Here we go again, as the Daily email officially returns.
Our passage today is Galatians Ch.1 vs.1-10.
St Paul starts the letter in a very similar way that he does with all of his letters with an announcement that the letter is from him (vs.1-2) which was standard practice at that time, and then some kind of greeting (vs.3-5). However, I noted a couple of small variations from his usual words which I think are significant.
Firstly in his statement that he is an apostle and therefore has spiritual authority over the churches, he emphasises not just that he has been called or sent by Jesus Christ and the Father which he does in his other letters, but that he ‘hasn’t been sent from men nor by man’ (v.1). His mission and authority is divine and not human, and later in the first chapter this will be expanded further.
Secondly, in the greeting, he doesn’t just mention Jesus Christ as he usually does, but describes Him as the one ‘who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age’ (v.4). Right from the outset he is emphasising the work of Christ, and in a sense the sufficiency of Christ.
However, the real departure from his usual style comes in the next section, vs.6-10. In all of his other letters to churches, (do check this out by looking at 1 or 2 of his other letters), Paul would then either thank God for his memory of these Christian believers and how he loved them and kept praying for them, or he would be led to praise God in some way for His character and His work. Even in 1&2 Corinthians where the church had given him a really hard time, he tries to be positive at the outset.
However, here in the letter of Galatians there is no time for niceties, but he rips into them straightaway! ‘I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ…’He is really concerned that people have come into their church(es) and by adding things have distorted the gospel so much from what he had taught them, that it is really no gospel at all. He uses the strongest words possible that such people should be eternally condemned, and he doesn’t care who they were, even if it was someone from his own team or an angel from heaven, there was no excuse, and the punishment should be the same, eternal condemnation. It is really strong and serious stuff! Fire and brimstone preaching might be a phrase from a bygone age.
Just to finish in a more uplifting way, note 3 phrases which Paul uses in these verses, grace of Christ (v.6), gospel of Christ (v.7), and servant of Christ (v.10). It is a reminder to us that the person of Christ has to be central in all that we speak about our faith. Now that might seem pretty obvious, but I have heard many definitions of a Christian or the Christian faith, where the person of Jesus Christ isn’t mentioned(!), that can’t be right. Similarly we have just celebrated Christmas as best we can, but how many people use that word without thinking about Jesus Christ Himself. His name is in the word, and yet people miss it. Some of you might have noticed Lynn’s top which she has been wearing recently, ‘Jesus is the reason for the season’. I agree!