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Galatians

Another Gospel

Galatians 1

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It is a well known fact: as soon as the truth is proclaimed, Satan will be there to edit it into something more palatable. Paul encountered this with the churches in Galatia, and this letter is his response to just that problem.

Gal 1:1-5 NASB Paul, an apostle (not sent from men nor through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead), (2) and all the brethren who are with me, To the churches of Galatia: (3) Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, (4) who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, (5) to whom be the glory forevermore. Amen.

Background

The phrasing of the opening in this letter seems somewhat confusing. It is a part of the style of writing of Paul’s time; letters tend to be short when you know you can run out of paper. Paul begins with proclaiming that he is an apostle – and telling us how he became one:

· It was not by a committee vote. We often entrust sensitive decisions to committees, thus ensuring that a reasonable compromise might be reached. The Gospel does not come from compromise, but from truth.

· Nor was it an appointment by a particular individual. This tells us much about the nature of the church. It is not a top down hierarchy of appointments; it is a church whose leaders are servant leaders. They rise by being of service, as seen by the Spirit. Whoever would be the greatest must be the least.

· It was through Jesus Christ, and God the Father. And if you by chance have forgotten how this authority came about, he tells you of the power behind the authority: the power that raised Christ from the dead.

“We preach Christ crucified.” It is the center of the Gospel message, and it is the center of Paul’s message:

· It is an act of power – and the Apostle shares in this power. To him is granted the power to heal the sick, for example – so that the Gospel message will be seen for what it is.

· It is an act of grace – and the Apostle is the ambassador of grace.

So Paul introduces himself as author of the letter. But note that the letter is also from the brethren who are with him. No one in the service of the Lord performs solo, not even the Apostles. Paul recognizes this, and courteously includes those who are with him.

First Focus

Paul has some drastic things to say to the church at Galatia – he intends to call them back to their first love. So he places before them the core of the message:

· He puts before them the central doctrine of the faith: the atonement.

· He then tells them that the purpose of the atonement is – their rescue! Like the Coast Guard, the atonement has a purpose – but not a price tag.

· Rescue from what? From the present evil in the world. Christians are to be in the world, not of the world – and that can happen only through the atonement of Christ.

· This is no accident, but the will of God from the beginning – and great glory for Him.

Paul intertwines his apostleship with the thought of the atonement. In so doing, he proclaims the nature of truth for the Christian:

· It is truth which is revealed – and corroborated by our own experience.

· It is revealed by those whom God has chosen – and he chooses those not by their merits, but by His own method. The Gospel is carried by unlikely characters – so that we will pay attention to the Gospel and not the character.

A Different Gospel

Gal 1:6-12 NASB I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; (7) which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. (8) But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! (9) As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed! (10) For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ. (11) For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. (12) For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

Does it happen?

It comes as a surprise to the average churchman that the question could even be asked: is there something wrong with the Gospel as preached at my church? One reason we are reluctant to ask this is due to humility; so few of us are graduates of a specialized Bible college. We proclaim ourselves to be a Bible believing church; how could we go wrong? Let me give you a few current examples:

· The “Prosperity Gospel.” A fine method of missing the entire point, this message proclaims that God wants you to be rich. And you get that way by sending in contributions. And that’s what’s important.

· Consider also the schism developing within the American branch of the Episcopal church – dividing those who are “modern” (homosexual priests and bishops, gay marriages) and “old fashioned.”

· For one you’ve seen in this church, the “Temple of the Spirit” movement. The body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit – therefore you should eat organic foods and join a health club.

Why?

What would induce a “Bible believing” church to move to such heresy and wickedness? Here are a few explanations:

· We want to be approved in the eyes of the world. We want people to think we are hip, with it, the church of what’s happening now. So every time we encounter a little scriptural difficulty, we merely explain that it’s “cultural” – true in Paul’s time, false in our own. This is usually accompanied by the modest statement that, after all, the matter is not really of first importance now, is it?

· Sometimes, it’s a matter of maintaining control. It’s easy to paint those who object as being old fashioned and unable to comprehend bold new ideas (“Can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”) This is particularly common when the old guard is not quite large enough to win a vote at the elders’ meeting. Plead for the unity of the church; doctrine is not that important.

· Alternately, it’s a way to be viewed as a Scripture expert. Finding some passage to justify your actions takes some doing. There are those who have attempted to justify themselves in dreadful sin.

The history of the church is full of such things. We need to be on our guard.

Paul’s response

Paul’s answer to this problem is short and to the point. He reminds us:

· His authority came from God. The Gospel he preached came from God, not Paul’s imagination. Therefore, it doesn’t matter who has decided to give us the revised version; it’s the wrong version.

· The matter is so important that the man who does such a thing is to become an anathema to the church. That is, he is to be thrown out and pronounced to be under a curse for the way he misused the things of God.

· This applies to those who teach a “gospel” which is either directly contrary or distorted from the truth.

It is just possible that Christ considers true adherence to His teachings to be of some importance.

Evidence

Gal 1:13-24 NASB For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it; (14) and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions. (15) But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother's womb and called me through His grace, was pleased (16) to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, (17) nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus. (18) Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas, and stayed with him fifteen days. (19) But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord's brother. (20) (Now in what I am writing to you, I assure you before God that I am not lying.) (21) Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. (22) I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea which were in Christ; (23) but only, they kept hearing, "He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith which he once tried to destroy." (24) And they were glorifying God because of me.

The power of the Gospel

Paul never hesitated to use his own life as a bad example – which turned out to be a glory to God. It would seem that the faith of many is weak because they have never encountered anyone like Paul. But consider the change Jesus made it this man’s life:

· His root philosophy of rules and regulations disappeared; he went from Pharisee and persecutor to Apostle and persecuted. If nothing else, this should convince you that his conversion was genuine.

· Often unnoticed is this: Paul did not begin the new life by making a big splash, but retreated into Arabia – to learn in humble solitude. He then went to Damascus, waiting many years before approaching the Apostles in Jerusalem.

· Only after such a period of humbling does he seek out Peter; then only to validate what God has told him.

We sometimes forget that in the Gospel there is the power of God.

Not according to man

There is a theme in this chapter: handle the things of God in God’s way. To do this, one must sometimes ignore what others might think. It’s not that it’s needful to become defiant; it’s just that the approval of men is irrelevant.

· Paul, you will note, never really does seek approval from the other Apostles. They never act to him like masters. Rather, both seek the approval of God for their actions.

· Paul also knows that he must wait – for God’s timing, not for man’s. Three years in Damascus is no great price to pay for this.

And all this? All this goes to the glory of God, who turns our enemies into friends. We sometimes forget just Who’s in charge around here.

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