Summary: When Paul writes to the Galatians and Philippians, he gives discipleship gold and how he describes the Christian life and character Jesus gives us. What can we learn from Paul in these letters?
In my last post, I taught on the Christian character Paul presents in the books of 1 and 2 Corinthians. I will continue to teach from Paul’s letters, Galatians and Philippians.
Did you ever get so excited about something, or have to speak about an issue of great concern before you introduce yourself to someone? Paul had the same problem with the Galatians. He had to get some issues on the table right away. That’s how the letter to the Galatians begins. Hold onto your seat, because Paul is just getting started.
Paul’s letter to the Philippians was a completely different situation. He doesn’t have much bad to say to them. In fact, he talks about rejoicing and having joy in that letter more than others. These letters are opposite ends of the spectrum. There is much to learn for every disciple of Jesus in each letter. Let’s get started.
Character Development in Galatians
Paul sees a huge problem with the Galatian church. They have allowed some false teaching resulting in issues concerning salvation. Every church deals with false doctrines of some sort. Some are small issues that may deal with distinctives of that congregation or denomination. But some doctrines are major ones. Salvation is one of them.
He begins the letter by addressing “other Gospels” (Galatians 1:6-10). The gospel message contains everything we need to know to meet Jesus. The Galatians had added things to the gospel, changing what we must do to be saved. Paul saw this as a top issue he could not let go. He doesn’t even wait to talk about it later in the letter. It is front and center.
We must realize the danger of changing the gospel and salvation. As Jesus’s disciples, we should not make salvation harbor than it is. Jesus does all the work of salvation in us. We must not add things we must do to be saved. That boils down to a works salvation. We cannot save ourselves, no matter what we do.
For the rest of Galatians 1, Paul shares his own experience in salvation and God’s call to become an apostle for Jesus. He stresses his apostolic authority given to him by Jesus, not another human. This is important so that the Galatians do not think Paul made himself an apostle. He did not ask other apostles about being an apostle. He just is.
Jesus calls us into ministry. It looks different for everyone. Jesus called me to be a pastor, but you are called to do whatever He tells you to do. Your ministry calling is in the workplace, in your home, and everywhere you go. It is specific to you. No calling is greater or less than another calling. Ask Jesus what He has called you to do and where to do it. Follow His calling and leading, and He will prepare and equip you to fulfill it.
Eventually, Paul goes up to Jerusalem to meet the other apostles. They agree Jesus called him to be an apostle. He mentions these “false brothers” who have affected the Galatians with false doctrine. They follow Paul around throughout his ministry, called the Judaizers because they want Gentile Christians to become circumcised and follow Moses’ law.
Paul next talks about a disagreement between him and Peter (Galatians 2:11-14). When Peter visited Antioch, he was very political, careful about who he fellowship with. He didn’t want to offend the Judaizers. So, he ate with Jewish Christians and avoided Gentile Christians when they arrived. Paul saw this as a big problem. There is no division of Gentiles and Jews in Christianity. We must not become racist. Jesus unites our brothers and sisters with us.
Paul turns his attention to justification by faith. He talks about living the crucified life in Christ (Galatians 2:20). As Jesus justifies us, we die to our old life and don’t turn back. Along with this, Paul continues in Galatians 3 to talk about living by faith. God’s Spirit saved us, and we cannot turn to our flesh and the ways we think save us. We began with the Spirit, and what He changes, and our life in Christ continues that way (Galatians 3:1-9).
He takes on faith versus the law. The law calls us to do works. But that will not save us. Paul teaches us that the law is not what saves. Like Abraham, we put our faith in the promised son. For him, it was Isaac. For us, it is Jesus. Only He can save us. God gave the law to Israel so that they could see His plan for salvation.
The law was a tutor for the Israelites, showing them what holiness and righteousness are like. It’s more like a mirror because it shows us how far we are from God’s very best (Galatians 3:15-27). The result of becoming a Christian is that all Christians are the same. Paul says there are no categories of Christians that can divide us (Galatians 3:28-29). Look for ways to unite with your Christian brothers and sisters instead of finding things that divide us.
He describes us as heirs of God’s inheritance (Galatians 4:1-7). We are not slaves, but relate to God as part of His family. As His children, we receive His inheritance. Paul next shows great concern for the Galatians. They are turning back to their former lives before they met Jesus. He talks about an element he had when he met them. He may have had an eye disease (Galatians 4:15). But they loved him unconditionally and accepted the gospel he preached.
He didn’t want them to go backwards in their faith. They were listening to the Judaizers, but they were taking advantage of the Galatians. Paul presents a masterful allegory of Hagar and Sarah, the slave woman and the free woman. These represent the old way of life before we met Christ as slaves to sin, and a new life in Christ as free people of God (Galatians 4: 22-31).
The allegory helps us remember we are free in Christ, and He died to make us free (Galatians 5:1-2). Listening to the false teachers and Judaizers, the Galatians were giving up their salvation. We need faith, not the law, circumcision, or other laws. The twisted Paul’s words to make sure the Galatians would listen to them instead of the law. But as Jesus’s disciples, we listen to Jesus. Anyone who preaches Jesus is a friend of ours.
Paul next teaches us to keep in step with the Holy Spirit. We are spiritual creatures and need the Spirit’s guidance (Galatians 5:16-26). The works of the flesh are contrary to the works of the Spirit. He introduces 15 works of the flesh and places them against the nine characteristics of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:19-24). You can see just by a person’s fruit and deeds if the Spirit rules them.
Jesus calls us to be filled with His Spirit and be guided by Him. We must not trust in our own works, in other peoples’ demands put upon us, or in-laws that keep us from hearing from the Spirit. We must follow the Spirit wherever He takes us, for He will never lead us astray.
Paul ends the letter in Galatians 6 by giving us general commands as Jesus’s disciples. We need to carry one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:1-2). We don’t want to deceive ourselves and think we are more than we ought to think. Pride keeps us from restoring one another if we fall into sin. The principle of sowing and reaping teaches us to be generous (Genesis 6:8). We must not become weary in doing good (Galatians 6:9).
Character Development in Philippians
Philippians has a more traditional letter opening, where Paul thanks God for the Philippian Christians and prays for them (Philippians 1:3-11). God who began a good work and us will complete it (Philippians 1:6). When it seems you are not advancing in your faith with Christ, you will be surprised what He can do. Jesus doesn’t start something He can’t finish. Trust in God’s process for your salvation and sanctification. He will make you complete in Him.
Jesus advances His gospel through us (Philippians 1:12-17). Wherever Paul went, he took the gospel with him. The gospel should be so contagious with us that wherever we go, people want to become Christians like us. It’s not because of us, but the gospel message and us. We are willing to die for Christ, but it is harder to live for Him (Philippians 1:23). But we will do both for Jesus.
We must live our lives worthy of the calling of Jesus (Philippians 1:27). We believe in Him and will suffer for Him. Each one of us does well to be humble like Jesus, for He is our example in humility and suffering (Philippians 2:1-11). We shine like stars as we are Jesus’s representatives (Philippians 2:12-18). We work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Ephesians 2:12-13). We grow in Christ as we follow Him.
Paul mentions two of his fellow companions in ministry (Philippians 2:19-30). We should strive to have Christian character like they do. They show their concern and love for other Christians, so much so that they want to minimize news of themselves. They were invaluable servants to Paul as he continued his ministry. Let us be invaluable to one another.
Paul deals again with the Judaizers. They thought they were something, but Paul tells us all about who he really is. He had so much going for him before he met Jesus, but now those things are worthless to him. Whatever accolades you gained in this life, they are rubbish compared to knowing Christ (Philippians 3:7-8). Instead, we want to be found in Christ and gain our righteousness from Him (Philippians 3:9-11). We want to know Jesus in in His suffering and His resurrection power at work in us.
Paul encourages every disciple to forget the past and strain to move forward with Jesus to obtain the promise of His perfection (Philippians 3:12-6). We imitate godly people to learn about Christ through them (Philippians 3:17). We stand firm in the faith (Philippians 4:1). Our life is full of rejoicing and joy (Philippians 4:4). We lay aside our anxieties and concerns, instead taking them to Jesus through prayer (Philippians 4:6-7). We will have God’s peace.
Christians do not talk enough about the mind in our discipleship. We renew our mind by thinking on the good things Paul lists in Philippians 4:8-9. The world is full of evil things to think about, concerns and worries of this life. But if we fix our thoughts on Jesus, it will do us a kingdom of good.
As Paul concludes his letter to the Philippians, he continues to talk about rejoicing. We have the happiest life in Christ because our destiny is with Him in heaven. He expresses his joy that the Philippians have helped him in his ministry by supplying for his needs (Philippians 4:10-20). Every disciple of Jesus must learn to be content in want and in plenty. God is our supplier and provider of all our needs.
What stood out to you about Paul’s letters to the Galatians and Philippians? Ask the Holy Spirit to help you grow into the Christian character represented by Paul in these two letters.
Paul has given us much to grow in from Galatians and Philippians. The Holy Spirit will help us grow. Next, let’s look at Paul’s letters to the Ephesians and Colossians.
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