I’m fascinated by the Biblical number seven. Seven days of creation. Seven feasts. Seven fixtures in the Tabernacle. Seven “I am” statements and seven miraculous signs in the Gospel of John. Seven deacons in the early church at Jerusalem. Jesus addressed letters to seven churches in the Revelation. And curiously, Paul wrote letters to seven churches which are recorded in the New Testament.
The apostle and missionary wrote to churches in Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colossae, and Thessalonica. This week I would like to look quickly at each of these first-century churches. Let’s look at them in chronological order, beginning with Paul’s earliest epistle.
Paul visited the region of Galatia, modern-day central Turkey, on his first missionary journey. He and his faithful companion, Barnabas, planted churches in Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe, all cities in Galatia. At Iconium, a “great number of both Jews and Greeks believed. But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers” (Acts 14:1-2, CSB).
In Lystra, a man lame from birth was healed when “Paul said in a loud voice, ‘Stand up on your feet!’ And he jumped up and began to walk around. When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they shouted, saying in the Lycaonian language, ‘The gods have come down to us in human form!’ Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker” (Acts 14:10-12, CSB). Obviously, Galatia was a dark and difficult mission field.
When radical, unbelieving Jews rioted, they stoned Paul and drug his broken and beaten body out of town. Assuming that he was dead, they dumped his limp and lifeless body and returned to town. “After the disciples gathered around him, he got up and went into the town. The next day he left with Barnabas for Derbe” (Acts 14:20, CSB). Nobody knows whether Paul was alive or dead. It doesn’t matter. It was a miracle that he walked away.
At Derbe, the church-planters “preached the gospel ... and made many disciples” (Acts 14:21, CSB). Soon afterward, “they returned to Lystra, to Iconium, and to Antioch, strengthening the disciples by encouraging them to continue in the faith and by telling them, ‘It is necessary to go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God’ ” (Acts 14:21-22, CSB).
On Paul’s second missionary journey, he returned to Galatia. “So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers” (Acts 16:5, CSB). While there, he discipled and mentored a young man named Timothy, who then joined Paul as a coworker.
The young church at Galatia was opposed by the devil and his lies. There, as in other places, the unbelieving Jews taught that one had to obey the Law in order to be saved. They taught salvation by works. When Paul wrote his first epistle, he championed salvation by grace alone!
“We know that a person is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we ourselves have believed in Christ Jesus. This was so that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no human being will be justified” (Galatians 2:16, CSB). He went on to write, “For freedom, Christ set us free. Stand firm, then, and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1, CSB).
That was good news in about 51 AD and it’s good news in 2020. Those who have been saved by God’s grace were never good enough to get saved and can’t stay good enough to stay saved. We are set free from the Law... set free by His grace.
South Georgia Baptist Church
Mike Martin, Pastor