ガラテヤの信徒への手紙二1:1-3 Galatians 1:1-3
Starting today we will listen to the message of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. This letter teaches us much about Christianity. Among other things, it tells us what true freedom is.
Many people think that freedom means doing what they want to do. Suppose, for example, there were rules about hairstyles at school. Rules such as boys are not allowed to wear their hair cropped or girls are not allowed to wear their hair in a ponytail. Then those who want to wear their hair that way would feel repulsed. And they may think, “Let me be free to do what I want, as I want to do.” However, when we are talking not only about the external appearance of hair and clothes, but also about the whole way of human life, we cannot say that it is freedom to do what one wants to do. This is because the human will itself, which says “I want to do ~,” is actually bound by something. That is, in the light of Christian teaching, the human will is bound by sin. In other words, the problem is that when a human being does what he/she wants to do, he/she is bound by the sin within him/her and cannot live freely. In other words, a human being is “incapable of not sinning” by nature.
It was a religious reformer Martin Luther who thought deeply about true freedom on the basis of the Bible and gave us important teachings. At the beginning of his book On the Freedom of a Christian, published in 1520, some 500 years ago, Luther wrote the following two propositions. The propositions are: “A Christian is a free lord over all things and subject to no one” and “A Christian is a bound servant of all things and subject to everyone.” These two seemingly opposing propositions are founded by Luther on Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 9:19: “Though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all.” He also founds it by the words of Romans 13:8: “Owe no one anything, except to love each other.” And that Christ himself was such is explained by the words in Galatians 4:4: “God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law.” This means that Christ himself, who was the free Lord, came to this world as a servant.
True freedom as a human being, rather than the superficial freedom to do what one wants to do, has two aspects: to be free from the things that bind him/her, and to live in a way that is appropriate for a liberated person. The letter to the Galatians clearly states these two things.
First, with regard to freedom from the things that bind a human being, chapter 4 verse 4, quoted earlier, and verse 5 say: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Human beings are given the law by God to keep. This is the Old Testament law, represented by the Ten Commandments, which are read out in our worship service. However, having been given this law, it became clear that, on the contrary, a human being is incapable of keeping it. Paul tells us in Romans 3:20 that “through the law comes knowledge of sin.” And in Romans 7:7-8 he teaches as follows: “If it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’ But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness.” I said earlier that a human being is “incapable of not sinning” by nature. This becomes clear when we try to keep the God-given law of “do〜” and “shall not〜.” The law given by God can only reveal, on its own, that a human being is in a state of slavery to sin, “incapable of not sinning.” It is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who frees us from that slavery and makes us free children of God.
Secondly, as for the freedom to live in a manner befitting a liberated human being, this Galatians 5:13 says: “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” How should a human being, freed from the slavery of sin, live? Since he/she has been forgiven of his/her sins through the sacrifice of Christ’s cross, should he/she just go on living, doing what he/she wants to do? No, that would give the old ego that remains within him/her an opportunity to sin. And you will fall back into the slavery of sin. The freedom given to us by Jesus Christ has not only an aspect of freedom from bondage, “freedom from the slavery of sin,” but also an aspect of freedom to live according to human purpose, “freedom to do what is pleasing to God.” It is the freedom to live in love of God and neighbour. Therefore, Paul teaches, ” Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Moreover, this freedom does not come by saying to ourselves, “Live loving God and neighbour!” Galatians 5:16 says: “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” By yielding yourself to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, you will begin to live a life of love for God and neighbour.
In this way, we will now carefully study this important letter, which teaches us what true freedom is. The letter opens in chapter 1 verse 1: “Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—. The word “apostle” is apostolos (ἀπόστολος) in the original Greek, meaning “one who was sent.” In other words, one who has been sent by Christ as a witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. So why then does Paul, when describing himself as an “apostle,” not simply say “Paul an apostle,” but adds the longer explanation that he was an apostle, “not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead”? Why? It is because of the complex circumstances under which Paul had to write this letter. Let us consider those circumstances.
Paul began his first missionary journey in 47 AD, when he and Barnabas preached the gospel of Christ throughout the Mediterranean island of Cyprus and the area which is now Turkey. This is described in the Acts of the Apostles from chapter 13 verse 4 to the end of chapter 14. In particular, the evangelisation of various parts of Turkey is described in detail, with the establishment of churches in Antioch in Pisidia, Iconium and Lystra. Verse 23 in chapter 14 shows that elders were appointed in these congregations and that churches were formed as communities of faith. However, after Paul and Barnabas left, other evangelists entered these churches. These evangelists taught the congregations differently from Paul. They taught that Christians must not only believe in Christ, but also keep the Old Testament law. The evangelists particularly emphasised the need to undergo the ritual of circumcision, which is commanded in the Old Testament law.
Circumcision is the ritual in which the skin surrounding the male penis is cut off as a sign that the Jewish people are God’s people. It was usually performed on the eighth day after birth, according to the Old Testament provisions of Genesis 17:12 and Leviticus 12:3. It was also performed on Gentiles converting to Judaism, even adults. It must have been very painful. Then there were Jewish Christians who insisted that Gentile Christians must not only believe in Christ but also undergo the ritual of circumcision. Their argument is recorded in Acts 15:1 and 2 as follows.
But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question.
This was an incident that occurred in the church in Antioch in the province of Syria, where Paul and Barnabas were sent on a mission trip. And similar incidents were happening in the churches in Antioch in Pisidia, Iconium, and Lystra, which Paul and Barnabas had evangelised and established. “The churches of Galatia” in verse 2 of today’s passage refer to these churches. Paul wrote this letter in order to bring about a solution to the problem of circumcision in “the churches of Galatia.” The meeting in Jerusalem at which this issue was discussed is recorded in chapter 15 of the Acts of the Apostles. The conclusion of that meeting was that Gentile believers who became Christians did not need to undergo the rite of circumcision. The letter to the Galatians does not contain any account of that meeting in Jerusalem or its conclusions. It is therefore likely that the letter was written before the meeting in Jerusalem took place. It was probably written in 48 or 49 AD.
Why did those who insisted that Gentile Christians must undergo the rite of circumcision do so? It was probably out of a zeal to keep the Old Testament law as God’s people, above all. And, in addition, they may have intended to mitigate persecution from the Jewish people by insisting that Gentile Christians must undergo the ritual of circumcision. In New Testament times, the Jewish people severely persecuted Christians. This is evident from the fact that Paul also severely persecuted Christians before he himself became a Christian, and that when he preached Christ in various towns, he was severely persecuted by the Jewish people. If Christians had been to undergo the same ritual of circumcision as the Jewish people, the persecution of the Jewish people could have been eased. And that would have been desirable for Jewish Christians living among Jewish people.
The Jewish Christians, who insisted that Christians must also undergo the ritual of circumcision, did not want to recognise the authority of Paul who insisted that they did not have to undergo the ritual. Unlike the twelve disciples, Paul was not a disciple of Christ when Christ was alive on earth. Therefore, they would have denied Paul’s authority by saying that he was not a true apostle of Christ. Against such a denial, Paul declares at the beginning of this letter that he is “an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—.” That is, at the beginning of his letter, he clearly states that “the source of my authority does not come from people, nor was I appointed as an apostle through someone else, such as Peter, but I was appointed as an apostle directly by Jesus Christ.” This may refer to Paul’s experience of conversion when, on his way from Jerusalem to Damascus to persecute Christians, he met the risen Christ who spoke to him from heaven. This experience is recounted repeatedly in the Acts of the Apostles. In Acts 26:16-18, Paul gives his testimony before the Roman governor Festus and King Agrippa, that he was told by the resurrected Christ in heaven, as follows.
“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.”
In this letter, Paul, as an apostle directly appointed by Christ to be a witness of his resurrection, fights against the false claim that Christians must undergo the rite of circumcision. The reason for this is not only that undergoing the rite of circumcision is a burden for Gentile Christians. If we accept the claim that Christians must undergo the rite of circumcision, it would mean that they would have to keep all the Old Testament law to be saved. This would lead back to a state of slavery to the law and sin. Christ atoned for the sins of mankind by dying on the cross, offering forgiveness of sins to those who believe in him and freeing them from the slavery of sin. If we accept the claim that we must undergo the rite of circumcision, then the grace of Christ is nullified. Paul writes this letter to defend the true freedom that Christ has given us through the sacrifice of the cross. Shall we listen carefully to the message of this letter and walk in the path of the true freedom given to us in Christ.