Friday, July 31, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 2, verse 3

Galatians 2:3 “Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek.”

Paul answers the question of whether his ministry was valid by pointing to the only Gentile in his entourage. The answer is conveyed in terms of the question of circumcision. The leaders at Jerusalem responded by NOT requiring Titus to comply with Jewish law. The phrase “who was with me” speaks to Titus as the embodiment of Paul’s ministry – a representative sample. It also emphasizes the constant theme of RELATIONSHIP in this book – Paul and Titus were close friends, and Paul recognized the work of God established in Titus’ life. Paul’s ministry stood validated by a RELATIONSHIP. Paul could have said to the Galatians that the leader of the church had recognized that circumcision was not necessary for salvation (which is pretty much how the results of the counsel are explained in Acts 15). But Paul focuses on the person, and the fruit of the salvation process – Titus is a life transformed. Again – it is the RELATIONSHIP that forms the foundation. It is Titus as a person that means the most to Paul.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 2, verse 2

Galatians 2: 2 I went in response to a revelation and set before them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. But I did this privately to those who seemed to be leaders, for fear that I was running or had run my race in vain.

Paul went to Jerusalem (no small journey, to be sure) “in response to a revelation.” No details are given, but its clear God told Paul to do this. Was it a direct revelation? Or did it come via a brother, or in counseling? (Some scholars point to Acts 11: 27 as the source of the revelation to go to Jerusalem). It doesn’t matter what the source of the revelation was, I suppose. But Paul was obedient to God’s word in his life.

The gist of the “revelation” was apparently to go to the leaders of the church at Jerusalem and submit his ministry to them, to get “official” approval for the outreach to the Gentiles, and to settle the issue of circumcision for the Gentiles once and for all.

This was done privately – which would conflict with the details of Acts 15, which explains the details of the meeting of the Council at Jerusalem, where this topic was debated publicly among the church leaders and settled. Either there was another visit by Paul to Jerusalem prior to the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 (many scholars think so, and point to the “famine visit” of Acts 11:27), or perhaps Paul met with the Apostles and other church leaders privately prior to the Council taking place – immediately before. Therefore, its not impossible to fit the events of Galatians 2 into the Acts 15 narrative. Acts 15:4 has Paul and Barnabas “welcomed” in Jerusalem, and reporting what God had done for the Gentiles through their ministry. Paul could have had his private meeting with “those who seemed to be leaders” at that time. Then, in Acts 15:5, the Pharisees who had become Christian believers publicly objected to Gentiles being exempt from the requirement of circumcision, and a public debate ensued. This would mean Paul would have been vindicated in private first. But its hard to reconcile the leaders allowing the public debate if they had just given Paul their blessing. Perhaps its possible that Paul and the Jerusalem elders orchestrated the entire public display of the Jerusalem Council in order to make their point. That would seem disingenuous, I suppose. This makes it difficult to reconcile Acts 15 with Galatians 2. I need to do a little more research.

“those who seemed to be leaders” Is Paul being disrespectful? I don’t think so. There was not a “papal” concept of authority in the early church. Individual leaders did not necessarily wield authority, but groups of men, working together as leaders, usually regionally. But the church at Jerusalem was recognized as having a sort of primacy. When Paul says “seemed,” its because he would have addressed whoever was there and appeared to be “in charge.” From both Acts 15 and Galatians 2, we can glean this included Peter and James the Lord’s brother. Both of these men were leaders at Jerusalem, but neither of them individually had authority over the whole church – they labored together.

“running my race in vain” At first blush, this would indicate that Paul was having doubts about the truth of his calling. But this is NOT borne out by the rest of scripture, or even the rest of Galatians. Paul was not only passionate about his calling, but he was totally convinced he was right. Yet, this language shows that if the elders had said to Paul, “stop” – he would have. Paul was completely submitted to authority, and he was willing to obey and give up everything he was living for, much like Abraham, when God told him to sacrifice his son, Isaac. (That Paul believed in the truth of his calling is borne out in 2:5 – he never wavered. Yet he was willing to stop or change if the Council had said so). I believe the comparison with Abraham is appropriate. The book of Hebrews states that Abraham had the faith to believe that Isaac would have risen from the dead had God forced him to kill his son, I think Paul was putting his ministry “on the altar” in a similar fashion, and Paul had the faith to believe that if the elders had told him to stop, or that Gentiles had to follow the law, God would miraculously intervene in some way to allow His work to continue among the Gentiles.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 2, verse 1

Galatians 2:1 Fourteen years later I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also.

“14 years later” After his conversion, Paul had been active and passionate in his ministry to the Gentiles. A tremendous amount of history had passed (indeed, all the way from Acts 9 through Acts 15!) In Acts 13, Paul had been commissioned by God, along with Barnabas, as ministers to the Gentiles, and were sent out under the authority and covering of the Antioch church. They accomplished what tradition has come to call the First Missionary Journey. Paul was now established as an apostolic leader. Yet, he was willing, and was even compelled in his Spirit, to go to Jerusalem again.

He mentions that this time, Barnabas is with him, as well as Titus. Why? This only serves to continue to emphasize that everything about the Kingdom of God is connected to RELATIONSHIPS. There is no mention of traveling companions in his first trip to Jerusalem. That’s not to say that Paul went alone the first time. But I think this speaks to spiritual maturity. Paul has deepened his personal walk and relationship with these particular brothers, and they minister together, functioning in real body ministry. Paul needs Barnabas and Titus to do God’s work. Paul can’t succeed on his own – this is a weakness made into a strength by the Lord.

Bringing Titus along, and having Titus as a close personal friend and brother in the Lord is doubly important because of the issue of race and ethnicity. Barnabas was a Jew by birth, but Titus was a Gentile (see 2:3). Paul was practicing what he preached.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 1, verses 23 & 24

Galatians 1:23 "They only heard the report: "The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy." 24 And they praised God because of me."

"They only heard the report” Paul again emphasizes his lack of connection with the church in Judea, his homeland. Besides his 2 week visit in 1:18, he was nothing but a news item. We can only guess at how BIG a news item this was, but I imagine it had to have been pretty important. The sentence in quotes implies big news. I imagine that the churches in Judea had lived in fear of Saul when the machinations of his persecution were at their peak. I also bet that Paul was a bit of a celebrity in the “upper crust” Pharisee community he grew up in. This change – former Christian hater and leader of the anti-Christian movement, who was personally responsible for the jailing and death of scores of believers, is now not only NOT coming after us, but he is now our major spokesman to the Gentile world – now THAT would have been big news all over Israel, not just among the Jewish converts to Christ. But the reaction to this news in also interesting.

Verse 24: “They praised God because of me.” The reaction to this juicy news – something like a major left wing atheist media figure becoming an evangelist today, or Osama bin Laden becoming a Christian, and then becoming a missionary to Africa – was approval. This seems like a throw away phrase, something that goes without saying. Yes, of course you’d think that the church Paul once was trying to destroy would be happy that their former tormentor was now on their side. But the issue at hand for the Galatians is whether being “Jewish” -- following the law of Moses and and the Jewish traditions -- was the way to go in order to be a Christian. The people who “praised God” because of Paul in verse 24 were certainly Jewish. I’ll bet most if not all of them were followers of the Jewish law – the very same concept that the Galatians were now struggling with. But the “folks back home” were approving and accepting of Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles. This is Paul’s point here – there is logic to the direction of his argument. The Judiazers had influenced and convinced many of the Galatians that in order to be pleasing to God, they had to conform to Jewish cultural norms. They had to “be Jewish.” Yet, the core of the church that was following Jewish cultural norms had heard the news about Paul’s ministry. I presume many of them knew what Paul was doing – that he was reaching out to Gentiles and NOT emphasizing Jewish culture – and yet, they approved. They “praised God because of [Paul].” It is a subtle, but logical point. Why kill yourself to emulate a cultural lifestyle, when the people you are trying to emulate think that establishing a Christian concept within your own culture is a good idea, and acceptable to God? Hmm? Now think about that in the context of the culture of churches here in America.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 1, verse 22

Galatians 1:22 "I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ."

Paul continues his testimony – the history of his conversion and early ministry, and continues to define it by his relationship (or lack thereof) with his homeland. He states that he was “personally unknown to the churches” that were in Judea. He did not even have a casual relationship with the churches of Israel or Judea -- the land of his birth. The implication, again, is that Paul depended on the local churches he was working in for guidance, support and authority. Also, Paul’s pattern of ministry to the Gentile churches was to live with them, stay with them, and invest himself personally in the local church. He had this kind of relationship with the Galatians. Indeed, it was an intimate relationship. The whole tone of the letter reflects an angry Father scolding teen aged children. To say “personally unknown” would have presented a sharp contrast. The cultural connection was simply not important to real life in Christ.

He also says “churches of Judea that are in Christ.” Is this a swipe at the Judiazers? Were there churches in Judea that are NOT in Christ? If the issues of the Judiazing heresy as reflected in Galatians 2:11 and so on are taken into account, perhaps this was true. Perhaps, just like today, there were institutions that were churches in Judea, had all the trappings of a church organization, but had none of the Holy Spirit, did now walk in God’s power or love, or were “off track,” chasing after or focusing on their own agenda, or distracted by unimportant or even "evil" issues (e.g. making sure everyone involved in the church conformed to a particular cultural standard).

Friday, July 24, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 1, verses 18 through 21

Galatians 1:18 Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days. 19 I saw none of the other apostles-- only James, the Lord's brother. 20 I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie. 21 Later I went to Syria and Cilicia.

“After 3 years” I would think this was 3 years from the time of his conversion. Paul then went to Jerusalem to “get acquainted” with Peter. He only spent about two weeks there. I wonder what the initial meeting between Paul and Peter was like? Well, if you read carefully, and cross reference with the description of Paul’s first visit to Jerusalem in Acts 9, it appears that Paul never actually met Peter, or at least did not spend much time with him. The description of Paul’s experiences in Acts 9 indicated he was not well received at all. His first meeting with Peter, if it took place in conjunction with the Acts 9 visit, was probably less than cordial.

Verse 19: The only “other” apostle he met with at this time was James, the brother of the Jesus. This probably indicates that whether or not this 15 day stay corresponded to the Acts 9 visit, there was some “quality” time spent between Paul and James, or Paul and both Peter with James.

Verse 20: He interjects that he is not lying – sort of a “swear to God” sort of thing. Why? Why would he think that the Galatians would find this hard to believe? Is it because of Paul’s bad experiences early on, such as Acts 9? Or is he being sarcastic? The emphasis throughout this section is that he did NOT rely on the Jerusalem/Jewish Christian leadership.

Verse 21: He goes on to Syria and Cilicia —in other words, he went back to his hometown! Paul can’t seem to emphasize enough in this section that his foundation in Christ was shaped by two forces – a well established, strong personal relationship with Jesus where God revealed the essence of the Gospel and his mission directly to him, and a solid relationship with non-Jewish Christians, or, at least, church organizations based in Gentile territory, whether populated by Jews or not (my guess is, more Gentiles than Jews). He had not originally met with Peter and James, the two “big guns” of the early church at Jerusalem. But he later spent a mere 2 weeks with them, and really had very little contact with the Jerusalem church and the hierarchy of the early church for the next 14 years. The point of sharing the story of the beginning of his ministry is not to prove Paul is some kind of “lone wolf,” who doesn’t need the apostolic covering, but to de-emphasize the concept that hanging onto his own Jewish ethnicity has any importance.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 1, verse 17

Galatians 1:17 "nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus."

Paul continues the narrative regarding his personal testimony. Not only did he not “rely on any man” in establishing his relationship with God and laying the foundation for his mission, but he also did not “go up” to Jerusalem. This would be important to the Galatians for two reasons. He mentions the Apostles – the authorities of the church. It is not that authority isn’t vital – Paul will begin to explain how vital he thinks the apostolic covering is beginning in verse 18 – but that the foundation of all he was in Christ was based first and foremost on his personal relationship with Jesus. We can’t depend on people, authorities, or church structure to have that personal relationship. Its not about following rules, or structure, or form, as always, the theme is RELATIONSHIP.

Also, by specifically mentioning Jerusalem, Paul is addressing the ethnic issue. Jerusalem was the center of both the Jewish and Christian worlds. He de-emphasizes the foundational need for his own culture and background as he came to know Christ. Paul bolsters his position – its not about who or what you are, but who you know – Jesus!

“Into Arabia” At first, Paul went into a desolate place, a desert. A dry place, where there is little in the way of vegetation -- not much growing. Is this a metaphor for the concept that we grow the most, we develop the deepest intimacy with God when we are in dry, tough times? This was also an area that was not part of Israel (my notes indicate this “Arabia” would have been a desert area in what was then the Nabatean Kingdom, in present day Jordan). Paul lays his foundation for his relationship with Jesus, not in Jerusalem or Israel, but in a pagan land, a wasteland. Again, Paul establishes that cultural identity has no relevance to our relationship with Jesus. (Interesting side note – Jesus’ own path to public ministry was similar. The initial supernatural manifestation of Jesus’ adult life occurred off the beaten path, at the Jordan River, at His baptism. Jesus then withdrew into the desert to confront Satan).

We know nothing of Paul’s time in Arabia. I suppose the presumption is he went alone, or spent a lot of time alone. Its not that he would have spent all of his time by himself – one could not have survived 3 years in such a place alone. However, I imagine Paul spent a great deal of time alone with God. I presume he also spent a lot of time in scripture – either via what he had memorized through his life experience in the Jewish traditions, or by reading. But while Paul established his relationship with Jesus one on one, He was never a “lone ranger.” He would have always needed to depend on others.

In fact, we really don’t know if he spent 3 years in the desert. Verse 18 says that “after 3 years” he went up to Jerusalem. At the end of v. 17, he states he “later returned to Damascus.” How much “later?” He could have been in the desert 4 days, 40 days, a year, 2 years – we just don’t know. What is clear, is he spent his formative Christian training under the authority of a local church in the town where he had his conversion. This shows that not only was Paul a man under authority, but local authority! Paul’s international apostolic mission grew up in a local congregation in Damascus, Syria.

The emphasis here is also on the concept that culture is unimportant. Damascus was the ancient capital of Aram (Syria), and was a center of Roman/Greek commerce and culture – the kind of “Hellenistic,” pagan influences the Judiazers sought to fight against.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 1, verses 15 & 16

Galatians 1:15 & 16 -- "But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man,"

After Paul sets out his credentials as a devout and pious Jew, he transitions with “but when God . . .” Funny. God intervenes. How interesting. Paul is living an ostensibly “religious life,” in a religious society, doing what his religion demands he must do in order to "live right," and then God enters the picture. God is also completely responsible and completely in control. God had set Paul apart “from birth.” The textual note in my Bible indicates that this implies “from his mother’s womb.” It really means God had set Paul apart with purpose from before he was born. Indeed, God had a purpose for Paul’s like since the beginning of time. (see Ephesians 1:4 -- "For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight").

“and called me” God reached out and grabbed hold of Paul to illuminate his life regarding this purpose. But this was no scholarly approach – it was an intimate, personal calling – “called ME.” There was no “casting call,” there was no open enrollment, no "help wanted" advertisement, or an announcement for applicants. God’s specific purpose was meant for Paul only – tailor made! It had been created for him, and he had been created for it. Therefore, for Paul, and for each of us who God has called, we realize that God’s plea in Isaiah 6:8—“Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” is really a rhetorical question. God already knows the answer before he asks the question because he created each of us for a specific purpose. I suppose we can always reply with “not me,” but the purpose and the calling remain. But the next phrase speaks to this very issue anyway.

“By His grace” There is nothing we can do to earn the honor, or be ready, or be worthy of the call. It all comes from God.

“was pleased” We don’t deserve it, but God loves us so much, He is pleased to work these things out in our lives. This whole concept and process makes God happy – it brings fulfillment to Him! We don’t deserve it, but God is happy to fulfill his purpose in our lives. Even when we’re stubborn, or rebellious, or even when we just don’t want it.

Verse 16: “To reveal his Son in me.” The wording here is important, and so indicative of the essence of the Gospel. This was “revelation,” in contrast to Paul’s background, where closeness to God and right relationship with God was measured by how hard you had studied, how much you knew, the “correctness” of your position, and how you behaved in relation to the standard of the law and tradition. Instead, God chose a man who natural strengths lay in his intellect and learning, and simply said “Here it is.” It was as if Paul was taking his final exams, and God gave him the answer key to the test. This revelation was “in Him,” and it was a revelation of Jesus as a person, not of knowledge or concepts. The revelation, in truth, was that God could live in Paul, in the person of Jesus. This was not head knowledge. The emphasis is on a personal, loving relationship with God. He clarifies this with the final phrase – “I did not consult any man.” His foundational experience was in a personal relationship with Jesus.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 1, verses 13 & 14

Galatians 1:13 For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. 14 I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.

After laying the foundation for his history in coming to know God – that the message Paul presents originated with God – He relates his personal history, sort of "in the beginning." He first notes “You have heard . . . ,” this must have been an oft-told tale. Paul must have had “larger than life” status in the early church. But he does not shrink from the unpleasant truth that he once attempt to do to the church what the Judiazers are now trying to do indirectly – destroy the message; snuff out the Gospel.

Verse 14: Here, it almost seems like Paul is downright proud of who he was in his former life. A child prodigy? A wunderkind? Paul’s gifts, talents, and abilities were evident long before the Lord called him (see verse 15 “set apart from birth”). In another section of scripture (Philippians 3), Paul lays out his credentials as a “Hebrew of Hebrews.” He was part of the Jewish aristocracy. “High Society” if you will – the upper crust. In the matter of the Galatians’ great “cultural controversy,” he was about as pure as you could get. As far as obedience to the law, he had followed it as closely as anyone. Its interesting how he describes that here – “zealous for the traditions of my Fathers.” He does not anchor his past devotion to the Word of God, or to God personally. He frames it in terms of culture – a connection to his ancestors, not to God’s ways or God Himself. There really is an underlying sense of bigotry here – in the struggles of the era, Jews were trying to protect their faith and way of life from pagan influences. This was a noble motivation – Yes! But, the Jews of Paul’s time also thought their position as God’s chosen people made them better than everyone else, which in the bitterness of the struggle with paganism became hatred – cultural prejudice – and bitter root judgment. At one time, Paul had been at the forefront of this cultural bigotry and snobbery. So he could speak first hand about this issue. He could discredit the Judaizers with authority. Its more than just the drama of “I once tried to kill Christians.” Its “I did it in the name of purifying my race!” Shades of the Third Reich! Paul had holocaust intentions in his heart at one time -- and what Paul had been trying to do in the name of God was the same thing as "ethnic cleansing" in the modern world. The application to what is happening amongst us today -- as it relates to the vision of our own church and my own experiences in a racially diverse church and community are patently obvious.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 1, verses 11 & 12

Galatians 1: 11 I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.

The original Greek word for “know” here means to to make known, to become known, to be recognized, or to know, to gain knowledge of, have thorough knowledge of. This is knowledge in the sense of an instructor teaching his pupils, and Paul is beginning a section of the letter where he will describe his own personal experiences in life. This verse is also set in the context of close personal relationships – “brothers” – and Paul is about to spill the intimate details of his life and testimony, and he’s doing it all in the context of protecting and defending his precious friends, and their own relationships with Jesus as the God of the Universe. And even though there is an emphasis on Paul’s mission and message as being “not from men,” it is always expressed as a jewel set in the context of intimate body relationships. Paul is not a loner, he is not a lone soldier or a maverick. He is about to show how his ministry was and is submitted to higher human authority, in the context of what God has revealed to him.

The balance here is also interesting. Paul is about to explain how important it was to him to be in proper relationship with church authority, but he wants to first emphasize the foundation of what he lives for, which he did not get, and does not get from men. The most important foundational principle is a living relationship with Jesus Christ.

Verse 12: Paul’s experience was unique. A lot of what he received from God came via direct revelation (see verse 17), rather than by instruction. But at a deeper level, even when we come to know Jesus as Savior through the mode of a person “leading us to the Lord,” as most of us did, there is still an aspect of our experience that comes via direct revelation, that must be direct revelation. Only the Holy Spirit can change a person’s heart. Only the power of Christ’s blood can cover sin. Even for me, there was a moment when I was saved when it no longer mattered what people had said, or what someone had shown me in the Bible, or all my previous experiences with God. At that moment, for the first time, Jesus was convincing me in the depth of my heart that He loved me. Even Paul had a background upon which God painted (see verse 14). There is a point like this for all of us – and, indeed, its just not a moment when we’re saved, but an ongoing series of moments throughout our lives – where we can and must depend on this kind of direct, personal revelation.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 1, verse 10

Galatians 1:10 Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.

Paul asks a rhetorical question – is he trying to please men or God? He answers by saying that if he was still trying to please men, he would not be a servant of Christ. This contrast fits the present controversy. The whole concept of a works-based theology, while it appears to be an attempt to please God by “doing what’s right,” is actually related to being afraid of men. Why? The truth is, God cares nothing for what we do, at least as far as salvation is concerned. The only ones concerned about the observance of the “outer law” (circumcision, dietary rules, calendar) as it relates to our salvation or position in God’s kingdom – are people. It also relates to this underlying cultural theme. A demand for cultural conformity so as to be acceptable to God, or to be acceptable “to the group” or even an individual (like a leader) certainly contradicts the Gospel message that anyone can come into God’s kingdom if he’ll just accept Jesus. The Judiazers are insisting there is more – you must become circumcised, in essence, you must become an ethnic Jew, to be saved. These men were outsiders – wolves trying to pillage the flock. Paul is framing his rhetorical question as making the “men” he is trying to please in v. 10 the Judiazers – versus God, as opposed to people generally against God.

This is also a very personal concept to Paul. In verse 13 he begins to elaborate. He was once a crusader for the piety of Judaism, much like the Judiazers. He believed and lived in and for the concept that every detail of the law must be kept and followed in order to pleasing to God. Yet, in his efforts to jealously defend the law, in his efforts to “please God,” though he was really pleasing men, he broke the law. His life changing encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus showed him that the concept of slavery to the law does not bring us any closer to God – only in the whole dependence upon what Christ has done for us. Paul has already had first hand knowledge of the experience of living for and being devoted to the lie these outsiders are trying to introduce to the Galatians. Later, in Chapter 5, he will admonish them – don’t take up the yoke of bondage again – you can’t go back to where you were.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 1, verses 8 & 9

Galatians 1:8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!

Paul is trying to bring the issue into perspective. Ostensibly, the Judiazing heresy had been brought in by outsiders. (Just to be clear -- when we speak of the "Judiazers" we are referring to Christians (or those claiming to be Christians) who were ethnically Jewish in the Galatian churches pushing for the concept that if a person wanted to truly be right with God --to truly be a Christian, or to "be saved" -- you had to obey the Law of Moses and be circumcised). Paul makes it clear that personality and loyalty do not define truth. Supernatural power does not define truth. The essence of the Gospel cannot be altered. Even if he himself came to the Galatians – the very man who introduced Christ to them and had invested everything in and of himself into the concept of them coming to know Jesus – even if Paul himself were to “say so,” it does not and cannot change the truth. And even if what appeared to be an Angel from heaven appeared – a miraculous manifestation – and it would convey a different truth – don’t listen! (Mormons should take note, as well as the folks sucked into the deception foisted by preachers like Todd Bentley) The truth of the Gospel CANNOT be altered. I also find it interesting that Paul puts the blame on the deceiver here – “Let him be eternally condemned” – (and in v. 9 as well). Not that there isn’t fault on the part of the person who accepts deception (e.g. see v. 6, and later on in the book), but the greater blame rests with those who deceive. And Paul is not bashful about this – eternal condemnation is pretty heavy – not very “P.C.,” eh? But sometimes, even in our own circle of believers, we are willing to tolerate deviations in the purity of truth so as not to “rock the boat.” Is it a “gospel other that the one we preached?” There is a fine line here, but I suppose if we read deeply here (between the lines, so to speak), Paul is saying that loyalty or devotion to a leader, church, group, denomination or culture is wrong, if that leader or group has compromised the essence of the Gospel. This is not an issue of authority. We don’t just walk away from a leader in this position (this is why, I think, that Paul lays the condemnation on the leader, and not those under his authority), but it is a warning to us that people in authority CAN deceive us. The mentioning of the “angel” is a warning that supernatural manifestations and power can also deceive. We are warned here to be careful – don’t blindly accept, don’t just take things at face value.

Verse 9: Here, Paul reverses polarity. In verse 8, he emphasized the gospel “we preached,” focusing on the responsibility of the speaker. Here, the focus in on “what you accepted,” if the message being preached contradicts the truth you already have accepted, let that preacher be condemned! In v. 8, the focus in on the messenger. In v. 9, the focus is on the content of the message, but defined by the listener’s own experience. That is, by the listener’s discernment. Perhaps Paul is laying some blame on the listener here. Its as if he’s saying, “Hey, you already know what the truth is!” On the other hand, he is asking them to define truth by what hey have received from God in the past, and what proved to be true in the first place. In a way, he’s saying that Eternal Truth is self evident! You can put it to the test, and discover its truth. The Galatians had done this, and have lived it.. A red flag should go up for us, therefore, if someone presents a message that contradicts that experience and that evidence.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 1, verses 6 & 7

Galatians 1:6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.

Two verses in one entry once again today.

At first blush, I’m tempted to view Paul’s “astonishment” as sarcasm – considering the tone he used when addressing similar issues in II Corinthians. But taken in the context of the whole letter, this appears to really be a stern rebuke – and a real sense of concerned exasperation. And if this is so, it helps explain the emphasis on God’s power, the basic themes of the Gospel, and the emphasis on relationships and the life changing power of Christ in the introductions and greetings of the previous verses. It seems clear in verse 6 that just a short time ago (“quickly”), the Galatians had a true revival – a real life change, a true relational conversion experience as a group, just like Paul described for himself in verses 1 and 2. (“called by the grace of Christ.”) He uses a strong word – “deserting” – to describe the change. The issues of the Judiazers (those Christians in the early church who were ethnically Jewish but who insisted that the Gentile converts to Christianity follow the law of Moses, in particular, the practice of circumcision) are causing people to turn from Christ – to a different Gospel.

Verse 7: But while the issue of following the Jewish law and traditions in order to be saved looks like a path of truth, it isn’t even close. Isn’t that like deception? It appears to be life giving truth, but its really a lie so deep it will destroy us. On the surface – subtlety – but deep down, it means destruction. When I consider the cultural diversity of the Galatians, and see how this deception based on clinging to cultural identity and separation is so strong, this does have ramifications for today that go beyond a perversion of “saved by grace” – as serious as THAT is! A large part of this poison is the arrogance of racism, ethnic identity, and cultural (even denominational) pride. It’s not just a lie as in “this is what you must do in your own strength to be saved,” insidious as that is. Rather, it is in the concept that “you need to be one of us” – with the implication that to be part of “them” is less than acceptable – subhuman. So the deception is two-fold. You are required to do a series of specific things in the power of your own strength in order to be acceptable to God. It's a gospel of works rather than a gospel of grace. PLUS – to be acceptable to God, you must abandon your cultural identity (which is "evil" in the eyes of those demanding cultural conformity) and conform to our standards – become one of “us!” The second level seals the perfidy, because it not only causes those who conform to reject the message of the Gospel, but it creates a spirit of disunity among those who believe in the Gospel, as they question the essence of what they believe, and are forced to define themselves by culture, not by faith. Plus, you can have the second problem without the first. My theology about salvation -- "saved by grace, not by works" -- can be right on, but I can still believe that to "fit in," to "be acceptable" others must be "like me," or at least adapt their social mores to be in line with the group to which I belong.

This gives me pause to see how easy it is to buy into this deception. One can accept the concept of salvation by grace, and yet find this second level appealing. As I have sometimes experienced the “wrong end” of racial enmity, its easy to start defining people who hurt us in this way by the very cultural measurements that caused the hurt. In other words, the victims of the cultural prejudice end up hating the people who judged them by ethnicity, and use ethnicity to define the people who hurt them. Its a vicious circle,but, sadly, something quite normal in American society, and particularly within American churches. The words Paul uses here are strong – “confusion” “pervert” because the lure of the deception is so strong.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 1, verse 4 & 5

Galatians 1:4 who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, (5) to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Two verses covered today.

Galatians 1:4: Here we have ostensibly more of the standard “Pauline” greeting format. Again, we need to look beyond just a "greeting" -- there's more than meets the eye! In verse 1, Paul had emphasized Jesus rising from the dead. Here he focuses on the redemptive power of the sacrificial death of Christ. Again, this is really pretty basic, yet it emphasizes how central Jesus was in Paul’s life, and how central a living relationship with Christ is to each of us. But if we combine verses 4 and 5, and focus on the verbs here, the “action words," we see an interesting pattern – “gave” “rescue” “according to the will” – Here is the key to true freedom, as demonstrated in the life of Jesus.

First, Jesus “gave.” He did this in order to accomplish what he was called to do; Jesus willingly and selflessly gave His life, holding back nothing. There wasn’t a trace of selfishness in Him. He gave His very life, making the sacrifice total – 100%. I see a parallel to my own life, or at least a parallel in what I lack; a need to give, and to give my all, to give selflessly. I usually “give” or sacrifice myself in order to get something in return. I give so I can get. Or, I sometimes don’t give that 100%. I hold back some for myself.

“to rescue us” This is the fruit of total sacrifice in God – redemption and restoration. Jesus gave, though his motivation was not for His own glory (though he deserved it, as we see in verse 5) but He gave for US!!! Our freedom comes solely from His sacrifice. There is a connection to our lives as well – if we give as we are called to give, in Christ, the fruit should be and will be freedom in others, just as much if not more than in myself.

“according to the will of our God and Father” Here is the key – the lynchpin. “WILL!!!” Jesus was totally submitted to His Father. He was obedient. He was responsive. Again, its all part of a RELATIONSHIP. Jesus knew what the Father wanted, because He was in a living relationship with the Father. As such, he accomplished His goal, and rescued us!

So the essence of all of this is RELATIONSHIP. (By the time we get to the end of Galatians 6, I'll repeat this like a broken record). From intimacy and familiarity grows knowledge – we can know and understand what God’s “will” really is! Because of the trust factor built into that relationship, we can obey, and make the necessary sacrifice. We find the grace we need to “give,” with the result being that others have the freedom to cultivate their own relationship with God, and with other people. Jesus works in us to continue to accomplish the purpose of verse 4, until the time of His return.

Verse 5: The result of all of this for Jesus is that He deserves all the credit – all the glory! The result for us as we are used by God to give of ourselves and see the rescue of others is also to give God – Jesus – the glory, because we know we can’t accomplish this in and of ourselves. It is the Holy Spirit in us. And as we continue to grow, continue to obey and give, more glory goes to God. Even though we are participants, it is Jesus and His redemptive work that is the source. We are simply deepening the RELATIONSHIP!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 1, verse 3

Galatians 1:3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,

Here is the "standard" Pauline greeting, akin to similar salutations used in each of his letters. Is this just a fancy way to say “Hello?” Similar to our discussion of the first verse of Chapter 1, there is more to this than simply good wishes. The footnotes here explain that to wish someone “Grace” was a Christianized form of the common greeting used in the Greek culture, while to wish someone “peace” was the common greeting used among the Hebrews ("Shalom!"). Thus, Paul’s “hello” here is a clever way to relate to the two major cultural groups coming together in the church at that time. As an effort to smooth over cultural differences, even to forge a new “Christian” cultural identity, this makes sense (more on that later), but it was also a blessing. It was a prayer. And I hope and pray to receive this same blessing, as well as convey it to others. To receive grace – the forgiveness, mercy, and acceptance we have through Christ, though we do not deserve it; to receive peace – to be at rest in God, to accept where we are, to know who we are in Christ, to be free of worry and strife. How could we ask for more? The fact that it is a greeting/blessing that combines the essence of two cultures united in Christ speaks to me of “Heritage.” The faith of the original disciples has been passed down, generation to generation, regardless of culture, for two thousand years. Once again, the essence of Christianity is RELATIONAL.

As a side note, here also (just like in verse 1) is an implied theological supremacy for God the Father, by listing him first, or, at least, this emphasizes the reality of the theological truth of the triune God, three distinct persons and personalities in one entity, though Paul gives Jesus, as God, the additional title of “Lord.” I don’t know if other New Testament authors did this sort of thing – I’d have to check – but Paul almost always seems to address Jesus as the “Lord.” Of course, indeed, Jesus IS Lord. Again, a concept we very often take for granted. Sometimes we treat the title “Lord” as if its simply part of Jesus’ name, a sort of mundane identifier like “Mr.” or “Mrs.” It’s a designation of royalty! Its like saying “your majesty!.” Sure, it’s a title, but it’s a title that is also borne out of a RELATIONSHIP. Jesus becomes our Lord, truly and personally, when we enter into a living relationship with Him.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 1, verse 2

Galatians 1:2 “and all the brothers with me, To the churches in Galatia:”

“and all the brothers with me” This also speaks to RELATIONSHIP. At the leadership seminar held at SOGF in October, 2004, Charles Simpson’s major theme was that everything in Christianity is about relationships. That is one of the underlying themes here in Galatians. Verse 1 begins by speaking of and implying Paul’s intimate relationship with God, now here, in verse 2, it speaks of such a relationship with his brothers in Christ. Everything in the Kingdom is relationship-based! Also, I think this indicates Paul had a well established relationship within the church at large, and was properly submitted to church authorities. This is brought out more and discussed in Chapter 2, but all of Paul’s relationships were righteous, proper, and wholesome.

“to the churches in Galatia:” Here is something interesting! He says "churches," not "church." He uses the plural. This is a radical departure from the greetings used in his other letters directed to particular churches. For example:

a. Romans 1:7: “to all in Rome who are loved of by God and called to be saints.”
b. 1 Corinthians 1:2 & 2 Corinthians 1:1: “to the church of God in Corinth”
c. Ephesians 1:1: “to the saints in Ephesus.”
d. Philippians 1:1: “to all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philipi.”
e. Colossians 1:2: “to the holy and faithful brothers in Christ at Colosse.”
f. 1 Thessalonians 1:1 & 2 Thessalonians 1:1: “To the church of the Thessalonians”

In all his other letters, Paul’s address is to a singular entity, or one group of Christians; only in Galatians does he speak to “churches” in the plural. Why is this?

During Old Testament times, Galatia was a vital commercial center along the trade route between Europe and Greece on one side and Egypt and the middle east on the other (Galatia is located in the central part of what is today Turkey). It was a very urban area – lots of commerce, trade and industry. It was originally populated by Greek tribes, with a sizable Jewish population from at least the time of the divided kingdom (that is, immediately after the reign of King Solomon), and then much more so after the time of the exile. 300 years before Jesus’ birth, there was a population explosion among the barbarian tribes of central Europe. At the same time, the Romans were beginning their expansion into central Europe. These barbarian tribes (the Gauls) were resettled in Galatia by the Romans, and almost overnight, they were the largest ethnic group in the region. The relationship between these ethnic groups was never smooth – they co-existed under Roman rule, but they never really got along. My guess is that converts to Christianity met in groups that corresponded to their ethnicity. It’s a big region, so there were probably large numbers of each ethnic group who met in their own way, culturally (language, dress, music, etc.). We will see as we progress, that this underlying issue of ethnicity, though not openly express in the letter to the Galatians, is intricately tied to the major issues of Paul’s letter. This concept has tremendous application to the church in America today, and especially to Christians who live in a racially diverse area, like the area I live in. The comparison between the Galatia of Paul's day and the community I live in is almost uncanny. Galatia was a large, urban center where three major ethnic groups (along with other smaller ones) vied with each other for survival, with the influx of the newest of these groups radically changing the landscape. Here in the southern suburbs of Chicago, we live in a large, urban center where three or more major ethnic groups in large enough numbers to be near equals, where, in my lifetime, I have seen the influx of one of these groups happen so quickly that in a short time they took over as the majority. The social issues are probably quite similar. In sum though, its seems pretty clear that there is an implication of many diverse congregations in Galatia, and yet the difference with our time is they related together in a unity under Paul’s authority as the Apostle/Overseer.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 1, verse 1

Galatians 1:1: “Paul, an apostle-- sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—"

The letter begins with Paul’s “standard greeting” -- it may seem like a "throw away" concept, sort of like saying "Hello" or the introduction we might give a speaker before they give their presentation,but if you dig deeper, this "intro" really says so much. He identifies himself as an “apostle.” He understands his gifts, his calling, his training. Oh, that I could have that kind of focus and be so assured of what I'm supposed to be doing. But then, more importantly, he defines his mission, his purpose, the foundation of his work. He was “sent –“ this was not something he came up with or made up, it was not a choice. Rather, it was a command. At whose command? Paul starts in the negative – “not from men” -- not a group, a church, or a tradition – “nor by a man” – not one person, no mentor or teacher, no great charismatic leader.—“but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father” – Paul is acting and operating under the direct authority and command of God. This concept also implies RELATIONSHIP. You can only be sent by men or a person if you conferred with them, got instructions from them, worked with them. The kind of “mission” Paul was on implies a great deal of preparation. He had a lot of training, discipline, and depth of purpose. Paul had that kind of intimate relationship with God – with Jesus, and through Jesus to the Father “who raised [Jesus] from the dead” – Why is this phrase at the end of v. 1? First, it’s the focus of the entire message, the ultimate truth of the Gospel, the core affirmation of the faith. It sets the tone for the letter. Second, the footnote speaks to the fact that Paul met face to face with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus. Paul had a life changing encounter w/Jesus. In fact, so have I !!! I can see that I don’t emphasize this truth in my life, day by day, moment by moment. JESUS HAS RISEN! He’s alive! He’s Alive in my life! Yes! Amen! Third, there seems to be a theological primacy given to the Father. The Father raised Jesus from the dead. This seems to tell me that while Jesus is the center of my relationship with God, I need to give a primary place to the Father, and cultivate a relationship with Him. Finally, the emphasis on the resurrection implies POWER. If the God who can raise Jesus from the dead sent Paul, then Paul will be supplied the supernatural power to “get the job done.” If I have a similar calling on my life, then God will supply the supernatural power needed to complete what I have been called to do.

Blogging, again. . .

Personally, these have been trying times. The pressures of losing my job, trying to start my own business, dealing with some personal health care issues (which are complicated by the job situation), and then having so many people close to me experiencing the very same things -- family members and church friends. It seems like so many of us are under attack, under the pile. It has been very discouraging in many ways, and I have really battled depression lately.

But the temporal nature of the current situation does not change the eternal nature of God. 2 Corinthians 2:18 says "So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." Romans 8:18 says " I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us." I find myself clinging to these truths ever more tightly than before, even when the perceived reality around me indicates otherwise. In addition, I have had the support of so many people -- my wife, my children, extended family, and my dear brothers and sisters in Christ -- who encourage me, pray for me, and hold me up when I don't have the strength in me to stand. I owe an eternal debt of gratitude to a lot of wonderful people.

I give this update sort of as a reality check -- and to segue into an announcement of sorts.

For my Facebook, Xanga, and blogspot "friends" who actually bother to read what I post, I have decided to re-start the concept of blogging on a regular basis. I have occasionally posted my thoughts in these on-line forums from time to time, ranging from deep spiritual issues to such mundane things as humor and baseball. But the material I want to delve into is material from my personal bible study journal.

Back when I had first wholeheartedly committed myself to Christ as a teenager, a good friend and mentor to guys my age in our church (some of you will remember Bill Hartley) was teaching a group of us about how to read and study the bible. One method he suggested that really stuck with me was to use a journal. He counseled us to take a manageable book of the bible -- one of the new testament epistles, for example -- and go through it on a daily basis. He suggested we seek the Lord for revelation, read a short section of the scripture, meditate on it, and then write down whatever the Holy Spirit showed us, or what we felt spoke to us, or what application we might find. In the end, you would have a wonderful journal of your personal thoughts about that particular book of the bible you could revisit in the future.

I found this method of bible meditation and study life changing. As a teenager, I filled several notebooks with my thoughts as I would spend time in God's word. i got away from this particular method as I got older, however. Yet, about six or seven years ago, another good friend of mine (Dave Botma) spoke at a men's meeting at our church, and encouraged us to get into the bible using this same method -- taking short chunks of the bible, reading and meditating on it, and then journaling your thoughts -- as an effective means of drawing closer to God. I hadn't thought about that sort of thing in years, and it really inspired me to "go back to my roots."

So, I started doing this, with the book of Galatians. I don't know why I chose Galatians, but it turned out to be a Holy Spirit inspired choice. It led to some life changing breakthroughs for me, and some really interesting presentations I was able to make as part of the teaching ministry in our church.

I ended up going a little deeper than just reading and meditating. The subject matter and the things God was speaking to my spirit seemed so profound, I dug a little deeper, and kept a lexicon, Bible dictionary, a cultural background commentary and several alternate translations of the bible handy each time I opened up Galatians. Some of my journal entries got rather involved.

I started posting my Galatians journal on my Xanga site back in 2004. It came in fits and starts, partially because I wasn't a faithful updater, and partially because I was slow in transcribing the journal (I take notes and journal by hand). I posted entries for about two years, off and on. I tried to restart it once (and some of those entries may have trickled over to Facebook around the time I started here, via my RSS feed), but again, my slowness at transcribing (combined with a computer crash that lost a sizeable portion of the typed version of the journal, which subsequently had to be retyped) led to my abandoning it again.

But I don't have an excuse anymore. Just last week, I finished the transcription of the entire journal.

I don't know if its vanity, or a feeling or wanting to connect with people, or just a love of digging into the scriptures and sharing that with others -- but I have decided to start posting it again.

So, starting a little later today, I will begin with Galatians 1:1, and continue.

I think it will be a good catharsis for me, in my current situation. In that respect, I ask you to bear with me. I hope to share some insights with you as well.

I thank any and all of you who bother to read any of this for your patience in advance.


John R. Russell

p.s. this will also be cross-posted to my xanga site ( and my Facebook page, for those of you who participate in those forums.