Saturday, March 27, 2010

Lesson One: Paul's Greeting to the Galatians by Brother Michael Armstrong

,1Paul, an apostle-not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead, - 2and all the brothers who are with me. To the churches of Galatia. 3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ 4 who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father 5 to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (Galatians 1:1-5, ESV)

This greeting is similar to that of other epistles written by the Apostle Paul. There are elements here that are very common for Paul. For example, in many greetings you’ll see Paul write “grace and peace” to his audience. But, out of all the greetings of Paul to the churches, this is probably the shortest and most impersonal of them all. This greeting lacks what is found is his other greetings.

Let’s take a look at one of many of Paul’s greetings to see what is missing:

15 For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, (Ephesians 1:15-17, ESV)

(See also 1 Cor. 1:4-9; Phil 1:3-11; Col. 1:3-8; I Thess. 1:2-10; II Thess. 1:3-4; Philemon 1:4-7)

What we just read in Ephesians is also typical of Paul’s greetings. So, what is missing from the greeting to the churches of Galatia? Notice that there is no mention of thanksgiving. There’s no reference to their great faith. There’s no mention of their hope or the love they have shown to the saints. It is clear from the very beginning of this letter that something is wrong and it has greatly troubled Paul. We’ll see later why he greeted them this way. But, let’s take a deeper look at the greeting, beginning with verse 1.

Verse 1: “Paul, an apostle”

Here, Paul asserts his role as an apostle. In the Greek, the word for apostle, “apostolos”, literally means “one who is sent.” Paul was indicating by asserting his apostleship that he had been commissioned by God and entrusted with the gospel. The Apostles were men chosen and trained by Christ to lay the foundation of the early church. They would act as representatives of God in sharing His completed revelation. Later, Paul affirms that he, too, had been trained by Christ Himself. Paul was compelled to defend his apostleship because the false teachers had evidently raised questions about the legitimacy of his apostleship.

“not from men, nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father”

Paul further defends his call as an apostle by emphasizing that Christ Himself appointed Paul even before he ever met the other apostles (Gal. 1:11-12; 16-19; Acts 9:3-9). Paul did not receive secondhand revelation, but revelation directly from the Lord Jesus Himself.

“who raised him from the dead”

The risen and now ascended Christ Himself had appointed Paul, which qualified Paul as a witness of His resurrection. Remember, when Paul was converted on the road to Damascus, it was Christ who called him out. “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” In order to have been an apostle, Paul must have witnessed the resurrection (Acts 1:22).

Martin Luther wrote this in his commentary on Galatians:

“In this whole epistle, Paul treats of the resurrection of Christ. By His resurrection Christ won the victory over law, sin, flesh, world, devil, death, hell and every evil. And this His victory donated unto us. These many tyrants and enemies of ours may accuse and frighten us, but they dare not condemn us, for Christ, whom God the Father has raised from the dead is our righteousness and our victory.” (Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, 1535)

Verse 2: “and all the brothers who are with me”

This is further support for the gospel of grace that Paul preached. Those with him agree with the gospel he proclaims. Because of this, the Galatians were wrong for accepting the Judaizers’ teaching that demanded circumcision and keeping the law to be saved.

“to the churches of Galatia”

As I mention in the introduction, this most likely refers to the churches of Antioch in Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe, which he founded during his first missionary journey.

Verse 3: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”

Again, this was a typical greeting in his epistles. He wished them grace, which is God’s unmerited favor, and peace, which is God’s positive blessing of well-being. But, even Paul’s typical greeting attacked the very teachings of the Judaizers. If the work of circumcision is needed for salvation, then salvation is not of grace, but works (Ephesians 2:8-9). Works-based salvation cannot ever result in peace because no one will ever be able to tell whether or not they have done enough good works to satisfy God.

Again, Dr. Luther writes:

The greeting of the Apostle is refreshing. Grace remits sin, and peace quiets the conscience. Sin and conscience torment us, but Christ has overcome these fiends now and forever. Only Christians possess this victorious knowledge given from above. These two terms, grace and peace, constitute Christianity. Grace involves the remission of sins, peace and a happy conscience. Sin is not cancelled by lawful living, for no person is able to live up to the Law. The Law reveals guilt, fills the conscience with terror, and drives men to despair…

The Apostle does not wish the Galatians grace and peace from the emperor, or from kings, or from governors, but from God the Father. He wishes them heavenly peace, the kind of which Jesus spoke when He said, “Peace I leave unto you: my peace I give unto you.”

Verse 4: “who gave himself for our sins”

Paul’s theme for this epistle is clear; so clear that it is here at the very beginning that we see it. It is clear that the saving work of Christ on the cross is at the forefront of Paul’s mind. He didn’t say “who received our works.” Paul says instead that Christ gave something for us. Christ gave Himself for our sins. He didn’t give up gold or precious gems. He didn’t offer up a goat or a lamb. No, He became the Lamb of sacrifice. These words “who gave himself for our sins” should shut the mouths of men who claim self-merit. If it were possible for us to obtain salvation by our own merit, then why would the very Son of God need to be given for our sins? Since Christ had to die for our sins in order for us to be saved, it stands to reason that sins cannot be put away by our own efforts.

“to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,”

Not only does Christ save us from our sins, but He also frees us from being slaves of the world. We’ll see later that Paul explains that by wanting to be under the Law, the Galatians are actually staying in bondage to the world, which is the present evil age Paul speaks of.

Again, in this greeting, Paul takes an opportunity to contend that we are not delivered by our own good works, or wisdom or any other thing. We are delivered by the will, pleasure and commandment of the father, to whom Christ was obedient unto death.

Verse 5: “to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen”

In the Reformed tradition, there is a saying that is part of the 5 Solas of the Reformation that is called “Soli Deo Gloria”, which means “For the Glory to God Alone.” I like how the ESV Study Bible commentators put it, so this is where we’ll leave off for today.

"This is not just a formulaic expression but reveals Paul's concern to defend and preserve this central truth of Scripture: that God chose Israel and the church for his own name's sake, redeemed his people in Christ for his praise and glory, and calls believers to declare his majesty in the world. Those who have led the Galatians astray are doing so to "make a good showing in the flesh" (6:12), whereas Paul will conclude the letter by stating that his sole desire is to give all the glory to Christ (6:14)."

Thanks for taking the time to read this lesson today. I know it was a little long, but there's so much to cover. Until next time...

Soli Deo Gloria,

Thanks Michael for letting me post your studies. Stay focused on the Word of God; Jesus Christ our Lord!

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