Paul most likely would have been with his team in a room tossing around ideas that were captured laboriously by the secretary. These would then have been compiled and redrafted a number of times. During the process it is most likely friends stopped by to hear the latest draft. Their comments and clarifying questions would prompt further revisions and redrafts.
Given this process we can assume the language and tone of Paul’s letter to the Galatians is not a quick reaction in anger, but a well-considered and thoughtful, firm response. Paul addresses an issue very important to him. In fact, he is so serious that he takes the pen from the scribe and in large childlike writing signs off the letter himself.
This aggressive tone reveals Paul’s insistence that God’s people are to rigorously hold onto the unity we have in Christ. Divisions between the Jewish followers of Jesus and the Gentile followers was no minor issue. He is adamant there should be no racial distinctions in God’s family in Galatia. From his perspective they had turned away from the truth of the gospel they had first believed (Galatians 1:6-9).
‘Judaizers‘, as Paul called them, had come into the new community and brought division by insisting they live according to the Mosaic Law. Their influence was not only a threat to the truth of the gospel, but to the very existence of these fledgling communities of faith.
Paul calls them back to the gospel, to walk the fine line between legalism, on one hand, and an “anything goes” lifestyle on the other. Paul emphasises that faith in Jesus is founded on the free gift of God’s grace, and that is all. However, he later explains, it will result in a lifestyle of walking by the Spirit.
In the same way that letter-writing in the first century was a costly and prolonged process, so too is the life of a disciple of Jesus. It is not just an acceptance of God’s love, but a lifelong journey. And God’s empowering grace is there for us all the time so we avoid being too legalistic or too carefree.
Over the next few months as we journey through Paul’s letter to the Galatians may we too take up its challenge to pursue a life of holiness.
Stephen L Baxter