Angry…passionate – this is how Paul’s letter to the churches he founded in Galatia is known by so many. From the opening greeting, we know that there is a crisis that needs to be dealt with by Paul. The identity of these newly established churches was up for grabs – would they be known as simply branches on the tree of Judaism or would they be known as a new and distinctive community that is neither Jewish or pagan. This is an intra-church…intra-Christian dispute – whether the traditions of Judaism, or those things that distinctively mark Jews as Jews, should be forced upon the Gentile converts. Paul is having to defend his apostleship as he is challenged by unidentified Jewish-Christian teachers going around telling the new converts, formerly pagans, that they need to be circumcised and to observe other elements of Jewish ritual and law in order to truly stand in God’s covenant.
As you might guess, Paul will have none of this…in fact, as only Paul can do, he brings a message of radical grace that stands apart from works of the law. Paul will go toe-to-toe with these individuals who claim the necessity of law observance in the name of Jesus. Paul diagnoses the problem as these individuals preaching a false gospel despite their use of Christian language. In his letter to the churches of Galatia, we will see Paul provide for them a reinforcement of his previous teaching in the areas of their understanding of Jesus Christ, the importance of the Holy Spirit, and a renewed understanding of being one in Christ Jesus bound together in faith and love for this is what it means to be the church.
In Galatians, Paul defends the one true gospel – he is not cursing pagan outsiders for their unbelief…he is warning Christian believers against false teachers who use the language of the Christian faith but preach a false gospel message. Paul claims that if the church is to bear witness to the gospel with integrity in “the present evil age” it must have the courage to not only understand these challenges but have the fortitude to speak out against those who deny the grace of God.
Grace and peace to each of you as we ponder the relevance for the church today in this challenging letter from Paul.