As with past small group sessions, I'll try and summarize the week's key points and revelations for anyone that couldn't make it or is simply following along here. The weekly passage is tied to Pastor Beaty's Sunday messages at River Oaks Community Church, and can be picked up off the website as a podcast. We will also utilize material from Tim Keller's 'Gospel Matters' study.
So, this week we looked at chapter 1, verses 1-9. The introduction, or greeting, and a few verses that really set the tone for the entire letter. The key takeaway in the introduction (vv 1-5) is how much Paul says, and doesn't say, to his readers. On one hand, it's just the greeting, right? Not exactly. There is so much more.
The central theme to Galatians is to remind us of the basics - what the Gospel is, how we receive it and how we apply it to our daily life. Paul is writing to address a very serious issue in the Galatian church. Teachers were "perverting" (twisting, reversing) the Gospel of Christ. They continued to stress that faith was necessary to receive Christ, one founded in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, but they were beginning to add to this faith as a way to receive acceptance of God; sort of a 'Christ-plus' doctrine. In this greeting, Paul reminds them of the one true Gospel, before he makes clear how "astonished" and disappointed he is of their "foolishness".
In the greeting, Paul reminds us of the Gospel ......
v 4b - We need rescuing; we are lost in our sin
v 4a - Christ gave Himself for our sins; "for" = on behalf of
v 1b - God raised Christ from the dead
v 5 - Therefore God is worthy of glory for ever and ever
That is the Gospel of God's grace towards us. His unmerited favor for which, if we confess with our mouths and believe in our hearts, we receive eternal salvation. That's it. Period. Exclamation point!
The problem was that many were teaching that this Gospel of Grace was not good enough. That God's grace, and ultimately Christ's substitutionary sacrifice, was not complete. Many claimed that then, and many still do today. Yes, there is obedience and yes, faith without works is dead, but the steps required for entering into His kingdom are never altered by our doctrinal convictions or personal failings.
So Paul reminds his readers of this truth and then begins a not-so-gentle summary of what he has heard of the Galatians. It is never more clear than in verse 6, "I am astonished ...." And what was he astonished about? Here a few of his points:
v 6 - They were deserting the God of grace and turning to a "different Gospel"
v 7 - Teachers were throwing believers into confusion and perverting the Gospel
And he reminds them in verses 8 and 9, that even if he, Paul, or even Angels of God, were to preach this different 'Christ-plus' gospel, they would be eternally condemned and cursed by God. Wow! One gets the sense that Paul is really fired up about this topic. There is a tone of urgency and anger regarding this matter. To our small group it means that we probably should pay close attention to this letter and clearly understand these teachings.
Finally, to grasp the seriousness of what Paul is addressing, we took a look at how he greets the Galatians versus how he greeted other churches and believers throughout his letters. Consider the following:
Romans : "First, I thank my God for all of you ...."
Corinthians : "I always thank God for you ....."
Ephesians : "I have not stopped giving thanks for you ...."
Philippians : "I thank my God every time I remember you .... I long for you ...."
Colossians : "We always thank God when we pray for you ...."
And to the Galatians : "I am astonished!" Ouch! So, the question is, how would a letter from Paul begin to each of us? to our church body? to the collective Christian church? Ensuring that we rely on God's grace, and not our works, will go a long way to a more pleasant greeting from the Apostle Paul.
See you in week 2.