Proper 5 • Galatians 1:11–24 • June 9, 2013
By James L. Brauer
Paul’s letter to the Galatians makes clear that his authority came from Christ, that the gospel was for Jew and Gentile, and that believers are set free for living by the Spirit. Today’s reading emphasizes that Paul’s readers could trust his message because he received it from Jesus. The other readings, Elijah’s raising of a widow’s son and Jesus’s raising of a widow’s son, attest to God’s mercy and power and how it brings a thankful response.
Today there are many sources for information and it is easy to distort what is reported. People can comment and say how something looks to them; no expertise is required. Facts can be selected, tweaked and twisted. What source do we trust when it comes to knowing the ways of God?
Paul makes a case that he had the trustworthy source. He contrasts the gospel that he preached (v. 11) with “the traditions of my fathers” (v. 14). He had a divine source, Jesus Christ—God in fleshly form; the Jewish traditions came from man—human species, flesh and blood. One message says that by the grace of God there is salvation for all in Christ; the other message says that the Old Testament law, plus some human requirements, must be kept in order to be acceptable to God. Which is God’s will? Do you trust a human version of the truth about God when you could have a divine source?
Paul’s own life illustrates the difference. Paul had been zealous for what was handed down from his fathers. He was a well-trained Pharisee who believed, for example, that ritual washings according to the tradition of men were essential to righteous living under God’s rules. Jesus, however, said that this was “a way of rejecting the commandment of God” (Mk 7:9). Devoted to such traditions, Paul had actively worked under the chief priests to oppose the followers of Jesus until the day he was confronted by Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 26:9ff). Jesus himself chose Saul, the persecutor, and sent him to open the eyes of the Gentiles “so that they may turn from darkness to light” and “receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith” (Acts 26:18).
Voices around us suggest a human-tradition version of what God teaches. They frequently call for “doing the right thing” rather than trusting in Jesus’s righteousness. It presumes that doing a good thing makes us a good person. God, and everyone else, should see us as more acceptable (righteous) than those who fail to do the same. Thus God’s law, written in the human heart, is at work but it is twisted into a piling up of right deeds often tweaked to add humanly-devised extra requirements, something to impress God. In the process, real acts of disobedience are ignored as though they never happened. Where did this version of religious life come from? People made it up.
The listener will be helped by identifying some “human traditions” (Pharisaic alternatives) and by explaining how these differ from the words of Jesus. There are many options. What do surveys say? Which version of Christianity is most popular? What do friends say about pleasing God? Isn’t respect for the green earth the main thing? What behavior is most comfortable to my life style?
Jesus hands down the way of God’s mercy. Doing some right things is not sufficient because “all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law . . . God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus” (Rom 2:12, 16). “The righteousness of God” comes “through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Rom 3:22). This is the gospel that Paul brought to the Galatians and he got it from Jesus. It has divine authority.
A human system for being godly and doing the right thing is no substitute for the divine design revealed by Jesus Christ. Listening to what Jesus reveals—what Paul brings from Jesus—is to hear what the Lord God says. It is a trustworthy source.
Who told you that?
I. Paul was taught by Jesus; he had to abandon human traditions.
II. We encounter many voices that draw us away from what Jesus taught.
III. Paul calls us to trust only Jesus—good news of God’s mercy for Jew and Gentile alike.