Paul’s past, present, and future! – Galatians 1:11-24
By Pastor Lee Hemen
June 12, 2016
Everyone who comes to Jesus has a personal testimony they can relate to others. I came to the Lord one night at work after a co-worker and friend challenged me to read the Gospel of John. I went out at lunch, purchased a Bible, and begin reading it. I could not put it down. The next evening I accepted Christ on my own in between a couple of noisy greasy machines.
When I speak of Paul’s past, present, and future of course what I am talking about is his personal testimony. It is perhaps the most famous Christian testimony there is and Paul uses it on several occasions in his letters in order to get across the particular lesson he wanted his readers to learn. So this morning as we look at Paul’s past, present, and future let’s learn from his testimony in order that we may gain some insight in using our own.
There are those in our world today that think the Bible is just one of many good books that can help us be better people. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Scriptures were not given to us so we might be better people; rather, they were inspired by the Holy Spirit so that we would have God’s eternal truth and know the way of salvation. Paul absolutely understood this and in his personal testimony he relates that…
I. Knowing about the truth of God is different from believing the truth of God! (Vv. 11-14)
I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. 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 Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.
1. Paul begins this section by writing, “I want you to know”. He did not want them to feel, he did not want them to emote, and he did not want them to get in touch with their inner selves; he wanted them to completely understand “that the gospel”, the good news he “preached” was “Not something that man made up.” There were those who evidently were trying to discredit Paul by lying and saying that he had made up what he was teaching the church about Jesus! There are those today that would have you believe that the good news was just a made up story or that what Paul teaches is not what Jesus taught! They would have you equate Jesus’ message with a good way to live perhaps that some good people wrote about Jesus, but not the actual words of Jesus. It is not just a good way to live. Paul fully understood what, whom, and why he had placed his faith and trust in Jesus because Paul was nobody’s fool. Paul bluntly tells them, “I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.” Paul had met Jesus on the road to Damascus and then was personally instructed by Jesus; not Peter nor any other disciple. In fact, he had been on the fast track to be one of the best educated Pharisees alive! He reminds them, “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 Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.” He had been taught by one of the most highly respected Jewish rabbis of his day, Gamaliel. He had been extremely passionate for his Judaism! He had been under personal orders to go to Damascus and persecute the church there when he met Jesus and was changed! Paul had been a spiritual smart aleck but he soon learned that knowing about the truth of God is different from believing the truth of God!
EXAMPLE: You can know all about how an airplane works. You can even be the best Microsoft Flight pilot there is and know how to fly any kind of aircraft on a computer or tablet but you are not a pilot. You can know all about the ailerons, the flaps, the stick, lift and trust but until you actually fly an airplane you do not know what it means to fly an airplane! The same is true concerning the gospel of Jesus Christ and Paul understood this after experiencing it for himself. Knowing about the truth of God is different from believing the truth of God!
Far from just another way to live life, the truth of God as found in Jesus spiritually, psychologically, emotionally, and physically changes a person. There is no going back if you truly have believed. In fact, Paul relates in his personal testimony that…
II. The truth of God changes lives forever! (Vv. 15-17)
But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man, nor 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.
1. It was not man’s wisdom nor had anything Paul had garnered on his own that had saved him. Paul would later write in amazement, “Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8 NIV) and here some of that same amazement seeps out as he writes, “But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace”. Paul was constantly humbled by the fact God saw fit to save someone like him who had mistreated his church simply out of his mercy for Paul as a sinner! He would marvel, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1:15-16 NIV) Paul also understood that God the Father “was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles”. Paul’s life was changed and God displayed himself in Paul through Jesus just as he does with all who trust Jesus! That is what God does! Again, Paul reiterates the fact that his life had been so changed by Jesus that he “did not consult any man, nor did [he] go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before” he had been made an Apostle by Jesus! But instead he “went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus.” I doubt that Paul went there to evangelize the lost but rather to be away from anyone and alone with the Lord for his personal study, meditation, and to receive further instruction. Paul’s life had been totally turned upside down. Paul now understood that “those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” (Romans 8:29-30 NIV) Paul now understood that the truth of God changes lives forever!
EXAMPLE: I am puzzled by those who would make excuses for others who claim Christ but they do not live or act like it. The Scripture directly teaches us that when a person comes to Jesus by faith they are changed completely, forever. Paul would declare, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV) Jesus taught that no one can see the kingdom of God without being born again! (John 3:3) Paul would therefore write that believers “are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.” (Romans 8:9 NIV) Paul had experienced this transformation for himself this is exactly why he knew that the truth of God changes lives forever!
There are far too many folks who think that just coming to church, enjoying worship, and going home “filled” is all there is to their Christianity. They are wrong. After salvation one enters into the body of Christ and then is expected to be about their Master’s business. Paul understood this and shares that…
III. The truth of God calls one to action! (Vv. 18-24)
Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter 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 you is no lie. Later 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.
1. Maturity in the Lord does not happen overnight. Far too often because we live in a time of instant gratification when everyone expects everything to happen immediately there are those who think deep discipleship comes as soon as they come to Christ. It does not. It comes with hard work in learning more about Jesus through constant study, daily prayer, and life’s successes and failures. It is a life that is lived in the Lord not sitting on one’s behind! Paul took the time to learn and “Then after three years”, he writes, “I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days.” In fact, Paul relates that he “saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother.” Interestingly Luke writes that “When [Paul] came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple.” (Acts 9:26 NIV) And Luke relates that it would finally be wonderful Barnabas who would befriend Paul and introduce him to the other apostles! Perhaps the Judaizers were spreading the lie that Paul either taught something different than the other disciples or that he had not met with them. This was simply not true and he writes, “I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie.” However, Paul was not content to sit back and bask in the presence of the Apostles or stay in Jerusalem: “Later [he] went to Syria and Cilicia.” Sadly, ungodly lies often race faster than the truth does and because Paul “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.'” Yet after his hard work and his willingness to serve Jesus, Paul exclaimed, “they praised God because of me.” Paul related through his own testimony that the truth of God calls one to action!
EXAMPLE: We are not all called to missions or intense ministry but we are all called to service. We are all called to go and share the good news of Jesus with those God sends our way. We are called to daily seek to serve Jesus and to do otherwise is a wasted life in the Lord! Think these are harsh words? Think about Paul. He was born into a very well off family of traders; he came from Tarsus on the coast. He was a disciple of one of the preeminent rabbis of his day and on the fast track to be a respected pillar of the Sanhedrin. And then he met Jesus while entrusted to destroy the church of the one he met. He then became the premiere Apostle to the gentiles and wrote most of the New Testament. Paul would many years later tell the Ephesians, “However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me–the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.” (Acts 20:24 NIV) The truth of God calls one to action!
Knowing about the truth of God is different from believing the truth of God! The truth of God changes you forever! The truth of God calls one to action!
This article is copyrighted © 2016 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.