“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.” —Galatians 1:6–9
The church is like a nuclear power plant. In his letter to the Romans Paul says, “the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” The church’s receiving and being entrusted with the gospel is like her being entrusted with nuclear power. To be clear, the church is not the power, but she is the authorized custodian thereof.
There are attacks against the gospel from without, and so we do well to build strong walls of defense around the church, but the greatest potential threat always lies within. It is the spy within the church, tampering with the nuclear core that can cause the greatest devastation. This is precisely the danger the Galatians find themselves on the precipice of—a nuclear meltdown of the church and their souls.
This is why Paul open this letter with rebuke instead of thanksgiving. In nearly every other letter Paul writes, thanksgiving follows greeting. Consider the following example from Philippians.
“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:3–11).
That letter, Philippians, written while imprisoned, is one of Paul’s warmest letters. The tone there is the complete opposite of Galatians. You may reason that this is because there are no serious errors being embraced by the Philippian church at this time. And this is mostly true, but, then what are we to make of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians?
“I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:4–9).
Is there any church to whom Paul writes that had such a diversity of problems as the one in Corinth? Among them were divisions, sexual immorality, failure to exercise church discipline, suing one another, syncretism, disorder in the church gatherings, perverting the Lord’s Supper, and a denial of the resurrection of the saints. All of this and Paul still says, “I give thanks to my God always for you.”
With the Galatians, thanksgiving is not only absent but replaced with a scathing rebuke. Why? Because the very core is being threatened. They are on the cusp of the worst possible spiritual catastrophe, a Chernobyl of the church; and thus it is that Paul expresses astonishment at the Galatians and anathematizes the false teachers. Concerning his cursing the false teachers, no more severe statement could be made and no lesser statement could be justified. When heretics have made their way to the core, it is curse or be cursed. If false gospels are not damned, men are.