The letter to the Galatian churches may have been one of Paul’s first letters, probably written shortly after the first missionary journey. This letter is possibly specifically sent to Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, Attalia and Perga. In Acts 13-14, we see the founding of churches in these cities. Paul teaches of justification in Christ separate from the law of Moses. Paul and Barnabas are followed throughout these chapters by those who would seek to contradict them and do them harm. They are alternately treated as gods and stoned as blasphemers, but Paul and Barnabas persist in their work, traveling from city to city, preaching God’s word to any who would hear.
On their return trip beginning in Acts 14:22, Paul and Barnabas appoint elders, pray and fast with the new disciples, strengthen them, encourage them to continue in their young faith, and commend the new disciples to the Lord. Still, false teachers trail behind, seeking to undo what Paul and Barnabas have accomplished in these locations. This is where the letter to the churches of Galatia probably comes in.
In chapters one and two, Paul defends his place as an apostle and God’s word. He has preached Christ’s gospel in all of these locations, and chapter 1:6 records Paul’s amazement how quickly they have drifted from that message to another. He makes a strong statement in verses 8-9 that anyone teaching another gospel, man or angel, is accursed. He then goes on to defend his knowledge of the gospel through inspiration through the rest of chapters one and two.
God’s Plan for Justification
Chapters three and four address a problem in how the Galatian churches view justification: does salvation come from faith or obedience? Paul goes on to explain the balance between law and faith, using Abraham as an example of faithful obedience. Obedience does not nullify faith, nor does faith remove the need for obedience. In Romans 3:27, Paul calls this balance a law of faith.
Five times in Galatians, Paul references obedient works as the result of faith. Galatians 3:27-29, Paul calls that former law a tutor we no longer need while introducing the idea that we are children of God. He goes on in chapter 4 to describe that relationship in more detail, not slaves any longer but free children, redeemed by the Son.
Doing Good Works
Chapters five and six focus on walking by the spirit because we live in the spirit. He writes of loving, serving, and preferring one another. Paul contrasts this with the ways of the world – feuding with one another, arguing, and living contentiously with each other. He describes what spiritual living should look like: peaceful, kind, and generous – those qualities we call the fruits of the spirit. These qualities should typify the life of any Christian.
In all of these congregations in Galatia, Paul emphasizes the power of the gospel, and he reaffirms that power in his letter to them. He reminds them that they are now dead to self while alive to Christ, reminding his readers of the importance of CHrist in the gospel and the benefits of the new covenant over the old. Paul also spends time contrasting the works of the flesh with the fruits of the spirit, living in service, subjecting ourselves to one another in love and humility.
These themes are not unique to Galatians, though; they can be found throughout all of Paul’s letters. Time and again, his message is one of security in our faith and of Christ’s love reflected in our lives. It is a simple message that sets us free from sin and makes us children of God, recipients of His grace and mercy.
lesson by Tim Smelser