TODAY’S READING: Galatians 1–3
Galatians is a missionary letter written by missionary Paul to the churches he planted in the Roman province of Galatia (southeast Turkey today). It was most likely written in 49 A.D., just before the Jerusalem council mentioned in Acts 15, making it the first letter Paul wrote as far as what became part of the canon. When we remember that it’s a missionary writing to nascent churches, it helps us interpret the book correctly.
Paul introduced himself as a missionary, for the word “apostle” in Greek meant a “sent one,” one sent to preach the gospel to those who had not heard it, one sent to labor for the mission of God—representatives of every people redeemed and worshiping Jesus. Everything Paul did, said, and wrote was through this missionary framework. Paul also cited all the brethren with him, as missions work must be done in teams. We do not aim to reproduce individuals; we aim for churches. These communities of faith are to be multi-national. Paul in his letter to believers in Roman Turkey referenced Arabia, Syria, Turkey, and Judea, and the calling to preach to the Gentiles twice (1:17, 21–22; 2:2).
Paul’s rebuke of Peter in Antioch was a public correction of a public figure for a public error, an error we still make today. We confuse our cultural view of Christianity with biblical Christianity and thus insist that other nations become like us (nationally) as part of them becoming like Christ (spiritually). When Paul said the gospel to the Gentiles had been committed to him while the gospel to the Jews was committed to Peter, he was not saying there were two gospels; he was saying there was one gospel supra-cultural and no one nation owns it. The context then of being crucified with Christ is a missionary context in which Paul pointed out that God denies the right of one ethnicity to own the gospel—the gospel must own all of us, the gospel must own every culture, the gospel must own every nation.
Essential to missionary fruitfulness then is not only death to self, but also death to nationalism, ethnic pride, and prejudice, and death to our favored form of Christianity. Without falling into syncretism, the missionary seeks to allow gospel truth to be planted in indigenous soil rejoicing that the application of the unvaried truth will be very varied in application. Paul’s missionary letter to the Galatians simply reminds us that we received the Spirit by faith and harkens back to the Abrahamic promise guaranteeing all nations will receive the Spirit by faith, too. Not by Sunday School, professional worship, air conditioned buildings, one hour services, excellent child care programs, engaging video, illustrated sermons, recovery classes, million-dollar sound systems, not by any of these good things that have helped us all, but by faith.
Because God’s promise to Abraham is explicitly fulfilled in Jesus (3:15–18), Paul’s point to missionaries is that we better only export Jesus and to indigenous believers that they better only import Jesus. To be crucified with Christ is a missionary commitment to be crucified to all but Christ, including cultural Christianity. Naked we must be nailed to our cross, disrobed from the comfort of our cultural Christianity. The application to Christians everywhere is that we have to die to the broken aspects of our culture as much as we do to our flesh. The cross is supposed to stand at the doors of our hearts and cultures as a barrier against anything and everything that is not like Jesus.