Sep 27 2009

42- THE EPISTLE TO THE GALATIANS part 3

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The Epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians

(Part 3)

Explanation of the Epistle (contd.)

2- St. Paul defends the authenticity of his mission, his calling, and his ministry as the Apostle of the Gentiles (1:11 – 2:14, contd.)

+ Concerning his past and his encounter with the Lord: (described in Part 2)

+ His encounter with the Disciples after the years of preparation: (described in Part 2)

+ His Meeting with the Disciples after Another Fourteen Years:

St. Paul comes to meet the disciples now that he is standing firm as an equivalent disciple1 . He comes with Barnabas2 who presented him to the disciples in his first encounter with them (Acts 9:27), and also with Titus the Greek (3:2).  He presents the gospel which he preaches among the Gentiles to those who are senior among the disciples, “James, the brother of the Lord, Peter, and John “those reputed to be pillars” (2:9), to testify that his teaching is in accordance with the faith they received from the Lord, “lest by any means I might run, or had run my race in vain” (2:2).  He was not alienating himself, nor leading a group against the disciples, nor trying to split from the rest for his own account.  His meeting with the disciples was to confirm the unity of the group, who are preaching the gospel of Christ, in one faith, both to the Jews and the Gentiles.

Here he points out that he did not submit to the false brethren who entered the Churches of Galatia, to enslave them, and take from them their freedom in Christ.  Even Titus did not have to be circumcised for their sake.  “We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you.” (2:5)

He confirms that, concerning those who are senior disciples, there is no difference for him, “God shows no partiality” (Deut. 10:17).  He points to their affirmation to him, “As for those who seemed to be important – whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge my external appearance – those men added nothing to my message. On the contrary, they saw that I have been entrusted with the task of preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles, as Peter had been to the Jews.  For God, who was at work in the ministry of Peter as an apostle to the Jews, was also at work in my ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles.” (2:6-8). And when they “perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised (the Jews)” 3  (2:9).

+ His Confrontation of Peter

St. Paul mentions a situation between him and St. Peter, to show his persistence in the truth without making consideration for people.  He opposed him, when Peter changed his behavior according to the circumstances.  He says when Peter was in Antioch (Acts 10:1 – 11:25), he was eating with the Gentiles, but when certain men came from James, the Bishop of Jerusalem, he was setting himself apart from the Gentiles, “because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group.  The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was lead astray” (2:12,13). ThenSt. Paul could not hold himself, “But when I (Paul) saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all ‘If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of the Gentiles (hypocrisy) and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews? 4” (2:14). He was courageous to say the truth no matter what, because defending the faith is more important than regard for the status of the people.

Of course, this did not sever the fellowship, and friendship among them.  St. Peter in his 2nd Epistle, speaks of St. Paul “as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you” (2 Pet 3:15).  Also, those who were meeting in Jerusalem described Paul and Barnabas as “men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 15:26).

3- Righteousness by Christ, by Faith and Not by the Works of the Law (2: 15 – 5:12)

+ Righteousness is by faith in Christ who was crucified for us (2:15-21)

After St. Paul narrates his story with St. Peter, who also detached himself from the works of the law in dealing with the Gentiles, he confirms that those who hold to the works of the law are playing hypocrites with the Jews, either for fear of them, or to be nice to them, but in disregard to Christ’s truth.  Addressing the Galatians in de-fence of the truth of the Gospel that he is preaching, he begins by telling about his personal faith 5 and the faith of his Jewish brethrens in Christ.  They were not sinners like the Gentiles (from a Jewish perspective, whoever is not Jewish is a Gentile sinner, and not from God’s people).  But when the grace of God reached them, they realized “that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ” (2:16), and believed in Christ to be justified by this faith, not by the works of the Law.

Those who hold to the works of the law, in spite of their faith in Christ, they consider themselves sinners, and need the works of the law to become righteous.  Hence, they reject the sufficiency of the righteousness by Christ, His forgiveness, and the work of the blood on the cross.  This is a blasphemy against Christ, who becomes a minister of sin, and not of perfect salvation.  This is far from the truth, because the blood of Christ purifies from all sins (1Jn1: 7).  To build up again “the works of the law” after the right­eousness of Christ has destroyed it is a blasph­emy and a denial of faith.  According to the judgment of the law, Christ has died for us, “the one who knew no sin, became a sin for us, so that we become the righteousness of God in Him” (2Cor. 5:21), He also became “a curse for us” (3:13).  Although, death was our portion as sinners, Christ the righteous and the holy, died for us, to save us from sin and death.  With Him, we went through death according to the law, and we died to the law and its works, and rose to live according to God. All those who are saved by faith in Christ should sing, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me” (2:20).

The works in the life of salvation are the works of faith (5:6) and the fruits of the Holy Spirit in us (5:22, 23) and not the works of the law, which ended even for the Jews who have believed; how much more for the Gentiles who did not have the law.  This applies to every Christian up to this day.  Those who retreat in their faith in Christ and His love, and rely on their righteousness, as if it will save them, and not on the grace of God and the blood of Christ, they bring back the righteousness of the law, as if Christ did not come to save them.  To all of them, St. Paul says “I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law (or ascetic practices), then Christ died in vain” (2:21).

(To be contd.)


Saint Mark’s Orthodox Fellowship urges you to study the Bible and encourage others to do the same.  Please feel free to make copies of these notes to distribute them. The Fellowship welcomes any questions, comments or additional references, whether for publication in these “Short Notes” or in private correspond­ence. Write to us:

PO Box 6192, Columbia, MD 21045

Footnotes:

  1. Match what St. Paul wrote in this respect and his defense of his mission in 2Cor. 11:5, 21-23, 12:11.
  2. Barnabas (which means the son of comfort or the son of preaching) is the brother of Mary the mother of St. Mark.  Later, he became Bishop of Cyprus.  In Acts, Barnabas looked for St. Paul in Tarsus, and brought him to Antioch, where they ministered for one year, where the disciples “were called Christians” for the first time (Acts 11:25, 26).  They collected donations for the poor believers in Judea, and brought them to Jerusalem (Acts 11:29, 30) where St. Paul met the disciples for the second time (Gal 2:1)
  3. The book of Acts (13:2-3) mentions that “the Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.”  John Mark accompanied them, and they started the first missionary trip, crossing the sea.  In Acts (15:6–9), all the apostles, in the presence of Paul and Barnabas, agreed to add no further burdens on the Gentiles by requiring them to obey the Jewish law (45 A D).
  4. The book of Acts points to the strong pressure put on the Apostles to follow the law, to the point that St. James advised St. Paul to show that he follows the law, to avoid being killed by the hands of fanatic Jews who believed, and who, because of their zeal for the law, threatened to stone Paul to death.  He recommended him to be purified with four people who had a vow to fulfill “that all may know… that you yourself also… keep the law” (Acts 21:17–27).
  5. Match with Philippians 3:3-5, where St. Paul describes himself, according to the flesh, as being a Jew, an Israelite from the tribe of Benjamin, even a Pharisee.

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