alatians is a letter written to a group of churches located in what we know as Turkey. Most likely the letter is written about 48 A.D. which puts it about 15 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Unlike most of Paul’s letters, he does not begin with this with a praise or prayer. Instead, we get a hint in verse 1 of the trouble that was going on in this area, “an apostle—not from men nor through men but through Jesus Christ…”
Those in Galatia were doubting and even rebelling against the authority of Paul, as an apostle. Why is this significant? It’s because today the world, and especially our culture is in rebellion against authority.
David Slagel, a teaching pastor at Veritas Church in Atlanta, told the story of his eight-year-old.
My eight-year-old embraces some interesting sources of truth. We were coming home from the grocery store recently when he asked, "Dad, do you believe in the Bermuda Triangle?"
"Jack," I replied, "if you're asking me if I believe that this place exists, my answer is yes. If you're asking me if I believe all the mysterious stories about ships and planes disappearing, no: I think that's all baloney."
"Well, Dad," Jack said with a note of defensiveness, "I believe in it. And I bet you want to know why."
"Yes, Jack. I do."
"Well, I was watching Scooby Doo… (Slagle).
Now we might laugh at that but I’ve read posts on Facebook from sources much more dodgy than Scooby Doo. So, who do we believe? Do we rely on CNN or FOX; the Democratic or Republican party for our marching orders? Do we rely on our logical ability to reason things out or listen to that inner voice as to what is and isn’t true?
Unfortunately, we do all of this more and it leaves us looking like buffoons. It weakens our witness for Jesus to a lost world. And it demonstrates our lack of relying on God’s work and planning for our world and nation.
These churches were being taught to disbelieve Paul’s message of Jesus in favor of a more Jewish version. They claimed Paul was out for money, ambition and power. But these naysayers were only the first of many who decried the authority of Paul. Thomas Jefferson wrote that “Paul was the first corrupter of the doctrines of Jesus. These palpable interpolations and falsifications of his doctrines led me to try to sift them apart”. In a 2003 sermon, Keith Bunch writes that we too are “confronted with the same group of false apostles today: Those who seek to dispute the…Holy Scripture and, therefore, seek to lead us away from the Truth” (Bunch).
Paul makes it clear in these first verses that his calling and thus his authority came from God, not from other apostles or human wisdom. Let’s jump down to verse 10 which makes up the summation of next week’s passage. The contrast between pleasing God and man is such that to win the approval of others takes one out of the arena of serving Jesus. Then Paul writes, “I would have you know”. Pay attention when Paul says this. He uses it seven times. Twice in Acts where he is preaching. Five more times in his letters. It is as if someone turned off the TV to get your attention.
No apostle taught Paul this message or gave him this calling. His Jewish law-keeping and heritage didn’t enable him to understand Jesus or have his life changed. It was God alone who did this. Notice verse 15 “but” God had set him apart before he was born and he was called by God’s grace.
Know who it is that seeks your trust and belief. Doctors, teachers, specialists all have very good reasons to expect your unquestioned belief, but it doesn’t mean you give it. As we recognize these people and groups we can give it when wise. The Supreme Court decision concerning gay marriage has created three types of religious response each trying to get us to believe their scenario.
There are those who believe this is the beginning of the end for freedom of Christians who hold Scripture to be God’s word and believe in traditional heterosexual marriage. They argue about being taxed and arrested and not being able to get insurance.
There are those on the opposite who are celebrating with the gay community and saying, “See we told you we’d win”. Etc. They want us to believe that it is inevitable that everyone will believe this way so the rest of us had better get on the bandwagon.
The third group, in which I place myself, simply says so what? If we’re persecuted it won’t be the first time for God’s people, just the first time for us. If we lose benefits from the government so what, it means we find other ways to do what needs to be done to share Jesus. If the rest of the world falls in line with this heretical belief we’ll be the odd ones, like those who believed in one God in a culture that worshipped a pantheon of gods like Galatia and Rome.
What allows me to take this view is two things. First I’m old and have seen a lot. Second, I’m more convinced than ever that this decision didn’t surprise God or move God off His plans for his Body here in Portland.
Remember our purpose surpasses mere existence. We have been given life by Christ and that life comes with a direction. In the 2011 movie Hugo, there is a discussion between Hugo and Isabelle in which Hugo describes another character as one who ‘has real purpose’. He explains to Isabelle that everything has a purpose, and when they break they can’t fulfill their purpose. Then he says, “Maybe it’s the same with people. If you lose your purpose, it’s like you’re broken.” Hugo’s purpose was carrying on what his father did, fixing things. Then Isabelle says, “Maybe if I’d known my parents I would know my purpose”(Scorsese).
If we know our Father in Heaven we know our purpose. Oh, we may get sidetracked or mired down in details but the truth is “We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Phil. 2:10). This isn’t easy because we are facing a world in which there is a lack of respect and honor for most people and God’s people in particular. Why? It is because Satan wants to destroy us and our credibility.
Decide to stand for Christ and accept his authority and fulfill the purpose he has set forth for you and you paint a target on your back. They are painted there by those who don’t like us and what we stand for because it judges them. How do we face this? We remember our calling. We rehearse our calling. We express our calling with God’s people and the world with humility and the assurance of God’s Word.
God is still bringing about His Kingdom. The year after I got to Portland, 1992, a container of rubber ducks and bath toys fell into the North Pacific. Since then they have washed up on “the shores of Hawai’i, Alaska, Australia and the Pacific Northwest; others have been found frozen in Arctic ice. Still others have somehow made their way as far as Scotland and Newfoundland, in the Atlantic (Hohn)."
In 2011 some 2,000 of these floated around the North Pacific Gyre, a massive island of junk, mostly plastics in the Pacific. Surprising, every now and then one finds itself freed on the open ocean again and bound for some far off shore.
They don’t do this on their own. They are pushed there by wave and wind. They are set free by other forces that move them from where they’ve become comfortable out into a different world. Like those ducks, caught in a sea of trash we should be aware and welcoming of God’s work to move us out into the world again so that we might share His love and the work of His kingdom. Take heart because no court case, act of congress, or common sense will undo the work of God in our nation or in our world. It didn’t happen when the church fell victim to Nazi Germany. It didn’t happen when God’s people were exiled into Assyria and it won’t happen now. Just keep your eyes on Jesus, who is the final authority. Let us pray.
Bunch, Keith. "The Argument of Authenticity." March 2003. Sermon Central.com.
Hohn, Donovan. Moby Duck: When 28,800 Bath Toys Are Lost at Sea. with Terry Gross. PBS-Fresh Air. 29 March 2011.
Hugo. Dir. Martin Scorsese. 2011. Film.
Jefferson, Thomas. Extract from Thomas Jefferson to William Short. 3 April 1820.
Slagle, Davie. "Sources of Truth." December 2007. preachingtoday.com.
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