“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 brethren who are with me, To the churches of Galatia; Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.”
The book of Galatians provides a clear explanation of the Gospel. Among the New Testament, the book of Romans offers a logical explanation of the Gospel. Additionally, the book of Galatians, which follows, does not focus on a gradual explanation but instead passionately presents arguments and counterarguments. It defends. In doing so, it represents the earnest and urgent heart. Romans explains the Gospel in detail but, Galatians conveys the desperate and regrettable heart.
Jesus gave this command before His ascension to His disciples. He said “You shall be witnesses to Me to the end of the earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations. However, do not depart from Jerusalem for a moment but receive the Holy Spirit first” Then, what should they do after receiving the Holy Spirit? Perhaps it was to leave Jerusalem, as He commanded them to be witnesses to Him in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samria, and to the end of the earth. After receiving the Holy Spirit first, they were to wait for a moment. Afterward, they were to gradually expand their visions. Notably, Peter, James, and John were prominent leaders. However, they did not consider leaving Jerusalem. They focused their ministry around Jerusalem, where many Jewish believers were emerging.
On the contrary, it was Paul who started actively missionary journeys. So along with Barnabas, they left Jerusalem for missionary journeys. Initially, they went to an island. There was an island adjacent to Jerusalem. To reach it, they crossed the sea, preaching the Gospel there. Subsequently, they traveled north. The region is what is now Turkey known as Asia or Western Aisa. They journeyed up and then back down to Jerusalem. Along this journey, the area they preached the Gospel in was Galatia. Galatia was a vast region, divided in North Galatia and South Galatia. Paul’s ministry took place in South Galatia. It was there that he also made Timothy his disciple. After preaching the Gospel and returning to Jerusalem, Paul set out on his second missionary journey, this time specifically heading to the Galatia region. These journeys eventually led him to Europe. Thus, for Paul, the Galatian region was Paul’s first ministry that he worked. He journeyed into areas untouched by the Gospel, preaching and introducing Jesus to people, leading them to accept the Gospel and receive the Holy Spirit. The change among these individuals was remarkable. However, the persecution was severe. As the region was under the cultural influence of Greco-Roman, many worshipped the god Zeus. This cultural background resulted in significant persecution, and Paul faced threats. Despite these challenges, several churches were established, contributing to the spread of the Gospel. This movement enabled the Gospel to extend its reach from this central region, fostering many churches.
However, during his third missionary journey, when he had traveled extensively and returned from Europe and to Ephesus, it was at this point that he wrote the letter to the Galatians. The motivation behind writing the letter was the arrival of certain individuals in the Galatian region, where Paul had initially preached the Gospel. Where did these people come from? They were mainly individuals who had been preaching the Gospel in Jerusalem. Their preaching was directed at those who had received the Gospel from Paul.
So, what were they preaching exactly? They were conveying that after receiving salvation by believing in Jesus and becoming individuals who gained God’s attention, regardless of your Gentiles background, it was necessary to adhere to God’s law. In other words, they advocated for the adherence of the Law of Moses. Then where should such individuals start among the Law? Circumcision. They said that these people should start with circumcision. Continuously, they said that while there are various laws, what you should do right away after believing in Jesus and knowing God is to undergo circumcision. If you do not undergo circumcision, you have no connection with God. They might start talking using the Bible. However, these Galatians weren’t constantly reading the Bible and weren’t knowledgeable about it, so when they heard this, it sounded like the correct thing to do. What did they say?
So, when people heard these words, they might respond by saying ‘Yes, that’s right!’ Isn’t that so? Even today, if someone were to make such a claim, people might still say, ‘Yes, that’s right!’. However, there may also be those who oppose such claims and say what Paul taught us was different. They might continue saying, “we were saved because we believed in Him due to His merits, not through circumcision, and therefore we do not gain salvation by keeping the Law.” When those who preached the Law heard these opposing views, they began to attack someone. Who was it? It was Paul. They attacked Paul by saying, “Who is Paul? We are from Jerusalem. Do you know who the leaders in Jerusalem are? They are Peter, James and John. They are our teachers.” James had considerable authority. Even though Peter was considered the most beloved disciple by Jesus, James was Jesus’ brother. When Jesus ascended to heaven and was not visible to others, James was significant. James was incredible because, despite growing up with Jesus as brothers, he truly believed in Jesus as the Son of God. His faith was amazing. Therefore, James played a leading role in Jerusalem Church. The people from Jerusalem emphasized this point by saying that we are the ones nurtured by Jesus’ disciples.
And continuously saying, “Who is this Paul? Where does he come from? What is his basis? What does he know? He has never seen or followed Jesus. Yet, he consistently claims to be an apostle. How can that make sense?” In the book of Luke, Jesus called the twelve disciples and referred to them as apostles. The term ‘apostle’ means those who are sent. The origin of a word ‘apostle’ suggests detachment, sending, and separation. Why are they separated? Because the apostle is like Jesus’ other self, a separate entity sent to carry out His work. So, we can think of it this way; when we are too busy, we have a sort of ‘other self’ that can handle different tasks. This is what an apostle does. An apostle is someone who is set apart to perform the same work as Jesus. The disciples have followed Jesus for 3 years, worked and learned. However, in case of Paul, he has not spent three years following and learning for Jesus like the other disciples. So, people questioned his claim to be an apostle and found it hard to believe his teaching. They asked, ‘Don’t you see the true apostles in Jerusalem?’ In this way, they attacked Paul.
And furthermore, they were asking, if believers in Jesus do not receive circumcision or adhere to the Law, how can we prevent such individuals from committing sins, engaging in immorality, or straying from the path? How can we exercise control over them? Is control even possible? If someone believes in Jesus, can they still commit adultery and attain salvation? Can they attain salvation even if they lie, having believed in Jesus? Hearing such discussions, it seems that way, doesn’t it? It seems like that’s the case. For that reason, they started to be strongly influenced by thinking that ‘We must keep the commandments.’ Consequently, people started getting circumcised one by one. Moreover, these thoughts might have arisen in their minds. For example, when they heard Paul’s words, it seemed true, but when they listened to the words from those who came from Jerusalem, it also seemed true. So, instead of firmly holding onto one thing, they thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be better to do both?’ Believe in Jesus and get circumcised. Therefore, if believing in Jesus alone is not enough, you can be secure after receiving circumcision. And if you still do not feel secure in your circumcision and in keeping the Law, you can be saved by believing in Jesus. If you do both, you will be safe. So securely, since we have already believed in Jesus and been baptized, receiving the Holy Spirit, let’s also do this! Let’s keep the Law and get circumcised. What do you think? In their minds, it naturally appears to be a secure choice. Nowadays, such ideas can surface, like the need to observe the Lord’s Day and the Sabbath. They argue along those lines.
During that time, what attitude did Paul take? He never said, “Alright, let’s compromise on the point; it is acceptable”, Instead, what did he say? He declared, “Let you be accursed! You will come under a curse if you go down this path.” This means that you cannot simultaneously embrace both Jesus and the Law. They cannot coexist; it has to be one or the other. This is the recurring message in the books of Galatians. Furthermore, Paul consistently reassured those who were concerned about their righteousness, saying, “Do not worry about it. When individuals believe in Jesus, God bestows upon them the Holy Spirit. By following the desires of the Holy Spirit, the bodily desire cannot be fulfilled. Therefore, our emphasis should be on the fullness of the Holy Spirit rather than the Law. Do not be anxious. Those who received the Holy Spirit and are filled with the Holy Spirit can better fulfill the requirements of the Law than those who strive to keep the Law.
For the part where people denied Paul as an apostle, he firmly asserted his position as an apostle. Therefore, whenever he wrote the letter, he emphasized this to prevent people from looking down on him. An apostle is someone personally called and sent by Jesus. So, what was Paul’s evidence of being an apostle? He had the firm proof. Regardless of whether they acknowledged it or not, he stated, “Becoming an apostle does not come from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead. When I headed to Damascus to persecute those who believed in Jesus, Jesus manifested Himself and said to me, “I am Jesus. I will send you. For the gentiles, I will use you.” And He has genuinely sent me. Therefore, I am the sent one by Jesus.” Likewise, Paul testified himself as an apostle. However, such pattern continued even when he preached the Gospel in the Corinthian Church. So, in the face of those who denied him as an apostle, Paul consistently testified, “What is the proof of an apostle? I have brought about change in you through my patience and endurance, boldness, and through all the miraculous signs and wonders. Even if others deny me, you have believed in Jesus through me and obtained eternal life. Do you still think you have the right to question my qualifications as an apostle? You are my recommendations. You are my evidence. You are the testimony that establishes me as an apostle.”
Paul suffered continuously in this way even if no one was as passionate about ministry as Paul. Paul constantly faced blame. He engaged in ministry by establishing and diligently working in areas where no one had done, yet he received harsh criticism, more than anyone else. He faced persecution wherever he went, and those who followed him tried to disrupt the churches he had already established by advocating for circumcision. These proponents of circumcision were not persecuted. However, when Paul entered a synagogue where Jews resided to preach, he was stoned and left for dead. Nonetheless, he survived and continued to preach the Gospel. In this way, he carried out his ministry wherever he went, striving to avoid those who sought to kill him. Meanwhile, those who promoted circumcision pursued ministry with the intention of making it easier. They followed the churches that Paul had established and advocated for circumcision.
Why did these Jews act this way? It was because they were jealous of the grace that others received, the grace that came to them. Until that day, they had endured so much hardship all this time, striving to know God and keeping the Law. They barely managed to keep the Law and lived in a state of mixed fear and faith, believing that God loved them. But then, these Gentiles who had previously lived in sin suddenly believed in Jesus, and they were filled with joy over God’s grace. They claimed to have met God, received the Holy Spirit, spoke in tongues, and even displayed powers. Moreover, they rejoiced because they became one with both Jews and Gentiles. This made the Jews feel uneasy. The Jews compared their own struggles to the happiness of the Gentiles, thinking about all the difficulties they had endured as descendants of Abraham to uphold the Law. But the Gentiles, who had just believed in Jesus, seemed to have all their problems solved, even if they had been worshipping Zeus the day before. Consequently, the Jews trapped the Gentiles, saying, “Believing in Jesus and getting baptized is not enough. From now on, you must also undergo circumcision and keep the Law.”
It is the human nature. People try to help others receive grace, but when they see someone else receiving grace, jealousy can arise in. When will that happen? For example, when I was watching TV, and they featured an actor who seemed to have it all. He was handsome, graduated from a prestigious college, excelled in his studies and English, and on top of that, his grandfather was a minister. So, he came from a good family, had a strong educational background, and was good-looking, which led him to become an actor. However, when I compared myself to him, I thought, ‘Well, I have believed in Jesus and received His grace all this time.’ I’ve been living with this faith as my foundation. But then, I saw this actor on TV sharing his testimony about believing in Jesus and receiving His grace. Watching this, I felt like the gap between us disappeared. He had what I had, and he had what I didn’t It brought me joy, but it also stirred something within me, desires of the mind. This desire just naturally emerges. And we see such situations around us. There are people who seem to have it all but lack one thing- they have not believed in Jesus in their lives. So, I think to myself, ‘I’m going to heaven, but they’re going to hell.’ Then, one day, they come forward and declare their belief in Jeus and their strong faith journey. They might not even know about Berea, but they wholeheartedly dedicate themselves to God and love Him. When we witness this, jealousy can surface. I have been through so much because of my faith in Jesus, but they seem to effortlessly receive His grace. Consequently, the Jews, who feel jealous like those desire to obstruct the Gentiles from receiving grace. So, they kept saying, ‘You should do this, and you should do that.’
So, people dislike it when others easily receive grace. They wish for others to suffer if they themselves have suffered. For instance, during military service, the conditions gradually become more comfortable. But when people first enter the military, they go through a lot of hardship. However, as time goes by, the military environment changes. When I was a private in the military, I endured difficulties, and we couldn’t freely read books or watch television. But when I became a sergeant, I would scold new recruits who were lying on their bunks, watching Tv, and reading books freely, saying things like, ‘Hey, come here. Who told you to watch TV? Who told you to read a book?’ These activities were against the rules, but they did them deliberately. Similarly, some people claim to be preaching the Gospel, but it’s not true Gospel. They are motivated by jealousy. They envy those who have received grace and try to make others conform to their standards. However, Paul warned that doing so could bring a curse upon them.
Such overall situations are explained in Galatians. This is not someone else’s story but our own. We may find ourselves in a position where we think we are advocating for the Gospel, but unknowingly, we can also stand in a position that obstructs the Gospel. This means not being able to see others receive grace or find peace easily. We need to abandon the thought that others should suffer as we did. Furthermore, people may think that ‘I suffered so much to acquire this knowledge, and they are getting it so easily; it cannot be right!’ by seeing others learning Berea easily. Another example is that even if I have been living a faith life for ten years, and I have not received the Holy Spirit yet, but someone else receives the Holy Spirit immediately after believing in Jesus, it might not seem fair or logical, so it must be heresy!’ We should be cautious of adopting such an attitude.
Therefore, we must recognize the richness of God’s grace and actively participate in it. We should not become jealous of His grace. God can detach us from Him and send when we truly have the same heart as God regarding His grace. We should rejoice when others receive grace and find joy in God’s delights. Only then can He send us as apostles, but He cannot use those who have other intentions. Therefore, let us pray so that we can have God’s virtue. Let us pray that we desire grace and are also are full of joyful hearts when others receive grace. Let us pray for the Holy Spirit to fill us.
[Prayer] Father God, we rejoice in Your grace and thank You for sending Jesus and working through the Holy Spirit. Enable us to be people of the Spirit, so we can participate in Your work. Help us truly be filled with a spirit of joy when others receive Your grace. We pray in the name of Jeus Amen.
Sermon by Pastor Ki-Taek Lee
The Director of Sungrak Mission Center
Sermon on July 24, 2013
Translated by Sungrak Mission Center English Team