Grace, circumcision, and spies in church? – Galatians 1:1-5:15, Part 2

The church in the former Soviet Union had to be careful because the government sent spies into the church. In Communist China the same thing happens. Believe it or not, the early church faced a similar threat. What would you do if there were spies in your church?

In the previous post, we jumped ahead in Galatians 1, verses 13-17, reading the story of Paul’s amazing conversion to be an apostle for Jesus. He traveled around the Roman Empire talking about the good news of Jesus. In the region of Galatia, many people decided to believe in and follow the way of Jesus, and Paul grouped them in churches. But in a short period of time, things changed.

Look at Galatians, chapter 1, verses 6-9, where Paul gets right to the point. 

This is very emotional writing, isn’t it?  He is astonished.  He accuses them of deserting the Gospel.  He accuses other people of confusing them, of perverting the Gospel, and he says that those other people, if they are truly preaching another false gospel, they should be eternally condemned.  And then he repeats himself: “let them be eternally condemned!”  Paul is fired up!  Yes, you just read the Apostle Paul say, “Go to hell.”

What is this other gospel?  How are people perverting the Gospel? 

Paul doesn’t explain just yet.  He has not described the true Gospel, and he has not described the false Gospel.  Glance back at verse 6, because there he gives us a clue, the word “grace.”  He says that they were called by the grace of Christ, and now Paul is astonished that they are turning to something different.  So whatever the true Gospel is, it is in line with God’s grace.  And whatever the false gospel is, it out of line with God’s grace. 

Keep that in mind.  This is a very important point.  The concept of God’s grace is central to the true Gospel.  Grace is defined as “showing kindness to someone, with the implication of graciousness on the part of the one showing such kindness”[1] 

Grace gives us the image of a situation where you have treated someone poorly, and they turn to you. You are fully expecting a negative response, like anger or at least frustration from them, but as you are preparing for the worst, they are kind to you. 

We also heard Paul mention grace in one of the verses about his miraculous conversion (verse 15).  God called Paul by his grace.  When God revealed himself to Paul the persecutor, God had every right to punish Paul, but instead God show him kindness.  That’s grace.  The story of the good news in Jesus is that God is gracious to humans.

We didn’t read Galatians chapter 1, verses 10-12. In those verses Paul says that the Gospel is something he received from Jesus.  That led Paul to tell his story, which we already read, so jump ahead to where we left off, chapter 1, verse 18. Read through chapter 2, verse 2.  There Paul describes how he gradually became a missionary and leader in the church. 

Then in chapter 2, verses 3-4, he gets to the point of why he is telling his story.  Paul mentions that his ministry associate Titus was not compelled to get circumcised.  Woah.  To our modern ears, that is a very strange thing for Paul to mention.  Circumcision is so private, right?  How often have you had a conversation with your friends about whether they are circumcised?  Mostly it comes up only when a new baby is born. 

But in a church letter?  Remember that these churches were all house churches.  There were no buildings.  Also remember that ancient letter writing was super rare.  When a letter arrived, it was a big deal. Everyone in the church family would gather in the house to hear the letter read out loud.  It would be kind of like how we have a congregational meeting.  We gather to hear people represent our ministry teams, giving reports about what God did in the past year.  Imagine if one of the ministry team representatives started talking about how one of the guys on their team wasn’t circumcised.  Weird, right?  But that’s because we live in a totally different time and culture.  It does make me if it would have been at least a little bit awkward in their culture too. Maybe.

But believe it or not, Paul is doing some bible and theology teaching here when he talks about circumcision, and it has everything to do with what has him so concerned that he wrote this letter.  Look at verses 4-5, and he explains it a bit more. 

Woah…this just turned into a spy novel.  “Infiltrating our ranks,” Paul says.  What is he talking about?  He calls these infiltrators, “false brothers”.  That means they were people who claimed to be Christians, but Paul declares them to be false.  Just because a person calls themselves a Christian doesn’t mean they are a true Christian.  Why does he call them false?

Paul says they are false because they actually wanted to enslave Christians.  Paul is not talking about slavery like you and I think of the institution of slavery in our nation’s history.  Paul is using slavery figuratively, the opposite of what he calls the freedom that we have in Christ Jesus.  What freedom do we have in Christ?  And what does this have to do with circumcision?

In the next post, Paul will get to some answers!

Photo by Sergiu Nista on Unsplash


[1] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 748.

Published by joelkime

I love my wife, Michelle, and our four kids and two daughters-in-law. I serve at Faith Church and love our church family. I teach a course online from time to time, and in my free time I love to read and exercise, especially running,

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