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Bible Commentaries

William Barclay's Daily Study Bible
Galatians 1

 

 


Other Authors
Verses 1-24

Chapter 1

THE TRUMPET CALL OF THE GOSPEL (Galatians 1:1-5)

1:1-5 I, Paul, an apostle--and my apostleship was given to me from no human source and through no man's hand, because it came to me direct from Jesus Christ and from God the Father, who raised Jesus from the dead--with all the brothers who are here, write this letter to the Churches of Galatia. May grace and peace be on you from God the Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ, who, because our God and Father willed it so, gave his life for our sins, to rescue us from this present world with all its evil. Glory be to him for ever and ever. Amen.

To the people of Galatia there had come people saying that Paul was not really an apostle and that they need not listen to what he had to say. They based their belittlement on the fact that he had not been one of the original twelve, that, in fact, he had been the most savage of all persecutors of the Church, and that he held, as it were, no official appointment from the leaders of the Church. Paul's answer was not an argument; it was a statement. He owed his apostleship to no man but to a day on the Damascus Road when he had met Jesus Christ face to face. His office and his task had been given him direct from God.

(i) Paul was certain that God had spoken to him. Leslie Weatherhead tells of a boy who decided to become a minister. He was asked when he had come to that decision and he replied that it was after hearing a certain sermon in his school chapel. He was asked the name of the preacher who had wrought such an effect upon him. His answer was, "I do not know the preacher's name; but I know that God spoke to me that day."

In the last analysis no man can make another a minister or a servant of God. Only God himself can do that. The real test of a Christian is not whether or not he has gone through certain ceremonies and taken certain vows; it is, has he seen Christ face to face? An old Jewish priest called Ebed-Tob said of the office which he held, "It was not my father or my mother who installed me in this place, but the arm of the Mighty King gave it to me."

(ii) The real reason for Paul's ability to toil and to suffer was that he was certain his task had been given him by God. He regarded every effort demanded from him as a God-given task.

It is not only men like Paul who have a task from God; to every man God gives his task. It may be one of which all men will know and which history will remember or it may be one of which no one will ever hear; but in either case it is a task for God. Tagore has a poem like this:

"At midnight the would-be ascetic announced:

'This is the time to give up my home and seek for God. Ah,

who has held me so long in delusion here?'

God whispered. 'I,' but the ears of the man were stopped.

With a baby asleep at her breast lay his wife, peacefully

sleeping on one side of the bed.

The man said, 'Who are ye that have fooled me so long?'

The voice said again, 'They are God,' but he heard it not.

The baby cried out in its dream, nestling close to its mother.

God commanded, 'Stop, fool, leave not thy home,' but still he

heard not.

God sighed and complained, 'Why does my servant wander to

seek me, forsaking me'"

Many humble tasks are a divine apostolate. As Burns had it,

To mak'a happy fire-side clime

For weans and wife,

That's the true pathos and sublime

O'human life.

Paul's God-given task was to evangelize a world; to most of us it will simply be to make one or two folk happy in the little circle of those most dear.

Right at the beginning of his letter Paul sums up his wishes and prayers for his friends in two tremendous words.

(i) He wishes them grace. There are two main ideas in this word. The first is that of sheer beauty. The Greek word charis (Greek #5485) means grace in the theological sense, but it always means beauty and charm; and even when theologically used the idea of charm is never far away from it. If the Christian life has grace in it, it must be a lovely thing. Far too often goodness exists without charm and charm without goodness. It is when goodness and charm unite that the work of grace is seen. The second idea is that of undeserved generosity of a gift, which a man never deserved and could never earn, given to him in the generous love of God. When Paul prays for grace on his friends, it is as if he were saying, "May the beauty of the undeserved love of God be on you, so that it will make your life lovely, too."

(ii) He wishes them peace. Paul was a Jew, and the Jewish word shalowm (Hebrew #7965) must have been in his mind, even as he wrote the Greek eirene (Greek #1515). Shalowm (Hebrew #7965) means far more than the mere absence of trouble. It means everything which is to a man's highest good, everything which will make his mind pure, his will resolute and his heart glad. It is that sense of the love and care of God, which, even if his body is tortured, can keep a man's heart serene.

Finally, Paul sums up in one sentence of infinite meaning the heart and the work of Jesus Christ. "He gave himself... to rescue us." (i) The love of Christ is a love which gave and suffered. (ii) The love of Christ is a love which conquered and achieved. In this life the tragedy of love is that it is so often frustrated; but the love of Christ is backed by an infinite power which nothing can frustrate and which can rescue its loved one from the bondage of sin.

THE SLAVE OF CHRIST (Galatians 1:6-10)

1:6-10 I am amazed that you have so quickly deserted him who called you by the grace of Christ, and that you have so soon gone over to a different gospel, a gospel which in point of fact is not another gospel at all. What has really happened is that certain men are upsetting your whole faith and are aiming at reversing the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven were to preach a gospel to you, other than that which you have received, let him be accursed. Is it men's favour I am trying to win, or is it God's? Or am I seeking to curry favour with men? If after all that has happened to me I were still trying to curry favour with men, I would not be bearing the brand; of the slave of Christ.

The basic fact behind this epistle is that Paul's gospel was a gospel of free grace. He believed with all his heart that nothing a man could do could ever earn the love of God; and that therefore all a man could do was fling himself on his mercy in an act of faith. All a man could do was take in wondering gratitude what God offered; the important thing was not what we could do for ourselves but what he had done for us.

It was this gospel of the free grace of God that Paul had preached. After him there came men preaching a Jewish version of Christianity. They declared that, if a man wished to please God, he must be circumcised and then dedicate his life to carrying out all the rules and regulations of the law. Every time a man performed a deed of the law, so they said, that was a credit entry in his account with God. They were teaching that it was necessary for a man to earn the favour of God. To Paul that was utterly impossible.

Paul's opponents declared that he was making religion far too easy and doing so to ingratiate himself with men. In fact that accusation was the reverse of the truth. After all, if religion consists in fulfilling a mass of rules and regulations, it is, at least theoretically, possible to satisfy its demands; but Paul is holding up the Cross and saying, "God loved you like that." Religion becomes a matter, not of satisfying the claims of law, but of trying to meet the obligation of love. A man can satisfy the claims of law, for they have strict and statutory limits; but he can never satisfy the claims of love, for if he gave his loved one the sun, the moon and the stars he still would be left feeling that that was an offering far too small. But all that Paul's Jewish opponents could see was that he had declared that circumcision was no longer necessary and the law no longer relevant.

Paul denied that he was trying to ingratiate himself with men. It was not men he was serving; it was God. It made no difference to him what men said or thought about him; his master was God. And then he brought forward an unanswerable argument. "if," he said, "I were trying to curry favour with men I would not be the slave of Christ." What is in his mind is this--the slave had his master's name and sign stamped on him with a red-hot branding iron; he himself bore on his body the marks of his sufferings, the brand of the slavery of Christ. "If," he said, "I were out to curry favour with men would I have these scars on my body?" The fact that he was marked as he was was the final proof that his aim was to serve Christ and not to please men.

John Gunther tells us of the very early communists in Russia. Many of them had been in prison under the Czarist regime and bore on their bodies the physical marks of what they had suffered; and he tells us that, so far from being ashamed of the marks which disfigured them, they were their greatest pride. We may be convinced that they were misguided and misguiding, but we can not doubt the genuineness of their allegiance to the communist cause.

It is when men see that we are prepared to suffer for the faith which we say we hold that they begin to believe that we really hold it. If our faith costs us nothing, men will value it at nothing.

THE ARRESTING HAND OF GOD (Galatians 1:11-17)

1:11-17 As for the gospel that has been preached by me, I want you to know, brothers, that it rests on no human foundation. for, neither did I receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but it came to me through direct revelation from Jesus Christ. If you want proof of that you heard of the kind of life I once lived when I practised the Jewish faith, a life in which I persecuted the Church of God beyond all bounds and devastated it. I was making strides in the Jewish faith beyond many of my contemporaries in my nation, for I was zealous to excess for the traditions of my fathers. It was then that God who had set me apart for a special task before I was born, and who called me through his grace, decided to reveal his Son through me. that I might tell the good news of him amongst the Gentiles. Thereupon I did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was; but I went away to Arabia; and then I went back again to Damascus.

It was Paul's contention that the gospel he preached was no second-hand tale; it had come to him direct from God. That was a big claim to make and it demanded some kind of proof. For that proof Paul had the courage to point to himself and to the radical change in his own life.

(i) He had been a fanatic for the law; and now the dominant centre of his life was grace. This man, who had with passionate intensity tried to earn God's favour, was now content in humble faith to take what he lovingly offered. He had ceased to glory in what he could do for himself; and had begun to glory in what God had done for him.

(ii) He had been the arch-persecutor of the Church. He had "devastated" the Church. The word he uses is the word for utterly sacking a city. He had tried to make a scorched earth of the Church and now his one aim, for which he was prepared to spend himself even to death, was to spread that same Church over all the world.

Every effect must have an adequate cause. When a man is proceeding headlong in one direction and suddenly turns and proceeds headlong in the opposite direction; when he suddenly reverses all his values so that his life turns upside down; some explanation is required. For Paul the explanation was the direct intervention of God. He had laid his hand on his shoulder and arrested him in mid-career. "That," said Paul, "is the kind of effect which only God could produce." It is a notable thing about Paul that he is not afraid to recount the record of his own shame in order to show God's power.

He has two things to say about that intervention.

(i) It was no unpremeditated thing; it was in God's eternal plan. A. J. Gossip tells how Alexander Whyte preached the sermon when he was ordained to his first charge. Whyte's message was that all through time and eternity God had been preparing this man for this congregation and this congregation for this man and, prompt to the minute, he had brought them together.

God sends every man into the world with a part to play in his purpose. It may be a big part or it may be a small part. It may be to do something of which the whole world will know or something of which only a few will ever know. Epictetus 2: 16 says, "Have courage to look up to God and to say, 'Deal with me as thou wilt from now on. I am as one with thee; I am thine; I flinch from nothing so long as thou dost think that it is good. Lead me where thou wilt; put on me what raiment thou wilt. Wouldst thou have me hold office, or eschew it, stay or fly, be rich or poor? For all this I will defend thee before men.'" If a pagan philosopher could give himself so wholly to a God whom he knew so dimly, how much more should we!

(ii) Paul knew himself to be chosen for a task. He thought of himself as chosen not for honour but for service, not for ease but for battles. It is for the hardest campaigns that the general chooses his best soldiers and for the hardest studies that the teacher chooses his best students. Paul knew that he had been saved to serve.

THE WAY OF THE CHOSEN (Galatians 1:18-24)

1:18-25 Then, three years after that, I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and I stayed with him a fortnight. I saw no other apostle except James, the Lord's brother. As for what I am writing to you--before God I am not lying. Then I went to the districts of Syria and Cilicia. But I remained personally unknown to the Churches of Judaea which are in Christ. The only thing they knew about me was that they were hearing the news--our one-time persecutor is preaching the faith which once he tried to devastate and they found in me cause to glorify God.

When we look at this passage alongside the last section of the preceding one we see just what Paul did when the hand of God arrested him.

(i) First, he went away to Arabia. He went away to be alone and for two reasons. First, he had to think out this tremendous thing that had happened to him. Second, he had to speak with God before he spoke to men.

There are so few who will take the time to face themselves and to face God; and how can a man meet the temptations, stresses and strains of life unless he has thought things out and thought them through?

(ii) Second, he went back to Damascus. That was a courageous thing to do. He had been on the way to Damascus to wipe out the Church when God arrested him and all Damascus knew that. He went back at once to bear his testimony to the people who knew best what he had been.

Kipling has a famous poem called Mulholland's Vow. Mulholland was a cattle-man on a ship. A storm broke out and in the storm the steers broke loose, Mulholland made a bargain with God that, if he saved him from the plunging horns and hooves, he would serve him from that time on. When he got safely to land he proposed to keep his part of the bargain; but his idea was to preach religion where no one knew him. Then came God's command, "Back you go to the cattle-boats and preach my gospel there." God sent him back to the place that he knew and that knew him. Our Christian witness.. like our Christian charity, must begin at home.

(iii) Third, Paul went to Jerusalem. Again he took his life in his hands. His former friends, the Jews, would be out for his blood, because to them he was a renegade. His former victims, the Christians, might well ostracize him, unable to believe that he was a changed man.

Paul had the courage to face his past. We never really get away from our past by running away from it. We can deal with it only by facing it and defeating it.

(iv) Fourth, Paul went to Syria and Cilicia. It was there that Tarsus was. It was there that he had been brought up. There were the friends of his boyhood and his youth. Again he chose the hard way. They would no doubt regard him as quite mad; they would meet him with anger, and, worse, with mockery. But he was quite prepared to be regarded as a fool for the sake of Christ.

In these verses Paul was seeking to defend and prove the independence of his gospel. He got it from no man; he got it from God. He consulted no man; he consulted God. But as he wrote he unconsciously delineated himself as the man who had the courage to witness to his change and preach his gospel in the hardest places of all.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)

 


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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Barclay, William. "Commentary on Galatians 1:4". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/galatians-1.html. 1956-1959.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, October 23rd, 2020
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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