Have you ever noticed that sometimes what’s not said carries more weight than what is said? I experience this fairly regularly these days when I step out of my room and say to my teenage daughters, “What do you think of this outfit?” Silence is always a bad sign. It usually means I’ve committed a major fashion foul, and they are considering if they even want to be seen with me.
On a way more serious matter, there is a silence on Paul’s part as he starts off his letter to the Galatians, and though what he doesn’t say is weighty, what he does say (and will reinforce throughout his letter) is of first importance and has the power to bring freedom to the most burdened of hearts.
What Paul Doesn’t Say
Something that many commentators point out about the beginning of Paul’s letter to the Galatians is that Paul does not follow his usual pattern: greeting, grace and peace, and then thankfulness. In this letter he omits being thankful for them. Even the messy, dysfunctional church at Corinth gets a word of thankfulness from Paul (I Cor 1.4-9). While we have to limit our assumptions a little bit here, Paul’s omission and his almost immediate jump to “I am astonished…” presses on us a sense that “deserting” Christ for a distorted gospel (as well as teaching a distorted gospel) are deeply grievous offenses.
What Paul Does Say
Though thankfulness is notably missing in the space between Paul’s greeting and the start of his rebuke, the gospel is not. In verses 3, 4, and 5, Paul does not fail to articulate the true gospel. This, after all, is what the Galatians need. It would be nice if Paul were thankful for their faith and their love toward all the saints (Eph 1.15-16) or for their partnership in the gospel (Phil 1.5), but the gospel is what is really at stake here.
So, before he starts in with his astonishment, Paul extends grace and peace to the Galatians from God the Father and the Lord Jesus, reminding them that Jesus gave himself for their sins and to deliver them from the present evil age—he gave himself according to God’s will so that they would have peace with God, could experience his love and grace, and could be set free. Though the bad news (a serious rebuke) is coming, Paul gave them the good news first.
The Good News First
In this letter, Paul is talking to Christians—people who have already believed the gospel. People like me—and maybe like you? At times in our journey, we will inevitably distort the gospel or be tempted to follow a “gospel” that sounds really good to us, but is not the true gospel. We will need to be reminded of the good news—the gospel. Reminded that we didn’t earn our place in the kingdom; it was freely given. Reminded that we don’t have to perform to keep our place in the family; we are adopted by his blood. Thankfully, in this matter, Jesus is not silent. He always gives us the good news first.
- In what ways have you been striving to earn God’s approval? In what ways have you believed you aren’t good enough to be in God’s family?
- What distorted gospels have you been believing? “I’ll be a better Christian if…” “God will love me more if…”
- Have you ever accepted the Good News that Jesus came, lived a perfect life, died in your place, and paid for you to have peace and loving relationship with God? Maybe you need to do this first?