What was the ‘offense of the cross’ (Galatians 5:7-15)?
7 You ran well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? 8 This persuasion does not come from Him who calls you. 9 A little leaven leavens the whole lump. 10 I have confidence in you, in the Lord, that you will have no other mind; but he who troubles you shall bear his judgment, whoever he is.
11 And I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why do I still suffer persecution? Then the offense of the cross has ceased. 12 I could wish that those who trouble you would even cut themselves off!
13 For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!
The life of a Christian is a race, where we must run and hold on and obtain the prize. It is not enough just to say with our mouths that we are a Christian, but we must run and this is by showing it in our daily living. The race that is of faith, love, and obedience where we experience its graces, enjoying its privileges and performing its duties. Some that are in the faith are hindered in their progress along the way and get diverted. So Paul is asking the Church here, “Who hindered you from obeying the truth?”, meaning who has interrupted you in this good race that you were running that you should not continue to obey the truth? Paul then goes onto say in v8 that “This persuasion”, that is, concerning the Mosaic law and the necessity of observing it in order for justification and salvation, does not come from God, who calls you to His kingdom and glory. Paul then continues to give an example in v9 of the leaven, where a little leaven leavens the whole lump. He is saying that, if this is allowed to continue, it will get to a point where it will impact every area of you Christian living. A little false doctrine may corrupt your judgment in other points, and a small number of people with such doctrines within the congregation can infect the whole church.
We know that by the leaven Paul is referring to the doctrines of the Pharisees and Sadducees, just as Jesus referred to them. We read this in Matthew 16:11-12 “How is it you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread? -but to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that He did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Another example of this is in 1 Corinthians 5:6-7, where Paul rebukes some of their practices, saying “Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.”
Paul then proceeds to say that he has confidence in them that on reading this and being warned of this danger , that they will have no other mind concerning the doctrine of justification by faith. But the one that troubles you with the false doctrine, and perverts their mind from the purity of faith will have a heavy burden already hanging over his head. It seems that Paul is referring to one person chiefly as endeavoring to seduce them.
In v11, Paul asks the question that if he is still preaching circumcision, why is he still being persecuted? The troubler amongst the Galatians had said that Paul himself preaches circumcision, as is shown by having Timothy circumcised in Acts 16:3 “Paul wanted to have him go on with him. And he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in that region, for they all knew that his father was Greek.” Paul responds to this question himself saying, the fact that he is still being persecuted by the Jews shows plainly that he does not preach circumcision, and it is because he is preaching Christ crucified and not the Mosaic law, as the sole ground of justification, that they persecute him. As it says in 1 Corinthians 7:18-19 “Was anyone called while circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Was anyone called while uncircumcised? Let him not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters.” Paul’s living as a Gentile among the Gentiles plainly showed that, if he had lived as a Jew among Jews, it was not that he thought it meritorious before God, but as a matter of indifference. He might lawfully conform as a Jew by birth to those with whom he was, and in order to put no needless stumbling block to the Gospel in the way of his countrymen.
Next Paul says, then the “offense of the cross has ceased’. For if Paul should preach the necessity of circumcision, as it has been alleged, the offense of the cross of Christ should be removed. The necessity of depending on the merits of the sacrifice made on the cross would be taken away, since then the people could be saved by keeping the laws of Moses. This is the very thing which had been a stumbling block for the Jews, as it says in 1 Corinthians 1:23 “but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”, because all of the conformity to their rites was of no avail, and that they can only be saved by the merits of a crucified Savior, would have been done away with. If Paul preached circumcision and the law, then he would have saved himself from giving offense, and from persecution which he had endured in consequence of preaching the necessity of salvation by the cross.
In conclusion, the offense of the cross, is not just the fact that Jesus died on the cross, but that it cuts to the root of human merit in the matter of justification, whether in the form of legal observance, or holy dispositions, or good works. The Jews accused Stephen not of worshiping or preaching Christ crucified, but of speaking against the law and the holy place. Paul could have avoided persecution if he preached that Christ death on a cross was only an example to us of humility and submission, but he preached righteousness by the cross alone through faith and because of this they were offended. This can be further understood when we read Romans 9:31-33 “but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness. Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law. For they stumbled at the stumbling stone. As it is written: “Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense, And whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” (prophecy from Isaiah 28:16 and 8:14).
Finally in v13 to 15, Paul warns against not using the sacrifice on the cross as an opportunity to fulfill the desires of the flesh and to recognize that the Gospel is a doctrine according to godliness. 1 Timothy 6:3 says “If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness,” We must not give way to sin freely, but under the strongest obligation try to avoid it and subdue it. Paul says that all the law is fulfilled in one word, ‘love’. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Rather than quarreling and fighting against one another, how good would it be if we set ourselves against sin and anything sinful?