“Am I now trying to gain the approval of people, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a slave of Christ!” (Galatians 1:10 NET).
Much like a person who hears one side of a phone conversation, its difficult to know what prompted Paul the Apostle’s response here in Galatians 1:10. However, it does appear that Paul wanted to assure the churches of Galatia that he was not engaged in any kind of spiritual popularity contest.
For instance, it would have been easy for Paul to dilute the message of salvation through faith in Christ alone to make it easier for others to accept. But Paul was more interested in remaining faithful to Jesus than he was in telling others what they wanted to hear. Unfortunately, it seems this did little to stop the false teachers who followed Paul into Galatia from misrepresenting him.
To support his position, Paul asked a common-sense question followed by an equally common-sense answer: “Am I trying to be popular with people? If I were still trying to do so, I would not be a servant of Christ” (GNT). In the original language of this passage, this reference to “a servant of Christ” identifies someone who is devoted to another person even to the disregard of his or her own interests. (1)
While a servant might ordinarily work to secure his or her freedom if given the opportunity, the slave (HCSB) or bondservant (NKJV) mentioned here refers to a person who willfully chooses to continue in a master/slave relationship. So why would anyone wish to maintain that kind of relationship? Well the Old Testament book of Exodus provides us with some insight into that question…
“If you buy a Hebrew slave, he may serve for no more than six years. Set him free in the seventh year, and he will owe you nothing for his freedom…. But the slave may declare, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children. I don’t want to go free.’ If he does this, his master must present him before God. Then his master must take him to the door or doorpost and publicly pierce his ear with an awl. After that, the slave will serve his master for life” (Exodus 21:2, 5-6 NLT).
So much like the slave referenced here in Exodus chapter twenty-one, Paul identified himself as someone who willingly declined the option to secure his freedom in order to serve God, even at the risk of suffering disapproval from others.
(1) G1401 doulos Thayer’s Greek Definitions https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?t=kjv&strongs=g1401