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Studies in Galatians

Standing Fast In The Liberty By Which Christ

Has Made Us Free (See 5:1)

Galatians 1:1-10

“It Is My Catherine…”

There is something about the human nature that prompts a man to honor his favorite mode of transportation by naming it after his greatest love. The yachtsman may sail his Belinda II through the San Juan Islands on a second honeymoon with his Belinda (the first); the long-haul trucker will glance out the restaurant window of Sapp Bros. near Omaha and cast an approving eye on his Jasmine, just washed and shining in all her eighteen-wheel glory.

“The Epistle to the Galatians is my epistle to which I have wedded myself. It is my Catherine von Bora.” Martin Luther shared the same instinct as others, calling his favorite mode of transportation by his wife’s name.

A Fine Vehicle

The Epistle to the Galatians was, for this servant of the Lord, a fine vehicle that transported his attention away from himself, brought him nearer the Cross and, ultimately, to the very gates of heaven. Calling it “a very clear text and a flash of celestial lightning,” this Spirit-breathed document earned Luther’s singular devotion because it addressed the central controversy in his life — how is a wretched, sinful man to stand before a righteous, implacable God?

Catherine von Bora (the woman) came as a late-in-life surprise to a man who had concluded that he would never marry. She was not endowed with any dowry, nor drop-dead looks in the eyes of the world. But Luther was endeared to her for her honesty and directness (after leaving the convent, Luther tried to fix her up with another bachelor; she announced that she would never marry the bachelor, but she was not unreasonable — she would take Dr. Luther!).

Katie, of course, became Luther’s greatest earthly treasure — an honest and unflinching counterpart; a comfort in distress; a companion making his life fruitful beyond all expectations. All of which related well to the spiritual power and wealth Luther found in his “Catherine von Bora” (the Epistle).

The apostle Paul, in his epistles to churches and associates of the New Testament era, reveals quite a range of emotion and temperament. But none of the others approaches the level of urgent concern and incisive logic evident in his address to the Galatians. Just as Luther had no need to wonder where he stood with Katie at any given time, so Paul led the Galatians know exactly what was on his mind: “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel….” (1:6).

Perhaps Paul shouldn’t have been quite so surprised. He had reason to believe that the Galatians were somewhat fickle. The churches addressed were most likely comprised of those of central Asia Minor, a region called Galatia, where Paul carried out his first missionary work under the auspices of the church at Antioch. These cities included Lystra, where Paul was at first mistaken for a god, but later stoned and left for dead. But the power of the Gospel had been evident in his ministry in this region, and the churches of Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe were places Paul returned to again and again.

The Unadulterated Gospel

Because Paul was such a prominent personage in the planting of these churches, he himself became a point of controversy there, when other teachers arrived claiming to have better credentials than Paul. They attacked his person so that they could undermine his teaching. So we find in Paul’s answer not only a vigorous defense of the correct doctrine, but also a reminder of his own apostolic credentials: “Paul, an apostle (not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised him from the dead)” (1:1). It was on the basis of his apostolic calling that he had come to Galatia in the first place, preaching the striking gospel message: “Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen” (12:3-5).

What Paul had told them, face to face, regarding the salutary work of Jesus Christ and the perfect salvation one finds through repentance and faith in Him, was so sufficient, so inviolable, that he now stood ready to pronounce a curse on any would, whether man or angel or even himself, if such a one should try to supplant or supplement the doctrine he had originally preached to them in Christ’s name and by His authority. His words were aimed directly at those who were at that moment “troubling” them (5:12).

The “troublers” are known to us as “Judaizers” — Jewish traditionalists who taught that salvation by Christ alone was an incomplete “gospel” (1:8). But their “improvements” were, in Paul’s view, no true gospel at all.

Rather than revise his message to please men, Paul contends that his sole interest is in pleasing God: “For if I still pleased men, I would not be a servant of Christ” (1:10).

That devotion to the unadulterated Gospel was a jewel in the crown of Scripture for Luther, in an era when many of the church’s battles were won or lost on the field of “justification through faith in Christ, alone.” Because Satan is ever looking for ways to deny or pervert this teaching, the Epistle to the Galatians merits our devout attention, even now.

May it also become your Catherine von Bora!

— Pastor Peter Reim