Ther first chapter of this letter sorts out like many of Paul's letters...there is an introduction, generally followed by encouragements and other information. While Paul starts off introducing himself, his first order of business is to admonish those in the Galatian churches. The third section of the first chapter supports his statement in verse 1...that he was "sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father." As I shared in the introduction, Paul and other missionaries are "being followed" by Judiazers who for their own reasons, religious and otherwise, are coming into the churches established by Paul in the Galatian area and teaching a "different gospel." The Judaizers are vying for the allegiance of the Galatian Christians, and they are seeking to discredit Paul as a valid witness for Christ in order to do so. This is why Paul shares what he does in verse one. He is not going to back down from these "false believers." Why? There is simply too much at stake in relationship to the gospel of Christ and for the churches themselves. The Judaizers are interested in making certain that the Gentile Christians will become like them in keeping the regulations of the Jewish religious system, particularly circumcision, but also including many of the other traditions, feasts, etc. (Much of the central portion of the book of Acts...chapters 13-15, particularly...deals with this problem in the early church. Ultimately, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the decision is made that all people, regardless of background...Jew or Gentile...are able to come to Jesus as they are, culturally, and religiously...whatever that may be). Paul defends himself and his ministry in the latter part of chapter 1 (vv. 11-24). I am not going to focus on this portion of the chapter so much as I am the mid-section, because of what I believe is its importance to those living for Christ, not only then, but for those who are believers today.
Paul tells the Galatian Christians that he is amazed that they are "deserting the one who called them" and "turning to a different gospel" (v.6). This is a striking statement in many respects, because the Judaizers are "believers in Jesus Christ." They have given their lives to Christ and have been baptized, converted to Him. They may indeed have their salvation in Him, but they have added regulations to it, therefore, they have demeaned it. They would say, "we can have Jesus, but we must also have the law, the regulations." Paul says, "no, Jesus is sufficient." But, this still isn't enough for me to understand that they have a belief system in something that is "no gospel at all" (v.6). There has to be something more...and there is. It has more to do with the heart of the matter, which is usually the matter that has Paul's focus. Jesus tells the Ephesian Christians in the Revelation to John that "they have lost their first love." (Revelation 2:4). The believers there had "cast out love" for one another for the sake of their traditions, opinions, arguments. They had violated principle number one of Jesus' life and ministry, "love God, love one another." This is the same thing that Paul shares with the Corinthian church, "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal" (1 Corinthians 13:1). So, it is not just the addition of the regulations that has Paul hopping mad, it is the lack of love that these Judaizers display toward their fellow-believers that has him so troubled. The attitude of the Judaizers couldn't very well be loving if they are behaving in an arrogant, condescending manner. They would say concerning the Gentile believers, "you are second-rate Christians, but if you want to be first-rate, then you must keep the laws and traditions." This attitude of heart violates Jesus' rule number one. This is why the decision at Jerusalem in Acts 15 had to go the way that it did. We can't live in a loving relationship with other believers if we believe that we are superior (or inferior) to them. We are then exercising pity or resentment, depending upon the situation, rather than the love of God. It is this fleshly and destructive mindset that could easily destroy the churches in the Galatian area. If Paul isn't able to win the battle for the minds and hearts of the believers, the cause of Christ is going to suffer a serious setback in that area.
So, what could this possibly mean for us today? We are much like the Galatians today in that there are believers in Christ today who come from various cultural and philosophical backgrounds. Some are like "Gentiles" when they come to Christ, not only ignorant of the teachings of Christ, but innocent as it relates to understanding traditions, regulations, etc. involved with religion. Others have been "raised in churches" and often have been immersed in the traditions, regulations of those churches. As Paul points out in his first letter to Corinth (chapters 10-14) and in his letter to the Romans (the whole work, really, but particularly chapter 14 as it relates to this discussion), we are able to be free in Christ, free from regulations of law which bind us and keep us from loving one another. As I first heard Romans 14 shared with me, it was those who "kept the regulations" that were the "strong brethren." Yet, upon further review and deeper study, I found just the opposite to be true...those who have few regulations are the "strong." I have heard the same thought a number of times in relationship to this text from Galatians...that the "false teachers" were those who would not be "doctrinally sound" or "correct," which in most cases meant, those "who did not hold to the regulations or traditions of the church." Once again, such a correlation couldn't be further from the truth. Indeed, it was those who were insisting upon adding regulations, binding traditions that Paul is speaking against here.
The bottom line is this: What has happened with Christians over the past century is that those who have been steeped in regulations, traditions in their churches often display the same attitude toward other, particularly younger, believers as that seen in the Judaizers in the early church. They behave in a condescending, or even disdainful, manner toward those who do not agree with "their' or "their church's" or what they perceive is "the brotherhood's" view of any number of subjects. In short, they choose to regulate these matters in the places where they reside, work...often to the detriment of the church. This is not to say that we cannot have or keep certain traditions, principles that guide concerning how we go about our business collectively, but they cannot be held in such high esteem that they violate the gospel of Christ, as was happening in the early church in the places mentioned. As I shared in relationship to a message on the Lord's Supper recently, people can become so bound as to "what form" the Supper is supposed to take, or even "who can take it," that they truly miss the intended meaning for the Lord's Supper itself. I believe Paul would be just as angry today with the "lack of love" or "loss of love" on the part of many believers who claim Jesus Christ, but whose attitude of heart is so very different from what He displayed and in relationship to His calling in general. We may be able to discern all of the mysteries of the Bible, know all of the stories, have great contributions, potlucks, activities, etc, and yet, if principle number one is not present, then it is all for nought. It is a critical message for the Galatians...and it also is for us.