All Worked Up
Thursday of Pentecost 17
5 October 2017
The apostles preached the gospel as they traveled across the ancient world beginning at Jerusalem and proceeding to distant destinations. We are not left wondering what they preached to the people who heard them. We have not had to search for a rumor of angels in the oral traditions that might have trickled down to us from their preaching. No, God has given us His Word through its being written down by the apostolic authorities. The apostle Paul had preached of Christ's justifying death to the people of Galatia, rescuing them from slavery to the law as a way of salvation. The immature Galatian Christians that the Word created were prey for legalists who visited them from Jerusalem proclaiming that they bore the authentic apostolic tradition, which, they claimed, included a return to the law as a way of righteousness in the sight of God.
For starters, no such teaching was the apostolic doctrine, whether oral or written. But the new Christians of Galatia had only limited resources to beat off this attack by the legalists and were, in fact, taken in by them. So they bowed down to this non-apostolic tradition that Christ was not sufficient for salvation but that they also had to obey the law beside trusting in Christ. Jesus was "just alright," but not enough. This blasphemous doctrine teaching that Christ is insufficient for salvation Paul anathematizes in his letter to the Galatians. The Galatian congregation was rescued from the legalistic swamp by a letter. The false tradition of the Jerusalem legalists Paul decisively countered by a written expression of the true doctrine.
The written expression of the Word of God granted to the Galatians the correct teaching about the distinction between law and gospel. This gives us a clear picture of what the Bible is for. The Scripture is not merely a legal code book telling us what we must do to be considered good or holy. No, it is a living Word from God that conveys Christ, hands over all His benefits to us, and confers faith on us. It is not just a prescription, but a gift full of grace. The original purpose of this epistle to the Galatians was to return them to the living gospel from the tradition of dead works. This is a life and death issue. One can see why Paul is so worked up in his letter to the Galatians. The difference between heaven and hell was at stake.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Martin Chemnitz

"The Epistle to the Galatians itself indicates for what reasons and for what use it was written. For the Galatians had departed and been led away from the doctrine of the gospel which they had received by oral tradition from Paul. In what manner, however, and under what appearance or pretext the gospel had been perverted among those who had before received Paul as an angel of God, yes, as Christ himself, the epistle itself clearly shows. Opinions were paraded as having been delivered by the other apostles, who, it was said, did not show such an abhorrence of the law and its works as Paul did, and it was argued that the authority of those who had walked with Christ and who were aware of all His secrets was rightly to be preferred to Paul. We shall not undertake a full explanation of the argument of the Epistle to the Galatians, but shall present only this observation, that purity of the doctrine had not been faithfully preserved through tradition among the Galatians, but that under the title and pretext of traditions supposedly received from the other apostles the church had been disturbed and the pure body of doctrine infected with the leaven of corruption as Paul himself says. The Galatians had not, however, completely rejected the profession of the gospel, for it can be seen clearly from this epistle that they had retained the history of the Old Testament and the history concerning Christ. But Paul declares that the gospel was falsified among them because they had lost the distinction between the law and the gospel and the true office and use of both by allowing them to be mixed, because they had not correctly and clearly preserved the pure doctrine about sin, about the works of the law, about justification by faith, and about the renewal which follows it. This must be diligently observed, that the doctrine of the Gospel does not consist only in a historical narration of, or assent to, the words and deeds of Christ and the other things which are related in the sacred Scripture but that it is chiefly placed in their true interpretation and application to repentance, faith, justification, hope, and charity. This is what Paul is working on in the Epistle to the Galatians.
"Let us consider what kind of remedy Paul applied to these corruptions which had been sown under the pretext of traditions. He asserts the authority of his ministry with many arguments, and leads the Galatians back to the gospel which they had previously received from him by word of mouth. And he adds: 'if either we apostles or an angel from heaven should preach another Gospel than that which you have received, let him be anathema' (Gal 1:8). But does he pass over or cloak in silence what those traditions were to which he recalls the Galatians? Surely he has undertaken the writing of this epistle with the object of explaining and confirming what he had delivered orally among the Galatians concerning the doctrine of the gospel, namely concerning Jesus Christ, the Crucified (in whom the whole story of Christ is summed up), and concerning the true application, explanation, and use of this story. It is not necessary therefore that we determine, either from conjectures or from the rumor of unwritten traditions, the nature of the gospel which Paul proclaimed to the Galatians and which the Galatians had accepted. For Paul had put in writing and amply explained it in the Epistle to the Galatians. Jerome correctly says: 'It is the doctrine of the Holy Spirit which is set forth in the canonical writings; if the councils declare anything contrary to this, I hold it to be wicked.' Therefore, Paul says: 'If anyone has preached to you a Gospel contrary to that which we preach to you and which you received, let him be anathema' (Gal 1:9). That Gospel, however, which Paul had preached and which the Galatians accepted has been written; therefore both Basil and Augustine rightly applied this statement of the Scriptures: 'If anyone proclaims anything beside the teaching which is comprehended and transmitted in Scripture, let him be anathema.'" 

Martin Chemnitz, Examination of the Council of Trent
Galatians 3:1-14
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain- if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith- just as Abraham "believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness"?
Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "In you shall all the nations be blessed." So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, "Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them." Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for "The righteous shall live by faith." But the law is not of faith, rather "The one who does them shall live by them." Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us- for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree"- so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. (ESV)
Lord Jesus, You are the salvation of the world. The holy apostles have assured us of Your will in the Scripture. Grant that we might trust and believe Your salvation that our faith might never be subverted by legalistic preaching. Amen.
For all those who are grieving losses in these last days, that they might set their hearts upon the higher calling that we have in Christ Jesus, who is the Lord of life
For pastors and their families, that they would find rest and repose for their bodies and minds
For all persecuted Christians, that they would remain under the gospel care of the Lord Jesus, who feeds them on His true body and blood for the forgiveness of sins
Art: Albrecht DURER, The Adoration of the Trinity (1511)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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