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  Set Free by Christ - An Inspired Message Gal 1:1-12
  Compromise is a tricky thing isn't it? You're never quite sure whether you're going too far or not far enough. The trouble is it's so important in today's world. JFK once said "Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate." Negotiation, compromise, finding the middle ground are the essence of diplomacy aren't they? We saw a great example recently, when that US spy plane was intercepted by a Chinese fighter plane. The Chinese plane crashed, killing its pilot and the US plane was forced down in Chinese territory. And do you remember the work the spin doctors had to do to come up with a statement that would satisfy the honour of both sides? The issue of truth at that point didn't really come into it, did it? What mattered was finding a politically acceptable compromise.
  Of course it's not only in politics that we find ourselves having to negotiate over truth. Even in religious debate we're expected to show tolerance and restraint. There's no room for hard-liners or rigid beliefs even in the discussion of religion. Peter Jensen got into trouble the other day for daring to suggest that the Prime Minister might be able to know what God would want him to do about Aboriginal reconciliation. The response from the Prime Minister's office to that suggestion was that what Peter Jensen was suggesting was out of step with the majority of the community. How dare an archbishop-elect suggest there might be some higher standard than that of the majority! No. we live in a pluralist society, so we must be ready to compromise, even with what might be the truth. //
  "Even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! 9As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!"
  We cringe a little when we hear those words don't we? Paul is so politically incorrect! How can he be so sure of himself that he'd even call down a curse on those who oppose him? Or was he just having a bad day? Perhaps he'd had a fight with his wife and now he was taking it out on his opponents.
  Well, let me suggest that Paul isn't simply being narrow minded. He isn't being arrogant in maintaining that he's right and they're wrong. Rather he's standing up for an important principle that we've almost lost in our pluralist, post-modern environment: he standing up for the principle of truth, Truth with a capital T. He saying there is such a thing as truth and that Truth is not negotiable. You see, you can negotiate about a spy plane that lands in foreign territory, you can negotiate about the right of Australian tourists to attend a political meeting in Indonesia, you can negotiate about remedies for global warming. In fact you can negotiate about almost anything in the political arena and so you should. But we mustn't think we can negotiate about the Truth. As we go through this series on Galatians we'll begin to see, I hope, why this is so.
  But let's first consider the situation in Galatia to which Paul is writing. Galatia is the area of central Asia Minor, what's now Turkey, where Paul first preached the Gospel. It covered places like Pisidian Antioch, Lystra, Derbe, and Iconium. You may remember that when they first went there, they began in the synagogues where some of the Jews were converted, but when the Jewish leaders rejected them they then turned to the Gentiles. So here was a group of Churches with a mixed population, Jews and Gentiles, and things were obviously not going well. It's interesting to note that when Paul writes his other letters to Churches he always begins with praise or thanks to God for their faith and service. But not here. Here he's only just finished his opening remarks when he launches into a passionate rebuke:
  "I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel." It seems that they're being led astray by a group of teachers who are pushing a different message to Paul and it sounds like they're in real danger of falling for it.
  Now some people might think that Paul is worried about them deserting him, as though he were the one he's referring to in v6. But it isn't himself he's talking about. It's God. Look at the summary of the gospel that Paul gives in vs3&4. He summarises the gospel like this:
  • Christ gave himself for our sins
  • Christ gave himself to set us free from the present evil age
  • Christ gave himself according to the will of our God and Father
  The one who originates Jesus mission, the one who sends Paul as an apostle to preach the gospel (v1), is the same one who calls us to faith in Christ. That is, God the Father. And here they are in danger of deserting God, to go after these human traditions.
  Now Paul doesn't say specifically what this other gospel is, or who these people are, but we can get a fairly good idea from what he says in the rest of his letter.
  It's fairly clear first of all, that these false teachers are associated with the Judaizers who are mentioned in Acts 15. These would appear to be people who have come out of the Jewish culture, with all it's concentration on the law of Moses and the traditions of the elders. They've been converted to Christianity, but they still see it as essentially a Jewish religion. Jesus is the Jewish Messiah. So these new Gentile converts are simply joining Judaism as it was meant to be with the Messiah as their Lord. And all those years of concentration on their Jewish cultural identity has meant that it's incredibly hard for them to free themselves from their allegiance to the law not only theologically, but especially emotionally.
  But they're fighting a losing battle. Paul's missionary efforts are bearing much more fruit among Gentiles than among Jews, so the church is becoming more and more Gentile. So this group of Judaizers have a fight on their hands.
  So what do they do? Well, they fight dirty. They begin to undermine Paul's authority. First of all, they point out that Paul isn't a real Apostle. He wasn't one of the 12. (Who were Jewish of course!) He's just a 'Johnny-come-lately.' They suggest that anything he teaches that's right he learnt from the apostles in Jerusalem and the rest - the bits that are wrong - he's made up by himself. It's a bit like the author who got his manuscript back from a publisher with a note that said "Your work is both good and original. Unfortunately the bit that is good isn't original and the bit that is original isn't good!" It reminds me a bit of an episode of 'Yes Prime Minister' I saw last week, where they damned someone by faint praise. They're not actually saying he's wrong, just sowing the seed of doubt about whether he can be trusted to speak with authority.
  But then they go further by suggesting that his views on the lack of need for circumcision and the like, are really just a sell-out to the liberals. He's just trying to get in good with the Gentiles, by allowing them to avoid what was obviously a distasteful idea. I mean, how could he get the sort of evangelistic response he was getting if he let on that circumcision was required?
  So Paul spends a good deal of the first couple of chapters dealing with these sorts of objections. But before we look at what he says to begin to refute their claims, let's think about the error they'd fallen into. In fact there were three things they'd got wrong.
  1 Legalism
  First they were legalists. That is, they believed that salvation is achieved by one's obedience to an external set of rules. In Acts 15:1 they were teaching the believers in Antioch: "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved." (NRSV) In other words they were saying you have to be a Jew to be saved. Notice that the issue here isn't the 10 commandments. Nowhere are we told that the 10 commandments as a moral law have been superseded. But they want these new converts to follow the ritual laws that will set them apart as part of the Jewish people.
  2 Racism
  That's because at heart they were Racist. They believed in the superiority of the Jewish culture as the way to God. They wanted to maintain those practices that made them separate: circumcision, food laws, Sabbath observance. So the issue wasn't moral uprightness, but cultural, even ethnic distinctiveness.
  3 Nomism.
  Thirdly, they were nomists. This is a word that comes from the Greek word for law, but is a bit different to legalism. Nomists would agree that obedience to the law doesn't earn us salvation, but they would argue that obedience is necessary if we're to remain within the covenant and enjoy its blessings. And so they're scared of Paul's stance for freedom in the gospel. They're worried that his emphasis on freedom will lead to these Gentiles bringing pagan practices into the Church the way the Gentile nations mixing with the people of Israel had corrupted the worship of the nation 700 years before. Now can I just say that we're still not free from this sort of misunderstanding of the law. There are still those who fear the freedom that the gospel brings with it. We haven't got time to go into this today but we'll come back to it when we get to ch. 4. For now it's enough to realise that the fear these Judaizers had was that if the gospel makes us free then we'll think we can sin with impunity. And then where are we? Well, their remedy for that sort of danger was to go back to the law. To emphasise particularly those laws that set Israel apart from the pagan nations round about.
  Well, Paul will rebut each of those false ideas in turn. But first he has to re-establish his credentials. So he begins by this strong rebuke of these false teachers. "Even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! 9As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!" If they thought he's changed his theology to please his hearers, what did they make of this. He says in v10: "Am I now seeking human approval, or God's approval? Or am I trying to please people?" No, his aim is to do what God wants.
  Then he says that his message isn't something he's made up, despite what his opponents are suggesting. Rather, it's the message he's received from Jesus Christ himself.
  Now I want to do something a little different here. I want you to do some of the work. Open your Bibles up at Gal 1, if you haven't already, and I want you to ask yourself 2 questions about vs 11-12.
  1 What does Paul tell us in 1:11-12 that is special about the gospel?
  2 What does Paul tell us is special about himself?
  You see the thing that saves Paul from the accusation of arrogance or error in his curse on those who are distorting the gospel is that the message he's talking about wasn't just the product of his own personal deliberation. If he'd been preaching a gospel that he'd come to out of his own theological search for meaning, then we'd be quite right in accusing him of arrogance, of being too sure of himself, too intemperate in the way he criticises his opponents. But this is the message that Christ has entrusted to him. This is the proclamation of God's gospel for the world. This is a revelation given to him by Christ himself.
  What's more, that makes Paul himself special. He could claim what only 11 or maybe 12 of the others could claim: that Jesus had personally sent him into the world to preach the gospel. The rest of us receive that call second hand, but Paul and the others had the special calling of apostles, those sent out by Jesus himself, with Jesus Christ's authority. With the God-given mandate to pass on the truth about Jesus Christ, about God's offer of salvation by faith in Christ alone. And it's that mandate, that authority that Paul is so careful to defend as he writes this letter. It was truth - God's truth. And you can't negotiate with truth.
  As we go through the rest of this letter I want us to think carefully about what it means to have been entrusted with the truth of God's revelation. How are we going to be good stewards of the grace of God as revealed in the gospel of Jesus Christ? Will we keep it to ourselves because we're too worried about being politically correct, or will we share it with people because without it they're lost and without a future?
  The Gospel is truth - God's truth. And you can't negotiate with truth.
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