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The Good News for Galatia
It is Good News for Us, Too
This past weekend I began teaching a Sunday school class at First Methodist Killeen. The class will meet during the season of Lent, which began one week ago on Wednesday. Since I’m leading discussion, I chose to teach something I had studied recently. We’re moving through Galatians.
Galatians is an epistle that is found in the New Testament and was written by a man named Paul. “Epistle” is a fancy word for letter. Paul wrote to the “churches” in Galatia. The letter’s recipients were not located in one place. Rather, they were part of a network of Christ-believing communities scattered throughout a region. Some met in houses, some likely met in synagogues.
These communities included Jews, Gentiles, God-fearing Gentiles, Gentile converts to Judaism, Christ-believing Jews, Christ-believing Gentiles…it was a mix of people with differing convictions and opinions about how to live a life of faith. Paul’s recipients, without doubt, were familiar with the teachings of the Old Testament, and a few had recently become part of the nascent Christian movement, having received the gospel message about Jesus.
Why did Paul write? He wrote because there was a controversy. Paul had introduced the Christ-followers at Galatia to the good news message of salvation by grace. God had made one family from two (thereby fulfilling God’s purposes began in and through Israel), bringing together both Jew and Gentile into a new community. Entry into this new community was gained through faith in Jesus Christ.
But other teachers had come after Paul, teaching that Gentiles must not only trust in Jesus by faith in order to be full members of the community. These Gentiles must also observe the Mosaic Law—most notably, men must be circumcised. Paul did not agree. He saw this as a step backwards, not forward. He also saw it as a misunderstanding of what Jesus accomplished and how the Scriptures had been fulfilled.
To help with location, Galatia is located in modern day Turkey. This letter was composed as early as 45 A.D. or as late as 60 A.D. I lean toward earlier dating of most of the New Testament documents. When Paul wrote Galatians, I think he did so early in his ministry, within two decades after the death and resurrection of Jesus.
In Galatians 1:1-24, Paul offers a brief introduction, giving his identity and naming his intended recipients (1:1-5). He asserts that the churches of Galatia have pursued "another gospel" or a "pseudo-gospel" (1:6-10), and then offers evidence of his authority as a representative of Jesus who bears the authentic message of and about Christ, received as a result of revelation from Jesus himself (1:11-24).
In my class on Sunday, we discussed that Paul's introduction, and his tone, are "hot." His introductory blessing is brief (compare Galatians to Ephesians or Philippians). He is astonished, astounded, surprised, or shocked because the Galatians have listened to and accepted the message of other teachers, who we identified as Paul's opponents.
These teachers, as we'll learn later in the letter, encouraged Gentile Christ-followers to be circumcised in order to be fully included in the fellowship. Paul, to the contrary, argues that faith is the criteria for inclusion in the community.
In commentaries, sermons, and in a lot of Christian preaching through the ages, Paul's opponents have been labeled "Judaizers." Or, it has been argued that Paul's opponents wanted to "convert" Christians to Judaism or were calling Christ-believers back to Judaism. My position is a little different. Agreeing with one school of thought on this question, I think that Christianity and Judaism were still negotiating what the coming of Jesus meant for Jewish and Gentile relations, and, therefore, a lot of the boundary lines were being redrawn and renegotiated.
What did it mean for Christ to fulfill the Scriptures? They had to figure that out. In the end, Paul, and other Christians, argued that the coming of Jesus had fulfilled the Law and that certain observances, going forward, were no longer necessary.
On Sunday, we covered what Paul says (observation), and what it meant for the Galatians and for us (interpretation).
Then, I offered a few applications:
Paul asserted that his authority stemmed from his relationship to Christ. While you may not be an apostle, per se, you are in Christ, like Paul. Therefore, you have authority that is like Paul's, for the very same Jesus now dwells in you, if your faith is in Christ.
Paul argued that there is a Christian message: a "gospel." "Gospel" means "good news." News is not advice. Christianity at its foundation isn't a moral program or a prescribed way of living. It is first and foremost the announcement of an event: the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and what God has accomplished in that person/event. Possessing clarity on the core "gospel" message of the Christian tradition is key for Christians if they want to share it faithfully. It is also key because we live from it. What we “do” stems from what God has “done.” Salvation is received, not achieved. This good news changes us and empowers us to live as Jesus' disciples.
Paul has a testimony. You do, too. Think about how you encountered Jesus, and how it changed you.
Lastly, Paul writes that he does not live to please people, but God. Pursue God and God's will first.
On Sunday we’ll take a look at the next chapter, where Paul explains that God justifies us through Christ and that we receive a new status before God on the basis of faith.
Still reading Ron Chernow’s Washington and Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes.
Sights and Sounds
While composing this newsletter I listened to Yo-Yo Ma, Leonidas Kavakos, and Emanuel Ax’s new album, Beethoven for Three: Symphonies Nos. 2 and 5.
I shared a link to my March 2022 playlist.
On the blog: George Truett on doing well, some incredible guitar playing, a Lenten devotional written by members of the Truett community, Oswald Chambers on working out your faith, and Cal Newport on managing time.
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P.S. - My favorite photo from my walk on the ranch.