If I were Paul… (Galatians 1:1-10)

Substance + Form

You can sit down, but I have to stand up for this. I know what I want to say, and I know how to say it. Every time I sit down, what I want to say gets me so…agitated…that I end up standing back up and pacing the room. 

I know how to write a letter. For some people, the beginning comes at the start and they know they’re at the end when they get tired of writing. That’s not a letter; it’s either a diary or a manifesto. A true epistle gives form to substance; what you say matters not one iota if the substance has no container. 

I’m not boasting when I say my letters never lack substance; otherwise, why write? And they never lack form. Greet them. Celebrate their victories. Address their challenges. Set them straight. Challenge them to apply truth to their lives. Sign off. That’s it. 

And then go visit them as quickly as you can, because there’s a decent chance they’ll still get it wrong. There’s no substitute for face-to-face. 

But there is something special about a letter. A certain timelessness. Sure, I write to specific people in a specific church in a specific place. I can picture their faces as I write. That’s the joy of relationship within the body of Jesus Christ: to connect the eternal truth of God with His uniquely created individuals. There is no greater honor. 

I love these people. I experience the joy of the Lord when they experience the joy of the Lord. I mourn when they mourn. I am deeply invested in their salvation, and would gladly exchange my life for theirs. But – by the grace of God – that exchange has already happened. We live, we move, we have our being in Jesus. There is joy in being a spiritual father for so many who now call Jesus Christ their God and Lord. 

And anger. Today, it is anger. 

Like I said, I know what I want to say, and I know how to say it. My scribe writes neatly what God has already composed neatly in my mind and which now flows in my words. 

Paul, an apostle – not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead – and all the brothers who are with me,

To the churches of Galatia:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. 

That should set the stage. Who am I to write, after all? Nothing special, that’s for sure. I certainly hold no moral high ground. But that’s not what this is about. I am an apostle because Jesus Christ calls me his apostle. I am sent not by my will (but initially against it), nor I am sent not by the will of man (but initially against it!). 

I am sent only by the will and command of the ones who send – Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead. 

Those of us who go, who labor for the Gospel, the brothers – we go for Jesus Christ. We walk the roads that extend like a web from Jerusalem to the world, each town along the way a crossing point where people gather and the good news about Jesus must be preached. We sail the seas that connect one land to another, and the islands that rise on the horizons between them. We go where the wind of the Holy Spirit blows us, to God be the glory. 

It’s a universal truth, but I want it to be personal: God our Father offers grace and peace, the kind that onlycomes because Jesus Christ gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the evil all around us and within us. 

Accept no substitutes. 

Did I mention I’m standing up? It’s not to tell you that; it’s to say this:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – 

Hold on. Should I say it like that? There is no different gospel – only the Gospel. Nothing about a different gospel is good news. But here’s the thing. They think it is. I tell you: the enemy is subtle. Why snatch a sheep from the flock when you can just move the whole flock? And how do you move a flock? Move the shepherd. Simple but effective, and it makes me want to spit fire. How do I clarify this? Okay, write it like this:

not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.

Like I said: Move the shepherd, move the sheep. How you can call yourself a shepherd when you lead your sheep to poisoned waters, through thorns, and over cliffs is beyond me. They take the Gospel of Christ – the exclamation point on God’s story of salvation – and they twist it until it looks like a question mark. How do we give the people – the average farmer or builder or craftsman, the average mother or father or even child – to shut out all the voices like this? We have to be clear, direct, because subtlety is lost. It’s not working. 

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.  

Anathema. They know what that means. Have no part with them. Matthew says Jesus had a way of describing influences like that; Jesus calls them yeast. Why would these people turn to a different gospel? Ask them, and they’d tell you they never would. But it’s subtle. It’s yeast. These influences start little, and they grow. And by the time you see the influence, the impact, it’s already too late. You can’t take the yeast back out of the dough once it has been worked in. 

Have you ever seen a church like that? They always start as little changes. I’m not talking about preferences; I’d love to change every preference just so people learn to worship the Lord Jesus Christ and not their preferences. I’m talking about truth. Specifically, Gospel truth. They twist Gospel truth for any number of reasons, and often with the best of intentions. 

Nevertheless, they twist it. An exclamation becomes a question mark. What’s the difference? Well, it’s the difference between Jesus and Pilate. Jesus proclaims, “I am the Truth!” Pilate asks, “What is truth?” Almost always, by the time a church realizes their exclamation point is a question mark, they’ve already exchanged the gospel blessing for a curse. 

And for what? Popularity? Likeability? Prosperity? Woe to that shepherd. 

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. 

You can call me a servant; I call myself a slave of Christ. I am not my own; I belong to Him, bought with the price of his blood. You call him friend; I call him Lord. You call him leader; I call him Master. 

The world surrounds truth with question marks. Gospel truth is not a question.

It is the answer. 

[For the next post, click here.]

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