By Pastor Glenn Pease
A Christian school teacher offered a dollar to the one who could give her the name of the most famous man in history. She wanted them to say Jesus, of course. They all began to shout out names like Washington, Lincoln, Edison, and Columbus, and finally a little Jewish boy said Jesus. When he came up to get his dollar the teacher asked him, "You are a Jewish boy, why did you say Jesus?" He said, "I wanted to say Moses, but business is business."
Paul was under great pressure to choose Moses also as the greatest authority in the realm of religion. The Judaisers demanded it and were accusing him of error in not giving Moses his rightful place. Paul, however, also felt that business was business and his business was to exalt the Living Christ to the place of supreme authority. The issue of authority was crucial to Paul and has been ever since. John R. Stott wrote, "After the question of religion itself, which involves the nature of God's being and activity, the next most vital question is that of authority." It was a key issue in the life of Jesus also. The people heard him gladly because he spoke with authority and not as the scribes.
When Jesus was about to leave this earth he said, "All power in heaven and on earth is given unto me..." The Greek word is exousia which means authority. Jesus is the final and ultimate authority in the universe. It is Paul's goal to see that Christians put Jesus where He belongs, and that is in the place of supreme authority.
Sir Bernard Lovell, Prof. Of Radio Astronomy at the University of Manchester tells of the financial troubles they had in construction of the radio telescope at Jadrell Bank. One of his colleagues said to him jokingly, "Why don't you issue a gramophone record with some strange noises on it and claim that you have received messages from intelligent beings on the planet Mars? The sales would be immense and our financial problems at an end!" Dr Lovell responded that our authority and careers in scientific research would also be at and end." Any authority that cannot hold up under investigation will collapse and that is why any ideas than men to endure has to be supported by unimpeachable authority. That is why Paul begins his letter to the Galatians by stating that his authority is not based on the sand of human sources , bur on the solid rock of the will of Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead.
Paul makes reference to the resurrection of Christ n this first verse, not just because it is a precious truth, but because it is so relevant to the battle he is fighting here. He wants to establish right from the start that there is a great contrast between the authority of those who oppose him and himself. His authority is not the dead letter of the law, but the Living Lord. The Judaisers look to a book, while he looks to the author of the book, and that is the risen Lord who is guiding his people into new light. He has fulfilled the law and now has a new and final revelation for his people.
Paul knew he had an advantage over his opponents because of the Living Christ. They tried to make it sound like he could not be equal with the 12 Apostles because he was not selected by Christ in his earthly ministry. Paul countered that argument by reminding them that he was the only Apostle selected by the risen and ascended Lord. His was the only appointment made directly from heaven. Imagine that your mother left you with a note to shovel the driveway when you get home from school. And as you are getting ready to do it she comes home and says never mind the neighbor is going to do it with his power mower. Would you ignore the living revelation of this change of plans, or would you persist in keeping the letter of the law that you have in print? You would recognize that the note has been made void and obsolete by the living voice of the author of it.
Paul's reference to the risen Christ is not incidental, but is a vital factor in Paul's defense. It is the living authority of Christ as opposed to the dead authority of Moses that is the issue here. The mere claim is not enough in itself, however, for if it was we would be obligated to listen to the authority of all the cults and false teachers who make great claims to authority. Paul goes on and gives evidence to support his claim. This whole letter is an appeal to the minds of the Galatians. Paul is saying "Look at the facts of my life and examine the doctrines that I preach in the light of the way God has worked in history. Then you will see it is nothing short folly to reject the truth that I have brought to you."
Once the authority of Paul was established and the truth of the Gospel of grace was established, then those who followed him did not need to receive their authority directly from Christ. It does not make any difference who preaches the Gospel now, for it is the revelation of God, and even if one does not believe it, if he preaches it there can be results for the kingdom of God. It is the power of God unto salvation, and an atheist could explain the Gospel to someone and they could receive Christ as Savior and have eternal life. The authority of the Gospel no longer depends upon the authority of the people who preach it. It did with Paul, however, and that is why this defense of his authority is such a vital factor in the history of the church. It was a battle that Paul had to win, and we can all thank God that he did.
Paul did not abuse his authority, but took the matter very seriously. When he wrote to the Corinthians on some issues of which he had no direct word from Christ he made it clear that he was only sharing his enlightened convictions, and not speaking with the authority of a spokesman directly from God. Only a man with a very high view of his responsibility as a spokesman for God would call attention to the fact that he did not always speak with equal authority.
Many godly people through the ages have spoken with deep conviction on every subject under the sun. We can respect their convictions, and possibly even agree that they were right in the context of which they spoke. However, the Christian of today cannot rely on the authority of people of the past. The battle of the Reformation was over the issue of the authority of the church and its decisions of the past. The Catholic church took the position that it could never be wrong in its official teaching. This has been a tough view to defend in the light of the folly of the past.
The Reformed position denied that absolute authority of the church. The Westminister Confession states it clearly. "The purest churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error.....all synods or councils since the time of the Apostles, whether general or particular, may err, and may have erred; therefore, they are not to be made the rule of faith or practice, but to be used as a health in both."
It is a hard paradox to accept sometimes, but the fact is, the only way to keep Jesus and His Word as our absolute authority is to be constantly questioning the authority of those who claim to speak for Him. It is a sign of immaturity to never question authority. The child whose parents tell him there is no God, and that religion is of no value, will never be a mature person if he does not question that authority. The child whose parents tell him his church and his denomination has all the truth, and that all others are wrong, will never be a mature Christian if he never rebels against that authority. No Christian is truly mature until they come to the point where they live under the direct authority of the living Christ.
The goal of the Christian home, and the ministry of the church, is to bring people to this point. I don't want my children to believe the Bible is God's Word because I say so, but because they have themselves listened to God speak to them through it. A parent and a pastor is something like the law, which was an instrument or school master to bring people to Christ. The goal is not to get people to believe them, but to believe Christ and submit to His authority. If we do not accomplish this, and send youth off into the world believing only on the basis of the authority of men, they will be tempted to overthrow that authority, for it is not based on their experience with the living Christ. It is based on the experience of others.
A teacher can tell students that Shakespeare is great, but they will leave school and never read Shakespeare again unless they experience the greatness of his writings. So it is with music and every other subject. The student can be told of how wonderful Beethoven is, but they will never really know in a lasting way until they experience the wonder themselves. So it is in our relationship to Christ. He must become for us what He was to Paul, and be a vital living authority in our lives.
The Greek word for authority is exousia which means, "Out of that which is ones very own." Only the Christian who settles the issue of authority can have any authority and assurance. I can be told that God forgives me, but that will not bring peace of mind unless I accept the forgiveness personally. I must enter into the direct authority of God's Word, and not try to live on the basis of indirect authority.
We have spent a lot of time looking a this issue of authority because it was the key issue in the battle Paul is fighting in this letter. It is also a key issue in each of our lives. The only way to avoid becoming a legalist is to keep ever conscious of the fact that the living Christ is our ultimate authority. The philosophy popularize many years ago by Sheldon in his book In His Steps is valid yet today. Keep asking yourself in all the decisions of life, "What would Jesus do?"
There are many moral issues that Christians must struggle with that have no specific answer in the Bible. We are in the same boat Paul was in when the Corinthians asked him about a number of issues concerning marriage problems. In I Cor. 7 he admits he had no specific revelation, so he had to wrestle his way to a conclusion seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In Rom. 14:5 he says of issues like meat offered to idols and observance of special days, "Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind." The point I am trying to drive home is this: When we have no written authority to determine our position, we must come to a decision based on evidence and argument. We must be persuaded in our minds that our conclusion is consistent with the mind of Christ. Only then are we loving God with all our mind, and only then are we acting responsibly under the authority under the living Christ.