Monday, June 29, 2009

Galatians 1:1-5

I like what Vincent Cheung says about this letter’s contribution to the cause of God’s Kingdom: “Besides the fact that it is the product of divine revelation, the enduring significance of this letter is ensured by several factors. First, it gives a clear statement of the core of the gospel, that we are saved through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ, a faith that comes as a sovereign gift from God, and not through obedience to the law or the effort of the flesh. Second, it defines for us the place that this teaching has in the spectrum of biblical doctrines, and in fact, in the spectrum of all the ideas ever introduced to humankind. The third point closely follows the second, as the apostle models for us the kind of fierce vigilance with which we must guard this doctrine, the ultimate curse with which we must attack and condemn its detractors, and the harsh reprimand with which we must admonish those who stray from it. In all of this, the apostle exhibits a number of assumptions that also carry significance for our doctrine and ministry.” Let’s take a look at Galatians 1:1-5.

V1-5 – 1Paul, an apostle – sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead – 2and all the brothers with me, to the churches in Galatia: 3Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4who gave Himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Paul begins with an important introduction; given his audience and their issues, he must show that his authority is rock solid. So he introduces himself in v1 as an apostle, a sent one; but he was sent neither by a group of mere men – though he was commissioned by a group of men in Acts 13:3 – nor by a particular man, such as Peter, John, or James. Rather Paul’s apostleship came by the Holy Spirit, directly from Jesus Christ and even “God the Father, who raised Him from the dead.” Calvin suggests that Paul is effectively saying, “If there be any one whom the name of Christ is not sufficient to inspire with reverence, let him know that I have also received my office from God the Father.” Calvin goes on to say, “It was a reproach brought by [the false teachers] against Paul that he had held no communication with Christ, while He was on the earth. He argues, on the other hand, that, as Christ was glorified by His resurrection, so He has actually exercised His authority in the government of His church. The calling of Paul is therefore more illustrious than it would have been, if Christ, while still a mortal, had ordained him to the office.

Importantly, Paul clearly distinguishes Jesus from mere men and places Him on the same level as God the Father. If there was any doubt of who Paul claimed to be, that was erased here and will be erased more with the personal testimony at the end of this chapter and into the next. Paul had to deal with attacks on his authority throughout his ministry, not only in Galatia, but also in Corinth (see 2 Corinthians 11). Though the Judaizers may have claimed to be sent by Jerusalem, Paul claimed to have been sent by God. And no one ought to take that honor upon themselves (Hebrews 5:4).

The emphasis on divine calling to preach the divinely inspired gospel (Paul will elaborate in v11-12) is important here for our time as well. In our day of seminary degrees and denominations, it is crucial and right to come “together for the gospel,” such that a Presbyterian minister can preach in a Baptist church and such that a Charismatic minister can be welcomed in a non-denominational church as a result of the clear divine call to preach faithfully the gospel of Christ and nothing more or less.

In v2, Paul announces that he is writing to the churches (plural) in Galatia – again we presume the broad region and not merely the northern part where true ethnic Galatians lived (as discussed in the introduction). And Paul his writing in the company of “all the brothers;” he’s not alone. In other words, what he writes is being heard and/or read by others before being sent to the Galatians, and that in itself shows that it has been deemed true by those brothers who are with Paul. He’s neither trying nor able to sneak something by in order to try to salvage his reputation; Paul is speaking the truth, and he’s in the presence of many witnesses.

In v3, Paul issues his standard trademark benediction – grace and peace. Grace is unmerited favor, and peace is that relationship with God that believers have thanks to the work of Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1-2). Paul says that this grace and peace comes from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (again placing them on equal footing), and then in v4, he elaborates on Jesus’ work, which was to give Himself for the sins of believers. Vincent Cheung notes, “Paul will soon point out, ‘If righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing’ (Galatians 2:21). That is, the idea that ‘righteousness could be gained through the law’ is antithetical to the sacrifice of Christ, so that they exclude each other. However, to be a Christian is to affirm that Christ ‘gave Himself for our sins,’ and therefore, that ‘righteousness could be gained through the law’ cannot be part of the Christian gospel, nor is anyone a Christian who affirms that righteousness is obtained this way.” Paul refutes the Judaizers even in this tiny statement.

Jesus “gave Himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.” Again Cheung points out, “Redemption was accomplished ‘according to the will of our God,’ signifying that salvation is effected by the gracious purpose and providence of a sovereign God. By His will, Christ ‘gave Himself for our sins.’ Here we find the ideas of sin, of punishment, and of vicarious sacrifice, or the doctrine of the atonement. Both the justice and mercy of God are embedded in the above. After Christ sacrificed Himself, God ‘raised Him from the dead,’ so that the resurrection is included here as well.”

Paul’s remark about the present evil age, I think (Colossians 1:13), refers to the power of legalism to enslave. It also distinguishes this evil age (the world), as being temporary, from the “glory forever and ever” that we find true of eternity ascribed to God the Father in v5. Legalism is disgusting to Paul, as is antinomianism, but he says that it’s God’s will for us not to live enslaved to the law. And so much of this letter will be devoted to the issue of freedom. It’s a hearkening to recall that we are in but not of the world – delivered by Christ! Finally, Paul’s ending with “Amen,” effectively states that his introduction is true and good.

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