Day Three Hundred Thirty, Galatians
Paul's letter to the Galatians further addresses the problem that was addressed at the Jerusalem conference, that of Judaizers trying to teach Gentiles that they must be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses in order to be saved. It is definitely one of paul's harsher letters, as he is distressed that the people in the Galatian churches are still buying into this, so he reminds them once again of what their faith in Christ means.
I will try not to be too lengthy in posting the general flow of his letter to the Galatians, but I'll go ahead and forewarn you that I'll have to include portions of the letter, quotes from Paul himself, just because they're too good to leave out. So we'll see how this goes...
Paul starts off expresing his disbelief that these Christians would be deceived by the teaching of the Judaizers. "I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel--which is really no gospel at all." He condemns them, and anyone else who might preach anything other than Jesus, with, "Even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned."
Paul then proceeds toe stablish himself and his authority as an apostle of Jesus Christ. he says, "I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. i did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ." Not only did Paul not get his teaching from the other apostles, in fact, he points out that really, he's had limited contact with most of the other apostles. However, when he did meet with them, they approved of his work among the Gentiles, because they saw that God was working through Paul in preaching to the Gentiles.
Paul begins to explain the problem that is being cause by these Judaizers, who are insisting on people following the law. He says that even Peter and Barnabas were led astray, as they began acting hypocritically, separating themselves from the Gentile Christians. He even says, "When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong."
Then Paul gets into the theological explanation of why what the Judaizers are teaching is so incredibly wrong! He starts by proclaiming that, "We who are Jews by birth and not 'Gentile sinners' know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ...I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing! you foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?" He reminds them that hey received the Spirit of God because of their faith. "Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?...Does God give you His Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe teh law, or because you believe what you heard?"
He then gives them the example of Abraham. He reminds them that God's promise of blessing to Abraham's seed came before the Law. And in the same way that Abraham was counted righteous because of belief, so will his children be considered righteous. "Consider Abraham: 'He believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.' Understand then, that those who believe are Abraham's children." Paul even quotes from the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk, "The righteous will live by faith."
So then, one would question, if God's promises came before the Law, what was the purpose of the law? Paul anticipates some of those types of questions and addresses them in his letter. "Is the law, therefore, oppossed to the promises fo God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe...The law was put in charge to lead us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith."
Because of this faith, Paul explains, we are children of Abraham, we are justified by our faith in Christ, and we are made heirs of God, with Christ. "You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with christ. There is neihter Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise...Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out 'Abba, Father.'"
Paul then gives the Galatians a type of metaphor, in talking about Abraham's seed. Students of the Old Testament will recall that Abraham had two sons. he had a son naturally, by his wife's slave woman Hagar. But the son that he had with his wife Sarah was the son that God had promised to him. Paul makes the case that as Abraham's children, children of the promise, we are children of the free woman. As such, we also have freedom in Christ. "Therefore, brothers, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman. it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey they whole law. You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?...As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!"
As I mentioned in a previous post, I'm one who appreciates the humor in Scripture, adn this right here is one of the best. Did you catch that? Paul's saying that he wishes that those who are insisting on circumcision would go the whole way themselves adn cut the whole thing off! Youch! And yes, although the thought and the irony is humorous, at the same time, that's some incredibly strong language from someone who feels so strongly about the fact that what these people are doing and teaching is wrong!
Seems to me that the tone of Paul's letter now changes, as he winds down. I feel like if he were actually preaching this letter as a sermon, this is the point where he would stop to catch his breath, he'd probably have to wipe some sweat, and calm down a little before continuing with some more instruction about how the members of the church should live: "Live by the Spirit...the acts of the sinful nature are obvious...but the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit."
He gives them instructions on how they should treat each other, watching out for each other's well-being, and doing good to each other. "Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ...Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not beome weary in doing good, for at the proper time, we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers."
However, Paul ends his letter with one last reminder that circumcision and law-keeping do not mean anything in Christ. "Not even those who are circumcised obey the law, yet they wanted you to be circumcised that they may boast about your flesh. May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation."