Galatians was written by Paul to the churches of Galatia (Galatians 1:1, 2). It is the only one of his letters to the churches that begins by immediately going to the problem instead of providing encouragement. Typically, Paul wrote why he gave thanks for a congregation and often spoke of praying for the congregation. However, in his letter to the multiple congregations in the province of Roman Galatia, Paul went straight to his dissatisfaction with these congregations. He was upset because they forsook Jesus Christ for a Jewish emphasis.
Most of the other congregations to whom Paul wrote were having spiritual growth problems or problems that arose from failures to understand. The Galatian congregations were having problems that were the product of deserting Jesus Christ! The desertion was deliberate, not the result of a failure to understand. It was a matter of choice, not a matter of ignorance of who Jesus Christ was or what God achieved in Jesus Christ (read chapter 3). Though it was not a total abandonment of Jesus Christ, it was a declaration that it took Jesus Christ plus an appropriate acceptance of Judaism to provide gentiles salvation.
The conflict between Jewish perspective and gentile perspective is much in evidence in Galatians. Thus, the gentile Christiansunder the pressure and influence of the Judaizing teacherswere convinced that salvation (a) came through the nation of Israel and (b) included some non-negotiable Jewish rites such as physical circumcision and some Jewish traditions. The result was this understanding: Jesus Christ of himself was insufficient for salvation. Who the Judaizing teachers were and where they came from is debated. Their influence in Galatian congregations after Paul left is unquestionable.
The believability of the Judaizing teachers message to those gentile converts can be approached in numerous ways: (a) Gods past involvement in Israel; (b) the unique things Israel possessed (the Law, scripture, the covenant, their prophets, etc.); (c) proselytism; (d) the questionable background of Paul and his apostleship; etc. Whatever approach these people used, they convinced the gentile Christians of Galatia that it took more than Jesus Christ to produce gentile salvation. The more was supplied by Judaism.
Interestingly, the influence of these people was so significant that Paul had to defend both himself and the message he preached to the Galatians about Jesus Christ.
Near the end of the letter, Paul reminded the Galatian Christians of who they were in Jesus Christ. He provided this reminder in two ways in chapter five: (a) through a call to freedom in Jesus Christ and (b) through an interesting contrast in 5:16-26. Please focus on the contrast.
To Paul, the contrast is between the flesh and the Spirit. Those two terms likely mean little to most of us. It is a contrast of the results of a person investing life in the physical things that oppose God and the spiritual things that come from God. These people in their pre-Christian past focused their lives on the flesh or the physical things that opposed God. It had only been since they came to and entered Jesus Christ that they focused on the Spirit or the spiritual things that come from God.
Notice some things about the general contrast. (a) Notice things that we would regard as spiritual considerationsidolatry and sorceryare considered by Paul as things of the flesh. Why? Such things (1) focused on an attempt to use the physical to manipulate the divine; (2) in many forms encouraged physical indulgence; and (3) opposed the existence and the purposes of the only true, living God.
(b) Notice that the other manifestations listed fall into two general groups: (a) attempts to control people and (b) attempts to indulge the physical senses. The listing provides us a good insight into the values/focus of non-Christian people in the Roman world of Galatia in the first century.
(c) Notice that the focus of life must change when a person decides to be a Christian. It is not just a change in the persons belief system, but it is a change in behavior. The change in ones new belief system is reflected in ones behavior. That change in belief and behavior is the difference between inheriting (an inheritance is a gift) and not inheriting. Ones actions cannot be governed by a fleshly focus and that person inherit Gods kingdom. (The Jewish concept of heaven or afterlife was more a kingdom concept than the Christian mansion or palace concept.)
(d) Notice that the values of being a spiritual person did not violate Jewish law. One could bear the Spirits fruit and not violate or be in opposition to Jewish law. The values of Christianity did not place the Galatian Christian in opposition to Jewish lawin fact those values fulfilled Gods intent in the law the Jews kept.
(e) Notice this transition is described as a crucifixion. Remember, crucifixion was a horrible form of execution. First, the transition is described as a death to the undesirableit was not a back and forth transition. Second, crucifixion was a slow form of dying, a processnot an instant occurrence. They needed to understand that this transformation took time in its human expression. Third, it was a decidedly un-Jewish event that transforms into Jesus Christs values and focus, which are Gods values and focus.
(f) Because it was a crucifixion, it was a transition designed to allow the participant to share in Jesus death. Through death, Jesus made a major transition. Through death to the fleshly focus, the Christian makes a major transition.
For Thought and Discussion
1. How did Paul begin his letter to the Galatians?
2. How is Galatians different from other letters Paul wrote to churches?
3. What problems did the other churches have? What was the Galatian churches problem?
4. Of what two things were these gentile Christians convinced?
5. What was the result of this understanding?
6. Give some possible reasons for these Christians finding the Judaizing message believable.
7. How significant was the Judiazers influence in the Galatian churches?
8. What contrast did Paul make in Galatians 5?
9. What six things are you asked to note in Pauls contrast?
Link to Teacher's Guide Lesson 11
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