Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—and all the brothers who are with me,
To the churches of Galatia: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. – Galatians 1:1-5 ESV
Paul wrote this letter to believers living in the Roman province of Galatia. The churches there were likely founded by Paul on his first missionary journey, so he had a vested interest in the spiritual well-being of their congregations. It seems that they were under the influence of the Judaizers, a group of Jews who claimed to be Christ-followers but who demanded that all Gentile converts follow the Mosaic law and honor all the Jewish rituals and regulations. These individuals seem to have popped up wherever Paul planted churches and their presence caused much confusion and consternation to the new converts that Paul left behind. And because of Paul’s constant travels, he was left no other recourse than to address this issue through the use of letters.
Because of the vital importance of the content of his letter, Paul opens up with a brief defense of his apostleship. There seemed to be no shortage of individuals who were willing to question or even deny the validity of his claim to being an apostle. After all, every other apostle had been a disciple of Jesus. They had been personally chosen by Him and spent three years of their lives following and learning from Him. But Paul was a late-comer. He claimed to have been appointed to his position as an apostle by the resurrected Lord. Luke records the testimony of Paul as he shared it before King Agrippa:
I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” And I said, “Who are you, Lord?” And the Lord said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” – Acts 26:12-18 ESV
Paul’s fantastic “Damascus road experience” was constantly coming under question by those who opposed him. They denied he had the right to speak on behalf of Christ as one of His apostles. I am sure they raised questions such as, “Who can verify your claim?” or “How are we to know that any of this ever took place?” They most likely denied Paul’s credentials and raised concerns about his former lifestyle as a pawn of the high priest and his personal persecutor of Christians. But Paul vehemently defended his apostleship in virtually every one of his letters. And this one is no exception. He opens up by describing himself as “Paul, an apostle.” The title “apostle” meant “a delegate, messenger, one sent forth with orders” (“G652 – apostolos (KJV) :: Strong’s Greek Lexicon.” Blue Letter Bible. http://www.blueletterbible.org). It was a common Greek word and was not unique to Christianity. Which is why Paul quickly clarified that he was an apostle “not from men nor through men” (Galatians 1:1 ESV). In other words, he had not been sent by men or had not received his message from men. What he shared he had received directly from the lips of Jesus Himself. Just a few verses later in this letter, Paul will explain, “I did not receive it [the gospel] from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:12 ESV).
Luke records that immediately after Paul’s conversion, Jesus had appeared to a disciple names Ananias and told him to go to the house where Paul was and lay hands on him so that he might regain his sight. Jesus told Ananias, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15 ESV).
There was no doubt in Paul’s mind that he was a messenger sent from Jesus. Which is why he boldly claimed that he was an apostle “through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead” (Galatians 1:1 ESV). The Greek preposition Paul used is dia and it can mean “by reason of” or “on account of” (“G1223 – dia (KJV) :: Strong’s Greek Lexicon.” Blue Letter Bible. http://www.blueletterbible.org). Paul was not a self-proclaimed apostle, but a God-ordained one, by virtue of the resurrected Christ. His salvation had been made possible by God and his message came directly from God. He will spend the rest of this letter defending not only his apostleship, but the gospel itself, because that was what was really under attack.
Paul’s desire is that the recipients of his letter enjoy the grace and peace of God. He wants them to comprehend the magnitude of the gift they had received. Jesus Christ had given himself for their sins so that they might be delivered from the present evil age. The world in which these new believers lived was hostile. It was anti-Christian and intolerant of their beliefs. Many of them had already suffered persecution for their beliefs. They had been rejected by family members and ostracized from society. They were under constant pressure to give up their faith or simply compromise it. We face the same threat today. But we must remember that we have been delivered from this age. Yes, we are still here, but our future is secure. We have been promised by God an eternal existence in His presence, free from the effects of sin – no pain, no sorrow, no death. Yet as we wait for that day, we are to live as children of God. The apostle John reminds us, “Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3 NLT).
Paul’s call to his readers will be for them to remain steadfast. He wanted them to remain committed to the truth of the gospel and faithful to the call of Christ on their lives. It would not be easy, but it would be well worth the effort in the long run. Regardless of what they might be experiencing, they were smack dab in the middle of God’s will for their lives.