FEBRUARY 11th, 2018 PASTOR DON PIEPER
IN PAUL'S FOOTPRINTS Galatians 1:1-7,11-12/3:1-5, 26-8; 4:5-7
Last week we read of how Paul and Barnabas concluded their first mission trip into Asia Minor by returning to their home church in Antioch of Syria, where, Luke informs us, “they stayed with the believers there for a long time.” (Acts 14:28) How long is not known for sure – but at least a year, maybe as long as three – long enough, to write the first of many epistles or letters Paul would pen.
The first of these is that which we just read, his letter to the churches in Southern Galatia – the first four churches he & Barnabas planted in the cities of Antioch of Pisdia, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe.
Galatians, like most of his letters, is like a glimpse into his private journal, where his travels are revisited, and his thoughts and concerns are shared – kind of like Calvin's journal....
Calvin: I feel I have an obligation to keep a journal of my thoughts.
Calvin: Being a genius, my ideas are naturally more important and interesting than other people's, so I figure the world would benefit from a record of my mental activites.
Hobbes: How philanthropic of you.
Calvin: Well, the world isn't going to get it cheap.
Hobbes: So what are you writing today?
Calvin: I couldn't really think of anything, so I'm drawing some martians attacking Indianpolis.
(The Days Are Just Packed, p. 131)
Yes, well, wasn't that insightful? Paul, on the other hand, doesn't have any trouble thinking of what to write. Atypical of his other letters he opens not with a greeting but by immediately establishing his apostolic authority:“Paul, an apostle, sent not from men but by Jesus Christ and God the Father” (Galatians 1:1)
Apparently some Galatians were questioning his authority so he writes to clarify why he is an apostle, bearing the same authority as the twelve leading the church in Jerusalem: “I want you to know that the gospel I preached isn't something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation directly from Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 1:11-12)
The word, apostolos, was originally a term referring to naval ambassadors, but the early church applied it all 79 times its used to those personally commissioned by Christ as messengers of his gospel.
In response to attacks on his authority and message Paul recounts his conversion in chapter one.
Another reason for his writing the letter, the main reason, shows up in his opening salutation. Instead of opening with a word of praise for his fellow believers as he does in his other letters, even in his correctional letter to the churches in Corinth, Paul begins with a terse salutation to the Galatian Christians. It reminds me of another letter of significant, historical value....
Calvin: As a genius, it's important that I write a lot of letters... After all, my correspondence will
be the basic resource material for historians to reconstruct my life. My writing will provide countless, fascinating insights for biographers.
Hobbes: Such as how all your salutations begin, “Hey boogerbrain”?
Calvin: It's been three weeks and I still haven't received my x-ray glasses! ( p. 135)
Okay, maybe Paul doesn't call them boogerbrains but he does address them at one point as, anoetos - “You foolish Galatians!” (Galatians 3:1) Anoetos doesn't mean foolish as in stupid or ignorant but rather the kind of foolishness in which one fails to use one's powers of perception. It's the kind of foolishness a parent chastises their child for, for doing something in which they know better.
Paul doesn't mince words here. As he puts it, “I am astonished that you are so quickly desert-ing the one who called you by the grace of Christ...” (Galatians 1:6) The Greek here is revealing as well. The Greek word, metatithesthe, translated, deserting, is a colorful term used at times to speak of a reversal of attitude or opinion, or, of a military desertion, a serious crime then as it is now. Paul uses that term very deliberately to show just how serious their attitude reversal is! They're deserting God!
This gets to the heart of the Galatian issue. Paul addresses it on two fronts. First, that of their Galatian gullibility. That is, they're allowing themselves to be fooled. As it reads in the NLT: “You are being fooled by those who deliberately twist the truth concerning Christ.” (Galatians 1:7)
The writing was on the wall during their initial visit..: “Some of the Jews...slandered Paul and argued against whatever he said” in Antioch of Pisdia. (Acts 13:45) And in Iconium: “Some of the Jews spurned God's message and poisoned the minds of the Gentiless against Paul and Barnabas...(and so) the people were divided in their opinion about them.” (Acts 14:2,4) And again, in Lystra: “Some Jews from Antioch and Iconium won the crowds in Lystra to their side.” (Acts 14:19)
So first, Paul points out how gullible they are, to slander and deceit. Second, he addresses the nature of the lie they are so quickly deserting Christ's gospel of grace for – a false gospel, “which is no gospel at all”, as Paul points out. (Galatians 1:7) It's what Paul calls a perverted or false gospel.
In the following chapter, Paul goes right at it, even holding Peter & James accountable: “When I saw that they were not following the truth of the gospel message, I said to Peter in front of all the others, 'Since you, a Jew by birth, have discarded the Jewish laws and are living like a Gentile, why are you now trying to make these Gentiles follow the Jewish traditions? We know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. For if by keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die!” (Galatians 2:14,16, 21)
Peter and Paul later reconcile at the Jerusalem council we'll read about in two weeks but Paul rightly takes issue with this false gospel at loose in Galatia. The perversion of the gospel, Paul suggests, is the greatest threat to the church. As one scholar put it: “The greatest danger facing the church is not its adversaries on the outside, but those who from within seek to change or alter the gospel message.” (James Boice) As Peter himself will later write: “There'll be false teachers among you who'll cleverly teach destructive heresies; many will follow their false teaching and the truth will be slandered.” (2 Peter 2:1-2)
The Galatian confusion won't be the last false gospel to threaten the early church. John's gospel and letters were written to confront another – that of gnosticism, which has returned thru the popularity of new ageism and books like Dan Brown's, The Da Vinci Code. Gnosticism, from the Greek word, gnosis, meaning wisdom, taught that Jesus wasn't divine, he just had divine wisdom. Sophia, Hebrew for wisdom, then was elevated to being the greater god, and was and is worshipped as such.
The false gospel of gnosticism is causing spiritual confusion again today but is only one of several such false gospels threatening the church today!
Another is that of liberal theology. The name, though, is misleading causing many confuse it with liberal politics but many who hold a liberal, political perspective embrace a conservative or ortho-dox read of scripture. A better label would be that of redaction theology as the adherents to this teach-ing tend to embrace a revisional approach to biblical interpretation. I was exposed to this in seminary where a number of stories in places like Genesis, Job, Jonah & the gospels are considered myths.
In one cless, a professor referred to a quote from Jesus in Matthew, and told us, that particular passage we know Jesus actually said. Confused I said that seemed to imply that there were other quotes from Jesus in Matthew that he may not have said, to which he answered, “that's right, Pieper!”
A pastor at Holden Village this past summer said new evidence shows that Jesus wasn't born in the city of Bethlehem and that his virgin birth was a metaphor. That's redactive or revisional theology. Such teachings in our churches, universities and seminaries undermine biblical authority and have become more the norm than the exception, all of which leads down a very slippery slope indeed.
A third false gospel popular these days is the Prosperity Gospel, “a religious belief among some Christians who hold that financial blessing and physical well-being are always the will of God for faithful believers and that faith, positive attitude and donations to religious causes will increase one's wealth. In short, if humans have faith in God, He will deliver security and prosperity.”
It's origins date back to the late 19th century with proponets like Andrew Carnegie, experienced a rebirth with the preaching of TV evangelists like Oral Roberts and Jim Baker in the 1980's and has hit the mainstream as of late thru popular speakers like Kenneth Copeland, Joel Osteen and Paula White.
It is popular in today's affluent cultures and totally absent beyond them. Most reject it for being irresponsible, promoting idolatry and out-right contrary to Scripture, particularly the teachings of Jesus: God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of heaven is theirs!
A 4th false gospel prevalent today doesn't really have a name, but falls under something called American Civil Religion. It's roots are in the idealogy of manifest destiny – that America holds God's unique favor over and against every other nation on earth. Not only is that incredibly arrogant but it's also wholely unbiblical. As Jesus said, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only son...”
(John 3:16) And, “Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations...” (Matt. 28:19) As we've seen, Paul's home church in Antioch was multi-ethnic – Africans, Greeks, Romans, Syrians & Jews...
As our country's become polarized along political lines we tend to articulate certain idealogies that reflect the view that our political party of choice is the Christian party. I've heard prayers on occasion here that reflect that kind of thinking. But if we're not careful we'll let what's ripping this country apart do the same thing here, thereby compromising our witness to those we hope to reach.
Worse yet, we'll become enslaved, as were the Galatian Christians, to a belief that we're better than others because we're more religious, or because of our traditions,....or our politics. But we are not made righteous by anything we do, or by any political position we embrace! We're righteous because of who we have placed our trust in. We're made right with God by what He has done for us in Jesus!
“God sent him to buy our freedom for us who were slaves..., so that He could adopt us as His very own children...” (Galatians 4:5) And if we are his children then we are family, whether we agree in all matters social or political or not, and as family we're to live in harmony with one another.
For there's no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female,(Democrat or Republican) – for you are all one in Christ Jesus! And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, prompting us to cry out, 'Dad', (I am yours! Thank you that I am no longer a slave...but your very own child, and heir to your Kingdom...!)” (Galatians 3:28; 4:6-7)
With His Spirit alive within us, empowering us to do what he did, loving on those around us, including those who are different than us, praying for his healing of broken bodies and wounded souls, to the glory of God and by his power according to his will, we seek to fulfill Jesus' empassioned prayer:
“I pray, Father, that they will all be one, just as you and I are one...! And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me! May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me!” (John 17:21, 23)
Lord, we pray, 'May it be so! Help us make it so! May our unity...be a powerful witness...!'