Summary: Understand what prompted Paul to write the book of Galatians and how his words affect us today.
INTRO: Have you ever experienced the frustration and shock of finding out that something you felt was very clear and plain had become muddied, confusing, even forgotten?
As a kid, my mom would often ask me rhetorically, “Do I have to draw you a picture?” And most times I would think, “That would help!” (But I never said that out loud!)
Now, as a parent, I understand how she felt. Sometimes I see an action or hear of an incident, and I wonder, “Didn’t we just talk about that?” Or, I want to ask, “How many times do we need to go over this!?” Quite frankly, it is just astonishing sometimes to see how quickly our children forget – for whatever reason – and turn away from what we once laid out so plainly.
TRANSITION: Such was Paul’s reaction when he got wind that the Christians in the region of Galatia were turning away from the true gospel to a different gospel – a false one no doubt! He was astonished!
I imagine he was thinking, as their spiritual father, “Didn’t we just go over this?” In fact, this is the very thing he mentions in his letter to these believers – look at it with me in Galatians 1:6 – “I am astonished…” Paul just couldn’t believe what he was hearing! So he writes this book – this “little Romans” as I refer to it – to bring them back to their senses and reel them back into the net of truth.
BACKGROUND OF BOOK: To help you gain a better understanding of this letter, these people, their location, and Paul’s connection to them, let me provide a little background color to the book so it doesn’t seem quite as gray to some of you.
• Galatians is the only one of Paul’s epistles that gives no word of commendation to its readers. Though all other of his letters refers to the readers in some positive way at some point, Galatians holds no such positive tone. Remember how it starts – “I’m astonished!” As John McArthur said, “From that point until the closing benediction (6:18) the letter is a flashing sword wielded by a burning heart.”
• Galatians was written to what I’d refer to as a regional church – believers in multiple churches probably started by Paul on his first missionary journey (SHOW MAP) in Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe (Acts 13:14–14:23). These cities and their churches were in the southern province of Galatia, now modern-day Turkey, and although the Galatian epistle itself does not identify the specific local churches, but they were churches in which Paul had personally ministered (4:13–15).
• Galatians addresses the doctrinal dangers that threatened these churches, namely Judaism – the false teaching that Christianity was merely an extension of the Jewish traditional system of works of righteousness. More than likely, the Jewish leaders who stoned Paul at Lystra no doubt continued to intimidate and persecute Jewish converts in Galatia. They were implacable enemies of the gospel and were used by Satan to sow confusion and discord in those and many other infant churches. Essentially, The Judaizers were causing great confusion in the churches and were seriously distorting “the gospel of Christ” (Gal. 1:8). They taught that Gentiles must become Jews by circumcision before they could become Christians and that all Christians, Jewish and Gentile alike, were righteous before God only if they remained bound under the Mosaic laws, regulations, and ceremonies. IN that sense Galatians is a doctrinal book, yet it does contain many practical applications, especially in the last two chapters.
• Galatians seems to have three basic sections: Personal (1-2), Doctrinal (3-4), and Practical (5-6). And while we’ll examine them in more detail over summer, this basic framework will help you understand the book as you read and re-read it week and week. (hint, hint).
TRANSITION: Knowing this background, and understanding Paul’s first reaction in 1:6 in what we know to be the personal section, I often wonder how the letter arrived. We have no Scriptural indication to this, but in my spiritual imagination, I am curious if the Galatians welcomed the letter’s arrival or worried about the letter’s arrival. After all, it did start with a rather reprimanding tone, didn’t it?
Perhaps they were actually meeting together one weekend, enduring one of the false teachers and feeling somewhat tapped, maybe even intrigued, when suddenly a “1st Century courier” brought the news –
DRAMA – [1st Century Mail Courier, costumed appropriately and running excitedly, comes running in from back, INTERRUPTTING Todd! “The churches around here got a letter from Paul! Hey look, everyone, Paul wrote us a letter!” After some “give and take” with Todd, the 1st Century Courier starts reading Galatians 1:1-9 slowly with anticipation, like you would read a letter from a long, lost friend. At end of v. 9 freeze.