Study 1 INTRODUCTION TO THE LETTER
(Scripture Portion: Galatians 1: 1-5)
Paul’s letter to the churches at Galatia was written in AD 57. He made two missionary journeys to Galatia, and it was during one of these that he founded the churches there. When he preached the gospel, the Holy Spirit blessed the spoken word, souls were saved and churches were formed. Men and women who had been living in idolatry were brought to know the Lord Jesus Christ as their Saviour and were born again by the Holy Spirit. But Paul was a pioneer missionary; he was always on the move, preaching in new places and planting new churches. Consequently he did not have time to stay very long with those who professed conversion under his ministry. After he had laboured in Galatia for a comparatively short while he moved on into other fields of service. It was probably while he was in Macedonia (Acts 20:1-3) that some very sad news reached him. False teachers had entered the churches in Galatia and they were misleading the believers there with false doctrine, and in order to enforce their erroneous teaching they had set out to attack Paul and were endeavouring to prove that he was not an apostle at all, and therefore all his teaching lacked authority. When Paul heard this news he was deeply concerned, and he immediately sat down and wrote this letter with his own hand – look up Galatians 6:11.
To Paul, doctrine mattered more than men’s opinions. Revelation was far more important than mere human speculation. What was the false teaching which was being propagated in the Galatian churches? Judaising teachers, claiming authority from Jerusalem, were endeavouring to place the Gentile Christians in Galatia in bondage to the Law. They were telling them that unless they did certain things they could not be saved, and one particular thing they needed to “do” was to be circumcised (Galatians 5:1-6). These false teachers “wanted to substitute external badges for inward faith; legal bondage for Christian freedom; observance of practices for holiness of heart.” One writer has said, “We have most of us been reared and now live under the influence of Galatianism.” True! – for very many professing Christians seem to think that salvation depends upon good works or upon rites and ceremonies.
This is a glorious letter; it is “the most profound, condensed and powerful argument ever expressed in writing.” Martin Luther said, “The Epistle to the Galatians is my Epistle. I have betrothed myself to it. It is my wife!”
Let us notice four things as we study the first five verses of chapter one, which constitute the apostle’s introduction and salutation.
1. THE WRITER IS DESCRIBED
Please read Galatians 1:1-2 and 6:11, and notice the following:
- Paul was the writer. There is no doubt about this, for we have his signature on the letter. It was customary in those days to commence a letter with one’s name. Paul tells us that he wrote the letter with his own hand; he had not dictated it for someone else to write, but he had written it himself. How this reveals his heart of love and his deep concern for those believers in Galatia!
- Paul declares himself to be an Apostle. He is careful to state this because these false teachers were questioning his apostleship. The word “apostle” means “messenger” or “sent one”. How was Paul made an apostle? He tells us in verse 1. Only God can make messengers – and in Acts 26:15-18 we read of the occasion when God called this man to be His messenger.
- Paul associates himself with the brethren who are with him when he sends this Letter. The apostle was always glad to recognise his fellow-labourers in the gospel, and this in itself is an indication of this great man’s real humility.
- Paul addresses his Letter to “the churches in Galatia”. There is only one Church, but there are many local assemblies of born again people – “churches”.
2. THE SAVIOUR IS REVEALED
In Galatians there are over forty references to the Person of Christ, and in these first five verses the Lord Jesus is revealed in a four-fold aspect.
- His Names are mentioned. In verse 3, Paul writes of Him as “the Lord Jesus Christ”. “Jesus” = “Saviour”; “Christ” = “Sanctifier”; “Lord” = “Sovereign”. Give Him His full title!
- His Nature is indicated. In verse 1 He is linked with God the Father – “Jesus Christ, and God the Father…” In verse 3 the same thing happens again. “God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”. Our Lord Jesus Christ is God the Son in a unique sense. We are “children of God by faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26); but He is the Son of God. He always has been and He always will be “God the Son”.
- His Sacrifice is declared. This is stated in verse 4. Notice that His sacrifice was: (1) voluntary – “gave himself”; (2) substitutionary – “for our sins”; (3) redeeming – “to rescue us from the present evil age”; (4) triumphant – “according to the will of our God and Father”.
- His Resurrection is emphasised. In verse 1 we read that our Lord Jesus died, but He rose from the dead. He was raised for our justification (Romans 4:25); He is alive (Hebrews 7:25). Why does Paul mention the Lord’s resurrection? Because these false teachers claimed that Paul could not be an apostle because he had not seen Christ alive. But Paul had seen Christ alive – look up Acts 9:3-6.
3. THE GREETING IS CONVEYED
When we send a letter, if it is a friendly letter we include a greeting, a salutation, and Paul did this – see verse 3. He wished for his friends “grace” and “peace”, and these are the two blessings which you and I need most of all. This is not so much the grace which saves as the grace which keeps – look up 2 Corinthians 9:8 and 12:9; and this is not so much peace with God (Romans 5:1), as the peace of God (Isaiah 26:3; Philippians 4:6-7). These are the blessings we need: grace and peace!
4. THE LORD IS PRAISED
The apostle concludes his introduction and his salutation with the words, “…God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever.” And then he says, “Amen!” – “So let it be!” – and surely we say the same!