By Pastor Glenn Pease
Back in the early part of the 20th century some architects in Washington began to visualize how the Jefferson Memorial ought to look from across the lake when reflected in the water. They decided it would be best to cut down the fringe of cherry trees that threatened to obscure the view. A group of women in Washington heard about it and dedicated themselves to protect those trees given to our nation by Mr. Ozaki of Japan. They were so outraged at the scandalous sacrilege of destroying such beauty that they actually went to the scene and tied themselves to the trees with robes and chains. The architects were awed, and the woodchoppers were scared stiff. Margaret Applegarth in reporting on this story concluded, "The city was charmed by the uproar. And of course the cherry trees themselves bloomed safely from April to April, year after year."
The Apostle Paul could have read a story like that with a great deal of appreciation, for the emotions of those women must have been very much like Paul's emotions as he wrote to the Galatians. Some crack pot officials have come into the church in Galatia with the intention of cutting down the tree of life. That is, they planned to remove the cross of Christ from its central place in Christianity. It seems that to them it was obscuring the view of the law. Just as the Washington officials wanted to remove the living beauty of the cherry trees to keep the cold dead stone of the memorial in view, so the Jewish officials of Paul's day wanted to remove the real roses of redemption by grace, and the living lilies of liberty in Christ, in order to keep the cold dead stones of the law in view.
When Paul heard of this he was as outraged as were those sensitive and sensible ladies in Washington. He is angry with the Judaizers and amazed at the Galatians for listening to their false gospel. In verse 6 we see Paul expressing his first negative emotion in this letter. It is translated by a variety of words. Some have it, "I am amazed." Others have, "I am astonished, I marvel," and one has it, "I am dumb founded." Paul just cannot comprehend the profound folly that would lead men to exchange liberty for bondage. It is beyond him how people can, without threat and compulsion, but voluntarily give up the Gospel of grace for the gospel of law, which he says is no gospel at all.
Paul has suddenly become aware that even Christians can be very fickle, and they can waver from a position of stability so easily. It is good that he discovered this, for now it is a matter of public record, and all Christians are thereby informed. Christians can develop along two different lines in their thinking and attitudes. They can become so vacillating and variable that they are tossed about by every wind of doctrine that comes along, or they can develop along the lines of a steady, settled and unwavering stability. In this context we want to consider Paul's condemnation of the one and his call to the other. Consider first-
I. THE CONDEMNATION OF THE SPIRIT OF FICKLENESS.
The fickle persons are those who allow their emotions to be their guide. This leaves them with a very unreliable guide, for emotions can be so unstable and inconsistent. I have watched clever salesman demonstrate a potato peeler or tomato cutter with such skill and efficiency that I felt like buying one even though I didn't need it. My emotions were captivated by a job well done. The cults operate on this same basis. They know well what they have to offer, and it sounds so good to seeking hearts. Many are captivated by the skill and efficiency of their presentation. The Judaisers were men who were skilled in the law, and they could make a deep impression on those who were not educated as they were. They were successful because there are so many people who have a fickle spirit. They commit themselves to one thing this year, and next year they are off in a totally different direction. They are always being moved by their emotions to go in new directions.
Joseph Parker wrote, "We are amazed at fickle religious people, because they make such fools of themselves. They are always finding some new little pieces of paper on which there is written something they cannot make out, but which perfectly entrances them by the brilliance of its genius." Such people are consistently inconsistent, and they are like sitting ducks for all the cults and religious racketeers who make a fortune selling religious junk and secret formulas for instant happiness. Paul has to fight this fickle spirit in Christians constantly, and he urges, "Be ye steadfast and unmovable."
Paul was amazed that anyone could be so unstable as to forsake the solid rock of the Gospel for the quicksand of the law. Such a spirit of fickleness makes building a solid life in Christ impossible. He would have said amen to Byron's lines:
I hate inconstancy-I loathe, detest,
Abhor, condemn, abjure the mortal made
Of such quicksilver clay that in his breast
No permanent foundation can be laid.
Paul, and all of the writers of Scripture condemn the wavering and inconsistent spirit of fickleness. The only way to avoid this defect in human nature is to give heed to his second point.
II. THE CALL TO THE SPIRIT OF FIRMNESS.
Stability is an absolute essential for building a Christian life pleasing to God. The Gospel of salvation by faith in Christ is the Rock on which a Christian must build. It is so solid and unchangeable that nothing is to be allowed to alter our confidence in it. If an angel appeared to you and told you there is another way to be saved apart from faith in Christ, Paul says we are not to believe it. He says any with that message are to be cursed. Paul is using strong language because he wants it to be clear that no one could possibly miss his point.
The Gospel of Christ is absolutely unchangeable. When Jesus said from the cross, "It is finished," the foundation was firmly laid forever, and nothing in the universe can change it. Paul believed in change, and he was a man who loved variety and new methods. He could be all things to all men, but he had a foundation that never varied. A person who cannot stand change is doomed to be very unhappy, but the person who does not have a stable unchanging foundation is doomed to be even more miserable. Those who are free to enjoy change most are those who know there are some things that will never change.
The ideal Christian is one who can fit in well in almost every setting and be amazingly flexible in relation to people and issues, and yet never leave the slightest doubt as to their loyalty to the Lordship of Christ. Nothing could separate Paul from the love of Christ, and nothing could cause him to deviate to making Christ central in all He did and taught. The stable Christian is a Christ-centered Christian. This is where the Galatians were failing. They were taking their eyes off Christ and His cross, and they were listening to the clever appeals of men. What happened to them explains why Jesus instituted the Lord's Supper to be perpetually observed until He comes again. Jesus knew about the fickle spirit of man and his ability to forget. He said, "Do this in remembrance of me," because he knew that history would be filled with appeals to make something other than His death the foundation of faith.
No one ever risked their life to get the works of other great authors into the hands of the lost people of world, but many have laid down their lives to get the message of Christ's death for man's sin into the hands of people all over the world. The poet has Christ asking:
Canst thou love me when creeds are breaking,
Old landmarks shaking
On earth and sea?
Canst thou restrain the earth from quaking,
And rest thy heart in me?
Millions of stable believers in troubled times all through the centuries have answered by their steadfast love and loyalty, "Yes!" Helen Keller said our worst foes are not belligerent circumstances but wavering spirits." May God help us, as we focus again on the cross, to be people who build on the solid rock foundation of loyalty to Christ, and thereby be always striving for stability.