Thursday, July 02, 2009

Galatians 1:13-17

V13-17 – 13For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. 14I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. 15But when God, who set me apart from birth [or from my mother’s womb] and called me by His grace, was pleased 16to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man, 17nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus.

Paul moves into a defense of his authority by appealing to his conversion. Again, the Judaizers claimed both to have the authority of Jerusalem and that Paul was departing from that authority. He is showing in more detail here that his authority does not come from Jerusalem, but from God Himself. In fact, when he was under Jerusalem authority, Paul zealously advanced and intensely and physically “persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it.” This was ironically the same thing that these Judaizers, claiming the authority of Jerusalem, were doing, albeit spiritually, to the church. And it doesn’t hurt to point out here that the authority of Jerusalem still belonged to Pharisaical Jews. This part of Paul’s story likely occurred soon after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension (likely between six months and three years). James, the brother of John, had not yet been martyred, and it’s hard to say if he and Peter and John, though the leaders within the young yet growing Christian Church at Jerusalem, would have taken the Judaizers – split between Christianity and Judaism – side on the issue of legalism. The Judaizers themselves may not have come on the scene yet. The point is that Paul’s authority, while not coming from the Jerusalem Jews, would have still been the same authority as that which belonged to the Jerusalem Christian leaders; the authority for preaching the gospel, either for Paul or Peter, comes from God and His calling (v15-16).

Paul gives his testimony, because, despite being ashamed of his past, which he calls “Judaism” (v13-14) and sharply distinguishes it from Christianity, he saw his past as evidence of God’s grace (Acts 22:4-5; 26:9-11; 1 Corinthians 15:10; Philippians 3:6; 1 Timothy 1:13-14; 2 Thessalonians 2:14; Romans 9:10-13; Ephesians 1:4-6). He implies that Judaism is not even the faith of the Old Testament (Christianity is!) and that mere religious zeal for tradition is inadequate. Many Jews had zeal, and many professing Christians, like these Judaizers, had zeal. Paul says a similar thing in Romans 10:2; there, zeal based on knowledge of the truth – the gospel – is what counts. These Judaizers were trying to balance a view that claimed truth in Christianity and truth in Judaism; Paul is refuting that thought here, and will do so more boldly through this letter, saying, “If righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing” (Galatians 2:21)! In fact, as Vincent Cheung says, “What the Judaizers are preaching and what the Galatians are turning to – that which they covet and strive for – is precisely what Paul had to be rescued from by the grace of God.” Cheung continues:

“By turning to the message of the Judaizers, the Galatians are not finding a solution better than what Paul gave them – there is nothing better – but they are taking on a problem greater than any of them could bear. If adherence to Jewish laws and traditions is the answer, then Paul already had it before his conversion to the Christian faith, but he speaks of it as bondage and damnation. He was charging much more fiercely in the direction that the Galatians are now heading, and he tells them that there is no salvation there. He pointed them toward the right way when he first preached to them.”
In v15, Paul reveals that God set him apart from his mother’s womb and called him by grace at a later time (consider Jeremiah 1:5; Isaiah 49:1,5). In v16, Paul acknowledges that God was pleased to reveal Christ in him (to him) in order that Paul would preach the gospel among the Gentiles (that’s the only way Paul would ever do that). Paul did not consult anyone, meaning that he didn’t place this new career path before a committee for approval or anything like that. Gamaliel had been Paul’s mentor, but Paul didn’t take this to him for approval. Paul didn’t even go to the Christian leaders to tell them about his revelation from Jesus, as v17 declares. Instead Paul went to Arabia (likely Mt. Sinai) and then returned to Damascus. Acts 9:20-22 tell us, “At once, he began to preach that Jesus is the Son of God…proving that Jesus is the Christ.”

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.”

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Galatians 1:6-9

V6-9 – 6I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the One who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – 7which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! 9As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!

Paul gets right down to business without any buttering up of his audience in v6. He doesn’t thank God, commend the Galatian believers, or pray for them; rather, he reveals the urgency of the matter with rebuke. He is shocked to hear that they have “so quickly” deserted God, who called them to be saved “by the grace of Christ,” in favor of legalism, which as he says in v7, is not good news. Without mentioning names (“some people”), Paul determines from the evidence (“evidently”) that the Judaizers have confused the Galatians with their efforts to pervert the gospel. Why would they want to do that? The Judaizers were legalists, and they couldn’t stand the thought that Gentiles would receive the same benefits of being in God’s family that they purportedly received without having to go through the same process, namely circumcision and the regular rituals, etc. Their intent was to tear down Paul’s foundation of “by grace through faith” and restore the law to what they believed was its rightful place in Jewish theology.

Vincent Cheung says, “The immediate issue is not even whether it is good to become circumcised, to follow the law of Moses, or to obey any law of God, but whether this is the way to become righteous in God’s sight. This distinction is important in order to maintain the gospel of grace and at the same time exclude antinomianism. For if as a matter of principle it is against grace to keep God’s law or to obey God’s command, then grace would indeed lead to sin. But this is not the gospel that Paul preaches.”

In v8-9, Paul repeats with utmost urgency that his gospel is the only good news – that salvation comes by grace through faith. This is not due to the fact that it is his gospel, for he announces that even if he changed his gospel and preached a different gospel, that he should be condemned forever. There are some, namely false teachers, who expect their words to be accepted because they emanate from them, but not Paul. Paul expects his words to be accepted because they emanate from God. And if his words change, then God’s words and not Paul’s must be heeded. Paul demands here that the Christian gospel – what he preached to the Galatians (v8) and what they accepted (v9) – be exclusive. Cheung adds, “There is no room for any deviation, any modification, any modernization, or any ‘improvement’ to the original gospel message. There is no room for flexibility in its content. To say this in a positive way, this original message is accurate, precise, complete, and enduring, so that anything different from it is false doctrine.” Though many sadly deny Christian gospel exclusivity today, Paul pronounces anathema – eternal condemnation – on those who do so, even himself if it ever came to that. Cheung says:

“Paul equates turning away from the message about Christ to turning away from the person of God, that is, ‘the One who called you by the grace of Christ.’ Because the Christian message is God’s revelation about Himself and His way of salvation, to reject, abandon, or fail to accept the Christian message, therefore, is to reject, abandon, or fail to accept God Himself. This means that it is impossible for a person to reject Christianity and at the same time find God or salvation. It is impossible for a person to find his way to God or salvation through any other ‘gospel,’ religion, or philosophy. It is also impossible for anyone to obtain salvation through Jesus Christ by believing some other message or following some other system of thought. If the content of a religion or philosophy is empty of or different from the message that Paul preached, then this message cannot lead anyone to God, to Christ, or to salvation.”
Interestingly, in Romans 9:3, Paul says that he could wish himself accursed (same word) in order that the Jews might be saved. But Paul knows he cannot be cursed, thanks to Jesus’ substitutionary atonement on his behalf. Paul even mentions angels in exaggeration as if to say, “Should the impossible happen – for angels to speak against God – hold fast to God and damn the angels to hell for their falsehood.”

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.

DC 301 - Week 7

We begin our teaching through the Ten Commandments this week, and it will last through the rest of the 301 semester; nevertheless, we continue to have reading during these weeks. Here's how this week's lighter workload might break down:

Monday - Read chapter 8 of Ian Thomas' The Saving Life of Christ
Tuesday - Read Numbers 9-21
Wednesday - Read Psalms 28-29, 31-32
Thursday - Prepare two mini-lessons based on this week's Old Testament reading and consider your lesson outline for the commandment you'll be teaching in the coming weeks
Friday - Review memory verses, such as Ephesians 5:25, James 1:12, and 1 Corinthians 10:13