2 Pentecost Proper C4
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Galatians 1:1-10 Sermon
June 2, 2013
Click here for internet service broadcast/podcast.
Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal & With One Voice):
240 "Father Most Holy, Merciful And Tender"
409 "Let Us Ever Walk With Jesus"
WOV 780 "Leaning On The Everlasting Arms"
400 "Take My Life And Let It Be"
INTRODUCING SAINT PAUL THE APOSTLE
TEXT (vs. 1; 11-12): “1 Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead 11 For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man's gospel. 12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.”
When I say the words “Saint Paul” to you, what comes to your mind? What would your answer be?
Since we live in Nebraska, the town on Highway 281 just north of Grand Island might come to mind; St. Paul, Nebraska is the county seat for Howard County. Or we might be inclined to think of that street that is in University Place; St. Paul Avenue will take you to the campus of Nebraska Wesleyan University. If you prefer a female reference, the town of Pauline is just south of Hastings.
On a larger scale, most people know that St. Paul, Minnesota is the state capitol, the home of the University of Minnesota, and one of the Twin Cities. There is a St. Paul river in Liberia. In fact, there is even a St. Paul wine that comes from the St. Paul vineyards in Hendersonville, NC.
As we move into the realm of the Bible and the Church, congregations by the thousands of varying denominations have chosen the name “Saint Paul” for the name of their congregation. The Church in general has used the “Saint Paul” name quite frequently for any one of a number of different things.
From all of this, we can rightly conclude that Saint Paul, or the Apostle Paul is a very popular figure. Paul is responsible for a lot of different things too. God chose him as the chief missionary for the Christian Church. He is responsible for the majority of the Epistles in the Bible. And humanly speaking, he is one of the biggest “movers and shakers” revealed to us in the Scriptures.
As a pastor, I have frequently been asked about Paul over the years. People want to know who he is, why he is an Apostle, and what kind of authority his Epistles (or letters) mean, both then and now. And whenever questions about Paul arise, I like to start with the verses that comprise our Epistle reading for this morning. From these few verses, we are able to refer to other places in the Bible that give more detailed accounts.
Some of you will recall that when we first began our congregation over 9 years ago, one of our very first Bible Studies was going through Paul’s letter to the Galatians. It’s not a long book of the Bible, so the study can move along at a nice pace without becoming tedious.
But one of the key reasons I chose this book was because of the Apostle Paul and how we are to regard him. It has been the way of many liberal theologians to look at what Paul writes and take it with a grain of salt. So you’ll hear people say, “Well that’s not Scripture, that’s only Paul’s opinion;” or they will say, “Paul only wrote according to the customs of the day, and what he says doesn’t apply today;” or they’ll assert that something wasn’t actually written by Paul, but inserted by the early church.
Why do people want to discredit the Apostle Paul? The short answer to this, is that they just don’t like what he has to say. It makes people uncomfortable, especially when it goes against their own wisdom or logic. For example, we can look at what he writes about homosexuality, adultery, the Lord’s Supper, capital punishment, the government, and even marriage and the home and see why people might balk. If they discredit the Apostle Paul, then they can basically write their own rules about these topics as they see fit. But that’s not the way things are supposed to work.
As we look at our text for today, Paul was having to deal with a similar set of circumstances with the congregation at Galatia. That is what sets the tone for this whole Epistle.
Galatia was part of Paul’s first missionary journey. He established the Church there amongst the people, and things had been going smoothly.
However, we must understand one very key thing. The Galatians were Gentiles and not Jews, so they had no real knowledge of the Jewish faith and the long history connected with it. All they really knew was what Paul had shared with them. All they knew was the New Testament Church, and what that meant for them.
In the time after Paul had departed Galatia, there were people who came after Paul who didn’t have a good grasp of the New Testament faith. An unnamed person or persons had been teaching contrary to the message that Paul had taught them when he was there on his first missionary journey. So now, it’s time to set things straight and to do it quickly, succinctly and with authority! These people who have come after him have been throwing confusion among the new converts to the Christian faith. They are adding human demands on salvation by grace through faith. Put as simply as possible, the new teachers were of Jewish faith, and were of the opinion that as Jesus was the Messiah who came to save the Jews, so the Jewish ritual law (that included circumcision) must continue to be followed. But the people of Galatia were predominantly Gentile. The Galatians weren’t circumcised; they had never followed nor probably knew anything of Jewish law. Since they were taught by Paul, they should have known that they were not bound by that covenant.
So Paul has to re-establish his credibility with them. In verse 1 we read: “Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ…” Paul was called directly by Jesus himself in a very dramatic way, something that even the rest of the disciples had trouble understanding.
When Saul was on the road to Damascus, the Lord came to him, and stuck him blind. Jesus identified himself as the one that Saul was persecuting; but as we know, Jesus also had a special plan in mind. Because of his lack of eyesight, Saul’s traveling companions had to lead him to Damascus. There he stayed with a man by the name of Judas (not Judas Iscariot) and was blind for three days.
Then the Lord came to a man by the name of Ananias, who became the Lord’s instrument in Saul’s healing. Ananias was very frightened of Saul because of his reputation. Then the Lord tells Ananias in Acts 9:15: “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.” That’s really a great verification of Jesus’ calling Saul as an Apostle. Even though Ananias was hesitant, he still knew the voice of God and that God would be doing some miraculous things, even though this alliance between Saul and the Christians seemed like a rather unholy one according to his own way of thinking. But who was he to question a direct command of God?
The Apostle Paul, then known as Saul of Tarsus, was a Jew of the highest order. Saul was a Pharisee, and he took the same line that most of the other Pharisees did. Because the Pharisees were enemies of Jesus, Saul was right there in lock-step fashion with them. So Saul was not only a Pharisee, but a very loyal one at that. Saul even acted as the coat check person when Stephen was stoned because of his publicly proclaimed faith in Christ. So it’s no wonder that the disciples, the Apostles, and the early Christians in general were sceptical and afraid of him.
Not everybody was convinced that Paul had changed and become a friend of the Christians. So for somebody to take Paul into their home, someone who has been perceived as an enemy; well that was a huge first step for these faithful believers.
So right at the beginning of his letter, Paul verifies his identity as an Apostle of Jesus Christ. He was not an apostle according to any man-made rules or rites. He was directly called by Jesus himself, as were all of the other Apostles. Paul needed to establish his credibility with the Galatian congregation right away.
I’m going to jump ahead here a bit, to the last two verses of our text. Verses 11-12 read: “For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man's gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.”
This actually completes the picture as far as Paul’s authority is concerned. Not only is Paul a legitimate Apostle, but the message he is proclaiming is the Word of God, and not simply his words and opinions. So what we have in our Bibles today as the Epistles of Paul are indeed part of God’s inspired and inerrant Word given to us. When we say “this is the Word of the Lord” at the end of our Epistle readings, we affirm this fact even today. We can’t ever relegate Paul’s Epistles to the category of pious opinion, or in any way regard them as anything less than part of Holy Scripture. God speaks to us through the inspired pen of the Apostle Paul in the same way as he has spoken through the prophets, evangelists, and the other apostles in the Bible.
When we begin reading this Epistle, these first verses set the tone for the rest of the book. The problem that had reared its ugly head amongst the Galatians had been brought to their attention by some of the old school Jews who had infiltrated their midst.
As I explained a while back, the Galatian Christians were Gentile converts, and not of Jewish heritage. So when the Jews came in and began preaching something different than what Paul was, and discrediting him in the process, you can see why they were thrown into a state of confusion. They were trying to mix in some teachings which were not according to the teachings of Jesus. Numerous people were demanding that some of the Old Testament Jewish practices needed to be retained in the Christian Church, and that those practices were necessary for salvation. This constituted a “different gospel” as Paul so aptly puts it.
Under the influence of these persuasive teachers, the Galatians had begun to have doubts and to succumb to these false teachings. Paul had gone away to continue to share the good news of Jesus Christ who gave himself to rescue us from the present evil age. And it seems the present evil age was continuing to have its influence over the people of God.
In his commentary on Galatians, Dr. Luther makes this observation: “These false apostles…were men of great prestige and authority. Amongst the people they boasted that they belonged to the holy and elect race of the Jews, …that they were ministers of Christ and pupils of the apostles, whom they had known personally and whose miracles they had witnessed….When men with such authority come into any country or city, the people immediately develop great admiration for them; and they fool even those who are educated and quite steadfast in the faith. They subverted the Galatians by saying: “Who is Paul anyway? After all, was he not the very last of those who were converted to Christ? But we are the pupils of the apostles, and we knew them intimately. We saw Christ perform miracles, and we heard him preach. But Paul is a latecomer and is our inferior….Besides, we are many, while Paul is only one. He did not know the apostles, nor has he seen Christ. In fact, he persecuted the church of Christ. Do you imagine that on account of Paul alone God would permit so many churches to be deceived?” With this kind of an attitude, you can see why the Galatians were thrown into a state of confusion.
We can be assured that the Apostle Paul is a genuine Apostle called by God, and that the words he penned were done so under the divine inspiration and authority of God himself. We can have faith that God will not mislead us or lie to us through the work God directed through Paul. We have to trust God’s truth.
When we look at ourselves, we can see just how easily influenced we are. There will be people who will tempt us to look away from what the Bible clearly says, or to rely upon our own intellect and logic instead of submitting to God’s plan for us. There will be those who will try to convince us that Christ’s sacrifice for sin was not enough, and we have to do something more. People will attempt to rob us of the Gospel all of the time.
But we know that Christ has done everything necessary for our salvation. He was the all-atoning sacrifice for sin, and he satisfied God’s requirement for justice. Our sin has been paid for totally and completely.
The Gospel message is that our sins are forgiven through faith alone in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Sometimes that may sound just too simple to our human way of thinking, but that’s God’s truth he has communicated to us through the Bible, including the Apostle Paul. Paul was a Pharisee who at one time practiced a very complicated religion. This freedom in Christ was especially meaningful to Paul.
One final thing we can conclude from our text today is just how complete and total God’s forgiving love really is. Saul of Tarsus was actively sinning against Christ and against Christ’s Church. He was an enemy of the Christian faith. And look at what God’s power did in his life.
Paul’s appreciation for the grace shown to him is reflected in how he communicates God’s love for us. Salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone was the message of the early Christian Church, and it is our message of hope today. Paul laid his life on the line to preserve and spread this message. Therefore we can be eternally thankful that God used the Apostle Paul to be the chief missionary of the New Testament Church.