“It was a dark and stormy night.” “I opened my eyes and confusion hit me like a semi-truck.” “A long time ago in a galaxy far far away.” Like any good piece of literature (I know the last quote isn’t from literature) the introduction sets the pace. The more solid the introduction, the more likely someone is to keep reading. Biblically, the case is true as well. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). “The historical record of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1). “How happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked or take the path of sinners or join a group of mockers!” (Psalm 1:1). “The revelation of Jesus Christ that God gave Him to show His slaves what must quickly take place” (Revelation 1:1a). The opening statement lays out the point of the book in each instance. So, it follows, in the book of Galatians the introduction has been carefully crafted so that 1) we will be encouraged to keep reading the text, and 2) so that we will clearly understand the author’s point before diving into the particulars that take the rest of six chapters to explain.
Galatians 1:1-5 says, “Paul, an apostle—not from men or by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead—and all the brothers who are with me: To the churches of Galatia. Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father. To whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”
In starting, the first thing to do is to see who is writing. Verses 1-2a say, “Paul, an apostle—not from men or by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead—and all the brothers who are with me.”
The first word is Paul. Paul is the man who was a persecutor of Christians. He hated the cause of Christ. He wanted to stamp it out. He saw it as a heresiacal sect of Judaism that was going to destroy Judaism. But all that changed that one fateful day on the road to Damascus when Jesus appeared to him and commissioned him as an apostle. Paul the Christian-hater became Paul the greatest-promoter-of-Christianity in history. Galatians is likely the first book he penned—the one that started the series of thirteen Pauline epistles that make up about 25% of our New Testament.
The first thing Paul does is say what he is not. A literal Greek translation would say, “Paul, not an apostle [sent] from men and not [an apostle] through [the agency] of men.” He instantly takes us back to the day on the Damascus road and says, “I’m not writing from my own authority. I’m carrying a much greater message. These aren’t my words. They come from Christ.”
And when he says who did send him with this message, he gets caught up in a sort of theologizing. He says, “Jesus isn’t the only one who sent me; God the Father sent me too—He’s actually the One who raised Jesus from the dead.” This is important for two reasons. First, it shows the 180 that has taken place in Paul’s life—he persecuted Christians because they worshipped a dead person; he hadn’t believed the message of resurrection until He revealed Himself to Paul. Paul now worships and serves a resurrected Messiah. Second, we see two-thirds of the Trinity right here, and give it two chapters and we’ll see the third person of the Trinity in 3:2 (the trinity was present in one of the earliest books of the New Testament; not an invention of the church fathers!).
And then verse two has him credit some other believers also with the writing of this letter. Too often we think that Paul was on his own with his theology of grace alone by faith alone apart from works, especially when we think of a verse like James 2:24: “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” But this verse says that other people agreed with Paul and helped him write this letter. Thus we should give Paul’s words in this letter great heed because they’ve been attested by more than two witnesses. We can’t excuse legalism and the like under auspices of, “That was just Paul’s theology.” We must live in the freedom of the gospel the way Paul declares. Many witnesses in his day and since would say that he was right on, and we have no right to say they were wrong. To do so is to say that God is wrong, because these words are God’s Word. But we’ll dive into that whole situation in the ensuing posts.
Verse 2b-3 says, “To the churches of Galatia. Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul is writing to a whole region of churches in this letter. And it is very interesting that the first thing he says to them is “Grace and peace.” Glance at verse 6 which we’ll look at next week and you’ll see why this is interesting. This is the only letter Paul wrote that doesn’t contain an opening blessing (several verses of such) to the recipients. It’ll be discussed more next time, but the point is that Paul isn’t vehement in this letter just because he can be; rather, he wants the people of Galatia to experience the grace and peace of God. They can’t experience that when caught in the legalism that they were caught in.
Finally, in verses 4-5, Paul describes Jesus in more clear terms. Jesus, the one who grace and peace come from is the one “who gave Himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father. To whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” It is specifically the death of Jesus that grants grace and peace. It is the death of Jesus that frees is from this present, evil age. It was God’s will to rescue us. For this reason, God is the one who deserves the glory forever. Grace removes all chances of glory from us and instead places glory squarely in the possession of the one who showed it—in this case, God. When we try to save ourselves by law-keeping, we try to steal the glory from God.
Maybe you’re still trapped in this present, evil age. Turn to Jesus! He died for your sins. He can and will rescue you from it if you believe that He is who He claimed to be. Like Paul, make a 180 in your mind about Him, stop trying to save yourself by your good deeds, and let grace do its work. Maybe you already know Him, but maybe you still feel trapped in this evil age. Look to the cross. That’s where the work was accomplished. Stop beating yourself up about your past. Look forward to your future. Love God daily. Love people daily. Loving people sometimes looks like writing them a harsh letter out of love for them, with their ultimate well-being in mind. This is what Paul has begun in these verses. This is what Paul will continue throughout the letter.
Til next time.
Soli Deo Gloria