The Gospel Paul Preached

June 13th, 2010 • Posted in Messages/Sermons • 6,668 views

Galatians Lesson 1 (2010)

THE GOSPEL PAUL PREACHED

Galatians 1:1-24
Key Verse: 1:11-12

“I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.”

These days many people are excited about the NBA finals and the World Cup Soccer Championship in South Africa. How many of you watched the soccer game between South Korea and Greece or the game between the US and England yesterday? It was hard for me to resist the temptation to watch the game. I don’t know why but I would like to see the Celtics beat the Lakers in the NBA finals. Watching big sporting events is relaxing and exciting, as long as your team is winning. But when your team is losing, it’s nerve-racking and sometimes depressing. After all, we know that no matter who wins the championship, the excitement of their victory does not last long. But the good news through our Lord Jesus Christ will bring long-lasting joy, peace and freedom to our lives. Paul’s letter to the Galatians is about this good news, which he received through revelation directly from Jesus Christ. In fact, if we know what the good news of Jesus Christ that Paul preached is all about, every one of us would be more excited about it than about anything in the world. So let us explore and discover the gospel Paul preached through the study of Galatians.

First of all, we need to know a little bit about the background of Paul’s writing this letter to the Galatians. The churches in Galatia were located in the southern part of present-day Turkey. These included the churches in Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe. (Acts 13-14). The churches were established through Paul and Barnabas’ first missionary journey. When Paul and Barnabas preached the gospel in those cities, they started preaching in Jewish synagogues, in which the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles worshipped together. Paul mainly preached to them about the forgiveness of sins and eternal life through Jesus’ death and resurrection, which was the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham and David. (Acts 13:16-41) He concluded his preaching by saying “Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses.” (Acts 13:38-39) In short, Paul preached that salvation is by God’s grace and not by works. The Galatians initial response to the gospel Paul preached was positive. But Paul and Barnabas faced great opposition, mainly from the Jews who stirred up trouble against them. Paul and Barnabas were driven out of Pisidian Antioch and had to flee from Iconium. Paul himself was stoned and dragged outside the city of Lystra. The believers thought that Paul was dead. In spite of severe opposition and many hardships, Paul and Barnabas revisited the believers in each city and encouraged them to remain true to the faith, saying to them, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22) Leaders in each church were appointed by Paul and Barnabas, and a local church in each of these cities in Galatia was established. The real threat arose shortly after Paul and Barnabas returned to their home church in Antioch in Syria. Certain Jews infiltrated the new churches with a different message than the message Paul preached. The tricky part of their teaching was that they didn’t deny that Jesus was the Savior for all people in the world. Yet, they claimed that Paul omitted an important part of the gospel. They said that the Gentile believers could not be saved unless they were circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses. (Acts 15:1) They also undermined the apostleship of Paul who was not obviously one of the twelve apostles of Jesus. Their arguments were quite impressive, and the Gentile believers were confused and almost persuaded by them. Paul wrote the letter to Galatian Christians in order to defend the gospel he preached and to protect them from false teachers – who masqueraded themselves as angels of light. (2 Cor 11:14) They were not shepherds but savage wolves. (Eph 4:14-15)

Look at verses 1 and 2. “Paul, an apostle – sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead – and all the brothers with me, to the churches in Galatia.” Here, Paul identifies himself as an apostle, emphasizing that his call was divine, not human, by saying “an apostle – sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father.” Why did he have to emphasize the divine call of his apostleship? It wasn’t simply because he wanted to restore his prestige as an apostle but because it was directly related to the authenticity of the gospel he preached. If Paul’s authenticity as an apostle was not proved to be true, the gospel he preached could be questioned and rejected. But how could he prove his claim to be an apostle? Was there any ID or certificate to prove his claim? Paul chose to remind them of the gospel he preached by writing them a long letter. In fact, Paul’s letter to the Galatians, is the oldest document in the New Testament.

Look at verses 3-5. “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’s greeting here sounds just formal, without specific meaning to it, just like our saying “Hello!” to one other. But the two words “grace and peace” actually summarize his gospel of salvation. The gospel Paul preached was the gospel of grace that brings us peace or reconciliation – peace with God, peace with men, and peace within. In the world we live in today there are so many troubles and hostilities among people. It seems that there is no perfect peace in the world. So where can we find such perfect peace – peace with God, peace with people, and peace within? This peace is possible through Jesus Christ, who sacrificed himself as a ransom for our sins and rose from the dead. To have peace does not mean to have a trouble-free life. It rather means that we can have peace in us in spite of troubles. (Jn16:32-33) Evidence of God’s salvation, or His presence in us, is peace. The peace we have through Jesus Christ is not just a concept but should be a reality in us. Jesus said to his followers in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” If we don’t peace, it’s mainly because of our unbelief.

Look at verses 6 and 7. “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – which is no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.” Apparently the false teachers could not deny the fact of Jesus’ death and resurrection. But they had a different interpretation of the gospel, which confused the Galatian Christians. Apostle Paul taught and preached that we are justified only by God’s grace, which is only through the work of the Christ. But these false teachers were saying that our faith in Jesus was not enough, and that we also needed to follow Moses’ law in order to be justified or saved. In essence, they were saying that “salvation is not just by faith but is by faith and works.” Apostle Paul said that that is no gospel at all.

Look at verses 8 and 9. “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned. As we have already said, so now I say again; if anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!” Apostle Paul used very strong words against those who preached a gospel that was different from the gospel he preached. He said to the believers in the Galatian churches that there is only one gospel – the gospel that he preached and that they received from him. Paul was so adamant about it that he said if anyone, including himself, preached a gospel other than the one he preached, he or she should be eternally condemned. He said it twice. Wait a minute! We live in a multi-religious and postmodern world, in which the popular view is that there are many truths, not just one, and that there are many different paths to God. So what Apostle Paul said here may sound intolerant and too narrow-minded. Paul may have sounded like a narrow-minded and intolerant preacher. But he was not. Didn’t Jesus also say that no one comes to the Father except through him? (John 14:6)

Perhaps Apostle Paul was aware that his strict view of the gospel could offend many free thinkers and turn them away. If he wanted to get more people to his ministry, he could have adopted a different and more open minded approach in his preaching and ministry. In fact, Paul was not a narrow-minded Jewish preacher. He was a very humble and flexible man of God who did his best to win all people over to Christ: to the Jews, he became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law he became like one under the law, so as to win those who were under the law. To those not having the law, he became like one not having the law (though he was not free from God’s law but was under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak he became weak, to win the weak. In fact, he became all things to all men so that by all possible means he might save some. (1 Corinthians 9:20-22) But he never accepted that there was a different gospel other than the gospel he received from Christ, which is the message of salvation by God’s grace alone through faith in Jesus Christ.

But why was Paul so adamant about his strict view of the gospel? Look at verse 10. “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Here, we learn that Paul administered to all different kinds of people with the gospel, not to make himself more popular among them, but to be faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ. We must understand that there is a tension within us: we need to be open-minded and flexible without losing our faithful commitment to the gospel we received from our Lord Jesus Christ.

Among 27 books of the New Testament, John the Apostle wrote five of them, Apostle Matthew one and Apostle Peter two. But thirteen books of the New Testament were written by Apostle Paul: Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus and Philemon. When we read Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, we are amazed at the wonder of the gospel. Where did he get it all from? There is no record that Apostle Peter or any top leader of the early church taught him the gospel. All gospel narratives by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were written a lot later than Paul’s letters. So where did he receive the gospel? Paul said that he received it by revelation directly from Jesus Christ. Look at verses 11-12. “I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.” If Paul received it from men, he would not be able to claim to be an apostle, equal to the twelve apostles who had the apostolic authority. His writings couldn’t be included as canon in the Bible. How would any one know that he didn’t receive the gospel from any man?

In verses 13-24, Paul proves that he received the gospel not from any men but directly from Jesus Christ by explaining first what happened before his conversion in verses 13-14, next what happened at the time of his conversion in verses 15-16a, and finally what happened after his conversion in verses 16b-24. Look at verses 13 and14. “For you have heard my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous in Judaism.” Before his conversion, Paul wasn’t just an ordinary Jewish man. He belonged to the Pharisees, the strictest religious group in Judaism. He led his fellow Jews in persecuting the church of God and was determined to destroy it. Even though he was considered to be a rising star in Judaism, he was an enemy of God. Christians considered him to be the most dangerous man and they prayed that God would punish him.

But what did God do for His enemy? Instead of punishing him, God called him to be his servant, not just one of many servants but a servant for a special mission. Look at verses 15-16a. “But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles…” Paul said that he was set apart from birth, which means that it was not by his own choice or by any man’s choice but by God’s choice that he became an apostle for the Gentiles. He not only was called to be an apostle for the Gentiles but also was set apart for the gospel of God. This means that Jesus wanted to reveal the gospel truth through his direct revelation so that all men may be saved by God’s grace through faith in him alone. (2:15)

However, the question of “how this radical Jewish fanatic could be changed into an apostle of Christ” still remained as a mystery to many people. In fact, it took a while even for the twelve apostles to fully accept Paul as an apostle and as their partner in the ministry of the gospel. Interestingly, after his conversion, Paul didn’t consult any man about the gospel truth, not even the apostles, until many years later. Paul provides three alibis to prove that he received the gospel through revelation directly from the Lord Jesus Christ in verses 16b-24.

His first alibi was his stay in Arabia for the three years immediately following his conversion. (16b-17) Look at verses 16b-17. “I did not consult any man, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus.” It seems that Apostle Paul stayed in Arabia for three years, presumably meditating on the Old Testament Scriptures and on the facts of the life, death and resurrection of Christ. During this period of time, the Lord Jesus might have revealed the entire gospel truth to him.

The second alibi is his brief visit to Jerusalem for two weeks. (18-19). Look at verses 18 and 19. “Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days. I saw none of the other apostles – only James, the Lord’s brother.” His visit to Jerusalem was only a brief and friendly visit. According to Acts 9:26-30, when Apostle Paul came to Jerusalem, the disciples were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Paul met the Risen Christ on his journey to Damascus and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus Paul had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. Although Peter stayed with Paul for a while, they didn’t have enough time to discuss every detail of the gospel truth. In fact, during most of the time that Paul spent in Jerusalem, he talked and debated with the Grecian Jews, but they tried to kill him. As a result, Paul had to leave Jerusalem and went to Syria.

The third alibi is that Paul went to Syria and Cilicia. (21-24) Look at verses 21-22. “Later I went to Syria and Cilicia. I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They only heard the report: ‘The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.’ And they praised God because of me.” Syria and Cilicia were (in?) the province in which Paul’s hometown Tarsus was located and were far north, far away from Jerusalem. According to Acts 13, Paul and Barnabas were sent off from the Antioch church as missionaries. Paul and Barnabas went to the province of southern Galatia to preach the gospel. And during this period of time, Apostle Paul was personally unknown to the Christians in Judea. It seems that there was no direct contact or partnership between Apostle Paul and the other apostles until his second visit to Jerusalem, which took place fourteen years after his first visit. Probably Apostle Paul wrote the letter to the Galatians after his second visit to Jerusalem. By testifying about what had happened before and after his conversion, Apostle Paul was trying to prove that the gospel he preached was a direct revelation from the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul was very adamant about the gospel he preached, the gospel of God’s grace. To him there is no other gospel than the gospel he preached, the gospel of God’s grace for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Of course, the gospel Paul preached is over 2,000 years old. Do we need a different gospel today? We might need to contextualize the gospel, but we should never change the gospel. The gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes, first for the Jews and then for all the Gentiles. (Ro 1:16) It is still the power of God for the salvation of everyone today. This gospel can set us free from the bondage of sin and death and give us freedom as God’s children. In Christ we can experience the kingdom of heaven and become a new creation day by day. If the gospel was made by man, it may need alterations. But the gospel is a revelation directly from Jesus Christ. Therefore, we are to hold firmly to the gospel we received.

Is there more than one gospel? This is a challenge we all face in today’s world. But Apostle Paul, with the authority of God and His Son Jesus Christ, says that there is only one true gospel. To say that there is only one gospel may be very unpopular and seem offensive. But it does not mean that we are to become rigid and stubborn. In other words, we can be deeply rooted in the gospel – which is the gold mine of God’s truth – by discovering its depth and riches through our constant exploration of it and yet still remain open-minded. So how can we recognize the true gospel? First of all, we have to test the content. The true gospel is the gospel of grace, of God’s free and unmerited favor. Second, we have to test the origin of the gospel. The true gospel is the gospel of the apostles of Jesus Christ, in other words, the New Testament gospel. Anybody who rejects the apostolic gospel, no matter who he may be, is himself to be rejected. Some preachers appear as “an angel from heaven.” But we are to be very cautious about those who preach a gospel other than the gospel of Jesus, the gospel of God’s grace. Another challenge many of us face is that we don’t really know what the gospel of God’s grace is really about. We are to pay attention to what the Scripture says so that our faith may become strong on the solid foundation of the gospel. By holding on to the truth of the gospel we don’t actually become narrow-minded or intolerant. We become truly free and open. We also have to remember the grace of forgiveness of sins through our Lord Jesus Christ who sacrificed his life on the cross for the forgiveness of sins and rose from the dead. This is the gospel we received from God and our Lord Jesus Christ.


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