the message of Paul by assassinating the character of Paul.
It’s common for Paul to identify himself at the beginning of his letters but he does more than that in Galatians. He clarifies his apostolic position. He feels the need to do this because this is the first way some in the church in Galatia are trying to discredit his message. Basically, they are saying that Paul is just like them with no greater authority. The word apostle means, “one who is sent.” So, there are many apostles. In fact, using the words in the most general way, we are all types of apostles – we are sent by Jesus Christ to go into all the world to make followers of Jesus called disciples. Apostle is also the designation of the original core of Christ-followers who received a direct mandate from Christ Himself to spread the message of Christ. Peter, the leader of the 12 disciples, along with the other disciples, would be this kind of apostle, along with individuals like James the brother of Jesus. The faction in the Galatian church was claiming that Paul was not really one of the apostles who received the message from Christ Himself.
Paul, who used to be called Saul, was one of the first persecutors of Christ-followers (one really bad dude). Everything changed when he came face-to-face with Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus in Acts 9: 3-6 and 15-16. It is clear that Christ had personally called Paul.
Back in Galatians, Paul defended himself by reminding these people that he was an apostle not sent by men, but that he, like Peter and James, was sent by Jesus Christ Himself who was raised from the dead by God the Father. Paul established his authority in the face of those who would discredit him.
Like those who tried to discredit Paul, some from within the church itself will try to discredit those who are authentically committed to following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. Each of us attaches our authority to the Word of God. My authority in preaching, or in writing and communicating God’s word, does not come because I have degrees, have read the right books, or have attended church for 30 years. It is only an authority when what I say lines up with God’s Word, the Bible. The Bible becomes our foundation and filter for life. So, you must test everything against God’s word through study, with the community of believers. What an anxious, oppressive life to have to guess at the foundation of authority – to hope that it can be found in the next philosophy, Netflix series, or self-help book. Freedom can be found when you know that the singular source of ultimate authority in life is God’s word, the Bible.
The second area of character assassination is centered on the idea that Paul was a people-pleaser. According to this line of attack, he planted the churches in Galatia, preached and wrote, not for the attention and affirmation of God, but of people. This is a classic attack on a person’s character. You are all about votes, numbers, and telling people not what they need to hear, but what they want to hear. People-pleasing was as prevalent in Paul’s day 2,000 years ago as it is with us today. We often need to journey, not to our desired location, but to our necessary one. You can only do that in life if you know who you are living for. Who is your primary audience? Do you live life for the masses or for Jesus? When it comes to my relationships, if everyone in church is happy with Jason, and if my neighbors like me, but my wife is upset with me, disappointed with me, even angry with me, all of the accolades of the masses do not matter. When it comes to my life-on-life relationships, no one is even close to being as important as my wife, Amy. That is freeing to me, and it directs many decisions that I make. Yet even more than Amy, my desire is to have a life that is directed by an audience of one – that One being Jesus Christ, God Himself, the Creator of the entire universe.
What you live for truly defines your life and brings clarity to the maze of daily decisions. When you live for God, the complexity of life’s decisions begin to diminish, and freedom begins to emerge in your life. Paul was clear, he lived for Christ as a servant of the most-high God. Who are you living for?
But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord. -Joshua 24:15