We are hoping to start offering somewhat regular devotions here on the website. To get us started, Wade is going to be offering some devotions he wrote in the parish on the first half of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians. If he has time, he will write more to get us through the entire letter. Today is our first installment. Rather than inserting the biblical text into each devotion from a translation, we’re hoping you can dust off your Bibles and read the verses from whatever you currently use. If not, you can always find them online. If you find these helpful, please do share away. We definitely appreciate it.
Today we begin a new epistle, St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. This epistle is paramount for a correct understanding of the distinction of law and gospel, which, together with Jesus Christ, who is the heart and core of Scripture, is the key to understanding God’s revelation to mankind. Paul begins by explaining who he is to write such an epistle, to teach in the church, since no one is to preach or teach in the church without a call, as we are reminded in the Augsburg Confession. Paul’s call originated from the same place as the call of every pastor and teacher, but it came to him in a quite different fashion than calls received today. While pastors today are called by Christ through the church, St. Paul was called directly by Christ. Call to mind his conversion account again, which he will retell later in this epistle. Paul was called, and not only to be a pastor, but to be an apostle, an office in the church of much wider scope and unique to the time immediately following our Lord’s ascension. Paul was called through Jesus Christ and God the Father to bring the gospel to Jew and Gentile, to Israel and, in particular, beyond its borders to the Gentiles. The Galatians knew this. Paul had already preached and taught among them, but now as he must warn them against false teachers and admonish them for their failure to hold fast to the pattern of sound words and teaching, he reminds them of this, so that they dare not question who he was to take such a task upon himself and why in the world they should bother to listen to him and not to the preachers whose self-serving and convenient words tickled their ears and appealed to their old Adams.
The devil is a tireless worker. He is not lazy, and he is not daft. Paul had taught in Galatia clear law and sweet gospel, he had preached Jesus Christ and Him crucified. In so doing, heaven itself had become present among the Galatians. And this the devil cannot tolerate. He cannot countenance others having what he has lost, that is, a place eternally in the presence of our God, the only true God. Scarcely had Paul left before the devil had sent in his called servants and preachers to subvert Paul’s work and the Spirit’s fruit in Galatia. Did they know they were serving Satan and not Christ? We are not told, but not necessarily. Some of the most sincere religiosity on earth and in history has been practiced by those who belonged, unwittingly, to the old evil foe. These false teachers came, not with T-shirts proclaiming their nefarious task, but in the name of Christ and with a claim upon Scripture. The same is true today. If you believe that your sins are indeed sins and that you need forgiveness, and if you believe that Christ does indeed forgive you for those sins, that He meets that need through His death and resurrection, made your own through faith created and fed in Word and Sacrament, beware, the devil is jealous, he is mad with envy, and while he can never have what you have, he can work tirelessly and craftily to rob you of it as well. And one of the ways he does that is through the church itself, sending pastors and teachers or fellow Christians to wink at your sin instead of warning against it, to point you to yourself or somewhere or someone else besides Christ, to twist the Words of God’s revelation, however subtly or well-meaningly, and to turn to the gospel into anything less than a free, complete, and utterly necessary gift from God. And so you must know the Word yourself, so that you can judge your shepherd and his preaching and teaching rightly—not whether you like it or not, but whether or not it conforms to what God Himself has said in the Bible. And so you must pay heed to the historic and biblical confession and practice of the church of all time, to see where others have deviated from it and to learn from it how orthodox, Scriptural Christians have spoken about God and His Christ, always, of course, considering this in the light of the Scriptures themselves. You are not the first Christian to walk this earth and what pride it would be to act and think as though you were!
God bless us through our study of this epistle, convicting us of our transgressions, leading us to despair of our own righteousness, but not leaving us hopeless. Rather, God grant our broken and contrite hearts the joy of salvation, free and for all who believe on our Lord Jesus.