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Playing Defense (Galatians 1:10-24)

May 6, 2012 Speaker: Bryce Morgan Series: When Jesus Isn't Enough (Galatians)

Topic: Galatians Passage: Genesis 1:10–1:24

 

Playing Defense

Galatians 1:10-24

(One Lord: So Great a Salvation)

May 6th, 2012

I. Introduction

This morning we are returning to our study of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, a study we began at the end of March. Let me quickly remind you to whom Paul is writing here. Galatia was a Roman province in what is today east-central Turkey.

Therefore, these Galatian churches to whom Paul is writing were the churches in cities like Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe, cities in southern Galatia, cities in which Paul and Barnabas preached on their first missionary journey, described in Acts 13 and 14.

II. The Passage: “But I Received it Through a Revelation” (1:10-24)

If you quickly just scan over verses 6-9, you will pick up or be reminded of the fact that, right from the ‘get-go’, Paul is warning these churches about the danger of embracing, of believing a gospel (a term which means “good news”...a gospel) different from the one he had proclaimed among them. But look at where Paul goes in verse 10.

A. Understanding the Opponents’ Charges (1:10-12)

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.

Okay, before we really dig into the remaining verses of chapter 1, it is essential that we piece together some of the clues we’ve been given in this letter and talk about the possible charges or accusations that Paul’s opponents were leveling against him. Yes, there were opponents.

Look back at 1:7. We learned from verse 7 that there was some kind of group that had infiltrated these young, Gentile (non-Jewish) churches and was troubling the believers and distorting the gospel of Christ. Do you see that? It was this group that was attempting to undermine Paul’s credibility. And based on verse 10 specifically, but also on the rest of chapters 1 and 2, I think we can say that these teachers were attacking Paul in two ways:

1) These teachers were most likely stating that Paul had been trained by and commissioned by the Jerusalem Church, but was now veering away from the very truths they had been entrusted to him. AND 2) These opponents were most likely claiming that Paul was veering away from the truth by presenting a partial gospel that would be popular with the Gentiles.

And the best guess is that these teachers were actually from the church in Jerusalem.

We know from Acts 15 that the Apostles in Jerusalem had to, probably around this same time, send a letter to the Gentile churches about this kind of threat. Acts 15:23 described the opening of this letter:

“The brothers, both the apostles and the elders [in Jerusalem], to the brothers who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia [which shared a border with Galatia], greetings. [24] Since we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions... [notice: “trouble”]

But notice in verse 10 how, right away, Paul goes on the attack against the charges of these teachers, specifically the charge that the main motivation behind his ministry is to win the approval of men. Look at that word “now” at the beginning of verse 10. For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God?

I think Paul is referring to his strong tone in verse 6-9. In those verses he's coming out with ‘guns blazing’! Not only has he labeled the Galatians as ‘deserters’ from the truth, but he’s also issued two curses on anyone who is proclaiming a false gospel. That sure doesn’t sound like the approach a people-pleaser would take. Paul is clearly not seeking their approval.

B. Countering the Opponents’ Charges (1: 11-24)

But look at how he continues to respond these accusations in verses 11 and 12:

For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man's gospel. [12] For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

So Paul wants them to understand that the message he proclaimed among them was not his own invention, nor was it something he had learned from some book or through hours of training in Jerusalem. No, the message he gave to them was the very message given to him by Jesus Christ.

Now, we also need to remember the very first words of this letter, because they go hand-in-hand with Paul’s argument here. Chapter 1, verse 1: Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead…

So Paul’s message, and his commission as a messenger, were both from God.

But let’s take a look at how the rest of chapter 1 provides three key pieces of evidence to support Paul’s claims here. Look at verses 13 and 14:

1. Evidence #1: Paul the Persecutor (1:13, 14)

For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. [14] And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.

As Paul indicates here, the Galatians had heard, either from Paul himself, or from Barnabas, or through the grapevine, of those former days described in Acts 8:3… But Saul [i.e. Paul] was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.

Not only was Paul excelling as a crusader against what he perceived to be blasphemy, but in general, as we learn from verse 14, Paul was moving up the ladder in terms of his standing in Judaism; he was among the “whose who” of Jewish leadership; we would say, a ‘rising star’!

But notice what Paul is doing. He is showing them that the trajectory of his former life was completely opposed to both the church and the message of the church. He was not trained in the Jerusalem church. He was advancing in Judaism. He was not commissioned by the church. He was trying to destroy it. It would take something pretty powerful to knock Paul off the course he was pursuing.

2. Evidence #2: Paul the Chosen (1:15, 16a)

But look at what we read in verse 15 and 16 about “something pretty powerful”:

But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, [16] was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles…

Now, that sentence continues, but let's stop there for a minute. If the Galatians had heard of Paul's former life in Judaism (v. 13), then they undoubtedly had heard the story of how God powerfully intervened when Paul was on the road to Damascus. Acts 9:3-5 tells us...

Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. [4] And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” [5] And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”

But as Paul reveals here in verses 15 and 16, God's plan for Saul didn't begin on the road to Damascus. No, Paul tells us here that God had set him apart, even before he was born, and that because of God's plan, because of God's purpose for Paul, he was called by God's grace while on that road to Damascus. Actually, we read the same thing back in Acts chapter 9. We read there...

But the Lord said to him [to a man name Ananias, who was going to help the newly converted Saul....the Lord said], “Go, for he [Saul/Paul] is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.” (Acts 9:15)

Paul's message and Paul's commission as a messenger were not the result of the Jerusalem church choosing and calling him. No, his ministry was a result of God choosing and calling him. His ministry in Galaia was not according to his own agenda. It was according to God eternal and foreordained agenda.

3. Evidence #3: Paul the New Apostle (1:16b-24)

Now, Paul defense continues right on into chapter 2, which we will look at next week, but look at the final piece of evidence Paul gives here in chapter 1. Let's pick it up in verse 16:

[When God] was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; [17] nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. [18] Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. [19] But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord's brother. [20] (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) [21] Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. [22] And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. [23] They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” [24] And they glorified God because of me.

Now, there is some good geographical and chronological information here, that is, information about the 'where', 'when', and the 'how long' of Paul's early days. And this information is really helpful in one sense because it gives us more details than we find in the book of Acts (which we can tell, based on this, is a very compressed, a very simplified account of Paul's early ministry).

But we need to understand why Paul is providing these details in this context. Notice how the whole explanation centers around Jerusalem and Judea (that's the Roman province where Jerusalem was located). After Jesus appeared to Paul on the Damascus road, Paul, as a new Apostle, did not consult with other Christian leaders, and he certainly did not go to Jerusalem (135 miles to the SW). Instead he went out into the desert regions, to the east and south of Damascus, and then eventually came back to Damascus.

And when Paul eventually did go to Jerusalem, it was three years after his conversion, and he only stayed there 15 days, and only saw Peter, and James, the half-brother of Jesus. (when I finally stand with Peter and Paul in the presence of Christ, I would love to know exactly what they talked about during those 15 days when Paul was sleeping on Peter's couch!) Who knows why Paul only saw these two guys; maybe the other apostles were preaching abroad, or maybe they were still scared of Paul the persecutor...we don't know.

But as Paul confirms in verses 22-24, his ministry was simply not based in or around Jerusalem. The churches in the region knew OF him, but they did not know him personally, because he wasn't there. Notice how emphatic Paul is about his truthfulness in verse 20. Therefore the teachers who were troubling the Galatians, who were distorting the gospel, these men were spreading lies about Paul. There accusations were baseless.

III. Seeds for Us to Water

As we think about how this passage should impact our lives, we need to remember the whole point of Paul's extended defense (which goes all the way to 2:14); we need to remember why Paul is working so hard to explain his past. His goal is not ultimately to defend himself. His goal is to defend the message he delivered to the Galatians, probably only two to three years earlier.

The issue is not his ultimately his credibility, but the credibility of the gospel. If the Galatians are suspicious of Paul, they will also be suspicious of his teaching. And that's exactly what has happened. They have been duped, and Paul is fighting here to rouse them from the spell their under.

As we talked about in our last study in Galatians, the gospel is not something you can distort or change, and still have everything run smoothly. When it comes to a car, you can have a broken window, or a bad radiator, or a bad spark plug, or even a flat tire, and still be able to operate the car. Those things can be very serious and they will definitely slow you down, but the car will still run. But changing the gospel is like taking the engine out of the car. You won't get very far without an engine, will you?

The gospel is the engine of the Christian life. Everything revolves around the message it contains. What is that message? Well, at Way of Grace, we've summed up the gospel and a right response to the gospel in our “Confession of Trust”, which you will find printed every Sunday on the back of the bulletin. It reads...

“God, I believe what your word says is true. I believe you should be at the center of my life as the only One worthy of my undivided love and devotion. I recognize I have foolishly tried to stand in your place. I know trusting in my own wisdom and strength has led me away from you and from obedience to your loving commands. I accept that I stand guilty under your just sentence, worthy of eternal punishment. But I thank you, O God, for making a way of grace through Jesus. I believe that He died on the cross in order to accept your verdict for my sin. I believe He rose from the dead in order to give me a new life in which I can follow you in love. By your grace, I turn from that old way, embracing in faith the Lord Jesus and the forgiveness he makes possible. Thank you that I can know fullness of life with you, now and forever, because of Christ.”

Is that the “good news”, is that the gospel you've embraced through faith? If so, like Paul, do you, will you, are you defending this message from distortions?

Listen, there will be times in the life of every Christian, every follower of Christ, when he or she will need to defend the message of Jesus from the attacks, from the arguments of someone whose purpose is to distort the gospel. But we will also need to know that these distortions can come from inside us, from our own hearts.

What I love about Paul's defense here is that as he defends his credibility and authority as a messenger of the gospel, he is also planting seeds in the hearts and minds of the Galatians. These are gospel seeds that he will water and nurture in the chapters to come, seeds that he hopes will bear fruit and correct the distortions being introduced by these false teachers.

But I think these seeds can be extremely helpful for us as well. Let me explain how. Let's talk about three of the things Paul tells us about himself here:

First of all, in verses 13 and 14, Paul tells them, “I was once an enemy of God”.

Paul had a notorious past, not in a worldly kind of way, but in a religious kind of way. He was a persecutor of Christians. He wanted to destroy the church. You see, on one hand, Paul reminds the Galatians about his past in order to clarifiy his relationship to the Jerusalem Church and to the Christian faith. But on the other hand, Paul wants them to remember that he, without knowing it, he was an enemy of God.

But according to Paul's words in Romans 5:10, all of us are born as “enemies” of God. Romans 8 and Colossians 1 both tell us that apart from Christ, all of us are hostile to God. Paul's story may be unique in terms of the specific details, but it isn't unique in terms of being an enemy of God.

If you are a follower of Christ, when you think of who you were before you trusted in Jesus, do you recognize that you were God's enemy. Look, you don't have to be a persecutor of the church to be God's enemy. You simply have to set yourself up as god over your own life. We try to play God, don't we? But God will not tolerate rivals to His throne. We are enemies.

You see, when we begin to distort the gospel with ideas about our own goodness, that we really weren't or aren't that bad, this gospel seed provides the needed correction. Like Paul, we need to tell ourselves, “I was once an enemy of God”. And that sets us up for...

The second gospel seed... that Paul plants here is in verses 15 and 16, where he says, “God chose me, called me, and revealed his Son to me by grace.”

You see, if we were truly God's enemies, then the forgiveness and freedom that Jesus gives has to be by grace, which we can define as “undeserved favor or kindness”. Grace is such a beautiful word, because it brings us life when we only deserve death; it brings us forgiveness when we only deserve justice; it brings us in when all we deserve is to be cast out as God's enemies... “Amazing grace, who sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.”

Listen, we can distort the gospel and believe we chose well when we chose Jesus. But grace teaches us that we did not and could not choose Jesus. God chose us, just as Paul understood about himself. He chooses, He calls, and He reveals his Son to us. (Eph. 1:3, 4)

What a corrective this is whenever we begin to think we are somehow worthy or capable. We need to be able to affirm with Paul, “I was once an enemy of God...but He chose me, called me, and revealed his Son to my by grace.” It's also brings assurance: it's all about God!

Look at the third seed Paul plants here; look at verse 10, where he affirms, “I am a servant of Christ, devoted to pleasing Him above all.”

Look at verse 10 again: 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 (lit. a slave) of Christ. Paul understands that through faith in the gospel message, he is now a servant of Christ; that because of the price Jesus paid, he (Paul) no longer belongs to himself. He was bought. He now lives to please one Master.

But so often we are tempted to distort the gospel and turn it into something that is palatable to worldy tastes, something that doesn't offend or convict, something that fits God into MY life rather than making me fit for a relationship with God on HIS terms.

But the gospel corrects that distortion. Christ died that I might live for Him, not myself, because living for myself is the very reason He had to die. (II Cor 5:14, 15) Are you living as a people-pleaser, or as a slave of Christ? Brothers and sisters, these are the seeds we need to water every day. We need to remind ourselves of these things every day. Let's pray that God would alllow the gospel to bear its fruit on our lives, and through us, in the lives of others.

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