Letters to a Wounded Church (1)
We're still studying Acts. Really we are. But it seemed like a brief diversion might be useful, so we can see what those apostles were writing at the time. With that in mind, here are some questions about Galatians...
(14) So... What About Those Galatians?
Some commentaries place Galatia to the North of Pisidia and suggest Paul didn’t go there until his second and third missionary journeys (Read Acts 16:6, 18:23). But there are lots of reasons to believe the region, like North America, was much larger than just a name on a map. One obvious reason is the immediate connection between Paul’s letter to the Galatians with the Jerusalem Decree, which preceded his second missionary journey. Another is the likelihood that Galatians is one of Paul’s earliest letters, since it never refers to church structures or lines of authority.
One theory suggests Galatians was written shortly before the conference in Jerusalem. The Galatian churches would have been very new and unstructured, and were probably struggling with Jewish claims that Gentiles could never truly be believers. Given that there were Jews and Gentiles in this fledgling Christian community, what effect might these claims have had?
Have you ever been challenged by fellow Christians who thought something you were saying or doing (or not saying and not doing) wasn’t consistent with your faith? How did it make you feel? How did you respond?
A church united
1. Read Galatians 2:1-3, Acts 11:27-30. One date for Galatians suggests this is the journey Paul is referring to in his letter. How concerned is Paul to avoid controversy with the Jewish Christians?
2. Read Galatians 2:9-10, Acts 12:24-25. Can you remember what other issues were demanding the attention of Jewish Christians at that time?
3. What other examples can you think of where God has used adversity to unite people of faith, in history or in the present day?
A church divided
1. But the church didn’t remain united. Read Galatians 2:11-13, 15-16. Peter falls into old ways, as if Gentiles are less Christian than Jews. Can you paraphrase Paul’s response? Is it addressed to Jewish or Gentile Christians?
2. Read Galatians 2:17-21. What type of people is Paul addressing here? Why might Paul feel he needs to add this argument?
3. Read Galatians 3:1-4. Is this addressed to Jewish Christians, or to Gentile Christians who are trying to become more Jewish? Have you ever felt pressured to say or do something you’re unsure of, just to fit in?
4. Read Galatians 3:5-9. Who is Paul addressing now?
5. What picture do you get of what is good and what is bad about the Galatian churches? Looking at churches and denominations in the US, does asking what is good and what is bad help balance your view of them? If you’ve been a member of a church that has split, how do Paul’s words make you feel about that split?
6. Paul quotes the Law and the Prophets liberally in his argument. Read Genesis 15:6, 18:18, Deuteronomy 27:26, Leviticus 18:5, Habakuk 2:4. How important is it that we remember the Old Testament in our New Testament churches?
7. Paul also uses secular law and logic – the language of the Gentile converts. Read Galatians 3:15-18. How important is it that we acknowledge the value of secular education and skills in our New Testament churches?
8. Paul compares new Christians to grad students, members of God’s family, heirs, freed slaves, and more. (Read Galatians 3:24-26, 4:7) Which part of this resounds most for you? What would have felt most relevant to
a. Jewish Christians,
b. Gentiles who had taken on Judaism and Christianity,
c. Gentiles who had refused to become Jews?
A church wounded
1. Read Galatians 4:8-11. Who is Paul addressing now? Does the modern church ever devolve into “observing” laws instead of bearing witness?
2. How does your Bible translate verse 17? Mine says “...they want to exclude you, that you may be zealous for them.” How could exclusion result in zealous support?
3. Read Galatians 4:25,28-31. Hagar (and hence Ishmael, rather than Isaac) is compared to Jerusalem. We’re more accustomed to aligning Ishmael with Palestine and Isaac with Israel; what would Paul’s readers make of this? Is Paul being exclusive or inclusive?
A church redeemed
1. Read Galatians 5:6. Can you paraphrase it in a way that applies, say, to the debate over adult vs infant baptism?
2. Read Galatians 5:13. How might this apply to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”?
3. Read Galatians 5:19-21. We’re very good at picking favorites from this list and applying them to groups we’d like to exclude from the kingdom. Is that the spirit in which Paul makes the list?
4. Read Galatians 5:22-23. If we really had these fruits, who would we exclude?
5. Read Galatians 6:1-5. Does this help you answer the previous two questions?
6. Read Galatians 6:10. What does doing good to all, especially those who belong, mean in the context of this letter?
7. Read Galatians 6:14. What does Paul’s “boast” mean? What could he have boasted in? What might you or your church be accused of boasting in? If we do not boast, except in Him, then... Read Galatians 6:18