Was Paul Mistaken in Galatians 6:10?
A Christian lady has suggested that Paul was wrong in Galatians 6:10, when he stated that Christians should help other believers first; then non-Christians afterward. I have been asked to comment on this.
With all due respect, to suggest that Paul’s statement in Galatians 6:10 should be reversed, in terms of its point of emphasis, is faulty from several vantage points.
- The lady’s view conflicts with the teaching of an inspired apostle, and therefore exalts a personal, human opinion over that of the testimony of the Holy Spirit. What does this say about attitudes that are developing in the church with reference to the Holy Scriptures? Have we drifted so far that we arrogantly can dispute a matter with an apostle of Jesus Christ?
- The opinion expressed is completely oblivious to, or else ignores, the historical context out of which the passage comes.
In that ancient world conditions frequently were extremely dire (consider the several famines mentioned in the New Testament, e.g., Matthew 24:7; Acts 11:27-30). In that environment, Christians generally were alienated from their pagan neighbors because of their strict and exclusivist teaching. They thus could expect little, if any, assistance from the government, or from their heathen neighbors.
On the other hand, the unbelievers, who would have access to public funds, would closely watch the Christians to see whether or not they rendered aid to one another. If they failed to respond to their brethren, such would have been a great reproach on the church. If one fails to help his own, it is not to be expected that he will be benevolent toward others.
- While helping the unbeliever is noble, whenever possible (i.e., when both opportunity and means are available), unfortunately the results usually are minimal at best (unless the circumstances are such that personal teaching can accompany the assistance rather quickly).
On the other hand, to provide help for Christians, who actively are involved in teaching the lost, is a much more productive effort in the long run.
- Anyone, therefore, who makes a comment of the nature of that under review, almost certainly is not consistent in his (or her) own practice. For example, there are millions of children around the world who are starving, or who have just enough to stay alive. How many Christian parents believe that it is more important to be feeding those children (needy as they are), rather than taking care of their own — first? There are universally acknowledged ideals, such as “primary” obligations, versus “secondary” considerations. Reflect upon a passage that is parallel in principle. “If any man provides not for his own, especially his own household, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). Does not one have the obligation to care for his immediate family, before turning to more distant kinsmen?
It appears to me that this is one of those cases where someone impetuously asserts a position without having given the matter considerable study and reflection. And situations of this nature are legion!
Scripture references: Galatians 6:10; Matthew 24:7; Acts 11:27-30; 1 Timothy 5:8