Devotional # 87. 5/19/14. Galatians 1.
Direction & Vision: We finished the book of Esther last week so we transition into the New Testament now. If you noticed when we finished studying the book of Acts we spent about a month in the Old Testament with Devotionals 74-77. We read short portions of Isaiah, Psalms, Daniel and also the section about “eating the word” from Jeremiah 15:16, Ezekiel 3:3 and Revelation 10:10. Then we spent the last 2 months in Esther. Now we’re going to start in Galatians and move through Philemon. I am excited about the coming studies because the books are relatively short so there will be changes of scenery but many of the books are written by Paul so there will be consistency. We will be able to build on the foundation of the gospels that we started with and see how the Church continued, weaved through the book of Acts.
Galatians Intro: That said, let’s start Galatians! The books like “Galatians” and “Philippians” are called by those names because they were letters written to the churches in those towns or areas. It would be like me writing a letter, inspired by God, to the church in Budapest and it would be called “Budapest.” So Galatia (pronounced “Guh-lay-sh-uh”) isn’t a town but an area like a county. The people in Galatia were descendants of the Gauls from what is now referred to as Western Europe. Galatia was one of the first places that Paul preached the gospel, so people became Christians and formed churches. But after Paul moved on to preach in other areas some false teachers came in and preached incorrect doctrine. They said that salvation came from accepting Christ PLUS the Law of Moses (Source 1, p. 5). Keep that in mind as Paul explains how salvation really works.
vv. 1-5. This is Paul’s greeting to the churches in Galatia. Notice when he gives his title of being an “apostle” he says that it wasn’t a man who gave him this role but it was Jesus and God the Father. Do you remember what an “apostle” is? We talked about it in the past, an apostle is someone verbally called by Jesus into the ministry. It is amazing that in his first sentence, Paul both gives us his authority (which is only by God) and a simple statement of Jesus’ death and resurrection!
vv. 6-7. Paul has been told that the Galatians have already drifted away from what they were taught when Paul first visited them. It surprises Paul that they would be so quickly led in another direction, and not just in a harmless direction but in teachings that “pervert” the purity and simplicity of the gospel. As mentioned above, the perverted teachings were adding the requirements of the Law to the salvation of Jesus Christ. How can something God gave be a bad thing? The Law isn’t bad but it was never meant to save. It was always meant to point towards the need of a Savior. It’s like having signs up that construction work is going to take place and leaving them up after the work has been done. In the same way the work is done, Jesus paid the price, why would people still need to sacrifice lambs?
The problem isn’t that the false teachers were adding the Law to the gospel, Jesus warned that would always happen. The problem was that the Christians in Galatia didn’t recognize and reject the false teaching. In the same way we believers nowadays allow things to come in and pervert the true message of the gospel.
vv. 8-9. Paul isn’t saying that what he says in the future isn’t true. He is saying that from the beginning he taught the Galatians the truth. And from the beginning he told them that if anyone, including himself, ever said anything contradicting that message than the new message wasn’t true. It doesn’t matter if it is an “angel from heaven” (notice not an “angel from God”, because an angel would speak the truth but a demon would lie) or any other teacher, Paul is intolerant of false teachers and we should be too (Source 1, p. 9). When it comes to the fate of people’s eternal souls we stand firm on the truth.
v. 10. Why does Paul do what he does? Is he trying to come up with an irrefutable argument to please men? No, he’s not. In fact it is incompatible to make worldly people happy and be a bondservant of Jesus. This reminds me of what we read in Acts 5 when John and Peter said they would obey God instead of men (Devotional 46, specifically “vv. 26-32”). Paul introduced himself as a “bondservant” at the beginning of Romans (1:1). What is a “bondservant”? A bond-servant was a person who chose to stay with their master although able to be free. They may have decided that they had room and board and/or a fair master and /or possibly a family, but whatever the reason they willfully promised to stay with that master. This would be marked usually with an earring to mark that you were a bond-servant and who you belonged to. It was Paul’s choice to serve God, and we have to make the same decision. When we accept that people will get mad at us when we care for them and treat them well, in some ways it makes it easier. You realize that they don’t have God’s love in their heart so they don’t know how to deal with someone who does.
vv. 11-14. Although Paul is giving his heritage (and therefore why he has a right to comment on the Law) there is something more to this. It goes back to when he said that even if he preached another message contrary to the gospel that it shouldn’t be believed. Do you remember when we studied in Acts that Paul had been a Pharisee? So after he converted and for the rest of his life he was made fun of for “changing his mind” or being “wishy-washy” or a hypocrite.
But he is willing to deal with abuses and beatings because he is giving God’s inspired words. He says it doesn’t come from men but from God, this is where the authority lies. This is why Paul can confidently say that if anyone teaches something opposed to the word of God then it should be rejected.
vv. 15-20. Paul tells us how his Christian ministry started. When he says that God “separated me from my mother’s womb” Paul realized “he had been set apart by God for a special work” (Source 1, p. 12). And when he had his conversion on the road to Damascus (remember Acts 9, Devotional 50) at that moment he was “called” by God’s “grace.” After that he didn’t have any training by men, not even the apostles tutored him. He was out in the Arabian desert for three years. I believe, and many scholars agree, that this was when Jesus personally ministered to Paul. It would make sense that all of what Paul knew from the Old Testament would be connected by Jesus in what prophesies He had fulfilled, etc. Eventually he stayed with Peter in Jerusalem and saw James but other than that he didn’t meet up with the other apostles. Paul’s point again is where he receives his message from – God not men.
vv. 21-24. Paul tells us that when he finally started being introduced to the believers in the churches they only knew what they had heard about him. Notice that they gave glory to God (not Paul) for this dramatic change.
Conclusion. Like Paul, the words that we speak are from the Lord. Maybe we don’t have the famous ministry that Paul had (or the abuse he endured) but God has us where we are in time and in location, for a reason. We are encouraged knowing that although Paul endured being made fun of he never gave up. We are encouraged that the verses that we study, memorize and quote to friends, family and strangers are truly the words of God. What a blessing for us to speak God’s words and for us to be encouraged by God’s words when we read and are told God’s words by other believers!
Source 1: William MacDonald, The Letter to the Galatians, 2007.