3rd Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Galatians 1:11-24 Sermon
June 19, 2004
HYMNS (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
524 "Saviour Like a Shepherd Lead Us"
519 "O God of Bethel, By Whose Hand"
541 "Rise Up, O Men of God"
576 "Abide With Me"
THE OBSTACLE OF A BAD REPUTATION
Text: (vs. 11-13; 15-16) “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. For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the Church of God and tried to destroy it. But when God, who set me apart from [my mother’s womb] and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man.”
When I was in college, we had daily chapel services. One day, one of our deans, the Rev. Dr. William Kessel was speaking. He always had some gems of wisdom to share with our student body.
One day, he told the story about an experience regarding a young female honor roll student who was the victim of some rather nasty gossip.
This young lady had a job, which required a certain amount of manual labor. She had returned to the dorm after work. She took a shower and went to her room. Since she was still a bit stiff and sore, she asked her room mate if she would rub some lotion on her sore back.
Her room mate gladly obliged. So this young lady lay face-down on her bed while her room mate did this.
This young lady made the mistake of leaving the door to her room open. After all they weren’t doing anything wrong. But a couple of other girls happened to walk by and saw what was going on.
It didn’t take long before the rumor spread through the whole college that this young girl and her room mate were lesbian lovers. And in a small Lutheran college in Minnesota, this type of thing was really scandalous.
Dr. Kessel got involved in this, because this young lady was so distraught that she had decided to commit suicide. Fortunately Dr. Kessel was able to intervene to prevent this tragedy from happening.
Here was a young, attractive, intelligent, innocent young lady who almost ended her life--and why? It was all because of some stupid rumor that two thoughtless students started by their own imaginations.
I’m sure we all can think of instances where a damaged reputation has been a huge obstacle in someone’s life.
The apostle Paul was no stranger to this. Paul’s reputation had been badly damaged amongst the people in Galatia. What was at stake was not just Paul’s reputation, but the gospel of Jesus Christ. This had to be rectified, and fast.
How could something like this have happened? Galatia, this narrow little country in the middle of Asia Minor, or Turkey had become the melting pot of the Phrygians, Celts, Greeks, Romans, and finally some Jewish settlements. It was the people of these Jewish settlements that were the particular problem.
Evidently, there were factions of the Jews that had accepted Jesus as the promised Messiah of the Old Testament; but to them Jesus was not the Saviour from sin. For them, Jesus did not mean the end to the Old Testament ceremonial laws—he was just some sort of earthly Messiah. These Jews didn’t have a grasp on Christianity at all.
These Jewish immigrants came into the country after Paul had left. They heard what Paul had been preaching; and since the message of the gospel of Jesus didn’t fit in with their religious system, they sought to discredit him.
So what bad things were they saying? Paul addresses this in verses 13 and 14 of our text: “For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the Church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age, and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.”
Paul (or Saul of Tarsus as he was known amongst the Jews) was no stranger to these Jewish people who came into Galatia after Paul had left. They knew him well. They knew that he had whole-heartedly participated in the stoning death of Stephen, the first Christian Martyr. He was extremely zealous for the faith and traditions of the Old Testament Jews, and had refused to embrace Christianity in any way.
After hearing what Paul was doing, the Jews in Galatia sought to discredit him. To them, Paul was this former faithful Jew who had basically “flipped his lid.” He was preaching a foolish message. He didn’t have it right any more. So they set out to convince these new converts that Paul was crazy and couldn’t be trusted. Obviously this rumor had some success in discrediting Paul.
Paul’s conversion was something very dramatic. To change him from his former ways in Judaism to Christianity was nothing short of a miracle from God.
Verses 11 and 12 are very key verses in this section. They read: “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.”
There could be no mistake here. Paul wasn’t just re-hashing something he had heard. His message wasn’t just some myth or fable that had been passed along to him. In fact, he didn’t have any contact with any of the other apostles until 3 years after his conversion, so he couldn’t have even received the gospel that way.
Divine inspiration and authority came directly from Jesus Christ himself. The message Paul was preaching had that stamp of divine authenticity and inerrancy. And when Paul’s message was compared with the hacked-up message the Jews were preaching, there could be no doubt which one was authentic.
But this didn’t end with the Galatians either. Down through the ages, and especially this last century, liberal scholars have doubted the Scriptural authority of Paul’s letters. Some have contended that Paul was merely expressing his own personal opinions. They say that the “inspiration” of Paul’s letters amounts to no more than someone’s “inspiration” to write a poem, a hymn, or some other piece of literature. For these people, divine inspiration has unfortunately lost the meaning of God’s voice actually speaking through the pens and the words of the prophets, apostles, and evangelists. And when this goes by the wayside, so does the authority of the message.
The divine authority of Paul’s epistles are most fundamental to the Christian church. In those 13 letters, we see a lot of information packed into relatively very few words. There were problems dealing with theology and practice in these early churches. God chose Paul to be not only the chief missionary and spokesman for the New Testament church, but to be the master theologian of the New Testament as well. Paul was not only spiritual, but very practical too.
The prime focus of Paul’s words is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is the case in all his writings, especially here in his Epistle to the Galatians.
The Jews that had come to Galatia after Paul left were trying to take that pure gospel message away from the people and replace it with a perverted version. This is brought out in verses 6 and 7 of chapter 1 where Paul writes: “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. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.”
Think about it for a second. What if I were to stand here and start giving you all sorts of strange rules that you had to follow in order to be saved? Only those who drive a white car can be saved….only those who don’t eat pork can be saved….only those who say the Lord’s Prayer ten times a day can be saved; or how about: you must take a bath or shower before coming to church….men have to wear suits and neckties and long sleeved shirts to church….women have to wear dresses and hats and gloves to church….men have to sit on one side of the church, and the women and children have to sit on the other side….you can come up with about anything you want to.
I’m not saying you can’t do these things, or that some of these things (like taking a bath or shower) aren’t good ideas. But to add these things to the Gospel of Christ makes it a different gospel, which is no gospel at all.
That’s what the Jews were trying to do. They were trying to make outward obedience to various rules and regulations more important than the gospel. Faith in Jesus wasn’t the important thing; obedience was.
As human beings, we look at our sinful selves and we recognize the need to be reconciled to God. Somehow faith in Christ almost doesn’t seem to be enough, and so we create this mental “score card” of our good deeds and works. Sometimes we convince ourselves that God should let us into heaven simply because we’ve “led a pretty good life and tried to do the right thing.”
In the beginning, I spoke about the obstacle of a bad reputation, and how tough that can make things. But in actual fact, we do have a bad reputation—the bad reputation of a sinful life. Paul had a bad reputation too—his past sinful ways when he was a zealous Jew had come back to haunt him amongst the Galatians.
But you know what? You can take all of this and just throw it all away. When Satan tries to convince you that you need a certain amount of good deeds or works in order to get in good with God and be saved, you can ignore him. When Satan tries to convince you that because of your past sinful life you are “too bad” to go to heaven, you can ignore him here as well.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ relies on none of these things. The Gospel is a matter of faith, and faith alone. We can take our entire sinful lives, and place them at the foot of the cross. We know that through faith in Christ, God will take all of our burden of sin and the worries of this world off of our shoulders, so we have nothing standing in the way of our path to the Heavenly Father. The Gospel of Jesus is completely unencumbered with good works or ceremonies or things of this world. It is a completely free gift, which is ours through faith. Paul experienced this forgiveness first-hand, and so do we.
Certainly there are things and events in our life, which can damage our reputation with others—things that are true, things from our past, and things that are simply an out-and-out lie. But we know our reputation is made whole before God in heaven through Christ Jesus.
So regardless of our past or what others may say about us, let us be like the apostle Paul. Let us be faithful contenders for the gospel. Let us individually and collectively give our hearts, and souls, and minds, and strength to serve Jesus—our King of kings.