Our society has perfected the art of destroying people’s character, questioning their intentions, and planting seeds of doubt in the minds of inquiring minds. We see it everyday. Someone rises to fame, the adoring crowds stand and applaud their latest accomplishment, and everyone wants to know every detail of their daily life. After we tire of the latest superstar we begin to notice that their star isn’t shining as bright as it once did.
The super sleuths with laptop in tow begin to dig and write about the clay feet of the one-time American idol for the pages of People magazine, The National Inquirer, or some television tell all show. The drive and passion of a Michael Jordan begins to be talked about as a domineering and arrogant personality. The creativity and genius of Bill Gates is spun so that he is talked about as a corporate Atilla the Hun who is bent on conquering the world.
This ripping at people’s lives doesn’t just happen to the superstar or corporate big shot, it takes place everyday in office buildings, neighborhoods, and schoolyards all over America. Someone who is minding his own business finds himself on the list of the local hit man of reputations who wants to see him topple. A young woman enters the workforce with a strong work ethic, but those already on the payroll who amble in ten minutes late and shut everything down thirty minutes early see her as a threat. What do they do? Work harder? Become more conscientious? Are you kidding? Instead, they lob character bombs, spread rumors, float innuendos, and plan to sabotage her work. A schoolgirl with personality plus is getting more attention than some of the other girls think she should get. They talk behind her back, give the cold shoulder, and behave like Cinderella’s wicked stepmother to try and put her in her place. None of us are surprised when scenarios like these are played out before our eyes because we’ve seen it happen far too many times.
Those who take such pride in cutting others down to size are distant cousins of the folks in the first century who were doing everything in their power to undermine the ministry and message of the Apostle Paul. They tried to destroy his credibility. They spread rumors about his background. They dismissed his message. In response to those who did everything in their power to bring him down — Paul stood strong.
Today, we are going to take another look at Galatians 1:11-24. Won’t you turn there with me and let’s read together from Paul’s defense of the faith, his calling, and the message he had received from God.
11I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. 12I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. 13For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. 14I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. 15But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased 16to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man, 17nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus. 18Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days. 19I saw none of the other apostles-only James, the Lord’s brother. 20I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie. 21Later I went to Syria and Cilicia. 22I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24And they praised God because of me. (Galatians 1:11-24 NIV)
Paul loved the people of Galatia, he had been called by God to share the Gospel with them, he had seen many of the people come to know Christ, and a vibrant church had been born. It had to have ripped at Paul’s heart for him to hear that the church was in disarray and the false teachers were spreading false reports about him to try and draw the people away. Paul wanted those who were being deceived to know the truth so he wrote his defense to try and explain that everything they had heard about him was false. Paul writes in verses 11-12.
11I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. 12I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. (Galatians 1:11-12 NIV)
Paul wasn’t an understudy of the other Apostles. He hadn’t taken their message and put his own twist on it. Paul had received the message of the Gospel, the message of salvation by grace through faith from the Lord Jesus Himself. Paul hadn’t gone to seminary to receive a degree; he was on his way to Damascus when he received a revelation of God’s Truth for the world. Paul hadn’t sat in Sunday school and memorized the Roman Road of salvation, he had never visited a Christian bookstore, nor had he ever been to a Christian apologetics conference to learn how to share his faith. Paul was an adversary of the Cross, an antagonist of the cause of Christ, but God had a plan for Paul’s life.
Paul had received the truth of God while he was on his way to arrest Christians for their faith. By the time Paul reached Damascus he had been arrested by Jesus and given a life long mission! God taught Paul the message of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ – it could not have happened any other way. The message that Paul had been so passionate about before he came to know Jesus was so different, in its approach to salvation, that Paul couldn’t have adapted it from the rabbi’s teachings. Paul had received his message, the message he shared with everyone who crossed his path, from God. Paul had heard the Christians speaking, he knew about Jesus because of the Christians, but it was God who made the message come alive to Paul.
In a very real way you and I have received the message through the revelation of Jesus Christ as well. Now, I don’t mean to say that out of the blue Jesus revealed Himself to us in the same way that He did Paul while he was on his way to Damascus. For many of us, we had the opportunity to go to Bible study before we ever believed. We may have gone to Vacation Bible School and sat at the feet of wonderful teachers. We may have had the opportunity to go to Kids Across America or Shiloh or church camp and learn about God’s love for us. We may have had a friend who shared their faith with us and taught us about God’s will, our sin, and God’s sacrifice of His Son. All of these opportunities that God has brought our way have been gifts of grace, but only God can make the Truth become real and personal for you and me. Charles Haddon Spurgeon writes,
We also have received the gospel in a way beyond the power of man to convey it to us: men brought it to our ear, but the Lord himself applied it to our heart. The best of the saints could not have brought it home to our hearts, so as to regenerate, convert, and sanctify us by it. (Charles Haddon Spurgeon, April 25th, 1890)
People can tell us, teach us, and urge us to believe in Jesus, but that is as far as it goes. We have no power to open someone’s heart and force-feed the Gospel in such large doses that they surrender their lives to Christ.
During the past thirteen years that I have spent here at BCC I have seen folks come to church because a friend invited them. Others in the church reached out to them in prayer and tried to make them feel welcome. They witnessed God change people’s lives right before their eyes. Yet, they never felt that their sin warranted such a drastic step as surrendering their life to Christ. They just couldn’t see what all of the “fuss” was about. Paul wrote to the folks in Corinth and explained this lack of understanding.
14The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14 NIV)
It is important for us to reach out to our friends who do not know Christ, but it is equally important for us to pray that the Lord will soften their hearts, open their eyes, and cause His Word to come alive within them so that they can see their need for the Savior.
In the next section of Scripture Paul goes on with his defense. He wants the people of Galatia to know that the life he is now living is a 180-degree turn around from the life he was living before he came to know Jesus. Paul writes,
13For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. 14I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. (Galatians 1:13-14 NIV)
Everyone knew about Paul’s previous way of life. They knew that he persecuted Christians. They knew that he was a devout Jew. They knew how he tried to destroy the Church. They knew about these things because Paul spoke about them freely, not with any pride, but because people needed to know that the change he had experienced in life had come about because the Lord had changed him.
In Acts 21, Paul and his companions left Caesarea and went to Jerusalem. The crowds was so angered at the “traitor” who was supposedly turning people away from Moses that they beat him and he was arrested. Finally, when Paul was given the opportunity to speak, he said,
3″I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. Under Gamaliel I was thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers and was just as zealous for God as any of you are today. 4I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, 5as also the high priest and all the Council can testify. I even obtained letters from them to their brothers in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished. (Acts 22:3-5 NIV)
Paul didn’t hide the fact of his past life. When you place his previous life next to his present life it was obvious that God had changed him, radically changed his whole orientation in life. In Philippians, Paul wrote that all that he had previously regarded as so important to him in life, he now counted as junk, rubbish, garbage. Read along with me in Philippians 3:4-9.
If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. 7But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ-the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. (Philippians 3:4-9 NIV)
All that he had accomplished as a Jew and as a Pharisee, Paul now counted as meaningless when he compared it to knowing Jesus. Jesus had changed Paul’s life and forever he would serve him with all of his heart.
In Galatians 1:14, Paul says that he was advancing beyond his classmates in his studies with the Rabbis. Paul was a diligent student of Judaism. He studied under one of the most well known Jewish Rabbis of his day, Gamaliel. You need to understand that studying with the Rabbi was not like going to Sunday school and having a little thirty-minute lesson. The Jews were tireless, they were exacting, in their studies of the Torah, the five books of Moses. As a matter of fact, Rabbis had gone through the Torah and found all of the laws of God and categorized them so that the men could study them in a systematic way. They found 248 positive commands of God and 365 negative commands of God for His people – 613 laws in all. Paul would have known every single one by memory!
In the second century B.C. the Rabbis began to put together an oral teaching about each of these commands, a type of commentary from well respected Rabbis, to explain what you could and could not do to keep the Law. For the next four centuries what we know today as the Mishnah was being formed. Finally Rabbi Judah the Patriarch from Cephora put the Mishnah in written form. You can buy a copy of the Mishnah today and it is about 800 pages in length.
Paul’s commitment to learning from the Rabbi was so great that even though he was born in Tarsus he moved to Jerusalem when he was young so that he could study under Gamaliel. Paul’s teacher taught him well in respect to the Law and Paul would have known the oral Mishnah in all of its detail. Gamaliel was the best, you can read the Mishnah today and read some of Gamaliel’s commentary, but the training was about keeping the letter of the Law and not about loving God or loving your neighbor. As a matter of fact, Dr. David Darnell told me that the Mishnah does not even mention, “love your neighbor as yourself.”
Before Paul met Jesus he was growing in knowledge, but all of his knowledge wasn’t leading to a relationship with God. A problem that I see today is that there are many folks who go to church, they may even go to Bible study now and then, they accept Christ and experience baptism, but you never see any growth in their life or their walk with God. If you ask them what they are learning in their quiet time they can’t really tell you anything. They may read a Max Lucado book now and then, they may watch Billy Graham or T.D. Jakes when there is nothing else on television, but they’re not learning things that God is teaching them from their own studies. They glean a little from others while God desires to teach them Himself as they spend quiet times with Him in prayer and study. Spurgeon wrote,
In our raw state as young Christians, it may not be injurious to receive truth from pastors and parents, and so on; but if we are to become men in Christ Jesus, and teachers of others, we must quit the childish habit of dependence on others, and search for ourselves. We may now leave the egg, and get rid of the pieces of shell as quickly as may be. It is our duty to search the Scriptures to see whether these things be so; and more, it is our wisdom to cry for grace to appropriate each truth, and let it dwell in our inmost nature. It is time that we should be able to say, “This truth is now as personally my own as if I had never heard it from lip of man. I receive it because it has been written on my own heart by the Lord himself. Its coming to me is not after men.” (Charles Haddon Spurgeon, April 25th, 1890)
The Word of God comes alive when we yield our hearts and yearn for more and more of God. God says that He will reveal Himself to those who hunger and thirst for Him.
In the next section of Galatians Paul says that God set him apart from birth and called him to the mission of declaring the good news of Jesus Christ. Read along with me beginning in verse 15.
15But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased 16to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man, 17nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus. (Galatians 1:15-17 NIV)
Paul wanted those in Galatia to know that he had not chosen the message or the means of spreading the Gospel, but God had given him the mission. God had not only chosen Paul’s message for him, but God had chosen Paul. He had called him from where he was to where God wanted to use him in life.
Today, there are many, even in the church, who shudder when they come across a verse that talks about God’s “choosing,” God’s “calling,” God’s “predestined” will, or any of the other references that teach that God is Sovereign and in charge. I’ve had folks tell me, “I don’t believe that God chooses one over another. I believe that I have total freedom to make any choice I want.” I understand what they are saying, but they don’t understand the peace that comes with knowing that the Sovereign King of Creation is in charge of our life — leading us, guiding us, and calling us to serve Him every moment of every day.
The doctrines of election and predestination have confused many and has been abused by many others. There have been some throughout history who have said, “God already knows who He has chosen and therefore I don’t have to share the Gospel, I don’t have to pray, and I don’t have to do anything except wait to God to work.” That is lunacy. There have been others who have said, “I don’t think God has chosen me so I might as well live like the devil and do what I want.” That is lunacy!
God is Sovereign and yet He calls us to pray, to seek Him with all of our hearts, to choose His will over our will, and to walk in His ways. There are these two teachings that we must never let go. If you ever let go of our responsibility to God or God’s Sovereignty over our lives then you will find your faith a twisted, contorted mess.
Paul knew that his life’s work was given to him by God. God had called Paul and equipped him for the work He had planned for him. Paul was not the first to explain his work, his mission, in this way. In Jeremiah 1:4-5, Jeremiah writes,
4The word of the LORD came to me, saying, 5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:4-5 NIV)
In Isaiah 49:1, we read about Isaiah’s understanding of the work he had been given. Read along with me.
1 All of you people in faraway places, listen to me. Listen, all you nations far away. Before I was born, the LORD called me to serve him. The LORD named me while I was still in my mother’s body. (Isaiah 49:1 NCV)
Over and over again in Scripture we read about those whom God used explaining their work as given to them by God Himself. It wasn’t necessarily the work they were trained for or desired, but it was a consuming fire that burned deep in their souls. John MacArthur writes about Paul’s call.
Paul did not initiate the choice to be saved, much less the choice to be an apostle. He was “called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God” (1 Cor. 1:1). The phrase when He who had set me apart refers to the elective purpose of God before Paul was even able to consider a choice. No person is saved or called to leadership in the church except by such sovereign and predetermined divine will. “He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:5-6; cf. v 9). (John MacArthur, Galatians, p.28)
God chose you! He has equipped you for the work He has planned for your life. The work may be to raise children in the love of the Lord. It may be to bring glory and honor to His name by serving Him as a plumber, politician, teacher, preacher, salesperson, lawyer, or waiter. Whatever work He has chosen for you – do it for His glory!
It brings me so much peace to know that God has called me to teach His Word. I wasn’t prepared for it, I didn’t ask for it, nor did my mom or dad pray that I would be a teacher of God’s Word. I have a degree from Cameron University in Physical Education, but God called me to teach His Word. I feel so unworthy to teach God’s Word. The more I study the less I know. I am convinced that I will never fully understand His Word enough and yet He had called me to teach…so teach I will. You may not feel qualified to do what He has called you to do, but do it with passion, strive for excellence, and do it with gratitude knowing that the King of all Creation has placed you where you are for His glory!
In our last section of Scripture for today we read,
18Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days. 19I saw none of the other apostles-only James, the Lord’s brother. 20I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie. 21Later I went to Syria and Cilicia. 22I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.”
Paul ends this section of our study by pointing out how he went to Jerusalem after spending three years in Arabia. In Jerusalem he acquainted himself with Peter and James, Jesus’ brother. After 15 days Paul went on to Syria and Cilicia to preach the Gospel. Paul says that he was unknown to the churches in Judea, but they had heard of his past reputation, his present ministry, and they rejoiced.
The man who formerly persecuted the followers of Jesus is now preaching the faith! What a great testimony! Last week we talked about the validation of the transformation – which is a life lived one day at a time over and over again for the glory of God. There is no disputing the validity of a steady, consistent faithfulness. God may have recently opened your eyes to His will for your life. You may sense this morning that God is calling you to surrender your life to Jesus Christ, but you wonder if others will question you much like they questioned Paul’s sincerity. Let me tell you that through the living of your life for the Savior they will know. I want to invite you to surrender your heart to Jesus this morning. Won’t you invite Him in as Lord and King of your heart.