1: This letter is a very abbreviated letter in many ways, but it does fit the style of the letters Paul wrote other churches, in that it has a greeting, a body in which he communicates his message, and a closing section with various personal greetings. However, right from the start, it is clear that Paul is not playing around. Notwithstanding the text in parentheses, it basically says “Paul, an apostle and all the brothers who are with me, Hello. Have you all gone crazy?” For this reason, I’ve heard this described as Paul’s angry letter. Having said that, the text in parentheses is still significant. Paul is saying in that text that he is not an apostle because a bunch of brothers got together and said so. He is an apostle through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead. This is important because Paul is about to speak from his God-given apostolic authority and say some very unpleasant and difficult things straight up.
2: This letter was likely not written in a vacuum. Paul had either conferred with brothers that were with him or they were with him helping him write the text of the letter itself to address the churches of the Galatian region. These included Antioch of Pisidia, 3, Lystra, and Derbe, and were founded by Paul on his first Missionary Journey (Acts 13:14-14:23).
3: [NB: 3-5: Many of the usual courtesies or personal greetings that are in Paul’s other letters are absent here. I suspect it is because he wants to get directly to the matter at hand, the Galatian church’s departure from the Gospel to something that is no Gospel at all.] Grace, or kindness, and peace in the sense of lack of being disturbed, from God OUR Father; Paul reminds the Galatians (and all believers I think) that God is OUR Father, and the intimacy that implies; and the Lord Jesus Christ. Who is Lord? Jesus is Lord. Kurios Iesous Christos. In many places in the Roman empire, citizens once a year had to make a public oath that Caesar was Lord, Kurios Caesar. No, said the Christians, in counter-culture fashion, Kurios Christos!
4: Paul gives the essential elements of the Gospel in this verse:
- [Kurios Iesous Christos, from v.3] gave Himself
- For our sins
- That He might rescue us from this evil age
- According to the will of our God and Father
And in verse 5, our God and Father is given eternal glory for it.
6: Unlike many of the other letters that Paul authored, this one gets right down to pointing a very long and solid finger – Paul is amazed by the very little amount of time that the Christ, Jesus, the very anointed One of God, is being abandoned for what Paul calls a different Gospel, which v.7 says is not a gospel at all. The word used for “deserting” is metatithemai, and is used of military deserters from the armies of the day. He credits this perversion of the gospel to individuals that want to “distort” (Gk., metastrepho – to distort or turn) the good news of the kingdom, that Jesus saves (see v.4).
8: Paul then gives a bit of a decree: If we, or anyone, even a so-called “angel from heaven” preaches a message to you that does not preach the same Gospel we have already preached (and outlined perfectly in v.4), that individual is to be cursed in the strongest possible fashion (Gk., anathema). Paul in fact feels so strongly about this, he actually says it twice in a row (v.9).
10: Paul then makes this statement: If I am trying please men, I am not pleasing God. If he were trying to please men, he would not be the servant of Christ. ***NB: We should always ask the greater context of Scripture. Why does this appear here and not elsewhere? I believe that Paul is demonstrating a connection between pleasing oneself and how that is not serving Christ. Many false doctrines begin with the one who establishes it saying “I want…” before finding a way to twist the Scriptures to justify their desires. Today’s prosperity preachers are great examples of that. “Turn to Jesus, and plant your seed of faith (code for send them your money), and you will reap a harvest that You will have no room to contain.” They tell us that God wants us all to be rich and healthy all the time. Now if that’s true, tell me why Hebrews 11 ends its list of the faithful servants of God with those who are sick, destitute (literally have no money), are homeless, and live in caves or holes in the ground? Because it tells us that the world is not worthy of these people, because they had the same faith Abraham had and will receive their reward in heaven!
11: Paul begins to tell us that the good news he preaches is not a story made up by man. (If it had been, it would be full of the kinds of works one could do to earn one’s own salvation, no doubt.) He did not hear the story from man at all, no one taught it to him (v.12), but he received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. This is something astounding! Contrast this to these Judaisers (a.k.a. the party of the circumcision), who received their knowledge as a result of rabbinic traditions. According to Dr. MacArthur, most Jews did not actually study the scriptures, relying instead on human interpretations of Scripture as their authority and guide. If you know anything about their traditions, you know that many of their practices were not taught in Scripture, or even contradicted it (for example, “Corban,” Mk. 7:11-13).
13: Paul begins to reveal how he lived before he was a follower of Jesus how he was a Jew, and a persecutor of the followers of Jesus. In Paul’s own words, he “persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it.” Not only was he a Jew, he was advancing in Judaism beyond his own countrymen. Paul was a Pharisee, one of the strictest sects of Pharisee. He would have viewed this new “way” as a heretical movement that must be stamped out at all costs (v.14)! But them God called him by His grace…(v.15)
15: Paul tells us what God had done for him. God had set Paul apart from before he was born! And when he was a strong enemy of Christ and his followers, God called him (you can read this yourself in Acts 9, as the chapter talks about exactly what happened to Paul) by His grace. And God was pleased to reveal His Son in Paul! And more than that, He did this so that Paul could preach to the GENTILES!!! (v.16) (Something, I might add, that a Jewish Scholar would not do if his own future depended on it.)
17: After his own conversion, Paul did NOT consult with his board of elders about what to do. He didn’t poll all his buddies to see what they knew or thought. He fled Damascus because his so-called friends wanted to kill him for changing sides. The story in Acts tells us they lowered him down over the wall in a basket. He fled into Arabia, and even returned to Damascus later.
18: After 3 years, Paul went up to Jerusalem from Damascus and met Cephas (that’s Simon Peter) and stayed with him for 15 days! While there, he also met James, the Lord’s brother (v.19), but has nothing else to say about him.
20: Paul is telling this story to the Galatians, and I’m not sure Paul felt like they would believe his history. He feels it necessary to include this parenthetical statement. To put it in the vernacular, he says, “I swear, I’m not making any of this up! As God is my witness!)
21: From Jerusalem, Paul went back into Syria and then Cilicia (the region includes his hometown of Tarsus). Paul preached in that area for several years. When the news of great spiritual awakening to the truth finally reached Jerusalem, they send Barnabas to check it out, and he became Paul’s first real ally and his travelling companion on his first missionary journey.
22: He was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea which were in Christ, but (v.23) they kept hearing that their greatest antagonist had now become a powerful apologist for the faith he once tried to destroy (remember these are Paul’s words), and (v.24) they were giving God the glory for this miraculous event and person. This demonstrates the effectiveness of Paul’s ministry and teaching.