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"A Faithful Forever Friend, not Fickle Fool"

Jan.10, 2016 Galatians 1:1-12


Have you ever been in a relationship, say that of a regular friendship, and you sensed the two of you were starting to drift apart? How do you renew the relationship, repair any damage done, and help the two of you draw closer again?

Paul and the churches in Galatia had begun well enough on his first missionary journey; Acts 13:49 "The word of the Lord spread through the whole region." This was a fertile agricultural plain, not unlike Huron County in some respects, with places named Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. But Paul was always sooner or later encountering opposition from Jewish factions, and having to leave and move on to other places, even to the Greek peninsula on his second journey. While he was absent, Judaizers came and tried to sway the new believers, persuading them that to really please God, trust in Christ was not enough: you had to also keep the Jewish dietary laws and (if you were a man) be circumcized. So although Paul had initially preached the Good News about Jesus to them and become their spiritual "father" or "midwife" if you will, in his absence other parties started influencing the young congregations, questioning Paul's credibility, his authority (he wasn't really one of the original 12 apostles after all, was he?), and thus undermining the believers' trust of him and attachment to him.

You can sense Paul's frustration and concern about this distancing in Galatians 4:14-20: "...you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself. What has happened to all your joy? I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth? Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you [from us], so that you may be zealous for them...My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you!"

The Wingham Small Group this past week started looking at the "Friends Factor" in the Daniel Plan. Part of the teaching by Rick Warren was summarized thus in the study guide, p. 88: "There are four ways that we demonstrate love for one another: We must listen to each other; be willing to learn from each other; we need to be able to level with each other; we need to liberate each other." As we begin our look at the book of Galatians, that provides some headings about what friendship involves: a true friend loves, levels, learns, liberates, and listens.


Friendship involves demonstrating love. Paul's friendship with the churches in Galatia began when he fled from persecution in Pisidian Antioch. He says in 4:13 he was suffering from an illness at the time which was a trial to them. Yet, 4:15 "I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me." Real friends do that for each other, make sacrifices, don't hold back what could be helpful to your "mate".

Paul points out the depth of Jesus' commitment to us as our "Faithful Forever Friend" in 1:3f: "Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father..." Love does that - gives oneself for one's friend. You've probably got John 3:16 memorized ("God so loved the world that He GAVE", etc); 1John 3:16 spells it out further: "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers."

Love lays down one's life, as Jesus "gave Himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age..." Paul writing to the church at Rome puts it this way in Romans 5:8: "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." He gave Himself for you!

This past week I saw someone post on their friend's timeline on Facebook an article by Meghan Keaveney titled "29 Things Forever Friends Understand that No one Ever Will". We won't cover all 29 things, but there are several that tie in with what we're talking about this morning. Forever Friends LOVE! For example - they are...

4.Someone who will always be there when a guy/girl disappoints you.

6.Someone who can be the perfect wing-woman/wing-man.

10.A friend who can help you in need.

25.The friend who helps you when you do reckless things.

27.The friend who will always be right next to you.

Jesus showed His love for us by giving Himself for our sins. True love will "be there" for you; be your "wing-man"; help you in need (and when we sin in this present evil age, we're in dire need!); Jesus came to help us when we had done "reckless things" - rebelled against God; and like a true friend who will always be right next to you, Jesus promised in Matthew 28:20, "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."


According to the Daniel Plan, "There are four ways that we demonstrate love for one another: (#3) we need to be able to level with each other..." True friends don't let their buddies walk around with their tag out on the back of their shirt, or their fly down, or needing to wipe their nose. On a more serious level, true friends LEVEL with their buddies about things they need to hear. When you're about to make a huge mistake; when you're being a jerk; when you're about to pass up a huge opportunity. True friends tell us what we need to know, even if the truth is gonna hurt.

Those who are familiar with the usual format of Paul's correspondence will notice a huge GAP between verses 5 and 6 in chapter 1 of Galatians. Usually Paul puts a salutation (like verses 1-5), then a friendly introduction, then gets into the meat of what he wants to say. Here are some verses right after the salutation in other letters: Romans 1:5 "First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you..." 1Cor 1:4 "I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus." Philippians 1:3 "I thank my God every time I remember you." Colossians 1:3 "We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you..." Are you sensing a pattern? Feel the warm fuzzies, the affection and affirmation.

But what comes right after the salutation in Galatians 1? V6 "I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel..." Quite a different tone, right?! Reading between the lines - that significant gap - we get the impression that the apostle is NOT PLEASED with what's happening in the churches in Galatia. He doesn't beat around the bush, but comes right out and LEVELS WITH THEM about their foolish behaviour.

Paul's language throughout this letter is quite strong, bordering inappropriate: you can tell he's upset - especially with the Judaizers or "circumcision party" who are spreading wrong teaching and putting the believers' faith in jeopardy. 1:8f two times, "Let him be eternally condemned!" In other words, "A curse upon them!" 3:1 "You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?!" (Not recommended method to win friends and influence people!) 4:11 "I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you." And especially 5:12 referring to the 'agitators' preaching circumcision, "I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!" Golly...Is it really OK to talk that way in church? Did he know that would end up in the Bible?!

Paul pulls no punches, he's very upfront with the Galatians, he levels with them in strong terms about how dangerous their waffling is when it concerns the truth of the Good News. Real friends LEVEL with their buddies.

As Meghan Keaveney's article puts it:

3.A friend [who] can tell you the truth about how you look.

11.A forever friend is someone who knows when you are cranky and tells you how it is.

13.Someone who knows your limits and looks out for you.

24.Someone who will always be real with you and help you deal with your issues.

Paul the apostle is doing those things with his flock, levelling with them, guarding the truth.


From the Daniel Plan: "There are four ways that we demonstrate love for one another: We must...(#2) be willing to learn from each other..."

Verses 6-9 emphasize that what's at stake is the truth of the gospel: the Judaizers have infiltrated the churches and been promoting a variation on the gospel, namely that it's not enough to believe in and receive Jesus alone; they had a gospel of "Jesus PLUS...(X)" It wouldn't do just to become a follower of Jesus and heed His teachings - according to the circumcision party, to be saved you also were obligated to take on the whole law of Moses, complete with its dietary regulations, rituals, including circumcision. It was a legalistic trap.

Today, there are other forms of legalism Christians can fall into. A church might insist you have to not only trust in Jesus to be saved, you have to also, say - go to church every Sunday or twice on a Sunday; tithe your income; read your Bible every day; not smoke or drink or play cards or dance or...(and on the list goes.) Now, some of those habits are commendable, helpful to your growth in discipleship, and definite fruit in your life as the Holy Spirit works in you: but they are not what SAVES you. The Gospel is never "Jesus PLUS...(X)" To insist you have to receive Jesus AND circumcision is to pervert the gospel, water it down, twist it, distort it. And that makes Paul VERY upset.

Vv6-9 "I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel-- which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!"

Paul rephrases it in Gal 5:2,4: "Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all...You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace." Likewise, he chided another church about those who were preaching what he termed "another Jesus": 2Cor 11:4 "For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, ...or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough."

Paul's concern is that this teaching is damaging their closeness to Jesus; they risk becoming "alienated from Christ." There's danger they'll have "fallen away from GRACE." (Gal 5:4) How are we saved - by GRACE or by "GOTTA"? By what Jesus has done, or by what we've still "gotta do"? Trying to be justified by the law, by piles of good works, will not get you into God's Kingdom. Pay attention to what you're LEARNING.

Keaveney's article states that for forever friends...

5.A friend [who] knows exactly who you have been crushing on and always points it out. (A friend pays attention carefully! And, in terms of GRACE...)

14.A friend [who] can comfort you when things go wrong.

22.Someone who can comfort you when you need it.

29.The friend who will kiss away all the haters.

At the cross, Jesus died kissing us as it were, loving us with His whole being, driving away our 'haters' - rescuing us from the present evil age (1:4).


There's a great deal of FREEDOM when you're hanging out with a true friend: you can say anything, do anything, be yourself, and they'll still accept you and keep on being your friend. That's liberating. As the Daniel Plan describes loving one another: "(#4) we need to liberate each other." Don't get all legalistic and judgmental, judging and condemning each other - that would be to try to take over the role of the Holy Spirit, Who Jesus said in John 16:8 would "convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment..."

There's a subtle distinction here between our earlier point, "Levelling" - being truthful, pointing out what's right - and judging or condemning, which is not 'liberating'.

Legalism is burdensome because you're always trying to do enough to win someone's approval. Often these are external things that others can see and measure: whether you're at church every Sunday; whether you put money in the offering plate; how much you dress up for church; in the case of the Galatian churches - what kinds of food you allowed yourself to eat. Legalism is a bondage that puts us in subjection to other people's opinion, trying to win their approval, and please our peers. That's not pleasing God; that's not grace!

Galatians 1:10 "Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ." Going around always looking over your shoulder to see who's watching so you can try to impress them is NOT liberating! That's enslavement. The question for Paul is, "Who are you serving: man, or Jesus Christ?" At the cross, Jesus shows us what a good Friend He is because His forgiveness and grace and unconditional love LIBERATE us.

Meghan Keaveney describes a "forever friend" in this liberating fashion:

1.A friend who you can be your complete self around and not feel embarrassed at all.

2.Someone who you can relax with and binge watch a Netflix series together.

17.The friend who loves ordering food with you at random times.

18.Someone who won't judge you for last night activities.

20.Someone who can drop everything and randomly dance with you.

Sounds liberating, no?


Let's review: a forever friend demonstrates LOVE by - LEVELLING with us; paying attention to what we're LEARNING; has a LIBERATING effect upon us. And, last, we show we're a friend by the way we LISTEN. To recap from the Daniel Plan study guide: "There are four ways that we demonstrate love for one another: We must listen to each other; be willing to learn from each other; we need to be able to level with each other; we need to liberate each other." #1 - LISTEN.

The problem of the Galatian churches was that they had quit listening to Paul (who planted the churches) and were starting to listen to the Judaizers, the legalists, the circumcision or "Jesus PLUS...(X)" party. Paul challenges the church to consider carefully the SOURCE they're going to pay attention to - will they LISTEN to man (other people) or to Jesus Christ? Gal 1:11f "I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ." Paul had LISTENED carefully to the messages or revelation Jesus had shown him supernaturally. These weren't things he was taught in the classroom, or even from other apostles, though he did later go and lay it out before them just as a double-check on what he was teaching (see Galatians 2:2). They corroborated completely what Paul had been shown supernaturally - largely based on Scripture, as he elaborates in the book of Romans. By contrast, the Judaizers were capturing their audiences by eloquence and the cleverness of their own interpretations, hammering on Jewish traditions.

How are you doing in showing yourself to be a friend of God? Do you take time to LISTEN to Him by reading the Bible and praying? Or do you rely on listening to other (fallible) people's interpretations, TV broadcasts, flashy presentations? What's the real SOURCE of your goals and philosophy in life - is it based on what others have told you, or what Jesus has shown you as you LISTENED to Him?

One more look at how Meghan Keaveney describes a "forever friend"...

12.A friend who gets excited over the same things you do.

15.Someone who will listen to you over-analyze about everything.

19.The person who knows exactly what you are thinking just by facial expressions.

21.The friend who you plan your whole entire future life with.

Let's re-phrase that and apply it to our walk with the Lord. Do we get excited over the things that God's passionate about? Do we tune in to His analysis of events in our life, our world? Do we know exactly what the Holy Spirit's probably thinking right now? (Clue: it's likely in line with Scripture!) And do we consider Jesus a friend, such a close friend, that we want to plan our whole entire future life with Him?

Foster that forever friendship! And, BE such a friend so others can come to know and experience God's love for them, too - a love that levels, learns, liberates, and listens. Let's pray.