Curse or Be Cursed (Galatians 1:6–9)

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” —Galatians 1:6–9

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The church is like a nuclear power plant. In his letter to the Romans Paul says, “the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” The church’s receiving and being entrusted with the gospel is like her being entrusted with nuclear power. To be clear, the church is not the power, but she is the authorized custodian thereof.

There are attacks against the gospel from without, and so we do well to build strong walls of defense around the church, but the greatest potential threat always lies within. It is the spy within the church, tampering with the nuclear core that can cause the greatest devastation. This is precisely the danger the Galatians find themselves on the precipice of—a nuclear meltdown of the church and their souls.

This is why Paul open this letter with rebuke instead of thanksgiving. In nearly every other letter Paul writes, thanksgiving follows greeting. Consider the following example from Philippians.

“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:3–11).

That letter, Philippians, written while imprisoned, is one of Paul’s warmest letters. The tone there is the complete opposite of Galatians. You may reason that this is because there are no serious errors being embraced by the Philippian church at this time. And this is mostly true, but, then what are we to make of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians?

“I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:4–9).

Is there any church to whom Paul writes that had such a diversity of problems as the one in Corinth? Among them were divisions, sexual immorality, failure to exercise church discipline, suing one another, syncretism, disorder in the church gatherings, perverting the Lord’s Supper, and a denial of the resurrection of the saints. All of this and Paul still says, “I give thanks to my God always for you.” 

With the Galatians, thanksgiving is not only absent but replaced with a scathing rebuke. Why? Because the very core is being threatened. They are on the cusp of the worst possible spiritual catastrophe, a Chernobyl of the church; and thus it is that Paul expresses astonishment at the Galatians and anathematizes the false teachers. Concerning his cursing the false teachers, no more severe statement could be made and no lesser statement could be justified. When heretics have made their way to the core, it is curse or be cursed. If false gospels are not damned, men are.

Fighting to Say ‘Grace and Peace’ (Galatians 1:1–5)

“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

In his letter to the Galatians Paul gives his typically untypical greeting untypically. Still with me?

“Grace and peace” are the standard fare of verbal appetizers to Pauline entrées. But Paul’s typical greeting is untypical. The normal Roman way of expressing epistolatory salutations was the word chairō, meaning “rejoice,” often limply “trans-interpretated” into English as “greetings.” It is used in two letters mentioned in Acts (Acts 15:23, 23:26), and James uses it in his (James 1:1). Paul, however, uses the related but distinct word, charis, and always marries it with “peace.” 

This is a distinctly Christian greeting that draws deeply on the Old Testament. John Stott writes, 

“Paul sends the Galatians a message of grace and peace, as in all his Epistles. But these are no formal and meaningless terms. Although ‘grace’ and ‘peace’ are common monosyllables, they are pregnant with theological substance. In fact, they summarize Paul’s gospel of salvation. The nature of salvation is peace, or reconciliation—peace with God, peace with men, peace within. The source of salvation is grace. God’s free favour, irrespective of any human merit or works, His loving-kindness to the undeserving. And this grace and peace flow from the Father and the Son together.”

Paul didn’t say “grace and peace” the way we say “Hello!” For Paul to say these words, Jesus had to give Himself for our sins.

The saints need rich ways to greet, bless, and speak to one another. There is nothing wrong with using the customary greetings of our day, James did, but we have the opportunity to communicate so much more. I’m afraid greetings and ways of addressing and speaking to one another like this have largely disappeared because in our childhood experience they were either a rote formality where the gospel depths underneath them were not celebrated and/or because the church didn’t want to look weird. We were told not to load our seeker services with language foreign to unbelievers. I’m glad Paul didn’t have these concerns.

When we fail to call one another saints, it’s just yet another way we fail to be the saints—those set apart by the gospel. When we fail to greet one another with “grace and peace,” we fail to enjoy God’s grace and peace as deeply and communally as we should.

But how is it that Paul gives this typically untypical greeting untypically? By all of the modifying phrases he attaches to it. Only in Romans do we see Paul elaborate so, but whereas in Romans he appears enraptured, in Galatians he is enraged. Why? Because the gospel that is the source of this grace and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ is being threatened in a most severe way. 

Paul viciously defends this grace and peace for there is no other. If you don’t have peace with God, you do not have peace. You may have a delusion, but you do not have peace. What peace can one have when they abide under the wrath of God Almighty (John 3:36)? The only place you can find refuge from God is in God. If you would have peace with God, you must find grace from God; and there is grace from God only as it is grace from the Lord Jesus Christ who gave himself for our sins.

May we not only greet one another with these precious blood bought words, may we fight to do so.

Galatians 6:11-18 & No Other Boast

When Paul writes, “far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,” he writes it in large letters (v.11). What is the meaning of these large letters? Some speculate that Paul is compensating for a degenerative eye disease (Galatians 4:13-15). Paul could very well have some eye problem, but I don’t think that is the best explanation for what Paul means by these large letters.

Paul would normally dictate his letters to an amanuensis, that is, to a professional writer (Romans 16:22). Near the end of his letters Paul would pick up the pen to write a greeting (1 Corinthians 1:21-23, Colossians 4:18). Paul would do this to authenticate his letters (2 Thessalonians 3:17). Here Paul takes up the pen much earlier, and not just to write a concluding greeting, but an emphatic summary of the entire message of his letter; and he does so drawing attention to the fact that it is in his own hand and in large letters!

When Paul says he boasts only in the cross he shouts it in large letters. Paul is trying to overcome the Galatian’s blindness by these large letters, not his own. All of our redemption is found in Christ alone because of the cross.

The cross of Christ isn’t the fine print of Christianity, it is the bold heading under which everything else falls.

Read verse 14 and the surrounding context again then seeing it like this:

“BUT FAR BE IT FROM ME TO BOAST EXCEPT IN THE CROSS OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST BY WHICH THE WORLD HAS BEEN CRUCIFIED TO ME, AND I TO THE WORLD.”

O blessed Spirit of Christ, overcome our own blindness to see this truth in large letters.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to the cross I cling

– Augustus Toplady

Galatians 6:11-18 & The End

Our journey has come to an end.

In conclusion:

Does a wheel work if the hub is moved from the center to the side?
What if it is removed?

How much fun would a teeter-totter be if the fulcrum was moved from the center closer to one of the edges?
What if the fulcrum was removed altogether?

What would happen to our solar system if the sun was moved so that it is no longer in the center while everything else hypothetically remained in the same orbit?
What if our sun was removed completely?

The cross is central.

It is crucial.

It is the crux (crux and crucial are both derivatives from the Latin crux for cross).

If it is not the center our steering is out of alignment and we run into dangerous heresy. If we remove the cross from our theology the wheel does not turn at all, we cease to be Christian. We become lopsided, unbalanced, and no fun when the cross is not central. Our entire worldview as Christians hinges on the cross. If it is moved from its central position things are so radically changed that the solar system of our faith suffers violently and fatally.

I hope you have grasped this vision of the cross as we have journeyed through Galatians. I have enjoyed our trek. I thank God that He has been faithful to give us a glimpse of Christ crucified, risen, and reigning. I pray He continues to open our eyes to behold the wonder of the cross.

Galatians 6:11-18 & My House

First time: the closet smelled. The carpet was soaked. The bathroom ceiling was bubbling up. Mold had grown. Driers, flans, dehumidifiers were moved in for weeks. The house was intensely loud. Then came the day for them all to move out, but…

Second time: I flushed the toilet. Water erupted from said toilet as if I had struck oil. I grabbed the wet dry vac immediate, but alas immediately was too late. The toilet evidently was ingeniously placed right above the kitchen light fixture by an assassin plumber. The ceiling was wet and the driers, dehumidifiers, and fans came to reside in our home again. Then all was quiet. Repairs were being done. The house was quite. The ceiling was due to be painted the next day then…

Third time: I skipped church because all the plumbing in my head decided to mutiny against me. Water was shooting out my eyes in a manner to similar toilet incident mentioned above. I prepared for some much needed sleep. But a potty break was necessitated before such rest could commence. I left the restroom only to immediately turn around at the sound of running water. The toilet strikes again. I immediately grab towels, five of them, they are soon soaked. I run for the wet/dry vac only to see the kitchen light fixture dripping with water.

Despair struck my heart.

I will not glory in my house. It will fail me. Plumbing will need replacing. Paint will chip. Carpet will wear. Wood will rot. Foundations will crack.

To boast in such temporalities is to open yourself to heartache. They will all fail you.

There is only one boast worth having. Only one real foundation upon which to build you joy. Only one joy eternal. Only one glory unfading. This boast is the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Galatians 6:6-10 & Peanuts

I grew up on a peanut farm. I hate peanuts.

People seem flabbergasted by this?

It begins by sowing them. I would drive a truck, with a trailer. Upon this trailer were sacks. The sacks contained peanuts. You wouldn’t want to eat these peanuts because they were coated with poison. The poison limited the number of peanuts that rodents and such might consume. Dad would drive a tractor. There would be a device that put the poison peanuts in the ground attached to said tractor. I would drive the truck to the tractor, open sacks, and fill bins on the poison peanut injector. It would be hot, lonely, dry, and boring…I hate peanuts.

Then you would water them. Peanuts are like thirsty little camels that live under the ground. Think about it, they have two humps, soak up the water, and love sandy soil. They are the camel of the plant kingdom. You would water them twice a day. There would be a big pipe out in the middle of the peanut field with wheels on it. You would move the pipes, hook up hoses, and start a pump to push water out the mighty sprinkler system. I would get up early to help my dad do this…I hate peanuts. The only reward is when a rodent would be in pipes and get shot through a sprinkler. Sometimes you would have to fish out part of him with a piece of wire.

Peanuts take approximately five months to reach maturity. This means you water and cultivate them during this long period…I hate peanuts.

Then you would harvest them. If you were unfortunate you may have to put them into potato sacks. Dirty little peanuts would be eaten by a machine that deposited them into a bin where you would manually put them into sacks. You would soon have enough dirt in your ears to pot a plant…I hate peanuts.

Most of the time I either put big blankets on top of trailers that the peanut eating machine would drop the nuts into or drove the tractor pulling the peanut eating machine. my friend Ty and I would climb on top of the mountain of peanuts, have a war throwing them at each other, and then spread the blanket over them to keep them dry and bid them adieu…I hate peanuts.

You reap what you sow

I hate peanuts. But I did love growing up on a farm. I love everything that it taught me, hard work, patience, and imagination. I would not trade it for anything. I didn’t like it when I was awakened at six in the morning. I didn’t like it when I got in late at night. But I thank GOD that I did the things I didn’t like, because I love what they birthed in me.

Galatians 5:26-6:5 & The Chronicles of M & M and Superman

You may remember a few stories (such as the ultimate poo story) about my friends from seminary Matt and Mark. These twin brothers are the extravagant rock star type personality. This means lots or personality, lots of drama. So one day we are outside the church after services with a mixed crowd. We are all making fun of one another and I think someone made a rude comment toward me that Matt found hysterical. So to add some drama he fell on his back laughing. His pants ripped approximately four inches in the act. Now a good friend would politely hint to avoid, or cushion further embarrassment. I am not a good friend. I blurted it out loudly so that all laughs would turn from me, to Matt.

Paul’s advice in this text is really hard for me to live out. How does it work?

I watched Superman Returns last night. I was let down. Superman committed fornication. How do I confront him about this? Do I just ignore the issue, this is my default mode? Privately I will tell myself how much better I am than him. I may ignore or talk to him less. This fails in two ways: 1) it makes sin to be a small ignorable matter; 2) it cranks up the pride dial on my sinful heart. Hey, this is Superman, if he could fall to temptation, so could I. I should gently seek to restore him. I think that the more I ignore this sin in others while culturing sin in my own heart, the more susceptible I will be to the very same sin, or at least sin in general. Ironically I fail to see the granddaddy of all sin, the thread that runs through all acts of iniquity, pride, is consuming my life.

“Hey ‘Supe’…I look up to you, I consider you so much better than myself in so many ways. You genuinely love and sacrifice for others. But you have really messed up. But Christ is greater that all your sin. And He is at work to make all things work out for good. You need to marry this woman. Buck up and be a dad. Tell Lois the truth. This would be true superhero conduct.”

The gospel is why these actions must be taken. We make light of the gospel when we fail to seek our brother’s restoration.