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Devotions from the Epistles of Galatians & Ephesians
By Frederick M. Thompson
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2013 Frederick M. Thompson
All rights reserved.
The Epistle to The Galatians
Introduction to the epistle to the Galatians
The letter to the Galatians was written with urgency and fire. In some respects, it is unlike any other New Testament letter that came from the mind and pen of Paul. He wrote with sheer incredulity. He had ministered to the churches in Galatia by preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. But they soon turned to the law as the necessary component in the equation of salvation.
But where was Paul sending his letter? Who were the Galatians? There is scholarly debate concerning where Paul sent his letter. Was he sending it to Northern Galatia or Southern Galatia? The churches that he founded were in Southern Galatia so I believe it is logical to think that he would be writing to believers that he had established in the faith through his preaching and missionary ministry.
Regardless of where Paul was sending his letter, we can understand that he was addressing people that had heard the Word of God from him and who had believed. They received the Spirit of God and they were walking in fellowship with God through Christ. But now, Paul had reason to be alarmed in his spirit. He received word that the Galatians were reaching for another gospel that was no gospel. They started out in faith but were now seeking to lean toward the law as a means of being made right with God.
J. Louis Martyn declared that Paul's singular purpose in writing was to re-preach to the Galatians "the truth of the gospel" (2:5, 14); but given the highly successful work of the Teachers or Judiazers, he can do that only by drawing contrasts between the true gospel and its counterfeit. Paul was not writing with apostolic authority to believers who fully embraced his theological point of view. He had to overcome some obstacles.
How was Paul to take this theological shift in the churches that he had established in his ministry? What was to be his temperament as he pondered this dilemma? There are times when soft gentle words are most appropriate. Most people prefer to be spoken to with the greatest degree of respect, kindness and love. However, there are times when the most respectful, kind, and loving thing a person can do for you is to speak the truth in love. Most people would prefer to be liked and appreciated by others. Therefore, there may be some sense of hesitancy in saying what needs to be said.
This cannot be the position of one who has entered the ministry to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Truth must be proclaimed! This is especially true when one is in danger of stepping on a land mine or falling into a deep pit. Paul understood that he had to move with great urgency in his attempt to move the Galatians back to where they needed to be in Christ. Devotions from the Epistles of Galatians & Ephesians
Notice Paul's words in Galatians 3:1, "You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified." Some may say, "Don't you ever call me foolish again!" Paul had no choice. He needed the Galatians to see the seriousness of the matter. In the third verse of that same chapter he said, "Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?" Paul had no reason to be abusive. That was not his focus. At times, stern words must be spoken so that the error of one's ways can be clearly seen and understood.
Paul had to persuade the Galatian believers to see the Law in its proper light. The Law was not given by God to make one right with Him. The purpose of the Law will be clearly spelled out in subsequent lessons. So for now, suffice it to say that Paul had to set forth his polemic so that the church could understand the faith accurately. There was much at stake. Paul knew that the church needed to properly understand how one entered into a right relationship with God. This issue is of the utmost importance.
Galatians is a New Testament letter that every child of God should read and clearly understand. Paul makes it clear that one is justified by faith and not the works of the Law. He utilized Abraham to make this point when he indicated that Abraham was justified well before the Law was ever given. He was justified by faith. We, too, are justified by faith.
Salutation Galatians 1:1-5
Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—and all the brothers with me, to the churches in Galatia: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Paul clearly understood the writing norms of his day. A letter in ancient times usually consisted of the author's name, the recipients of the letter, and some expression of good will on the recipient's behalf. But Paul usually included an expression of praise for the churches that he was writing to. In Galatians, we will find that Paul gave his opening greeting, but then he plunged right into the heart of the letter. He had no praise to offer the churches in Galatia, and he was anxious to delve right into the matter that precipitated the writing of the letter in the first place.
Paul's apostleship was challenged by Judaizers—also called teachers, preachers, or legalizers. They challenged him on the two criteria that were set forth in Acts 1 concerning who could be an apostle. Paul had not walked with Jesus during His earthly ministry and he had not witnessed the Devotions from the Epistles of Galatians & Ephesians resurrection of Christ along with the other apostles. Therefore, Paul needed to establish his credentials in the very beginning so that he could speak with the full weight and authority of his apostleship. No one can legitimately assert their own authority without meeting criteria that is recognized in the Scriptures and in the church. Moreover, it is the church that authenticates leadership, gifts, callings and authority. Simply asserting one's rights to operate in a particular fashion is not acceptable from a biblical perspective.
Paul declared that his apostleship was not of human origin. His apostleship was by Jesus Christ and God the Father. L. Ann Jervis, speaking of Paul, indicated, "In Galatians he is concerned to present himself as one whose apostolic function has divine authentication. Paul is sent by Jesus Christ and God the Father—by those whose authority and power the Galatian believers have already accepted." Paul seemed to add a little more weight by saying that it was God who raised Jesus from the dead. The same God who raised Jesus from the dead can set a person in ministry as He sees fit.
Paul normally included the names of his co-laborers. In his letter to the Galatians, he simply said—"and all the brothers with me." He wanted to stand on the authority of his own voice and at the same time, indicate that there are other brothers that stand with him and give authenticity to his apostolic authority.
Paul's letter was written to the Galatians. There has been scholarly debate for years concerning where Paul sent this letter. The most logical way of looking at this issue would be to think that Paul could only write with apostolic authority to those churches that he had a hand in establishing. Paul did minister to churches in southern Galatia and he was probably writing to these churches. There are plenty of scholars who have reasons for believing that Paul was writing to churches in Northern Galatia.
Paul's use of grace and peace is interesting. The Galatians were leaning towards the Law which naturally took them away from grace. Additionally, the observance of the Law in order to be right with God is not the way of peace. But Paul still spoke these blessed terms over the Galatians' lives. The blessings were of God and Christ—the latter giving Himself for our sins so that we can be rescued from the present evil world. The notion that the Galatians needed to be rescued meant that there was a power gripping all of humankind and they needed Christ to set them free. This is true for us today as well.
Unfortunately, liberal scholars have redefined sin. William E. Horden in A Layman's Guide to Protestant Theology asserts, Friedrich Schleiemacher did not define sin as a moral violation of God's law. Instead, he defined sin as occurring "when man tries to live by himself, isolated from the universe and his fellow man." If sin is not a real problem, there is no Devotions from the Epistles of Galatians & Ephesians reason to see Jesus as the one who atoned for our sins. In fact, some suggest that Jesus did not die for our sins. His primary contribution was that He was a perfect example of one who was God-conscious. The redefinition of sin notwithstanding, Scripture declares that God sent Jesus to rescue us from our sins and this present evil age. It is a gift that each of us must choose to receive.
A Perversion of the Gospel, Pt. 1 Galatians 1:6-9
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!
Paul's custom was to find an occasion whereby he could praise the recipients of his epistle once he offered the salutation. However, the epistle to the Galatians is certainly different. Paul could not bring himself to offer praises for the Galatians. Instead, he was utterly amazed at the turn of events that were brought to his attention.
The Galatian believers were quickly deserting God who had called them by grace. Paul had preached the Gospel to them and they received Christ by faith. He certainly did not suggest that their salvation was a result of what they had done. Salvation is first and foremost about what God has done in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Salvation is by grace.
After starting their relationship with God, they sought to go another route. Paul had reason to be agitated. They were deserting God. James Montgomery Boice, speaking of the Galatians' desertion said:
Moreover, since the verb is probably in the middle voice, rather than the passive, it is not even possible for the Galatians to claim that their conduct was the result of outside influences. This is something they did to themselves and were responsible for.
The Galatians, Paul said, were turning to another gospel, which was no gospel. It does not matter what we call what we choose to believe, there is one gospel message. It seems to be human nature to try to create one's own path to God regardless of the fact that God has already shown us the path and the way. Jesus said that He was the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6). Take note of the definite article the; Jesus is not a way, He is the Way.
Though the Galatians had to take responsibility for their own actions, they did have some help with the confusion that they were experiencing. Paul did not make it personal by calling specific names. He simply said that others were causing confusion and trying to pervert the Gospel. It was the Legalizers who were teaching that it was necessary to be circumcised and observe the Law in order to be in a right relationship with God. Evidently, in their minds, the sacrifice that Christ made was not truly efficacious for one's salvation.
The church will be under attack at various times. But one must recognize that many times the attacks come from within. John Stott underscored this truth when he said, "The Church's greatest troublemakers (now as then) are not those outside who oppose, ridicule and persecute it, but those inside who try to change the gospel." Paul, therefore, had to be a polemicist rather than an apologist. He was contending with those in the church at Galatia. Paul was more than up to the task because the well being of the church was at stake. While one must not be quarrelsome, it is required of pastoral or Christian leaders to defend the faith that was delivered to the saints.
A Perversion of the Gospel, Pt. 2 Galatians 1:6-9
The Law is at the center of the controversy in Galatians. There has been different ways of looking at the Law down through the centuries. The traditional perspective is that justification is through grace, not the law. This viewpoint is certainly tied to the focus of the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century. However, a new perspective has arisen. J.D.G. Dunn and others have noted, the problem at Galatia was more social in nature, albeit a problem with profound theological implications.
Jewish Christian missionaries—legalizers or agitators, could not embrace the Torah-free gospel that Paul was preaching. The legalizers were not simply saying that one could work their way into God's favor. It was deeper than that. Frank J. Matera said that the position of the legalizers was namely this: "If the Galatians intend to share in the full benefits of Israel's Messiah, they must embrace a Jewish way of life by adopting certain prescriptions of the Mosaic Law. Most prominent among these 'works of the law' were circumcision, dietary prescriptions, and the observance of certain religious days."
As you can see at this point, the issue that the Galatians were dealing with was no simple matter. The Jews held the Law in high regard—at least in theory. God had to constantly chastise them for their disobedience. But they did firmly believe that the Law was their way to right standing with God.
The outstanding theologian George Eldon Ladd had a problem with how the Law was viewed with respect to its salvific implications. He explained that the Law was never given to Israel to make them righteous. In his A Theology of the New Testament he explained that God chose Israel purely by grace. I might add, Deuteronomy chapters 7 and 9 paint a pretty clear picture concerning the election being a result of God's divine grace. Dr. Ladd stated that God made a covenant with Israel, thus making them His covenant people. The Law was given to bind Israel to their God. It was never given to make them His people. They received it because they were His people, by grace.
Israel's response to God's election should not have been an over emphasis on the Law—trying to keep it legalistically. A better response would have been loving obedience. One could theoretically meet all of the righteous requirements of the Law. But then there may be the thought that nothing else needs to be done in response to God's grace and election. However, to respond to God in love means that there will never be a day when all requirements are met to where one could feel at liberty to "sit down and rest a little while". Love keeps us pursuing obedience to God because we know that we can never repay Him for the awesome love that He demonstrated for us in giving us Jesus as our Savior.
A Perversion of the Gospel, Pt. 3 Galatians 1:6-9
How serious was Paul about the gospel message that he had received from Christ and that he preached? When considering his choice of words in speaking with the Galatians about this critically important issue, one can clearly see that Paul was adamant about what he was saying. He could not sit idly by while legalizers were causing confusion in the churches of Galatia and were perverting the Gospel.
Paul wanted to make himself clear. Even if an angel was the source of the "revelation" that produced another gospel, the Galatians were to turn a deaf ear. It was not unheard of for angels to be messengers who brought revelation to God's people. Paul spoke of the Mosaic Law as being ordained through angels (Galatians 3:19). Moreover, J.D.G. Dunn in his The Epistle to the Galatians said that Paul may have been referring to angelic revelation because Jewish apocalyptic literature of this period frequently featured an angelic figure who interprets revelatory visions.
Even if an angel was the source of the legalizers' gospel, Paul made it clear that it really was no gospel, and the one proclaiming another gospel should be eternally condemned. Before going any further, it is necessary to say that Paul was defending the faith that had been delivered to him. He had no personal stake in the matter. He wanted to be faithful to God and the message of salvation that originated with Him.
Paul said that even if he and his associates preached another gospel, they were to be eternally condemned. It was important for Paul to include himself in this condemnation or curse because one must not put their faith and trust in the messenger. The trust must be in the divine message given to the messenger.
Excerpted from Devotions from the Epistles of Galatians & Ephesians by Frederick M. Thompson. Copyright © 2013 Frederick M. Thompson. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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