Galatians 1

In opening his letter Paul not only announced his apostleship but emphasized the fact that he held this place directly from God. It had reached him from no man, not even the twelve who were chosen before him. Men were not the source of it, nor had he received it by means of them as channels. God was the source of it, and it had reached him by Jesus Christ. Hence he had a fulness of authority not possessed by the Judaising teachers who were troubling them, for they at best could only pretend to be the emissaries of brethren in Jerusalem. Moreover, as he points out, all the brethren in his company at the moment of his writing associated themselves with what he said in the epistle. There was ample weight behind his utterances!

He writes, you notice, not to one assembly of Christians only, but to the assemblies of the province of Galatia, who all had evidently been affected in the same way. Now the Gospel had reached them through Paul's labours, as is intimated in Gal. 4: 11-15. They had given him a wonderful reception and had seemed to be most devoted to him. Miracles were wrought amongst them (Gal. 3: 5), and it was a most enthusiastic time. There is no record of any opposition. Nobody appears to have hurled stones at Paul's head! Yet in the Acts all this is ignored. We are only told that they went "through . . . the region of Galatia" (Acts 16: 6), preaching the Gospel, and that later they "went over all the country of Galatia . . . strengthening all the disciples" (Acts 18: 23).

This is significant! Evidently it was one of those times when there was too much surface work-too much of the stony ground element. We must not disparage the Apostle's work because of this, for the Lord assumed that this shallow work would be found even when He Himself was the sower. It all looked so wonderful and yet the Holy Spirit knew from the outset what lay beneath the surface, and when Luke was inspired to write his second treatise this apparently wonderful time in Galatia is dismissed with the barest mention.

In the opening salutations (verses 3-5) the Lord Jesus is presented in a very significant way. He truly gave Himself for our sins, but the purpose in view was our being delivered from "this present evil world." As we proceed with the epistle we shall see how the law, the flesh and the world go together; inasmuch as the law was given to put a curb on the flesh and thus to make the world what it should be. In effect it did neither, though it revealed both in their true character. We shall find on the other hand, that the grace of the Gospel brings in faith and the Spirit, and delivers from the world, which is treated as under condemnation.

The "world" here has the sense of "age" or "course of this world." It is the world system rather than the people in the world. It is a very present system today, and it is a judged and condemned system; hence it is the will of God that we be delivered from it, and to this end the Lord Jesus died for us.

With verse 6, Paul plunges straight into the main burden of his letter. The Gospel which he had preached to them had called them into the grace of Christ, and now they had turned aside to a different message which was no true gospel at all. He was filled with wonder at their folly, indeed as we read these solemn words we can feel the hot indignation which lay behind them. They were following "a different gospel, which is not another,"-as it should read. They may have imagined that they were receiving a new and improved version of the old message. They were not. It was a radically different message, and a false one at that.

In verse 8, Paul contemplates himself perverting God's Gospel in this way, or even an angel from heaven doing so; not a fallen angel, but an angel hitherto unfallen and coming from the presence of God. Upon either or both he solemnly pronounces the curse of God. Having done so it seems as though he anticipates that some will regard him as extreme in his denunciation and wish to remonstrate with him. He anticipates this by repeating the curse, only this time making its force even plainer. As a matter of fact neither he nor an angel from heaven would so pervert the Gospel, but certain men had been doing so amongst the Galatians, so now he says, "If any man . . ."

If any are inclined to think that this was just a petulant outburst against a set of rival preachers, let them consider what was involved in the matter, and they will soon see that the curse was the curse of God, with all the weight of His might behind it.

What then was involved? Let us answer by asking a question by way of illustration. Do you think that a person who surreptitiously tips a dose of poison into somebody's teapot is worthy of condemnation? You most certainly do. What then do you think he is worthy of, who should in the dead of night shoot a whole cart-load of virulent poison into the waterworks supplying a town? You have no language in which to express your abhorrence of such an awful deed. But here were men who were perverting the message which is the only river of salvation and spiritual life for a fallen world. In what language can the Spirit of God express His abhorrence of a deed like that? Only in pronouncing upon them the solemn curse of God.

You will notice that these men did not contradict the Gospel, but perverted it. For one who utterly denies the Gospel you will find many who pervert it. They dexterously give it just that subtle twist which completely falsifies its true character. Let us be on our guard against them.

The real motive which underlay the teachings of these men was the desire of pleasing man. This is exposed for us in verse 10. Later on in the epistle we shall see that they desired to glory in the flesh, and to capture the Galatians as followers of themselves. They wished to please men in order that, being pleased, the men might run after them and become their followers. Thus at the back of everything lay the desire for self-exaltation.

In contrast to this the Apostle Paul was the true servant of Christ. It was Christ he aimed at pleasing and not men. Men might censure or they might praise, it was no great matter to him. This was specially true if he thought of men at large, yet it was true even when it was a question of the judgment of his fellow-apostles, as we see in the next chapter. The Gospel that he preached he had received directly from the Lord Himself, and this lifted him far above all human opinion.

As to this matter no preacher of today can possibly be in Paul's position. It would therefore ill become us to adopt his tone of authority. We have all been taught the Gospel through men. The Word of God has not come out from us, but unto us only (see 1 Cor. 14: 36): and hence we do well if we listen with deference to what our brethren have to say, should they feel it right to take us to task as to any matter. Even so the final court of appeal is of course the Word of God.

Still we do well when we do not set before us as an object the pleasing of men. The very Gospel which we have believed, and which perhaps we preach, should preserve us from that; inasmuch as it is "not after man," as stated in verse 11. If the Gospel has reached us in a defective or mutilated form, then doubtless we may not have realized this, but it was the case with the Gospel that Paul preached. Man was not the source of it, nor had he received it through man, as a channel of communication. He received it by direct revelation from the Lord Jesus. It came to him first-hand from God, as did his apostleship, as we saw in considering verse 1. Consequently it had upon it the stamp of God, and not the stamp of man.

The characteristic feature of the Gospel therefore is "after God" and "not after man." What is after man honours man, flatters man, glorifies man. The Gospel tells man the humbling truth about himself, but glorifies God and accomplishes His ends.

This fact alone provides us with a very pertinent test as whether what we hear as gospel is really Gospel. "I like hearing Mr. So-and-so," is the cry, "He speaks so reasonably. There is such common sense. He has such faith in humanity, and makes you feel so much more hopeful and content in this rather discontented world." Quite so! The fact is it is all so thoroughly after man. Consequently it is all so pleasing to the natural man. Yet it is false. It is not the Gospel of God.

At first sight it might appear as though what Paul says, in the last verse of 1 Corinthians 10, is a contradiction of this. If however the whole of the chapter be read, and the previous chapter also, it will be seen that his point there is that the Christians should have the greatest possible consideration and care for their weaker brethren, and indeed for all men. Hence they should avoid all occasions of offence and seek the profit of all. Here, on the other hand, it is a question of the truth of the Gospel. The tendency to alter it, or whittle it down in order to please men, must be resisted at all costs. There cannot be a moment's compromise here.

From verse 13 to the end of the chapter the Apostle recounts a little of his history; evidently in order to support what he had just stated in verse 12.

First he recalls what marked him while unconverted. In his life he united great zeal for Jewish tradition, and a progress in Judaism which outstripped his contemporaries, with great persecution of the church of God. Twice in verses 13 and 14 he speaks of "the Jews' religion." This is significant, for the Galatians had fallen into the snare of trying to bring the very essence of that religion into the Gospel. He would have them realize-and us also-that far from being supplementary to the Gospel it is antagonistic to it. He had been brought clean out of it by his conversion.

Three steps in Paul's history are plainly marked for us. First he was set apart by God even before his birth. Then he was called by the grace of the Gospel. Thirdly God revealed His Son in him that HE might be the theme of his testimony among the nations. Though Paul was born of the purest Hebrew stock he needed to be set apart as much as if he had been a heathen, and was set apart from his Judaism-a point of much moment to the Galatians. Moreover he was set apart for God's service, the character of which was determined for him by the nature of the revelation which reached him.

It was the revelation of the Son of God, and not merely of Israel's Messiah. The Lord Jesus was both of course, but it was in the former character that He appeared to Paul and, as we know from other Scriptures, He appeared to him thus from glory. From that great moment on the road to Damascus Paul knew that the Jesus of Nazareth, whom he had despised, was the Son of God. And this was revealed not only to him but in him.

The use of the preposition, "in" would indicate that the revelation was made thoroughly effective in Paul. If you went to an observatory you might be permitted to view the moon through a large telescope. You would perceive the wonders of its surface, its mountains, its craters. Yet though revealed to your eye they would not be in your eye, for the moment you remove your eye from the telescope everything vanishes. But let the astronomer attach a camera to the eyepiece of the telescope and expose therein a sensitized plate for the necessary time. Now under suitable chemical treatment something appears in the plate. That which was only revealed to your eye has now been revealed in the plate, and permanently so. It was like this with Paul. The Son of God who was in glory had produced a permanent impression in Paul, and so he was able to preach Him as One whom he knew and not merely knew about.

It was this that characterized the Apostle's unique ministry and service, and from the outset lifted him above reliance upon other men, even the best of them. Consequently he did not need to make his way to Jerusalem immediately after his conversion. Three years elapsed before he saw any of those who had been apostles before him, and then he only saw Peter and James for a short period.

There is no mention of this visit to Arabia in Acts 9 and hence one can only surmise where it comes in. Very possibly it comes in between verses 22 and 23 of that chapter, and the episode of his escape from Damascus, by being let down over the wall in a basket, occurred when he had returned there from Arabia. If so, it was just after that happening that his visit to Peter took place. At all events the Apostle is very emphatic as to the correctness of that which he writes to the Galatians, and that the churches of Judaea only knew of his conversion by report; while glorifying God for the grace and power, which had transformed the raging persecutor, under whom they had suffered, into a servant of Christ.

And all these historical details, be it remembered, are given in order to impress us with the fact that the Gospel of which he was the herald, had reached him direct from the Lord Himself.