Date: 28 Jan 2018
Text: Galatians 1:6-10
Last week we started looking at Paul’s rather interesting letter to the four churches in the Roman Province of Galatia. These churches were founded by Paul when he and Barnabas conducted what became known as their first missionary journey. For this journey they started in Antioch in Syria by sailing across to Cyprus. They then crossed Cyprus before sailing on to Lycia and making their way up to southern Galatia. Their return journey involved re-tracing their steps apart from not making a return visit to Cyprus.
In last week’s sermon we looked at Paul’s opening remarks in 1:1-5. This opening followed the general pattern that he used in all his other letters but with a couple of very important additions. Part of that opening was hard hitting and in many ways the rest of the letter is similarly tough in tone. It was after all written to a group of churches who needed guidance and correction in their faith which is why the opening verses didn’t beat about the bush!
Today I want us to look at the next five verses, 1:6-10. Once again Paul doesn’t waste any time and gets straight to the point. Normally in the verses immediately following the opening there is some form of small talk where Paul praised his readers for their faith and what they had been doing. In this letter there is no such small talk as Paul moves straight into admonishing them for what had been happening. The fact that he started in this way can only mean that news had reached him about events in Galatia almost as soon as he had returned to Antioch in Syria. I’m always amazed at how quickly news, both good and bad, could travel so rapidly at that time of no Internet, mobile phones or postal service, but travel it did.
Paul was astonished, and no doubt disappointed, to hear that the new Christians in Galatia had already started to desert Jesus Christ. It is true that there are those who do fall away fairly soon after coming to faith although it generally takes a while for it to happen. In this instance though, it appears to have happened not very long after Paul had departed for home. Whilst falling away from faith is not to be encouraged, it is not uncommon and is fairly easy to do if a new or relatively new Christian is not helped, guided and supported by a spiritual mentor. In a number of other churches that Paul founded he often left one of his friends behind to act as Pastor for the new church. I can only assume that that didn’t happen in this instance. You see, these new Christians were being led astray and turning to a different, and perverted, gospel. The gospel may be seen in two ways; firstly, it is the message of salvation and eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ, and secondly, it is Jesus Christ Himself; He is the good news! It seems strange therefore that people in the Galatian churches should so quickly desert the one true gospel since there is no other. In 1:6 Paul talks of Christians being “called ... by the grace of Christ”. He expanded on that belief in Ephesians 2:8-9 where he wrote, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no-one can boast.” God’s grace is sufficient for salvation and nothing else need be dne or added; as Jesus said on the cross as He breathed His last, “it is finished” (John 19:30).
Jesus came to bring salvation and eternal life to all who placed their faith in Him. Part of that included providing access to God our Heavenly Father as Jesus Himself told us in John 14:6b that “No one comes to the Father except through me”. That is an absolutely vital part of the gospel; Jesus died at Calvary to provide that access to God and that access is only available through faith in Him; nothing else needs to be done, not circumcision or following food laws or following any other rites and customs. In connection with this one of my favourite thoughts concerns the thief on the cross. As He hung there dying Jesus said to the thief, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise." (Luke 23:43). If more were needed then the thief had no chance. However, nothing more was needed, only faith in Jesus.
Despite all that a number of the people of Galatia were turning elsewhere, they were being totally misled by false teachers and people who Paul referred to as ‘Judaisers’. They were at work attempting to undermine Paul’s work of proclaiming salvation through faith alone and I suspect that they had been waiting in the wings, waiting for the moment when he was safely far away so that they could get on with corrupting the message of Jesus as well as those who had placed their faith in Him. The message of these false teachers was simple, faith in Jesus Christ alone wasn’t enough, more was needed and the ‘more’ was to follow the Jewish customs and laws which included being circumcised. It was a simple battle of law versus grace, and Paul’s attitude on this was very clear as he stated later in 2:21, “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” It didn’t take long for this battle to happen and may well have started as soon as Paul and Barnabas had departed. That leads me to wonder if there was a lack of leadership in the Galatian churches. If there was then that may have been a bit of an oversight on Paul’s part which I find very strange indeed; and that is a topic to which I may return later in this series.
Paul was astounded that these new Christians should already be turning to a “different gospel – which is really no gospel at all” (1:6-7). These people were being badly led astray by false teachers who were throwing them “into confusion and ... trying to pervert the gospel of Christ” (1:7). There is only one true gospel and that is what Paul had always preached wherever he went. That gospel was, and still is, the gospel of Jesus Christ which comes directly from God Himself; any other “gospel” that is preached is a perversion and not the truth. Jesus Himself said in that famous verse in John 14:6, which I’ve already partially quoted, “I am the way and the truth and the life”. There is no other way to gain access to God or to receive salvation than through Jesus Christ. That is the truth and these false teachers who were at large in Galatia were preaching a falsehood.
Those who were active in Galatia and who were preaching a different message were perverting the true gospel and leading people away from Jesus Christ. In a slightly roundabout way, Jesus was talking about such people in Matthew 18:6 when He said to His disciples, “... if anyone causes one of these little ones – those who believe in me - to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” Jesus was actually talking about anyone who led stray little children. However, the implication I hope is obvious and means that Jesus was condemning anyone who led astray Christians, especially new Christians, in any way. That is what these Galatian false teachers were doing; they were leading astray those who had only recently placed their faith in Jesus.
It should be very obvious that Paul was utterly appalled by all this and wholeheartedly condemned those who were preaching this perverted message. In 1:8 he suggests that anyone who preaches a different gospel, even an angel or anyone else, is guilty of perverting God’s Word and the gospel and their fate should be simple: “let them be under God’s curse!” Read 1:8 carefully and you will see that Paul includes himself in this condemnation; he was always anxious to remain faithful to the gospel with which he had been entrusted and wanted to be judged accordingly. Paul obviously regarded this as a really important since he repeated this comment in 1:9 where he suggested that, “If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse”. The Greek word that is used for curse is anathema, a word not totally unknown in the English language. It was used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament to refer to the divine ban, the curse of God’s destruction resting upon anyone preaching a different gospel. The Amplified Bible quite simply says that such people were “doomed to destruction”. In repeating his comment, Paul was expressing his wish that God’s judgement would fall upon these false teachers so that no one would ever again allow them a hearing since they were people who God had rejected. It was important that the Galatian people did stop listening to them since these teachers were perverting not only the gospel but also abandoning it, something which leads to spiritual perversion which in turn leads to moral and ethical perversion.
No matter how long someone has been a Christian the devil will never give up trying to take them away from their faith in Jesus. To coin a phrase, he is craftier than a cartload of monkeys and will always try to lure a Christian into sin. When that fails he moves on to try and deceive them with false doctrine and a false gospel. Sadly it seems that many new Christians in Galatia were being confused and led astray by a false gospel. Such false teaching has always been a problem and will remain so until Jesus returns and defeats these false teachers once and for all. Later in his ministry Paul knew that he had similar problems in Corinth which is why he wrote to them and said, “... Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.” (2 Corinthians 11:14-15). Whilst Paul may have been upbraiding the Galatians for their actions there is also a hint of a warning that they should avoid such false teaching lest they too be condemned. We also need to heed what Paul has been saying here. The devil is not idle and will never give up which is why we should always be on our guard against false teachers; they may sound plausible but unless they are preaching the same gospel that Paul preached, that is the gospel of Jesus Christ, then they are false teachers.
I’m not sure that Paul would ever win a popularity contest; that wasn’t what he was interested in; he only wanted to serve Jesus Christ. In the closing verse of this short passage, 1:10, he was very anxious to remind people of just Who it was he was serving. Despite his background as a zealous Jew and persecutor of followers of Jesus, following his miraculous encounter with the risen Lord on the Damascus Road, Paul served Him and no one else. His faith was rock solid and he only ever sought to preach the gospel and in doing so, to please God. At no stage in his life as a servant of Christ did he try to win any popularity contest or seek the approval of men and women. As he conducted his missionary journeys and founded churches Paul often said things that offended. However, regardless of that he always preached the message of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, the message given to him by God and not by man. When we look back to 1:1 Paul confirmed that aspect of his ministry when he said that he was “sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father”. It is interesting to note in that final sentence that he seems to regard being popular with Christ through serving Him as being mutually exclusive from being popular with people. He put it better when he said, “If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ”. Those comments apply just as equally today. No one can expect to be popular with Christ and with people at the same time. Preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ is not always the way to win friends and influence people. It is however, the way to win souls for Christ, and that is far more important that any public popularity contest. Paul summed it up rather well when he told the Thessalonians, “... we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts.” (1 Thessalonians 2:4).
This is only the second sermon in the series from Galatians and today we have only considered 1:6-10 and yet we can already see that this is a very hard hitting letter. In 1:6 we read that Paul says, “I am astonished” at what had been happening. That sounds a bit soft to me since the tone suggests that he was more likely to be incensed. Paul felt that he needed to be strong in his comments since this was no time for diplomacy or subtlety; he had to tell it like it is.
In these verses Paul was trying to point out to the Galatians the error of their ways by urging them to avoid and ignore false teachers. We can do worse than take heed of what he had to say in 49 AD.