Summary: To see Paul's passion for grace.
INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOK OF GALATIANS
The story is told about an intensely focused husband that did not like to be disturbed when he was involved in a project. One day as he was working on his truck in the garage his wife came out with some news. She waited for about 10 minutes until he acknowledged her and then very calmly, and without a trace of panic, she said, “The house is on fire.”
There definitely is a time to forsake the customary, polite, social graces and bluntly state the problem. The burning house was a time for immediate communication. Likewise, the departure of the churches in Galatia from the teaching of Paul and from the gospel of God’s grace was the time for the sounding of the alarm. Paul had little time to waste in polite introductions, for the problem facing these churches could have had devastating results.
It is possible that this epistle to the Galatians is the first letter of the Apostle Paul. Nevertheless, it is worthwhile to compare the way Paul begins this letter with his customary introduction. As customary in the letters of that day, Paul’s letters had a predictable form. There was an initial greeting, a prayer or petition for grace and peace, thanksgiving to God, the body of the letter, personal greetings, and a farewell.
In this letter to the Galatians, Paul skips the thanksgiving section that was so typical in his other letters.
Instead, Paul bluntly expresses his dismay: “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel” - Gal. 1:6.
Something was seriously wrong in the churches of Galatia to prompt such a sobering introduction. A careful reading of the entire epistle confirms this observation. The gospel which Paul had preached and which these Christians had accepted was somehow quickly set aside for other teaching.
The study of the Book of Galatians is of critical importance for Christians today. Not only do we learn of a departure from the gospel in ancient days, but we will see that there is a contemporary ring for today. Many Christians have accepted this deviation from the gospel, not knowing the seriousness of their error. It is important for us to understand what the Galatian error was so that we can recognize similar false teaching today. God-willing, we will reject false teaching for what it is - a departure from the gospel by which we have been saved.
Before we begin our study there are two introductory matters which we need to discuss at the outset. First, we must understand where “the churches of Galatia” were located. Secondly, we must agree upon the date of the writing of the epistle, for it helps define the region of “Galatia.”
Ancient Galatia is located in the central regions of modern-day Turkey.
Around 270 BCE it was inhabited by Celtic mercenaries who were hired by local rulers to thwart the impetus to Hellenize their society.
This was also the period in which Constantine began to embrace Christianity and funded the expansion of the church. Many of our folk today think that there is an unbroken line from the church today back to that of the ancient church ordained by Christ. But that is a misnomer, for the doctrine of the church has always been a series of departures and reformations.
No epistle can lay more claim to being a genuine product of the hand of Paul than can Galatians. In v.1 Paul immediately identifies himself as an apostle of Jesus Christ. The early church accepted Paul’s claim without reservation. And, the style and message of the book mirror Paul’s mind, character and theme.
Paul wrote to the churches in southern Galatia after having a part in starting them on his first missionary journey to Asia Minor. Paul’s close relationship to these churches helps to explain the extremely strong tone he took with them from the very beginning of the letter. Galatians exhibits Paul’s anger at apostasy, as he risked the good favor of the converts in those churches to make sure they were on the path of truth and not led off into deception.
In fact, to emphasize the seriousness of his purpose, he took the pen from his scribe and wrote the end of the letter himself in large letters .
Both Jew and Gentile resented the efforts to Hellenize the culture. Jews were shamed because of their circumcision and Gentile Christians were offended by the profane pagan practices of Greek influence. So, “freedom in Christ” became the theme of Paul’s writing to the Galatians. Some have called it Paul’s “Magna Charta” of the Christian faith. Today, Galatians is our charter of Christian freedom, our declaration of independence from slavery to the law.