This letter of Paul is clearly written to the churches of Galatia. If you look at your map today you will not see a city called Galatia. In fact, it is important that we see that this letter is written to the churches (plural) in Galatia as opposed to the church (singular) in Corinth (I Corinthians 1:2).
The four churches of Galatia were thought to be Antioch of Pisidia, Lystra, Iconium, and Derbe. They were squarely folded into the Roman Empire in the 20’s BC. It is thought that Paul established these churches in his early first missionary journey in the years 46-48AD. He then wrote this letter to the churches around 49AD while he was on the way to the Jerusalem council. The churches found themselves in a region that was often swayed and vacillated among ideas and philosophies. This comes out in the letter. Let’s look at the first chapter.
Paul gives us his testimony here. What is your testimony? I love the way in which he succinctly speaks of his born again moment in a few short paragraphs. My testimony is not in any way similar to that of Paul’s. I did grow up in a Christian family. My parents did nurture me with Scripture and bathed me in prayer. But I chose to not follow Jesus and to follow a path which I felt was right for me at that time, which had nothing to do with God. In short, I was self-centered on that which was most important to me, and God was not a part of the equation. I wasn’t necessarily hostile to God, He just didn’t enter the picture…until He did. On a winter retreat on January 14, 1986 Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to talk to me and say that He wanted me in His fold. Praise be to God I responded. I was not out persecuting the church. I was not hostile to people or groups. I was involved in some actions which would be called immoral, but for the most part I was a good kid. When I asked Jesus to enter my life, everything changed. I became focused on knowing that my life had to reflect every single day the presence of Jesus in my life.
Paul’s testimony is one of a celebrity and well educated clergyman who was empowered to root out the enemy and bring them to justice. His conversion allowed the Holy Spirit to work in his life and it turned him into one who joined sides with the enemy, at least according to the religious rulers of the day. I guess the most equal comparison would be if a well-known Christian pastor were tasked by the church to seek out ISIS cells within the US and bring them to justice. In his responsibility of rooting them out he then changes his mind and joins ISIS to establish cells throughout the US. His transition was a scandal to the religious authority and a bonus, a big bonus, to the early Christian church. Yes, I am comparing the early church to ISIS in that the status quo of the day saw them as a threat which needed to be eliminated because they were a threat to their way of life and a real threat to their livelihood.
He begins the letter after his greeting where he lifts up the grace and the work of Jesus on the cross. He chastises the churches in Galatia for their apostasy as it seems like they have quickly turned away from the faith which Paul had brought to them. It does sound like someone who is disappointed in the recent development of things. Keep in mind that once Paul visited that region and established churches that it would be years before he would be able to visit them again, if he was able to at all. His main point is the following: If anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received (to what Paul had originally brought), let that one be accursed. The Galatians were moving away from Paul’s original teaching and moving toward whatever teachings might have been appealing at that time and on that day.
His testimony follows, and it a convincing one which allows the churches in Galatia to remember the authority which Paul has and the reason why, in the first place, that they turned to Jesus as their Lord and Savior.