In this week’s readings we discover more about the Gospel. Jesus preached the gospel of the kingdom, commanding all to ‘repent and believe in the gospel (Mark 1:15)’. The Gospel means ‘good news’. This news, unlike most we read in the newspapers, is good because it tells how Jesus has won a great victory. He has ‘abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel’ (2 Tim 1:10). Paul set out the basic ingredients of the gospel’s content in the opening chapter of Romans (see week 31): Jesus is the Son of God (Romans 1:4); he is the promised king (Messiah) of Israel, a descendant of David (Rom 1:3); he rose from the dead (Romans 1:4). And, in culmination, this risen Son of God claims the obedience of the whole world (Romans 1:5). All this is set out beforehand through the inspired prophets of the Old Testament (Romans 1:2).
In the letter to Galatians, Paul is focused on ensuring his readers do not lose their grip on a basic truth of the one Gospel: their freedom from sin and the hope of new life in the kingdom is possible only through Jesus Christ. They are being misled by some in their midst who insist that to be acceptable to God they must keep the religious laws and rituals of the Jews. He shows that Jesus is the promised Seed (descendant) of the first woman Eve (Genesis 3:15; Galatians 4:4) and of Abraham (Genesis 12:3; Galatians 3:16), and that both Jews and Gentiles can share in the promises if they believe and are baptised into Christ (Galatians 3:27).
Sunday – 2 Corinthians 11
Paul shows great concern for the Corinthians, picturing himself as the father of the bride, arranging a marriage for his daughter ‘to present [her] as a pure virgin to Christ’ (2 Corinthians 11:2). The trouble is that the bride-to-be – the Corinthians – are in danger of running off from the true bridegroom (Christ) into the arms of a false husband. All this picture language is used by Paul to convey the real danger that the believers in Corinth face – they are listening to false teachers who are peddling a different gospel, and ultimately a different Jesus. They are in danger of repeating Eve’s foolishness in Eden (v 3) when she was led astray by the serpent. There is only one Gospel and they must not, cannot, listen to another (v 4). We see the importance of believing the true Gospel.
Monday – Galatians 1
Paul makes a point which is similar to that in yesterday’s reading. The Gospel changes everything and everyone who believes it: through Jesus’ death and resurrection, God is now building a new family, a single family, a family with no divisions, no separate races, no one-table-for-Jews and another-for-Gentiles (see Galatians 2:12). But attitudes are difficult to change and old prejudices are strong. So Paul has to be very blunt. No good will come of mixing up faith in Christ with teaching about the need to follow the law of Moses. There is only one Gospel and it must not be altered (see verses 6-9).
Tuesday – Galatians 2
The key question Paul is grappling with is explored in this chapter. At first sight it seems trivial – whether Jewish and Gentile Christians were allowed to eat at the same table (see verse 12). But this is a symptom of the bigger question. Who are the true people of God? Is it all who belong to the Messiah? Or is it only Jewish Christians (including proselytes, that is Gentiles who have converted to Judaism), with Gentile Christians remaining second-class citizens? The answer is clear – ‘a person (Jew or Gentile) is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified’ (Galatians 2:16). The old law has been replaced by the grace of Christ.
Wednesday – Galatians 3
God promised Abraham and his ‘seed’ an eternal inheritance in the Land of Promise (Genesis 13:15). The ‘seed’ here spoken of was Christ (Galatians 3:16). Through God’s promise Abraham is shown to be a channel of blessing for the nations. We too become heirs of the promises of God made to Abraham (Galatians 3:29). What matters for Paul is that someone is ‘in’ Christ, or ‘belongs to’ Christ (Galatians 3:27). This means becoming one of the Messiah’s people or family; and this family is entered through baptism.
Thursday – Galatians 4
Paul develops his argument further to convince the Galatians to recognise that the position as sons (that is children) of God surpasses any benefits they believe they may have from clinging to the law. He uses a simple illustration from the law of inheritance. A son may be frustrated while he waits for his estate and feels little more than a slave (Galatians 4:1) but can enjoy it when he comes of age (Galatians 4:2). Similarly the Jews, while under the law, enjoyed very little of the Father’s estate (Galatians 4:3) but upon coming of age (effected by Christ’s death) they can enjoy all of their Father’s estate (verses 4-7). Paul then uses the example of Hagar and Sarah, two Old Testament women, to allegorise the law of Moses and the grace of God.
Paul shows his love for the Galatians, in spite of their foolishness (Galatians 3:1) by describing himself as a mother, suffering the pains of childbirth, until Christ is fully developed in them (Galatians 4:19).
Friday – Galatians 5
Those who believe the promises and are baptised enjoy a new freedom (Galatians 5:1). The first century Jews who became believers were free from the law; all Christians enjoy a freedom from the fear of judgement. One day, in the resurrection, we will be free from the struggle every Christian experiences in overcoming the temptation to sin which is the ‘hope of righteousness’ (Galatians 5:5). But this new freedom must not be used for selfish and ungodly living (Galatians 5:13). The struggle between flesh – man’s natural tendency to break God’s laws – and spirit is described in verses 16-26. ‘The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law’ (Gal 5:22-23).
Saturday – Galatians 6
In the closing section of his letter, Paul reminds them about the need to care for their fellow believers and share their burdens. Caring for others in this way is not optional; Paul calls it the ‘law of Christ’ (Galatians 6:2). So, as Jesus carried the cross for others, so Christians must carry one another’s burdens.
Paul provides a final warning using the picture of sowing and reaping (Galatians 6:7-10). Those who sow only sinful desires will reap everlasting death (Galatians 6:7–8a). Those who sow what is good will reap everlasting life (Galatians 6:8b-10).