Akwaaba my friends!
Akwaaba is what they say in Ghana as a greeting – Welcome! I’ve been roaming the Ghanaian countryside for the last two Sundays, lovely to be back with you. You think it’s nice and warm today – where I was – it averaged 38 for the week. Add in some equatorial humidity and you get the picture. But it wasn’t all bad – was actually quite a nice trip. Lovely people – I was called Engineer Andrew – forget Dr so and so – the engineers are finally important I’ve spent my life under the shadow of Dr Rowan - now it’s my time to shine– the registered engineers there, and in other African countries will place the word Engineer in front of your name, because you’ve earned it – it’s a title of respect. I’m going to ask you to refer to me and engineer Andrew if you don’t mind from now on.
This morning we’re going to spend some time looking at, not Engineer Andrew, but The Apostle Paul, Saint Paul
We’re looking at Galatians 1 this morning, please make your way there in your bibles if you don’t mind.
The Apostle Paul – why was he called that? What did it mean? Why was it such an issue to some at the time?
Lawrence set us off last week on this quick series through the book of Galatians – and as he usually does – have you noticed he often, with these series gets us going and then after the rest of us have come up and said our bits, it’s his unenviable job to try and bring these things back together after six weeks or so of varying quality teaching. Poor guy.
But here we are – let’s see what the Lord has to say to us this morning.
1 Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— 2 and all the brothers and sisters[a] with me,
To the churches in Galatia:
3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!
10 Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.
So plenty to pick up on already. Let’s dive in – letter identifies Paul as the writer, and immediately he identifies himself using this term – Apostle – he goes on to say he has been sent by Jesus Christ and God the Father.
But to understand the weight of a simple sentence like that, you actually have to go back – when Paul wasn’t Paul. Paul used to be Saul. Saul of Tarsus – Who was Saul of Tarsus – not such a lekker guy – not someone we would want in our church hey. He was a strong believer, but not in Jesus – He was a Pharisee – a big shot Pharisee – zealous in fact to chase down and lock up these new believers
This is the kind of guy we are talking about…
9 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.
But a lot has happened since then of course – Saul meets Jesus on the Damascus Rd – and has this amazing conversion experience – face to face with the living God – and his life is turned around – Jesus changes more than just his name hey. Paul goes from someone persecuting these ‘people of the way’ – to joining them – to becoming their biggest advocate – to becoming one of their most influential leaders. 180 degrees. And to do that he had to throw away the old and embrace the new. This is a radical change.
A short while later he writes
13 For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. 14 I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. 17 I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus.
There was no warm soft enticement by the local church – no lovely outreach programme, winning Saul over from being an enemy of the Church to being a friend of God – HE is converted because the one true God reveals himself to Saul. There is little in it for him, if you will, you wonder how easy it would have been for Saul to make that change – You wonder if he knew wait laid in store for him as he puts his faith in the revealed Christ?
But you also realise why God does what he does – He takes the WORST candidate, but also, actually the best candidate – if there was any way to show his power and his Grace at the same time – it would be to call this enemy of the Church, this persecutor to faith. And it that way it becomes clear that this is not of man’s doing – no MAN could have spoken this into being – no preacher, no matter how gifted could have converted a heart that HARD - it had to be divine.
And so Paul embraces the term as he writes to the church – I am an Apostle. Not sent from a man and not BY a man – so there’s a question of source and also means. It begins with Jesus the source- and Jesus does the work! He is the means as well of salvation.
So that it who Paul is.
Let’s now think about this church that Paul writes to quickly.
Well, firstly, it’s not one church – the verses say to the Churches in Galatia – this is more like a circular letter – to be passed around. Many of the churches that would receive this letter would have been churches Paul planted himself – Paul and Barnabas passed through the area on their first missionary journey. The area – middle of Turkey-ish. These churches would have been a mixture of Jewish and Gentile converts - and this is where it gets interesting – you will discover later in the Galatians 2, that here, and in other fledgling churches around Europe, there is massive pressure from the group called the Judasiers. Who were the Judasiers, they were a group of people - supposedly members of the church, who were culturally and historically Jewish, and who held the position that in order to obtain salvation, you needed to believe in Jesus AND you also had to keep the Mosaic Law – in other words you still had to follow the rituals, circumcision, the whole shebang – to be saved. So you have this powerful group of people – remember that, just people, saying – there were things you had to do – to be saved, and it maybe seems quite minor – agh, it’s just a few customs and rituals, so closely aligned with their past and community – so what you know, why not just cover your bases and embrace both… what’s the harm. Well the harm is that it totally undercuts the heart of the Gospel – that it is Jesus who saves. That man cannot earn his salvation, cannot save himself.
Also it really divides the church back into the Jewish and Gentile parts, doesn’t it – where you had this new Church welcoming all, telling all people of all backgrounds about the Gospel, that Jesus died for them – that they too could come before God. All nations, all tribes all tongues – but no there was this movement saying Works is the way – do this do that - adding to the simple message of the Gospel, undercutting it. And Paul sees through this – he is astonished. And remember Paul regards himself as being a specific minister to the gentiles…
6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.
He’s pretty firm isn’t he – pretty strong language? Guys you are being pulled away from God – by – people. You’re pleasing men, not God. You’ve dropped your eyes from the vertical to the horizontal.
Who is your master here?
But hold on – isn’t Paul just some guy as well, telling these poor okes what to do? What makes him so special? You know what I mean – don’t listen to those guys, listen to ME instead. That’s pretty arrogant isn’t it?
But here comes the difference – Paul needs to back up what he is saying – enforce his message – persuade his readers that he’s not just making this up and sucking it out of thin air
11 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.
Paul is not trying to establish himself as being better than the Judaisers, and more worthy of following or listening to – the reason he appeals to his apostleship – the reason he defends himself is this – the message he brings comes directly from the Lord himself. Otherwise ja, he is indeed just some guy who passed through on a journey a while back.
This is what you will hear coming through this book – the truth of the Gospel. It comes directly from God alone.
It comes directly by God alone – there is no need to pervert it – to use Paul's word. There is no need to alter it – it is perfect just as it is. A different Gospel – a man centered Gospel, that serves mans need and brings men status, and glory, and power – is no Gospel at all. This is the Gospel of Christ.
This is the freedom that comes from the Grace of God – that you do not have to be bound to traditions and man made requirements – you are no longer enslaved to the Law – that you have freedom in Christ – that the Gentiles would too, have this freedom to come to Faith. Unhindered, unencumbered.
And for Paul, being sent by Jesus Christ and God the Father – this is a far greater claim than being sent out by man.
What follows is a mini CV – similar to ones you might find elsewhere in the epistles – Paul is not ashamed of his past – he brings it up as a powerful testimony of the distance that the Lord has brought him. He is almost inviting his readers to go and verify these facts. Anybody could easily find out if he was who he says he was.
He reminds his readers of where he used to be, and what he has been through to get to where he is now – and listen to the types of contrasts coming out in the next few verses – pleasing people vs pleasing God.
13 For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. 14 I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. (so he had a position of esteem among people)15 But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. 17 I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus.
18 Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas[b] and stayed with him fifteen days. 19 I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother. 20 I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie.
21 Then I went to Syria and Cilicia. 22 I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they praised God because of me.
The see his transformation – and they esteem him? NO, they praise God – the Gospel he preaches in not man centered.
Why does Paul need to make this defense? Why does HE need to give this assurance that he is not lying? Well He is under attack His Personal standing is in question – they will go on later and you’ll see again that while the Gospel itself is really under attack, one common way to do that is to attack the messenger as well. If the Judaisers convince the churches in Galatia that Paul is not the leader he claims to be – they discount the message he brings – a classic strategy - playing the man – AD Hominem attack.
This is a pretty similar thing that creeps into the church at Corinth – you have Paul using the same types of arguments and defenses in his letters to that Church. Look at Philippians as well.
So it was happening to these Churches – in the Galatian Area – in Corinth, in Philippi, 2000 years ago – and yes, since then – throughout church history – it is an ongoing to struggle to defend – SOUND DOCTRINE.
To keep the false prophets out and to stick to the truth.
Not us though, obviously – we’ve got it right, don’t we – wait, don’t fall into that trap – test what you hear – you might think you can trust me – but wait until you hear what the speaker next week has to say – that guy (this guy) has some dodgy ideas….
SO be sure to check that what you are hearing is true, and legit. Verify it. Corroborate it. Study it, examine it.
Do you know the hurdles I had to jump through before I was allowed into Ghana?
Before I was able to set foot in in the country. I had to pass not one but two covid tests? One before I took off and one when I landed – like I was gonna catch it on the place with 100 other people who had all passed the test?
- They needed to see my passport
- My yellow fever certificate
- My Visa
- My letter of invitation
- My itinerary
- My payslip!
- Proof of my accommodation
All before I was approved. And before Engineer Andrew could be Trusted.
The Apostle Paul spends a lot of the beginning part establishing that what he has to say is true – is trustworthy, is from God – because, what he goes on to say in the rest of Galatians IS TRUE, IS TRUSTWORTHY, IS FROM GOD. And worth paying attention to.
Are we all apostles nowadays? New Apostolic Church
If we go down the wormhole of semantics… there are various definitions – originally – in the bible context – it was the original 12 disciples who were identified and named as apostles – you have to have spent a period of time under the teaching of Christ himself – in the flesh – ya had to be there - Paul identifies himself as an apostle – as one sent by Jesus and us believers are quick to point out well actually he is right because he did see Jesus face to face so he qualifies.
And then there are groups nowadays that would say we are all Apostles on missions sent by Jesus and God. GO to Ghana – Apostle this, Prophet that - look at the New Apostolic Churches around Cape Town.
But perhaps getting fixed on that word is the wrong way to look at it. Galatians might seem to be about Paul, but as with all of Scripture it is pointing us to God himself.
A better question to take home is this – in exactly the way Paul puts it -
10 Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God?
10 Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God?
Are we pleasing God or are we pleasing Man – a hard question to answer perhaps, in the various places we find ourselves in our lives with the various decisions that come before us everyday. But the question is actually simple.
It’s harder to answer even more so as a leader – I would imagine Paul might have been tempted to puff himself up, and start telling the people what they wanted to hear, tickling ears and making friends…. You look at our leaders nowadays , and there’s a lot of people saying a lot of people pleasing things that they can’t back up.
Praise God for the truth in his Scripture, Praise God for the truth in Paul’s message. May we all , as messengers of Christ , be able to cling to the one true Gospel, that comes from.
David sent me a song this week as I was preparing for this morning – what a nice thing to do – find yourself a Christian buddy who will send you encouragement.
And this song – it’s called Second Opinions we’re going to ask David to come up here and sing it for us - no I’m joking we’re not you can go home and google it – Second Opinions by Casting Crowns
And there is one line that stuck with me – and it’s this – the song is all about being distracted from God’s work by people coming up with their own ideas and ‘second opinions’
And the line is this – taking notes – write this one down.
There is one throne and I’m not on it.
There is one throne and I’m not on it.
Amen. Galatians 2 next week.