Delivered from Present Evil
Paul means something very different by this, to what we may have become accustomed to thinking.
First, he isn’t speaking of going to heaven when we die. He isn’t even speaking of our personal salvation. His vision of salvation does include our personal salvation, but is much more than that.
It is personal salvation that leads us to the main issue. Salvation changes our heart, and this brings us to the salvation program that Paul is speaking about. The present evil age is characterised first by idolatry, then its effects: sin, self-centredness, violence, immorality, dishonesty, divisions, and the destruction that these bring to our communities.
The good news of being delivered from this evil age starts in our new hearts. It starts on a personal level. But from there, the rest of the work is about our new communities together. This evil age is characterised by nationalism, racism, wars, the strong overcoming the weak, riches and poverty, and lack of care for those left behind. These are all the same things the Prophets dealt with in the Old Testament.
The good news is that God changes our hearts and begins to bring us together, to become one people, caring for each other, repairing the destructions the evil age has brought into our lives. God delivers us from this evil age, by bringing our new hearts together to serve. Of course, the final deliverance is at his coming, at the resurrection, in the full new heavens and new earth, but this has started now, because of the gospel working in our nations.
Central to this deliverance, in the mind of Paul, is the new salvation that has been manifested in the gospel, which is the union between Jews and gentiles by faith. This gives the opportunity for whole new loving communities, bringing deliverance from evil to many, by forging new redemptive relationships.
Paul is thinking of the evil age that divides us. It is this division that promotes destruction, and that thwarts healing among us. This division works deeply in our minds and cultures, producing all forms of scapegoating and prejudice and is the cause of much of the suffering of humanity. Overcoming this division by the love and acceptance in the gospel, that comes to us through the cross, and makes us one, is the major theme in Paul’s mind, when he speaks about our new deliverance from the evil of this age.
This statement of Paul, of us being delivered from this evil age, is a perfect introduction to Paul’s message in Galatians: the unity between Jew and gentile, the overcoming of the violent deadly relations between their communities, by a new community of love and service. Some people have tried to hinder this unity and this deliverance in Galatia. Paul is writing to defend it.
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel.”
The Cause of Paul’s Writing
What was happening in Galatia? Why is Paul writing to Galatia? The issue here isn’t a works righteousness verses faith righteousness. The issue here wasn’t one that we often debate today, about how we might be saved personally, or sanctified in our personal lives. That was the issue in Martin Luther’s day, about whether one needed to observe the Catholic traditions to be righteous in God’s sight. That was entirely a peraonal issue. This wasn’t why Paul was writing to the Galatians.
The gospel they had deserted in Galatia, was the gospel about their open fellowship between Jewish and gentile believers. The issue was one of fellowship. This is where they had gone wrong, and this is the reason Paul was writing. The issues are much more community related, and much less individualistic. This is important for us to see. When we read the bible, we need to see what it is saying about our community, not read it on an “this is about me” level.
The grace that the people in Galatia were forsaking was the grace that joined them together in one free fellowship, to accept each other. The false gospel they were embracing was one where the Jews and gentiles couldn’t eat together, without observing the Jewish laws.
No Other Gospel
Paul goes on to explain that there is no other gospel, other than the gospel that brings us together as one in Christ. When he said that anyone who made a false gospel is accursed, he meant anyone who divided what God has joined together, anyone who forbids free table fellowship between believers.
It’s funny that we often used this passage to say the opposite to what Paul was saying. We have used it to say that anyone who observes traditions, like the Jews, or like the Catholics, or even like other Evangelicals we disagree with, is accursed and that we should separate from them in fellowship. We have used the “no other gospel,” “let him be accursed” statements of Paul to justify our divisions.
Paul had the opposite meaning in mind when using these statements. Paul meant that we must not allow these differences, these traditions, these different persuasions in our faith, to divide us. Paul said we are to accept and receive each other at one table of fellowship, regardless of our differences and convictions in these areas. We are to observe our unity, love and care for each other, because we are justified by faith and the blood and love of Christ makes us one.
This is the gospel Paul said we are to preserve. The gospel of unity. Not the “gospel” of division.
“For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
Paul moves on the show that the people who are sowing division in the Galatian community and men pleasers. They are doing it to gain merit with certain political factions, maybe with some parties in Jerusalem.
In contrast, Paul is showing that he doesn’t belong to any party. He doesn’t owe any allegiance to a human organisation, or benefit by reward from any human group, after persuading the Galatians towards any belief or practice. Paul says his call is from God, and it is only God that he seeks to please.
Many people may say this, but Paul backs it up with his sufferings. He is persecuted. He isn’t seeking an easy walk. He stands by the truth of God. He gets nothing personally from it, but to love the Galatian people, for no reward from man.
Paul continues, saying his understanding of the gospel came to him from God. Paul’s point here is that he hasn’t been sent by any man, to profit by advancing the objectives of any group. He includes in this, even the apostles at Jerusalem, Peter, James and John. They haven’t sent Paul. He isn’t even trying to please them. The Galatians can trust that Paul isn’t passing onto them a human perspective, for some selfish reason of Paul’s. Paul is being sincere, and has only the interest of the Galatians at heart.
This doesn’t mean Paul thinks lowly of the apostles in Jerusalem. That isn’t Paul’s point. Paul’s point is just about his own allegiances and his fidelity to the Galatian believers. They can know Paul has no vested interest in the gospel he is sharing with them. He shared at the cost of his own blood, just because he loves them. The ministry must be based on love, not a religious ladder we are climbing, not human ambition.