This week at Big Meadow Campground, I am finishing up the first chapter of Galatians.
Paul has spent his time so far in Galatians defending his ministry. His apostleship is under attack, so he started off defending the fact that the Lord called him as an apostle.
Next, he defended the Gospel, calling what the Judaizers who are bringing this attack a perversion of the true Gospel.
As we wrap up chapter 1, Paul now defends his ministry and shows us that the Gospel and his apostleship are so intertwined that to attack one is to attach the other.
First, he tells us that the Gospel he is preaching is not according to man. Obviously, this is a point of attack by his enemies in the Galatian churches. They are telling the churches that Paul is out on an island by himself and that they have the true gospel. Paul disputes this idea by saying that he neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. He goes beyond his salvation experience and says that not only was he saved through a supernatural revelation from Christ, but he learned the Gospel through the same means as well.
Paul gives further proof by reminding them of what kind of man he was before he came to Christ. He tells them that they have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God. Paul was growing and advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries.
God had other plans for him though. These weren’t plans that were new plans or spur of the moment plans. The Lord had set me apart even from my others womb and called me through His grace. Paul’s ministry of being an apostle and proclaiming the Gospel were decided by God, not man, before he was even born.
When God was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, something curious happened. We might have sought out a mentor or someone to disciple us. Paul didn’t . He did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me. Paul keeps hammering away that his Gospel is not from man, but from the Lord Himself.
He went to Arabia and then came back to Damascus. Then three years later, he finally made it to Jerusalem. It seems that he simply relied on the Lord. What did he do? Remember that Paul was on the path to becoming one of the major leaders of the Jews. He was a Hebrew of the Hebrews and a Pharisee. He knew scripture. He must have spent time praying and meditating on that. With the Holy Spirit in his life, that scripture came alive for the first time. He must have seen how it all pointed to Christ.
Paul must have begun preaching and formulating the Gospel based on his new understanding of scripture and the revelation he was receiving from Christ Himself.
Finally, after three years of this, he went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas. He only stayed with him a hair over two weeks. The only other apostle that he saw was James, the Lord’s brother. And there is where Paul draws a line in the sand with the Judaizers. James was the leader of the Jerusalem church. The Judaizers would have come saying they were from James. Paul is in effect saying that James had no problem with me when I went to Jerusalem before. Why is he having a problem with me now?
Finally, he states that he went off proclaiming the Gospel in Syria and Cilicia. He was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea. However, he was knows by reputation. They heard that He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith which he once tried to destroy.
The result? They were glorifying God because of me.
We might read or hear this and say that’s nice, but what does it mean for me today? So what?
1. The revelation of God trumps the teaching of man.
You might say that the Lord has never given you a revelation. If you have a Bible, you have the revelation of God. Read it. Study it. Know it. Compare what preachers and teachers claiming to be from God with it.
2. What have you been set apart to do?
God had a plan for you. It might not be to be a preacher, but no matter what it is, it is to proclaim the Gospel in some way. Are you doing it?
3. Are people glorifying God because of you?
Are you living you life in such a way that people are giving praise and glory to God for you?
Last week I introduced Galatians to the folks that I met with in my campground ministry. This week we move further into the issue that Paul is facing as he writes to the churches he founded in the Galatian region.
In the first five verses, the main issue seemed to be the fact that someone is questioning Paul’s authority and apostleship. In verses 6-10, He takes up another aspect of the issue and, most likely to Paul, a more important one.
Paul states that he is amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him…for a different gospel. Someone or some group has traveled to these churches that Paul founded and loved. They are preaching some sort of gospel to them. There’s just one problem. It’s a different gospel than the one Paul preached. Something is different about it. It is close to the gospel that Paul preached, yet just different enough to not be the real thing. Paul is shocked that they are falling for it. He can’t believe it. He is in shock. And he is not going to just passively let it go. He is going to fight for the truth.
Paul also considers abandoning the gospel he preaches with deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ. This should probably give us a clue about the issue. Paul considers abandoning the true gospel to be abandoning God and Christ. Being one who persecuted those that followed the gospel before his conversion, Paul loves this gospel message that comes directly from the Lord. Quitting it is equivalent to quitting God.
Paul also gives us a hint at what the problem with this gospel is. The Galatian Christians have been called…by the grace of Christ. Paul already seems to be indicating that grace is not at the heart of this gospel that is being preached and taught. He is already laying down the direction he is going.
Paul even goes so far as to say that this gospel is really not another gospel. It is one that is disturbing the Galatians and Paul is upset about it. The people he loves are being affected by these people who want to distort the gospel of Christ.
Paul ups the ante on these false teacher as we look further at the scripture. He says that if anyone preaches a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you then they should be accursed. This is strong wording from Paul. The Greek word is anathema, which means to be cut off. So, Paul is saying that it doesn’t matter if it’s him or an angel, if a different gospel is preached then they should be separated completely from the Lord. It’s not enough that Paul says it once, but he says it again for emphasis. Paul is giving us a strong picture of how he really feels about what is going on in Galatia.
Paul finalizes in verse 1o what the motivation of these men is. He asks if he is seeking the favor of man, or of God? Is he striving to please men? Paul strongly denies this. He says that if he was doing so then he would not be a bond-servant of Christ. His motivation is to please Christ.
Paul indicates that these enemies and false teachers are really trying to please man rather than God. That is the heart of what Paul is telling the Galatians. He is saying that if you abandon the gospel you are abandoning God in an attempt to please man. Paul gives them and us a strong warning to not give up what we believe for something that will cause us ruin.
I’m excited to share a new series with you over the next few months. I have the privilege each summer to preach in a campground ministry. I will be sharing with you basically what my message will be each week.
Today I am preaching Galatians 1:1-5. In the way of introduction, Paul has a problem. The churches of Galatia that he has founded are being led astray by false teachers called Judaizers. They have entered these churches and added the Law to the Gospel. They are telling these people that grace is not enough, but works must be added to receive salvation. Word has gotten back to Paul and he writes this letter. Nothing less that the integrity of what he has proclaimed to them is at stake: the Gospel.
Paul immediately asserts his authority in the opening of this epistle. We can surmise that Paul himself has been called into question by these Judaizers. He states that he is an apostle. Most likely these false teachers have told the Galatians that Paul never witnessed Christ’s ministry or even knew him like the other apostles. You can almost hear them scream the question: What right does Paul have to be an apostle?
Paul contrasts himself and these teachers immediately. He says that his being an apostle has nothing to do with any other person on earth. He says that his apostleship is not from man, nor from any agency of man. Instead it is through Jesus Christ and God the Father. Paul is summarizing the fact that Christ appeared to him on the Damascus Road and appointed him to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles at that point. The Judaizers, on the other hand, came stating that they were representatives of James and the apostles back in Jerusalem.
Paul gives a familiar greeting in verse 3. Grace and peace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. This is a typical greeting from Paul, but it seems to pack an even greater punch in the context of the issues he is facing with the Galatians. In essence, Paul tells the Galatians that the message he brought them, the Gospel he preaches is one of grace. The false teachers is one of Law. The Gospel brings peace into your life. The false Gospel brings turmoil.
Paul continues by summarizing the Gospel. He writes that Christ gave Himself for our sins. In five words, Paul reminds the Galatians that Christ died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins. He wants the Galatians to understand that Christ died in their place so that they could have eternal life. He gets to the heart of the Gospel in that Christ did the work so that they could be right with God.
What is the result of Christ giving himself for their sins? He did this so that He might rescue us from this present evil age. The Judaizers brought a message that Christ, along with the Law, delivered the Galatians from their sinful state. Paul declares that Jesus, with no other help, does this Himself. He rescues us from the state they were in. He delivers them into the kingdom of God. Christ Himself with no help from the Galatians at all.
To further emphasize this, Paul states that Christ does this according to the will of our God and Father. All of the work that Christ has done. The Gospel that Paul preaches. The rescue of everyone that Paul describes. This is done according to the will of God. This is His plan. To alter it in any way to cross the Father Himself.
Finally, Paul states that the Gospel he preaches and the work of Christ is all done for the Father to whom be the glory forevermore. Paul is stating that his message of grace through the Gospel is one that glorifies God. The message that is leading the Galatians astray is one that cannot possibly do this because it includes the work of man in it. Paul’s sole aim in proclaiming the Gospel and founding the churches of Galatia was to glorify God. What is the aim of the Judaizers?
The question we must ask ourselves is so what? False teachers abound in today’s world. Paul’s message is relevant to us as well. We must keep the Gospel close to our hearts and minds in our lives. We must measure the words of anyone claiming to represent the Lord by the truths that Paul preached. Christ has delivered us from the present evil age as well. We cannot afford to be led astray by false teachers and doctrine. We must seek to glorify God in all we do.
What’s your story?
At my church we have times where we get to share Wows with the entire body. It is exciting to hear what the Lord is doing in people’s lives. When we boil it down what we are doing is telling stories of God’s wonder and grace in our lives.
So, what’s your story?
If you read Paul’s letters, you can see his story told in so many different ways. One of my favorites is from Philippians.
Paul was circumcised on the eighth day. He was of Israel. A member of the tribe of Benjamin. He was a Hebrew of the Hebrews. A Pharisee. A persecutor of the church. Blameless according to the Law.
He counted those things loss for the sake of Christ. He valued Christ so much that he considered all things loss. He considered everything else rubbish so that he could gain Christ.
Paul was something special in the world of Israel. He was probably headed to a pretty prominent position. He would have been lauded and carried plenty of power.
He threw it all away. Why?
Because He saw Christ on the Damascus Road and his life was never the same. He measured everything else by that vision of Christ and he found it all lacking. He pursued Christ above all.
That’s Paul’s story.
How about your story? Or mine? Do we really count others things rubbish compared to Christ? Or do we wallow in the trash heap and the waste pile? I know what the answer is in my life.
What are we going to do about it? Are we going to simply continue to pursue earthly treasure in jars of clay? Or are we going to pursue what moth and rust can’t touch?
What’s your story?
I still don’t believe Lance juiced.
I have laughingly tweeted that out a few times lately. I’m being facetious. Honestly, I don’t care.
I followed every Tour de France that Armstrong won. I watched as he destroyed other juiced up cyclists and, as we now know, lied about being juiced himself. I read his biography and concluded that he was a great cyclist and arrogant human being. I pulled for him to win, but would have never wanted him to babysit my children. I really don’t care if he juiced because everyone else in the Tour was juicing as well.
But here’s the thing.
There are people who will make excuses for him because they like him. Hey, Barry Bonds was a Hall of Famer before he ever hit 72 homeruns in a season. Mark McGuire hit 49 during his rookie season when he was a skinny runt. Roger Clemens was a great pitcher in 1986 with the hated Red Sox.
People will stand up for people when they like them. They will demonize those that they don’t.
We see that in the church. If someone you like makes a mistake, you cut them slack. If you don’t, then let’s cut them out of our lives completely.
That shouldn’t be so. We should call a spade a spade.
Did Paul like Mark? I don’t know. But I’m willing to bet that he and Barnabas were good friends. Paul was willing to let his working relationship with Barnabas slide because he didn’t find Mark to be reliable enough to take on a missionary journey. Paul did what he thought was right. Did he agonize over it? Perhaps. But I know that his main concern was proclaiming the gospel. So, Paul and Silas hit the road together. Barnabas and Mark went in another direction. Maybe they all made up because Paul later references Mark in his epistles. I hope they did.
We all have a tendency to cut some slack when personal feelings are involved. Or to write someone off. We don’t need to go to either extreme. Did Paul make a mistake or did Barnabas? I’m not sure. Either way there was some reconciliation later. I’m willing to bet that both sides were willing to compromise some on their position.
Do you ever tend to give someone the benefit of the doubt because you like them? Do you tend to pass judgment quickly when you don’t?
Maybe you are like me. When you were a kid, maybe the smells and aromas of the world were a bit, shall we say, intense? Maybe when some kid got sick in the hallway (was I the only one who had a principal announce to the entire school that someone had upchucked?) Maybe while sitting in the backseat of the car you would be overpowered by the scent of a freshly killed skunk. Maybe you would bury your nose deep into the cushions of the car until you could smell that aroma no longer.
My son, Andrew, had quite the nose when he was a young. He would smell something bad and one thing would come out of his mouth: What’s that smelly???
The funny thing is that as I have gotten older my sense of smell has decreased. Not only that, but the more you are surrounded by a smell, the less you smell it. You might call it olfactory fatigue. The smell just seems to go away.
Is that the way it is with the aroma we give off spiritually? Paul tells that we have two aromas. The first is an aroma of death. This makes sense since we were dead before Christ saved us. We carry this smell of death with us. I think we notice it as children, but the longer we carry it with it, we no longer even notice the smell of death upon us.
However, when Christ rescues us from death, we carry the aroma of life. Life exudes from us. We carry the smell of life. The difference is I don’t think this aroma brings the fatigue of death. People notice it. You smell it. It’s difficult to not notice it.
We all carry an aroma with us. It will be the aroma of life or the aroma of death. Which one are you carrying?
What’s that smelly you are carrying?
I saw Rich Mullins in concert a couple of times before he died. In fact, I was trying to buy tickets to another concert the day he died, but that’s a story for another day.
I loved Rich’s songs. Perhaps even more I loved to hear him talk between songs. He would describe how he was trying to live this life of following Christ. He didn’t preach. He just shared. It was pretty cool.
One of the things I discovered about his life was that he gave control of his finances over to the elders of his church. His source of income was from the songs he wrote and touring. He asked the elders of his church to pay him the average salary of an average American. No more. No less. The rest he wanted donated to the causes he loved, such as the Navajo children of the reservation he moved to so that he could teach music. He was one different cat.
The thing about it is that Rich voluntarily placed himself in submission to the elders of his church. Perhaps you and I would not go to that extreme, but we could all use a good dose of being submissive.
Before we get too far, though, let’s pause to define what I mean by submission. First, I don’t mean others have total control of your life. That is not what I believe Biblical submission is. The submission I am talking about is voluntarily giving up your rights for the betterment of others. We might defer to someone else when we could take the lead. We set aside our own agendas and goals to further the agendas and goals of a larger group. Maybe we let someone else be the leader even though we believe that we could lead as well or better. There are countless ways we could make this happen.
Paul tells us that we should be submissive to each other. Within that framework, wives submit to husbands and husbands love their wives. Children obey parents and parents do not provoke children to anger. Slaves obey their masters and masters treat the slaves well. All of these are ways submission happens. Everyone is in submission to each other. Within that framework, submission should not be a problem since each one is looking out for what is best for the other.
The best model of submission has to be found in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He was equal with the Father, yet lived in submission to Him here on earth. He displayed what submission was like. He made the Father’s agenda His own.
Submission is generally considered an ugly word in the world and sometimes even uglier within the church. Submission has definitely been abused both inside and outside the Church. It’s our job to practice and model true Biblical submission. After all the Son was submissive to the Father.
Have you ever had trouble accepting the idea of submission found in the Bible?
I was having a conversation with someone in my church family the other day. We discussed some of the circumstances leading to us being at this church and he was visibly moved. One thing he said really stood out to me.
He said, “When I had tried to talk to you several times, there was a wall there. I knew something was going on.”
Little did I know that I had created a wall between myself and this person. Did I know something was there? Yes, but not consciously. I stopped and thought about it for a minute and realized that for nine years I had let a wall build between the two of us.
We live near each other and I would see him drive by on a regular basis. Each time the wall grew thicker and taller. I guess Pink Floyd was right, “All in all it’s just another brick in the wall.”
For two months now we have been attending our new church and this person has been there and greeted us warmly. The wall has been chipped at by both us during that time.
That conversation? We both tore down the wall between us. It took both of us making the effort.
That’s part of our job description as followers of Christ.
In Christ’s name, we are to tear the walls down that separate us from each other. Why? Because He tore down the walls that separated us from the Father.
Paul calls it a ministry of reconciliation. Paul emphasizes that God is reconciling man to Himself. Implied in that is that we must be reconciled to each other.
Jesus might have said that if your brother has something against you, then you should be reconciled to him over attempting to worship.
A ministry of reconciliation.
Breaking down those walls.
Do you practice a ministry of reconciliation? Do you try to break down the walls in front of you?
Today I end this mini-series that asked the question, “Who are you?” Specifically the question is who are you in Christ.
On Monday, we explored that Paul described himself as a bondservant of Christ.
Yesterday, we saw that Paul was called as an apostle.
Today, we finish up Romans 1:1 as Paul says that he was set apart for the gospel of God.
First, Paul says that he was set apart. This is the same idea that the word holy comes from. So, in a sense, Paul is saying that he has been made holy for the gospel.
Often when we think of someone being holy we think of someone being a goody two-shoes. That is someone who is simply being good of their own volition. Perhaps they are being good for legalistic reasons. Their behavior is being driven because of what is expected of them.
Not Paul. His behavior is being driven for one reason. He is gospel focused. He is being set apart, or holy, because the gospel is driving his decisions, thoughts and actions.
How does Paul do this? We can see how this is accomplished throughout his epistles. He is filled with the Spirit. He walks in the Spirit. Whatever he does is done for the glory of God.
Paul is focused on Christ. He is focused on the Gospel.
Paul’s identity is tied up in Christ and the Gospel.
How about us? And by us, I mean first and foremost, me.
Are we driven by the Gospel?
Are we driven by Christ?
Do we make Gospel related decision regarding our family? Our finances? Our career?
Are we set apart for the gospel of God?
Who are you?
Yesterday, I suggested that many of us simply do not know who we are. More to the point, many of us who follow Christ do not know who we are in Christ in our lives. Paul gives us a glimpse in the salutations of his letters that he knew exactly who he was. Yesterday, I explored that Paul was a bondservant of Christ, a willing slave to the Lord. Today, I want to discuss his calling.
Paul says that he was called as an apostle. In fact, if we looked deeper into his life, Paul would say that he was set apart before birth to be an apostle of the Gentiles. I find that amazing that, in retrospect, Paul sees that God chose him before he was even born for the task that was before him. What are we to glean from this? God was uniquely interested in each of us before we were born. I don’t think this was simply designated for a few guys like Jeremiah or Paul or anyone else that we think are spiritual superstars.
Dig into what Paul says though. He was called. He had a calling. Yes, it was dramatic. He was knocked off his horse and blinded on the Damascus Road, but he was called nonetheless. A lot of us probably think Paul jumped right into the apostleship game. That’s not correct. It was somewhere in the neighborhood of fourteen years before he ever began his missionary journeys. He spent time away from Jerusalem. He spent time in the local church. He learned. He proved himself. Then the Holy Spirit and the church selected him and Barnabas to hit the road.
We need to realize that we have a calling. We are uniquely gifted. And it may take time to ultimately get to where and what God is calling us to. We could even look at Mark. He failed. He failed Paul and Barnabas. He was to them like Yoko Ono was to the Beatles. Yet later he was fruitful to Paul’s ministry. He wrote a Gospel. It just took time to get to realize his calling.
Finally, he was called to a specific role. He was called to be an apostle. Not many were. Others were called to do other things. Yet Paul did not consider his calling to be higher than anyone else’s. He was still a bondservant of Christ. He simply wanted to fulfill the role that God gave him so that he could glorify Christ.
Who are you?