The Epistle to the Galatians - Introduction and Chapter 1
William Trew, Cardiff
The apostle had a twofold object in view in writing this Epistle to the churches of Galatia.
1. From the true spiritual character of the Christian revelation which had been brought to them in Paul's preaching and which they had received, in which all blessing for man is due to the love and grace of God manifested in the death of Christ, these Galatians had, in large measure, fallen away to a system of Jewish ceremonialism that would give credit before God to man in the flesh. The apostle had led them to faith in Christ. They were the fruit of his labours in the Gospel; they were his beloved children for whom, in costly spiritual exercises, he had travailed. For some time they had "run well", and their diligence and zeal had delighted his heart. But influences had been introduced by which they had been hindered, and now they had defected, and their defection had grieved him sorely. The deep intensity of his sorrow of heart is fully told out in the Epistle.
2. Their defection was the result of the successful efforts of certain teachers of Judaism, who, in order to accomplish what they had in mind, not only had corrupted the Gospel that Paul had preached, but had also denied his apostleship and disparaged his authority to preach. These facts account for Paul's resentment and explain his indignation, so evident in his letter. He could see, more clearly than most, what would be the dreadful consequences for the Christian testimony and the character of the churches of God, of the success of these evil teachers. Therefore he wrote this Epistle of faithful warning and loving entreaty.
This will appear clearly as we pursue our studies, and therefore, without further introduction, we turn to the Epistle itself,
The Epistle may be divided into three main sections with their subsections:
Chapters 1 and 2. The Flow of Sovereign Grace from God the Fountain-Head of all Blessing for Man.
1. The Intention of God in our Salvation, 1. 1-5.
2. The Instruments used by God and the Intervention
of the Enemy, 1. 6 to 2. 16.
3. The Illustration, in Terms of Practical Experience,
of the Intention of God in our Salvation, 2. 17-21. Chapters 3 and 4. The Fulness of Christ's Redemption to Deliver from the Curse, Condemnation and Captivity of the Law.
1. The Mediation of Blessing from God. 3. 1-14.
2. The Meaning of the Law in the Design of God,
3. The Ministry of the Spirit of Sonship, 4. 1-31.
Chapters 5 and 6. The Fruit of the Spirit in the Character of the Believer.
1. Liberty that Refuses the Bondage of the Law, 5. 1-12.
2. Love that Serves the Good of Others thus Fulfilling
the Law, 5. 13-15.
3. Life that Produces the Fruit of the Spirit, against
which is no Law, 5. 16-26.
4. The Law of Christ, 6. 1-5.
5. The Law of Harvest, 6. 6-10.
6. The Law of the New Creation, 6. 11-18.
The apostle commences his theme abruptly. It is evident that his heart is very heavily burdened. Though he desires for them grace and "peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ", he does not address them even as "churches of God", but only as "churches of Galatia". He is, as he says, in doubt about them, 4. 20, as if they must prove afresh their right to be called "Christian churches". He treats their doctrinal defection as even more serious than the moral evil found in the Corinthian church, though men would doubtless consider the Corinthian evil to be the more serious of the two. But without the Gospel, true holiness cannot maintain itself, and the pure doctrine of Christ is the root of practical sanctification. Hence he commences this letter with the clearest statement that both his apostleship and the Gospel that he preached had their source in God.
CHAPTERS 1 AND 2
THE FLOW OF SOVEREIGN GRACE FROM GOD
It would seem that this first main section is again divided into three paragraphs:
1. The Intention of God in our Salvation, 1. 1-5.
The intention of God to be accomplished in our salvation is expressed in the words: He "gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from (out of) this present evil world (age), according to the will of God and our Father; to whom be glory for ever and ever (unto the ages of the ages). Amen". The whole content of the Gospel, as it had to do with the condition of the saints in the Galatian churches, was contained in this statement of the intention of God in their salvation. The law has to do only with man in the flesh, alive in the world. Hence, in delivering believers out of this present evil age, God has delivered them from the world and the flesh, and therefore also from the law, both as a means of justification and a rule of life. The present age is described here as inherently and essentially evil, and it must be evident to us that God could not save us at all without delivering us out of this present evil age. The word translated "deliver" is one which means "to pluck out" or "to rescue", and in its active form it means "to tear out of". It implies deliverance out of a position of gravest peril; to be rescued from this peril should make us supremely glad and grateful. That which gives character to this present age, stamping it emphatically as "evil", is the cross of Christ - the murder by men of God's Son, the rejection of God come into their midst in goodness and grace. Therefore, in this Epistle, the tremendous emphasis is laid upon the cross of Christ, rather than upon the death of Christ. "The cross" would focus our thought upon the manner of His death rather than upon the fact of it. It was not only that He died, but He died upon the cross, the expression of man's awful hatred not only of Christ and of God, but also of all who are Christ's. If men speak, as they do, of the noble example of Jesus in His death, it is because they have forgotten the cross and its eternal witness to the fact that "the carnal mind is enmity against God", Rom. 8. 7, and "whosoever therefore will (is determined to) be a friend of the world is the enemy of God", James 4. 4. On that broad foundation is built all the teaching of the Scriptures concerning separation.
Before we leave this passage we must notice the contrast made between the present evil age and the ages of the ages in which God will be eternally glorified. The giving of Himself for our sins has wrought so effectually for us that we have been rescued out of the one, and have now become morally linked with the eternal glory of God in the other. This so thrills with joy the heart of the apostle that he, with adoring worship, adds his fervent "Amen" - "It shall be so". With the same deep appreciation of all that is involved in it for us, are we willing to give our "Amen" to this wonderful deliverance out of this present evil age? Nothing less than this is the intention of God in our salvation.