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.

1v4 Jesus gave himself for and to


The mainstream of Christianity has always held the cross of Christ to be central. David Gibson tells in his Assumed Evangelicalism:

In 1919, Trinity Great Court in Cambridge saw a meeting between Rollo Pelly, the Secretary of the liberal Student Christian Movement, and Daniel Dick and Norman Grubb (President and Secretary of the evangelical Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Christian Union). The meeting was to discuss the re-unification of the two movements that had split in 1910. Norman Grubb's account of the meeting is infamous:

After an hour's talk, I asked Rollo point blank, 'Does the SCM put the atoning blood of Jesus Christ central?' He hesitated, and then said, 'Well, we acknowledge it, but not necessarily central.' Dan Dick and I then said that this settled the matter for us in the CICCU. We could never join something that did not maintain the atoning blood of Jesus Christ at its centre; and we parted company.'
The cross is central because without it there is nothing to Christianity. And it's no surprise that Charles Simeon famously said that a nominal Christian is happy to prove the importance of the crucified redeemer.... but the true Christian delights in the cross, rejoices in it, glories in it and shudders at the thought of glorying in anything else. (cited from John Piper's biography of Simeon)

The cross is so important because of it's effect. The cross is so important because of it's purpose.

1. For our sins.
Jesus stepped into this world to die because of our sins. His death had a specific purpose. Not merely symbolic but effective. Effective bear the curse of law and sin. More on that in Galatians 3.

2. To deliver us.
The cross is about freedom. It's about rescue. It's about liberation. From what? From "this present evil age". You might read that and think Jesus died to liberate Christians from materialism and pornography and rolling-24-hour news and a million other present concerns. But, looking at the letter itself we get a clearer picture.

Think of Paul. Paul used to be a slave, 1v13. He tells us what he used to be before he was a Christian, now he has been delivered from that - hence his old way of life was slavery. Moreover we know it because he says that in his old way of life he persecuted the church. We know from 4v29-30 that the people who persecute the church were slaves. What was Paul's slavery? Zeal for the Jewish law. Not the classic "present evil age" we might imagine!

Think of the Galatians. 4v8-11 speaks of their prior worship of "not gods". Presumably they were classic pagan idolators, citizens of the Roman empire who worshipped all kinds of idols. That fits more with a classic Christian definition of the present evil age. But Galatians requires both - slavery to sinfully-indulgent idols and slavery to self-righteous idols. The death of Jesus secures deliverance from both of these.

How? By being curse bearing and (as we'll see at the end of Galatians 2 and 6) by killing us with Jesus, so that we can rise to new life that is lived in union with Jesus, that is in the risen Jesus. Calvin said "we must understand that as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value to us... [so let us] climb higher and examine the secret energy of the Spirit, by which we come to enjoy Christ and all his benefits”. But, we're getting ahead of ourselves.

The cross of Christ is about dealing with sin and setting us free. Push that off centrestage and you've got something other than Christianity.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

1v3 Grace from the Father and the Son


The station nearest our house has only one platform. That means trains travelling north and south from us both stop at the same platform. If you don't know which way the train is travelling that can have substantial consequences. A 30minute inconvenience is about as bad as it could get, but nonetheless I could live without making that mistake.

Direction of travel matters. It matters for the Christian life is vital. Which way are things travelling? The myth goes this way: We travel towards God through worship, ritual, rules or other aspects of how we live. That's the story of religion isn't it? People being good. People being devout. People being religious.

The reality is that the travel is from God to us. Grace from God. For a second time in this letter Paul introduces God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ in this letter. Already we know that the Father raised the Son. In v4 we find that the Son gave himself according to the plan of the Father. The two working together in this plan that sends Jesus to the cross and then raises him from the grave. Talk about grace, talk about the cross and resurrection. Talk about the cross and resurrection, talk about grace.

Grace and peace to us. Perhaps a standard first century greeting but Biblically language of great significance. A free gift to us. Grace from the God whose name is gracious. The travel comes from God and it's not been earned by us. It's not like I go into the station, pay my money and get given a ticket. I'm there and I just get given it. No contribution made on my part.

Christianity isn't about what we do, it's about things done by God - centred upon the work of the Father and Son and the historical events of the cross and resurrection of the Son. It's not about what I can do for God, it's about what he has done - his actions of which Christians are benefactors. He is centrestage.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

1v1-2 Paul and the brothers


This will be brief. Paul introduces himself as an apostle. Distinct from other Christians in this. He is the apostle to the Gentiles. The abnormally born one. But nonetheless not that abnormally born - his was appointed by Jesus not by Christians. More on that later in chapter 1.

Notice that he writes with the brothers who are with him, to the brothers in the churches of Galatia (v2,11) . The gospel that Paul is devoting himself to defending and propogating is one that creates a people. A family who will be found in Christ - gathering Jews and Greeks, slave and free, male and female into one new family. And as they live the Christian life the way they relate to one another will be evidence of their faith in the risen Christ.

Paul's visit to Jerusalem (ch2) will be about the integrity of the apostles doctrine and about his fellowship with them. Peter's crime (ch2) will be as much about the food he wont eat as about the people he refuses to eat with. Spirit-led living (ch5) will be concerned with the way Christians relate to one another - do they bite or do they love?

Jesus as we often miss the resurrection we also often miss the community. Paul writes to the church, concerned not just with individual Christian living but with the faith of the community of the Spirit. He writes out of concern for thefuture of those in Christ.

1v1 Jesus - raised from the dead


As the letter opens Jesus is centre stage. He's introduced as the one who called Paul to be an apostle but more so, he is the one who the Father raised from the dead. Talking about the God of Christianity means talking about the Father who raised the Son. The letter will turn to Jesus death in v4, but starting with resurrection isn't all that conventional.

Christians are often, rightly, quick to speak and sing of the crucifixion of Jesus. But the story is incomplete without the resurrection of Jesus. The historical, eyewitnessed, physical resurrecction of Jesus. When Paul later speaks of portraying Christ crucified we're to take it as Bible-code for a much bigger story - one dating back to Abraham but also forward to the empty tomb and the resurrected Son.

From the outset in the letter to Galatia it matters that Jesus is raised from the dead. He's alive. He's the one God made his promises to, and he's the one in whom Christians will find their life. If Jesus is dead so are Christians. If he's alive, then there is the possibility of a resurrection for others.

The door opens for us to be a new creation, no longer in our old life and so free. Because as Martin Luther comments: In this whole epistle Paul treats of the resurrection of Christ. By His resurrection Christ won the victory over law, sin, flesh, world, devil, death, hell, and every evil. And this His victory He donated unto us. These many tyrants and enemies of ours may accuse and frighten us, but they dare not condemn us, for Christ, whom God the Father has raised from the dead is our righteousness and our victory.

Paul's status as an apostle stands upon the resurrection of Jesus who commissioned him. And his status as a Christian rests in the very same risen Jesus. Christian life is not buried in history but in Jesus, the resurrected inheritor of all.

The blessing you felt


Here's the idea. I ♥ Galatians. What follows is a series of meditations on this grace-packed book. I've blogged a lot on Galatians at The Blue Fish Project. I don't plan on pasting anything over from there, but what you'll find here does come from the same person so expect some overlap.

Some basic structure for what I anticipate may be around 100 posts.

1. God's gospel (Galatians 1)
Here we find the core of the gospel Paul preaches. It's about freedom. It's trinitarian and about the cross and resurrection of Jesus. The tight connection between God and his gospel. Blessing with God, curse away from him. And Paul's insistence that the gospel he preaches came from God not men. The recurring theme of persecution starts here.

2. Securing grace (Galatians 2)
Paul is given a revelation by God and goes to check on the Jerusalem apostles. We find the importance of not adding to the gospel, Paul's underwhelment with status and the fellowship forming effects of the gospel. Then Paul must take a stand for the gospel and Peter departs from God and the gospel by messing up how to live the Christian life. The way we live tells what we believe about the gospel.

3. Blessed by God (Galatians 3v1-14)
Paul preaches the cross which includes salvation history. This message brings salvation by hearing. Believers gain the blessing of Abraham which is righteousness and the Holy Spirit. Extra theology of the Spirit starts here.

4. Sons by grace (Galatians 3v15-4v7)
All God's promises are for Jesus. Law wont get us into Jesus but faith does. Jesus inherits all things - so will Christians. Big news on what to do with the law.

5. Staying free (Galatians 4v8-5v13)
Sons face temptation to return to slavery. But, rules are idolatrous - offering a different justification. They're joyless and they're futureless and they deny the cross. Grace is experiential theology.

6. The community of the Spirit (Galatians 5v14-ch6)
Christians don't go for law and sin we get in step with the Spirit. Heirs live by sowing to the Spirit. Christians sin but restoration is possible. Persecutors try to avoid the cross because it brings new creation. The power isn't in things that enslave but in the gospel of Christ crucified.