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.

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