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The letter to the Galatians is a unique letter in several ways. For instance it is the only letter which is written to a group of churches. It is not exactly clear if these churches were in North-Galatia or in South-Galatia. To me, it seems most likely that these churches were in South-Galatia because there were a number of well-known cities such as Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe. You can read about these cities in the Acts 13 and 14. Paul had been there preaching the gospel.
The letter is also unique because of the cool tone and the powerful language Paul uses. After a short, necessary introduction he starts directly to denounce the evil for which the Galatians had opened their minds. In other letters he always starts with a word of appreciation for the good that was present; only after that he starts writing about the wrong. He doesn’t do that with the Galatians but cuts straight to the point. He’s in a rush. That has to do with the reason of his writing. What was going on?
In the churches in Galatia people had come who said that the believers should be circumcised and that they had to keep the law. These people also said that Paul was not a real apostle. The serious point was not that these people were there. Such people have always been there and they still exist today. But the worst part is that their false message was accepted by the Galatian believers. It is a serious matter that such people, with such a false message, still find their way into the church today. That’s why this letter is still very relevant, even today. Perhaps you're not yet aware of the depravity of this doctrine that these people bring. Even the Galatians weren’t. But the further we get into our examination of this letter the clearer it will be for you.
A good way to help you understand Paul’s attitude, is a comparison between this letter to the Galatians and two of the previous letters he wrote. I refer to the letter to the Romans and the first letter to the Corinthians. I assume that you have already studied these letters a little. So it will sound familiar to you if I say that Paul in his letter to the Romans, so the believers in Rome, wrote about the gospel as the only possible way for a sinner to be justified before God. The sinner is justified through faith.
In the letter to the Galatians Paul also writes about justification through faith. The difference is that he writes this letter to believers who were inclined to rob this tremendous truth of its power and blessing by introducing again the law in their lives. Whoever does this, affects the perfection of the work of Christ. In an impassioned plea Paul writes in this letter a crystal clear defense of being justified through faith alone, without works of law. He demonstrates in an unquestionable way how faith and law exclude each other completely as the means to be justified before God. Therefore the letter to the Galatians is a very impressive and essential complement to the letter to the Romans.
If we compare the letter to the Galatians with the one that is written to the Corinthians, something else will become clear. The church in Corinth was not what you would call a model church. Okay, it was an example, but one as a church should not be. In his letter to them Paul needed to mention many cases that were unacceptable and he had to exhort them about it. They even tolerated a sin you couldn’t even find among the Gentiles. Still Paul wasn’t as sharp in that letter as he is in the one he wrote to the Galatians.
In Corinth the mistake was mainly in the behavior of the Corinthians. They lived very carelessly; they had not yet judged all their heathen practices. Their thoughts about a practical Christian life were not sufficiently formed by the knowledge of God’s thoughts. In his letter to them Paul does his utmost to correct this. Their sinful practice was totally unacceptable, but you still find that Paul is willing to give them time to change these things. He even starts his letter with blessings and thanksgiving.
For the Galatians he has a very short blessing and not even a thanksgiving. The reason is that the Galatians had opened their minds to another gospel than the gospel of Christ that he had preached to them and that they had accepted. This other gospel was a mixture of faith and keeping the law and it meant a flagrant violation of the perfect work of Christ. Christ and His work were at stake. That’s why he uses such a cool tone in this letter and he lets them hear the powerful protest.
We are much more quickly convinced of the wrong practices found with the Corinthians, than we are of the wrong doctrine that found acceptance with the Galatians. Paul wasn’t. We may be thankful to God that He led His servant Paul to write this letter. Because of this, we are able today to judge the evil for its true content and deal with it in the way God wants.
Division of the letter
1. Galatians 1:1-5 | Introduction
2. Galatians 1:6-2:21 | The historical part
In this part Paul explains the source of the gospel he preached, his call and his relationship to the brothers in Jerusalem and to Peter.
3. Galatians 3:1-4:31 | The doctrinal part
In this part he explains the difference between justification through faith and justification through the law; he also clarifies the meaning of the law.
4. Galatians 5:1-6:10 | The practical part
This part is about the characteristics of the new life and how that becomes visible in the daily life of the believer.
5. Galatians 6:11-18 | Epilogue
Greeting and Blessing
Galatians 1:1. Paul begins with an extensive emphasis on and defense of his apostleship. In the former part I have already said that there were some people who wanted to undermine his apostleship. That really was smart, because, if the Galatian believers started to doubt his apostleship, they would also start doubting the message he had brought. For instance, they said that Paul was not a real apostle because he did not belong to the twelve apostles who were with the Lord Jesus on earth. Therefore Paul states very clearly how it is with his apostleship.
In fact Paul’s apostleship is a higher one than that of the twelve. The twelve were called by the Lord Jesus to be His apostles when He was on earth; but He called Paul to be an apostle when He was in heaven. The source, the origin of his apostleship was not on earth, but in heaven. That is what Paul means when he says “not from men”. In Acts 9 you can read how that happened.
But he adds something: “Nor through the agency man.” What he means by that is, after being called by the Lord, he was not appointed by any man to be an apostle nor officially confirmed in his apostleship. People had nothing at all to do with his call and confirmation as an apostle – it all happened “through Jesus Christ and God the Father”.
So in the first verse he immediately emphasizes the independency of his service to any men. What Paul says of himself here implies an important point. Every believer has received a gift of the glorified Lord (Ephesians 4:7). The habit that has taken root in almost the whole of Christianity to appoint people in an official or unofficial way in the service of any gift or to send them out, is against the instructions the Scripture gives here.
In these five introductory verses the Lord Jesus and the Father together are mentioned three times. In this is shown the Divinity of Christ and His being one with the Father. But They are clearly distinguished in Their work. The first time (in Galatians 1:1) you see that the Lord Jesus died and that the Father raised Him. The addition “who raised Him from the dead“, emphasizes again that we have to do with an accomplished work of redemption accepted by God. When the law regains a place in the life of a Christian, it indicates a denial of God’s work of redemption.
Galatians 1:2. There is something else they put at stake. Paul doesn’t stand alone in defending the truth. A number of brothers who are with him completely agree with him. It had to become clear to the Galatian believers that by opening their minds to this deceit they were denying the common faith of the saints.
Galatians 1:3. On the whole it is becoming clear from the start how serious the situation was in the churches in Galatia. The wish of the apostle that they should receive “grace” and “peace” is also found in other letters. But here that wish is the more important because grace is clearly opposite to the law and peace is clearly opposite to the curse of the law. In this wish the Lord Jesus and the Father are mentioned the second time, only in the reverse order. Grace and peace is only found in Them (and not in the law). They are the source. In Galatians 1:1 the emphasis is on the Father; now the emphasis is on what the Son did.
Galatians 1:4. It’s touching to see how Paul makes himself one with the Galatians when he says that the Lord Jesus gave Himself for our sins. He doesn’t say your sins or my sins. Above all it is touching that the Lord Jesus gave nothing less than “Himself”. Only He and His work are able to direct the hearts of wandering believers to the right goal.
Our sins are gone. But that is not the only thing. His work didn’t only have the goal of saving us from our sins – however great that might be – He also wanted to “rescue us from this present evil age”. ‘Evil age’ means: all evil influences and inclinations which are present in this world and by which satan keeps people under his control.
Among God’s children there is far too little awareness of the radical separation between the believer and the world in which he lives. This radical separation is the result of what the Lord Jesus did on the cross. He who opens his heart to something of this world is tearing down the work of Christ. Below in this letter you will see that by reintroducing the law it causes you to behave yourself as if you still belong to this ‘evil age’, while the purpose of the work of the Lord Jesus was to pull you out of it. Every believer who is aware of this will be on his guard that nothing of this influence will be allowed into his life.
Added to this is the fact that the Father wants it this way. In the goal – indicated by the word “that” – of what the Lord Jesus did, you see for a third time the Father and the Son together. The Father wants to have a nation for Himself, a nation that will give Him glory forever and ever. The law – and everything that is associated with it – is completely opposite to this. He who allows the entrance of the law into his life again loses sight of the Father’s will.
Galatians 1:5. So you see how Paul in these first verses has already shown the Galatians the position of the Christian in a most simple way. This position goes from the will of the Father, via the work of the Lord Jesus to the eternal glory. God and the Lord Jesus want us to enjoy that now. Paul links into that and commits himself to it in this letter. The word “amen” at the end of these introductory verses testifies to it. Let us agree wholeheartedly with it.
Now read Galatians 1:1-5 again.
Reflection: What do you learn in these verses about the Father and the Son?
There Is Only One Gospel
Galatians 1:6. Paul is very indignant of the fact that the Galatians are about to accept a false gospel. As is shown by the salutation of other letters it was his habit to start a letter with a few words of praise and thanksgiving. Here that is out of question. The seriousness of the matter orders that he goes straight, without any detours, to the occasion of his letter. It concerned nothing less than abandoning God Himself. God had called them. In that calling they had recognized the grace of Christ. Now people arrived with “a different gospel, which is [really] not another”. Paul was perplexed that they were so easily persuaded and so quick to listen to that gospel.
Galatians 1:7. When he says "a different gospel", he means a gospel that is a mixture of law and grace. This was a gospel other than that which he had preached. Because there is only one gospel, there is no such thing as "a different gospel". A gospel, in which law and grace are brought together and are connected together, is no gospel at all. Anyone who opens his mind to it will be confused. It is a perversion, a falsification of the gospel of Christ and is radically opposed to the gospel he preached.
Galatians 1:8. To reinforce his words and indicate how serious this case was, he even calls out a curse over himself, or over an angel, if he or an angel would bring a different gospel which was contrary to what he had been preaching. It’s not how eloquent the preacher is, or how important or well-known he is, but it is about what he says.
This is still a very important criterion. If you hear someone say something about the Bible, do not be impressed by the person speaking, but listen to what he says. The content of his preaching has to fit with what the Bible says and you have the responsibility to test it. The pure gospel doesn’t tolerate anything alongside it. It is complete, absolute and final. Nothing can be mixed with it and nothing can be added.
Galatians 1:9. Paul reminds them of the gospel they had received, and had accepted once and for all. For the second time and thus more emphatically, he calls out a curse on those who brought this pernicious doctrine. Nothing less than eternal damnation will be the part of him who so affects the work of Christ.
This is not about ignorant and erring ones. It concerns people who consciously teach that man must add his own works to the work of Christ. They didn’t deny the work of Christ, but said that God in Christ had done His part and that the Galatians had to accomplish their part too.
Galatians 1:10. Paul preached a gospel without compromise. He didn’t say things to flatter people in order to win their favor. His only intention was to please God. If his goal was pleasing people, he “would not be a bond-servant of Christ”. Before his conversion he was only pleasing men and wanted to be popular, but being popular and pleasing Christ exclude each other. You'll notice that yourself if you want to share the gospel with someone. Christ was not popular; neither are His followers.
Galatians 1:11. From Galatians 1:11 Paul explains the unique character of his message and his apostleship. In Galatians 1:1 he has already spoken about his apostleship, but now he adds more details. What is striking in Galatians 1:11 is the word “brethren”. It shows that he knows he is still associated with them and that he draws a distinction between the Galatians who are being deceived and the deceivers themselves. This also applies to us! We too can serve a brother or sister only if we are aware of our family ties in faith with him or her.
Paul, prior to showing them the true source of the gospel he preached, mentions three sources which as an origin of the gospel are put aside. First he says that it “is not according to man”. This means that the gospel is not adapted to the natural or carnal man; it also means that it has not risen in the heart of any human being. It shows indeed that it stems from the heart of God.
Galatians 1:12. Secondly, he says: "I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it.” That he did not ‘receive it from man’ means that men did not have any mediating role; they didn’t entrust that gospel to him. Indeed, he received it from God Himself. Thirdly, he was not ‘taught’ by men, which means that no one lectured him this gospel. It is indeed God Himself who showed him the rich content of the gospel. You and I and most other Christians have received it and were taught of it by other men. Paul received it directly from the Lord.
The point here is that the gospel doesn’t come from the area or the environment of men. The good news didn’t originate in the brain of a man. Even Peter hadn’t informed him about it, nor had it originated from the Old Testament. Its true source was “through a revelation of Jesus Christ”. That ‘revelation’ may refer to what happened on his way to Damascus, when the Lord Jesus revealed Himself to him. That ‘revelation’ also may refer to what the Lord Jesus showed him: the content of the gospel. In any case, the glorified Lord is the true source of his gospel. When Paul saw Him, he saw the entire content of the gospel, for Christ is the gospel.
Now read Galatians 1:6-12 again.
Reflection: What assurance do you have that the gospel you have accepted is the only pure gospel?
Paul, a Unique Apostle
In Galatians 1:13 and the following verses Paul proves that his gospel and apostleship do not have a human but a divine source. In Galatians 1:13 he testifies of his hatred against the Christians as a Jew; in Galatians 1:14 he talks about his fanatical zeal as a Jew; in Galatians 1:15-Nehemiah : God enters his life; and in Galatians 1:16-Jeremiah : he stresses that his apostleship is independent of that of the twelve apostles. He says something about his life before, at and after his conversion.
Galatians 1:13. His “former manner of life in Judaism” made him a persecutor and destroyer of the church of God. With this testimony Paul condemns the tendency of the Galatian believers to return to that which had taken Paul on that way. It has always been the case and it still is that a man, who falls back into legalism, becomes a persecutor of one who wants to live by grace.
Galatians 1:14. Behind the terrorist acts of Paul was his fanaticism for the Jewish religion. Even before his conversion he knew that a combination of law and grace is impossible. Then, he was only looking from the side of Judaism and the law. He had a thorough knowledge of Judaism. He knew all of Judaism to which the Galatians wanted to return. It should be clear to his readers, that what a man such as Paul had been before his conversion, he would never be convinced by any other man now that he was teaching something wrong – not even by the apostle Peter.
Galatians 1:15. His conversion could only be the work of God's grace. Therefore we read “when God … was pleased”. God’s intervention in his life had not been sought by him, neither had he deserved it. His salvation came only from God.
Everything he had been before his conversion – his ancestry, education and occupations – it was all in preparation for the special calling which he would receive by God's grace. An excellent example of God's plan is displayed here. God knew what he would do with this man. That does not mean that God wanted the sins of Paul or caused them. God is never the Author of sin. God is above it. He can use someone because of his past for a task that fits with that past. He did this with Paul and He still does this with people today. He also wants to do it with you!
Galatians 1:16. The starting point for Paul's service is the revelation of God's Son in him. It does not say ‘to’ him, but “in” him. This shows the inner and intimate connection that is created at the conversion between the believer and the Lord Jesus and continues to exist thereafter. That connection is reflected in the words Paul heard at his conversion: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4). He persecuted the believers, members of the church of God, but that meant he was essentially persecuting the Head of the church, the Lord Jesus. The Lord Jesus and the church are one.
The name “Son” contains all the richness of the gospel. That name was the subject of his first sermon (Acts 9:20). There is a Person preached, not a doctrine. This Person is the eternal Son. Therefore, the preaching cannot be limited to Israel, but also the nations must hear about Him.
Galatians 1:17. After his conversion Paul did not visit the ‘spiritual top’ in Jerusalem. He sought the loneliness in Arabia, probably a desert, to be alone with God. He wanted to be instructed by God for the ministry he had to exercise. Anyone who wants to serve the Lord needs his or her ‘Arabia’. It was so with Moses, David, Elijah and others in the Bible. This is also true for you. You get your gift and task from the glorified Lord. You will be taught by Him by reading His Word and talking to Him in prayer. If there really is a service of the Lord, the church will recognize that.
As it was with Paul and others in the Bible, it is quite different than going into the service of the Lord after a course at a Bible school or at a theological faculty which is completed with a degree. After his conversion Paul was three years in Arabia and Damascus ‘at school’ with God.
Galatians 1:18-Psalms :. Only after that he goes for a short visit to Jerusalem to see Cephas (i.e. Peter, see John 1:42). Of the other apostles he has only seen James, the Lord’s brother. Everything indicates that recognition, training or a task given by the twelve is out of question.
Galatians 1:20. Now that he is at this point in the story of his life, Paul strongly confirms his story. He does so to emphasize that everything he has told them is the pure truth.
Galatians 1:21. Then he mentions a stay in Syria and Cilicia, where he may have spent ten or more years. He probably mentions this fact to indicate that he spent a long time without having any contact with the apostles in Jerusalem.
Galatians 1:22-Jeremiah :. Neither had he had contact with the Judean “churches …which were in Christ”. These churches had not seen him, but they had heard of the gospel work that he (undoubtedly) had done in Syria and Cilicia. Therefore they glorified God. In this way they agreed that he preached the pure and genuine message of the gospel.
Here, once again, is a lesson for the Galatians (and us): the result of the truth of the gospel is that God is glorified. This is opposite to the result of a gospel that is mixed with the law: by that man is glorified.
I hope that God, rather than us, will be glorified in all things you and I may do for the Lord.
Now read Galatians 1:13-24 again.
Reflection: Revelation and order belong together. In what manner does the Lord show Himself to you, and what is the impact of that on your task?
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Galatians 1". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
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