The epistle to the Galatians is a unique text. In all the letters in the New Testament there is none like it. In this letter the Apostle Paul deals forcefully and directly with a problem that had developed very early in the life of the Christian church. The words and the arguments that he employs are vigorous and powerful. He uses flattery, logic, and even sarcasm to strenuously advocate for the gospel of grace that he had been given.
The Galatians were established in the area of Asia Minor. Paul had evangelized this region and he considered this province within the realm of the area that God had placed under his jurisdiction. Paul took seriously the responsibility that God had given him to evangelize the Gentiles. Having brought the gospel to this region, Paul intended to shepherd these churches to the best of the ability that God had given him.
But, Paul was not the only one who had sought to evangelize these Galatians. There was another group that Paul calls "the Judaizers" that followed behind Paul. Paul taught the Gentiles that the gospel of Christ was available to all people - for Jew and gentile. What the Judaizers taught was that in order to take advantage of the gospel one must first conform to the Jewish laws and traditions. In effect, they were saying that the Gentiles must first become Jews in order to be Christians.
This belief was not unknown in the early church. The Acts of the Apostles records a meeting in the Jerusalem church in which this issue was decided by the early church fathers. It was such a divisive issue that there was some argument as to whether the predominantly gentile churches of Asia Minor and Greece should even be recognized by the leaders in the Jerusalem church. Paul testified before the Jerusalem elders and, at least in the account in Acts, it was Peter and James that decided the issue by approving of the work that Paul had done on the behalf of the Gentiles.
These formative years represent a very decisive time in the life of the church. What was to be decided was whether Christianity would exist as a sect of Judaism or whether it would become something new. The rapid growth of the church (and most would say its very survival) came when the Gentiles were allowed full participation in every area.
This issue was of the highest importance to Paul. He firmly believed that if a man were to attempt to achieve salvation from even a portion of the Law of Moses he was obligated to take on the whole of it. The Law was a way of life for Paul for a very long time. He was successful and content as a Jew. He had no reason to change because he believed that through the Law of Moses he could find righteousness in the eyes of God.
But, on the road to Damascus Paul received a revelation of the Risen Christ. He had been traveling to Damascus on a commission from the leaders in Jerusalem to persecute Christians. At that time Paul realized that not only what he was doing was wrong, he also realized that Jesus of Nazareth was the awaited Messiah of God. God had raised Him from the dead and was calling out a group of people that would follow and obey the gospel of the Risen Christ. From that moment on the fervent persecutor of the church became one of its strongest advocates.
In this letter we have one of the earliest defenses of the church. The Judaizers were attacking Paul, they were attacking the gospel of grace, and they were attacking the concept that Jesus was the Messiah of not only the Jewish people but of the Gentiles as well.
It is in the epistle to the Galatians that Paul offers his earliest and most vigorous defense of the gospel that he had received by revelation. For this reason, it is especially important that the study of this seminal letter be renewed and extended with regularity.
Psalm / Past Lesson
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