Sunday, August 22, 2010

One Gospel and Only One Gospel: Galatians 1:1-10

There is only one gospel and one gospel only, to add anything to this is a contradiction.

The book of Galatians claims to be authored by the Apostle Paul and that Paul was accepted as its author is well affirmed in early church history. Of all the Pauline epistles, Galatians is one that is rarely questioned in regards to the authorship of Paul. It is considered that this may have been the first letter included in the New Testament that Paul wrote and it was clearly written to the Galatians. The question remains as to specifically who the letter of Galatians is being addressed, Northern or Southern Galatia. There are strengths and weaknesses for both theories, early church history sides with the northern view, whereas modern day readers’ sides with the southern view, but neither one can be conclusively proven.

The book of Galatians can be divided into two sections. Chapters 1-3 are a rebuke directly from Paul while chapters 4-6 are practical in telling the church how it should be in unity with one another as the body of Christ. Key words from Galatians include the following: law, curse, justified, righteous, faith, redeemed, and promise. All of these words can be found in what is considered the key verses of the book found in chapter 3:10-14, which describes the nature of the atonement of Christ.

It is made clear that Paul wrote the letter to defend against “another gospel” being proclaimed by the Judaizers, which anything added ultimately, contradicts; this is made clear in 1:9. Paul set out to defend the gospel of justification by faith alone. In addition to this, he defends the consistency of the demands of living a Spirit-led life. Paul starts by defending his apostleship (1:1-5), then rebukes the Galatian churches (1:6-4:11), and then appeals for them to return to the one and only gospel (4:12-6:10).

I. The reality of Paul’s calling is through Christ from God. 1:1-2
A. We are God’s and called by Him. 1:1
B. Confirmation of our calling comes from brothers in Christ. 1:2
II. God’s grace and peace intervened in our reality to deliver us. 1:3-5
A. God acted out of grace and peace. 1:3
B. God accomplished great things for us for His forever glory. 1:4-5
III. God made it clear through the grace of Christ that there is no other gospel. 1:6-9
A. God ordained one gospel and made it clear there is only one. 1:6-7
B. You will be cursed if you decide to preach a different gospel. 1:8
C. Anyone who preaches a different gospel will be cursed. 1:9
IV. Desiring to please God alone brings liberty and joy to your life. 1:10
A. There is glorious freedom in seeking the approval of God. 1:10


I. The reality of Paul’s calling is through Christ from God. 1:1-2

Paul wanted to make it very clear to us from the beginning of his message to the Galatians that what he was about to write and say was not from his own authority, but that he was commissioned by God as an apostle to deliver this message. This is key because in our current society, this has been lost, resulting in many people in the church feeling “called” because of their church, education, etc, where in reality it is by God and Him alone that one receives a calling. It is clear Paul is not attempting to come across, as having superior authority; we can look at Romans 1:1 and see Paul referring to himself as a servant or slave of Jesus Christ. Although, Paul was not trying to set himself up as better or in authority over the others, he did for some reason feel the need to explain his apostleship. The assumption is that men of Galatia or possibly the false teachers were questioning him on his apostleship and as to what authority he had. John Calvin points out the two meanings of Apostleship: preacher of the gospel or highest authority in the church. Paul would fall into the category of the highest authority in the church. It is important to remember that we are God’s and called by and through him.

Paul mentions God the Father raising Christ the Son as the authority to which he stands on. This statement is important for a few reasons. Christ being raised from the dead is a historical fact and therefore gave historical confirmation to Paul being sent by God. The event of Christ rising from the dead was specifically applicable to Paul’s life with his salvation experience on the road to Damascus. This also displays the unity of the Father God and Christ the Son relationship that takes place through salvation.

Paul mentions the “brothers” that are with him as a means of secondary support. This can be seen in our own life, as fellow followers of Christ are often the ones who confirm our calling in Christ. Paul has established his calling from God and Christ alone, but he reinforces and affirms this calling through his brothers with him. It does not reveal to us how many there are in the group, but it is referring to those who are like-minded, fellow followers of Christ. This can also be seen through Paul’s final greeting in Philippians 4:21. W.A. Criswell concluded that this could have been due to the severity of the letter being written that Paul would require the brotherly support.

Paul, along with this group of brothers, is specifically addressing the churches of Galatia. This clearly shows that there were “churches” not a single church in Galatia. The specific churches of Galatia being referred to by Paul are a going debate as to whether it was the churches of northern or southern Galatia. Regardless if the letter is being addressed to the northern or southern churches makes no difference in the intended message. Paul makes it clear that he has authority, is upset with the churches of Galatia, and wants to distinguish the truth for them.

II. God’s grace and peace intervened in our reality to deliver us. 1:3-5

The Greek word here for grace and peace would have been another clue to the authorship of Paul as it is a characteristic of a Pauline salutation. Grace would have been used more for a Greek audience where as peace would have been used for a Jewish audience, but when the two are both used it is a full Christian force meaning it is intended for all audiences, including us today. In 1:3 where God the Father and Lord Jesus Christ are used as the means of the grace and peace displays the unity they have in salvation. It also reveals that Paul really wants to come to the churches in Galatia and bless them through his rebuke that takes place in 1:6-9. Perhaps most importantly when referring to grace is what is seen in 1:6 and then again in 2:21, referring to God’s unconditional grace expressed through Christ in salvation. The peace from God is referred to earlier in Romans 5:1 and then later in Ephesians 2:14-18 as living at peace with God, which cannot happen apart from the grace of salvation in Christ alone.

Paul then tells the Galatians and us a message that we already know, but have obviously forgotten the pure message in the case of the Galatians and many today. For them it was circumcision, for us it is walking an aisle, baptism, or something else that we think grants us salvation apart from knowing Christ and Him alone. In Jesus Christ giving himself for our sins and delivering us from the present evil point out our depravity as man and our need for Jesus who becomes our substitution from sin. This is clearly seen in the gospel of John in 3:16. The reality of 1:4 also points back to 1:1 whereby Paul receives his authority. Christ purchases our sins so he can in turn deliver us from them, which is why deliverance is one of the key words in 1:1-10. Holman’s Bible Dictionary points out in one of their definitions of deliverance that in 1:4 Christ is the agent of deliverance by giving of Himself for our sins, which is ultimately all apart of the plans of God for His own glory.

The end of this section, 1:3-5, signals a doxology in that all honor and glory are to be forever God’s. This may be due to the lack of Paul’s traditional thanksgiving in the letter or it may be pointing back to the summary of the gospel that was just stated in 1:4. Either way, the focus here is that all glory is to be bestowed upon God now and for eternity. Criswell points out that Paul is simply stating to whom glory has and will forever belong. Here we see God displaying His own eternal glory through forgiveness of our sins and the transformation of our lives in response to the gospel.

III. God made it clear through the grace of Christ that there is no other gospel. 1:6-9

In the previous two sections we were shown by whose authority Paul came with this letter and then a reminder of what Christ did on our behalf through the gospel. Now, Paul establishes in the third section, 1:6-9, that there is no other gospel regardless if someone adds the word gospel to the message they are spreading, which is apparently what is taking place here, namely circumcision. For us this comes in many forms, a few examples are when you are listening to a message that would be named health, wealth, or social gospel. These are just a few of our own examples, but really anything that attempts to add another message in with the gospel, which we will see in 1:9 that is a total contradiction even if it appears similar. In this section we receive Paul’s rebuke for so quickly abandoning the true gospel.

Even though in Paul’s rebuke he claims we are “turning to another gospel,” he distinguishes that there in actuality is no other gospel, but that it has been termed that by some. Galatians is a bit of a different letter for Paul because he almost immediately enters into his rebuke, whereas he usually would have a section of thanksgiving, but it is likely that he had just received news of what was taking place in Galatia. Due to the urgency of the Galatians abandoning the gospel of grace, referred to in 1:3-5, Paul sees no time to write as he usually does, but instead goes straight to the intended message. Paul, unlike many leaders today, goes straight to the point of the message; there is no wasting time or worry of offending people because he understands the truth and the severity of the message. In reality the message the Galatians and many of us often accept is opposite of the true gospel, therefore cannot be termed “another gospel.”

The Galatians are not entirely rejecting Christianity, but removing Christ, which really places it in line with all otherworld religions at that point. If you have another gospel then it is a false one without any truth. Paul is astonished at this because it was relatively close to the time that the message of Christ saving us through grace had been preached. Paul knew and believed in his heart that there was nothing we could do apart from Christ death on the cross to obtain salvation and someone was coming behind him claiming to preach the same message, but with an entirely different meaning, which the churches in Galatia did not pick up on.

Following Paul’s rebuke, he quickly distinguishes as we see in 1:7 in the ESV, “not that there is another one…” There is only one gospel, but some people, specifically in the churches of Galatia, have been perverting it. F.F. Bruce in his commentary on Galatians believes that no one would actually consider this different message the “gospel” but spread it as such with the intent of confusion amongst the people. It is an arguable point as to whether these men of perversion came from within the churches of Galatia or were from the outside, Bruce, believes based on the circumstances that they had to be from the outside and came into the churches spreading this message as many evangelists do in our own churches today. Bruce provides some insight from Paul’s own testimony:

“Paul himself had for long sought justification before God by his observance of the Jewish law, until his Damascus-road experience taught him the fruitlessness of such a quest and the bankruptcy of the way of law-keeping as a means of getting right with God. The assurance of ultimate acceptance by God, which could never be his while he lived under law; he received on the spot when he yielded submission to the rise Christ. On the spot, too he realized that the law, to which he had devoted all his gifts and resources, had not been able to prevent him from pursuing the sinful course (as he now knew it to be) of persecuting the church of God (cf. v 13); the law had not even been able to show him that the course was sinful.”

Paul now tells us that it does not really matter who it is that is spreading this message. It could be a well-known pastor, an evangelist, Paul, or even an angel from heaven. Here is where Paul really gets serious with us as to the outcome of someone spreading this false message with the declaration that the person will be accursed by God. The language of being accursed by God points back to an earlier message seen in 1 Corinthians 16:22. Paul’s use of accursed here is a technical Greek term, anathema, which is a call for a person to be under a holy ban. We also see 1:8 looking back to 1:1 as to whereby Paul has the authority to come in with a message like this, being through Christ and Him alone.

Paul establishes the one true gospel first and then explains the false message that has come in as a way to separate the two messages entirely for us. There may be some similarity in language used, but definitions could not be anymore opposite. It should be noted here that although Paul is directing the current situation going on in the churches of Galatia, his language in 1:8 is referring to a hypothetical situation revealing that this message is indeed for us today as a false mix of the gospel is being spread everywhere. The most obvious groups for us are the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witness, but the groups that we mistakenly allow in are often those spreading a false message under the umbrella of protestant evangelicals.

Another way Paul deals with the seriousness of someone being accursed for spreading a false message mixed with the gospel is by repeating in 1:9 what he had just said the verse before. In the ESV 1:9 has been translated as a gospel “contrary to” where it could have also been translated as “in addition to” the gospel, which would make it clearer that anything added to the gospel ultimate contradicts the gospel. By repeating this accusation back to back reinforces it in our minds to understand our place if we allow this into our lives. In chapter 1:8-9 it also points back and refers to the reality of Matthew 7:21-23, where there will be some who attempt to get into the kingdom of heaven based on the “works” they did in God’s name; where in reality all they were doing is breaking the third commandment by taking the name of God in vain.

IV. Desiring to please God alone brings liberty and joy to your life. 1:10

In the last section of this passage Paul sets apart that he was not called to do what pleases man, but he was called to do what pleases God, this can be seen in the language he uses by referring to himself as a servant. Although Paul did often seek the best of man, the letter to the Galatians did not have that in mind, but through the rebuke Paul was seeking the Galatians and our best even if it appeared otherwise. Paul also reveals here that he understands the severity of the message given in 1:1-9 and that he is making it clear that he is only concerned with pleasing God as we should be.

It appears that Paul is reminding himself and the Galatian churches of the purpose of the letter, which is to please Christ and Him alone. In doing this Paul reveals the secret to a life lived to please God frees you up from the worry of pleasing anyone else. This is an important message for us to remember in the daily decisions of our lives whether large or small that if we are living our life to please God then it frees us up from living to the standards placed on us by anybody else.

So, as we see in 1:1-10, Paul is explaining that there is only one gospel, which he previously preached. It does not matter if the culture moves towards a popular movement where the gospel is intertwined with other things stripping it of its power because there is still only one gospel. That gospel is by God sending Jesus Christ to die in our place as our substitute, taking on our sin so that we could be looked upon as innocent. This is the one gospel and the only one.

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