Studies in Paul’s Letter to the Galatians
by Bob Burridge ©2017
Lesson 1: Galatians 1:1-5
The Foundation of our Faith
Paul’s “Letter to the Galatians” is one of the shorter books of the New Testament, just 6 short chapters. It’s about the size of a single feature article you would read in a magazine. Since it was written as a letter, it was meant to be read in one sitting. It’s recommend that you read the whole book through a few times so you get the natural flow of thought in it.
We can’t be sure about the exact individual churches that received this letter. Galatia is a region located in what today is Turkey. There are some clues that help us figure out when it was written by the Apostle Paul.
In Galatians 4:13 he mentions that he had preached the Gospel there before. This might fit in with his visit to the churches in South Galatia in Acts 13, 14 and 15. In Galatians 2:1 he mentions his trip to Jerusalem for the great council mentioned in Acts 15. So this letter had to have been written after that council. In Galatians 1:6 Paul says he’s amazed that they had wandered off so quickly to a different gospel. It must have been shortly after his visit with them.
In Galatians 1:1-2 he doesn’t mention Timothy and Silas as being there with him. Later they were with him when he wrote 1st & 2nd Thessalonians. In those letters he mentions them. They arrived in Corinth to be with Paul later on his second missionary journey. This could mean that Galatians was written at Corinth before their arrival. This would make this perhaps the oldest of his New Testament letters (50-53 AD). Some believe he wrote this letter to the people in Northern Galatia which would date it a little later. The exact date isn’t important in interpreting the message of this letter. But this was the region of the world that received this letter.
Paul’s letter to the Galatians and all the books of the New Testament were written in a form of Greek called “Koine“. It means the “Common Greek“. It’s also sometimes called “Hellenistic Greek“. After the conquests of Alexander the Great over 300 years before Christ, Koine became the primary language of the extended Mediterranean countries.
In God’s providence most of the civilized world was prepared with a universally understood language. The New Testament books and letters were able to be read and taught throughout the entire Roman Empire.
During the first Century, there were problems in the churches of Galatia. When the Gospel of Christ came to the people there, Christian churches were formed. Some new believers were being mislead by confused teachings about the Bible and the Gospel message. Paul was deeply concerned about this confusion. The details of the problem will be addressed as we work our way through this epistle in this series of studies.
Paul begins this letter in the typical way, by identifying himself as the writer of the letter.
1. Paul, an apostle (not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead),
2. and all the brethren who are with me, to the churches of Galatia:
Paul makes sure they understand that he’s writing to them as an Apostle. He wasn’t writing as just a Rabbi, teacher, or friend. Apostleship was an awesome responsibility. Attached to that office was the authority Christ had directly given to those men to guide the establishing of the new form of God’s church.
Paul had been personally commissioned and sent forth by Jesus Christ. Of course he didn’t become a believer until after the death and resurrection of our Savior. Before that he fiercely persecuted the church. He was a well trained and powerful Rabbi having studied under the great scholar Gamaliel. In one of those rare but special appearings of Jesus after the crucifixion, Paul was called to be part of the group the Bible calls Apostles, spokesmen for God’s Kingdom. Therefore, he spoke with the full authority of the Lord, and was being guided directly by the Holy Spirit. By virtue of inspiration the words he wrote in this letter are the infallibly inspired words of God.
His calling was not a commission by men. It came from God himself supernaturally. His critics failed to recognize the authority behind his message. They weren’t attacking just him. They were attacking Jesus and God the Father who sent him.
Paul wasn’t alone as he wrote to the Galatians. There were other believers with him, members by grace of the Family of God, brothers in Christ.
Paul then gets right down to the center of the Christian faith.
3. Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ,
4. who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,
5. to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
Paul generally started his letters by wishing Grace and Peace to his readers. Grace and Peace take on a very different dimension for the Christian.
In Paul’s time, this common form of Greek called Koine was spoken in the entire Roman Empire. Greeks greeted each other with the word, “chaire” (χαίρε). It was used the same way we use the words, “hello”, or “greetings”. Here, Paul used a form of that word, “charis” (χάρις), which means “grace or favor”. It went way beyond the popular greeting. Paul was wishing them God’s favor which is bestowed sovereignly upon otherwise undeserving people. By this mercy God changes the lost into his Children through the sacrifice of Christ, and by his Covenant Promises he cares for them forever as their Good Shepherd. It’s a very fitting greeting for the start of a letter written to those whose lives ought to be centered on God’s grace.
Then he wished them peace. The old Hebrew greeting among Jews was and still is, “shalom” (שלום), their word for “peace”. It was a wish that God’s covenant peace would be upon them. But to many, it had deteriorated into a wish for the overthrow of Rome by a military Messiah. To them, peace was freedom from Rome, not just the covenant blessing of God. It was an arrogance that meant peace from those they saw as unworthy in the world. But they had forgotten that we are all unworthy aside from God’s grace. The Greek speaking Jews used the Greek word Paul uses here, “eiraenae” (ειρηνη), the ordinary Greek word for “peace”. It’s a very general word for freedom from all sorts of discomforts and problems. But Paul didn’t mean it as just freedom from outward troubles. He meant the inner calm that comes to those who rest in God’s promises and power.
In Philippians 4:7, Paul wrote about that peace we have in Christ saying, “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
This goes way beyond the imagined peace talked about by those who don’t trust in Jesus Christ. It’s a humbling peace. Not one earned or deserved. It’s the blessing of inner tranquility given by grace to those who have offended the Creator. The very One against whom we commit our moral crimes gives us the calm of heart earned by Jesus Christ in our place. This amazing grace is what drives our love for him and enables us to live as we ought to live.
These covenant blessings come from one source only. They come “from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ.” The centrality of Christ as the source of our blessings is a major point in all Paul’s letters. Jesus promised this blessing too. He said in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
But the gospel message isn’t just good wishes, it’s based upon a firm foundation. That foundation is the redeeming work of our Lord Jesus Christ, “who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father”.
The primary fact here is that Jesus gave himself for our sins. This is the center of the good news, what we call the gospel. The sin and guilt that separates us from God, was paid for in full by the Savior who suffered and died in place of God’s chosen people.
The purpose of Christ’s coming and death was to deliver his people from this present evil age. This is the practical side of the work of Christ. It’s not just a theological fact, or an emotional stimulus to excite us in Godly living.
We live in that time between Eden and the Final coming of Jesus Christ. It’s a time of wars, natural disasters, crime, deceptions, confusion and hatred. But we can see these challenges as opportunities. Christ delivers us from bondage to sin, and repairs our fellowship with God. We walk bravely through these dark valleys led by the hand of our Savior, our Good Shepherd.
And Paul assures us that it’s all done according to God’s will, the will of our Heavenly Father. This has always been the eternal plan. Though it was revealed in stages, it never changed or had to be modified. When Paul wrote to the Ephesian churches later in his life he said in Ephesians 1:3-6, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.”
Fallen man likes to think he controls his own future, but that’s not what the Bible teaches. It tells us very clearly that all who come to believe are made able to do so by God’s grace alone. He chose them from among the whole fallen human race for a purpose: their lives are to be lived differently, as those redeemed by the Savior.
Therefore, all the glory for our faith, confidence, and changed lives should be given to God. He alone is the author of our salvation, and procuror of our peace. Then Paul adds, “to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” All the glory and honor centers on God.
Paul closes this introduction to his letter with the familiar word, Amen It’s an old Hebrew word that simply means, “truth”. What he says is absolutely what God himself says and is absolutely reliable.
The beginning of this letter reminds us of the foundation and promise we have as Christians. The original recipients of this epistle are all long dead and living with our Savior in heaven. We have problems today that are very similar to what they faced nearly 2,000 years ago. This letter is preserved in Scripture because the message is for us too. We still live in the present evil age before the final end when Christ comes back in glory. We face the God-dishonoring ways of a civilization under the strong influence of sin and Satan. Living here isn’t easy, but we have the same Risen Savior and Gospel Promise that encouraged the First Century Christians.
While politicians manipulate people’s minds to get elected, and many popular religious leaders, pastors, and authors confuse the content of the Bible, while our children are tempted to live immorally, and adults feed their own fallen lusts, while enemies make war and criminals take what isn’t theirs, and while disease, disasters, and death threaten us every day — yet we have that same covenant promise of grace and peace to see us through. It’s still based upon the victory of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary. And for all those sincerely resting their hope in Christ, it’s still God’s will to deliver them from it all, because he loves each one as his own child.
As we study this book of Galatians, we find our way back to the basics of our faith. We’re reminded that we don’t have to earn God’s blessings. They’ve already been earned by Jesus Christ. Our duty is to rely upon that all-sufficient work of mercy, and to live thankfully for it.
We don’t have to be confused by the way Christianity is so often represented as something that it’s not. We have God’s unchanging word that gives us answers for all the challenges we face. There’s always the lure of what’s popular, what seems successful, and the majority view that tempts people to say that if it’s so popular and well liked — it must be right.
Jesus and the Apostles dared to challenge that kind of thinking, worshiping, and living. They re-taught the original meaning of the law of Moses, and the principles and proverbs written by God’s prophets for his people. Though the historic situations are different in every era, the truths and principles of morality have never changed — they don’t need change.
Just as Paul started out this Epistle, and the others he wrote to the early churches, our own conversations and friendships should begin with this same foundation: God gives us his blessings of grace and peace in our hearts through the finished work of our Risen Savior, Jesus Christ.
Inner peace and security can’t be found in a winning lottery ticket, in a promotion at work, in a better car or house, or in better furniture, clothes, video games, trophies or collectibles. It’s found in being faithful to the one who is the author of real spiritual life. It’s found in the Living Savior Jesus Christ who is still with us and loves us just as he did all his people from the beginning.
If we want a more satisfying and victorious life, Nothing else satisfies like the life secured for us by God’s grace through the death of our Savior and revealed to us in his Word as the Holy Spirit applies it to our hearts.
So we can learn to say with the Apostle Paul, to God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ be all the glory forever and ever. Amen.
(The Bible quotations are from the New King James Version unless otherwise noted.)