The expression “speaking the truth” often has negative connotations, especially in our day and age, when it can be viewed as a hard-hitting, no-holds-barred, spare-no-enemies tactic of telling someone the facts, no matter how unpleasant or unwanted they may be. If it were not for Paul’s comments in Galatians 4:12–20 and a few other comments scattered throughout his letter (see Gal. 6:9, 10), one might mistakenly conclude that Paul’s interest in the truth of the gospel outweighed any expression of love. Yet, as we’ve seen, though Paul was concerned about the Galatians knowing the “truth of the gospel” (see Gal. 2:5, 14), that concern arose because of his love for them. Who hasn’t experienced personally just how painful it can be to have to chastise someone or in plain terms speak truths to them that —for whatever reason—they don’t want to hear? We do it because we care about the person, not because we want to cause hurt, though at times the immediate effect of our words is hurt or even anger and resentment against us. We do it anyway, because we know it is what the person needs to hear, no matter how much he or she might not want to do so.
In Galatians 4:17–20, what is Paul saying about those whom he is opposing? What else is he challenging, besides their theology?
In contrast to the candor of Paul’s gospel, by which he risked the possible ire of the Galatians, his opponents were actively courting the favor of the Galatians, not out of love for the Galatians but out of their own selfish motives. It is unclear exactly what Paul means when he says that his opponents “want to shut you out,” though this perhaps refers to an attempt to shut them out of the privileges of the gospel until they first submit to circumcision.
Think of some incident when your words, however truthful and needed, caused someone to be angry with you. What did you learn from the experience that could help you next time you need to do something similar?