Today, we jump into Paul’s letter to a group of churches(he had planted) in what is now Turkey…then called Galatia…thus the letter is called “Galatians”
The letter was written because of some problems that had developed (sound familiar)
What was the problem in Galatia?
A line of teaching was being promoted, by a group of people (often called Judiazers)
The teaching was a distortion of the true gospel (good news)
It involved the acceptance of circumcision as a necessity for salvation.
This would imply you had to keep the entire law to be saved and so salvation was to be attained by obedience to the law not by faith alone.
Quick Caveat: For those who are aware of a line of thinking that is sometimes called “The New Perspective on Paul” or “Covenantal Nomism”…just be aware, that I am aware of the line of thought…as we go through Galatians.
I personally hold to what would be considered the more traditional view on Paul.
For those who are unaware of the whole topic…feel free to stay that way, don’t worry about it, it won’t, in my opinion, make any difference in how you understand and apply God’s word.
By the way…there are so many helpful and confusing books/podcasts out there on a ton of topics:
I’m not a big podcast guy…but I have read a number of books with various views presented on specific topics.
“4 views on this”
“5 views on that”
They are helpful…because they give the different main views that are out there, but they can be confusing because you can come away with the wrong idea.
That wrong idea is that you can’t possibly have any confidence in anything…there are always a long of views…and there is no way to decide on which one is correct.
So…why even try?
CS Lewis: “The reason for an open mind is the same as that of an open mouth…to close on something solid.”
Here are some things I believe about this:
-We can know truth…and it does take work….and we must be humble, because we can be wrong.
-We are safest…in regards to knowing and living in truth, when we live “surrendered to Jesus, in faithful community (the church).”
On primary issues, like the gospel…or morality issues… like marriage, sexuality…it is vital to land and be firmly planted on truth.
On secondary issues, like some “end times views”…it is helpful to land but not necessary to be firmly planted.
On personal issues like, “pacifism and just war”, or “how to educate your children”…you need to land…especially if you are enlisting in the army, or if you have children…because you have real decisions to make about these things
But I wouldn’t make them essential matters of faith…certainly I wouldn’t fight over “pacifism” for instance.
Let’s go one…confident and grateful that we can know truth.
In Galatians, Paul is addressing some influential Christians, who were teaching that non-Jews who were becoming Christians must undergo Jewish rituals (circumcism) in order to be true Christians.
Paul, as we saw earlier this year…had no problem with Jewish background believers doing the Jewish cultural stuff…in fact he circumcised Timothy (because he came from Jewish heritage) but refused to do so with Titus because he was Gentile.
It was not the religious/cultural symbols that was the problem…Paul himself kept Jewish traditions…it was the belief that certain things we do could make us right with God…part of God’s people.
Jews were not to become “Gentiles” when they followed Christ and Gentiles were not to become “Jews.”
Paul, wrote in 1 Cor. “Each of you should remain in the place you were in when God called you.”
Some Christians came in to some new churches made up of non-Jewish background believers and started telling them they need to essentially become “Jewish converts” before they could become Christians.
But don’t see them as “evil”…though Paul is pretty rough on them.
They believed that they were right and that Paul was wrong….they were sincere(some of them)…but they were sincerely wrong.
Okay, let’s walk through chapter 1.
Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— 2 and all the brothers with me,
Paul was his Roman name. Saul, his Jewish name.
After Paul’s first missionary Journey to the Gentiles, Luke goes from calling him Saul (in Acts) , to Paul.
He is a Jewish teacher, who has been called by God to take the good news of the Messiah primarily to the non-Jewish world.
He says that he is an apostle…this is now a bit of a confusing and loaded term.
You can see it on church signs locally…like the one just west on 21st…as the title for their pastor.
For many it tends to bring to mind the first 12 chosen by Christ.
Within Judaism the word meant a “special messenger”
It could have been used, early on, to describe a missionary, church planter.
Paul is using the term to describe himself in a way that communicates that his ministry is a direct commission from Jesus Christ and God the Father.
Because some enthusiastic and wrong-headed Christians had shown up in Galatia…claiming to have word from the “real apostles” back in Jerusalem.
This in contrast to this poser named Paul.
They were commissioned by Jesus himself.
Paul at best was self-appointed and at worst…a total fraud.
Paul is not putting down the other apostles…Peter and the gang…and he is not trying to boast about his credentials…he is simply saying, I am called by Jesus just like they are.
What I say, the gospel I preach…is from Jesus.
And, he writes “All the brothers with me.”…he is not alone in this…he is part of the larger movement of God.
To the churches in Galatia:
Paul intended for his letter to be copied, then the original passed on to other churches in the region.
There are over 5800 Greek Manuscripts of the New Testament.
All of the books of the NT were written within a lifetime of the death of Jesus….and copied and copied.
Add to these Greek copies, the other copies in ancient languages, and the number is the tens of thousands.
As a comparison, for other ancient documents…there are far fewer manuscripts.
God has been faithful, to use faithful people…to allow us to have his access to his Word…he has preserved it for us.
Access to God’s word is a miracle and a grace gift.
3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Jesus died as a substitutionary sacrifice for our sins.
God built this reality into the fabric of human history…from the fall into sin of Adam and Eve and the sacrifice made there in the garden to cover their newly acquired shame.
To the entire sacrificial system that developed in Israel that pointed forward to Jesus.
This is reason for enormous gratitude on our part.
But this statement sounds rather “theological” and abstract…it’s just words.
But the expression of the truth in the words “Jesus gave himself for our sins”…
Needs to be thought about, sang about, and given thanks for…so that that we will be touched by the reality of what this means.
Someone could do something truly magnificent for you…but unless you continue to hold the truth of what has been done in your mind…it will cease to impact who are you are…you won’t truly live grateful.
You would you say you are grateful…but gratitude won’t shape you unless you intentionally choose to be grateful…to remember.
For example…many of us, most of us…had parents who did great and sacrificial things for us.
But people don’t just automatically live with gratitude for the sacrifices of their parents…gratitude must be nurtured.
It takes being intentional to remember, to reflect…to be grateful…at least with the kind of gratitude that can shape our lives.
It’s one reason for Communion…where we tangible celebrate the Lord’s death for us…we will, by the way, celebrate communion in two weeks.
We were separated from God by our sins…we have been rescued from this present evil age by Christ.
The division between the present age and the age to come was a common way of looking at ultimate reality in NT thought.
But it is not the present age as in physical life now and the age to come as in “heaven” then…after death.
The life to come, the Kingdom of God…has, in Christ’s life, death, resurrection…intruded into life now.
Eternal life in the “age to come” begins for the Christian at conversion, not at death.
We live in this age, and enjoy already…some of the age to come.
This is more or less true experientially as we seek to live under the loving rule of Christ.
And, as we reflect on what Christ has done…in worship, in community, in daily thanks…we are shaped more and more into people who can live in this age in a way that draws power from the age to come.
We can, as believers, continue to live under the oppression of this evil age…we just don’t have to.
Look at verse 5… “God our Father…”
5 to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
*This…simple statement is designed to be perspective shaping.
Last week I was watching a movie to distract myself from the boredom of the elliptical at the Y.
-The movie was an adventure that crisscrossed the globe and was full of international intrigue
-Both the antagonist and the protagonist of the story…were these uber powerful, brilliant, humans
I mean, the hero…fought off 5 bad guys, while wearing a designer suit
I get sweaty carrying groceries to my car…he didn’t break a sweat.
It supposed to all look amazing, cool…wow…just think, this is who some humans actually are (of course, you aren’t them)
-But I’m watching on my little phone…and I know better…not just that’s a movie…but the whole set up is a fraud.
-I thought of the “real world uber cool” and uber powerful people on the planet…not just these make believe ones.
-They do sweat, they don’t always have cool things to say…they have to eat, sleep, use the bathroom… and they will die.
As the current crops of cool humans always have and always will die.
I enjoyed the movie…and was grateful for the distraction…but I wasn’t fooled…what was supposed to look cool…looked, weak, small, vain…pitiful.
And I know that what often looks weak and pitiful to people…is the gospel…God the Son dying in volitional weakness on a cross.
“To God” Paul wrote “Be glory for ever and ever.”
I belabor that point so that we will remember who and what is actually impressive…as we move towards Galatians 1:10 here in just a moment.
Now, Paul gets down to the business at hand.
6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!
After his opening greetings Paul most often, in his letters, moves to some prayer for the local church or finds something to commend them for.
He then gradually introduces his purpose of the letter.
Not here…Paul is just too perturbed for all that.
“I am astonished, I marvel” Paul writes as launches head first into his reason for writing.
Astonished by what?
That you are so quickly deserting the one who called you and turning to a different gospel…which is in fact no gospel/no good news at all.
They are not just changing their minds on some issue of theological dispute…they are, Paul writes, deserting God.
“He is not doubting their sincerity,” writes theologian Alan Cole, “but rather their theology.”
Sincerity, without truth…can actually do more damage not less.
To sincerely believe what is untrue…can make you into a powerful tool for harm.
The word used for “Throwing you into confusion” describes the opposite of the peace of Christ.
This false gospel removes assurance of salvation that brings peace…and leaves people, instead perpetually “unsettled.
These rascals were perverting the gospel…this has happened so many times since then…it will continue to happen until the end.
They came presenting their credentials…like the various “experts” in the “Jesus Seminar” that made its rounds a few years ago, or other similar movements who bring the “real truth” or the “new truth” of Jesus.
But they are wrong.
Paul’s answer is very direct…ignore the outward qualifications of the messenger…it doesn’t matter if an Angel showed up from heaven…if they are wrong…ignore them.
A common thinking fallacy is called “Appeal to Authority”
This is the belief that a claim is true simply because a valid authority or expert on the issue said it was true, without any other supporting evidence offered.
This has always been a common logical fallacy…but it has become even more common in the internet/social media age.
Everyone marches out their favorite expert to prove a point…never mind whether that point is actually backed up by facts.
This was what happened at Corinth, and it seems, in Galatia as well.
Paul says, “nonsense”.
“I don’t care who they are, if they don’t stick with the gospel of Jesus…they are flat out wrong.”
*By the way…I’ll say it again… The truth doesn’t depend on your ability to defend it.
-Some smart guy or gal…could thoroughly beat you in debate…and be absolutely wrong.
*Okay, here’s that verse 10 I was telling you about…
10 Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.
Paul is putting emphasis on the word “now”
He used to be concerned with others thought of him…but no longer.
Thus “IF I were STILL trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
There was a time when he could have been rightly called a people pleaser…but not anymore.
It’s not that what others thought of him didn’t matter…he was a regular guy…we saw that he cared deeply for the Corinthians…and when you love someone of course you care what they think of you.
This is not about being a hard-head with a hard-heart…it is about priority of devotion.
He was not going to allow what others thought of him to dictate his life and message.
Some don’t care what others think of them BECAUSE they don’t care about others.
Of course, this is the opposite of pleasing Christ.
Paul cared deeply about others, but he could not allow what others thought of him determine how he would live his life…IF he was going to please Christ and actually love others.
*This has been an enormously challenging verse for me since I first memorized it as a very young Christian
*I have not stopped thinking about it, being challenged by it…it is a really good point of reference and correction for my heart, words, actions.
*I recommend you learn it and think about it frequently as well.
11 I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.
Understand the context here…
He is responding to those who claimed to have truth in opposition to what Paul taught.
Jewish belief and practices were handed down from teacher to student.
Paul, says, that he received his revelation straight from Jesus.
This was a direct rebuke to these false teachers.
He is not saying that no one helped him or mentored him…they did.
He is saying that the gospel, the message of Jesus that he proclaimed…is straight from Jesus.
There have plenty of nutty people who have made this same kind of claim…but their lives, their message and the power they fail to manifest gives lie to those claims.
Paul’s gospel matches up with the words of Christ, and the testimony of others who knew Jesus personally.
And his story is unique…he will tell some of it next.
13 For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. 14 I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man,
He was, in his previous way of life a persecutor of the church…he sought to destroy it.
He was making his way up the religious ladder…he was a prodigy of knowledge and zeal.
He was a most likely to succeed…he would be a who’s who in Jerusalem someday.
He certainly did not believe Jesus was the Messiah…in fact he thought it was all a monstrous lie.
But in God’s grace, a grace that had set Paul apart from birth, Paul was reborn.
Was Paul saying here that he was set apart from birth for rebirth or for his mission to the Gentiles?
Some see it either way…but the context suggests the latter.
“God set me apart from birth, called me by grace, revealed his Son in me…my SO THAT I might preach him among the Gentiles.
It appears he is referring to God pre-choosing him for his life mission.
17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus. 18 Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days. 19 I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother. 20 I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie. 21 Later I went to Syria and Cilicia. 2
Paul Wierwille…studied theology at a number of different schools.
At one point, after hearing so many voices saying so many things, he shut himself up in a room and using only his Bible he determined to find the truth on his own.
He came of that room and founded a cult, called “The Way”…his new truth was that “there is no Trinity and Jesus is not God.”
This is what can happen when you trust yourself too much…and disregard the help and expertise of others
The apostle Paul is not like that Paul…he is not advocating here in his testimony for disregarding the help and influence of others.
Paul remained an intellectual Jewish scholar…he knew the traditions and truths passed down by others.
He had learned from Barnabas and Peter.
He remained a partner with the leaders in Jerusalem.
His point here is that in regards to the gospel itself…he is not reliant on what others taught him…he is a legitimate apostle who received with the truth of Christ from Christ himself.
He gives a summary of his past interaction with key leaders in the early church to make his point…and says “I swear before God that is no lie.”
This is a very serious statement…one that Paul would not have made lightly.
It is deadly serious to Paul…that these Galatians believe the truth of the gospel.
Some think that debates and books and councils over theological truth is absurd…what difference does it make?
More difference, in fact…that whether you believe in gravity, or a virus…to disbelieve in gravity or a virus…can kill you physically…to get certain things wrong regarding eternity…can be much more permanent.
Jesus said in Luke 12…
4 “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. 5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him
Theological truth matters…and it matters absolutely.
Let’s go on, 1:22-23
22 I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.”
Personally unknown, is literally “unknown by sight”
They would have heard of Paul but had not seen him face to face…but now they heard the report that he had changed.
The leaders of the early church confirmed that Paul…is himself teaching the true gospel.
The very gospel he used to try to stamp out.
All this for Paul, humanely speaking, means he had nothing to gain and everything to lose from this change of direction.
In fact in another letter, he would say he that “counts all the things he used to take pride in now as nothing…compared to the greatness of knowing Christ.”
And because the persecutor of the gospel was now proclaiming that same gospel…he writes…
24 And they glorified God because of me.
Recently I gave a list of cultural shifts that sounded like they could describe today but were in fact from the late 18th century.
I mentioned a man named Timothy Dwight, brilliant president of Yale whom God used to help turn a generation to the gospel.
His grandfather, Jonathan Edwards died when he was 6.
Edwards, like his grandson was a child prodigy.
He also entered Yale at age 13, taught himself Hebrew, Greek, Latin at an early age.
He became a scholar/pastor…studying on average 13 hours per day.
He was interested in everything…he is said to be America’s first true scholar.
He was instrumental (as God’s instrument) in the 1st. Great Awakening, a Revival that spread across New England prior to the American Revolution.
Mark Noll, in his book “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind” speaks of Edwards and of his time.
“By his day (before American Revolution), the conventions of the Enlightenment had come to prevail widely on the Continent, in Great Britain, and also in America.”
The Enlightenment was an intellectual and philosophical movement that came to dominate the world of ideas…in the 17th, 18th centuries.
Those ideas centered on the pursuit of happiness, the sovereignty of human reason, and the evidence of the senses as the primary sources of knowledge.
“In keeping with the spirit of the Enlightenment, almost all thinkers in Edwards’s age, Christian or not, had come to assume that the fundamental reality was matter in motion. (Deism) Almost all had concluded that the pursuit of happiness was the loftiest human goal. Almost all were agreed that the ability to understand the world depended ultimately on the activities of the human mind.”
“The intellectual achievement of Jonathan Edwards was his refusal to admit that these assumptions were in fact the starting points of thought. (He had to mentally, get out of the current of thought that prevailed in his time). His work was important for his own time and for later Christians precisely because it dealt constantly with ideas at their foundations.”
All around us…we see the implications and the applications of ideas…false ideas and true ones.
50 killed in Chicago…the application of false ideas.
*I’m not talking about ideas guns, or law enforcement…but ideas about who is God, who are we, what is the good life…applied for generations…shaping people.
False ideas…for generations lead to the two sad foster children who were in my daughter’s home…the application of false ideas are applied to life…ruin lives.
This happens, over long periods of time…but these ideas show up in real lives…bullets and babies and brokenness.
“Edwards refused to acknowledge that matter in motion was the most basic thing in the physical world. He resisted the idea that the pursuit of happiness was the highest purpose of human life. He did not believe that human understanding depended ultimately upon humans.”
“God was a more basic reality than matter in motion. The glory of God was a higher goal than human happiness. Human understanding of the world depended upon God’s ordaining that the human mind could grasp the nature of things.”
“In a word, for Edwards, God was the source of reality; God was the source of truth; human intellect and the world itself were ever and always dependent on him.”
“He felt that all the world belonged to God, who had brought it into existence originally and who sustained it each moment by his loving providence.”
“Edwards felt, furthermore, that humans were dependent on God’s grace for the ability both to be truly virtuous and to understand the world correctly. To be sure, Edwards held that we could learn a great deal about ourselves and our world from those who do not honor God. But this knowledge was always secondary. Only a heart changed by God’s grace would properly understand itself, God, the world of nature, and the proper potential of human existence.”
Noll, Mark A.. The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (pp. 77-78). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.
I conclude with that for several reasons:
Large parts of Culture, academic institutions, governments, religious movements, power brokers…have always stood against the gospel of Christ.
This was true in AD 30 when Romans and religionists together crucified Christ.
This was true in AD 50 or so when Paul wrote this letter…and he was likewise being pressed both by Rome and contemporary religious movements.
It was true in AD 1750 when Edwards wrote and preached to his generation that had turned against the gospel.
It is true today…and it’s neither harder, nor easier to live and believe the Gospel now than it was 2000 years ago, or 200 years ago.
It has always been a matter of …. IN what I decide believe, value, and do…
WILL I live seeking the approval of man, or of God?
To have the approval of God you must only believe the Gospel.
But to live seeking his approval means asking the question “whose opinion of me will determine how I live my life?”
Hard question…out there in the real world.
But it is no harder now, than it was in AD 50, or 1750…and if there is a 2150 it will remain a hard question.
But it is a way of life that God is eager to both empower and to bless…you can choose to live that way.