Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Galatians 1:10-12

V10-12 – 10Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ. 11I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. 12I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.

In v10, Paul addresses the Judaizers primary claim against his authority. They accused Paul of teaching an “easy” gospel, trying to gain Gentile approval by saying that (a) circumcision didn’t matter (cf Galatians 5:11), (b) the Sabbath didn’t matter, and (c) the dietary laws didn’t matter. And he argues that if he were trying to serve men, he would not be a servant of Christ. Clearly, from his previous argument (v1-7), he is a servant of Christ. In logic, it might be said this way: If B is true, then A is not; but since A is true, then B is not. The two sides are mutually exclusive. So if Paul were trying to please men – note the difference between “pleasing” and “serving” – and not God, then he wouldn’t be a servant of Christ. But since he is a servant of Christ, then he is not trying to please men. Paul’s efforts are according to the will of God – to serve Christ by declaring the only gospel, that salvation comes first to the Jew and then to Gentile, but by the same means – by grace through faith in Christ.

Calvin says, “This is a remarkable sentiment; that ambitious persons, that is, those who hunt after the applause of men, cannot serve Christ. [Paul] declares for himself, that he had freely renounced the estimation of men, in order to devote himself entirely to the service of Christ; and, in this respect, he contrasts his present position with that which he occupied at a former period of life. He had been regarded with the highest esteem, had received from every quarter loud applause; and, therefore, if he had chosen to please men, he would not have found it necessary to change his condition. But we may draw from it the general doctrine which I have stated, that those who resolve to serve Christ faithfully, must have boldness to despise the favor of men.”

Paul assures his audience with v11 that his gospel, which may seem too good to be true (as the Judaizers likely thought – and as many cynics believe today), was not manmade. Rather Paul’s awesome gospel, the only truly good news, came directly from Jesus Christ, through revelation to Paul (speaking of his conversion and subsequent time of learning, building on his foundation of the Old Testament Scriptures). Paul is also implicitly criticizing the Judaizers’ so-called “gospel,” which was manmade – legalism. Vincent Cheung says, “The Judaizers probably claim to represent Jerusalem, and that Paul himself received his understanding of the gospel from there, so that his theology and ministry are derivative of and subordinate to the mother church. Therefore, Paul begins his reply by asserting the divine origin and the independence of his message. That is, he denies human invention in the content of his preaching, and denies human instruction as the method of his learning.”

In v12, Paul says that he received the gospel “by revelation from Jesus Christ.” This could be referring to his conversion in Acts 9. However, some commentators note that the Greek can be read more literally as “through a revelation of Jesus Christ;” this reading would describe Jesus as the content of the gospel, without denying that He is also the revealer of the gospel. Paul says in v16 that God “was pleased to reveal His Son in me.” In that verse, we might see God as the revealer and Christ as the content. Either way, we must understand that to reject the message – Christ – is to reject the revealer of the message – Christ – and the deliverer of the message – in this case, the apostle Paul. Likewise, to disagree with Paul is to disagree with Jesus, for Paul’s message came from Christ Himself.

We gather from this truth that Paul had visions of revelation as the means by which he came to understand the gospel. In much the same way, the other apostles had their minds and eyes opened to understand the Scriptures (Luke 24:31,45). We read that “the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision” in Acts 18:9 and that “the Lord stood near Paul” in Acts 23:11. Though we don’t necessarily have visions in this way, we, like Paul, have the indwelling Holy Spirit and, unlike Paul, the full canon of Scripture. Vincent Cheung summarizes:

“So here is what we can gather about this aspect of Paul’s spiritual life. First, he was explicitly called to see and hear the resurrected Christ. Second, the Bible records numerous instances of him seeing and hearing Christ. Third, it is certain that at least some of these records are greatly abbreviated accounts of the actual events. Fourth, besides visions of Christ, Paul experienced other kinds of visions and revelations numerous times, including a visit to heaven. Fifth, he states that he tends to refrain from relating these experiences ‘so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say’ (2 Corinthians 12:6). Sixth, in light of what we have established so far, it is reasonable to assume that the Bible records only a small fraction of the total number of Paul’s visions. Finally, and this also reinforces the previous point, while discussing the matter of visions, he describes his own life as one characterized by ‘surpassingly great revelations,’ the frequency and magnitude of which were such that he was given a ‘thorn in the flesh’ to keep him from becoming conceited (2 Corinthians 12:7). Putting all of this together, it would be almost an understatement to say that Paul was granted one of the most spectacular prophetic ministries in biblical history. In fact, it is possible that he was unsurpassed by anyone in the quantity, length, and depth of his visions and revelations, and in his direct encounters with the Lord.”

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