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Galatians: Divine Apostleship

Updated: May 26







Last week, we began our series on Galatians by considering some of the background. In this lesson, we will continue looking at the opening of Paul's letter, verses (1-5). The nature of this letter, as well as the trials and conflicts Paul is dealing with, underscores the importance of understanding the context. Reading Galatians and gaining a proper understanding for our lives today requires us to explore the background. This understanding can help and motivate us to dive deeper into our study.  


The first time I was away from home for any length was when I joined the military. As I have shared, my basic training was in Great Lakes, Illinois. Everything personal we had with us, including the clothes we wore, was packed and sent home. Not knowing anyone in a place where we had no idea exactly where we were or what we were doing was a very isolating feeling (by design). One of the things we looked forward to in basic and in the fleet was mail call. As mail would come in and get sorted, they would pass out our mail. Remember, this was before email or FaceTime or any technology at all. In the fleet, we might get care packages. Bren would send cookies! Other friends may get different types of food. We would share our food with each other and what was happening back home. It was a small connection to home and the people we loved. 


That letter or package would leave Pasadena, TX, exchange many hands, travel from a truck, to a plane, and sometimes a helicopter, as it finally reached my hands. We learned to appreciate the importance of mail couriers and messengers. 


Divine Apostleship


Galatians 1:1–5 (NIV)

"Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—and all the brothers and sisters with me, To the churches in Galatia: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen."


Paul begins by identifying himself as "an apostle." The basic meaning of the word apostle is a messenger, or it could mean a delegate or an envoy. When 

we read this word in our New Testament, we often associate it with the twelve disciples Jesus called to be His special witnesses, the twelve apostles. Although this is the case most of the time, it is not always the case. Barnabas, for example, is called an apostle in (Acts 11:22; 14:4). He was sent to Antioch. In this case, he is an apostle, a messenger sent. We see in the New Testament both a "common" use of the word apostle and apostles, "uncommon" men who were witnesses of Jesus and sent with His message of good news concerning God's kingdom. 


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What about the apostle Paul? Was Paul a messenger sent by the authority of other people, a common messenger, or an apostle sent by the authority of Jesus? Doing some of the investigative background, as we discussed last week, Paul himself seems to be on trial in this letter. False teachers are presenting a "different gospel" and calling into question Paul's authority as an apostle. We might hear them say, "Paul was not like Peter, James, or John, and Paul only presented part of the gospel of Jesus; he left a few things out." 


I believe this is why we see a bit of a different introduction in Galatians. We noticed a few of Paul's introductions in his letters last week. However, let's look back at one example, Ephesians:


Ephesians 1:1 (NIV)

"Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To God's holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus” (emphasis added)


Look back at Galatians and notice the difference in Paul's words:


Galatians 1:1–5 (NIV)

"Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead" (emphasis added)


In his first words to the Galatians, Paul defends his authority as an apostle sent directly by Jesus and not from other men. 


Sent By Jesus


Paul, in humility, admits that he was not called like the other apostles were. In  (1 Cor. 15), Paul reminds the church at Corinth of the gospel he proclaimed. He talks about what he passed on to them and the witness of Jesus' resurrection. As he lists all those Jesus appeared to after His resurrection, notice Paul's words:


1 Corinthians 15:7–8 (NIV)

"Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born."


Paul, in humility, acknowledges that he was not called like the other apostles. However, he was called and sent directly by Jesus Himself. 


Part of Paul's humility is acknowledging his past. Paul had persecuted followers of Jesus. It was on his way to Damascus, where he intended to arrest Christians and persecute the Church, that he encountered the risen Jesus.  


Acts 9:1–6 (NIV)

“Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" "Who are you, Lord?" Saul asked. "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," he replied. "Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do."


Ananias, a disciple of Jesus, is sent with the Lord's instructions to Saul. 


Acts 9:15–16 (NIV)

“But the Lord said to Ananias, "Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” (emphasis added)

 

Although Paul was not called like the other apostles, he witnessed the resurrected Lord and was sent directly by Him with His message to the nations. Paul was an apostle "...sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead" (Gal. 1:1).


The kingdom gospel Paul proclaims is by the authority of Jesus, not other men, and Paul intends to make this abundantly clear in this letter. 


Rescued


Paul's authority as an apostle is on trial in Galatia through false teachers, as is the gospel he taught. In this brief introduction, notice how Paul pulls the gospel into focus. 


Galatians 1:1–5 (NIV)

"Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—and all the brothers and sisters with me, To the churches in Galatia: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen." (emphasis added)


Paul draws attention to Christ's resurrection from the dead and our rescue through Him. Fundamentally, Paul reminds those in Galatia and us that we need rescue. And the only One who can rescue us is the One who has overcome death, Jesus! This foundational gospel point will play a vital role in this letter.   


As we dive into Galatians, I would like to offer a word of caution. It's important for us as Christians to understand the Scriptures, God's will, or God's wisdom for our lives, not to base our understanding of His word on 


one verse or passage. For example, if we were to base our knowledge of the gospel on the words of Paul here in Galatians, we might understand or say the gospel is all about our rescue. In one sense, we would be right. However, we gain a larger perspective when we zoom out and look at Scripture as a whole. In (1 Cor. 15), we may understand the gospel as all about resurrection. If we were to look at the gospel accounts and parables of Jesus, we may say the gospel is about God's kingdom and His reign. Each of these, rescue, resurrection, and God's reign, are all aspects of the gospel, the good news of Jesus. We gain a larger perspective when we zoom out and look at Scripture as a whole. We need this larger view as we seek to understand God's wisdom, will, and the Scriptures. 


To the churches of Galatia, Paul is dealing with a specific set of false teachings that threaten Christians and pervert the gospel. He is writing in a particular context and to a specific culture. We must keep this in mind as we dive into Galatians. As we will see next week, false teachers are trying to supplement the gospel as Paul presented it. And as Paul says, this is no gospel at all (ref. Gal. 1:7). 


Crossing The Context


In his introduction, Paul asserts that his apostleship is not from human authority but directly from Jesus Christ and God the Father. He underscores the fundamental aspects of the gospel, Jesus' sacrifice for our sins and our rescue from the present evil age. This was crucial because false teachers were spreading a distorted version of the gospel in Galatia.


What can we apply from our thoughts today?

Seek to deepen and widen our understanding of the Scriptures. What do we learn from the larger biblical context as we focus on Galatians? And what does God's wisdom offer for us today through Galatians? Distortions of the gospel can take many forms. Having a larger picture of Scripture helps us see and identify the distortions. 






notes:

 

Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from: ”Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.



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