Sermons by Marlin Harless

HOUSEHOLD OF FAITH

A FRIEND MISTAKEN FOR AN ENEMY
(Text: Galatians 4:16)
Marlin L. Harless

INTRODUCTION: Any faithful gospel preacher today is likely to be involved in the same precarious situation that Paul found himself in the above text! Beloved, the man of God must, by the very nature of the circumstances, preach the truth in love, with all the power of his soul!! Brethren, not all professed Christians desire to hear the truth in "great plainness of speech." Many do not intend to be corrected, not even by God! They refuse to accept discipline and chastisement, they are smug, self-willed, and stubborn; and when the preacher preaches the truth of the gospel, they experience great heart and mind pains, and they become terribly upset and develop a severe case of the jitters!! Then, some one suggests we need a new preacher; whereas, we should "Be still, and know that God, is God!!

(Verses 13-16).---A retrospect with its lessons. The apostle seeks an explanation of the changed attitude toward himself.

I. HE RECALLS THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF HIS FIRST RELATIONS WITH THE GALATIANS. "Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first." 1. His visit was not designed, but accidental. He was traveling through their country on his way to regions beyond, when he was seized with illness and detained so long that he found an opportunity to preach the gospel. Precious infirmity to the Galatians! It was, "might" have been an opportunity providentially created, {emphasis, mine, (MLH)}. 2. His preaching was therefore in a sense compulsory; a circumstance which greatly enhanced the enthusiastic welcome of the Galatians. His infirmity might not admit of travel, but it was compatible with a considerable evangelistic activity. We simply do not know just what Paul's "thorn in the flesh" consisted of; accordingly, many suggest that it was his vision. Compare the preceding paragraph with (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

II. THE NATURE OF THE INFIRMITY. 1. It was, "appears to have been," sharp physical distress, {emphasis, mine, (MLH)}. (Cf. 2 Corinthians 12:2ff.). 2. It must have been humiliating to himself; for it was designed as a check to spiritual pride: "…Lest I should be exalted above measure" (2 Corinthians 12:7d). 3. It must have been a severe trial to a man with such sleepless zeal; for it threatened to hinder his activity as an apostle. 4. It could not be concealed from others. 5. It had a tendency to cause loathing in those who had intercourse with him. Perhaps it accounted for "his speech being contemptible" and "his presence weak." 6. It was chronic. It is impossible to know what it was, though learned opinion gravitates between the theory of falling sickness and that of disease of the eyes. It had the effect, at all events, of checking him in his travels at a momentous period, when the Galatians became his debtors for the gospel!

III. THE SYMPATHAIC TEMPER OF THE GALATIANS. 1. They did not treat him with either indifference or loathing. "And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected…" His bodily ailment might have led them to the rejection of his preaching. 2. They conferred upon him unusual honor and affection. "…But received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus" (Galatians 4:14c). Angels are the highest of created beings, and it is good "to entertain angels unawares. " But Christ is higher than angels. The passage implies the Galatian attachment to Christ, for they received Paul as they would have received Christ. "He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me"(Matthew 10:40). 3. They would have undergone personal suffering on his account. "…I bear you record, that, if it had been possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me" (Galatians 4:15). An extraordinary mark of affection! But it is merely a proverbial mode of speech taken from the indispensableness of the eyes. We owe more than the eyes of the body to those who have given us the eyes of the soul." 4. They had congratulated themselves upon their unspeakable privilege in having such a teacher. "Where is then the blessedness ye spake of?" (Galatians 4:15a). Before leaving the "Sympathetic Temper Of The Galatians," I suggest we 'Romance' this aspect of the homily for whatever it might be worth to the readers!

IV. PAUL'S APPEAL FOR SOMETHING LIKE THE OLD SYMPATHY. (GALATIANS 4:13-15). He had appeared among them in a suffering condition. The "thorn in the flesh," which had been sent to buffet him and keep him humble, had manifested itself in full force. {Some aver to say, there is every reason to believe that it consisted in weak eyes, which never recovered the shock on the way to Damascus. This is purely a theoretical statement, and we must let it rest there! Emphasis, mine, (MLH)}. Accordingly, but the weak eyed, despicable looking preacher (2 Corinthians 10:10), "For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible," had got an admirable reception in Galatia. His hearers so sympathized with his message as to forget his outward weakness, nay, rather to so sympathize with him in it as to be ready to pluck out their own eyes and give them to him, if it had been possible. The poor preacher was in their estimation an angel of God, and was received with the same consideration as they would have extended to Christ Jesus Himself! This was admirable. And Paul wishes them to receive this sympathy for him and lead them along the path of liberty he himself is treading! How deep and pathetic the true sympathy between preacher and people!

V. SUGGESTED CAUSE OF THE GALATIAN CHANGE. "Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?" (Galatians 4:16). The apostle refers not to the plain-speaking of the Epistle nor to the occasion of his first visit, but to a second visit which brought to light the incipient action of Judaist principles. 1. Enmity created by truth-speaking implies a grave departure from the truth. The truth teller is disliked because he inflicts pain, but the pain shows there is something wrong within. People generally dislike to think that others know their particular faults. Truth breeds hatred fair nymphs the ugly fauns and satyrs" (Trapp). 2. The truth-speaker is our best friend. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful" (Proverbs 27:6). 3. Think of the courage of the apostle. He tells the Galatians the truth at the sacrifice of their personal friendship and love!! Truth was a more precious thing than man's esteem! It was the very truth of the gospel, with man's salvation hanging upon it, {rather, depending upon it, emphasis, mine, (MLH)}, and therefore incapable of being betrayed or surrendered through any spirit of unworthy compliance or menpleasing!!1

(Galatians 4:16).---A friend mistaken for an enemy. On his first visit to Galatia, Paul was received, so he tells us, "as an angel of God, even as Jesus Christ." He paid, it appears, a second visit to the province, and then the fickle people treated him with coldness and suspicion because he found it necessary to point out their faults and the danger of them, as though he had become their enemy solely because he had told them the truth. This narrow and unfair conduct of the Galatians is only too common to hum0an nature. The causes of it are worth examining, and the evil of it being detected as a warning against a repetition of the same egregious blunder.

VI. IT IS SOMETIMES THE DUTY OF THE PREACHER TO TELL UNPLEASANT TRUTHS. It is a mistake to suppose that because he has a gospel to declare he must let only honeyed phrases fall from his lips. Jeremiah set up the prophesying of smooth things as the one sure test of a false prophet: "The prophets that have been before me and before thee of old prophesied both against many countries, and against great kingdoms, of war, and of evil, and of pestilence. The prophet which prophesieth of peace, when the word of the prophet shall come to pass, then shall the prophet be known, that the Lord hath truly sent him" (Jeremiah 28:8, 9). John the Baptist prepared for the gospel by denouncing the sins of his fellow-countrymen. Christ uttered some of the most terrible words ever spoken (e.g. Matthew 23:33), "Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?" The church has been too much pampered with comforting words! We need more preaching to the conscience! {People need to be told how we should guard our hearts and keep them pure for God's sake, and ours!! "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8), emphasis, mine, (MLH)}.

1. There are unpleasant truths. Nature is not all roses and lilies; nettles and vipers exist. The page of history is blotted with tears and blood. There are many ugly facts in our own past experience. 2. The great ground on which the preacher is required to utter unpleasant truths is that we are all sinners. The doctor who describes the cases in a hospital must say much about terrible diseases. 3. The purpose for which it is necessary to utter painful truths is to lead to repentance. It is not done merely to give pain nor to drive to despair. The lightening flash reveals the precipice that the unwary traveler may turn back from destruction. Until we know ourselves to be in the wrong way we shall not turn to a better.

VII. THE PREACHER OF UNPLEASANT TRUTHS MUST EXPECT TO BE TREATED AS AN ENEMY BY THE VERY PEOPLE HE IS TRYING TO HELP. This has been the case all the world over with the prophets of Israel, John the Baptist, the apostles, restorers in every age, and, above all, Christ Himself, who was crucified simply because He told truths that stung the Jews to madness. The noblest heroes of the "noble army of martyrs" suffered on this account. It is well to understand and be ready for such treatment even in the milder form which it generally assumes in our own day. It can be explained, though of course it cannot be justified. It may be traced to the following causes:---1. The influences of association. The messenger of ill tidings is hated for his message. Milton calls the bird that foretells "a hapless doom" "a rude bird of hate." 2. Misinterpretation. It is assumed that the preacher wishes trouble because he predicts it, that he has pleasure in humiliating us by revealing our faults. 3. A corrupt conscience. Men often refuse to admit unpleasant truths about themselves, treat them as libels and the preachers of them as libelers of the race.

VIII. IT IS A GREAT BLUNDER TO TREAT THE PREACHER OF UNPLEASANT TRUTHS AS AN ENEMY. 1. It is foolish. Truth is not the less truth because we are blind to it. The revelation of its existence is not the creation of it. 2. It is unjust. The faithful servant of Christ, like the Master, will wish nothing but good to those whose guilt he denounces. He is the enemy of the sin just because He is the friend of the sinner. 3. It is ungenerous. It is always a thankless task to tell unpleasant truths. For a man of kindly disposition it is a most painful task. He undertakes it for the good of his friends. It might have been much more pleasant for Paul to have retained his popularity at the expense of the church's welfare. He is an ungrateful patient who treats as an enemy the surgeon who hurts only that he may heal! 2

CONCLUSION: My friends, hear me, are you listening? Jesus and the apostles used "great plainness of speech" in declaring the glorious message of the gospel from heaven: "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves. Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, we ought to obey God rather than men. When they heard that, they were cut," {Greek word, "DIAPRIO," means "to saw in two, to cut in two, to saw asunder"; here it is rage that cuts into their hearts, not conviction of their sins as in (Acts 2:37); "to the heart, and took counsel to slay them." (Matthew 23:15; Acts 5: 29-33; cf. Acts 7:54), emphasis, mine, (MLH)}.

Beloved, are you a 'friend,' or an 'enemy' of Christ? (Cf. Matthew 12: 30). If you are not His friend, you can become one today! To become His friend, you must learn to love and serve Him! To love and serve Him, you must obey His gospel! Moreover, to "obey His gospel, 1. You must hear it, (Acts 2:37); 2. You must believe it, (Mark 16:16); 3. You must repent of past sins, (Luke 13:3, 5); 4. You must confess faith in Christ, (Acts 8:37); 5. You must be immersed or baptized for the remission of past sins, (Acts 2:38); 6. You must live faithful until death, (Revelation 2:10). Will you do it Today! Today! Today? If so, Christ will add you to His church!! (Cf. Acts 2:47).

ENDNOTES:

1 The Pulpit Commentary, Volume 20, pages 215 & 216, 221, Homiletics by T. Croskery

2 The Pulpit Commentary, Volume 20, page 237, Homilies by Various Authors, by W. F. Adeney

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

1. The King James Version of The Bible, The Thompson Chain-Reference Bible, The Fifth Improved Edition

2. The American College Dictionary

3. The American Heritage Dictionary

4. The Expanded Vines, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, by W. E. Vine

5. The Theological Dictionary of The New Testament

6. The Interlinear Greek-English New Testament

7. Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon of The New Testament

8. The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology

(E-Mail Address: mlharless@kvinet.com ), Telephone number: (304) 247-6895. Dear reader: In the event you encounter errors in this sermon, misquotes, spelling scripture references, etc., please inform me of same at your earliest convenience! Thank you! (MLH).



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