Saturday, May 19, 2007

Galatians 1

1:1 Paul Identifies Himself

Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— 2 and all the brothers [1] who are with me,

Between Paul’s conversion on the Damascus Road, recorded in Acts 9:1-18, and his last imprisonment in Rome, Paul made three missionary journeys. On these journeys, he preached and established churches. Your Bible probably has a map in the back showing the routes of these journeys.

On the first journey, Paul visited the region of Galatia, which is in present day Turkey. He evangelized in the four cities of Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe. This is recorded in Acts 13 and 14. A church was established in each city. This letter of “Galatians” is Paul’s letter to those churches.

The reason for this letter is to defend the gospel. After Paul left the area, false teachers came in and taught that the Gentiles needed to first become Jews and observe Jewish law before they could become Christians.

For example, turn back to Acts 15:1. Jews came from Judea to Antioch and said the Gentiles had to be circumcised in order to be saved. Then look at verse 5. Converted Pharisees said they must be circumcised and obey the law of Moses.

That was contrary to the gospel Paul preached. What did Paul preach? Acts 14:3 calls it the message of grace. In Ephesians 2:8-9, Paul wrote: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (ESV) What does he say there? Salvation is a matter of God’s grace, accessed through the believer’s faith, which is itself a gift of God. Salvation is not by works. In Romans 3:20, Paul wrote that “…no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law…”

Not only did these other teachers contradict Paul on the role of grace and works, they criticized or denied his standing as an apostle. So, the first part of this letter to the Galatians contains a detailed defense of Paul’s calling. In the very first verse, he calls himself an apostle, not of men, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Jesus from the dead.

Paul had previously been an apostle of men. Acts 9 tells us he received letters from the high priest which allowed him to visit synagogues in Damascus and arrest those who converted to Christianity. He was an apostle of the high priest.

This claim to apostleship was probably controversial to some, since Paul was not part of the original Twelve. Look at Luke 6:12-16. Acts 1:26 tells us Matthias was added after the death of Judas. The Twelve were special. There was no one else like them. Revelation 21:14 tells us that the walls of New Jerusalem have 12 foundations and on them are the names of the 12 apostles of the Lamb. This seems to put a dent in the concept of apostolic succession.

But, Paul claimed to be an apostle even if not one of the 12. We saw some defense of Paul’s claim in our study of 2 Corinthians, and he will give more detail in Galatians.

Paul’s defense of his apostleship and his defense of the gospel go hand in hand. If he is not an apostle, the gospel can be challenged and his personal philosophy and teaching. But, if he is an apostle, the gospel he preached is the word of God, the teaching of Christ.

If you do not give a special, unique place to the teaching of the apostles, you may claim, as some do today, that they were witnesses to Christ and taught their version of his message. We are now witnesses to Christ and may teach our version with equal weight. If we don’t agree with Paul on something, we may change it. You hear this message in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, for example.

Another view is that certain people in the church are successors to the apostles, so their teaching is of the same weight as the apostles and they may also contradict it and add to it.

The evangelical view has been that the apostles, including Paul, were unique and had the authority to convey the message of Christ, which we must accept and not change.

1:3-4 The Greeting

3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Paul greeted the Galatians with grace and peace. This is a shorthand description of the gospel. Salvation is peace with God, or reconciliation with God. In Romans 5:1-2, Paul said “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.”

The source of this peace, this salvation, is the grace of God. It was his will to send his son to give himself for our sins. He’ll talk about this more in chapter 3. If you’ll allow me to indulge my fondness for Martin Luther, he said “Martin Luther comments that “these words are very thunderclaps from heaven against all kinds of righteousness, that is, all forms of self-righteousness. Once we have seen that Christ 'gave himself for our sins', we realize that we are sinners unable to save ourselves, and we give up trusting in ourselves that we are righteous.”

He also said Christ died to deliver us from this present evil age. The New Testament often speaks of “this age” and “the age to come”. This age is the age of sin and corruption, the age to come is marked by righteousness and the reign of God.

This verse also tells us the death of Christ and our deliverance from this age was by the will of God. It was not by our will. It was not by accident. In Acts 2:23, peter preached that Christ was “handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge”.

So, Paul has, in this short greeting, set out for us the will of the Father and the son for our salvation, our deliverance from this evil age, the death of Christ to accomplish it, and the gift of salvation to us. The death of Christ is unique, as is the witness of the apostles to it.

1:6-9 No Other Gospel

6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble 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 the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

Once the greeting was completed, Paul immediately launched into a rebuke of the Galatians. He said they were deserting God by turning to another gospel. I think he is saying they are in the process of succumbing to error by the tense of the verb “deserting”. He did not say that had deserted, as if it were complete. He is careful to say there is really no other gospel, but distortions of the gospel that may lead people astray.

Although Paul has not yet defined this false gospel, he emphasized in verse 1 that the Galatians were called in the grace of Christ. Salvation by grace rather than works will be a constant theme in this letter.

He gave an even stronger rebuke to the teachers of this false gospel, saying that anyone who preaches a gospel contrary to Paul’s should be accursed. This is true even if an angel from heaven should do it. This is not to say that angels from heaven would come and preach a contrary gospel, but it is an hypergole (1. obvious and intentional exaggeration. 2. an extravagant statement or figure of speech not intended to be taken literally, as “to wait an eternity.”) used to show how serious he is about this. There is but one gospel of grace and no one has the right to pervert it. He said the Galatians had received the gospel (from him) and anything contrary was wrong.

1:10-24 Paul Called by God

10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant (slave or bond servant) of Christ. 11 For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man's gospel. [3] 12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. 13 For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 14 And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when he who had set me apart before I was born, [4] and who called me by his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. 18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. 19 But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord's brother. 20 (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) 21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22 And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they glorified God because of me.

Paul begins this section, which is a defense of his ministry and message, but stating that he does not preach to please men, but, rather, is a servant of Christ. In fact, he said, he did not receive the gospel from men, but from direct revelation of Jesus Christ. In verses 11 and 12, Paul says he did not receive it from men and was not taught by men. He received the message directly from Christ. That is part of his claim to be an apostle. It is also one of the reasons you cannot divide or separate the teachings of Paul from the teachings of Christ. Paul says his teaching is from Christ.

Next Paul will give the details of his conversion and early ministry to prove his point. First, he reminded them of his previous life, in verses 13 and 14. He was a zealous Jew and he even persecuted the church. We see this in Acts 7:58, Acts 8:1-3, and Acts 9:1-2.

However, in the midst of this life of zealous Judaism, God intervened. He said, in verse 16, that God the Father was pleased to reveal his son to me. That is the event recorded in Acts 9:3-18. When he wrote that God “was pleased” to reveal, he is expressing that it was an act of God’s sovereign grace. God did it because he was pleased to, not because Paul earned it. In the previous clause, he referred to God as he who “called me by his grace”.

So, Paul, the Jew, experienced a revelation of Christ and was converted, and was also called by God to preach Christ to the Gentiles. (You might think he would be called to preach to the Jews since he was a Jew and a Pharisee, but, instead God called him to preach to the Gentiles.) Not only was he called to preach, but he was set apart before he was born, according to verse 15. The alternate reading is “set apart from my mother’s womb”.

There are some other examples in the Bible of those who were set apart to serve God from before they were born. God told Jeremiah "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations." (Jeremiah 1:5).

In Judges 13:5, the angel of the Lord told Samson’s mother “for behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb, and he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines."

Jesus, also, was set apart as savior from before he was born, in fact, before the foundation of the world. 1 Peter 1:20 says “He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for your sake.” This, again, shows us God has been at work to bring about redemption from eternity. He did not just think of it as plan B after the Jews failed to keep the covenant. Calvin said: “God had, no doubt, decreed, before the foundation of the world, what he would do with regard to every one of us, and had assigned to every one, by his secret counsel, his respective place. But the sacred writers frequently introduce those three steps: the eternal predestination of God, the destination from the womb, and the calling, which is the effect and accomplishment of both.” Ephesians 1:1-3 says “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5he predestined us[b] for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.”

It was also God’s plan before the birth of Christ or Paul, to bring salvation to the Gentiles. Isaiah 49:6 says God says:
"It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
to restore the tribes of Jacob
and bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth."

So, Christ was chosen before his physical birth to be the savior of the Gentiles, and Paul was chosen before his birth to be the apostle of Christ to take the message of salvation to them (us).

To further his statement that the gospel was revealed to him by Christ and not taught by men, Paul next sets out what he did after his conversion and calling. What he did not do was immediately consult anyone. Particularly, he did not go t Jerusalem and consult with the apostles, those who were functioning as apostles before him. Rather, he withdrew to Arabia. This is an interesting statement, because it does two things. First, it acknowledges the other apostles and their status. Second, it puts Paul on equal footing with them.

We are not told how long Paul stayed in Arabia or what he did there. From there, he went back to Damascus and preached. This is in verse 17. Only after 3 years elapsed, did he return to Jerusalem. He went there to visit with Cephas (Peter’s Hebrew name) and spent 15 days with him. He also visited with James, the half brother of Jesus, who appears to be the head of the church in Acts 15. Interestingly, he calls James an apostle. (It also means, when Paul got there for the counsel in Acts 15, James, Peter and he had already met.)

From Jerusalem, Paul went to Syria, possibly Antioch, and Cilicia. We aren’t told what he did there, but probably preached the gospel to Gentiles in those areas. As the believers in Judea began to hear about him, they glorified God because of him.
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