Monday, February 20, 2012

Paul's Gospel to the Galatians

Paul’s Gospel to the Galatians

If you’ve ever read Paul’s letters or any literature on Paul, you will see that Paul talks about “his” gospel quite a bit. As we are going to see in Galatians, he is very protective of “his” gospel. He thinks that it is “the” gospel. It is the message of salvation. In fact, he wishes eternal condemnation for those that may distort his message of the salvation provided through Jesus.
Gal. 1:6-7 – I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all…some people are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse.
As you can see, Paul feels very strongly about his version of the good news of the salvation of Jesus. What I want to do with this message is look at what that message might have been to the people of Galatia. We will see how this played out in Acts 13-14. But before we do that, I want to provide even more background into Paul’s story that we began last week. The bulk of Galatians 1-2 contains the story of Paul receiving his gospel and some of the things he had to go through to preserve it.

The origin of Paul’s Gospel - Paul wants everyone to know that his message of the story of Jesus came directly from Jesus himself.
Gal. 1.11-12
Paul then goes on to tell the story of his pre-Christian life (as a persecutor of the church). He talks about his zeal for the Law (and for the institutions of Judaism and the traditions of the elders). But like the prophets of the OT, God called Paul to his service.
Gal. 1.13-16a.
He reveals that not only did he receive his message by revelation from Jesus but also his commission, to preach this message among the Gentile (the non-Jews). We see this account in Acts 9.3-19; 22.3-21; 26.12-23.

Paul goes to Arabia
Gal. 1:16b – 17
Paul doesn’t tell what he did in Arabia, nor does Luke in the book of Acts. Paul makes sure he tells them that he has not consulted anyone (especially the apostles in Jerusalem). He wants everyone to know that Jesus himself revealed to him the nature of his gospel. I believe that Paul took his scrolls (OT) and began to read through them with a different lens, that of his encounter with the risen Jesus Christ. Paul implies that Jesus may have appeared to Paul to help him sharpen his message (one of a salvation for Gentiles apart from the institutions of Israel).
(Perhaps corresponds with his flight from Damascus in Acts 9.25).

Paul goes to Jerusalem
Gal. 1.18-19
Paul finally goes to Jerusalem to visit some of the leaders of the church. It seems he spent time with Peter and James. This may be when he meets Barnabas (corresponding to Acts 9.26). He doesn’t tell us what they discussed, but as my Galatians professor Jack MacGorman said, “They probably didn’t discuss the weather”. Paul probably got filled in on some of the details of the life and ministry of Jesus. Paul probably wanted to learn from those who lived with Jesus and knew him during his earthly ministry.

Paul goes to Tarsus
Gal. 1.21-24
Paul returns to his hometown and spends some time there (more than likely spreading the good news about Jesus to the Jews and the Gentiles there). This corresponds to Acts 9.30.

Paul goes to Antioch (Syria)
See above.
Antioch was a major city in the biblical world. It was the seat of the Seleucid (Syrian) Kingdom. Roman times? Acts gives a little more details on ministry in this city. The persecution of the church in Jerusalem (which Paul helped to start) spread the early Christians out throughout the region and one of the cities they settled in was Antioch. This is shown in Acts 11.19-26. Jews were accepting the message about Jesus in Antioch and the Gentiles were as well. When word reached the apostles in Jerusalem that there was this great outbreak of people becoming disciples of Jesus in Antioch, they wanted to investigate and perhaps instruct the people further in the ways and message of Jesus. They sent Barnabas. He sees the outpouring of the Spirit and sees that the grace of God has caused this outbreak and he encourages the people (and the church continued to grow there). Barnabas needs help discipling these new believers. Perhaps the presence of these Gentile Christians (who were not first Jewish converts or god-fearers) reminded him of someone who had shared his heart for seeing Gentiles coming to Christ apart from the institutions and rituals of Judaism; without becoming Jews first. He travels to nearby Tarsus to grab Paul and bring him to Antioch to disciple these new believers.
Acts 11.25-26 - …called Christians first at Antioch.

Paul confronts Peter in Antioch
Paul records a very contentious meeting between himself and Peter in Antioch. Paul has this after his second visit to Jerusalem, but I think it belongs here in the timeline. (Actually, Paul does not mention specifically when it took place). It seems Cephas (The Aramaic name for Peter) came to visit Paul and Barnabas in Antioch. And when he came, he would eat with the uncircumcised Gentile Christians. This was something he never would have done when he was a Jew. But it seems that some men came from James the Lord’s brother from Jerusalem to Antioch as well. When they came, they must have looked down on Peter. Why?
There were two significant aspects of Judaism that set them apart from other peoples: one they were circumcised (while Gentiles generally were not); and two, Jews did not eat with Gentiles, who were seen as unclean by very religious Jews and it would impact their purity. (These, in a nutshell, are the major issues of Galatians, mostly circumcision).
Gal. 2.11-14
Paul lays out a brief understanding of his gospel in
Verses 15-16 a person is not justified (that is declared not guilty of his/her sin before God) by works of the law (that is rituals like proper table guests and circumcision) but by faith in Christ. Our faith in Christ justifies us. We will come back to Paul’s gospel in a second. The major issue was that the Jews believed that salvation came through them (and rightfully so: the promise of Abraham, Jesus). Thus, they believed that even thought they believed in Jesus as their king and savior, one needed to become a Jew in order to be properly related to our Jewish savior. In Paul’s experience and call from Jesus, this was not the case. Paul believed that one did not have to stop being a Jew if one already was one when called, but a Gentile did not have to become a Jew to become a Christian.
This was such a major issue of the early church that the church had to call all of the major leaders from the early church to Jerusalem and hash this out. When the evidence was heard from Paul (and from Peter who also saw Gentiles touched by the power of the Holy Spirit), the church ultimately allowed the Gentiles full membership in the church without the belief that they needed to become Jews as well (submit to circumcision).

Paul visits Jerusalem again
Gal. 2.1-2
Response to a revelation, this may correspond to an episode in Acts 11.27-30 where a prophet named Agabus predicted a famine that would spread over the entire Roman world. The elders at Antioch sent Paul and Barnabas with a relief offering for the poor in Jerusalem.
Paul presented his version of the gospel that Jesus revealed to him, his Law free gospel for the Gentiles.
Gal. 2.7-10
Paul shows that the apostles at Jerusalem not only heard Paul’s gospel but they approved of it and gave them the commission of going to the Gentiles. After their time in Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas return to Antioch.

Paul delivers his gospel to South Galatia
Acts 13.2-3
We have the account of the Holy Spirit setting apart Paul and Barnabas for the task of spreading the good news of Jesus beyond Antioch. In Acts 13 we have Paul and Barnabas going to Cyprus, then to Perga in Pamphylia to Pisidian Antioch.
Pisidian Antioch - They begin their preaching in the synagogues. If Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles, why is he preaching in the worship gatherings of the Jews? The network of synagogues throughout the Roman world gave him an excellent platform to make disciples. In the synagogues, there were Jews, of course, but also Gentiles who were interested in Judaism (but who hadn’t submitted to circumcision so they were considered fully Jewish. They were called “God fearers.”) Paul and Barnabas entered synagogue on the Sabbath and were asked if they have a word of exhortation.
In the context of Jewish congregation, Paul retells the story of Israel, election, prospering in Egypt, leaving the slavery in Exodus and entry into Canaan (the promised land, modern day Israel). He tells them of the series of the first real centralized leaders: Samuel, Saul and David. It is through David that the savior Jesus came.
Jesus was not recognized by the religious leaders, they conspire to have him put to death under the Roman governor Pontius Pilate (on a cross).
But of course, Jesus was raised from the dead and was seen by his followers.
13.32 – We tell you the good news: What God promised our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children by raising up Jesus.
This good news (gospel) was connected to Israel’s story. And the good news was forgiveness of sins
13.38 - …through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believers is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses.
Again, look at what Paul is proclaiming to the Jews here. Forgiveness of sins took place before through the high priest’s sacrifice on the Day of Atonement every year. And they thought they were justified (not guilty) before God through their observances of the Law of Moses nor in their status as Jews. Paul tells them they were not able to receive this justification or be forgiven of their sins this way. It only came through faith in the accomplishment of Jesus Christ. Note, it said nothing about circumcision or becoming Jews. Salvation comes from a right relationship with Jesus.
They were urged to speak again. Some people wanted to hear more. And a large crowd gathered. (Acts 11.44 says the whole city gathered). But some devout Jews understood what Paul was advocating (this salvation apart from the institutions of Judaism). They began to stir up trouble and eventually drove them out of town. (Remember this, perhaps it explains why the Gentile converts may have slipped and gave into circumcision among other things).
But we do see the Gentiles of this Galatian town receiving the message (11.48).

Iconium - Paul moves to the next Galatian town, Iconium and delivers his message there and Jews and Gentiles receive it. The power of God allows Paul and Barnabas to display God’s power through signs and wonders. But again, they encounter opposition from the Jews (along with some Gentiles this time) and they move to another Galatian city, Lystra.
In Lystra, they heal a man who could not walk. This powerful sign was misunderstood as a sign that Zeus and Hermes had come to visit (Ovid’s Metamorphosis). They try to deflect the praise to God. And again, opposition arises from Jews of other towns (like Iconium). This time the opposition is so fierce that they stone Paul and leave him for dead.

Derbe - Paul is revived and departs for another Galatian town, Derbe.
Acts 14.21
Paul does not sugar coat his message (like he possibly could after they saw all that he went through). When trying to become a member of the Kingdom of God, hardships will enter your way. They go back through the towns where they preached and raised up elders to lead the new churches that they started in these Galatian towns. Then they returned to their base of operations, Antioch with the intention of returning to these towns to strengthen these churches (Acts 15.36).
It was probably in Antioch that Paul caught wind that people were going in behind him in Galatia and adding to his message.

Where do you stand with this message? This is basically the message that we are all confronted with. I want to conclude with a summary of the gospel of the Apostles as it appears in the book of Acts.
·      *The life, death and resurrection of Jesus was attested to by eye-witnesses
·      *His ministry was foretold in the Hebrew Scriptures
·      *His death effects the forgiveness of our sins
·      *Jesus’ death lead God to raise him up
·      *Jesus is alive today and ruling from a position of great prominence
·      *There is no other names or way to be saved than through Jesus
·     * He is coming back
·     * He will be the judge of everyone
·      *This message elicits a response
·      *The only proper response is faith in the name and work of Jesus and we must pledge our allegiance to him.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Galatians Series - Background


Imagine being called by God to take the message of Jesus to a certain group. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, you displayed God’s power and you delivered the message clearly. The group you were sent to accepted the message. They began to live it out. God, then, called you to another group, but you planned on returning to this group and encouraging them in their faith.
While you are gone, some other “believers” came in behind you. They said that your message was only part of the story. You weren’t fully a part of the family of God. You needed to perform certain rituals in order to be fully accepted by God. The people, who originally accepted your message, accepted this message as well.  How would you feel? You would probably be angry at those who came in behind you. And you would probably be frustrated over your flock because they were so easily led astray. Remember, this message you were sent to them with was given to you directly from Jesus. You displayed the power of God in their midst. You lived a life of integrity and displayed your faithfulness to this message. But still, your group was led astray. How would you respond?
This is basically the story of Galatians.

Several questions need to be addressed: The letter is written by Paul. Who is Paul? He identifies himself as an apostle. What is an apostle? Is that important? This letter is addressed to the Galatians. Who are the Galatians? What relation does Paul have with these people? Why did Paul write this letter to them? What does this mean to me?

Who is Paul?
The Pre-Christian Paul:
We first encounter Paul in the Bible in Acts 7. A young Christian man named Stephen is being tried on the count of blasphemy (a serious crime in Judaism, liable to the death penalty in certain circumstances). When Stephen reaches what his accusers think is the height of his blasphemy (claiming to see Jesus at the right hand of God), they put him to death. And a man named Saul is there. Saul was probably Paul’s Hebrew name, and Paul may have been the name he used in Greco-Roman contexts.
Acts 7:57-8:1 – At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.
As Stephen lay dying, the text notes that Saul approved of their killing him. (Dig? What did this mean?)
We see that this act led to a great persecution against the Christians in Jerusalem. And this Saul: (8:3 – Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison).
This persecution becomes so bad we see in
Acts 9:1-2 - Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.
What other clues can we glean from the NT as to what Paul was like before he became a Christian?
In his testimony later in the book of Acts that he was a Jew from Tarsus of Cilicia (Acts 22.3). Tarsus was a city in what is now southeastern Turkey. It was then…
A little later in this testimony we see that he was brought up in Jerusalem and was educated under Gamaliel and he was trained in the Law of his ancestors. Gamaliel was a very important teacher in Judaism. He was a member of the Sanhedrin (a type of Jewish Supreme Court. We see him in Acts 5).
Paul was a very religious man, who was very concerned about following the Law of Moses to the letter. He believed that his service brought him a sense of righteousness before God.
Paul will tell the church of Philippi that he was from the tribe of Benjamin and a Pharisee. His zeal for God was shown in how he persecuted those who he felt were blaspheming God (by claiming that this Jesus was God’s equal).

Paul’s Calling
We see in Acts three accounts of Paul’s conversion (the second two were Paul’s accounts during trials). We will look first at the account as it flows in the narrative of Acts. We saw earlier that Paul was actively persecuting the early church, from Jerusalem to Damascus (in modern day Syria). It was on the road to Damascus that Paul encounters Jesus and it changes his life, his vocation, his worldview and his theology.
Read Acts 9:3-19
After Paul’s encounter with the Risen Jesus, Paul becomes a powerful witness for the one he sought to destroy.
We see another interpretation of this event in Paul’s letter that we are about to discuss, Galatians.
Gal. 1.11-17
We get another element to the story here. Paul reveals that he went into Arabia. There has been much speculation on what Paul did in Arabia, but more than likely, Paul began to study the Torah (and all of the OT) with a new lens. He began looking for Jesus in the Hebrew Bible. He saw how the entire story of God’s revelation of himself to the people of Israel was pointing to the arrival of Jesus. He began to interpret the OT in light of what Jesus had done (and was continuing to do in and through the Church). One thing he became convinced of was that uncircumcised Gentiles could be put right with God through faith in Christ without first becoming Jews. Key
After Paul had processed all of this, and after he gathered information on the life of Jesus from his disciples, he began to tell others about who Jesus was and why everyone should follow him. He spent a good deal of the first part of his ministry back in his hometown of Tarsus. One of the church leaders, an encouraging man by the name of Barnabas (who defended Paul after his encounter with Jesus, when many in Jerusalem were rightfully afraid of him), brought him to the hotbed of Christian growth, a nearby town called Antioch.

What is the connection to the Galatians?
Paul the Missionary
It was from Antioch that the Holy Spirit set apart Paul and Barnabas and sent them on a journey to tell others about Jesus and to start churches in those areas. This brings Paul to Galatia. This story is found in Acts 13-14. He spent time sharing Jesus in towns of a Roman province called Galatia (modern day central Turkey). Galatia gets its name from an ethnic group of people called the “Gauls”. They have a connection to native French people and actually run back to the ancient Celts. Paul spent time in the southern Galatian cities of Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe. While in these cities, Paul began to lead people to faith in Jesus but he also encountered opposition. Most of this opposition came from Jewish people who had the same zeal for the Law of Moses that Paul had before his encounter with Jesus. They had the same zeal to stamp out this Jesus movement (and stamping out Paul as well. Paul was stoned and left for dead in Lystra).
Galatians is basically a letter to the churches that Paul started.

Why is he writing this letter to the Galatians?
These Galatians were being deceived by some Jewish Christians who were mixing Judaism and Christianity. What we will find is that there was a group of Jewish “Christians” who believed that non-Jews (the majority of the Christians in Galatia) needed to submit to certain Jewish rituals in order to be accepted fully as believers. The major ritual was circumcision for males. It was the sign that God gave to Abraham that his people were to be set apart from the rest of the world. (The thought was that Jesus was a Jew, the early church was Jewish, therefore Gentiles needed to become Jews in order to properly become Christians). This would become a major issue in the early church. We will see in this letter that two very important church leaders got into a public confrontation over this issue (Peter and Paul in chapter 2). Ultimately the early church called leaders from all over the church at the time and had to solve this issue. We see this conference detailed in Acts 15. (Recap?)

Why should they listen to Paul?
For one, he started these churches. Paul also claimed the authority of an Apostle. What does that mean? From what we can gather from the New Testament, an Apostle was someone who had seen the risen Lord and was commissioned by him to proclaim the gospel and start churches. They had authority in the churches they started. Other signs of an Apostle were signs, wonders and miracles. Another task of the Apostles was the transmitting of the words of the prophets and of Jesus to the church.

Other notes of interest about Paul: he was not married (and probably never married, despite what some will say about his role as a Pharisee). He had some kind of physical affliction. It is mentioned in
2 Cor. 12.7-9
and in our letter in Galatians 4.12-14

One of the marks of an apostle was persecution. Paul also suffered much for his decision to follow Jesus. We get a good portrait of the persecution Paul suffered (as well as his compassion for his churches):
2 Cor. 11:21b-29

Why is this letter important to us today?
Are you ever tempted to put your trust in anything other than what Jesus has done for you? Are there things that you do that make you feel like God owes you some sort of blessing? Does God owe you heaven or a good life because you go to church, serve the poor, read your Bible, avoid “sinful” activities? If so, you need to read this letter. Or, at times are you tempted to think that your understanding of Jesus or your way of being Christian is better than someone else’s? (Reword these two sentences). Close with Paul’s understanding of the gospel:
Eph. 2:8-9 - You have been saved by grace through faith - and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – no by works, so that no one can boast. The sign that you’ve received this gift of grace is repentance (a changed life that is devoted to following Jesus in the power of his Holy Spirit).