Galatians is the first letter that the Apostle Paul wrote to a group of Christian churches. His concern was that these young churches not be confused or misled by ideas that would distort the truth about who Jesus is and how God wants to be reconciled to us through Jesus.
First off, we should recognize that Paul was a complex thinker. Sometimes his sentences seem to have trouble containing everything he wants to say, resulting in a long chain of ideas that can make it tough to figure out what he's getting at. We'll try to break down some of those longer sentences, when it seems appropriate, so we can get a better grip on what Paul is talking about.
Second, you may notice that some "churchy words" begin to pop up as we look at the letters of the New Testament. By "churchy words" we mean words that you don't really use in common conversation with your buddies at the comic book store, but that seem to come up now and then in a Bible class or around other Christians. We'll try to define those as we encounter them, which leads to this week's vocab round-up:
Jesus chose to call his twelve close disciples apostles (Luke 6:13) which means "one sent" or "ambassador". It was a distinctive word not used much in the classical Greek language, and so it functioned well as an official title. This term was primarily reserved for those who actually encountered and were "sent out by" Christ after his resurrection. They represented him and spoke on his behalf, and so had a unique authority in the New Testament time period.
Although throughout the Bible this word has a variety of specific meanings, in general it means "undeserved favor". Grace is something good given without being earned. If we have anything good that we enjoy in life, whether or not we are Christians, it is ultimately because of the "grace" of God. We don't deserve it, but God has given it to us because he loves us.
From the Greek word- Euaggelion, meaning "Good News". Paul used this word specifically to refer to the death, burial and resurrection of Christ and the interpretation of these facts. The Gospel is the basic truth of who Jesus is, what he did for us, and what it means for us now and forever.
The Galatians had been confused by a local philosophy that distorted the gospel that Paul had explained to them. He makes the point in verse 7 that there is no alternative "good news" that can be accepted as an euqally valid option. There is only ONE version of the truth that's actually true! He's so emphatic about this that he says, "But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed."(verse 8)
To our modern ears, Paul isn't coming across as very "tolerant", is he? The truth is, he couldn't afford to practice that brand of tolerance. He knew he was an "apostle" and had the responsibility of speaking on behalf of God himself! So when it came down to it, Paul was much more interested in getting along with God than with people. (verse 10)
Paul spends the rest of the chapter explaining his credentials, making it clear that he was not a "wannabe" apostle. He was given his mission directly by Jesus Christ. Paul's "origin story" is still amazing evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. This man Paul, who had it made in his own religious community, had status and a quickly advancing career, threw it all away to join the cause he was trying to shut down, and in return he became an outcast whose life remained in danger until he was finally executed for his faith. How can we explain his story, and so many others like it in the New Testament, without acknowledging the miraculous?
God has the ability, as he's shown throughout history, to tranform our lives and do incredible things though us. Paul knew first-hand the transforming power of Jesus, so he wan't ready to let the Galatians toss it aside so quickly. We'll see in the coming weeks how Paul urges them to focus on the truth and not get caught up in cultural or religious traditions and philosophies.
Next Week: Paul vs. Peter!
Next Week: Paul vs. Peter!
Coffee House Question:
Although we've given a definition here, what typically comes to your mind when you think of the word: Gospel?