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INTRODUCTION: PAUL'S CREDENTIALS
Paul writes as an apostle, a sent-one entrusted by God to carry an authoritative message to which Christians must fully bow. "Not from men" (v.1). No human instrumentality was responsible for his gift of apostle: it was a communication directly from God. "Nor through man." This effectively disposes of both man's pretense of conferring gift and of his assumed right to appoint or ordain for ministry. Yet some, while acknowledging that God alone bestows gift as He pleases, still reserve the right to allow the exercise of such gift only when the minister has been ordained or appointed by them. With Paul this would be an interference he could not tolerate, for it is a direct attack on the action and authority of God in directing His work. There is nothing that insists more strongly on subjection to authority than does the grace of God, for it subdues the soul with a confession of personal nothingness, not merely demanding obedience, but supplying the willing motive for submission to the only self- sufficient One.
The question to be met is one of doctrinal evil, not simply the lack of understanding concerning the absolute deliverance accomplished by grace alone, but the avowed claim or doctrine held that the maintenance of one's salvation depends on obedience to law. Thus, though little realized as this, the authority of God is displaced by the authority of law. The conscience, content to be at some distance from God, sets up a standard for conduct that necessarily comes short of the standard of God's character Every latitude then is given for the entrance of deceit and selfishness to regulate the standard, for man will always put his own interpretation on rules for conduct. But there is no mistaking the character of God by one who dwells in His presence.
Hence, Paul's apostleship is not an inheritance of the previous legal dispensation: it is "by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead" (v.1). Not a word here is superfluous. The revelation of God in the person of Christ, manifesting Him as Father, is distinctly a contrast to Judaism which could never bring God into the light. Grace has caused the display of the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, and the resurrection of Christ from among the dead is the introduction of an entirely new order of things. Law did not raise Him: it only put Him to death for our sins, but after that it had absolutely no dominion over Him (Romans 7:1). Law could claim nothing, for its claims have been met in His death. He was "raised from the dead by the glory of the Father" (Romans 6:4), the power that far exceeds that of law, into a position of glory where law has no place, sin has no place, death has no place. Legalism (trying to maintain order by law-keeping) can never consistently acknowledge a resurrection from among the dead, though it may admit a resurrection of the dead. Hence a consistent legalist rejects the resurrection of Christ and consequently the deity of Christ also. It is a dreadful position for anyone to take now that Christ has come. True, it is the attempted mixture of law and grace that is reproved in this epistle, but once the meaning and application of each is clearly understood, both expose the utter inconsistency and actual impossibility of such a mixture. Either we must place ourselves in subjection to Christ or in professed subjection to law: we cannot do both at once: "No one can serve two masters" (Matthew 6:24).
In no other epistle does Paul associate with himself in approval of his message "all the brethren" who were with him (v.2). It is a plain insistence on the urgency of the message: he had the full concurrence of all the brethren. The Galatians could hardly claim the place of brethren unless they also acknowledged the truth of the epistle, for it is addressed to the assemblies of Galatia, a proof of the already widespread grip the evil had gained. It was not simply a matter of a tendency in one assembly, but had affected all in the region of Galatia.
Paul's greeting is nevertheless precious -- one such as law could never give. Grace is a contrast to law in its principle. Peace has been made by the blood of the cross of Christ, after law exposed only strife and enmity. Now, God is known as Father: He was not thus known under law. The Lord Jesus Christ is known as He who "gave Himself for our sins." Law gave nothing: it demanded there should be no sins and condemned the sinner. What a contrast in the Lord Jesus Christ and His one perfect sacrifice that takes away sins! What infinite, undeserved love and grace! It was this love and grace that brought Him down, not any stern requirement of law, but pure grace.
Moreover, His giving Himself for our sins was not with the purpose of improving our condition or circumstances of life in the world. It was not to make us more at ease in enjoying the things of this world, but "that He might deliver us out of this present evil world" (v.4). We are saved not merely from judgment, but for glory, to enjoy the presence of our adorable Lord and Savior forever. Law could tell us how to act in the world, but could not give us an inheritance outside of the world. Only Christ can receive the honor for so marvelous a work.
The source of Christ's energy in this great work was the will of God and our Father. Perfect unselfishness and perfect, active love going out toward sinners was there. More than this, He delighted to do the Father's will. A sense of duty did not impel Him, but a holy, unblemished devotedness to the Father, manifested in submission to, and a deep heartfelt rejoicing in, His will.
In this brief salutation, God is spoken of as Father three times, "to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen" (v.5). How pregnant with meaning is every word: not one shred of glory attaches to man's capabilities or accomplishments. The will of God the Father has triumphed gloriously.
THE GALATIAN'S PERVERSION
The Galatians had before acknowledged the sovereignty of God in the gospel. They had heard the call of God to bring them into the grace of Christ, and at that time the joy of beholding the face of God in Christ had been blessedly manifest in their unfeigned love toward Paul (ch.4:13-15). Well might Paul marvel at their so soon changing to another gospel, which indeed he hastens to insist is not another, but a perversion of the only true gospel (good news) of Christ. His charge is most serious, and he makes no hesitation in it: they were changing from God to this perversion of the gospel. There was likely no thought of such a thing in their minds. They were probably quite sincere in believing they were honoring God in the belief that by means of their obedience to the law of Moses they would maintain their standing before God, that is, keep themselves saved by their good works. Paul exposes it in no uncertain terms. The real effect of the perversion, which he plainly discerns, is to eventually leave God out altogether, and to make the law the basis of blessing. On this basis, if I claim to be obeying the law, this only puffs up my pride. If I have a somewhat honest conscience, I shall be discouraged and bereft of hope because of my inwardly corrupt condition and my failure to obey the Law as I know I should.
God's call had been "into the grace of Christ." If the Galatians sought God's will, let it be Christ before their souls. If one ignores Him, he might engage in any useless speculation as to the means of pleasing God, but only Christ Himself is God's standard for righteousness. Hence, we have here also "the gospel of Christ," not as in Romans, "the gospel of God." It is the same gospel, but in Romans (there being no questioning of its character) it is looked at as coming from God as its source. But Galatians insists upon Christ as the only means, the only One by whom the true gospel can come. That name of perfect holiness and truth casts aside everything that is of the flesh as utter weakness, vanity and evil. Hence, it offends the pride of man, for man's pride is the real secret of every perversion of the gospel.
THE DIVINE WARNING
Little wonder then that we find here the exceedingly solemn, yet deliberate pronouncement, "Even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed." The truth of God allows for no respect of persons. Paul says in effect, "If I myself were to change my message, you would be responsible to refuse me, for I would fall under the curse of God." "Or an angel from heaven!" Is there a claim, a profession of a new revelation from God which throws a different light on the gospel? Let the one who brings it be accursed; for even though such were an angel from heaven, it is not the voice of God! How dreadful a condemnation of Mormonism, Christian Science (falsely so-called) and many other human or satanic inventions that pervert the gospel! Supernatural manifestations are commonly regarded as only coming from God, but even a fallen angel preaching another gospel is immediately the object of the curse of God. Satanic power is supernatural too.
Are there those who question the seriousness of that which is here said? Well, the Spirit of God, through Paul, repeats this solemn warning, not in the exaggerated fervor of an excited imagination, but in the cool, firm deliberation of a heart and conscience that bows to, and is persuaded by, the truth. In his first warning, Paul associates himself with the brethren with him; in the second, his pronouncement Is sealed with his apostolic authority, unmistakably, decidedly.
Paul didn't seek to satisfy people, but God. If pleasing people is made my object in anything, I am certainly not the servant of Christ in that thing. People want the flesh (our sinful nature inherited from Adam) pampered, but nothing less than the judgment of the flesh can satisfy God. Paul would not intentionally attempt to displease anyone, for that would be equally wrong. But the eternal glory of God, the exaltation of Christ as infinitely above all others, must be paramount to one called as a servant of God.
THE GOSPEL AND ITS MESSENGER SENT BY GOD
The gospel that Paul preached, he categorically assures the Galatians, is not according to man. Indeed, it is entirely contrary to human thoughts naturally, for it emanates from One whose thoughts are, compared with man's, as high as the heavens are above the earth (Isaiah 55:8-9). There can be no room for speculation as to it. We are shut up to the absolute and full truth of the declared Word of God and must receive it at its face value if we are to receive blessing. Paul didn't learn the gospel by the agency of man, neither was he taught it. Many plausible religious schemes can be composed by clever innovation and drilled into people's intellects until they are thoroughly saturated with it, so as to hotly defend it and contend for it against every protest. Would the Galatians accuse Paul of this? The gospel had not been taught to him. When it is a matter of one's relationship to God, it is no use teaching the flesh. Paul had been given a direct revelation from Jesus Christ. He declares it. Indeed, in his declaration, there is much teaching, but in no case does Paul appeal to the flesh to recognize it, for it is impossible to be understood by the flesh. In fact, admonition reproof and entreaty are more outstanding than is teaching here. Why so? Simply because the Galatians needed more than teaching. They needed a stirring up that might awaken them to the fact of the Spirit's presence and work, with which the flesh has nothing to do (except to oppose). The flesh will not welcome reproof. But if the Spirit of God dwelt in them, they would pay attention and be awakened to a sense of the truth of Paul's words, and bow to them with thanksgiving.
The Galatians had heard of Paul's former conduct before his conversion, conduct which he then considered an occasion of boasting asPhilippians 3:4-6; Philippians 3:4-6 tells us. He was well-grounded in the principles, ceremonies and traditions of Judaism, having learned with utmost diligence until he was completely imbued with the pharisaic spirit of self-righteousness. But this had so influenced him that, as he says, "I persecuted the church of God beyond measure, and tried to destroy it. And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers " (vs.13-14).
Was it by the same long, determined process of learning that he came to know the gospel? Indeed not! There is an entire reversal of natural sequence here, "But when it pleased God" (v.15). The intervention of divine power in sovereign electing grace and divine revelation, turned all human learning and wisdom to no account, humbling to the dust the most self-righteous of the Pharisees. Moreover, to make the humiliation complete, he found that God had separated him to the purpose of preaching the gospel, from his very birth (v.15). The words constitute an unreserved confession that all the diligent effort to which he had devoted himself for years, his zeal for learning and for loyalty to the Jews' religion, was but an empty (though ignorant) attempt to thwart the purpose of God. His will was actually opposed to that of God, though doubtless persuading himself that the stronger his will, the more pleasing he was to God! Such is the perversity of the flesh.
God's counsel had separated Paul for God from the time he was in his mother's womb: it is God's counsel and God's grace that must be magnified, not human will and human works. Note also the simplicity and brevity with which Paul sums up the character of the whole revelation: "to reveal His Son in me" (v.16). This is the grand point that throws light on every subject. The glory of that living, exalted person at God's right hand was sufficient in Paul's soul to lower every other consideration, including his heart-engrossing religion, to a very insignificant level. This is what gives full character to the gospel, not the acknowledgment and observance of certain rules, regulations, formalities, ordinances and the like, but the knowledge of a Person who has life in Himself, whose very presence is resplendent light and infinite love. This is a living motive and living power, not a lifeless set of rules. The revelation is given by God in His own time, and made operative in Paul's soul and spirit.
However, there must be expression given to this, for a revelation to the soul within must have its manifestation without. Paul is to preach Christ among the nations. But the preaching of Christ must not in the least degree be limited by the consultations of men. "I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus" (vs.16-17). The truth took control of his conscience, mind and heart. It is not necessary and indeed would be unbelief, to rush to some other Christian to confirm a revelation distinctly given by God, or to decide by conference what would be the limits or significance of the revelation. The Spirit of God had taken possession of Paul for the purpose of revealing the gospel of the glory of Christ. He does not allow His Word to be submitted to the approval of any person. The free operation of the Spirit of God is to be unhindered, for God has spoken.
Intuitively he knew that only God could answer the questions of his heart, so after his conversion he turns into Arabia. He learns alone in the desert as many before him had done. Going to Arabia is surely not without design. Indeed, every converted person finds something of this experience. Arabia (which means mixed) is a land typical of the legal covenant (ch.4:24-25), the demand of law which produces no fruit. Hence, one who is saved, desiring to bring forth fruit for God, seeks to accomplish this by obedience to the requirements of the Law. But God's teaching is that the flesh is evil and cannot bear fruit. Scripture bears abundant testimony to this simple truth, but every Christian must learn it experimentally if he is to know its true meaning. It is a natural desire to mix the work of God with the energy of the flesh, more or less to give God part of the credit, but take a good share for self.
Paul returns again to Damascus, which name means silent is the sackcloth weaver. The Law had wrought its proper work, so Paul now recognized its true place. He says elsewhere, "the law entered that the offense might abound" (Romans 5:20); and again, "that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful" (Romans 7:13). Thus the application of the law to anyone only magnifies the enormity of his guilt. Law, because it condemns sin, calls to repentance, or to use figurative language, to sackcloth -- the symbol of mourning on account of sin, which ought to be the exercise of every child of God. But the result is not continued mourning. Mourning is replaced by the joy of having done with self and law altogether, and having the beauty and glory of Christ filling the soul. The sackcloth weaver is silent: he has done his work.
PAUL AT JERUSALEM
According toActs 9:19; Acts 9:19 Paul, immediately following his conversion, "spent some days with the disciples at Damascus," while in the same chapter we are told, "Now after many days were past, the Jews plotted to kill him" (v.23). The "certain days" are evidently those before he left to go into Arabia, but the "many days" apparently include the three years he spent in Arabia. Then he went up to Jerusalem, having been let down the wall of Damascus in a basket (Acts 9:25). Jerusalem means the foundation It was the center of God's dealings with Israel and also the place where the Church of God was originated; indeed, the place where our Lord was crucified. So, if the sackcloth weaver is silent -- the work of plowing up the conscience finished with a realization that there can be no peace in looking for inward change in our nature -- there is also a coming to that place which is the true "foundation of peace." This foundation is the righteousness of God, for "the work of righteousness will be peace, and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever" (Isaiah 32:17). Preeminently then, it is because Christ was crucified there that Jerusalem has such character. His cross is the means by which the righteousness of God is fully told out, for the cross proves Him a just God and yet the Justifier of the one who believes in Jesus. This is indeed the one place where peace is found. Little wonder that Jerusalem is the center of God's dealings with mankind, the place from which blessing will flow out to the whole earth in a coming day, and the place where the Church was formed by the coming of the Spirit of God.
All this is of vital interest to those who value Scripture as the Word of God, for the perfect consistency of its details in the way those details dovetail together causes a believer to bow in adoring worship and admiration of the divine wisdom that is so unmistakably manifest in this magnificent revelation.
At Jerusalem Paul visited Peter for fifteen days, seeing none other of the apostles except James, the Lord's brother. It is remarkable that in fifteen days he saw only two apostles, for the apostles had kept quite close to Jerusalem. But this is a solemn insistence of the fact that it was not by combined conference that any decision was made as to what Paul was to teach or not to teach. Sad it is however that it was necessary for Paul to bind this with a solemn declaration of its truth as before God (v.20). Could they not believe him without such insistence? Had he before proven untrustworthy? His words, "I do not lie" raise a serious issue that demands facing. Why do we so often refuse to believe our brethren who minister the truth of God?
Following his first visit to Jerusalem, Paul turned toward Syria and Cilicia, still not known personally to the assemblies in Judea. In all of this Paul was pressing on the Galatians that there was no imitation of others in his ministry and no dependence on others for his apostleship, but that he was distinctly called by God and given a special message from God. The Judean assemblies received the report that their former persecutor now preached what he had violently opposed, and they glorified God in him. Sweet fruit of the grace of God which mightily wrought in them as well as in him!
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Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Galatians 1". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25