A bit longer of a passage today, but I didn’t want to break it up weird… :-)
11 For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man.
12 For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
13 For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it;
14 and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions.
15 But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased
16 to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood,
17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus.
18 Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas, and stayed with him fifteen days.
19 But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord’s brother.
20 (Now in what I am writing to you, I assure you before God that I am not lying).
21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.
22 I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea which were in Christ;
23 but only, they kept hearing, “He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith which he once tried to destroy.”
24 And they were glorifying God because of me.
Today’s passage includes Paul’s personal testimony – very applicable to the Galatians, since Paul’s life story shows the inadequacy of works when compared to faith. Paul says in Philippians 3:4b-6, “If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh [in works], I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.” Paul was, in the eyes of Israel, one of the holiest, most devout people on Earth, like many view Mother Teresa or Billy Graham today (not that I’m implying they’re Pharisees; I deeply respect both of them). In other words, if anyone could be saved by following the Law, it would have been Paul. But the Bible tells us what Paul’s fervor for the Mosaic Law led to: he “began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison,” and that he was “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 8:3, 9:1). Paul’s inclusion of his testimony to the Galatians, then, emphasizes that while the Law led him to persecution and murder, faith in God’s grace transformed him into a powerful preacher who spread the Gospel around the globe.
I’d also like to touch on Paul’s mention of his “zeal for ancestral traditions.” Zeal is not bad – do a concordance search of the word some time, and you’ll see how many verses celebrate zeal! Some of note are “[Jesus] gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds,” “Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good?” and “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent” (Titus 2:14, 1 Peter 3:13, Revelation 3:19).
Paul’s problem in this case was that his zeal was misplaced, but in today’s world I mostly see a lack of zeal. What do you think – what can individual Christians do to act with zeal and to encourage others around them to do the same?
Also, Paul stated that God “set [him] apart from [his] mother’s womb and called [him] through His grace.” I’ve heard people say, “I wish I had some big calling for my life.” But the fact of the matter is, each of us does! While God has probably planned something as big as He did for Paul for very few of us, each of us has a purpose here on earth – God created each one of us for a reason! Ephesians 1:10b-11 tells us, “In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will,” and Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” God had stuff planned for you to do before you were born – so each of us has a responsibility to ask Him what that is, and then act on it. Just as Paul’s legalistic past enabled him to teach on faith versus works, God can use our past experiences for His glory (for example, someone who used to be a Muslim can better witness to Muslims, and someone who was abused as a child can demonstrate God’s love and peace to other victims). Likewise, just as God used Paul’s abilities, such as charisma and a knowledge of the Law, to further His kingdom, He can do the same with us (for example, someone with a firm grasp of science could witness to atheists, and someone with musical talent could write Christian songs to share on the internet or perform worship music in a park).
Finally, today’s discussion starters are (in addition to the above question on zeal):
1- Paul’s 180 degree turn serves as an awesome witness of God’s power to change people’s hearts. Do any of you have conversion testimonies you’d like to share, or success stories of “putting to death” the deeds of your past (Romans 8:13)?
2- What abilities or past experiences do you have that God is using or may want to use?
And, as always, is there anything else in the passage you’d like to comment on?
Remember, Saturdays are prayer days on our blog, so please stop by to post any prayer requests and praises, and read others’ so you can lift them up in prayer as well. See you then! :-)