Freedom – Galatians 1

Readings for this week July 3 -7
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Day 1  –  Setting the Scene

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Galatians 1

Galatians has been called the Magna Carta of Christian Liberty; a letter carrying a thunderbolt in every sentence. Probably Paul’s first letter to churches he had established, Galatians was written around mid 40’s AD after his first missionary journey. To understand the letter, it’s important to examine the background, context, and the conflict that sparks such strong language from the Apostle Paul.

Jewish believers from Jerusalem, sometimes called Judaizers, have arrived in Galatia anxious that new believers in Jesus must also convert to Judaism. Judaism was not a religion of works, that is, they believed they were saved because they were God’s people, members of the nation of Israel living in covenant relationship with God. They were, however, scrupulous about how they should live as the people of God. Keeping the Law of Moses – the Old Testament commandments – was essential to please God, but it also marked them out as set apart from the Gentile nations. So when we talk about legalism in Galatians it means ‘a religious system combining Christianity and Mosaism that demanded total commitment to Israel’s law as the climax of one’s conversion to Christ’ – Scott McKnight.

Under Roman law, while Romans had to pray to Caesar, the Jews had some exemption as long as they prayed for Caesar. There may have been pressure for new Christians to convert to Judaism out of fear they would draw the attention of the authorities and could suffer persecution from Empirical Rome.

Was faith in Jesus enough? Was the Law of Moses important anymore? Had Paul taught them correctly – and by what authority? These are the contentious issues that prompt Paul to write his letter. As we delve into Paul’s response, begin to think how you would answer someone today who asks, “What does it mean to be a Christian?”

Prayer
Father God, thank you that you speak today as clearly as when Paul penned this letter to the Galatians. Help us to hear your voice, your warnings and encouragement, and your call to be your people who walk in close relationship with you, through the work of Jesus and the presence of your Holy Spirit, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2  – CV

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God  (2 min)

Scripture Reading – Galatians 1:1-5

Paul addresses his letter in the style of the times, yet he is more emphatic than usual about naming his position and how he came by it; “Paul – an Apostle.” Those speaking against Paul questioned his right to dictate the scope and parameters of the gospel. Paul does not mince words but states his credentials. Not only is he an Apostle, but an Apostle chosen, appointed and sent by God alone. No human committee or authority gave him his task.

To the Jews an Apostle meant “a special messenger, with special status, enjoying an authority and commission that came from a body higher than himself.” There could be no higher “body” and no higher authority than God the Father. We might think of an Apostle as something like an Ambassador. He had the authority to speak in place of the one who sent him. To disrespect or question the representative is to question the authority who sent him. This God was the one who sent his Son on a rescue mission – on our behalf. This Son ‘gave himself’ in alignment with the Father’s will. There is no suspicion that Jesus was coerced or an unwilling sacrifice. Father and Son function in perfect unity, with one purpose. Paul brings Jesus’ message, with Jesus and the Father’s authority.

This was Paul’s first and most important self-defence. He knew who he represented, and what task he had been called to do. While our task in this life may not match the Apostle Paul, each and every person who follows Jesus has a part to play in communicating the gospel, the good news, to a waiting world. How might day to day life be different if you had complete confidence that God had chosen you and called you as his representative?

Questions to Consider
Do I recognise a sense of carrying God’s message to others?
What might it mean for me to be aware that I am first and finally answerable to God, as one of his representatives on earth?
Talk with God about what role he has for you at this time.

Prayer
Loving Father, thank you that you choose each of us for tasks that perfectly suit who you have made us to be. May my heart be open to listening for your voice, and help me be ready to obey all you ask of me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3  – ‘Another’ Gospel

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Galatians 1:6-9

There are no compliments or notes of appreciation at the beginning of this letter as becomes Paul’s habit in writing to churches. In a no nonsense way he gets straight to the point. He is ‘astonished’ and reading between the lines, frustrated and angry. Paul is not simply angry because someone is coming on to his turf and offering a new slant on his message. Neither is he just feeling vindictive towards an isolated person or group. He warns that if anyone, human or angelic, or even if he himself changes the gospel message, then that person should be cursed. Paul knows that to corrupt the gospel is to destroy the way to salvation.

This alternative message was basically Jesus plus…; faith in Jesus plus food laws, faith in Jesus plus circumcision, faith in Jesus plus converting to Judaism. Paul has no real issue with any of these things in themselves. They are not the issue. The issue is twofold. 1. Salvation is by faith in Jesus alone. 2. Salvation is freely offered to everyone. Being a follower of Jesus was not to be on a nationalistic-racial basis. What’s more, Paul is warning that if the Gentiles chose to adopt circumcision, then they must be prepared to keep all the law. The law was there to lead people to Jesus. Now that Jesus has come, he has promised to write the law on people’s hearts, not hold them accountable to some rule book. Paul is saying that the whole law is done away with, in terms of accountability towards God. In later letters he will say that the whole law is none the less instructive and can teach us about God and his intentions for our lives. The law is not bad; it just simply isn’t the way to have a relationship with God. ‘Paul is for an ethic that is characterised by love. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love …When a person lives according to the leading of the Spirit, that person will always do the fullness of God’s will, of which the law of Moses was but a preliminary glimpse’ – S McKnight.

Questions to Consider
Why is law keeping so attractive to us? Is it because we struggle to really believe that God accepts us and forgives us just as we are?

Prayer
Loving God, thank you for accepting me. Not because of my actions, but because of your love and mercy alone, Amen.

 Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4  – People Pleasing

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Galatians 1:10- 12

These passages in Galatians may seem like very ancient and archaic arguments that have little to do with how we live today. But here, Paul puts his finger on a potential motivation which none of us are immune from. That is, the desire to please other people, to be well thought of, and not to go against the tide of public opinion. Paul makes it very clear that at times following God’s will may be in direct conflict with what is popular. But doesn’t the Bible advise seeking wise council, respecting those more mature than us? Absolutely! But there is a fine line between healthy council and submission, and basing our decisions, actions or speech on how it will look to others. It is wise to check from time to time to be sure that we are motivated by wanting to please God and him alone.

One of the most famous speeches in church history is that of Martin Luther, when forced to face charges against the church authorities of his day:

“I stand convicted by the Scriptures to which I have appealed, and my conscience is taken captive by God’s word, I cannot and will not recant anything. For to act against our conscience is neither safe for us, nor open to us. On this I take my stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”

The bottom line of Paul’s argument is that the religious road of the Judaizers – keeping laws to be right with God – was not God’s plan, nor did it come from God. Neither was it based on the revelation of Jesus Christ – who he was, how he lived and what he accomplished in his death and resurrection. And lastly, a life of law keeping did not depend on the Holy Spirit. Paul was clear that what he preached was not learned merely from a book, but was received internally by revelation. Christians are not to be led by rules in a book, but are to be led by the Spirit that lives within them. He is present to guide “in ways that conform to, fulfil and transform the law” – S McKnight.

Questions to Consider
Am I easily swayed by what others might think? What is the fear behind this?
Do I lean towards being led by rules or led by the Holy Spirit?
How might I develop my ability to hear the Holy Spirit’s guidance?

Prayer
Holy Spirit, teach me to hear your voice, be my teacher and my guide, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – Rewrite the Story

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Galatians 1:13- 24

Paul now recounts his own personal story. And he tells it like it is – no glossing over the unsavoury bits, no omissions or exaggerations. This is his greatest defence against all naysayers; a life totally and radically changed by an encounter with Jesus Christ. Sociologists would say that the preeminent sign of conversion (and we see this throughout the Bible) is a biographical reconstruction. Who I was before is not who I am now. What was most important to me before is not what is most important to me now (see Phil 3:7). For Paul, his whole life is now centred around his relationship to Jesus Christ.

No one can argue with your story – because it’s yours! Taking the time to write out your own story can be a valuable exercise. You might start with, ‘What was life like before? How did I encounter God? What difference has this made to my life?’ Not all conversions are alike; some are sudden and dramatic, while for others it is a progressive discovery of who God is.

Another approach is to explore how your past may have prepared you for your present ministry and life. You could look at decisive moments that made significant impact, or encounters with the Holy Spirit. Whatever angle you take to write your own biography, Christ must be preeminent. ‘This discipline, however time consuming it may become, forces each of us to decentralise our own ego and centralise Christ. It teaches us to see our lives as God sees them, as lives transformed by Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. It teaches us to shape our lives according to biblical categories’ – S McKnight. If we have worked through our reconstructed story it will give us the ability to more readily and easily share that story with others. It’s not just your greatest defence but also your greatest advertisement – Jesus in you, it’s a fascinating tale.

Questions to Consider
Take time this week to frame up your story. Be honest and real, you might find the person who gets the most encouragement from it is you!

Prayer
Father God, thank you for the example of Paul. Help me value my own story and become more aware of your presence at the centre of it, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)