Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Galatians 1.1-5

Galatians 1.1-5

1 Paul, an apostle-not from men or by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead- 2 and all the brothers who are with me: To the churches of Galatia. 3 Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave Himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Today we begin our new sermon series on Paul’s letter to the Galatians. 

But why Galatians?  Of all the books of the Bible why are we preaching through Galatians?

The answer is simple – Galatians is all about the Gospel, it is all pure, unadulterated good news about freedom and where true joy comes from.  Above everything, it is all about Jesus.  Galatians has been described as “The Christians declaration of independence” “the great charter of religious freedom” and importantly “the battle-cry of the Reformation!”  Martin Luther, who began the Reformation in 1552 by nailing his 95 theses – his arguments against the corrupt and doctrinally compromised mediaeval Catholic church – to the church door in Wittenberg called Galatians “my epistles, to it I am as it were in wedlock.  It is my Katherine.”

Obviously Galatians is very important, but what is its big idea?  What is the big idea behind all of Galatians?  It is this:  That we are all Pharisees and even if we believe in ‘grace’ and ‘Jesus’, still we feel we need to keep God happy with good works and nice deeds so that we are not punished.  The issue is that we are by nature, from the moment we are conceived, legalists and not people of grace.  We are all born with ‘cause and effect’ wired into our brains and souls.  But God is above that, God is so much greater.

Often when you read about Galatians people you will come across people who think that Martin Luther read Galatians wrong, that it was not about legalism and he was just projecting his issues with the Catholic Church onto Paul.  This is called “the New Perspective” – and like so many new-fangled ideas, it is not only wrong but dangerous.  It goes against the plain meaning of the text and against the traditions and understanding handed down by the apostles themselves.  The truth of the matter is that Galatians applied perfectly to the Catholic Church in Luther’s time because the real issue is not the church in one time and place but human nature itself.  That it applied just as well in the 1500’s as it did in the first century is a great proof and testimony that we are all fallen legalists with ‘religious’ tendencies that remove us from communion with God.

Marius Victorinus, whose name should go down in history as one of the most epic of all time, in 303AD wrote the first ever commentary on Galatians in Latin and he said this about the big idea behind Galatians: “the Galatians are going astray because they are adding Judaism to the Gospel of faith in Christ, disturbed by these tendencies Paul writes this letter in order that they may preserve faith in Christ alone.”  The mixing of Judaism with Christianity, the mixing of legalism and works based salvation with freedom and salvation by faith alone is as relevant today as it was then. 

But what of these first five verses? What do we learn from these?  These sentences introduce us to many key things in the letter. To an extent it begins with a fairly standard ancient letter opening:
  •                    The authors name
  •                    The recipients
  •                    A blessing

Yet how Paul expands and phrases these three sections opens up the whole letter for plain viewing.  So let’s take a walk through our text.

Verse 1: Paul, an apostle-not from men or by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead, and all the brothers who are with me.”  Notice that the name given is Paul and not Saul his Jewish name.  Some speculate that following his conversion Saul changed his name to Paul, but Acts does not support this as he continued to be called Saul for some time afterwards – if anything the use of Paul seems linked to his mission to non-Jews, his being Apostles to the Gentiles.  The fact is that Paul was from Tarsus, a place full of Jews and non-Jews. Not only was Paul a Jew but he was also a Roman Citizen (a rare and great honour!).  Because of this he likely had both names from birth, one to use in Jewish circles and one in Roman circles and Paul and Saul were chosen because they sound similar.  We shouldn’t read too much into the name he uses, but it is worth noting that Galatians is written primarily to gentile, non-Jewish Christians, and Paul uses his non-Jewish name with them. 

Paul then declares that he is “an apostle-not from men or by man.”  He feels the need to defend his ‘apostleship’ and authority as a teacher of the faith.  People in Galatia have been stirring up trouble and trying to discredit Paul and all He does and teachers.  Paul wants to make clear from the outset that he IS an apostles, just as the twelve disciples were.  Paul reflects here on his Damascus Road incident.  On his way to kill and persecute Christians in Damascus, backed by the Jewish authorities, Paul was a man to be feared by any who would say “Jesus is Lord.”  But on the road Jesus stops him and asks “why are you persecuting me” and reveals that He is Jesus and Paul is doing a grave sin, something so bad he should be considered the “chief of all sinners.” 

Here we see an amazing example of the grace and mercy of God – a picture of what Galatians is all about.  You have a Pharisee named Saul who was all about tithing everything, even spices and herbs, all about rules and regulations, whose religion was all legal and regal, who stood by as Stephen was martyred.  But this man is forgiven, though he certainly deserves nothing but eternity in the fires and darkness of Hell, he is forgiven, even though he doesn’t seek and ask and repent, still God meets with him and calls him.  He goes from being a Pharisee, a man feared like an SS soldier, to a slave of Jesus Christ, who proclaims His message from Jerusalem to Rome and everywhere in-between – and to people who before he would not even stand to be in the same room as!

Never underestimate the power and grace of God to change the worst of sinners, the most lost, into the found and saved.

Notice also how in this verse Paul makes clear that Jesus is divine, that He is God and not just another human as were the prophets of old and Paul himself.  Jesus has God as His Father, Jesus is the promised Messiah – the Christ – Jesus was raised by the Father from the dead to prove that all Jesus said was true (including that De was God).  It was this same Jesus who called and appointed Paul an Apostle, to argue with Paul’s authority is to argue with the God who called Him.

“And all the brothers who are with me.”  Paul makes clear that he does not stand alone, Paul and the Gospel he preaches is not a one man show – Paul did not invent Christianity whilst all the other Apostles disagreed with him!  Paul was not an isolated voice, his Good News is shared and supported by others, as he will later explain in more detail.  We also see here, and elsewhere in his letters, that Paul and his mission are not a ‘one man show’ – he needs friend around him to support him. Even the greatest need their brothers and sisters in Christ, you cannot be a true Christian, you cannot be part of the Body of Christ, and be alone.   Salvation is a one man job – but it is not our job – Jesus is the man and the only man and He did the job on the Cross for us.  We are not our own saviours, Jesus is. 

Paul continues in verse two “To the Churches in Galatia.”  There is much debate over just what Paul is referring to here, was it the whole Roman Province of ‘Galatia’ which took up much of central Turkey just North of Cyprus – or was it just the Southern part, often called Phrygia?  Or was it the North of the larger area?  The problem is that around the time of the writing of Galatians what ‘Galatia’ referred to depended on who you were talking to and what the context was.  It is, however, most likely that Paul is referring to Phrygia, to South Galatia, which is where he planted churches during his first missionary journey as recorded in Acts. 

Galatians is likely Paul’s earliest epistle written around 48 AD – just 15-18 years after Jesus was crucified.  This means it was written BEFORE the Jerusalem Council we hear of in Acts 15 and what Paul goes on to speak about, his meeting with the ‘Pillars’ in Jerusalem is a different and private meeting. But more of that in a later week.

Who were the people in Galatia the letter was written to?  It was mainly to non-Jews, that is to say ‘Gentiles’, who felt they needed to keep the Law of the Old Testament and get circumcised, do the Passover, keep the Sabbath, eat only kosher food etc.  It also seems that there were some Jews who had become Christians who we backsliding away from freedom in Christ and returning to observing the Torah – the Old Testament Law.

Paul carries on with the blessing in verse 3 “Grace to you and peace.”  This is Paul’s unique blessing, he begins and ends every single letter he wrote with “grace and peace.”  He uses it to replace the usual letter opening of “carien” or ‘greetings’ that we find in other Greek letters with “cariV or ‘grace.’  Just as ‘greetings’ is the most common term found in the opening of Greek letters, so ‘peace’ or ‘shalom’ is the usual term in Jewish letters.  Paul mixes the usual Greek blessing with the Jewish one in a unique way. 

Of course, ‘grace’ is hugely important, arguably the most important theme in Galatians. But what does ‘grace’ actually mean?  Christians use it all the time but I fear we often don’t understand its true nature.  Grace is not just a name given to girls; it is the centre of God’s relationship with us and underpins all that He has ever done.
Grace is quite simply the free gift of love, salvation, and forgiveness to people who are not only completely undeserving of it but actually totally ill-deserving of it.  You cannot earn grace, you cannot merit grace, you cannot buy grace, and you cannot bargain for grace.  It is a freely given gift that nothing you do will ever warrant.  It is because of this that ‘peace’ follows ‘grace’ – there is no peace in works based salvation, there is no peace in trying to earn God’s love, there is only peace in the sure and certain knowledge that He loves you because He has chosen to – not because of anything you have or will do.

Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” 
Paul tells us that Jesus ‘gave’ Himself for our sins.  Here is the proof of grace, the living then dying then living again proof of God’s grace.  Whilst we were still enemies of God, the King of the Universe died for us sinners.  Sin is serious, that can never be understood enough, sin is so serious that it cost Jesus His life to take away our sin and the righteous wrath of God that we deserved because of it.  Grace is never, ever, an excuse of continuing in sin, there is no such thing as cheap grace – the price of grace is steeping than we could ever imagine.   In John 3.16 we see this too – God ‘gave’ His only begotten Son, He didn’t just ‘send’ Him.  The Father gave His Son over to us knowing that He would die to pay the price we could never afford.

Jesus was given according to this passage to “rescue us from this present evil age.” Jesus came to rescue and deliver us like He did the slaves in Egypt, from the evil age, from Sin, the Flesh, and the Devil.  In Christ we are made new creations, we die to sin and are made righteous by grace.  But this will not be fully realised till Jesus returns at the end of time and all are judged and he looks at Christians as says “good and faithful servant, come into my kingdom and joy.”  In the meantime we must fight evil, both the evil within us who are by nature evil, and the evil from outside us both demonic and very human.  This is why we pray in the Lord’s Prayer that God would “deliver us from evil” or more precisely “deliver us from the Evil One.”  Never forget that Satan and his armies of evil angels are very, very, real and they love nothing more than provoking and bringing down those who pose them the greatest thread – Christians who believe in grace and refuse to believe their lies of guilt and condemnation.

All that Jesus did and does is “according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. Jesus dying on the cross was the Father’s will, it was ‘plan A’ from before the world existed, Jesus from eternity was “the lamb slain before the foundations of the world.”  When the eternal Trinity made mankind they knew what it would cost and they knew what would happen.  Jesus’ death was the ONLY way to deal with sin in love, holiness, and perfect justice.

We see here also that the Christian life is doing the will of the Father in all things – “not my will but yours be done” should be the mantra of every decision and action in our lives alongside “Yours be the glory.”  We must kill the pride and arrogance of our hard stone hearts and live radically as we are called by His will.  God is, well, God, His WILL is ALL that matters.  Likewise His glory is all that matters and all we do should be to His glory and never to our own.  All glory belongs to Him, everything including our being saved are to God’s glory – to the glory of God alone.

Thus, in conclusion, we see in these five short verses many key Christians teaching, all of which are dealt with in more detail through the letter to the Galatians.

  • Jesus is God and was raised from dead after dying for sin
  •  Grace leads to peace and not to burnout through ‘works’
  • Everything is to be to God’s glory alone
  • Evil and opposition to the Gospel is very real
  • We must not buckle, but keep the faith, supporting one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.

King Jesus I pray that all those here would be filled by your Holy Spirit and given new hearts and new minds, that they would live by grace and not by works, that they would find peace and shalom in your arms, that you would strengthen them to fight sin, the flesh, and the Devil, that they would support one another in love and charity and everything they do from their work to their conversations, right down to the beating of their hearts would all be for Your glory and Yours alone.

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