The Issue is Paul
November 18, 2018
Last Sunday evening, our guest speaker, Alastair Roberts, showed how belief in the creeds of the church leads us to obedience to the moral demands of the Lord.
Orthodoxy – right belief – leads to orthopraxis – right conduct. The 2 to together – like a horse/carriage.
You can’t have one without the other. Yet, this is precisely what people have tried, and rather successfully at that, to do.
This has also happened when it comes to Jesus and Paul.
Some say, Jesus I like, but I’m not sure about Paul. Didn’t he have nasty things to say about women? We shouldn’t take him too literally on certain points?
Sadly many “evangelicals” are uncertain if Christ and Paul are on the same page, and in this message. We must not forget, as Ephesians 1:1 says, that Paul is an “apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God”; as in he is sent by the Lord and speaks on behalf of the Lord.
Sometimes, people set Paul up against Jesus. What are we to say?
Rather than answer that directly, it’s better to look at one of his letters – so, we’ll do an Advent Study (we’re not quite to Advent) in the book of Galatians leading us to Christmastide. The 1928 Calendar calls today either the 25th Sunday after Trinity or the 2nd Sunday before Advent.
Galatia was a large region of Turkey – Most commentators believe that Paul is addressing the churches he founded during the first Missionary Journey – in Acts 13-14 which included Antioch Psidia, Lystra, Derbe and Iconium.
It is one of his earliest letters, perhaps the earliest, dated about 49 AD – Paul’s conversion is normally dated 35 AD. We get a hint of Paul’s exploits during the period of 35-49 from this letter.
So Paul is addressing a group of churches in this region, the majority of whom were Gentiles.And from what he says in the early part of the letter, there was an initial very positive response to Paul’s ministry – which brings us to his great surprise…
The Galatians are perplexed and confused about the Gospel. We’ll see the reasons for that as we move along in the letter.
This morning we will look at the dilemma Paul faced when he heard about what happened in Galatia to the churches he began.
A Confused Church
A False Accusation
An Autonomous Apostle
Point One: A Confused Church v 6
Initially, however, Paul had a good relationship – in Gal 4.13-14
Galatians 4:13–14 (ESV)
13 You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first, 14 and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus.
But now, confusion.
Galatians 1:6–9 (ESV)
6 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— 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
They are turning away very quickly.
There is an interesting parallel with a passage in Exodus 32.8.
Exodus 32:8 (ESV)
8 They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’ ”
It happens. Great beginning – then trouble. Why? They are turning to a different gospel – a no gospel, gospel.
Ex. Leaving young children unattended for a very short time often ends in chaos!
Further, Paul is not addressing spiritually dead churches, he is speaking to spiritually alive places, which despite their initial acceptance of the gospel have turned away.
We rejoice at the churches which have remained steadfast to the apostles teaching and practice – but that doesn’t immunize them or us – to what Paul says is happening to the Galatian Christians.
He offers then 2 tests.
- Is the gospel they believe the same one Paul preached to them?
Galatians 1:8 (ESV)
8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.
Notice – the one we preached to you.
2. Is this gospel that you accepted?
Galatians 1:9 (ESV)
9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
Is the gospel being preached to you the one you heard from me and which transformed you when you came to Christ? Or is it not?
As we will see, it was not.
As to the seriousness of the problem – look again at verse 6
Galatians 1:6 (ESV)
6 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—
Notice that it doesn’t say you are quickly deserting the gospel, but him who called you in the grace of Christ. To turn away from the gospel is to turn away from God himself.
It can happen.
Was Paul angry?
I don’t think so – he was perplexed.
Galatians 4:19–20 (ESV) 19 my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! 20 I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.
Point Two: A False Accusation v 10-11
Galatians 1:10–11 (ESV) 10 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. 11 For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel.
What is the accusation?
The accusation is that Paul is offering preferential treatment to Gentiles in the church by not requiring that they be circumcised.
His accusers (Jewish believers) thought he did this simply to curry favor with them – we like doctors who tell us – no surgery needed.
They accused him not only of not requiring circumcision – but keeping dietary and sabbath traditions of the Jews.
In other words, they felt he was tossing out the OT traditions and putting the church in dangers.
We can understand their dilemma:
They lived in a pagan environment- and these OT traditions were a kind of hedge to protect their children and families from pagan contamination. So, the keeping of these traditions was most important for the welfare of their community.
Ex. Think of our children. How can we immunize them from the immoralities of our culture. How can we influence in a positive way the schools they attend and company they keep. One response to that is home schooling.
Later, in chapter 2.11 and 2.14 even Peter and Barnabas display confusion over the gospel being preached.
So, where are they to go for guidance. To Paul
Point 3: The Autonomous Paul vs 1, 11-12
In this letter, Paul is clear, that he has a special authority, that even the apostles don’t have. In fact, he claims to be free from any other authority than that of the Lord.
What a claim! No wonder there was some suspicion about his pronouncements.
But look what he claims:
Galatians 1:1 (ESV) 1 Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—
Galatians 1:11–12 (ESV) 11 For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. 12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
The others in the church thought that all authority was in Jerusalem – where the apostles were. But Paul is claiming independence even from them!
Why? He received his revelation, not from men or through man but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised him from the dead.
And in v 11 – again he says he received the gospel, not from anybody, but from Jesus himself – whom he encountered on the road to Damascus.
So, the real debate in Galatia is primarily about Paul. It was a debate about revelation as opposed to religion.
Karl Barth said religion is criminal – it is to invent what I think about God – revelation is what God says about himself.
In this letter, Paul recounts with horror his former life. How he persecuted the church – and was advancing in the ways of his former life.
Galatians 1:13–14 (ESV) 13 For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 14 And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.
He was a fanatic to the point of violence
Paul later in chapter 1 emphasizes his independence from the apostles.
Galatians 1:17–21 (ESV) 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. 18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. 19 But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. 20 (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) 21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.
After his conversion he did not go to Jerusalem to be taught the gospel – but to Syria for 3 years, then to Jerusalem for 15 days. Not
to learn the gospel, but to meet with the other apostles to see that they were proclaiming the same gospel.
Then 2.1 – 14 years later he returns to Jerusalem.
No doubt that he learned many things about the life and events of Jesus’ life; but the essential core of the Christian message – as in verse
Galatians 1:4–5 (ESV) 4 who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
That revelation tells Paul and us that Jesus’ death delivers us from the present evil age – he will say more.
That message came directly from God to Paul – that is why Paul has authority to settle questions that are being raised in Galatia.
That is why we must listen to Paul today to help us live together as God’s people. Our abdanment of Paul’s teaching has led the church into chaos.
Paul will say – there is no priority to Jewish Christians over Gentile Christians or the other way round.
We are 1 in Christ Jesus – Paul will say. The ground is level at the cross. We all come from many different places, both personally and spiritually – but we come to Jesus Christ and his grace. We come not by works of the law – by achievement or by effort – by the grace of Christ. We will see this as we journey through Galatians.