Monday, 3 March 2008

1v14 Formerly zealous for the traditions


Paul as always passionate. Everyone is. The question is always what are you zealous for? What is your passion? Paul's pre-Christian passion was for human traditions. Things passed on from one generation to another. The same kind of traditions no doubt that Jesus critiqued in Mark 7v8-10,

"You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men... You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! ...making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do."
There is good tradition, which is to keep holding to the word of God, but they devised traditions that emptied and opposed the word of God. That was the self-justifying approach of the Pharisees, powerless against sin and able only to provide external change.

Then Pharisee Saul's passions changed when Jesus revealed himself. As he says later in the letter - "It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always and not just when I am with you" (4v18)

Zeal, like faith, is something we all have.
The question is what is the object of your faith?
What is the object of your zeal?

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

1v13 Persecutor of the church


  • 1v13. Pharisee Saul persecuted the church for believing the gospel
  • 1v23. They praised God that the persecutor had become a preacher!
  • 3v4. The Galatians suffered persecution when they believed the gospel.
  • 4v29. Sons always get persecuted by slaves.
  • 5v11. Paul was being persecuted because he preached the freedom of the cross.
  • 6v12. The false teachers held to their slave-message because they wanted to avoid persecution for the cross.
See the pattern. Follow the theme through the book.
Watch what happens. See who is free. See who is a slave.

1v11-20 I did not consult anyone


This next part of Paul's introduction seems peculiar at first. We find him making a big and repeated point about how he got the gospel direct from Jesus by a revelation and then got stuck into teaching it without checking with anyone. In most situations that would be regarded as supreme arrogance and the marks of an egotistical nut-case.

But, v11, his concern is to teach about the gospel he preaches.
v11. It is not man's gospel for people pleasing.
v12. It came from Jesus, like for the other apostles.
v12. It came by a revelation of Jesus, like for the other apostles, though abnormally.
v16. Jesus revealed himself.
v16. I didn't check with anyone.
v17. Or Jerusalem.
v18-19. Only three years later with Peter and James.
v20-21. Before God, that's no lie.

This could look like Paul digging himself a very deep hole. But remember, v10 - he's not interested in pleasing people. This isn't an ego trip to show off his credentials. This is about restating that he preaches the gospel of Jesus. Yes he didn't check with anyone else, but that's not because he takes sound doctrine lightly - false gospel preaching is curseworthy as he has already said. Not to mention, he wants to please Jesus not people.

Rather than making Paul sound impressive this laying out of his ministry is designed to draw attention Jesus, whom Paul preaches. The gospel comes by revelation not by human thinking. It's origins are divine. It's revealer is Jesus. And Paul is one of it's apostles. Receiver of revelation, sent to the Gentiles to preach Jesus.

The gospel we hold too must also be the Apostolic Gospel. The one revealed to the apostles and written in the scriptures. All who call themselves Christians claim to be believers in that Apostolic Gospel and we must ensure we are. Let us return again and again to consult our beliefs against the Apostolic Gospel. God's gospel - revelation of Jesus by Jesus.

1v10 Who am I trying to please


For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God?
Or am I trying to please man?
If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.

On the face of it this is a restatement of Jesus' own words on how we can only have one master. God or money. 'No other gods before me'. Christ or people. It's absolutely true, question is what's it doing in Galatians? It doesn't need to be to establish it since it's already in God's word.

A developing issue in Galatians is an accusation that Paul is the scorned lover of the Galatians. Sure they started with him but now they've found some other teachers to follow, and he's just writing because he's jealous, disappointed etc. Here and over the rest of chapter 1 Paul is determined to show that his allegiance is to Jesus and the gospel and therefore to people, rather than to people because of his own ego.

The other side of the equation is that he'll accuse the false teachers of being people pleasers (ch4) who are zealous for the Galatians for the sake of their own reputations (ch6). Zeal is great. Passion is great. But like faith the key issue is what's the object of it. Zeal for pleasing people is worthless. Zeal for the gospel is glorious.

The interests of Christ coincide with what is best for the Galatians and so he does appeal to them passionately and in bewilderment at their change of direction. Not because he wants their approval but because he wants them back with Jesus. They might mistake his concern for being concern for his own followings, or for them - but they should see that it is his passion for Jesus that leads him to this gospel care.

The gospel always does this. It drives Christians to reach others because of our passion for Jesus. It drives Christians to care for other Christians, to keep them enjoying the benefits of the gospel and so bringing glory to Jesus. The best interests of the gospel coincide with the best interests of people, though it doesn't always seem that way to foolish human thinking, which is something the Galatians are slipping into (3v1).

Sunday, 24 February 2008

1v6-9 No different gospels


The Galatians are deserting God and turning to another gospel. But Paul is adamant that there is no other gospel. That is to say, there are lots of messages proporting to be good news but none is 'gospel'. None is in the same league as 'the gospel'. Rather what they're being fed is gospel-perverted. Gospel-distorted. Gospel treated as playdough and remoulded into something else. Outright different message is easy to spot, heretics playing with playdough are more subtle.

One of the things often used to authenticate one of these is who it comes from. Surely the teaching is ok if it comes from [insert credible name here]. But Paul says it doesn't matter who preaches a message could be an angel, could be an apostle. Content is key. But Paul says it doesn't matter who preaches a message could be an angel, could be an apostle. Content is key.

Moreover the punishment suitable for the playdough preacher is to be accursed. Anathema. Peter will find himself in this situation as he leads others astray in 2v11. Why such a big deal?
1. Because to be a preacher of a false gospel is to be a believer in a false gospel, which is to depart from God and oppose his cross-won favour. Therefore, cursed by God.
2. Because to advocate a perversion of the gospel is to reject God and become an idolator. No crime is more serious.

Does that mean any error should be immediately condemned? Considering the message of the New Testament there is some degree of nuance to how to approach things. Notice the difference between Paul vs. Peter (ch1), Paul vs. False Teachers (ch5) and Paul vs. Galatians (the whole letter). Peter is confronted and corrected for straying into hypocrisy out of fear. The false teachers fall foul of the sharpness of Paul's words as he wishes the knife would slip. The Galatians have their error exposed but are appealed to patiently and passionately and persistently to win them back to the gospel. Similar differentiation is evident in the rest of the New Testament.

The seriousness of Paul's approach shows the weight of the issue at hand. Departure from the gospel is atonishing, and later bewildering. And it's curse-worthy because remaining with the gospel is to remain in the glorious favour of God.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

1v6 God and his gospel


I'm indebted to Trevor Burke's recent book Adopted into God's Family for helping me see this very obvious thing.

"I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel"
The gospel was being deserted by the Galatians, but notice it was God himself that they were fleeing from intimacy with. You can't draw a line between God and his gospel. Inseparable. With God, with his gospel. With the gospel, with God. John Piper is right on track - God is the gospel. God called us in the grace of Christ to himself - where else would you want to go?

That's why evangelicals should be so keen to guard the gospel because it's about guarding the new life that Christians have as those who know God and are known by Him. To depart from the gospel is to depart from God - nothing could be worse than that.

We find a similar closeness between God and his gospel when Jesus commissions his disciples in Luke 10. There he says that those who reject the disciples teaching reject Jesus and the Father. God comes to us clothed in his gospel. To exchange the gospel for a different gospel is to exchange the worship of God for the worship of not gods - whether the idol of self or something else.

1v5 The Will and Glory of God


Jesus gave himself for us, willingly laying down his life. And this was the will of the Father. Both acting as one to secure our salvation.

What follows in verse 5 could be taken two ways.

1) It was the will of the Father for his glory.
2) Consider the will of the Father, and give glory to God.

I'm inclined to the second, though the first holds true from other scripture (just read Ezekiel 36-37 for example). The gospel brings glory to God for his salvation. Accomplished by him. His plan. His idea. His work. Not ours in any way. That's one of the many reasons why the legalism and self-righteousness afflicting Galatia is a problem, because it takes the attention of God and on to people. It says God saved you, now do your part.

The latter angle expresses the appropriate response to God's freedom plan through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Put all eyes on God. Attribute everything to him.