For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors. But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus.Galatians 1:11-17
If anyone was willing to confront Paul about his teaching, and explain away his ministry it could very well start with his claim that his gospel is not from any man, nor that he learned it from anyone; instead, Paul makes the claim that the Gospel he teaches came to him straight from mouth of Christ through a revelation. The claim could be made that he was legitimately crazy.
But Paul goes on, recounting how he used to persecute the Christ’s church, had actually tried to destroy it. He did all of this because of his zeal for the faith and tradtions of his ancestors. It’s almost as if Paul is trying to discredit himself by telling them just how bad he was.
Paul is leaning into his past, in order to address the dramatic change that he experience on the road to Damascus. And, because he was actively attempting to damage the church when God confronted him on the the road, he can then turn everything around and say, “It all happened when God wanted it to. And this was not my choice. Instead, it was all the work of God, through the incredible grace of God, who decided that I would be the one to bring the Gospel to you – the gentiles.”
It’s all because God showed grace and mercy to Paul. That’s what Paul wants them to know, and he wants them to understand this revelation of Christ (v15) as the reason for his dramatic shift in character and behavior. Similar to other places in his letters, Paul also brings up his zeal for his former religion, in order to explain and compare living according to the Law, and living according to the grace and mercy of Christ.
It is because of God’s grace and the revelation that Paul can adequately stat that “I am called. I am an apostle. I am a minister of Christ, simply because God sent me.” Leaning on his past, on who he once was, but is no longer, is what allows Paul to now lean into his calling.
As if to underscore this truth, Paul then talks about how he did not immediately go to Jerusalem to confer with Peter and the other apostles – in order that they could validate his teaching – but instead went on a tour of Arabia for three years, proclaiming the Gospel he had received from Christ himself.
When he finally did go to Jerusalem to join the original disciples, including Peter, they were all afraid of him, not truly believing that one who had formerly persecuted them was now working toward the same goal as they were (Acts 9:26-30). Later, as we find out in chapter 2 of Galatians, and chapter 15 of Acts, Paul and Peter had an argument over circumcision, and in the end they decided that Paul was in fact an apostle, entrusted by God to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been entrusted by Christ to preach the gospel to the Israelites.
What does that mean? Paul finally had the approval and official sanctioning of the other apostles, those originally with Jesus. But we know none of that mattered to Paul, because he had already spent three years preaching to the people in Arabia, making Christ known to them.
Paul did not need their approval. He was called by God, and he knew that. Nothing would shake his faith in that calling.
Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days; but I did not see any other apostle 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 by sight to the churches of Judea that are in Christ; they only heard it said, “The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they glorified God because of me.Galatians 1:18-24
Too often, I think people wait for approval from others when confronted with a call to ministry, or even just a call to share Christ’s love and message with the rest of the world. Missionaries wait to be accepted by missions groups and church missions boards, having to spend time convincing those committees that they are truly called. It’s almost as if those that are called are trying to persuade people, or seeking the approval of others.
It is certainly true that each organization has the right to vet members according to their own set of rules, expectations, and desires. But more often than not, it seems that those who are in charge of the approval find ways to show those who seek their approval that they are still in power. Sometimes they let others know that they will inform them of what they are truly called to, rather than accepting someone’s personal calling as valid. Sometimes decisions have been made beforehand, so that those seeking approval do not even realize that they have no chance of ever attaining it. And the result is that both the approval board – and those who feel called – stagnate. Both forget that the real mission is to share God’s love and message of hope with the world, and instead focus on human guidelines, human regulations, and human goals.
But imagine for a moment if those that felt called believed in only one thing – that Christ himself had called them to ministry, and that Christ himself had asked them to do the work that he has given them. If those that felt called simply turned and began ministering, the world would be greatly changed, more than likely for the better. Instead, peole feel that they need to have that approval from others, and instead of sharing the Gospel message with others, they defer to comments like, “You should really speak with my pastor, and they can explain it to you.” Then the moment disappears, and the friend never speaks with the pastor. All because someone felt they didn’t have a badge of approval.
The Gospel message is not difficult to understand, nor is it difficult to teach, except that some would make it so. The Gospel message is not a difficult message aroudn which to organize, nor is it difficult to move the gospel forward, especially when carried around by those motivated by the excitement and love of God that comes from a personal calling. Paul showed it. After his conversion he began preaching the Gospel, and confounding the Jews who lived in Damascus, “proving that this Jesus is the Christ” (Acts 9:22). And he did all of this without the approval of the apostles in Jerusalem for at least three years.
And others saw it too
After the meeting with the apostles in Jerusalem, Paul went to Syria and Cilicia, in which he preached the Gospel. These people, he tells us, did not recognize him by face, but had heard of the one who previously persecuted them was now preaching “the faith he once tried to destroy” (v. 23). And those people who heard him, Paul says, “glorified God in me.” I think this one statement makes clear what Paul started with in verse eleven. The Gospel he preached did not come from men, but Christ himself revealed the message to him, and Paul understood that. And other people saw his calling, glorifying God – or the work of God – in Paul. In a sense, the approval of God’s calling on Paul’s life does not come through the council of apostles in Jerusalem, but by those very people to whom he preached, and whom he taught; those people saw the result of Paul’s calling, and glorified God.
Important Words and Phrases
ἐδόξαζον – glorified – from δοξάζω, “I glorify.” The verb has the special biblical sense “to give or have a share in the divine glory.” 1 The important detail here being that people saw God in Paul and his teachings. This should be the goal of every Christian: that others would glorify God because of our lives.
1 Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Abridged in One Volume; pp. 181
Mike is a jack of all trades, master of none. He’s a data analyst, programmer, and loves to cook. If he doesn’t have his face buried in a book or is staring blankly at a computer screen, you can find him on a motorcycle, enjoying the ride.
Mike holds a Masters of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary, and is a postulant for Holy Orders in the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona. He will attend Sewanee School of Theology for a year of Anglican Studies in the Fall of 2022.