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Gal 1:11-2:10: Paul's Gospel is God's Gospel Print E-mail
Sunday, 09 April 2006

One of the accusations against Christianity is simply that the gospel we proclaim is man-made.  We can see this in one of the popular fiction books of our day, which is currently being released as a movie, namely Dan Brownís The DaVinci Code.  In this book, which I do not necessarily recommend you read due to some of the graphic content, a couple of the characters argue that Constantine, the emperor of Rome in the fourth century, invented Christís divinity in order to establish the power of the Roman Catholic Church.  They argue that before the Council of Nicaea in 325, the followers of Christ believed him to simply be mortal.  Sure he was a great teacher, but he was only a man.

Of course the work is fiction, but it has nonetheless caused a great stir.  With the release of the movie coming soon, people will continue to talk about these issues.  Thus, as the Church, we must ask and answer this question: is the gospel we preach simply man-made?

Paul gives us a clear answer to this question in 1:11-12.  Look at those verses with me.  Paul makes it clear that the gospel he preached was not man-made.  He did not receive it from a man, nor was he taught it by a man.  Rather, Paul received his gospel through a revelation of Jesus Christ.  It seems that teachers were going to the churches in Galatia and questioning Paul and his gospel.  They want the Galatians to follow the Law of Moses in order to be saved (see Acts 15:1).  Apparently they have attacked Paul and his gospel by claiming that it was something he received second-hand from the apostles in Jerusalem.  Yet, Paul wants to set the record straight.  He wants the Galatians to understand that the gospel he received, and the gospel he preached to them, is none other than the true gospel of God. 

In order to support his thesis, Paul offers three arguments to demonstrate that his gospel is from God.  Letís consider these together.

First, Paul argues that God called him out by grace (v. 13-16a).

In order to highlight the overwhelming grace of God, Paul begins by reminding the Galatians of his life before he was converted.  Look at verses 13-14 with me.  Paul was working hard to destroy the Church.  The language that Paul uses to describe himself, violently persecuting the Church and extremely zealous for the traditions, tell us that Paul was serious in his rebellion against God.  Not only was he not following Christ, he was violently persecuting those who did, as we see with Stephen (see Acts 8:1).  He was doing everything he could to destroy the work of Christ.

Yet, as we mentioned throughout our study of the book of Genesis, the extent of our rebellion serves to magnify the grace of God.  This is the point Paul is making here.  Paul was not pursuing the gospel or pursuing God.  Rather, God pursued him and revealed the gospel to him.  Look at verses 15-16a.  Before Paul was even born, the Lord had plans to redeem him and call him to be an Apostle.  The story we read from Acts 9 to begin our service was not a contingency plan for the Lord.  He was not surprised at Paulís rebellion.  He was not worried about the future of the Church and so decided to try and talk Paul into following His Son.  No, He had a plan, a plan that existed even before Paulís birth, and according to Ephesians 1, even before the foundations of the earth, a plan to save Paul and call him to take the gospel to the Gentiles.  This language echoes Jeremiahís account of his own calling (see Jeremiah 1:5).  It is also similar to Paulís account of God choosing Jacob over Esau before they were born (see Romans 9:10-13) and Davidís praise of God who knew him in his motherís womb (Psalm 139).  In all of this we see the sovereign grace of God at work in menís lives.  We, too, as believers in Christ are part of Godís gracious plan to redeem a Bride as revealed in Ephesians 1.  Thus, Paul argues that his gospel is not manís gospel because it did not originate from himself but from Godís gracious call.

Second, Paul argues that when God called him, he did not consult with other men (1:16b-24).

Paul did not seek the gospel or invent it, but it was revealed to him by the grace of God.  Not only this, but after he received the gospel, he did not immediately go the Apostles to be taught by them.  Look with me again at 1:15-17.  Eventually, three years after his conversion, Paul did go up to Jerusalem, but only for a brief time.  Look at his account in 1:18-19.  Apparently this is the trip that Luke records for us in Acts 9:26-30.  The brevity of the visit and the limited time spent with the apostles demonstrates that Paul did not receive his gospel from them.  Rather, he left Jerusalem and went to Syria and Cilicia to continue preaching his gospel.  In fact, Paul says that the churches in Judea only knew of him because of what they heard about him and his preaching.  Look at 1:20-24.  Thus, Paul is pointing out that he could not have received his gospel from the apostles (as apparently the teachers were claiming) because he did not spend time with them and their churches.  Rather, he went and proclaimed his gospel in other regions. 

Before we move on to Paulís last argument, I must point out the power of gospel that we see in verse 23 and itís comparison to verse 13.  Look at verse 13 with me again.  Paul was trying to destroy the church.  Yet, look at the language of verse 23.  The faith that he was once trying to destroy he is now proclaiming to the Gentiles.  Only the power of God can change a man like that and He does it through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Third, Paul argues that when he did go to the apostles, they supported him (2:1-10).

Finally, Paul did go to Jerusalem to meet with the apostles.  Look at 2:1-2.  Why did Paul meet with the apostles and set before them his gospel?  He says that he went to Jerusalem because of a revelation, but it is hard to know exactly what that refers to (possibly the revelation of Agabus, see Acts 11:27-30).  Was Paul doubting his gospel?  Paul tells us that he set his gospel before the apostles in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain.  It seems that Paul was not so much concerned about the truth of his gospel as he was the acceptance of the Gentiles into Christianity.  He knew his gospel was true, but he did not know how Jews were going to respond to the conversion of Gentiles.  He knew that if the Jews would not accept the conversion of the Gentiles by their belief in the gospel then he was running in vain.

We gather Paulís concern over the acceptance of the Gentiles by the fact that he took Titus with him to Jerusalem.  Titus was an uncircumcised Gentile.  Yet, he was a follower of Christ.  How would he be treated?  Paul tells us the story in verses 3-5.  Look at those with me.  Paul tells us that even though some false brothers tried spy on their freedom, Titus was not forced to be circumcised.  Thus, it seems that while there were those who wanted Gentile Christians to follow the Law, there were others who recognized that it was only their faith in Christ that mattered.  Paul did not give in to the former group but preserved the truth of salvation through faith alone in Christ alone.

Then, in verses 6-10, Paul reports how the apostles responded to the gospel he was taking to the Gentiles.  He says that they added nothing to me (v. 6).  Rather they supported Paulís message and mission to the Gentiles.  He concludes by stating that they encouraged him to remember the poor, which is what he wanted to do.  Thus, Paul demonstrates that they were unified in their understanding of the gospel and supported each otherís respective missions to the circumcised (Jews) and the uncircumcised (Gentiles).  Paulís gospel was the gospel that had been revealed to him and the apostles by the revelation of God.  By telling of his life before he was converted, his life at his conversion, and his relations with the apostles after his conversion, Paul makes it clear that his gospel is not manís gospel but Godís.

We might ask at this point: what does all this have to do with me?  Why is it important to me that Paulís gospel is Godís gospel?  How do I apply this passage to my own life?  Let me close with three applications:

First, this passage strengthens our trust in the validity of the New Testament and specifically the writings of Paul.  We learn that Christianity is not some man-made religion.  Paul did not make it up.  The apostles did not make it up.  Constantine did not make it up.  No, it has been revealed to us by God.  The gospel has a historical context: particular times and places.  It has the unified witness of the apostles, preserved for us in the pages of the New Testament.  Thus, belief in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is not some illogical leap that makes us feel good about ourselves or gives the church power.  No, we believe based on the revelation that God has given us through Paul and the other apostles.  This passage reminds us of the reliability of their witness.

Second, this passage humbles us as recipients of Godís grace through the gospel.  We have been set apart through faith in Christ as Godís Church.  Through faithful proclamation of the gospel we have heard the good news and by Godís grace we have believed.  As we sang earlier, we were wretches when God found us.  We did not deserve his grace and we did not pursue his grace.  Like Paul, grace found us and revealed to us the wonderful good news of Christ our Redeemer. 

Third, this passage calls us to be unified around the gospel.  I pray the glorious good news that has been revealed to us by the grace of God will ever be on our lips.  May we be faithful to preach, teach, share, and live the gospel of Jesus Christ.  May we continue the mission that Paul and the apostles began, namely taking the gospel to those who have not heard until Christ returns for His Bride.  Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Friday, 21 April 2006 )

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