“I am astonished…” After a standard greeting and reminder that the Lord Jesus Christ “gave Himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age,” these three words open Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia. “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.”
Paul had visited the region of Galatia, which is in south-central Asia Minor, during their first missionary journey, which we read about in Acts 13-14. He and Barnabas began preaching the Gospel in Antioch of Pisidia, where: When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region. But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district.
Paul and Barnabas continued to other Galatian cities. In Iconium, they spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed. However, the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers, which divided the city. They followed Paul and Barnabas to Lystra – whose residents had treated them like gods – and stoned Paul there. After being dragged out of the city and left for dead, Paul headed with Barnabas to Derbe, where they again made many disciples.
This is the community to which Paul is now writing. A faction of Jews were unable to stop the spread of the Gospel among both their fellow Jews and Gentiles. But rather than give up, they are trying, in the words of Paul, to “bewitch” the believers into trusting in the law of Moses rather than Jesus Christ: “It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”
Pay attention to how Paul reasons with the Galatians, drawing on his experience within Judaism, his encounters with the other Apostles, and on the logic with which they were persuaded in the first place. Remember also his own trials among the Galatians, and consider the pressures they were under. Could a Gentile bypass Judaism altogether and believe in Jesus? Though this was settled in Paul’s mind, it was still very much an open question.
Our verse for this week is Deuteronomy 6:5: You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
Galatians 1 through 3. Now let’s read it!
You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.