“God will not be mocked.”

Galatians 6.7.

Here’s a verse I hear frequently misquoted. (So have you.)

Galatians 6.7 KJV
Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.

Y’notice most of the time when Christians quote it, it’s not necessarily because somebody’s mocking God. Usually somebody’s mocking them, the Christians. Occasionally God’s getting mocked too, but he’s collateral damage. The mockers are mainly focused on the Christians: Once again, one of us did something dumb, so people are having a laugh at our expense.

Well when certain Christians get mocked—like when they’re new, and too immature to have the Spirit’s fruit; or when they’re longtime Christians, but never did develop patience, so they can’t take a joke; or they’re otherwise deficient in joy—they wanna rebuke their scoffers. Call down curses, ideally, but they’re happy just to have a clever comeback. “Have your fun now,” they menace their scoffers, “but your time will come. God will not be mocked.”

Sometimes the outraged Christian will continue with the rest of the verse they’re misquoting. Still out of context, of course. “You,” they’ll indicate, “will reap what you sow.” Not that karma will get ’em and they’ll get laughed at too; they’re thinking more about burning in hell, or some other disproportionate, but satisfying, punishment.

Anyway. Note how the King James Version of the verse is present tense, not future: It’s not “God will not be mocked” but “God is not mocked.” It’s present tense in Greek too: θεὸς οὐ μυκτηρίζεται/Theós u myktirídzete. It has to do with what was currently happening when Paul wrote it to the Galatians. Not with what’s currently happening when a pagan laughs at a Christian; not with nontheists getting their comeuppance on Judgment Day. Certainly not with our various unchristian revenge fantasies.

What were its circumstances when Paul originally wrote it to the Galatian church? Glad you asked.

The context: Honor your teachers.

Paul wrapped up Galatians by giving the Galatians general advice about how to live as Christians, and this is where today’s verse comes from. He instructed the Galatians to help one another, bear one another’s burdens, instruct one another, encourage one another.

Galatians 6.1-10 KWL
1 Fellow Christians, whenever a person anticipates a certain failing,
you who are spiritual: Strengthen such a person!
Do it in a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves, lest you’re also tempted.
2 Carry one another’s burdens. This is how you’ll fulfill Christ’s law.
3 For if anyone thinks they’re something yet aren’t, they deceive themselves.
4 Each of you: Prove your own work.
Then you can be proud of yourself, not just in your neighbor.
5 For each of you will eventually carry your own burden.

Don’t be conceited, as if you’re better than the Christians you’re helping out, or as if you’ve overcome one temptation and therefore can overcome all temptations. Stay humble. Carry others’ loads… but bear in mind you’re learning to carry your own load, and not be a burden to others. Ga 6.1-5 You’re learning to grow up as a Christian, and be mature.

Now what’s also important is that as you work on your maturity, you let others know what you’re going through. In particular, inform your teacher.

Galatians 6.6-7 KWL
6 You who receive instruction: Share all good things with the one who instructed you with words of instruction.
7A Don’t deceive yourselves: God isn’t sneered at.

Which Christian has been instructing you most?—sponsoring you, advising you, mentoring you, discipling you? Let ’em know what you’re going through. Successes and failures. And give ’em credit for their help.

Now here’s where the Galatians balked. In the Greco-Anatolian culture, custom wasn’t to honor your teacher for instructing you; it was to honor the gods. All wisdom came from the gods, not the teacher. (Much like we believe all wisdom ultimately comes from the Holy Spirit, not we ourselves.) So if you credit the teacher instead of the gods, you’ve offended the gods. You‘ve mocked them, by bypassing them and crediting the human, as if they inspired themselves, or gained wisdom on their own. You’ve jinxed yourself.

Obviously Pharisees didn’t share this superstition, nor think God was so petty he couldn’t abide it if we honored our instructors. And what’s wrong with honoring our instructors? They’re obeying Jesus’s command to teach others what he taught them. Mt 28.20 They’ve answered his call to teach. They’re studying the things of God so they can pass ’em along. Nothing wrong with honoring teachers!

Few people nowadays know anything about the ancient pagan Greek religion. So they don’t understand the fear-based thinking the Galatians grew up with. The Greek gods were really vile beings, unworthy of worship. People didn’t follow them because they were good or lovable; they were worshiped because they were mighty. Mightier than humans. Good they weren’t: They were selfish, spiteful, vengeful, petty. Pick any human failing, then crank it up to a billion, ’cause divine power. Scary, huh?

The gods didn’t want anyone to receive praise or credit but them. Even when a human did something, the gods expected acclaim for it—either they empowered or permitted it. So they demanded devotion, like a mobster who wants money for “protecting” your business… from them burning it down. If you honored any human instead of the gods, or honored yourself too much, they’d get wrathful and start smiting people. Plenty of myths tell the cautionary tale of a human whose hubris outraged the gods, and misfortune rapidly followed.

But the way the Galatians used to think gods worked, is not who the LORD is. He’s good. Patient. Kind. Gracious. Generous. And he’s not gonna get jealous when we honor the teachers he sent us.

Y’know there are still Christians who think we shouldn’t honor one another, or shouldn’t receive honor ourselves, because the only one we oughta honor is God. They think it’s being humble, or avoiding idolatry. Really it’s ingratitude. If someone helps you out, thank them. And thank God for them.

And if you don’t show generosity and gratitude towards others… well, outside of God’s kingdom, karma tends to run the universe.

Galatians 6.7-10 KWL
7BWhatever a person plants, they’ll harvest.
8 Hence those who plant things in their own flesh will harvest gangrene out of their flesh,
and those who plant things in the Spirit will harvest life in the Spirit in the age to come.
9 We who do good mustn’t slack off: In time, we who don’t quit will harvest!
10 So then while we have time, we can work good for everyone—
especially for those in the faith’s household.

Because of the way the bible’s verses were split, Christians presume the first part of verse 7 is about the second part. It kinda is… and kinda isn’t. Share your victories your teacher, for God’s not mocked; and bear in mind what you sow you reap. It’s connected. Just not as tightly as Christians make it out to be… and imagine God’s smiting people for mocking him.

’Cause they really wish he’d smite ’em for mocking us him.

The usual misinterpretation: “Don’t try to get away with sin.”

Because Christians don’t know history and mythology, they don’t realize what sort of dysfunctional divinity the Galatians had escaped, and how much it distorted their view of God. Besides we have other dysfunctional divinities which distort our view of God: Ourselves. We project ourselves upon God, and kinda hope he’ll be as wrathful as we.

So we interpret “God will not be mocked” to mean people are apparently mocking God somehow. (Usually by mocking his kids.) And if people think they can get away with it—or any other sin where they plant stuff in the flesh, yet try to reap stuff in the Spirit—they’re “mocking God.”

Thing is, humans actually do get away with evil behavior. All the time. Y’see, there’s another principle God follows, which greatly outweighs karma. It’s grace, remember? It’s where God forgives us for planting stuff in the flesh. He corrects us, teaches us how to plant things in the Spirit instead; and whenever we slip up, and go back to planting stuff in the flesh, God kindly corrects us again, leads us to repent of it, and helps us go back to things of the Spirit.

Yeah, we reap what we sow. Unless God intervenes, and we harvest something we never, ever planted. Jn 4.35-38 Which God does all the time—and he’s not mocked by it at all. Grace is his idea, y’know.

But a lot of us Christians are less than gracious, and whenever we’re feeling particularly outraged by pagan or Christian misbehavior, we whip out the “Don’t be fooled; God’s not mocked” passage. It’s our way of saying, “Just you wait; you’ll get yours.” It’s our way of being ungracious. It’s not what this passage is about.

Context.