By Pastor Glenn Pease
Charles Dickens tells of how men react to bad news. Martin Chuzzlewit learns that the 50 acre tract in America in which he had invested all his savings turns out to be a hideous swamp. He sinks into a fever because of his sorrow, but Mark Topley who savings were also sunk in that same swamp refuses to be overpowered by calamity. He gives himself a blow on the chest and says to himself, "Things is looking as bad as they can look, young man. You'll not have such another opportunity for showing your jolly disposition, my fine fellow, as long as you live. And, therefore, now is the time to come out strong, as never!"
This is the very kind of positive thinking that must have gone through Paul's mind when he heard that his investment in the Galatian church was threatened. He had preached his heart out to these people, and now they were ready to forsake their freedom in Christ and enter into the bondage of the law. Paul could have thrown his hands up in despair and given up on the Galatians. He could have layed down and died of grief at his loss and the terrible fickleness of human nature, but instead he said, now is the time to be strong. If ever I spoke with authority to defeat the forces of evil, it must be now or never. Paul did not greet bad news with an attitude of defeat, but with an attitude of determination to never admit defeat. This letter was his weapon, and it has been the primary tool for many a victory since.
Paul must have said I'll never have a greater opportunity to defend the Gospel of grace than this, and so I must come out strong now or never! The first thing Paul does in this letter is to defend his authority as an Apostle. Paul usually just states the fact of his authority, but here he is fighting those who reject his authority, and so we see the letter is different right from the start. We usually skip through Paul's introductions with little attention. Quite often the preface or the introduction is skipped to get right to the body of a book. I use to do it all the time until I realized that the key for a full appreciation of the book is often found in the introduction. Information on the author and his or her background, and what they had in mind in writing the book, can make the book so much more meaningful.
The Bible is often boring to people because its historical setting is not grasped. We cannot see how it relates to our lives because we have not taken the time to understand its original setting and the purpose for which is was written. We must be able to enter into the emotions of Paul's letter and understand what he is doing if we are to appreciate its relevance for today. The best of Bible students have their dry days, however. John Bunyan wrote in his Grace Abounding, "I have sometimes seen more in a line of the Bible then I could well tell how to stand under, and yet at another time the whole Bible has been to me as dry as a stick; or rather my heart has been so dead and dry unto it that I could not conceive the least dram of refreshment, though I looked it all over."
We cannot escape the dry spells of life, but these are of little consequence in our lives if we develop the habit of finding refreshment at the fountain of the Word regularly. One of the ways to add value to Bible study is to get all the information you can on the author and his purpose. We want to do just that with this letter to Galatians. The more we can understand Paul's feelings and intentions the more meaningful this letter will be.
Let's begin with the name Paul. We all know that Paul's name is Saul in the book of Acts when he first appears on the stage of biblical history. After his conversion and his appointment as God's ambassador to the Gentiles he is called Paul. Many have assumed that his name was changed, but the likelihood is that he had both names from birth. This is the conviction of men like J. Gresham Machen and John Brown, who are great scholars on the life of Paul. Their reasoning makes sense. As a Pharisee it was natural for Paul to go by the name of Saul. This was his Jewish name, but when he became Apostle to the Gentiles it was equally natural for him to go by his Roman name of Paul. He was a Roman citizen by birth, and so it is likely that he was given this Roman name at birth. Paul means little or small, and is a name more likely to be given to a little baby than one given to a grown man at the time of his conversion.
God chose this man even before his birth to accomplish the great task of getting the Gospel to the Gentiles, and one of the ways of preparing him was to see that he was born in Tarsus, a great Gentile center, where he would be exposed to the very people and culture he would spend his life reaching. He had his Roman citizenship at birth, and likely also his Gentile name of Paul.
AN APOSTLE. An Apostle is one sent with the authority with the one who sends. There are other words for send in the New Testament, but this word for Apostle stresses that the one sent has the authority of the one who is sending, and is also fully responsible to the sender. In Heb. 3:1 Jesus is called the Apostle and High Priest of our confession. He spoke to us more directly from God than did Moses, and he speaks directly to God on our behalf. The term Apostle carries in it the idea of highest authority. Communication with an Apostle is dealing as direct as possible, unless it be face to face. Jesus bestowed the highest dignity on his Apostles when He said in John 17:18, "As the Father has sent me into the world, so send I you." An Apostle is one who speaks for Christ directly, and with His approval and authority.
Paul says his authority is not for men. He does not waste any time before he gets to the real issues. He begins to defend his authority immediately. He says right off that he is not an Apostle because of human agency, but he has his authority directly from God. You don't go around defending your credentials like this unless someone is attacking them. Paul is making clear he is equal with the twelve Apostles in authority. It is obvious that the Judaisers have tried to undermine Paul's ministry by attacking his authority. They apparently accused him of being a maverick who has gone off on a tangent and whose doctrines threaten to overthrow the foundations of true religion, by which they meant the Old Testament laws.
They could say that Paul was not chosen by Christ as were the other Apostles. They said he received his authority from men. These were very serious charges, and you can see how easy it would have been to get Gentiles to question Paul's authority. Who was he to tell them what God required when others were telling them the law of Moses was their foundation? Paul knows that the cause of Christian liberty in Christ depends upon the Galatians respect for his authority. If they are not convinced that he bears the authority of an ambassador sent directly by God, they will follow those authorities who are coaxing them to submit to the law of Moses.
The first major issue of this letter, therefore, is the issue of authority. Either the Galatians are obligated to obey the revelation that God gave to Moses, or God has given a new revelation of liberty in Christ through the Apostle Paul. Which they follow depends upon their being convinced that Paul is truly God's spokesman, and not just the agent of men who are sponsoring a new approach to religion. There is probably no issue that is more relevant to every age than the issue of authority. Everything we are and believe is based on some authority. The authorities we accept determine what we become.
If we accept the authority of the book of Mormon, we will be Mormons. If we yield to the authority of the Koran, we will be Mohammedan. If we buy into the views of Jehovah Witnesses, we will become one. We are creatures of authority. We do not swallow color liquid by the tablespoon because we have studied its nature. We take it on the authority of others who say it will help a problem. Because this is so, it is very important to determine the validity of any authority. We cannot afford to just accept any authority. We have an obligation to investigate and prove the worth of any authority. Paul makes this clear by the very fact of the existence of this letter. It is in large measure a defense of his authority. He did not just say he was an authority. He had to prove it and demonstrate the validity of his claim to be a spokesman for God.
We take Paul's authority for granted, but the early church did not. They had no New Testament to go by. They had only the Old Testament and Paul was challenging the authority of its laws. That is why he had to show to the Galatians how God worked in his life, and how the truth of the Gospel makes the law obsolete. He had to show by sound argument and historical facts that it was so. He had to show them how his battle for the truth of Christian liberty even won out over the Apostle Peter. This was the kind of evidence that was necessary to convince them that his authority was equal to the Twelve.
Paul is not being proud in this letter when he speaks of the other Apostles as adding nothing to him. If you don't know the great issue behind this letter, you might think that Paul had little respect for the Twelve when he visited them in Jerusalem. In chapter 2 Paul refers to those of repute and in verse 6 says, "What they were makes no difference to me, God shows no partiality." You can only grasp what Paul is doing here when you know that he is defending his authority as an Apostle equal to the other Apostles. God chose him for an unique ministry to the Gentiles just as He chose Peter for a ministry to the Jews. Paul is not being disrespectful, but he is trying to show that the Judaisers are wrong when they deny his authority, and say it is of man. He proves it is of God by showing that the other Apostles had to acknowledge his authority.
All through history the primary battle has been the one over authority. Paul won out and the New Testament became the primary authority for the church. In time there were traditions that came to have an equal place with the Scripture as a source of authority in the church. What the early church fathers believed was quoted as an authoritative guide, and not because it was necessarily biblical, but because of who they were. The church began to substitute the authority of men for the Word of God. The church places men's interpretation of the Word of God on a level equal to the Word itself. This robbed the Word of its authority, and put it into the hands of men.
One of the purposes of the Reformation was to restore the Word of God to its place as the soul authority for faith and practice. Whatever can be demonstrated to be biblical becomes authoritative for the church. Many groups claim to support all kinds of contradictory ideas on Scripture, however, and, therefore, there is no way to escape the need to appeal to reason. We must give sufficient evidence to show that a view is truly the message God has conveyed through His Word. Paul defends his authority by appealing to evidence. The mind must be convinced before any authority can be accepted. Reason is not the ultimate authority, but it is necessary to combine it with the revelation of God.
Our minds must be persuaded concerning any view of Scripture before we can honestly accept a view as the Word of God. We must demand of any interpretation what Paul gives to the Galatians to support his teaching on justification by faith, and that is reasonable evidence which makes it superior to any rival claim. Paul goes into all sorts of arguments to show that faith in Christ alone is all that God requires, and that the law is now obsolete as a means of salvation. He gives the Galatians evidence to satisfy their minds. He knows that the truth can only survive by minds being persuaded that it is in fact the truth.
So often Christians give the impression that the truth of God's Word is different than any other kind of truth, but not so. It must appeal to and persuade the mind before it is believed and submitted to as authority. Several centuries ago Cotton Mather, the great American Puritan, gave this as the Puritan view of the relation of reason and revelation: "The light of reason is the law of God, the voice of reason is the voice of God. We never have to do with reason but at the same time we have to do with God, and our submission to the rules of reason is an obedience to God., As often as I have evident reason set before me let me think upon it. Therein the great God speaks to me."
Paul certainly believe this, even though he knew the mind of fallen man was depraved and its wisdom folly. He urged Christians to let the mind of Christ be in them and to be transformed by the renewing of their minds, for it is the mind that he appeals to all along in defending his authority. He calls them foolish for not seeing the obvious evidence of the truth of the Gospel. He goes to great length to make it clear to them that God has demonstrated in his life the truth of the Gospel he preaches. Evidence and argument is what this letter is all about. He spent his life in debate and argument proving that Jesus was the Messiah and that we are saved by faith in Him.
What does this mean for us today? It means that the power of persuasion is the greatest power their is for the capturing of men's minds. Men will accept as their authority for life that which has enough evidence to persuade them that it is God's Word to them. Christians who are truly concerned about the truth will be open to new light, and be ever in search for more evidence to support his convictions. No Christian can have a valid reason to oppose scholarship and the search for more light to give us a better understanding of the Word of God. It is not the Bible only that is the Word of God, but the Bible rightly interpreted and understood. Many texts of the Bible are used to teach error and even heresy.
Paul got his revelation direct from God, but it comes to us through the agency of men. His Greek letters have had to come to us by means of men who put it into English. In a day of many translations we need to recognize that none of them are the final authority. We need to study all that the Bible says on an issue and not just take any text and build our theology on that. We need to examine all the evidence and be fully persuaded in our minds that a certain teaching is the Word of God. If opinions differ, then we need to weigh the evidence for the different views and choose that which is most reasonable and which has the most evidence to support it. We are in the same boat as the Galatians who had to weight Paul's reasons for his authority. This is part of what it means to be loving God with all or our minds.