Sunday, February 1, 2009
Galatians - Intro
"1Paul, an apostle— not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— 2and all the brothers who are with me, To the churches of Galatia:
What is your background? Where do you come from? Were you raised in a solid home, broken home? Were you raised in a religious setting? Did you go to church? Did you attend a big church? Small church? What denomination are you from?
What is the Bible to you? Is it a guidebook, a book of laws and commands? How are we to live out our lives morally here on earth? What is and isn't permissible? How far into the culture can a Christian go?
Who wrote Galatians, this 6 chapter, 149 verse book of the New Testament? What is it and why was it written?
Galatians, in the microcosm, is a letter from a loving pastor, Paul, to a group of churches planted in Asia Minor. In the macrocosm, Galatians is the inspired work of the Holy Spirit working through Paul revealing the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ not just to the churches in Galatia but to everyone who opens the Bible and reads it.
Galatians is an important letter, an urgent letter and it is full of anger, disappointment, passion, and sarcasm. What has happened? Why the urgency? Why the anger and disappointment?
Many in Galatia who had previously believed and held fast to "Jesus saves" have now fallen under the spell of a new equation that said...Jesus + = salvation. Paul is "astonished" (Galatians 1:6) at the chain of events and the change of hearts in the congregations of God's people. Paul compares them to those who are under a spell (Galatians 3:1) asking..."Who has bewitched you?" And as one commentator has translated it addresses the Galatians as "my dear idiots" (Galatians 3:1).
The problem is that every time people get a hold of religion they mess it up. People use religion as a tool to push their own agenda and to subdue and control others. The great news that Jesus saves people from their sins has been relegated to one small piece of a religious puzzle that said Jesus plus festivals, tradition, laws, customs equals salvation and what once was freedom in Christ has now become enslavement to the law of Judaism.
But before we go too far into the reason the letter was written let's take a step back and look at the author of the letter.
There is absolutely no doubt as to who the author of Galatians is. Galatians 1:1 clearly states "Paul" and in Galatians 6:11 Paul tells us that he has written this letter himself, with his own hands in very large letters. The great priest, Bible translator, and Christian apologist Jerome was once quoted as saying...."Every time I read the letters of the apostle Paul I hear thunder."
Who was Paul?
Where did he come from?
What was his background?
Why should you and I care what he has to say or card about what he wrote?
Under whose authority is he operating and what are his motives?
Paul was from Tarsus (Acts 22:3-11) he was a Jew, in fact Paul was not just a Jew but was an uber Jew, (Philippians 3:5-6) "circumcised on the eight day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, Hebrew of Hebrews." Paul was highly educated in the Pharisaic school and was the prize pupil under the famous Rabbi Gamaliel (name means the glory of the law). Not only did Paul excel in his studies of the Old Testament but he was well acquainted with the current trends in thinking and philosophy prevalent in the Hellenistic culture of his times. On several occasions through his letters, Paul alludes to popular poets, philosophers, and thinkers within the culture (Acts 17:16-34). But Paul wasn't just a scholar...he was an activist who was completely sold out to the law.
The first time we see Paul/Saul he is present at the stoning of Stephen giving full approval (Acts 7:58). Paul continues after Stephen's death in persecuting the church of God (Acts 8:1-3) going from house to house arresting men and women who profess and worship Jesus as Lord.
Paul tells us in his own words (Galatians 1:13-14) that he "persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 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." Paul was zealous, an over achiever, he lusted after the law, after following the traditions, customs, festivals of his fathers...in short he was completely consumed in works which pushed him to extreme violence toward the church of God.
Yet something happened, something changed in Paul's life, within his heart.
What could change the path of a violent man? Here is someone who was persecuting and murdering the church, someone who was devoutly religious, buried in thousands of years of tradition, bound by the law, customs, festivals, sacrifices and hell bent on destroying a rag-tag group of men and women who worshiped a man who had just been executed on a Roman cross
What could change the direction of this man's life and move him from persecutor to pastor? What changed Paul from the start pupil of Gamaliel to Paul..rock star, church planter, man's man and apostle to the gentiles?
He met the resurrected Jesus face to face.
Paul was zealously acting out what he believed in his heart to be right, following the law, persecuting anyone who did not follow the law, and doing everything in his power to destroy the church of God and Paul thought what he was doing was pleasing to God (Acts 22:4-5).
Out of nowhere Jesus shows up and knocks Paul to the ground (Acts 22:6-9). "Why are you persecuting me?" Jesus asks. It's as if Jesus is saying...."You think what you are doing is right and pleasing to me but you don't know the truth, you don't know what my work on the cross has done in fulfilling the law, you don't know God and you don't know me."
Upon meeting Jesus the Pharisee formerly known as Saul, the man hell bent on harassing, arresting, beating, and killing Christians, the man on a mission to destroy God's church and anyone who loves, follows, and worships Jesus now is changed forever to Paul, the man who loves, follows, and worships Jesus and who is appointed by Jesus to take the gospel to the very people he once persecuted and to be persecuted even unto his own death because of the gospel message. God now uses Paul's zealous personality, knowledge of the Bible, Greek philosophy, and culture to spread the gospel and to plant and pastor churches.
The letter is written by Paul, the former...
now converted apostle
Paul is one of the handpicked men who personally saw Jesus and who was called directly by Jesus to spread the gospel message of Jesus and Jesus only saves. Not religion, not the law, not customs, not tradition, not anything you or I do in trying to please God or in reaching up to God but in everything that God has done in reaching down to us, giving us His word so that we might know Him that we might see His glory and majesty revealed and everything Jesus has done in coming down to us, becoming one of us, the God/man, so that He could identify with us, be tempted as we are tempted yet remain sinless through it all and die for us as the onetime, perfect, sinless sacrifice that would appease God's demand that the penalty for our sins be paid so that you and I would be forgiven and so that you and I would be adopted into God's family as children of God, joint heirs with Jesus!
Paul is called not by committee, by vote, by group decision, by a church or by any one man...he is called directly by Jesus and by God the Father and so we should listen as what Paul writes to us is extremely important and carries the highest authority as it comes directly from God (Galatians 1:1).
I don't know what your background is. I don't know where most of you come from, what environment you were raised in, what religious background you grew up in, or where you are at right now. What I do know is that the Bible is God's word, Jesus is God, and it is only through Jesus' finished work on the cross that we are saved.
Why did Paul write this letter? What is the urgency about? Why is it so important for us today?
My prayer is that everything you know about Jesus, God, salvation, the law, freedom be turned upside down and tossed aside if it is not true and if it does not line up with scripture. My prayer is that the shackles of law, custom, traditions of men be removed from our hearts so that we can worship Jesus with joy and in truth and in spirit.