For an introduction to this series, click here.
The main purpose of this book is to remind the Galatians that they are free in Christ and do not need to follow the Judaizers, the people who were preaching that they needed to become like Jews - even including circumcision - in order to be true Christians.
Paul has no tolerance for this teaching:
"I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ." (1:6-10)
This is a very serious matter. This is not just a difference of opinion. Paul said that those who preach this false gospel should be accursed. He also adds something interesting: these false teachers are preaching in order to please men. Now if you were to ask them, of course they would deny that they were preaching to please men. But that is exactly what they were doing. They were more interested in perpetuating error than in finding out the truth for themselves. This is another common problem today. Some preachers just teach what they have always been taught instead of digging for the truth themselves.
The rest of this chapter and most of chapter 2 gives us some historical background into Paul's ministry and some insight into how the false doctrine of the Judaizers got started. I guess I could separate this out and treat it as one whole passage, but it is quite lengthy. It is more convenient to use the chapter divisions. I put the rest of the chapter here:
"For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man's gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord's brother. (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They only were hearing it said, 'He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.' And they glorified God because of me." (1:11-24, ESV)
Notice that Paul is quite insistent that he is not preaching a gospel he received from men, not even from the apostles. It is from this passage that we learn that he went to the desert for a time, where the Lord personally taught him. Even when he came back to Jerusalem, the only apostles Paul saw were Peter and James the Lord's brother. How James became an apostle is an interesting question in and of itself. We know that James was the leader of the church in Jerusalem, even more so than Peter and the other apostles, who even though they are not mentioned much in Acts did scatter abroad teaching. Anyway, the main point of this passage is that Paul is preaching the gospel of Christ which he received directly from Him, and these false teachers are preaching a gospel of men. The thought continues in the next chapter.