Friday, October 18, 2019

BATTLING FOR THE GOSPEL

We downplay theological disputes today. "Just give them Jesus" or "doctrine divides" are slogans of the modern church. Perhaps these are helpful cautions when it comes to peripheral matters of the faith over which we have too often divided but not the gospel. There can be no compromise over the gospel. Battling with others about the gospel gets messy, even ugly sometimes, as we see in Galatians 2, but we must be willing to divide if the gospel is being corrupted. A "Jesus Lite" gospel is no gospel at all.

Paul writes, "I submitted to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles" (Gal. 2:2). The verb "submitted" (ἀνεθέμην) in the middle voice means to declare or communicate something to someone for consideration (BAGD, 62). The only other place in the NT where the word is used is when Festus laid out the contents of Paul's legal case before Agrippa (Acts 25:14). Paul used a sister verb earlier when he testified that he "did not immediately consult" (προσανεθέμην) with anyone (Gal. 1:16). This word can mean to "submit" a question to someone for an answer (BAGD, 711). In the case Paul made before the council in Jerusalem, however, Paul is not submitting the gospel for approval, which would fly in the face of his earlier disavowal. I don't think Paul would have modified his gospel if they had not given their consent (Bruce, Galatians, 109). He was declaring the gospel to clarify the gospel. All must agree that nothing - in this case, circumcision/law - could be added to the gospel without nullifying grace (Gal. 5:4).

Paul is in the midst of the autobiography of his battle for the gospel in Galatians 2. He begins with the connective "then" (ἔπειτα) which is the third time he has used this connective in his story (Gal. 1:18, 21; 2:1). A timestamp follows. "After fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas" (Gal. 2:1). Two related questions arise. 1) Do we calculate the 14 years from his conversion or from his previous visit to Jerusalem (Gal. 1:17-18)? 2) Does this visit coincide with the famine relief visit in Acts 11 or the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15? Some argue that this visit is the same as the Jerusalem Council, and the time should be calculated from his first visit (Lightfoot, Galatians, 102). Others take it that the time should be calculated from his conversion, and the visit coincides with the famine relief visit in Acts 11 (Witherington, The Paul Quest, 309-317).

The timeline is important for Paul's argument here. His point is that this is the second visit to Jerusalem (Gal. 2 = Acts 11), proving that he received his gospel independently from the apostles. His commission to preach came directly from Christ and not the apostles. He leaves out no information about his relationship with the apostles lest his credibility be questioned (Bruce, Apostle of the Heart Set Free, 150-151). The timestamp (14 years) fits best with the starting point of his conversion due to the dating of Claudius (Acts 11:28). The point: Paul's gospel came directly from Jesus Christ and not from human origin.

A.D. 34-37 - Paul's conversion in and mission to Arabia
A.D. 37 - Paul's first visit to Jerusalem
A.D. 37-46 - Paul preaches back home in Tarsus and the surrounding area
A.D. 41-42 - Paul's thorn in the flesh and heavenly vision (2 Cor. 12:1-10)
A.D. 47 - Barnabas brings Paul to Antioch
A.D. 48 - Paul's second visit to Jerusalem (Gal. 2 = Acts 11).
(Witherington, The Paul Quest, 309-318)

Paul decided to join Barnabas in the famine relief visit because of a revelation from the Lord (Gal. 2:1-2). This revelation could be a reference to the prophecy of Agabus (Acts 11:27-28) however it is more likely a special revelation to Paul that he should go to Jerusalem since that fits with the tenor of Paul's revelatory experiences (Bruce, Apostle of the Heart Set Free, 151-152). He gives the revelation as a reason for him to join Barnabas. "I went up according to a revelation" (κατὰ ἀποκάλυψιν), Paul says. Apparently, Paul was not originally planning on going to Jerusalem, but the Lord directed him to go. Thus, Paul's purpose was more than famine relief. It was gospel-centered.

Titus was at the heart of the gospel-centric nature of Paul's visit. He writes that he was "taking Titus along" with him. The participle "taking along" (συμπαραλαβὼν) implies that Paul initiated the plan to bring Titus along with them. Titus was a test case for the gospel as an uncircumcised Greek Christian (Bruce, Galatians, 107-108). The gospel controversy centered around whether Gentiles must be circumcised to become Christians. Paul picked a fight with other Christians to clarify the heart of the gospel. Will we add anything to the gospel that someone must do to be saved? Are there religious rituals, observances, or practices that must be performed in addition to believing the gospel before one becomes a Christian? The answer at the heart of this gospel controversy must always be "NO!"

Heresy by addition corrupts the gospel as surely as heresy by subtraction. We can deny the gospel by adding religious rituals like baptism as surely as we can by rejecting the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. Grace that requires us to do something to get salvation, is no longer grace. Christ plus anything equals nothing! Salvation must be by Christ alone, grace alone, and faith alone!

Friday, October 4, 2019

THE TESTIMONY THAT HONORS GOD

Testimonies are powerfully persuasive expressions of faith when centered on God, not self. Sadly, many testimonies in the church today, especially celebrity testimonies, subtly focus on the person more than on God. Paul's testimony is powerful because it is God-centered, not man-centered.

"They kept hearing, 'the one who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith which he once tried to destroy.' And they were glorifying God because of me" (Gal. 1:23-24).

The Judean churches did not know Paul personally, but they knew his reputation. Paul writes, "they kept hearing" (ἀκούοντες ἦσαν) about him. The antecedent would be "the churches of Judea" (vs.22). The word for "churches" is feminine plural (ἐκκλησίαις) while the participle "hearing" (ἀκούοντες) is masculine plural. The masculine plural can refer to a feminine plural collective noun to emphasize the personal members of that collective. The members of the churches kept hearing about his testimony (Blass/Debrunner, Grammar, 74; Longenecker, Galatians, 41). The periphrastic construction (participle with an imperfect tense verb) indicates durative action. They kept hearing about him. This was not a singular statement but an ongoing testimony of praise (Moule, Idiom Book of NT Greek, 17).

What follows is a direct quote. The particle "that" (ὅτι) is recitative, meaning that it should not be translated (Burton, Galatians, 64). The particle is like our quotation mark. Since Galatians is one of the earliest books of the New Testament to be written, this quote would be one of the earliest statements we have from the first century church! Notice that Paul is not even named in the testimony. The subject is anonymous, although obviously Paul. The testimony is about "the one who once persecuted." Paul knows that the testimony is not about him. It is about what God did to and through Him. A testimony that honors God is not about us but about how God changes us. The present participle "persecuted" (διώκων) refers to a time antecedent to the present time and action that was continuous (Robertson, Grammar, 892; Turner, Grammar, 80-81). Paul once had been persecuting the Christians repeatedly, and that former constant persecution makes the testimony all the more powerful.

The one who formerly persecuted the church now preaches the faith (εὐαγγελίζεται τὴν πίστιν). "The faith" (τὴν πίστιν) refers to the content of the gospel. Paul uses "the faith" in a similar way elsewhere in Galatians (3:23,25; 6:10). He makes the connection between gospel and faith more explicit in Philippians 1:27 when he writes, "the faith of the gospel" (τῇ πίστει εὐαγγελίου). The testimony brings out the force of this connection by emphasizing that "the faith" is the same faith he once "tried to destroy" (cf. Gal. 1:13). The phrase translated "tried to destroy" is another periphrastic (ἥν ἐπόρθει) indicating continuous action. The tense is conative, indicating that Paul had been attempting to exterminate the faith (Burton, Galatians, 64). The testimony of the Judean churches was that Paul was preaching the very same gospel that they believed and which he once opposed.

The result is that "they were glorifying God" (ἐδόξαζον τὸν θεόν) "in me" (ἐν ἐμοὶ). The verb "glorifying" is an imperfect tense indicating durative action. They did not merely honor God once but continuously because of how God turned the persecutor into the preacher. The prepositional phrase "in me" should be understood as the basis or ground of action and can be translated "because of me" (Longenecker, Galatians, 42). The word order emphasized "because of me" by placing it between the verb and the object. "They were glorifying, because of me, God!"

Here should be the goal of every testimony. My desire should be for others to honor God because of me. I should be delighted to be diminished if God be elevated. A testimony that honors God is continuous, not momentary or fleeting. It avoids focusing on me but is gospel-centered. Such a testimony is all about what God does in me, not what I do for God. Only if others celebrate God when they remember me, will my testimony have eternal value.

Friday, September 20, 2019

SERVING IN OBSCURITY

Far from the centers of Christian influence, they faithfully preach the gospel in little towns and out of the way villages. Hardworking pastors devoted to Christ serve with minimal outward success. I meet them in the small towns of New England, the inner city neighborhoods of Ukraine, and the barrios of Panama. These faithful servants of the Lord support their families by holding down jobs so they can preach the Word of God, sacrificing family, time, and money to serve in obscurity. Paul, too, understood the struggle of serving Christ in obscurity. He wrote:

"Then, I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea which were in Christ" (Gal. 1:21-22).

Judea was the center of Christianity and Jerusalem the mother church during these formative years for the Christian faith (A.D. 37-48). Paul wrote that he was "unknown by face to the churches of Judea" (Gal. 1:22). "Unknown" (ἀγνοούμενος) is a present participle implying that the churches of Judea were continuously ignorant about Paul throughout this era (R&R, Linguistic Key, 503). "By face" (προσώπῳ) implies that they may have heard about his notoriety as a persecutor turned preacher, but they did not know him personally. The Christian faith was spreading rapidly while Paul lived on the periphery in Syria and Cilicia.

Paul goes back home to Tarsus in Cilicia (Acts 9:30). He testifies later that God revealed to him while praying in the temple that he should leave Jerusalem immediately (Acts 22:17-21). God didn't tell Paul where to go, but the leaders of the Jerusalem church did! Paul was stirring up trouble for them, and the Jews were threatening to kill Paul. For his own safety and their peace, the Christians in Jerusalem took him to Caesarea and put him on a boat for Tarsus. Only then did the church throughout Judea enjoy peace (Act 9:26-31). Paul was a troublemaker everywhere he went from the perspective of the churches in Judea. They were better off with Paul in Tarsus far away from the places of influence (Witherington, The Paul Quest, 309-316). At least he couldn't get into too much trouble there!

We know very little about the decade Paul spent in Syria and Cilicia. It was at least ten years and perhaps as much as fourteen years that Paul served the Lord in relative obscurity (Gal. 2:1). We assume that Paul continued to preach the gospel and fulfill his calling to reach Gentiles for Christ. It is quite likely that it was during this time that Paul experienced some of the beatings, stonings, hunger, thirst, sleepless nights, and dangers that he explains later (2 Cor. 11:23-27). We know that he also had his visionary experience and thorn in the flesh during this period of time (2 Cor. 12:1-10). Unknown and unwanted, suffering persecution and struggling with his thorn in the flesh, Paul faithfully served the Lord far from the centers of influence in the first century church. These were hard times, discouraging and disheartening, during which Paul learned the lesson that God's power is made perfect in weakness. God's grace is sufficient for his life (2 Cor. 12:9).

Then came Barnabas, again! Barnabas goes to Tarsus to find Paul and bring him to Antioch in Syria sometime near the end of this period (Acts 11:25-26). Paul stated that he went to Syria and Cilicia (Gal. 1:21) but in reverse chronological order probably because Syria was the more influential province in the Roman government (Hendriksen, Galatians, 63). He leaves the backwaters of Cilicia to go to Syria at the request of Barnabas. The church in Antioch was rapidly becoming a center of Christian influence and missionary activity, and Paul was needed in the ministry. Paul went from unknown and unwanted to known and wanted in one of the most influential churches in early Christianity.

Jesus is the head of His church, and He dispatches each of us where He chooses. We serve at His disposal. Christ may send us to the backwaters of our culture or He may call us to a large church in the city. The choice is His. Our call is to be faithful to where Jesus sends us and to the mission which He gives us.

Lord, help me to faithfully serve you even if in obscurity for you are Lord, and I am your servant.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

FALSELY ACCUSED?

Have you ever been falsely accused? Someone has impugned your integrity or questioned your veracity? Perhaps others have circulated stories about you that painted a negative picture. Guilt by association or statements taken out of context were used to undermine your credibility. The stories went viral through social media. Your ministry is threatened because people wonder if you can be trusted to tell the truth. How should you respond? Should you defend yourself? Paul did, repeatedly!

"Now in what I am writing to you, I assure you before God that I am not lying" (Gal. 1:20).

THE BACK STORY

Church leaders from the mother church in Jerusalem had arrived among the churches in Galatia attacking Paul's integrity. These church leaders claimed to represent the apostles in Jerusalem, and they falsely accused Paul of five failures in his ministry. 1) He did not possess the authority to preach independently, as he claimed. He was under the authority of the apostles in the Jerusalem church. 2) The apostles in Jerusalem were the only ones who had the authority to define the true gospel of Jesus Christ. 3) Paul had gone to Jerusalem to learn the gospel from the mother church, and the apostles authorized him to preach the gospel they taught to him. He learned his gospel second-hand from them. Later in Antioch, Peter and the apostles had rebuked Paul for preaching error. 4) Paul had agreed to follow what they said but then adapted his message to preach his own watered-down version of the gospel designed to be acceptable to the Gentiles by minimizing the importance of God's law. 5) Paul was deceiving the Galatians about the gospel and misleading them about himself and his authority. The Galatians should not trust him or his message (Longenecker, Galatians, xcvi-c).

A SOLEMN OATH

How it must have galled Paul to defend himself against these false accusations. He refutes the false allegations in his letter to the Galatians (Gal. 1:16ff). Contrary to what these leaders claimed, Paul's first visit to Jerusalem was a social call. He retells the story of meeting Peter and James (Gal. 1:18-19) and later explains what really happened with Peter in Antioch (Gal. 2:11ff). Paul corrects the twisted, upside-down version of the story being told by his false accusers to defend his trustworthiness in ministry. He vehemently takes an oath before God that he is telling the truth (Gal. 1:20).

Paul says, "See before God that I am not lying." The opening particle "see," "behold," or "listen" (ἰδοὺ) emphasizes what follows. "Before God" (ἐνώπιον τοῖ θεοῦ) introduces a common oath formula and "I am not lying" (οὐ ψεύδομαι) implies that there is another wrong account of events. The story Paul is telling is the truth. All other stories are false. No matter how believable their story or unbelievable his story, Paul takes a solemn oath that what he is telling them is the "honest to God" truth. The formula Paul uses to deny that he is lying is a typical formula used in Roman legal proceedings (Rienecker and Rogers, Linguistic Key, 503). Generally, the Roman courts discouraged the offering of oaths unless it was absolutely necessary. Paul apparently felt it was absolutely necessary to use a courtroom oath to defend his version of the story (Bruce, Galatians, 102) although Paul did not believe Christians should go to court to settle their differences (1 Cor. 6:1-8)!

ANOTHER OATH IN SELF DEFENSE

Interestingly, Paul uses the same oath in a later context when defending his integrity before similar attacks (2 Cor. 11:31). God knows that I am not lying (οὐ ψεύδομαι), Paul argued when explaining in more detail the events surrounding King Aretas and his escape from Damascus. Apparently, the false stories about Paul continued as other church leaders attacked his integrity, and he once again took another oath about his trustworthiness. Paul stressed that he would only boast in his weakness when he tells about his escape in a basket through a window in the wall. By boasting only in his weakness and making God the hero, Paul's veracity is demonstrated in contrast to the self-adulation of his false accusers.

Paul's defense was in stark contrast to one of the highest awards that the Roman army could confer on a soldier. The "wall crown" honored the soldier who scaled the wall of an enemy city first. The honor was still being awarded in Paul's day (Witherington, Conflict & Community in Corinth, 458). The worldly hero scales the wall first, Paul claims. The servant of Christ is the first down the wall in defeat. Why? God's power is perfected in weakness. His false accusers may claim high honors and attack his weakness. Paul's account is true because he claims no honor for himself but gives God the glory for using him in his weakness and defeat. Paul's oath rings true because it is not self-glorifying. When we defend ourselves, we must avoid self-adulation in our defense.

The sting of unjust criticism is hard to take as pastors, especially when stories are circulated about us that are not true. Often we find it hard to defend ourselves because we can't divulge confidential information. However, we can and must defend our integrity when the ministry is compromised by false accusations. Sometimes we even have to assert that we are not lying just like Paul even though the assertion itself is painfully frustrating. When the gospel is compromised because our credibility is undermined, we defend the Lord when we defend ourselves.








Friday, August 9, 2019

AVOIDING ISOLATIONISM

Paul established his apostolic independence by stressing that he received the gospel through a revelation of Jesus Christ (Gal. 1:11-12) and not through the instruction of the other apostles. He spent the first three years of his ministry preaching in Arabia independent of any apostolic credentialing, approval or support. Paul needed no one to validate his missional calling to preach Christ to the Gentiles (Gal. 1:16-17).

However, Paul also understood that independence can be taken to extremes. Isolationism is not the Christian way! We live and serve in the body of Christ, so we must avoid an isolationist mentality in ministry. Missions is also a corporate calling so, after three years, Paul made his way to Jerusalem to meet Peter and James, the leaders of the mother church (Gal. 1:18-19).

Paul time stamps his narrative with the adverb "then" or "next" (ἔπειτα) as he retells his testimony (Gal. 1:18). The same timestamp frames his testimony in 1:21 and 2:1 as Paul lays out the sequence of his conversion and early ministry (Bruce, Galatians, 97). He portrays the visit to Peter in Jerusalem as primarily a personal visit when he says that he stayed with Peter for 15 days. The prepositional phrase "with him" (πρὸς αὐτὸν) implies the relational connection. The singular pronoun, as opposed to a plural pronoun or place name, indicates the personal nature of the visit (Burton, Galatians, 59).

THE BACK STORY

The church in Jerusalem hardly welcomed Paul. They were highly suspicious of him, so Barnabas vouched for him to the apostles (Acts 9:27). The impression we get from Galatians is that Paul spent his time visiting, but Luke gives us more insight (Acts 9:28-31). Paul was doing much more than having quiet tea times with the apostles. He was preaching Christ and arguing with Hellenists throughout the city so much so that some were attempting to put him to death! If the Christians thought that life would be peaceful since the persecutor was now a Christian, they were in for a rude awakening. Controversy followed him wherever he went! Relationships can be messy. Isolationism can seem appealing, and the church found peace after Paul was gone! (Acts 9:31, Bruce, Apostle of the Heart Set Free, 83-94)

Luke tells us that Paul met the apostles, but Paul tells us that he met only Peter and James among the apostles. The two statements are not contradictory since two is plural, but the combination helps us interpret the connective "except" (εἰ μὴ). Some, uncomfortable with viewing James, the Lord's brother, as an apostle, argue that the exception refers to others and not the apostles. In this view, Paul did not see anybody else other than the apostles except James. This seems unlikely. We know from Acts that Paul met many other people in Jerusalem, even stirring up trouble! The stronger contextual argument is that Paul included James among the apostles (Burton, Galatians, 60) using the word "apostle" in a broader sense than the apostolate (the 12). So, Paul did not see any other apostles except James.

INTERVIEWS OR NOT?

The verb translated "become acquainted" (ἱστορῆσαι) often carries the force of an interview in classical Greek. Certainly, Paul interviewed Peter in at least an informal sense, but the word can also mean to get acquainted with someone (Bruce, Galatians, 98). Paul did not need to take a crash course in Christian theology from Peter, but Peter would provide many historical details about Jesus that Paul would find fascinating. One detail that we only learn from Paul, but had to come from Peter, is that Christ appeared to Peter by himself after the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:5). The story of Peter's betrayal and Christ's personal revelation to Peter must have resonated with Paul in his own experience. Both men experienced incredible grace from the Lord after committing horrible sins against the Lord.

The same can be said of James, the Lord's brother. The story of his transformation from a good Jew who refused to follow Jesus (John 7:5) to a leader in the church of Christ (Acts 1:14; 1 Cor. 9:5) is also a compelling story of grace which Paul understood. How could this happen? Paul alone tells us that Jesus appeared to James before he appeared to all the apostles (1 Cor. 15:7), adding that Jesus appeared to Paul "last of all, as one untimely born" (Cor. 15:8). Only James could have given Paul this nugget of information. Christ's personal revelation to James and Paul explains the transforming power of grace in their lives.

Our relationships in the Body of Christ are vital to the health of the church. People often cite James and Paul as if they are in opposition to each other. Peter and Paul have their differences (Gal. 2:11ff). Yet, it is Peter and James who influence the church at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) to support Paul's ministry to the Gentiles. The personal bonds forged at their initial meeting in Jerusalem foster unity at a critical moment in the history of the early church.

Christian relationships may be messy, but isolationism must be avoided.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

OUR MISSIONAL PURPOSE

God saves us to send us. Every Christian serves Christ's mission from the moment of conversion to the last breath of life. We must not live aimlessly but purposefully. Paul illustrates the urgency of this mission in Galatians when he tells us that God revealed Christ to him "so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles" (Gal. 1:16). The purpose of saving was sending! Paul did not go up to Jerusalem to be credentialed by the apostles but went straight to Arabia before returning to Damascus (Gal. 1:17). Arabia was Christ's first missionary assignment for Paul. He served on mission immediately upon conversion! The same is true for us.

The backstory for Paul's testimony in Galatians 1 is found in Acts 9:19-25. Luke says nothing about Paul's trip to Arabia, but it must have occurred in the middle of verses 19-20. The remainder of Luke's account is the story of Paul's return trip to Damascus nearly 3 years after his conversion. Traditionally, Christians have believed that Paul went into Southern Arabia near Mt. Horeb (Sinai) following in the footsteps of Elijah. The region is isolated, desolate and bleak - the perfect place to commune with God, meditate in silence and learn theology in the school of Christ before going out to preach the gospel to the Gentiles.

WHERE AND WHAT?

Where is Arabia and what was Paul doing in Arabia for 3 years? Paul would have understood Arabia to be the Nabatean Kingdom ruled by King Aretas IV (F.F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, 81-82). The Nabatean Kingdom was easily accessible from Damascus and extended southward to Petra and the Red Sea. The territory covered the region east of Galilee and ran along the eastern shore of the Jordan River. Josephus refers to this region as Arabia belonging to Petra (Witherington, The Paul Quest, 308).

Paul did not go to Arabia for private meditation and reflection. He went to preach the gospel to the Arabians. Paul immediately began doing what God had called him to do. I believe that Paul's visit to Arabia was missional for two reasons (See Bruce, 81-82; Witherington, 307-309).

First, Paul slips in a little nugget of information about why he was forced to escape from Damascus in a basket lowered from a window in the wall (2 Cor. 11:32). The ethnarch of Damascus was under the control of King Aretas who apparently sought the arrest of Paul after he had returned to Damascus from Arabia. Why would Aretas, the Nabatean King, be upset with Paul enough to arrest him if he had been in solitude for 3 years? No! Paul was stirring up trouble in Arabia by his preaching, and Aretas didn't like it.

Second, the whole point of Paul's argument in Galatians 1:16-18 is that he was discharging his call to preach the gospel to the Gentiles before he ever went up to Jerusalem to meet the apostles. His claim of apostolic independence would lose its force if he were in solitude for 3 years before being credentialed by the apostles in Jerusalem.

WHY?

God called Paul to preach Christ to the Gentiles (Gal. 1;16). Paul understood his calling immediately upon conversion and looked for a way to fulfill his mission. Interestingly, there was a long history of ethnic animosity between the Nabateans and the Jews. The Aretas family had engaged in numerous political fights with Jewish rulers over who owned sections of land in the region (Witherington, 309). Arabs and Jews were fighting over land even in Paul's day! 

Paul, the Jewish nationalist zealot, chose to carry out his first mission to Arabs with whom he and other Jews harbored ethnic hatred. He went to a people who hated him. Aretas, ruling from Petra, would have resented a Jew coming into his kingdom trying to convert his people. No wonder, he wanted Paul arrested! Christ had transformed Paul so radically that he put aside all his ethnic differences with the Arabs and sought to win them for Christ. He understood his new mission as a citizen of Christ's kingdom was to win people for that kingdom, so he resolutely focused his eyes on his purpose.

What about us? Paul didn't need to wait for special instructions or 3 years of prayer and meditation before evangelizing, and neither do we. If we have been changed by His grace, we can preach His gospel. Changed lives are the greatest testimony to the power of God's grace. God saves us to send us. Our mission is to make disciples of all nations. We must not go just to people who are like us or who like us. We must go to those who hate us and with whom we may share cultural and ethnic differences. Sadly, we often get distracted by our national and cultural loyalties and lose sight of our mission. Our missional purpose in life is to preach Christ as a people changed by grace to a hostile world in need of grace.

Friday, July 5, 2019

GRACE'S GRIP

All we are, have, do, or gain is the result of God's grace, not our merit! Our salvation and our service are first for God's pleasure, not for our benefit. Paul makes this truth clear in his testimony about God's call (Gal. 1:15-16). Paul writes, "But when God, the one who marked me off from my mother's womb and called me by His grace, delighted to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the nations, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood."

God's delight (εὐδόκησεν) drove God's revelation (ἀποκαλύψαι) of His Son to Paul. God's pleasure drives our salvation. In between God's delight (v.15) and God's revelation (v.16), we see God's choice and God's call. Paul describes the God who delighted to reveal Himself as the God who marked him (ἀφορίσας) and called him (καλέσας). The two verbs are grammatically connected by a conjunction (καὶ) and governed by one article (ὁ). Both participles describe the actions of God. No one deserves God's choice or God's call. It is all about Him, not about us.

THE MARK OF GOD

Paul uses a verb meaning to set apart or mark off (ἀφορίσας) to describe God's appointment of him from birth. The verb always carries the force of separation. For example, God sends His angels to separate (ἀφοριοῦσιν) the wicked from the righteous at the end of the age (Mt. 13:49). Paul uses this word later in Galatians to accuse Peter of separating himself from the Gentiles at meals after the Judaizers arrived in Antioch (Gal. 2:12). So God separated Paul for the ministry of the gospel as he says in Romans 1:1 (ἀφωρισμένος εἰς εὐαγγέλιον θεοῦ), and God did so from his "mother's womb" (ἐκ κοιλίας μητρός). God's choice predates man's choice. God chooses us before we choose Him.

The verb to separate or mark off (ἀφορίζω) comes from the verb to appoint or determine (ὁρίζω). To appoint or determine (ὁρίζω) is used eight times in the New Testament, while to separate (ἀφορίζω) is used ten times. There is a close connection between the two concepts in the New Testament (NIDNTT, 1:472-474. To separate and to appoint are sometimes difficult to distinguish from one another, particularly as it relates to God's call. Luke records that the Holy Spirit commanded the church in Antioch, "Separate" (ἀφορίσατε) "for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called (προσκέκλημαι) them." Long before Paul met Jesus on the Damascus road, God appointed him to preach Christ among the Gentiles (Gal. 1:16). Paul was marked off for ministry from birth.

THE CALL OF GOD

God not only marked off Paul, but He also called (καλέσας) him to preach Christ. This concept of calling is rooted in the Old Testament usage of the term where it is often used to describe someone higher in rank calling someone lower in rank. In this case, the call is never just an invitation but rather a command, particularly when used of God's call to humans. Two Old Testament passages are instructive as background for God's call of Paul. First, God's call of Samuel (1 Sam. 3:4-10) uses the verb "call" (καλέω) eleven times in the Septuagint. Humans must hear and recognize the call of God before they can obey it. Often, like Samuel and even Paul, humans do not hear the call of God or even seek to avoid it. Second, God's call of the servant in the Servant Songs of Isaiah is important (Isaiah 41:8; 42:6; 43:1, 10; 45:3). God's call to service (καλέω) is often linked to the frequent use of God's choice of the servant (ἐκλέγομαι) so that the calling and the choosing are inseparable just as in Galatians 1:15 (NIDNTT, 1:272-273).

God's call is rooted in God's grace. Paul writes that God called him "through His grace" (διὰ τῆς χάριτος αὐτοῦ). The means by which God calls is always grace. Paul didn't deserve to be chosen or called, and neither do we. There is nothing intrinsic in us that induces the call of God. The calling and choosing are always grounded in grace. The expression points us back to Galatians 1:6, where Paul wrote that the Galatians were "called by the grace of Christ." God's grace and Christ's grace are the same because God and Christ are united in the gracious call (Longenecker, Galatians, 30). Paul ties the call of God to the choice of God in the opening words of Romans (1:1) but in reverse order from Galatians 1:15. God called Paul as an apostle, and God separated Paul for the work of the gospel. We should not try to deduce an order of events from the order of these words.

God in His grace marks us off from the world and calls us to preach Christ. We deserve nothing but gain everything. We are nobody's, but He makes us somebody's by His grace. No matter what we face in ministry for Him - opposition, discouragement, sacrifice, hurt, betrayal, rejection - we know that His call is grounded in His grace. We are held in the grip of His grace forever!