I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel- not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. (ESV)
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Tuesday of Pentecost 13
25 August 2015
When I was a young pastor in Ontario, I rode the train into Toronto to attend classes at the graduate school of the University of Toronto. Most of the people on the train were regulars, because they commuted into town on a daily basis to work. I got to know one gentleman rather well over the months of my weekly commute. One day he arrived on the return train carrying a paperback copy of Martin Luther's Table Talk, in which Luther was recorded making all manner of off-color statements by his eager students. My fellow commuter wondered how it was possible that this outwardly Christian man could say such outrageous things. Luther is justly famous for the harsh language he launched against his opponents. Luther's harsh language must be understood in two significant ways. First, the European universities of the late medieval period were rough and tumble places in which extremely harsh invective was cast by everyone at any and all opponents. This was standard operating procedure; and was seldom taken seriously by those who flung such mud or those upon whom it was flung. So Luther is hardly unique in this regard. We should not so easily chide Luther based upon our "more pious" understandings of what it is appropriate to come out of our mouths.
Second, and more importantly, Luther had a strong sense of the priority of God's Word as the authority in the church. He recognized that if God was speaking, we humans had better be silent (Rm 3:19
), and that if God was to remain God for us, then those who contradict Him must come under condemnation. Those who teach contrary to God's Word are themselves cursing God and condemning His holy people to misbelief. False teaching is exactly the kind of leavening that pays enormous and tragic dividends in the future. The Bible is full of warnings against teaching things that are not in harmony with God's Word and that God's representatives are required to teach the divine truth for the sake of those who hear them. The Apostle says, for example, "Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers" (1Ti 4:16
). The truthfulness of the teaching is related to the salvation of the preacher and those who listen to him. So this is not a matter that could treated cavalierly. We are required to preach the divine truth because souls are at stake.
Those who decline to do so and instead preach their own pious imaginations come rightly under a curse in the same way that a mass murderer incurs the righteous wrath of our society. Mass slaughter of the body is a deep affront to humanity and to God. But an even greater affront to God and to humanity are those who teach poison instead of the theological truth. No wonder such come under a curse and condemnation! Jesus suffered a horrible death for the purpose of saving us through the message of His propitiatory death. If we don't get that message straight and get that message out, we rightly come under the condemnation of God and the holy church. The church's condemnation is not a matter of unkindness, but a matter of faith in the sufficiency of the Word of God.
"Paul says, 'I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves' (Gal 5:12
). It isn't proper, is it, for an apostle, not only to declare that the false apostles are troublemakers, to condemn them, and to hand them over to the devil but even to call down curses against them and to wish that they would perish and be absolutely destroyed, in other words, to curse them? It seems to me that Paul is alluding to circumcision, as though he were saying: 'They are forcing you to be circumcised. How I wish that they themselves would be utterly torn away from the very foundation!'
"Here the question arises whether it is right for Christians to call down curses. It is right to do so, but not always and not for just any reason. But when things come to the point where the Word is being condemned or its teaching (and, as a consequence, God Himself) blasphemed, then you must invert your judgment and say: 'Blessed be the Word and God! And cursed is anything apart from the Word and from God, whether it is an apostle or an angel from heaven!' Thus Paul says above: 'Even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed' (Gal 1:8
"Here one can discern that 'a little leaven' (Gal 5:9
) was so important to Paul that he even dared to curse the false apostles, men who gave the appearance of great holiness and authority. Therefore let us not underestimate the importance of the leaven to doctrine either. No matter how little the leaven is, if doctrine is despised, this causes the eventual loss of truth and salvation, and the denial of God. For when the Word is corrupted and, as necessarily follows, when God is denied and blasphemed, no hope of salvation is left. But if we are the ones who are slandered, cursed, and killed, there is still One who can revive us and set us free from the curse, from death, and from hell.
"Therefore let us learn to praise and glorify the majesty and authority of the Word. For it is no light matter, as the fanatics of our day think; but one dot (Mt 5:18) is greater than heaven and earth. Therefore here we have no reason to exercise love or Christian concord, but we simply use the seat of judgment; that is, we condemn and curse all those who insult or mock the majesty of the divine Word in the slightest, because, 'A little leaven leavens the whole lump' (Gal 5:9). But if they let the Word sound and unimpaired remain, we are prepared not only to share love and Christian concord with them but to offer ourselves as their slaves in public and do anything for them. But if they will not, let them perish and be banished to hell, and not only they themselves but the whole world with all its "pious" and impious inhabitants, just as long as God remains. For if He remains, life and salvation remain, and so do the truly godly."
Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians, 5.12
Lord Jesus, You have sent preachers with beautiful feet and hallowed lips to carry Your Word to poor sinners and to preach the holy gospel. Keep them steadfast in that Word. Give them the concern for souls that keeps the message straight and gets the message out. Help us to flee teachers who teach contrary to Your Word, confessing that Your Word is truth. Amen.
For the family of Georgia Strauss, whom the Lord in His infinite wisdom called to His heavenly kingdom, that they would mourn as those who have hope in the resurrection of the flesh and the life of the world to come
For all those remembering the blessed saints who have been taken by the Lord Jesus, especially Les Coolidge, that they would mourn with confidence in the reunion of the faithful in the life to come
For Charlene Johnson, who is undergoing therapy for cancer, that the Lord Jesus would strengthen her
Art: Dürer, Albrecht The Adoration of the Trinity (1515)
© Scott R. Murray, 2015