Today we begin reading Paul’s letter to the Galatian churches. Galatia is a region is what we call Turkey or Asia Minor. If you take a look at a typical Bible map of the area it will show Galatia to be sort of north central Turkey, which would have reached as far south as Derbe, Lystra, and Iconium — towns in which Paul had planted churches during his first missionary journey.
The letter deals doctrinally with the very controversial question of whether or not Gentiles should be commanded to obey the Law of Moses (beginning with circumcision) — a controversy which raged in the early church from the time of Paul’s and Barnabas’ return from their first missionary journey through Paul’s last letters to Timothy. Since Paul’s ministry was specifically to the Gentiles, and since it had been Paul who had first vigorously argued the truth about inclusion of the Gentiles without submission to the Law, it became a constant theme in most of his letters.
The Galatian letter, however, is different from other of Paul’s letters on this subject. It is very emotional in some parts and very thorough in other parts. He attacks the question of the place of the Law of Moses in Christianity from several angles, insuring that no Judaizing argument would be left unanswered. Paul was clearly very concerned about the churches in Derbe, Lystra, and Iconium; and he also appears to be aware how important it was for this truth to be established in the Lord’s church. With these introductory remarks out of the way, let’s take a look at a few of the many important passages in our reading today.
The great responsibility of teaching the truth — Gal. 1:8,9
My observation over many years in ministry is that not many of those who get into ministry (preaching, teaching, shepherding, or even deacons) understand how important their teaching is the Kingdom, nor how angry God is at those who teach falsely. James 3:1 tell us, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.” And Paul really, really underscores this with a rather emotional, yet truthful, exclamation, (Galatians 1:8, 9) “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! 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!” This isn’t just an angry outburst from Paul against his enemies; this is an inspired judgment of damnation (the Greek word anathema was the analog of being put under the ban, devoted to destruction). These are solemn warnings for those who seek to tickle the ears of an audience, those who have a personal agenda to preach or teach, or those who fear men more than God. It seems clear that those in ministry need to be good students of the word and be careful in what they say — for the sake of the truth and the sake of the the Lord’s church.
Rebuking Peter — Gal 2:11ff
I can’t imagine rebuking Peter; I mean, think about who he was! He walked with the Lord Himself. He heard the parables first hand, saw the miracles with his own eyes, actually walked on water, saw the empty tomb, and preached the first Gospel sermon. But Peter could be wrong, and he was in respect to his practices, when in the presence of Judaizing teachers. Here we must again respect the courage of Paul in calling Peter out, exposing his hypocrisy regarding the truth. While it is true that we must respect leaders and therefore must be careful that we are correct in such matters, we must also respect God more.
The great switch — Gal. 2:20
This is one of the great passages of the New Testament, one which if we could only really put into action, would be truly transformative in our lives — to die to self and let Jesus live in us! It is the essence of Christianity.
Clothed with Christ — Gal. 3:27
That death to self and resurrection to Christ happens in baptism (John 5:24 and Romans 6:5,6). Paul uses this teaching here to remind us that in Christ there is no more Jew or Gentile problem — we all are heirs of God!
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.