Well, my wife Angie has corroborated that I should keep my day job unless I put more gun fights into this thing. But I've committed to finish it, so I will continue! What I've posted here on previous Sundays has been chapter 8, the second chapter on 1 Corinthians.
So today we start chapter 9: Trouble in Galatia.
The first two years of Paul’s stay in Asia was invigorating to him. Yes, he had been briefly imprisoned and had appeared before the Roman governor. But he had witnessed to Christ before the governor, a grand opportunity as far as he was concerned! And he had seen the gospel expand inland as far as Colossae. He was beginning to feel that itch to move, to entrust Ephesus to the care of others and push further west even beyond Rome into Spain.
The Corinthian church continued to present some difficulty, but Paul hoped that his most recent letter would bring the kind of peace and unity the church needed. Apollos had largely removed himself from the situation, submitting to Paul's authority. The two obviously were having an effect on each other's thinking. Apollos was less flippant about pagan temples, and Paul began to think more seriously about what might happen to the dead before the resurrection.
But Paul's equilibrium was startlingly thrown off balance when news arrived at Ephesus about certain goings on in the northern region of Roman Galatia. Paul and Barnabas had founded churches in the south of that Roman district less than ten years earlier, in the regions of Pisidia and Lacaonia. It was there in the city of Lystra that Timothy had believed in Jesus.
Then on a second trip through the area with Silas, Paul had found himself heading north by a somewhat bizarre route, only to end up in the area of Ancyra, in Galatia proper. This was the area where descendants of the warlike Galatians of old lived. It was while there that Paul became deathly ill. And even after he recovered, he found that he had lost significant sight in his eyes as a result of the fever.
He would not normally have spent so much time in an area where there was no great city, but he took the situation as a sign of God's will. For the next few months he brought the good news to the Galatians of the region, and many received the message with joy. Indeed, they treated Paul like he was an angel from heaven. Then when Paul decided his sight had returned as much as it would, he, Silas, and Timothy pressed on. He would struggle with his eyes the rest of his life.
Paul made a second trip through the region of north Galatia after he left Corinth the first time. It was during that trip that he urged them to set aside money on the Lord's Day for an offering he hoped to bring to the churches of Jerusalem. He hoped to bring it there by Pentecost the next year. Little did he know at the time that he would have to put off that trip and that, by the time he did take it, he would have lost the loyalty of the Galatians.
To understand the situation at Galatia, you have to go back almost ten years. Back then, Paul was preaching the good news everywhere he could in his home region, where Tarsus was. Remember, he spent three years in Palestine after he believed. That was in the area around Damascus and in Nabatean Arabia just east of it.
But after those first three years, Paul had returned to his home town of Tarsus, in Asia Minor. For almost ten years thereafter, Paul had used Tarsus as a base from which to preach the gospel in the surrounding region, the region of Cilicia. At the time he was still sorting out his calling. He worked mostly in whatever Jewish synagogues he could find, with mixed results. He also tried to reach out to any Gentiles who would listen to him.
Near the end of a decade there, he received an invitation to come to Antioch, a city in the northernmost part of Palestine, in Syria. It was only about a week's journey from Tarsus, to the east. There, he found a vibrant group of believers. Most of them were Greek-speaking Jews, but Gentile God-fearers had become an important part of the community too.
It was exactly the collection of God's people that Paul had pictured as part of the end of the age. There were not only Jews who believed that Jesus was the Messiah, but also many Gentiles flocking to Israel's God. Paul's only complaint was that Antioch was not actively seeking out the Gentiles. They were only receiving them as God drew them to their synagogues.
Still, the Christian synagogues there were awash with signs of the Holy Spirit. When they met together at dawn on Sunday morning, there was always a prophetic word that all acknowledged as authentic. People in their fellowship regularly experienced healings, and whenever they came across evil spirits, they were caused to flee. Paul almost felt that God's rule might break through at any time.
The believers were a glorious mixture of Jew, Gentile, rich, poor, not to mention Jews from all over the Diaspora. Barnabas was there, and it was he who had invited Paul to join the assemblies at Antioch. There was Simeon the black and Lucius of Cyrene, both of whom were from North Africa. One of the patrons of the community was a man named Manaen, who had actually grown up with Herod Antipas, the one who beheaded John the baptizer.
Perhaps the best known instance of the Spirit's working there was when the prophet Agabus foresaw that a famine was coming over the world. When it happened, the community of Antioch shared its abundance with the churches of Jerusalem. They sent a delegation with support from Antioch down to Jerusalem.
But despite the success of the gospel at Antioch, Paul could not forget his sense that the good news was for the Gentiles as well as the Jews. He could not get the prophesy of Isaiah out of his mind, that the Gentiles would rally to the Messiah. He could not forget the mandate of Isaiah to proclaim God's glory among the nations...