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Gal 1:1-10: No Other Gospel Print E-mail
Sunday, 02 April 2006

It would be foolish for us to think that there were no struggles or difficulties in the early Church.  In fact, in the book of Acts and the epistles, we see the writers of the New Testament often addressing particular problems in the Church.  One such struggle that we see addressed in a number of places is the acceptance of Gentiles as Christians (see Acts 10, 15:1-35, Romans 9-11, Ephesians 2:11-3:13).  How are the Gentiles to be accepted as Christians?  Should they first become Jews (through circumcision and observance of the Law of Moses) and then become Christians?  Or is there another way?  These are the questions that Paul is trying to address in his letter to the Galatians.

It seems the best way to understand the situation for this letter would be to begin with Paul’s first missionary journey, which is recorded for us in Acts 13-14.  During this trip Paul and Barnabas were able to plant many new Churches.  These churches were in the area of Asia Minor, in a province that the Romans called Galatia.  Thus, it seems the letter was written to the churches in these different cities that Paul and Barnabas started on their first missionary journey.

Yet, there was a problem.  After Paul and Barnabas planted these churches, some other teachers came in and began to raise the issue of Gentiles becoming Christians.  They argued that in order for Gentiles to become Christians, they must first follow the Law (specifically, be circumcised) along with their belief in Christ.  It seems that many were being influenced by these teachers, who were possibly from Jerusalem, and were believing what they were saying.  In Acts 15 we read of this issue being addressed by the Apostles and the Jerusalem Church.  In verses 1-2 we are told of what was going on.  It seems that Paul is writing before the decision in Acts 15 to the Churches in Galatia to address the problem of these teachers, or what have been called Judaizers.  It is this situation that serves as the backdrop for the book of Galatians.

As for the salutation, or the greeting, in verses 1-5, let me make a couple of quick comments.  First, Paul immediately addresses the questioning of his apostleship.  Some of the teachers were apparently questioning Paul’s authority to proclaim the gospel.  In doing this, they were able to undermine his teaching about the gospel.  Thus, in verses 1-2, Paul reminds his readers that he was not appointed by men but by God to be an apostle, an argument he will return to in 1:11ff.  Second, Paul, as with other greetings, already begins to reference the true gospel.  Look at verses 3-4.  Christ has died on the cross for our sins to save us from this evil age.  He has done this according to the will of the Father who saw fit to raise him up from the dead (see verse 1).  Thus, in brief, we have Paul referencing the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the one and only true gospel.

In verse 6 Paul begins the main argument of the letter.  Instead of offering a word of thanksgiving, as he normally does after his greeting, in this letter he begins by stating his astonishment.  He cannot believe that they have deserted the gospel and the one who has called them, namely God.  Yet, why is it so important that we get the gospel right?  Why should we not believe another gospel?  Paul will answer these questions in the next five verses.  Consider his answers with me.

First, we should not believe another gospel because there is no other gospel (v. 6-7).

After mentioning the terms ‘different gospel’ in verse 6, Paul immediately denies the fact that any other gospel actually does exist.  Look at verses 6-7a with me again.  Paul makes it clear from the beginning that there is no other gospel than the one that he has preached to them and that they have believed.  Notice, how serious this issue is in verse 6.  By deserting the gospel that Paul and Barnabas had preached to them, the Galatians are deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ, namely God himself.  To desert the one true gospel of Jesus Christ is to desert God himself.  Indeed, these are serious issues.  Paul is astonished that the Galatians would so quickly turn from what they had been taught and leave behind the true gospel. 

Paul explains more of the situation in verse 7.  Look at verse 7b with me.  As we have noted above, it seems that certain teachers were coming to the Churches in Galatia and telling the people that they must be circumcised (and follow the Law) in order to be saved.  They do not see themselves as taking away from the gospel that Paul preached, rather, they are simply completing it.  They might say, ‘Repentance and belief in Christ are fine, but you must also be circumcised and follow the Law in order to truly be saved.’  This is a classic example of preaching the gospel and something.  Even though it may take different forms, this is a practice that continues today.  The ‘gospel and prosperity’ or the ‘gospel and speaking in tongues’ are very prominent ideas in Churches today.  Yet, Paul will have none of it.  As we look more at the book of Galatians we will flesh these arguments out more, yet, suffice it to say today, that Paul recognizes no other gospel than the one he has preached.

As for us, it is so important that we understand what the true gospel is.  We must be able to articulate and distinguish between what is true and what just sounds like it is true.  I have never confirmed this, but I was told a few years back that when they train bank tellers to recognize counterfeit money, they spend more time teaching them to recognize genuine money than they do training them to recognize all the different types of counterfeits.  In the same way, we must train ourselves to know and understand the true gospel, as revealed by the Apostles in the Word, so that we will never stray from it and always be able to recognize any counterfeit.

Second, we should not believe another gospel because anyone who preaches another gospel is accursed (v. 8-9).

Paul gets very pointed in how the Galatians should view these false teachers in verses 8-9.  Look at those verses with me.  Paul is not just flying off the handle and using strong language here because he is mad.  No, just to make sure that we do not dismiss what he says in verse 8, he repeats himself in verse 9.  Anyone who preaches a different gospel other than the true gospel is to be accursed.  The term refers to being under the wrath and judgment of God.  It is a sobering thought, one that Paul only emphasizes by repeating.

Of course if we are teachers or preachers we should tremble at such a statement.  We should approach the task of teaching others with much seriousness and much humility.  Paul is not saying that we can never get something wrong or make mistakes, but what he is saying is that we cannot get the gospel wrong.  To distort the gospel is to invite a curse.  At the same time, for those of us who are not teachers and preachers, we should take note of the fact that the charge goes to all of the people in the Galatian Churches.  Not only should people not teach a false gospel, but we as members of the Body of Christ should never listen to or support teaching that distorts the gospel.  We should hold our teachers accountable.  As I mentioned a couple of Sunday nights ago, this is one reason why I support congregational Church government.  The local congregation is responsible for making certain that the gospel is faithfully preached and practiced in our churches.  May God grant us grace to carry out this task here at Trinity. 

Third, we should not believe another gospel because only the true gospel is pleasing to God (v. 10).

Apparently another critique of Paul’s ministry is that he was trying to please men more than God.  Possibly the teachers thought that Paul had not required the Galatians to be circumcised because he wanted to please them.  Yet, Paul corrects this erroneous view in verse 10.  Look at that verse with me.  Paul argues that he is not trying to please men but God.  He concludes that you cannot be a man pleaser and a servant of Christ at the same time.  He admits that at one time he sought to please men, but this was not the case any longer.  Now he was a servant of Christ. 

As we consider our approach to the gospel and gospel ministry, we must ask with Paul, For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God?  In a day of compromise and tolerance, it seems that the Church is constantly trying to find ways to please man and God at the same time.  We are constantly asking the question: how can I be popular with men and faithful to God at the same time?  Surely if we fill our churches with pleased men then we will be pleasing to God.  This was not the approach of Paul.  He did not water down the gospel in order to win the approval of the Galatians.  He did not exclude circumcision and the Law so as not to offend them.  No, he excluded them because they were not necessary.  As he will proclaim in the remainder of the book, it is not the gospel and something else, no, it is faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ alone that saves.  Yes, true saving faith will lead to a life of obedience lived by the Spirit (see 5:16-26), but it is faith alone that saves.  It is only the gospel of grace which is pleasing to God.  If we are trying to be pleasing to man in our proclamation of the gospel, then we must consider whether or not we are indeed proclaiming the true gospel.  Like Paul, we should labor to be servants of Christ by proclaiming the one and only gospel.

It is hard to study this passage and miss the importance of the gospel in our lives.  We cannot afford to be wrong on this.  We cannot tolerate teaching that does not conform to the true gospel.  We cannot try to please men by compromising the message of faith alone in Christ alone.  If you are looking for a reason to faithfully study your Bibles, then look no further.  If you are looking for a reason to beg God in prayer to guide you by His Spirit in your understanding of the Word, then look no further.  If you are looking for a reason to be faithfully involved in a local church that boldly proclaims the Word of God, then look no further.  We are a people who are in need of the one true gospel.  May God open our eyes to see it, our minds to understand it, our hearts to believe it, and our mouths to proclaim it, that we may please Him in all that we do.  Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Friday, 14 April 2006 )

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