Puzzle Pieces and Apocalypses – Galatians 1:12

“For I did not receive [the gospel] from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” –Galatians 1:12

Some times I forget how blessed I was to attend the college I went to for my undergrad. Central Bible College was a college with a mission I believed in. And though now it is part of Evangel University, the institution and the people associated with it will always have a special place in my heart. The student body, the campus life, and the faculty made CBC a place where God’s presence was almost tangible.

I learned so much from my professors at CBC. Many of them had spent years on the field as pastors. Many of them, though being credentialed with the A/G, had a very broad education. I could take classes on specific books of the bible, or I could take classes that addressed the practical aspects of ministry. Every professor I studied under were specialists – whether it was Greek and Hebrew, philosophy, or history. I learned to love God so much more, because of what I learned from the professors at CBC.

I might have learned all I know about the gospel from my professors, but Paul learned about the gospel through a revelation of Jesus.

Paul was intentional with his wording in this passage. He wanted the Galatians to be sure this wasn’t a mere “vision” which could be overlooked as only an existential encounter. It wasn’t something that he just heard. He knew it wasn’t something that he received from anyone besides God. This was a divine encounter, where Jesus himself was presented to Paul – not a voice, not a vision, not another man, but a revelation of Jesus Christ.

With the wording in the Greek, this passage can either mean that this was a revelation from Christ (as the agent), or that it was a revelation concerning Christ (the content). Fortunately, Paul goes on from his generalization to explain in verses 15 and 16 that this was a revelation from God the Father about Jesus Christ. If this is the case, then this says a lot about Christ as the object of a divine revelation.

A revelation was something that was almost always used to talk about the end times. We get the word “apocalypse” from this word in the Greek. James Dunn says that, “To describe this event as an ‘apocalypse’ not only underlined its heavenly authority but also implied that it had eschatological [or end times] significance, that is, as the key which unlocked the mystery of God’s purpose for his creation, the keystone of the whole arch of human history.” Paul is placing Christ at the center of history by describing him as the object of God’s revelation. He is the piece that makes sense of the entire puzzle.

If the Galatians understand this revelation to be true and to be divine, then they will understand their place in history. They are in the last days already. God has started his new created order in the resurrection of Christ. For the Galatians to go back to the way things were before the resurrection would be taking a step back. If the Galatians went back to following the Law of Judaism (circumcision, temple feasts, etc.), then they won’t be properly giving Christ the place of divine authority.

Christ is the center of the story.

If Christ is set as the center of Salvation History, is he the center of our lives? We need to; “Live as though Christ died yesterday, rose from the grave today, and is coming back tomorrow” (Theodore Epp). Like Paul we need to recognize Christ’s place in history. It isn’t until we have a proper understanding of who Christ is that we can grasp who we are. We are living in the last days, just as the church was in the first century, and God is calling us to be vessels of this gospel. Christ has come to set the world to rights. He lived, and died. He was resurrected and revealed himself. He is risen!

Do you understand the application of the revelation?

An Apostle Alone – Galatians 1:11-24

With the approach of finals week, there are many different emotions that surge through the average college student. Trust me, I might be out of school, but it has only been a couple of years since I felt the cocktail of stress, anxiety, and exhaustion. I remember the struggle of needing to do work, but being so overwhelmed with everything that I would try everything in my power to get around it. Like most college students, procrastination involved Netflix.

The main warning I give people when heading to finals is not to start watching shows that are incredibly addictive. These shows include; Breaking Bad, Lost, Prison Break, and Sons of Anarchy. Once a student starts watching these shows, they are roped in until the series is completed, and if this addiction starts at finals, it will wreak havoc on one’s GPA.

I found myself getting roped into Lost my freshman year. If you know me, you know I love character development! Lost is one of the most developed shows to ever reach television. Because of that and the need to procrastinate, I quickly found myself filling all of my free time with the popular weeknight drama. The show has this spectacular way of using flashbacks and flash forwards to build up their present plotline. Even despite the “flop of an ending,” no series has been able to emulate the side stories, character development, and universe expansion in Lost.

Paul pays special attention to expanding his universe in the opening arguments of Galatians (1:13-2:14). It seems as though the Galatians knew a little bit of Paul’s life before he was a Christian – that he was a zealous Jew that persecuted the church. What the Galatians didn’t know, and what Paul went on to tell them in this section, is how Paul met Christ through a revelation. It was through Christ and no one else that Paul received his Gospel message. Paul’s conversion from Judaism to Christianity should be held in contrast here to the Galatians, who were in the process of converting to Judaism after already being in Christ. Paul is speaking as someone who has “been there” and “done that.” He is showing the Galatians that he should be mimicked.

Paul wants the Galatians to know that his message wasn’t one that came from anyone else. If Paul’s authority is being questioned, this makes sense. Paul is trying to show that his authority, his calling, and his message come directly from Christ. He didn’t get his gospel from Peter or James. He didn’t get it in Judea. His message was one given to him by the Lord. Just as Paul is setting up his message (as being independent of anyone or anything else), he challenges the Galatians to follow his example. He is challenging them to stop following the false teachers that have come to Galatia. Being independent is their only way to truly become unified again as a church. It is their only way to become unified in Christ.

How paradoxical.

What is the side story of your life? Do people know your story –of how God has worked in your life? Or is your faith personal, constricting the plot of who you are? Telling the story of how God has impacted and changed your life is paramount to your being. It deepens who you are. My story and my testimony point to the work that God has done in my life. It points to Him as the ultimate Figure of praise. It makes me an example of someone to be emulated.

What is the gospel to you? Is it something that you have heard from others, but haven’t discovered on your own? How has God changed your life?

How has God expanded your universe?

People Pleasers – Galatians 1:10

“For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” –Galatians 1:10

It was freshman year, and I was sitting in history class. Like most classes in high school, we weren’t just focusing on history. Teachers always think they are witty that way. This class we were going to be having a debate: a good blend of social interaction, logic, and basic persuasion. What were we debating? Slavery.

When I was younger, I was a little weird (I know crazy, right?). This instance was no different. I would love to play “the devil’s advocate” in situations like this. I figured that being “for slavery” would be the harder argument to establish… but I was up for the challenge. By the end of the class, my side was victorious. Even though I was aware that what I was arguing was wrong, I knew how to spin it the right way. I knew how to warp the opposing side’s arguments. I knew how to play on people’s emotions.

Paul wants to make sure his audience knows he isn’t trying to use emotional measures to reach his goal. It’s like one of my professor’s used to say, “If you can persuade some one into believing something, then some one can persuade them out of it.” Paul might have been using polemic rhetoric when addressing the people, but at the heart of his argument was the truth – not mere emotions.

Paul could also be inferring that the false teachers who had come to Galatia were using the tactic of “people pleasing” to get their way. It shouldn’t come at any surprise. That is how a lot of people are led astray. These false teachers gave them something that they wanted to hear. They were arguing for something that was wrong, but they knew how to spin it the right way. They knew how to play on the Galatian’s emotions.

Sometimes we get so caught up on being “right,” or getting our way that we do whatever we need to do to fulfill our own selfish goals. Are we arguing for what is right, or are we just playing people?

Are we trying to please God or please man?

Excommunicated Emotions – Galatians 1:9

“If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” –Galatians 1:9

Do you have a friend or a family member who is one of those overly-friendly-never-angry-always-optimistic types? In every situation you have ever been in with them, their ever impressionable emotion has been the one and only constant. It is scary sometimes! Eventually you cynically start waiting for the time to come when some situation or circumstance finally breaks their now annoyingly gregarious outtake on life!..

Just me? Okay.

Imagine you did hit a circumstance like this where this person finally snaps! You would know that they were serious! You would know that if they who are always so calm and optimistic are upset and angry, that the situation they are angry about is truly justifiable!

The term “accursed” is a special word in that it has a vast array of definitions. Luckily for us, we can assume that Paul probably had the Hebrew equivalent in mind when using this Greek word – “anathema.” The Hebrew word, “harem,” means “something which God sets aside for destruction.” It also carries the connotation of something that is to be banned or expelled. Some have even translated this word as condemnation – “damned.”

If that doesn’t make you feel a little uneasy reading, consider that Paul uses this word twice in his introduction. It’s like he is saying, “Let me say this again, in case you missed it the first time.” Paul is using possible exaggeration to express the importance of this situation. Paul, who probably came to the Galatians with grace and love, is now saying that to preach or accept what the Galatians are hearing and accepting deserves condemnation. I’m sure hearing this phrase once was enough to startle the Galatians.

Note that Paul didn’t actually call curses from God on the men who were preaching this false gospel. He went around it with tact, saying that even an angel or he himself would deserve condemnation if they ever preached a gospel different than the true gospel of Christ.

He was willing to call judgment on himself:

That was how much the gospel meant to him.

That is how much Jesus’ redeeming work meant to him.

Does your heart ever break for those who are following a lie? How important is truth to you? How much does the gospel mean to you? Do you correct people who misrepresent God or Jesus or Christianity? What have you done in your own life to make sure you never stray away from the truth? You can read Paul’s urgency, his frustration, and his passion for God in every word he wrote in this letter. Grasping the truth of the gospel meant life and death to him.

How much do you care about the gospel?

The Bad Good News – Galatians 1:6

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.” –Galatians 1:6

“I’ve got some good news and some bad news.” This was not what Tom wanted to hear. He was sick, and not just that kind of sick. He was sick of hearing the same bad news every time he went to the oncologist. He wasn’t sure how much longer he could take it. The positive spin and the optimism of the doctors was encouraging the first couple of times, but now Tom was just ready to be better. What was the point of having any good news if it was drowned out by the bad? The doctor noticed Tom’s thoughts were drifting and quickly tried to continue the conversation.

“So do you want the good news first or the bad?”

Some have argued that the thrust of Paul’s argument in Galatians is about his apostleship, which makes some sense as it is how he opens his letter. By looking at the whole letter, however, it becomes quickly evident that Paul’s focus seems to be more on “the gospel.” Paul argues; what the gospel is, who it pertains to, and what it means once one accepts the gospel. His whole reason for writing the Galatians is because there was a group sharing with them another “gospel,” one which Paul claims is no gospel at all.

The gospel means “good news.” Graeme Goldsworthy states that, “The gospel is the proclamation of what God has done in Christ… Obedience to the gospel is first and foremost faith.” To proclaim anything else wouldn’t be the gospel. To understand the thrust of Paul’s argument in Galatians, one must first understand what “the gospel” is. Once one knows the “good news,” the “bad good news” will be easy to spot.

C. H. Dodd points out a pattern which emerges when looking at the preaching of “the gospel” in the New Testament. There is proclamation of the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises. There is a focus on the ministry Jesus did during his life leading to his death. His resurrection from the dead and his exaltation is at the apex of the gospel message. Then there is a shift to the gift of the Holy Spirit given at Pentecost. The preaching of the gospel ends with a call for the audience to repent and accept Christ in faith.

There was a group telling the Galatians that they had to do more than just believe in Christ. They told them that it took more than this. “We have some good news and some bad news,” they said. They were telling the Gentiles that they had to become Jewish first to become Christians. They weren’t preaching a different God or a different Christ. They were speaking of a different means other than “faith” as a cost for membership in God’s family. Paul is writing the Galatians with urgency, because it would completely ruin the work of Christ for the church to accept a different message.

“Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.” -2Timothy 4:2-5

The gospel is the proclamation of God’s coming kingdom. It is the message of the judgment of those who oppose His current and future reign. The gospel is the story of mankind denying God, and God sending his Son to pay the price for their wrongdoing. It isn’t about prosperity. It isn’t about Jesus as an archangel. It isn’t about circumcision.

The gospel needs to be praised, it needs to be protected, and it needs to be preached.

What are you doing to protect the gospel?

The Preeminent Patriarch – Galatians 1:3

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ…” -Galatians 1:3

Growing up, my parents used to do this event with me and my sister periodically. One of them individually would take a night, and make it specifically about us. It would be maybe me and my mom going to “Toys R’ Us,” or my dad and I going to see one of the George Clooney “Batman” flicks. My parents saw the need for us to know the importance of not just our family love and unity, but they also saw it important to share with us their individual love and devotion. Those memories are moments I cherish, suspended in time, and they’ll remain that way until I die.

Within the first two verses of Galatians, Paul already refers to God as “Father” twice. Some say that he might be doing it formulaically. Some might recon that Paul is differentiating God the Father Trinitarianly from Jesus the Son. I think Paul has more in mind here.

Until Jesus came, only the Jews were seen as the “Children of God.” With the dawn of Christianity making its way up the horizon, the news was spreading that this movement was now accessible to all people – not just people from Israel. Now any one who believed in Jesus and his work on the cross would be seen as a child of God.

God is not just the Father of the Jews, but He is now the Father of all who come to Him in faith.

There were Jewish Christians who came to Galatia and were telling the people that they had to become Jewish. These Christians were being told that they weren’t really “Children of God” until they got circumcised and made a commitment to the Feasts and other customs of “their people,” the Jews. Paul is reminding these believers in his opening sentences that they already are God’s children. He is reminding them that God is their Father.

There are a couple truths we must realize about God being our Father. First, there is the realization that we are His children. We are heirs of His Kingdom! There are promises that pertain specifically to us. Secondly, we must view God as the patriarch of our lives – He is the head of the household. Especially at the time, within the household, the father/husband/proprietor was seen as the leader of the family. Part of what Paul is saying isn’t just that we hold the promises, but that we need to respect God has our Father.

He is our Dad who cherishes us. He takes us out to see Batman with George Clooney even though objectively it is the worst movie to the franchise. He is our Father and expects those who are His children to follow Him, respect Him, listen to Him, and obey Him. We are His children; not just the Jews, not just those in Galatia, but everyone who believes in Jesus Christ.

Apostleship, Authority, and Accountability – Galatians 1:1

“Paul, an apostle— not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead…” -Galatians 1:1

The early 1900’s was an exciting time for the church in America. The Pentecostal movement had been birthed, and what started with a small assembly in the middle of no where, had now stretched to the distant shores of the U.S. coast. This movement was even starting to expand globally! Places like the Azusa Street revival were becoming more and more normal, as people were gaining interest on how they could experience God in a way they hadn’t experienced Him before.

During this period, there rose a group of men and women whose passion it was to preserve this move of the Holy Spirit. They saw that with this movement growing so quickly, it would be easy for some one who was uneducated or misinformed to teach falsely on God or the Holy Spirit. People could come and take advantage of innocent people, and use this move of the Spirit for their own selfish ways. This reason was one of the main reasons Harvest Time’s fellowship, The Assemblies of God, was formed.

With Harvest Time being in the Assemblies it means we hold to the doctrine that they set forth. There are specifically sixteen of these “fundamental truths” that all A/G churches and pastors must adhere to and agree upon. The denomination holds our church accountable to teaching the correct gospel, and us being in the denomination puts us in fellowship with millions of like-minded believers.

At the start of his letter to the Galatians, Paul takes longer than usual to explain the authority given to him as an apostle. There was a group that came to Galatia from Jerusalem, and they claimed that their apostleship was better than Paul’s because they were from Jerusalem (the hub), and Paul was sent from a church in Antioch. They came to Galatia and were telling them that they needed to become “Jewish” to be truly accepted as a Christian.

Paul wanted to remind the Galatians that his authority wasn’t given to him just by the church in Antioch. They might have sent him on his missionary journey, but ultimately Paul’s authority came from Christ. The Galatians were in a tight spot in that they were denying the right that Paul had as their spiritual authority. They were no longer letting him hold them accountable, which is why Paul is writing this letter with such urgency.

I think there are many people today that do not have a spiritual authority in their lives. I’ve heard of stories of non-denomination churches where the pastor will cheat on his wife and keep his position, because there is no accountability. I’ve heard of pastors who owned church buildings who sold them under their congregations feet when they got let go of their pastorate. Without accountability people are left to their own devices, and even churches are left to rely on the handful of people in their four walls.

The early church wasn’t like this. Though each church had a pastor, the church as a whole would meet and discuss issues. There is an example of this in Acts when they discuss whether Gentile Christians needed to be circumcised. Each member of the church had the spiritual authority of their pastor. Each pastor had a spiritual authority of the Twelve Apostles. The Twelve were held accountable by God.

Maybe you don’t have anyone to hold you accountable. I am blessed with a wonderful senior pastor who will sit down with me and wrestle with me over tough issues. He is patient with me and gives direction not just to me and our pastoral staff, but also to the entire congregation. If you don’t have someone who can hold you accountable, someone with whom can correct you when you are wrong, I encourage you to find someone. Christianity isn’t meant to be done alone. God put pastors and leaders in our lives for a reason. Learn to be submissive not just to God, but also whoever is your spiritual authority.

I bet even your pastor has someone who he has holding him accountable.