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January 28: The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. – Galatians 1:10-17

Pastors, churches, and denominations have turf wars. This is sad and regrettable. Jesus prayed that His people would “be one as [He] and the Father are one.” The heart of Paul’s message is that the coming of Jesus has moved us from Old Creation to New Creation, where “all are one in Christ” without the world’s obsession on race, social class, and gender (3:28). Yet, the verses copied above make abundantly clear that even from the earliest days of the church, there were many turf wars, uncharitable reports about other Christian leaders, and garden-variety politics.

As a pastor, I know about this personally. On occasion I’ll hear from someone that Pastor So-and-So said I am a [insert heresy], or that I preach [insert grave error], or that I [insert moral corruption]. Never mind that I haven’t talked to Pastor So-and-So in 10 years (if ever!) or that he has never actually heard or read my preaching and teaching. He’s convinced he knows all he needs to know to warn you away from a wolf like me. This is rampant in churches from evangelical to liberal.

Paul is dealing with exactly this and, as a result, starts walking on the thin ice of arguing his independence in a book about unity. That’s a dicey proposition!

He was being accused by the detractors of preaching easy-believism. Obviously, his failure to have Gentile converts circumcised was just a trick to make it easier to join—cheap grace! We all know he was tickling Gentile ears with what they wanted to hear because he wanted to be liked and have lots of followers. “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man?” In other words: “So, you thought I was looking for human approval, did you? Please! If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a SLAVE of Christ. Can I make it any plainer than that?”

He then begins establishing his independence by telling how he came by his gospel and what it did to him. “For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” And in case someone thought he didn’t know what the law demanded, he gives them an earful that they are the ones who have no idea! “I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.” Paul knows the law.

But he was stopped in his tracks when God, perhaps to Saul’s horror and amazement, revealed His son, Jesus Messiah, and had done so in order that he, Saul, an ultra-orthodox Jew, might tell the Gentile nations that Israel’s God loved them just as much as He loved Israel. That’s moving from Old Creation to New Creation. It’s going to make a lot of people mad, but others joyful. Because that’s what the gospel does!

Come hear it preached and enacted in the supper with Jesus this Sunday.

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