Summary: An Introduction to Paul's Letter to the Galatian Church
In the last couple of years we have spent time looking at some of the important parts of the Old Testament, the life of Jesus and who he is and recently Jesus’ blueprint for being a Christian. Of course when Jesus returned to his Father, the Church began to grow around the world. The disciples – now the apostles – did just as Jesus asked and mad disciples of great numbers of people. Churches sprung up everywhere – not buildings as most met either in houses or other larger rooms. With these churches came the need to produce leaders and when you put people together there are always problems. Paul founded many churches around the Mediterranean and writing letters was his main way of keeping in touch and dealing with issues they faced. The letter to the Galatians was written by Paul (verse 1) to help new disciples and address various issues that they were facing about how to live out their faith. That is why it’s important for us too, but we have to bear in mind who it was written to and why, so shall we have a look at the background first.
Galatia is a region of Turkey which was visited by Paul on the first of his 3 missionary journeys before he was arrested and put to death. This means the letter was written somewhere around 50-52AD and makes it one of the oldest parts of the New Testament. We can read about how Paul founded these churches in Acts 14 and learn about some of the problems they faced in Acts 15. I have a piece of film which will help us see this.
Watch video of Acts 14 & 15 or read the scripture.
What did we learn about their issues?
A lot of the converts to Christianity in those Galatian cities were former pagans but there were also many Christians among them who were former Jews. These people believed not in Paul’s teaching that all you needed was to trust and have faith in Jesus, but that when you became a Christian you needed to carry on keeping the law, especially some of the rituals like being circumcised and what to eat. According to the Jewish Christians you could not be a real Christian without doing this. As a result of this, they not only challenged Paul’s teaching about how you are saved and how Christians live, but his position as an Apostle. So if Paul’s teachings, which were responsible for bringing thousands of people to Christ were being challenged, then the whole Gospel was under threat. Christians were in danger of having to live under the Law again. Paul had to address this and challenge these false teachings so he wrote this letter which covers the following main themes:
• Keeping the Law does not save anyone
• Faith in Jesus alone saves us from sin
• True freedom comes from grace not law
• The Holy Spirit works in us to bring us to Christ
In a few more moments we will see how Paul sets out the defence of both himself and his teachings and how that helps us.
Paul, an apostle, sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised him from the dead: and all the brothers with me.
Paul begins by defending who he is because it is from who he is that his teaching has authority. An Apostle is a special messenger who enjoys unique authority given by Jesus himself. All 13 Apostles were personally appointed by the risen Jesus. Paul at his conversion on the road to Damascus. Although Paul begins all his letters by introducing himself he is much more precise in this one. He isn’t just a brother, as he describes the others, but an Apostle, not appointed by men but by God, Jesus himself. Without this authority, the Gospel that he preaches is at risk too. Why should anyone believe it if he is a fraud?
For us we have to be very careful who we take our beliefs from. Jesus gave the Apostles the job of building on his work. No one else, not even anyone living today, has such authority. It is important when we choose who to listen to that we listen to people who follow the teachings of the Apostles and Jesus. If we hear someone who comes up with “some new teaching” we need to take real care. They have no God-given authority to give it, whatever they claim.
Authority is everything. When you have permission to speak on behalf of someone or an organisation people can take notice and be assured that what you say represents what they think. I can say what I want on behalf of the church for instance, but if I have no authority or perhaps I am not even a member of it I have no authority and not many people will give credit to what I say. This is why to me it is important we just don’t set up ourselves with self-given authority. Paul was one of 13 unique men who were given special authority from Jesus and no one since has received that. Authority is everything. Paul has it.