Paul was a very tolerant person.
If you want a proof for that, think of him as he sits in prison, writing the Philippians. He’s suffering for Jesus, and yet, there are people who claim to serve Jesus, who are seeking to make his situation more difficult.
But, Paul’s not angry.
He doesn’t point them out specifically. He doesn’t warn people about them. The only thing that matters to him that Jesus is being preached.
If Paul’s not disturbed by people who are motivated to preach the gospel by a desire to somehow make him suffer, he must have been a very, very patient person, which is perhaps why it is surprising to some to see him so upset at the beginning of Galatians.
He writes, “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.”
Now think about this.
Specifically, as J. Gresham Machen writes,
“What is the reason for the difference in the apostle’s attitude in the two cases? What is the reason for the broad tolerance in Rome, and the fierce anathemas in Galatia?
The answer is perfectly plain.
In Rome, Paul was tolerant, because there the content of the message that was being proclaimed by the rival teachers was true; in Galatia he was intolerant, because there the content of the rival message was false. In neither case did personalities have anything to do with Paul’s attitude. No doubt the motives of the Judaizers in Galatia were far from pure, and in an incidental way Paul does point out their impurity. But that was not the ground of his opposition. The Judaizers no doubt were morally far from perfect, but Paul’s opposition to them would have been exactly the same if they had all been angels from heaven.
His opposition was based altogether upon the falsity of their teaching; they were substituting for the one true gospel a false gospel which was no gospel at all.
It never occurred to Paul that a gospel might be true for one man and not for another; the blight of pragmatism had never fallen upon his soul. Paul was convinced of the objective truth of the gospel message, and devotion to that truth was the great passion of his life. Christianity for Paul was not only a life, but also a doctrine, and logically the doctrine came first.”
Now what was the difference between Paul and the Judaizers that caused him to react the way he did?
This is important.
Because, the difference between Paul and the Judaizers would seem small to many people today.
In fact, there are many things they would have agreed about.
The Judaizers believed Jesus was the Messiah.
They believed Jesus rose from the dead.
They believed faith was necessary for salvation.
“But the trouble was,” J. Gresham Machen explains, “they believed that something else was also necessary; they believed that what Christ had done needed to be pieced out by the believer’s own effort to keep the Law. From the modern point of view the difference would have seemed to be very slight.
Paul as well as the Judaizers believed that the keeping of the law of God, in its deepest import, is inseparably connected with faith. The difference concerned only . . . the temporal order of three steps.
Paul said that a man (1) first believes on Christ, (2) then is justified before God, (3) then immediately proceeds to keep God’s law.
The Judaizers said that a man (1) believes on Christ and (2) keeps the law of God the best he can, and then (3) is justified.
The difference would seem to modern “practical” Christians to be a highly subtle and intangible matter, hardly worthy of consideration at all in view of the large measure of agreement in the practical realm. What a splendid cleaning up of the Gentile cities it would have been if the Judaizers had succeeded in extending to those cities the observance of the Mosaic law, even including the unfortunate ceremonial observances! Surely Paul ought to have made common cause with teachers who were so nearly in agreement with him; surely he ought to have applied to them the great principle of Christian unity.
As a matter of fact, however, Paul did nothing of the kind; and only because he (and others) did nothing of the kind does the Christian Church exist today.
Paul saw very clearly that the differences between the Judaizers and himself was the differences between two entirely distinct types of religion; it was the differences between a religion of merit and a religion of grace.
If Christ provides only a part of our salvation, leaving us to provide the rest, then we are still hopeless under the load of sin. For no matter how small the gap which must be bridged before salvation can be attained, the awakened conscience sees clearly that our wretched attempt at goodness is insufficient even to bridge that gap. The guilty soul enters again into the hopeless reckoning with God, to determine whether we have really done our part. And thus we groan again under the old bondage of the law. Such an attempt to piece out the work of Christ by our own merit, Paul saw clearly, is the very essence of unbelief/
Christ will do everything or nothing, and the only hope is to throw ourselves unreservedly on His mercy and trust Him for all.”