Tuesday, 31 January 2012

A briefing paper for the Galatian Church's PCC following receipt of Paul's letter

Following on from the receipt of Paul’s letter to us, the Galatian Church PCC, this year 53AD , a small group have been reviewing the contents and message and subsequently produced this paper to help us move forward with his advice. This paper outlines Paul’s main themes, identifying the points which we need to examine further in ourselves and highlighting specific areas where we need to develop.

We, the Galatian church, are founded and thankful to exist due to Paul’s mission in this land as Apostle to the Gentiles . Whilst he was with us he helped us grow, develop and nurture each other, fulfilling his priestly ministry to us as Gentiles whilst all other Apostles worked with the Jews. Since he left us to continue his ministry it has been difficult for us to settle into our fellowship and our relationship with the Jews is strained . We wrote to Paul telling of our progress as a church and the input we have had from some missionaries and teachers about us observing the Jewish law; his letter is his urgent response for which we are thankful.

Paul’s Main Themes
Paul’s gospel comes from God and is approved by the Apostles (1:6-2:14)
Paul’s first theme starts from the second paragraph of his letter, he immediately states “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” . Paul is telling us that his gospel came by revelation of Jesus to him and not from any human; it is a gospel of divine authority . He writes what he has told us before “God revealed his son to me” and that his call is to serve Christ through the conversion of Gentiles.
We are not a Jewish sect, Christians come from both Jewish and Gentile backgrounds and are all welcome through Christ Jesus. Paul was given his authority to work with us Gentiles divinely and he now reminds us that it holds true. He tells us that God approves his ministry and that it was revealed directly to him by Christ.
Paul is reminding us that he was called by God, only meeting the Apostles after several years. He tells us how he met with James, Peter and John in Jerusalem and agreed with them that he would continue his ministry with Gentiles, not requiring us to convert to Judaism. Paul and the apostles agreed, he tells us so clearly, and yet we let other Christians persuade us otherwise.
Paul’s anger is clear on this matter and so might it be since he has three times confronted these issues, the first time in Jerusalem as just referred; the second time in Antioch ; and the third now at a distance working as our constant source of leadership. Paul is the Apostle to the Gentiles, he believes that we are people of God, we should know this as Paul does, it is his life’s work. We must listen to Paul, we must continue to follow his leadership on this matter.
And if we fail… well then we add weight to the accusation that Paul is a second-hand apostle , an accusation we know not to be true. Peter and James know Paul to be an Apostle and accept him as such, so why do we doubt his teaching? We must return to his path and follow his divine ministry. We must stop listening to these false teachings and keep to Paul’s teaching.

We are saved by Grace; Christ freed us from the law (2:15 – 6:10).
This leads us nicely to Paul’s second, larger theme in the letter. We are saved by Grace; we are righteoused by faith; not by works of law; Christ freed us from the law. It is by grace through faith alone that man is justified, and it is by faith alone that he is to live out his new life in the freedom of the Spirit. So what does this mean? What is Paul saying to us? What does this mean in practice?

We have heard much teaching from others about the importance of keeping the Jewish law, of being circumcised, of observing Jewish festivals and following food laws. We hear the Jews refer to scripture and how Isaiah said that in the latter days all the gentiles would come to the temple to worship the God of Israel but Paul tells us that this is not an explicit statement of requirement. Paul also reminds us that God is in control; he knows all our movements and controls history and therefore God’s plan is being enacted.

Paul takes us back to Abraham. Abraham was accepted by God centuries before the law was given through Moses, he received the covenant promise. Paul therefore tells us that the law, given through Moses, could not have been the vehicle for being pardoned since it did not exist in Abraham’s time.

In fact Paul takes his argument a step further; he says that reliance on the law puts pressure on the Jews to keep the law, and because no one can keep it perfectly everyone will fail, being cursed. He says that the Jews, through the law, are in slavery; whilst we who have faith in Christ are released through his death.

Paul reminds us how Genesis tells us about Abraham and the blessings being for him and his seed; he tells us how that seed is Christ. The promise was made to Abraham and fulfilled through Christ. And we are part of Christ through our faith, meaning that we inherit the promises God made to Abraham . Paul tells us how we are part of Abraham’s descendancy through our baptism into Christ, we are one in Christ.

How can we have ever believed otherwise, Paul makes it so clear. We are saved through Christ, not the law; if the law could have achieved salvation then Christ would not have needed to come. But God sent Christ to save the world, it was necessary for our salvation. It is Christ that frees us, not the law.

Paul is telling us, through his own Apostolic ministry, through his understanding of scripture, through his agreements with the other Apostles; that we do not need to follow the Jewish law to be Christians. We are freed from the law through Christ and our baptism into him. Christ has set us free. Those who live by the law, live by the flesh and this leads to sin. Paul tells us to live by the spirit of God, in freedom, “freedom is too precious to throw away” . He tells us repeatedly to “live by the spirit”.

As Paul’s letter has demonstrated we are very much still within the care and nurture of our brother Paul. Though far away he keeps us in his heart and prayers and for this we are thankful. Paul ends his letter pleading for us to cause him no more trouble; we can read his pain at our unrest and confusion. We are tasked by Paul to return to the faith we had when he was with us, to retain our faith in Jesus Christ through which we entered in baptism and to support each other in these ways.

Paul has clarified for us how we do not need to listen to the Jewish Christians when they compel us to follow the law, he has reaffirmed in us that we are free in the spirit through our faith in Christ. And now we must go out and spread the word that we gentiles are Christians, freed through Christ, living in the spirit. We are a community, strong together in our faith, thanks to the guidance of our brother Paul.

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