Let Them Be Accursed!
It is not uncommon to suggest Paul’s anger toward the church in Galatia caused him to speak out of line when he said,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 (Galatians 1:8). After all, calling down a curse on people is not something Christians typically do. Yet, the apostle flatly says that anyone who preaches a gospel different from the one he preached is accursed. In fact, he isn’t satisfied with a single pronouncement for he immediately adds, 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 (Galatians 1:9). The Greek word used here is anathema and it conveys the idea of a curse from which there is no redemption. Paul is handing these heretics a one-way ticket to hell.
In today’s world, that sort of language would get Paul voted out of a pastorate. Nevertheless, these three versus - Galatians 1:6-9 - are not simply the passionate sentiments of a man betrayed, they are God breathed Scripture. This is Holy Spirit inspired text. We must take careful note of what it is that God finds worthy of a curse.
Paul begins this section expressing amazement at the Galatians’ quick abandonment of the peace and grace of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He is amazed they have rejected the epic altering revelation in Jesus and are willing, even eager, to embrace the bondage of the present evil age. Paul had been very clear in the presentation of the gospel of Jesus; relationship with the Lord depended upon the grace of God embraced through faith. There is absolutely nothing anyone can do to effect his or her own salvation. Jesus Christ is sufficient. He alone is the author of new life. Moreover, Paul is adamant concerning the nature of that new life and any deviation from that is a false gospel. Truly, the whole of the letter is an explanation of what is deserving of a curse. In other words, to deviate from what we find in the text is to inviteanathema.
This is not the only time Paul called down a curse upon those who reject the gospel. In the closing of his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul said, if anyone does not love the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be accursed (1 Corinthians 16:22a). To love the Lord is to keep his commandments (John 14:15). And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment (1 John 3:23). Thus, in both examples, Paul is pronouncing a curse upon those who reject the gospel of Jesus Christ. In the case of the church in Galatia, there were some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ (Galatians 1:7). Their shtick was syncretism. They taught that one must be a Jew to be saved by Jesus Christ. Therefore, circumcision and adherence to the Mosaic ritual was required. In short, according to the perverted message of the Galatian troublers, faith in Jesus was not enough. What we will discover in the body of the letter is that faith in Jesus Christ is comprehensive. The gospel is the true biblical tradition reaching back to Abraham, centuries before the Mosaic dispensation. Thus, a surrender to Jesus the Christ is not just repeating the sinner’s prayer. It is not a warm fuzzy feeling. It is an embrace and immersion in an entire worldview wherein Jesus Christ is absolute Lord and Savior.
We will return to this topic next week (online). During the “off weeks”, find the articles in this series at cottcommchurch.com under the articles link.
Grace, Peace And The New Age
From Paul, whose call to be an apostle did not come from human beings or by human means, but from Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from death. All the believers who are here join me in sending greetings to the churches of Galatia: May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace. In order to set us free from this present evil age, Christ gave himself for our sins, in obedience to the will of our God and Father. To God be the glory forever and ever! Amen (Galatians 1:1-5, Good News Bible)
Paul's letter to the church in Galatia was intended to combat the introduction of a false gospel to the early church. Specifically, the syncretistic gospel of the Judaizers was no gospel at all. Indeed it was not "good news" but was a message of death, according to the apostle Paul.
In the opening lines of the letter, Paul emphatically defends his apostleship. The opponents of Paul claimed his apostleship was second rate at best. It seems they peddled the idea that Paul was given the label of apostle by the church in Antioch. However, Paul forcefully defends his call to the apostolic ministry. He claims without equivocation, it was Jesus Christ and God the Father who assigned him an apostolic charge. Paul had seen the Lord Jesus Christ on the way to Damascus and had received truth without an intermediary. The enemies of Paul would have claimed this was suspect. Nonetheless, Paul never wavered from his claim; his apostolic ministry was based upon the personal call of Jesus Christ and the revelation given him by the Lord. Paul will address these issues more fully in the body of his letter.
In his introduction, Paul simply reminds his readers that no human being had a hand in his call to the apostolic ministry. Indeed, there were many who recognized the validity of Paul's work and the apostle references them as "all the brethren who are with me" or "all the believers who are here." This body of witnesses joined Paul in sending greetings to the Galatian church.
When Paul declares grace and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, he is not expressing a pious wish but is exercising an aspect of his office as apostle. While this is something any Christian can do ("may the peace and grace of the Lord be with you"), an apostle enjoyed special authority given by God to declare the Good News of grace and peace. Paul will describe just what grace and peace are in the rest of the letter. He will show the far reaching effects of the grace of God and peace with him in Jesus the Christ. Again, Paul is building a base in this introduction.
In verses four and five, Paul presents a distillation of the rest of the letter. In fact, he presents a thumbnail for the gospel itself. As we will see, the "present evil age" is a life lived under law whether lived the past or present. The present evil age is experienced by those who reject salvation in Christ alone regardless of their ethnic, cultural or socioreligious background. Throughout the letter, Paul develops the idea of an exodus from the present evil age and entrance into the new age of Jesus Christ. He is not talking about a future apocalyptic event; this happens the moment one possesses a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. They leave the present evil age and began to live in the new age of grace in Jesus. A person receiving Jesus Christ is a new creation and does not spend time in limbo awaiting life in the new age of grace.
There are many false religions, ideologies and philosophical systems today. Each of them is part of this "present evil age." Any belief system lacking the exclusivity of Christ is a false gospel and is evil. There are no exceptions. Paul makes this very clear throughout the letter.
We will return to Galatians next week. To read articles in this series in the "off weeks" go to CottCommChurch.com and click on the "articles" link.