Saturday, November 17, 2018

The Apostle Paul's Letter To The Galatians. Day 2, Proof Of Conversion

Troublemakers are trying to turn the believers at Galatia against the Apostle Paul by saying untrue things about him. They claim he isn't a real apostle because he wasn't one of the original twelve disciples. They accuse him of preaching the gospel for his own gain and not from a sincere heart. They cast doubts on his good intentions by reminding the citizens of Galatia that he once persecuted the church of Christ. Paul takes these accusations and uses them as the proof that he has been converted. Would a man who was a Pharisee and not one of Jesus' disciples suddenly make a complete turnabout in his attitude toward Christ? Would a wealthy man who enjoyed a great deal of social status give it all up to preach the gospel for free? Would a man who once despised Christians and who wanted them dead claim to be one of them if it wasn't so?

"Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ." (Galatians 1:10) Before his conversion Paul was very concerned with the opinions of others. He wanted the high status of a Pharisee. He wanted to be admired by his peers in the Sanhedrin council. He wanted to be looked up to by the citizens of Judea. He was wealthy and popular and moving up the ladder of success. But what did any of that really do for him? Before his conversion he was a bitter, angry, covetous, and selfishly ambitious man. After meeting the Lord on the road to Damascus he was shunned by those in whose admiration he previously basked, so he certainly did not become a Christian in order to gain popularity, and he didn't become a Christian to gain wealth, and he didn't become a Christian to gain social status. As a servant of Christ he has been rejected, ridiculed, beaten, and thrown in jail several times. So naturally he asks, "How can anyone say I'm doing this for personal gain? I haven't gained anything worldly by preaching the gospel; instead I've suffered the loss of a great deal of worldly things."

"I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I 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) He may not have been one of the original twelve disciples, but he was chosen by Christ just as much as the twelve disciples were. The Lord Himself called Paul to preach the gospel. Who can argue with that? If the Lord says, "This man is My servant and disciple and apostle and preacher of the gospel," His word outweighs the word of everyone else.

Paul now brings up the subject of his previous persecution of the church. Instead of this fact casting doubt on his ministry, it should serve to bolster his claim to be an apostle. "For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers." (Galatians 1:13-140 He says, "I was a real go-getter. I was climbing the ladder of success far faster than other men my age. If I had remained on that path I would have really been somebody in the eyes of the world."

When Paul was a young man moving up through the ranks of the Pharisees he could have said, in the words of a modern song, "My future's so bright I gotta wear shades." Paul's future was bright alright, so bright that even shades wouldn't have prevented the glory of the risen Lord from blinding him, because a pre-ordained meeting was going to take place on the dusty road to Damascus. "But when God, who set me apart from my mother's womb and called me by His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus." (Galatians 1:15-17) You will recall these events of Paul's life from our study of the book of Acts. Paul says to the believers of Galatia, "When I believed on and accepted Christ on my way to Damascus, I didn't run back up to Jerusalem to be taught by the apostles. I'm not preaching a message I copied from them. I'm preaching the message that was given to me directly from the Lord Jesus. The fact that my message is the same as theirs doesn't mean that I stole my sermons from them; it means that there is only one gospel. The Lord gave me the same message that He gave them, but in a different place and at a different time and in a different way."

"Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days. I saw none of the other apostles---only James, the Lord's brother. I assure you before God that what I am writing to you is no lie." (Galatians 1:18-20) As further proof that Paul received the gospel message at his conversion rather than from the lips of those who were disciples of Christ, Paul reminds the people of Galatia, "It was three years before I met the Apostle Peter (Cephas) and listened to his fascinating account of Christ's ministry, death, burial, and resurrection. I was already preaching the gospel for three years before I met Peter, so it is not true that the gospel I preach is plagiarized from Peter's account. I also spent some time with the Lord's brother James three years after my conversion, so obviously I did not copy the message I preach from him."

"Then I went to Syria and Cilicia. I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They only heard the report: 'The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.' And they praised God because of me." (Galatians 1:21-24) To counter the claims that he was preaching the gospel for status and wealth and fame, Paul argues, "If I wanted to really be somebody, why have I been preaching in regions where Christ has never been preached? As a former persecutor-turned-Christian, I could have used my amazing conversion story to make a big deal of myself in Judea. I could have become one of the top leaders of the church there. Or I could have gone into another city of Judea where my name was known and started a mega church. I could have been looked up to as a Christian just as much as I was once looked up to as a Pharisee. But instead I've brought the message of salvation to the Gentiles, people the Pharisees consider unclean, people I myself would have once considered beneath me. I am the Lord's chosen apostle to the Gentiles and His approval is all the approval I need. I love the Gentiles with all my heart and I want every one of them to be saved. I would rather preach Christ in the darkest corners of the world where nobody has even heard of me than to be the pastor of the biggest church on earth where I can wear fine robes and earn an impressive salary. I could have been the most famous evangelist in all Judea. Instead the only fame associated with my name is that I was once an evil person who hated Christians and now I am a Christian myself. The glory for this goes to the Lord, as it should, and the only thing my heart desires is that His fame would grow---not mine."

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