About Jesus  -  Steve Sweetman

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 Opening Remarks (ch. 1:1 Ė 5)

The letter to the Galatians opens with the name "Paul." The name Paul, in Greek, means "little."  The name Paul was Paul's Roman name.  The name "Saul" was his Jewish name.  There is a non-canonical, second century book entitled, "Paul and Thecla."   The book is non-canonical because it describes an adulterous affair that Paul had with this lady named Thecla from Thessalonica.  Many Bible teachers over the years have, however, suggested that the description of Paul given in this book might be accurate.  It says that Paul was little, or short.  Some suggest that is why he was called Paul.  The book goes on to say that Paul was bull legged, bald, had bushy eye brows, and protruding eye balls that looked kind of scary. Whether this is an accurate portrayal of or not one can't prove.  It would not surprise me that the Lord would pick such a person to do this most important ministry that Paul was called to do.    

Paul, as he states in the first phrase of this letter says that he is an apostle.  He is basically saying that his apostleship gives him the authority to write this letter.  By definition, we know that the word "apostle" means "a sent one".  Paul goes on to say in verse 1 who did not send him and who actually did send him.  He clearly says that he was "not sent from men, nor by man" in verse 15.  The tradition that Paul grew up in was quite structured with mentors, teaching younger men.  Paul was saying that no mentor, no one in authority over him, sent him to preach the gospel.

Who then sent Paul?  In verse 1 he says that "Jesus Christ and God the Father sent him".  If we are to believe this, which of course we should, we then should take very seriously what Paul has to say.  Paulís opposition questioned his claim of being sent by God, which is part of the reason for why Paul wrote this letter. The Galatians would have had no problem with Paul being an apostle of God in days past, but now, the Judaizers, Paul's opposition, were swaying the believers away from Paul.   

I won't try to defend my thinking here that the apostolic ministry is for today because I've done that elsewhere.  I will only say that there is no specific verse in the New Testament that states the apostolic ministry has ended with the first generation church.  With this in mind, I do want to point out one thing concerning the words "apostle" and "gospel."  You will see the word "gospel" mentioned a lot in this first chapter of Galatians.  The word simply means "good news."  Some modern day apostles suggest that each and every apostle "has his own gospel."  They say this because Paul uses the term "my gospel" three times in his writings.  See Romans 2:16, 16:25, and 2 Timothy 2:8.   Because of this some suggest that Paul had his gospel.  Peter had his gospel.  James had his gospel, and so on.  The same would apply today.  Each apostle would have his gospel for those under his authority to believe, adhere to, and follow.  I don't believe this teaching is Biblical.  First of all, those holding to this view have a faulty understanding of apostolic authority.  Apostolic authority is not a dictatorship.  It's not the notion that if you don't believe what I believe you move on, as I've been told.  Second of all, those who believe this have a much wider view of what constitutes the gospel than what is Biblical. For example, one's view of end time prophecy isn't part of the simple gospel message.  Because you don't believe in one particular end time scenario should not disqualify you from any participation in any particular body of believers.   

The simple point to all of this is that Paul, Peter, James, or, no one else had their own gospel.  There is only one gospel and that is the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all these men adopted as their own.  They taught the same gospel, that is, those specific doctrines that make up the gospel of salvation.  Paul used the term "my gospel" in connection with false gospels being taught by false apostles, not in connection of Peter's or John's gospel. 

Part of the problem floating around in the early church was that Paul and Peter did have different gospels.  Peter had a gospel to the Jews and Paul had a gospel to the Gentiles.  Some even suggest that this is what is meant in Galatians 2:7 through 10 which I will comment on later.  This false thinking did get straightened out in the Acts 15 conference.  So, if this was a problem in the early church, which did get fixed, we should not be introducing the same false teaching in today's church as some are doing.           

Note here that Paul, as he always does, linked God the Father to the Lord Jesus Christ.  The God Paul gave his life to was the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  We should believe in the same God. 

Christians do not believe in a generic god, although in many areas of the church you would not know this to be true today.  We talk lots about God, but you'd be surprised how little we talk about Jesus.  We must speak about our Lord Jesus Christ more than we are presently doing.  He is the one God has sent to humanity.  He is the one who died on our behalf.  He is the one who is Lord and will return to make all things new.  He is the one who actually sent the first disciples out into the world to represent Him (John 20:21).  He is also the one that sends you and I out into the world to represent Him to all we meet.  In reality, as Jesus said in John 20:21, He sends us into the world to represent Him, while Father God sent Jesus into the world to represent Him.  If we fail to talk about Jesus, people will not really know what God we are talking about, especially in this day in age when so many people talk about a generic god, and, when so many religions are coming to the forefront.  Jesus is the one who distinguishes the Christian from everyone else.

We should note that God the Father and the Lord Jesus are both used in the same context.  Therefore, there is a distinction between the two.  They are not one as those who oppose the doctrine of the trinity might suggest. 

We also should note here that Paul isn't putting down the idea that man can't be used in the sending out apostles, because they are.  We will talk more about this later.  Man can be used in sending apostles out into the world, but it is God alone who calls men to be an apostle.  Men simply recognize God's call on a life.  This is especially true in Paul's case.  Paul met Jesus Himself, as we see in Acts 9.  It was then that Paul was called, not just to Jesus, but to work for Jesus as an apostle, and in particular, an apostle to the Gentiles.  Paul's ministry was very important to the church back then and is still very important today.  He not only preached to the Gentiles, He set forth Christian doctrine more than anyone else, that the church should be following today and into the future.  Paul taught these doctrines not only to those in his day but for those in our day as well.  For this reason, we must take his teaching seriously.

Concerning apostles, many people say that apostles were only for the first generation church.  They say the same about prophets.  These people suggest that now that we have the cannon of Scripture, we don't need such ministries as apostles and prophets.  They say the ministries for today are the pastor and the evangelists.  I do not hold to this thinking.  There is no specific passage in the New Testament that states such a claim.   

The words "who raised Him from the dead," are an attempt to establish right at the beginning of this letter the fact that the resurrection of Jesus is primary to our salvation.  Without the resurrection, belief in Jesus is meaningless.  If Jesus didn't rise from the dead, then He is just an ordinary man who once lived and now is dead.  If He is just an ordinary man, then what He says about Himself is irrelevant.  That makes Him unreliable and one who can't be trusted.  The resurrection is one of the cornerstones and fundamental doctrines of Christianity.  To be a real Christian you must believe in the resurrection of Jesus. 

In verse 2 Paul speaks of "all the brothers with him".  Even though Paul is very strong in the fact that no man sent him, he is not what some call a "loan ranger."  He has brothers who are with him.  He works with others as equals in the Body of Christ in the preaching of the gospel. 

You note in verse 2 that this letter is directed "to the churches."  Once again, Paul wrote this letter to more than one church, more than one community of believers, because Galatia was not a city but a Roman province. 

We should view the word church here as a community of people who have given their lies to Jesus.  These aren't ecclesiastical or denominational organizations as we know them today.  We've come a long way since Paul's days, and I believe our journey has led us away from New Testament thinking concerning church. 

This is how I think we
 should view this verse in
 light of the real meaning of 
the Greek word "ecclesia" which is translated as church in the New Testament.  The NIV reads, "To the churches in Galatia ."  If we understand the word "church" in our modern context, we will not really understand what Paul is saying.  I would translate this phrase as; "to those communities of people belonging to Jesus throughout Galatia ."  This is my paraphrase, not a word for word translation from the Greek text.  I personally do not like translating the Greek word "ecclesia" as "church" because our modern concept of church no longer explains what "ecclesia" means.  The Greek word "ecclesia" simply means a group of people separated from the general population for a specific reason.  In this case the group of people who have been called out of the general population have given their lives to Jesus.  "Ecclesia' is not the denominational, or structured systems of modern churches as we know it today.  So, if you think in terms of modern day church when you read this verse and others like it, you will miss the meaning of the verse. 

I've said that we as Christians must take Paul's teaching seriously, and that includes his teaching on church.  The problem over the centuries is that we have not taken Paul's teaching seriously.  We have let the "ecclesia of Christ" evolve.  We have not patterned church after Paul's teaching.        

In verse 3 Paul goes on to say; "grace and peace be to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." Paul is greeting these people on the behalf of God and Jesus.  Paul was God's representative to these people and was sent to deliver a message to these Galatians from Him.  Paul was an ambassador and an ambassador only speaks things that he has been told to speak. 

Both the words "grace" and "peace" have two aspects to them.  First, grace is both "unmerited favour on God's part", and it is also, "the God given ability to do His will."  You will see both aspects of grace in the Bible, even though the second aspect gets little press these days.  Second, peace is both "having inner peace because we have been reconciled to God", and, "peace with God, that is, we are no longer His enemy."  There is both peace with God and peace in God.  Both aspects of peace can be found in the Bible.

Concerning grace being the
God given ability to do His will and not just unmerited favour, you can read an expanded article I wrote on this subject.  Visit my web site to learn more at;  http://stevesweetman.com/

Here are a few passages you can look up to see how grace is more than unmerited favour.  See 2 Corinthians 8:1-6, Hebrews 4:16, Acts 14:26, Romans 6:14, 12:6, and 15:10.

Again, we see the distinction between God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ in this verse.  God as Father is really more of a New Testament concept than an Old Testament concept, mainly because of the incarnation of Jesus, His Son, who as the New Testament teaches, is the first born among many sons.  All those who have given their lives to Jesus are now God's sons.  Therefore, the idea of God being Father is more predominant in this age in which we live.  

I'd like to comment on the word "Lord."  Jewish Christians would have associated "Lord" with "Yahweh" in the Old Testament. This is an important linkage.  Paul, and the other early apostles, made this association because they believed in the "Deity of Christ".  This would have been blasphemy to the non-Christian Jews.  Jesus could never be God in human flesh to the traditional religious Jew.  They anticipated their Messiah to be a man, not God in a man. 

The name Jesus means "salvation," or "God is salvation," or, something similar.  The name Jesus was actually given to Him by God the Father, not Mary.  This tells us that Jesus is in fact the Saviour of the world.  In Hebrew culture, it was the father who named the children, and it was Father God who named Jesus, which you can see in the gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus.

The title "Christ" is the Greek equivalent for the Hebrew title "Messiah".   "Messiah" means anointed one.  In the Hebrew Old Testament, prophets, priests, and kings, were anointed, of which Jesus is seen as being all three in the New Testament.  Jesus was therefore seen as the coming anointed one that would save Israel and be king of the world.

So, we see by the words "Lord Jesus Christ" that Christians believe in the Deity of Christ, that is, "Jesus is God in human flesh."  For the Christian, Jesus is not merely a teacher, a prophet, a good man, or anyone else.  He is in fact God. 

In verse 4 Paul says that Jesus gave Himself for our sins for a specific reason.  The reason is to "rescue us from this present evil age."  Paul strongly felt that the age in which he lived was evil, and so did the rest of the first century community of believers.  I donít think that things have changed for the better in our day.  If Paul lived today, he would believer that our day is just as evil.  

The question can be asked to us today, "Do we feel our present age is evil?"  If so, does this fact grip our hearts?  My guess is that most of us know our age is evil but it doesnít really grip our hearts as it should. We're in more love with this world than what we want to admit.  Peter, in Acts 2:40, exhorts his listeners to "save themselves from this corrupt generation."  If we understand Romans 1 and 2 we will certainly realize that no matter what generation we live in, it is corrupt.

I believe we don't have the same distaste for the world around us as Paul, Peter, and the first generation of Christians had.  This is so because we are too much in love with the world and all that it has to offer.  The Bible clearly teaches us not to love the world or the things in the world.  See 1 John 2:15.

How we view the world is one important aspect of Scripture.  Throughout the Bible, right back to the days of the Tower of Babel , the world systems are viewed to be in opposition to God.  Christians therefore should have the same mentality.  This, however, does not mean that we should hide ourselves from the world and seclude ourselves in some back woods commune. We are to be like Paul.  We are to go into the world and win people in the world to Jesus, just as He commanded his disciples to do.  The trick is this.  While in the world we are not to copy the world or be influenced by the world, but, more often than not, that is not the case.      

Note the phrase "according to the will of God the Father."  It is God's will that we should be rescued from this world.  If it is God's will to rescue us from the world, then we should take this more seriously than most do.  Many Christians really do not take this seriously, and many Christians probably don't even know that we should be rescued from the world.  If we don't know that we are to be rescued from the world, we won't want to be rescued, and God won't be able to rescue us, unless He divinely intervenes in our lives.   The end result to this is a weakened church, which I believe we have today.  In many respects, the church today is no different than any civil and secular group of people.   

I like the word "rescue" because it implies being snatched from something that is dangerous, as a fire in a house.  Again, I'm convinced, for the most part; the modern Christian does not view the world around them being bad enough to be rescued from.  This is not New Testament thinking. 

Paul states that Jesus "gave Himself for our sins."  You see Paul's Old Testament understanding coming through here.  All through the Old Testament animals were offered to God for our sins.  That has now changed.  Jesus became the ultimate sacrifice for our sins.  When we trust in Jesus' sacrifice, these sins are forgiven by God.  Our sins are forgiven in order for the Holy Spirit to come and live within us.  Forgiveness is only the beginning of the matter.  We should not stop at forgiveness in our thinking as many Christians do. 

We should note that the very first animal that was killed and sacrificed for our sin was killed by God Himself in Genesis 3.  Adam and Eve covered their naked body (nakedness once wasn't sinful, but now became sinful) with leaves but that wasn't good enough.  God killed an animal to provide covering for their naked bodies.  Blood needed to be shed.  We learn that what man can do to cover sin doesn't work.  What works is what God does in covering our sins, and again, this is the message of Paul's letter to the Galatians.   

We as Christians need to think seriously about the death of Jesus and what it really means.  If you read the Old Testament and understand how much God hates and detests our sin, you will appreciate the act of love that Jesus went through on the cross.  We can't fully know how much God detests our sin, yet, at the same time, we can't really know how much He loves us, and that is why Jesus went to the cross instead of us. 

God is just.  Sin must be punished.  Someone must be punished for the sin that God detests.  God's love is seen in that He became human and He died and was punish in our place.  The more we understand how much God hates sin, the more we can appreciate His love. 

Note the words "our God and Father" in verse 4.  God is not a generic or aloof far away God.  He is personal.  He is so personal that He is our Father.  The word "abba" can mean "daddy", that is, if you think "daddy" is an affectionate word for one's father.  The idea of "abba" denotes personal love and affection.  Some call God their "daddy" these days because the word "abba" is used three times in the New Testament Greek text to describe God as being our Father.  I do have a bit of a problem with the way some speak of God as daddy because when most people call God their daddy, I really don't think they grasp the idea of who God really is.  He is our Father, but he is no sugar daddy as the modern word daddy might imply.  If you can call God daddy with the utmost respect, and reverent fear, go ahead.  If not, just call Him Father.  In my thinking, Father is more respectful than daddy.   Also remember, that our Father is a God of consuming fire as Hebrews 12:29 states.  That should put a different light into the idea that God is our daddy.           

In verse 5 Paul says that glory will be given to God the Father forever and ever.  We should join the angels, and those men and women in past ages who have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus, and give our Heavenly Father the glory due Him.  Of course, the best way to give God the Father glory, is to obey Him, live for Him, and do His will.   

The Greek word that is translated as "glory" comes from a root word meaning "opinion."  Thus, when glory is used in respect to God in the New Testament it means that everyone will have the highest opinion of God that one can have.  

God is now glorious, but not all people see Him as glorious.  That will change.  When this age is over, in the days of the new heaven and the new earth, all will highly esteem God.  Everyone will praise and honour Him both by word and by deed.  Things will not be as they are today when most people, Christians included, only glorify God in their words, and not their actions.

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