I use to think reading the Bible needed to be more of an academic task. It doesn’t have to be though. I will admit the Bible is hard to read. After all it was written to an audience other than you that lived thousands of years ago in a different land and culture. Too, the Apostle Paul was writing to people who lived during Jesus’ lifetime and knew Paul who knew the brother of Jesus and other eyewitnesses (Gal. 2:9). That is a different perspective than us readers who are looking backwards and wondering if a man named Jesus was who He claimed to be and if it matters.
We can read the Bible without getting all technical. Some enjoy reading the Bible with commentaries and other help sources at their disposal, though keep in mind interpretations are fallible. One way to avoid misrepresenting a writer’s intended meaning is by reading a letter in the New Testament as a whole. Verses in the Bible were only added after the 14th century, which can lead to taking sentences here and there to make a point not intended. We would hate if someone did that with our words in communicating what we said.
I read Paul’s letter to the Galatians in its entirety several times to see if there were any lessons for me. Paul claims Jesus, who was brought back alive after being dead, to be his authority (1:1). Jesus is the only religious leader to proclaim He would come back from the dead, but Paul’s readers living in the 1st century could more easily confirm such a claim. If one doesn’t believe the resurrection is a provable historical reality beyond reasonable doubt, one might also consider if Jesus’ message rings true. Jesus certainly was one who led by example and sacrifice. It is also significant that Paul and other followers risked their lives not for a future promise but a past event they could verify. Paul says Jesus “gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age… (1:4). What sins exactly did Jesus seek to impress upon us that need rescuing?
The Galatians were deserting from the message of Jesus that Paul had taught them (1:6). Paul then seeks to prove his calling by God so they might reconsider (1:10-2:10). A major theme throughout the letter is the Jews acting as if God favored them, and the Gospel was to force others to follow Jewish customs because God chose them over others (2:14). It is not favoritism when God chooses one nation to bless all nations (3:8). God doesn’t play favorites! Were the Jews tempted to emphasize the Law given to them by God because of a sense of entitlement that comes from such a privilege? Jewish religious leaders like the Pharisees seemed more concerned about their power because of the Law than if lives were changed.
By giving the Law undue importance, the Galatians were distorting the true Gospel. Besides, if the Law is the main thing there was no reason for Jesus to come down to earth. The problem is the Law can only condemn as we all are lawbreakers at one time or another (2:16). A focus only on the Law leads to us being only concerned with being legal and less concerned about being self-centered. Does the Law then not matter and we are free to do whatever the hell we want (2:17). Those who think like that don’t understand laws are to guide and protect from lawbreakers; laws are not made to change hearts.
Paul tries to convince his readers of the freedom we have in Christ (2:4). God doesn’t see us as Jews or Gentiles, or males or females or slaves or owners which was a good thing during Paul’s life (3:28). Paul keeps questioning the Jews about their main focus on laws (4:10). Customs and traditions don’t really lead to life transformations (5:1). God never intended others be required to abide by certain rules not in violation of the rights of others. Instead, with Jesus’ spirit we can focus on avoiding indulging in harmful ways that seem so natural (5:13). Jesus came to encourage us what the law can’t legislate – love your neighbor as yourself (5:14). Jesus desired to inspire us toward “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (5:23-24).
Paul clearly implies what Jesus came to rescue us from (1:4). Of course Jesus would encourage us to obey the law but there is more to life than being a law-abiding citizen. Jesus didn’t ask followers to sacrifice but then live in richness and not make the ultimate sacrifice Himself. Jesus didn’t force His beliefs on others, or be killed, as if true love can be forced. Be wary of those who suggest they are favored by God and insist on adhering to certain traditions. Jesus taught God doesn’t give up on us. Let’s don’t give up on others. God forgives us for our failures. Let’s forgive other when they fail. God never loses hope for us. Let’s not lose hope in others. Don’t you want to love others always as you want to be loved? Jesus came so you know God desires a relationship so you can feel loved, forgiven, encouraged, and empowered.