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A couple of Sundays ago we started a sermon series on Paul’s letter to the Galatians. We’re calling this series, “First Things First”.
Our first message spoke about how we want the Gospel of Jesus to predominate, or reign over, every area of our lives. What this means is that we want to view everything we experience through the forgiveness that we have because of Jesus. First things first means the Gospel is core to our whole thought process.
This morning we continue our series with a second message based on the letter to the Galatians. We call this message: “Go to God’s Word First”.
Now, to begin with, when we read the New Testament, most of the time we’re reading someone else’s mail. These words weren’t written to us. They were written for us. God intended us to read them eventually, and to learn from them, and for our faith to be strengthened by these words. But the words that we’re going to read this morning were originally sent to a group of congregations in the Roman province of Galatia. These first readers lived in a different millennium, and on a different continent. They didn’t live like we do. They had different dreams, different problems, different routines, different histories.
It’s good to keep this in mind when we study any of the letters of the New Testament. When we know who was receiving a letter, and what was going on in that congregation’s life, then we’re better able to understand the thoughts and the ideas contained in any given letter.
So, what had happened in Galatia was this. The apostle Paul had come through the area and had shared the news of Jesus with a bunch of people. This “news of Jesus” is what we call the Gospel.
The Bible tells us that all people are sinners, condemned to suffer hell after this life. But in the Gospel we hear that God’s Son changed our fate when HE suffered for our sins, and died in our place. The Gospel reveals to us that Jesus has declared all people righteous before God, by suffering on the cross. The main take away of the Gospel is – we don’t have to worry about the future. God loves us, and through His Son, He has forgiven our every sin.
A good number of people believed this message in the Roman province of Galatia. Enough people that a number of congregations were formed.
But after Paul moved on to share the Gospel in other places, problems started to crop up. New people started to move in on the Galatian congregations. These new people were undermining the Gospel of Jesus. They were saying that Jesus DIDN’T earn COMPLETE forgiveness for the sinner. They were teaching that we have to perform certain religious rituals and observe certain religious ceremonies to earn COMPLETE forgiveness from God.
In addition to attacking the Gospel and trying to alter it, these new teachers were also attacking Paul.
Have you ever been a witness to tense a conversation where you really didn’t know what the underlying fight was about? You could sense that there was some sort of bad blood between the two people who were arguing, but you could only make out bits and pieces of what this was all about?
We’ve got a little bit of that situation going on here in Galatians. Every once in a while Paul will say something like, “…am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God?”. He says that particular thing in chapter one, as if someone had accused him of just trying to please people by his teachings. There are numerous times in Galatians where Paul says something that appears to be a response to some slander that had been spoken against him. Watch for these phrases that show us how Paul was being discredited.
Galatians 1:11-24 (NASB)
11 For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man.
12 For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
13 For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it;
14 and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions.
15 But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased
16 to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood,
17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus.
18 Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas, and stayed with him fifteen days.
19 But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord’s brother.
20 (Now in what I am writing to you, I assure you before God that I am not lying.)
21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.
22 I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea which were in Christ;
23 but only, they kept hearing, “He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith which he once tried to destroy.”
24 And they were glorifying God because of me.
If we can take Paul’s words here as casting light on what his detractors were saying, then they were saying something like this:
“Paul is actually teaching you guys stuff that he came up with, or that he learned from somebody. Paul’s words are just human ideas. It’d be better to turn to Jews like us who really know the Old Testament in order to understand what God says about salvation. After all, Paul isn’t even a real apostle. He never traveled with Jesus during His ministry. At best Paul absorbed some of the apostles’ teachings in Jerusalem, or maybe from some little Christian fellowship in Judea. But Paul didn’t understand it well enough. Here, let us explain to you where Paul got it wrong. We’ll help you known what things you need to DO in order to be saved.”
Paul had received word about how he was being slandered, and, more importantly how the Gospel was being corrupted. So, he promptly responded.
“Um, no, my Gospel wasn’t something I made up or learned from somebody. As you know, Jesus HIMSELF appeared to me on the road to Damascus and directly revealed His Message of Grace to me.”
“As for those Jewish teachers among you who think they know better than me, do you remember my history in Judaism? I was the super-Pharisee. When it comes to knowing the Judaism, and the Old Testament Scriptures, I think I can hold my own, thank you very much.”
“As for my Gospel begin some kind of second-rate copy that I scammed off the apostles or formed from bits gathered in Judea--I’d been preaching the Gospel quite a while before getting to know the apostles. And, the Judean churches? They didn’t know me personally for even longer!”
And we don’t have to just take Paul’s word for all this. We can read about how the apostles received Paul in the book of Acts. They were scared of Paul at first, but eventually they came to know that Paul had truly been converted by the risen Savior Himself. They gladly recognized him as an equal when they heard his story (Acts 9:26-31). Later on, the apostle Peter even wrote about Paul. Peter wrote…
“15 Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. 16 He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:15-16 NIV).
Peter calls Paul’s writings “Scripture”. That was how Peter saw Paul’s message—as the Spirit inspired Word of God.
One thing we need to remember about Paul, was that he wasn’t a bold and arrogant missionary. We’re told that his first sermon to the Corinthian people was delivered “…in weakness, with much fear and trembling” (1 Corinthians 2:3). Nor was he a power grabber. He didn’t stay in one place longer he needed to in order to establish a fellowship of Christ followers. Then he was off to the next place to share the Gospel with more people. The congregations Paul left didn’t even know for sure if they’d ever see him again.
Obviously, Paul wasn’t some pretentious, money grubbing televangelist. So, why did Paul feel the need to defend his ministry to the Galatians? Because the false teachers in Galatia were only attacking Paul’s ministry in order to get at the Gospel. The corruption of the Gospel was the real goal of Paul’s detractors. Paul had brought the Gospel to the Galatians. If the false teachers could discredit him, they were one step closer to discrediting the Gospel.
Paul’s ministry belonged to the same Savior who had washed Paul clean of all his sins by suffering and dying in his place. Paul wouldn’t just stand there and watch as the soul-saving Gospel was mixed with work-righteousness.
The whole idea that we can earn our way to God is a retread idea. It’s the same old human religion that has been recycled over and over through the centuries, with a million different labels on the same worthless product. But Paul saw it for what it was, the same old I’ll-save-yourself religion. It wasn’t the Gospel. The Gospel says God saved US. It’s DONE. We can be at PEACE as we live our lives to help each other and to glorify the LORD, our Creator.
Look at verse 15 again. Here Paul just lets the truth outshine the lies that were being told. He says…
“…when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood,” (Galatians 1:15-16 NASB).
It’s like Paul is saying,
“So, they say the Gospel is manmade. But that’s not true. God chose me before I was born, and not because of my own goodness, but because of His GRACE. He called me to believe in His Son. And He even sent me to preach about Jesus to the Gentiles. If all this is true, WHY IN THE WORLD would I have sought out MEN to train me up in the Gospel since I already had God as my tutor?!”
The Holy Spirit led Paul and others to write down what God had taught them. So, today we find ourselves in the same situation that Paul was in. We have the revelation of Jesus, not in person like Paul had, but in the Bible.
And the Bible was intended for ordinary people to read! I know sometimes it’s hard to believe, but it’s true. Galatians was originally written in Koine Greek. That’s “common Greek”, the same language that the butcher and the baker down the street would have used in Galatia. The New Testament wasn’t intended for scholars to ponder over in their studies, it was intended for you and me take in hand. To read. To know God’s things. To give us direction, wisdom, hope—all these wrapped around the Son of God’s gift of complete forgiveness for our sins.
We need to take God’s Word into our minds. In Paul’s day there were detractors and false teachers, and there are today too. They use the same methods. Discredit the teacher, dismantle the message. We need to be constantly learning from the Bible, because our faith is constantly under attack.
Paul couldn’t hardly even get out of town before false teachers came into the congregations of Galatia. When you leave this house of worship you’ll be exposed to anti-Christian ideas, lifestyles, and attitudes even before you reach your next destination. And even after you reach your home, the attacks on your faith will continue through all the communication devices of this information age. False teachers and false ideas will fish for your allegiance through television, movies, blogs, etc.
In the Old Testament book of Isaiah, it says…
“19 When someone tells you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? 20 Consult God’s instruction and the testimony of warning. If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn” (Isaiah 8:19-20 NIV).
We may not ask the local palm reader about our future. But when we take man’s word over God’s we’re doing just about the same thing. Instead, let’s do like Isaiah says and go to God’s Word first.
Do you know how the books of the Bible got put together? That was one of the things that I really wanted to know when I got to seminary. I assumed that there was some great counsel that was held where church leaders chose the books that were to be put in the Bible. But when I actually got a chance to study how the books of the Bible were recognized as God’s Word, the truth blew me away. It was much more powerful.
The Holy Spirit lives in the books that He caused to be written. He works through these books to create faith in Christ, and to preserve that faith. But the Holy Spirit does not live and work through books that He didn’t inspire. You won’t find the Holy Spirit’s testimony in the Book of Mormon. You won’t find it in the Koran.
Over the years, Christians received letters from various apostles and teachers. Because the Holy Spirit at work in the books that He inspired, Christians recognized them as the Holy Spirit’s books. Eventually, the line-up of the New Testament had been so secured by individual Christian acceptance, that nobody even thought about it anymore. These were God’s books. Only after that did “mighty” church councils come along and says, “Yes, these are God’s books”.
And because the books of the Bible come from the same Divine Author, they agree with one another.
Now, this isn’t to say there aren’t hard things to understand in them. Thing that seem like contradictions. But if these are the books of God, then if we dig into our questions about them, we’ll find answers. When we have a question about God’s Word, we should go to God’s Word FIRST. Most of the time God will clarify what is said in one section of the Bible, by what He says in another.
When Paul received the Gospel from Jesus Himself, Paul didn’t seek a second opinion. He didn’t seek the apostle’s blessing. He just went and started teaching the message that had given Him peace.
We don’t need a second opinion either. With a solid English translation in hand, we have God’s Word. We don’t need the priest’s blessing, we can start sharing the message that gives us peace.
The Word of God is the power here, especially the message of the Gospel. Let’s go to the Word first in every situation. Today, let’s rededicate ourselves to being ready ahead of time to defend the things we believe in, and give a reason for the hope we have because of Christ.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.