This month we are going to look at Paul’s letter to the Galatians in our daily Bible readings. We are going to take the whole month to go through the letter, in order to draw out as much of the teaching as possible.
Wednesday 1st February
Over the next few days we shall consider these verses in more detail but a word of introduction may be helpful. This letter to the Galatians was probably the first to have been written by Paul. The first Christians were Jews, like Jesus himself. By the time this letter was written, however, Christianity had taken root beyond the Jewish community, among those who were known as Gentiles. This letter was written to some of these Gentile Christians. It was written for one main purpose. These Gentile Christians were in danger of losing the simple Gospel of Jesus Christ because of the bad influence of some Jewish Christians, who were saying that to be a Christian you must not only believe in Christ but you must also be circumcised and keep all the Jewish rules and regulations. They knew that Paul was preaching a very different message but they said that the Galatians should not listen to Paul because he was not one of the twelve apostles.
Pray for the two prayer meetings today (1pm and 7.30pm) and pray that many people will attend one or the other. Pray that greater commitment to prayer will be evident in our fellowship throughout this year.
Thursday 2nd February
At the very beginning of this letter, Paul defends himself against the attacks of these Judaisers by stating his credentials. Notice how he describes himself: ‘Paul, an apostle – sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead…’ Do you see what he was doing? Right at the beginning of his letter he defends his right to preach the Christian Gospel and to define what that Gospel is. He insists that he was an apostle, someone who was called by Jesus Christ. That calling came on the road to Damascus. Paul is saying clearly that he is God’s ambassador, that his credentials are not in doubt and that he has been sent with a Gospel which must be taken seriously because it comes from the very voice of God.
Pray for EMMS and for the work they are doing in Malawi, particularly the Mziche Project. Pray for John and Tina Bruce as they help us fulfil our commitment to support this project.
Friday 3rd February
In these verses, we find Paul expressing astonishment that these Galatians should so quickly abandon the true Gospel and accept something else in its place. The key word in these verses is the word ‘grace’, which means ‘unmerited favour’ and lies at the heart of the Gospel. God so loved the world that he sent his only Son to die on the Cross in our place, taking the punishment due to us for our sins. Now, all we have to do is believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and God will pardon our sins. The Christian Gospel has often been misunderstood. The most common misunderstanding is that to be accepted by God, we have to do certain things and refrain from doing certain other things. In other words, many people believe that being a Christian is about keeping commandments, obeying rules and avoiding sin. This, however, is not the Gospel. The Gospel is about God’s grace which is received by faith.
Dougie Wolf is to be inducted as Minister of the Parish of Barvas this evening. Pray for Dougie, Joan and Jack. Pray too for the Presbytery of Lewis and for all who will take part in the service of ordination and induction.
Saturday 4th February
No wonder that Paul is astonished. How could these Galatians depart from a simple Gospel of grace and replace it with a huge burden of obedience and rules and regulations and religious practices and so on? The answer is that the human heart is very unwilling to accept the grace of God. The human heart is proud and says, ‘I am not a sinner and so I do not need grace and forgiveness’. The human heart says, ‘I can make myself right with God by doing all these religious acts’. The truth is that, until we recognise our true condition, we will never accept the true Gospel. This is serious. Paul says that if anyone brings another Gospel they should be eternally condemned, even if this new Gospel should be brought by an angel from heaven! Strong words.
Pray for Dolly Coventry and the work of the church office. Give thanks for all she does, both as Minister’s secretary and as clerk to the Deacons’ Court.
Sunday 5th February
Here is a summary of verses 1-10: The Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ which Paul preached was not of human origin but came directly from God by revelation. It is a simple Gospel, calling men and women and children to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. When we come to Christ in faith, we are pardoned and accepted by God and enter into a right relationship with God. Once that has happened we will want to keep God’s commandments and obey the teaching given in his word but salvation itself does not come by obeying commandments, it comes by grace through faith. May God help us to trust in Jesus Christ and so enter into the experience of salvation.
Pray for the Minister as he ‘preaches in’ Dougie Wolf in Barvas this morning and also speaks at a testimony meeting in the evening. Pray for Fraser Turner who will take the services in the East Church.
Monday 6th February
Paul says that he received the Gospel. What is the Gospel? Put simply, the Gospel is the good news of the forgiveness and salvation to be found in Jesus Christ. God has chosen to bring men and women to Christ through the Gospel message. Therefore, it is the duty of every Christian to share this Gospel, this good news. The Holy Spirit takes that message and enables men and women and children to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Now this is a great mystery, but God saves people, as Paul said, through the foolishness of what is preached. In the eyes of the world, it is foolishness to talk about salvation through a man crucified 2,000 years ago, outside Jerusalem but it is God’s designated way of bringing people to Christ. There are countless numbers of people who are facing a lost eternity in Hell unless they hear the life-transforming message of the Gospel and turn to Christ to be saved.
Pray for the Church of Scotland. Pray that God will move by his Holy Spirit across the land and bring reformation and renewal to the Church. Pray for Covenant Fellowship Scotland as it seeks to highlight the need of the church and to motivate people in the work of reformation.
Tuesday 7th February
A key word in these verses is ‘revelation’. Paul says that he did not receive the Gospel from any man, nor was he taught it. Rather, he ‘received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.’ Paul is saying that the Gospel came directly from God. It was revealed to him. He did not learn it from Peter or the other apostles, he received it directly from God. He is really answering the question which must have been in the minds of the Galatians: why should we listen to you? He tells of his meetings with the apostles and so on but emphasises that he had by that stage already received the gospel from God by direct revelation. This underlines his authority to speak as an ambassador for God and underlines the truth of his Gospel. Revelation means that Paul didn’t receive the Gospel by tradition or by instruction, rather he received it directly from God. Revelation is the key to understanding the Christian message. We could not know anything for sure about the Christian faith if God had not revealed it to us.
Pray for the meeting of Presbytery tonight, asking that God would guide all the proceedings by his Holy Spirit.
Wednesday 8th February
In verse 15, Paul says that God ‘set me apart from birth and called me by his grace’. To make the point, Paul tells his story – and what a fascinating story it is. He tells of how he was a zealous Jew who persecuted the Christian church (verses 13-14). But then God called him and he became a Christian and a preacher of the Gospel. He doesn’t give the details here in this chapter but we know the story of his conversion from Acts 9. If it had not been for the grace of God and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, he would have remained an enemy of Christ. In the past few days we have thought about the words ‘Gospel’, ‘revelation’ and ‘grace’. If only people understood the meaning of these words, they would understand why it is so important to come to Christ for salvation.
Pray for the MacDonalds in Lusaka, Zambia. Pray for their health and for the boys they have adopted. Pray that God would keep them safe from all harm and danger and would bless their work.
Thursday 9th February
The Christian Church today is deeply divided. There are believers who describe themselves as Eastern Orthodox, Catholics, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostals and so on. Even within these groupings, there are divisions. There are, for example, eight Presbyterian denominations in Scotland alone. Many of the things that divide us are trivial and we ought to be ashamed that we have allowed such matters to break our fellowship. Other divisions, however, are serious, concerning the very heart of the gospel. Divisions in the Church are not new. In the earliest days of the Christian Church, there was a division among the believers. The passage of Scripture which we have just read describes a visit to Jerusalem by Paul and Barnabas to resolve this division.
Pray for the Senior Citizens’ lunch in the Raigmore Community Centre and pray that the Gospel message will be heard, understood and received.
Friday 10th February
When the Christian Church began, on the Day of Pentecost, the evangelism of the Church was focused on reaching the Jews. Jesus was himself a Jew and said that he came first to the Jews. His earliest disciples were all Jews. Peter was the leader of this part of the Church and the primary evangelist to the Jews but God had also called Saul of Tarsus to be an evangelist. He became known as Paul the Apostle and God sent him to reach the non-Jews, the Gentiles. He was reluctant to do this at first since he was a passionate Jew. In his letter to the Philippians he describes himself in this way, ‘of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee’. Nevertheless, God showed him clearly that he was not to call ‘unclean’ what God regarded as ‘clean’ and that he was to go to the Gentiles with the gospel and so he did. The Mission to the Jews led by Peter and the Mission to the Gentiles led by Paul, went on in parallel and there was not much contact between them. Unfortunately, some of the Jewish Christians did not understand what God had explained to Paul and they believed that to be a Christian you must first become a Jew.
Pray for Open Doors today, thanking God for the people who come in and asking God to use conversations to help them see their need for Christ.
Saturday 11th February
The division we read about yesterday, became more and more serious. Some of the Jewish Christians began to insist that Gentile Christians must be circumcised and must keep the whole Jewish law and obey all the traditions and practices of the Jewish people. They seemed to believe that salvation was only possible for those who were first Jews. To resolve this problem, a Council of the Church was held in Jerusalem, which is described for us in Acts 15. It seems likely that the visit to Jerusalem described in our passage from Galatians refers to Paul and Barnabas attending this Council. It is clear that the matter was settled amicably. Paul and Barnabas were given the right hand of fellowship and returned to their evangelistic ministry. The issue was, however, very serious and went to the heart of the gospel. It is also the issue that lies at the heart of this letter to the Galatians: how can we find salvation? Paul’s answer was very clear: by faith in Jesus Christ. Anything which challenged this simple truth or undermined it, must be resisted.
Pray for the church multimedia team, both in the church and at the Raigmore services. Give thanks for the way in which the members of the team use their technical skills to enhance our worship.
Sunday 12th February
There is one more point to be made before leaving these verses, namely, the one thing that they were agreed upon! As we read in verse 10: ‘All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.’ These two groups of Christians had many disagreements, including this very important disagreement about the nature of the gospel but they were agreed on the need to care for the poor. We must not pass over this too lightly. It is a function of the Church to care for the poor. This concern for the poor was especially relevant at that time because the Christians in Jerusalem were under severe hardship. We see this in Acts 24:17 and in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2. This was no new idea. In fact, throughout the Old Testament there was a constant emphasis on the care of the poor, of widows and orphans and even of the foreigners among them. Today we often make the mistake of assuming that the care of the poor is someone else’s problem: the government, the welfare state, social workers, charities and so on. The Scripture teaches us that as Christians we ought to have a concern for the poor, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Pray for the Minister taking both services in Church today, for Iain MacDonald taking the Raigmore service and for the Rev. D.A. Maclennan taking the Gaelic Service.
Monday 13th February
When we looked at the first half of Galatians 2, we read of the great Council at Jerusalem when it was decided that Peter should continue with his work among the Jews, and Paul was given the blessing of the Jerusalem Church for his work among the Gentiles. This was a happy, friendly conclusion and they parted having given one another the right hand of fellowship. The passage we have read today, however, tells quite a different story. Here again we find division, hypocrisy, separation and ‘factions’. What caused this? Well, it was Peter and the picture we have of Peter in this chapter does him little credit. Peter was weak, afraid, hypocritical and wrong. Yet this was the man who had preached bravely in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost and seen 3,000 converts! It seems that, on this occasion, he was more concerned with what other people thought than with what was right. Paul would have none of it. Once again the issue was the one about Jews and Gentiles. It seems as if Paul was the only one who had really grasped the significance of the Gospel.
Pray for the conference ‘Fruitfulness on the Front Line’ at Inshes Church tonight at 7.30pm. Pray for Murray McCheyne as he leads it.
Tuesday 14th February
This confrontation between Peter and Paul was really the confrontation between the Gospel and half a Gospel. Peter had grasped the fact that the believer is dead to sin, but he had not grasped the fact that the believer is also dead to the law, as Paul says here in verse 19. Peter was in danger of falling into the heresy that salvation comes partly by God’s grace and partly by following rules and regulations. Paul was clear that this was impossible, as he spells out in verses 15-16 of our passage. Now it would be very easy for someone to write off this whole chapter as just a ‘squabble’ over words! You might be saying that all this talk of Jews and Gentiles, the law and the Gospel, Peter and Paul, none of it is relevant today. Well you couldn’t be more wrong. This confrontation between Peter and Paul takes us to the heart of the Gospel and the Christian faith. Paul himself sums it up in verse 20. The Gospel is not about circumcision or the commandments. It is about a man hanging on a cross in our place.
Pray for the Ministers of the Church of Scotland. With over 200 vacancies, many are carrying a heavy burden. Pray too for those who are ill, those who are suffering from stress-related illness and those who have lost heart in the midst of difficult days.
Wednesday 15th February
In the first verse of our passage, Paul offers a stinging rebuke: ‘You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?’ These Galatian Christians had forgotten about the grace of God in the Gospel and imagined that either achieving salvation, or staying in the state of salvation, was about works of righteousness. Paul lays out clearly that justification (being in a right relationship with God) is by faith and not by works. This Galatian mistake is often repeated today. There are countless numbers of people in Scotland who do not have faith in Christ but who believe they will go to heaven when they die, on the basis of their own works, their own efforts. They say, ‘I have tried to live a good life, I have never harmed anyone, I have done my best…’ and so on. Why then did Christ have to die if we could be saved by our own works?
Pray for the Scottish Bible Society and for its Chief Executive, Elaine Duncan. Pray that more and more openings will be found to get God’s Word into the hands of men and women and children, both here and overseas.
Thursday 16th February
In these verses, Paul turns to the Old Testament to confirm his teaching that justification is by faith and not by works. He uses Abraham as an example because, to the Jews, the authority of Abraham was decisive. Paul explains that Abraham was saved by faith and not by works. Paul also deals with justification by faith in his letter to the Romans and, in Romans 4, deals with the case of Abraham. This was a very important argument. Many of the Jews believed that Abraham was saved by works when he showed he was willing to sacrifice his son. Paul takes them back to the biblical story and demonstrates that Abraham was indeed saved by faith. Paul also says that the true children of Abraham are not the blood descendants but those who share Abraham’s faith. There is only one way of salvation, says Paul, the way of Abraham and it is by faith.
Pray for the Gathering today and for all those involved in organising and running the morning. Pray that those who come will enjoy the fellowship and be blessed.
Friday 17th February
In these verses, Paul is asking the question: what is the relationship between God’s covenant with Abraham and the giving of the law through Moses? In other words, what is the relationship between the covenant and the law? Paul understands the problem. If God made a covenant with Abraham and that covenant was the basis for the relationship between God and his people, then what happened when the law was given through Moses? When God gave the law, did that cancel the covenant? Is there now a new situation, so that salvation is not by grace but by law? It could easily seem that way. Paul explains that when the law was given, 430 years after God had made the covenant with Abraham, it did not overturn the covenant. Through the covenant with Abraham, God chooses a people who will live by faith. Through the covenant with Moses, God gives the law, showing his chosen people how to live.
Pray for the sick and housebound members and adherents in the congregation. Pray too for their carers and families. Pray that, even when unable to come to church, they might find comfort in the Scriptures and in prayer.
Saturday 18th February
Galatians 3:26 – 4:11
The key theme in our passage today is the affirmation that, as Christian believers, we are the children of God. The Jews were very proud to be the descendants of Abraham and heirs to the promises God made to Abraham but here Paul tells the Christians that they are the true heirs of Abraham. The children of God are the believers, whether Jews or Gentiles. In the first three verses of chapter 4, Paul gives an illustration to explain this new status: it is the difference between being a slave and being a son. This idea of being a child of God by faith in Jesus Christ is very important in the New Testament. The writer of the fourth Gospel explains how we become the children of God (John 1:11-13). We also see this theme in 2 Corinthians 6:18: ‘I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty’. We could go on to read 1 John 3:1-2 and Romans 8:14-17. No wonder, then, that Paul spends the rest of our passage demanding to know why the Galatians, having once known the glories of being the children of God are now returning to slavery. He is deeply concerned for them.
Pray for those who have been bereaved in the past few years and who continue to feel the deep pain of separation and loneliness.
Sunday 19th February
In these verses, Paul speaks with a heartfelt concern for the Galatian Christians. He speaks of his connection with them and of how he came to preach the Gospel to them in the first place. He demonstrates a real love for them, like a father who does not want his children to go astray. Paul’s passionate plea here reminds us of the parable of the Prodigal Son. The prodigal did not want to remain in his father’s house, he wanted to go his own way. He walked away from everything that his father had taught him. It was only much later that he came to his senses and realised that his proper place was at home, even if he had to be a servant. The Father welcomed him home with open arms. Paul is writing to these ‘prodigal’ Galatians, urging them to come home.
Pray for the Minister as he takes morning and evening services today and for Derek Morrison as he preaches at Raigmore.
Monday 20th February
One of the things about the Judaisers which most impressed the young Galatian Christians, was their claim that they were the ‘sons of Abraham’. The Galatians could see the strength of this argument and were all the more ready to listen to them. Paul, meanwhile, was furious. As far as he was concerned, this young Galatian church had been deceived and led astray by people who didn’t really understand the Gospel and who were not children of Abraham at all. In order to prove that these Judaisers were not true sons of Abraham Paul uses an allegory. That is to say, he takes a story from the Old Testament and uses it as an example of a spiritual truth. He says that it is all very well to call yourself a ‘son of Abraham’ but in Genesis we see that Abraham had two sons – and they were quite different! In other words, there are two ways of being a son of Abraham: you can be an Isaac or you can be an Ishmael. If you know your Old Testament history, then you will know the difference between these two. It was Isaac who was God’s choice as heir and successor to Abraham. Those who are the true children of Abraham are, like Isaac, ‘children of the promise’.
Pray for the Minister as he attends a meeting in Edinburgh of the Council of Assembly. Pray that the meeting of the Council will be productive.
Tuesday 21st February
In following the teaching of the Judaisers, the Galatian Christians were going back from freedom to slavery! Christ had set them free but they were putting themselves back in chains. Instead of simply accepting the grace and the salvation which God wanted to give them, they were trying to ‘go it alone’. These Judaisers in Galatia were really insulting God by suggesting that faith in Christ was not enough. The Scripture says, ‘God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life’. No-one has the right to add anything to this or take anything away from it. Well, what kind of people are we? Like Isaac or like Ishmael? Children of the promise, or natural children still in slavery and bondage? Have we experienced the freedom of which Paul speaks? Or, are we still struggling to obtain it?
Pray for the Highland Theological College, asking that staff and students will find blessing in their teaching and learning. Pray for Hector Morrison in his leadership of the College and also for his participation in the wider work of the University of the Highlands and Islands.
Wednesday 22nd February
The theme of these verses is freedom. This is well expressed in the first verse of the passage: ‘It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.’ The word ‘freedom’ is a popular one today. Everyone wants to be free. We see this in revolutionary and freedom movements all over the world. People want freedom to believe, freedom to think, freedom to act, freedom from tyranny and oppression. Now this is all very well and there is nothing wrong in themselves with these aspirations. The problem is that no human being is truly free. The Bible tells us that we are all slaves to sin and that only in Christ can we be set free. What Paul wants the Galatians to experience is a real and lasting freedom from everything that binds us or burdens us. Real freedom is to be in bondage to Christ rather than sin.
Pray for Fraser and Dawn Jackson and their children James and Ruth in Nigeria for the summer. Pray for them as they lead our Midweek Meeting tonight. Ruth has been ill over the Christmas period and is only now recovering.
Thursday 23rd February
Why is the world in such a terrible state? Why is there so much corruption and scandal, whether dictators in various parts of the world who steal to feather their own nest, or politicians who have had to resign because of various scandals? Why do people steal and cheat and treat other people badly? Why is there child abuse, violence, suicide bombers, wars, civil wars and so on? Many people have tried to give reasons. They blame the government, they blame our environment, the concrete jungles which our cities have become. They blame consumerism or socialism or capitalism. They blame over-population, they blame immigration. They blame those people who won’t work. In fact, they blame everything and anyone, because they are not prepared to accept the real reason – that the evil in the world is caused by the evil in each one of us. They refuse to believe that the problem is the struggle between what we want to do and what God wants us to do; between the desires of the human heart and the will of God. In this passage, Paul explains clearly what the problem is with our world and he also shows how to deal with it.
Pray for the Kirk Session meeting tonight. Pray that the Elders will be helped in all their decision-making and that they would be encouraged in the pastoral care and oversight of the congregation.
Friday 24th February
In these verses, we are told that the desires of the flesh are in opposition to the desires of the Spirit. This is because human beings are fallen creatures and the natural desires of the flesh stand in opposition to God. Paul then says that the people who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. This is a serious warning to us, because this list includes, not only sins like idolatry and witchcraft, but also simple things like jealously, anger and selfishness. We must get rid of these things in our own lives and live only for God, because there is no difference between big sins and little sins. Anything which goes against the will of God or anything which comes between us and God, is sin, and must be got rid of immediately.
Pray for the Ministries Training Network at the Manse today. Pray for all the candidates for various ministries within the Church of Scotland as they gather.
Saturday 25th February
Having considered the acts of the sinful nature yesterday, today we read of the fruit of the Spirit. These are the things which should be evident in our lives if we are Christians: ‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.’ Do we have these in our lives? Do we have a real and genuine love for God and for other people, a real joy which is deep down and comes from the knowledge of God’s Salvation? Do we really show forth the fruit of the Spirit? We can only stand on one side of this great divide, the side of the flesh or the side of the Spirit. There is no unhappier person than a Christian who has backslidden and is trying to enjoy both. It is not possible.
Pray for the ‘Breakthrough’ group, led by Derek Morrison and pray that those who attend may find all that they need in Christ.
Sunday 26th February
In this final chapter of Galatians, Paul spells out the practical implications of what we have read so far in the earlier chapters. For example, the first verse of the chapter deals with someone who falls into sin. Paul says, ‘Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted’. The situation envisaged here is of a person who, without deliberating intending to pursue a course of sin, falls into some wickedness. How is the Church to deal with that? The key to solving the problem is the word ‘restore’. This is the ultimate purpose of all Church discipline. The word used for ‘restore’ is the same word used in the New Testament for mending nets. In the past, the Church has been guilty of punishing and destroying, rather than ‘restoring’. Worse still, often the Church has ignored sin. The message is clear: restore the fallen in a spirit of gentleness, ‘But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted…’
Pray for the services in church today, led by the Minister and pray for the Raigmore service, led by Bill Flett.
Monday 27th February
In verses 7-9 there is a warning. The warning is that there will be a day of judgment. How do we prepare for that day? Paul goes on in verse 10 to explain: ‘Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers’. This is a high bar which is being set up. We are to do good to all people. Perseverance in doing good is a fruit of God’s grace. Notice that we have a particular responsibility to ‘those who belong to the family of believers’. Just as each of us is given by God special responsibility for our own families, so now we are part of a new spiritual family and that brings with it responsibilities. No wonder that Paul says in verse 2: ‘Carry each other’s burdens and, in this way, you will fulfil the law of Christ’. This means that we should help to shoulder the burdens carried by our fellow believers.
Pray for Neil and Rachel Rae in the Philippines. Pray that God will bless them and their family and help them in all that they do.
Tuesday 28th February
As we come to the end of this letter, we can sum up its teaching. There is no other Gospel except the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This Gospel was not made up but was revealed by God. The only way to be in a right relationship with God is by faith. Christ has set us free from all that binds us and it is foolishness to go back to bondage. When we are truly justified the fruit of the spirit will be seen in our lives. We must exercise our new-found freedom in practical Christian living. All of this is summed up in verses 14-15: ‘May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation’.
Pray for the Word at One service today and pray for the Inverness Presbytery Business Committee meeting this evening.