Galatians: An Introduction

Today’s reading is Galations 1:1-10

Here is today’s reflection by Imogen,

[If this is a bit quiet then the is an audio only podcast on the orginal service page linked at the bottom]

We are beginning a new sermon series today: a series exploring Paul’s letter to the Galatians. This book of the Bible is a short 6 chapters and over the next 9 weeks we will be delving into its depths. This series is a chance for us as a community to really get to know this letter, to read it again and again and dig into the words and stories it shares. As we do this digging it is my prayer that we will meet with God, learn from God and be transformed. I encourage you to read or listen to the whole of the letter, cover to cover as it were, this will really help you to hold the big picture as we mine the details. In fact, feel free to go away to read the letter now! It would be great if you read to the rest of the sermon at some point but if you get sidelined by Paul’s words, I reckon that’s okay!

I’d encourage you to have the passage in front of you as we go through. Today we are looking at the first few verses of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Fortunately for us, Paul is a careful, structured writer, and he opens his letters in a standard letter style: stating the sender, recipients, a salutation and a prayer. So as we look at these opening verses, Paul introduces the letter himself and answers some key questions we might have as we approach this new book together: who wrote it? Who is it for? Why was it written and what does it say?

Who wrote it?

The letter opens in verse one with the sender: ‘Paul, an apostle’. For the Bible, there is surprisingly little debate about who wrote Galatians. The letter to the Galatians is almost universally acknowledged to be by Paul and it has actually become the benchmark for Paul’s authorship of other letters. As Paul begins his letter there is almost a slightly defensive tone here. He explicitly identifies himself as an apostle, not from or through humanity but through Jesus Christ and God the Father. An Apostle was someone who was sent out, a missionary but here Paul is defending himself, he is an apostle sent by Jesus. His Damascus Road calling was the moment God sent him to preach the gospel.

Who was it for?

In verse two: To the churches in Galatia, again problem solved. Except there is some discussion about where exactly Galatia was. Galatia is in what we now know as modern Turkey but there are two options about where this letter was specifically sent. The first is the northern region of Galatia. This group was ethnically Galatian, or Celtic, rather like our northern lands. The second is the southern region, identified geographically by Rome as ‘Galatia’. The bad news is we cannot be entirely sure about which region this letter was sent to. The good news is that it doesn’t really matter for our understanding of the letter. I think, along with many others, that this was likely to be sent to the Southern region. The churches in Acts 13Open Link in New Window and 14 that Paul and Barnabas visited.

Paul greets these Galatian Christians in verse 3 with ‘grace and peace’. These words are significant for Christians and for Jews. Grace is an adjusted form of the Greek ‘greetings’ but is rooted in Hebrew theology about the grace of God. Peace is a deeply powerful Hebrew concept. Shalom holds a sense of wholeness, unity and rightness with God, self, others and the world. One commentator suggests that the order of these words is significant, that we receive grace and peace from God the father and Jesus Christ and that peace with God, the world and the self is reliant on God’s gift of grace. We will see that this idea of the gift and sufficiency of grace is a key theme for Paul throughout Galatians.

Why was it written?

In verse 6 Paul tells us why he is writing. At this point in his letters Paul would often offer a prayer of thanks for the churches he is writing to. He does not do that here. Instead of thanks he expresses his astonishment. The churches of Galatia are deserting the gospel of Christ & turning to a different gospel. In verse four Paul reminds us what the gospel of Christ actually is, that Jesus gave himself on our behalf, for our sins, so that we could be rescued from the present age of wickedness. This is the grace of Christ we see in verse six, that we were rescued from sin and death and that Christ gave himself on our behalf. This is the gospel Paul preached but it is not the only gospel people were claiming to preach and is not the only gospel the Galatians were believing.

In verse six and seven, Paul tells the Galatians that they were turning to ‘a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all’ or which is not an additional gospel. There are two words here talking about the gospel, different and additional. Though the Galatians were influenced by what they thought was a different gospel, Paul is saying that there is only one gospel, there cannot be another one! Paul will explore more about what exactly this different or distorted gospel is throughout the letter. This distorted gospel then is what causes confusion or troubling for the Galatians in verse seven. The troubling they experience is the opposite of the peace Paul so confidently proclaimed at the beginning of his letter. The Gospel of Christ brings peace, the distorted gospel brings troubling.

In verses 8 and 9 Paul repeats the same thing twice, to really hammer the point home. If anyone preaches a gospel then they will be under God’s curse. This word for curse takes us back to Joshua and the people of Israel. It is particularly used to describe those who are outside of the people of Israel, those who have not yet received the grace of God and are therefore under God’s curse. This is significant here as Paul is saying that the distorted gospel takes the Galatians away from the gospel of grace.

What does it mean for us?

Today has been mostly an introduction to the letter to Galatians. We have answered the three questions: who wrote it? Paul, an apostle. Who was it for? The churches in Galatia. Why was it written? Because the churches were deserting the gospel of Christ and listening to a different gospel which was really no gospel at all!

So what does this mean for us? How is this relevant?

Firstly Galatians 1Open Link in New Window is a reminder: It reminds us of the Gospel. The one and only gospel. The Gospel of Christ, that Christ died for our sins, on our behalf and we have been rescued from death. The Gospel of grace, that we have been gifted the grace of forgiveness, that grace is sufficient and with grace we can enter into the shalom, the peace of God.

Secondly Galatians 1Open Link in New Window is a warning: It is a warning that there are those who might preach or publicise or post proclaiming a gospel that is not the Gospel of Christ. These distorted gospels might say something surprisingly familiar, perhaps that we are self-sufficient, that we can buy or earn our shalom peace ourselves. They are troubling and seek to take us away from the gospel of grace, that grace is sufficient and that the grace of Christ is the only way to enter into true shalom, true peace.

As we finish this first bit of Galatians, I invite you to pause for a moment and reflect on what God has spoken into each of our hearts today. As we embark on this biblical dig through the book of Galatians, I pray again that God would reveal Godself to you through God’s word, that you would learn more of God and be transformed by God. To God be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

There will be a video version of the service.

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