with Tony W. Cartledge
Teachers: Scroll down for teaching materials.
“For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin …” – Galatians 1:11
Saul’s Call Makes Paul
Have you ever known anyone who started out on one career track, but ended up on another?
I left college as a high school science teacher but soon became a pastor for 26 years before editing a state Baptist paper for while, then settling in as a divinity school professor and curriculum writer. Many students who are preparing for ministry come to us from the army, from public school teaching, from social work, even from banking and law.
Changing careers in midstream is not that unusual, especially when the element of God’s call in involved – but have you known anyone who not only switched horses in the middle of the stream, but also chose a mount going in the opposite direction?
Imagine a hedge fund manager who gives up a hefty income to run a soup kitchen. Picture a gang leader who forswears violence to start an urban gardening program to help inner city youth get along. Visualize an immigration agent known for his hard line on deporting undocumented aliens – until he has a change of heart and begins advocating in their behalf.
None of those career reversals could match the one we read about in today’s text: the Apostle Paul had made a brief but splashy career leading the Pharisaic charge against Christians – until he became one. In short order, he became the early church’s best-known evangelist and church planter.
How did that happen?
A bold claim(vv. 11-12)
It happened, Paul said, because he received a “revelation” directly from Jesus. Paul was writing to churches in Galatia that had grown out of his preaching ministry. They had trusted the gospel message of salvation through faith in Christ and had apparently gotten off to a good start (5:7).
After Paul moved on, however, rival evangelists who believed that Christians must also follow Jewish law moved in. Their influence must have been persuasive, for Paul wrote to express shock that the Galatians were “so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ” and turning to “another gospel” that Paul insisted was no gospel at all (vv. 6-7).
The proponents of adding legalistic requirements had probably claimed authority from apostolic leaders in Jerusalem, where the church was composed almost entirely of Jewish Christians. Paul, however, contended that the gospel he preached was of divine origin and not subject to second-guessing by humans who wanted to add to it (v. 11). Salvation was by grace, not by works.
Paul would never have cited James, Peter, or any other human as the basis of his authority. “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” (v. 12). The basis of Paul’s knowledge about “the gospel of Christ” was not human, but divine.
An unusual background(vv. 13-17)
To underscore his claims, Paul reminded the Galatians of his back-ground. He had not only grown up as a Jew named Saul, but also was so zealous in the faith that he could say “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” (v. 14).
In his former life, Paul could have worn a cape emblazoned with a big “J” to identify himself as “SuperJew.” No one had been more appreciative of the Jewish heritage (see also Phil. 3:4-6). Indeed, Paul had been so zealous that he had actively persecuted “the church of God” because he considered Jesus’ followers to be a dangerous threat to the Judaism (v. 13).
But something happened to Saul: God called him to a new and different kind of ministry. In Acts, Luke described it as a blinding vision from heaven in which Jesus spoke directly to Saul. In Galatians, Paul described it as something like a prophetic call, saying that “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 …” (vv. 15-16).
Paul’s account brings to mind earlier Hebrew prophets through whom God promised to reach all nations. Isaiah spoke of how God had “formed me in the womb to be his servant” and commissioned him to preach not only to Israel, but also to be “a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isa. 49:5-6). Likewise, Jeremiah claimed that God had called him, saying “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jer. 1:5).
Paul’s assertion that God had “set me apart before I was born and called me through is grace,” revealing Christ “so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles” clearly echoes the call of the earlier prophets. Thus, while we typically speak of Paul’s “conversion” on the Damascus road, Paul saw it as a fuller revelation of God and a prophetic call to proclaim the gospel of Christ among the Gentiles – to all nations.
God’s prophetic call did not require human affirmation: indeed, Old Testament prophets typically stood outside the religious establishment. The newly called Paul would certainly not have sought approval from the Jewish authorities, and insisted that he did not seek endorsement from the early church leaders, either.
“I did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me,” Paul said, “but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus” (vv. 16b-17).
This seems at odds with Luke’s account in Acts, which offers a more telescoped view of Paul’s early ministry. After coming to know Jesus, Paul began to preach in the synagogues of Damascus, Luke said, with such power and persuasion that the Jewish authorities plotted to kill him and put a watch on the gates. Friends helped him escape by lowering him over the city wall in a basket (Acts 9:19-25).
Luke then describes a trip to Jerusalem in which Paul attempted to join the other disciples, who were skeptical until Barnabas intervened and convinced them that Paul was sincere. Paul then preached in Jerusalem until his life was threatened there, leading him to head north to his home country (Acts 9:26-30).
Paul says that he first went south into Arabia, then back to Damascus before his first trip to Jerusalem. Luke’s account does not necessarily contradict Paul’s claim, but does seem to follow a different tradition.
An eclectic beginning(vv. 18-24)
Paul stressed his independence from the original disciples, contending that he did not go to Jerusalem until three years after his evangelistic call. Even that visit was quite informal, Paul said, as he spent 15 days with Cephas (Peter) and “did not see any other apostle except James the Lord’s brother” (vv. 18-20). Jesus’ brother James had not been a follower during Jesus’ earthly life, but following the resurrection he became a principal leader of the church in Jerusalem.
Paul’s point is that he did not seek approval from the Jerusalem disciples, or even additional information to clarify his understanding of the gospel: he had received that directly from God. After his short visit with Peter, Paul said, he had gone back north “into the regions of Syria and Cilicia,” so removed from Jerusalem and its environs that “I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea that are in Christ” (vv. 21-22).
Even so, Paul said, those churches had heard of his ministry and how the former enemy of the faith had become its strongest advocate, “and they glorified God because of me” (vv. 23-24).
Another 14 years passed before he returned to Jerusalem, Paul said (2:1), again emphasizing that his doctrinal authority did not arise from the leaders of the Jewish church in Jerusalem, but from Jesus Christ alone.
We don’t know what the false teachers who had led the Galatians astray may have said about Paul or their claim that his version of the gospel was inadequate, but he was adamant: salvation is by faith in God’s grace alone. Adding the ritual trappings of Judaism did not make the believers more Christian, but less, for it led them away from the heart of their faith and into the arena of works.
Can you think of ways in which some modern believers may have fallen into the same legalistic trap as the Galatians?
Through the years, some have taught that Christianity required not only faith, but also regular church attendance and abstinence from a litany of perceived sins ranging from dancing to listening to rock music to drinking wine. Churches have sometimes removed offending members from their rolls.
Regular worship and involvement in a community of faith are certainly to be valued, as they can strengthen a believer’s faith. Behavior that honors God is always worthy of praise, though Christians may sometimes disagree about what constitutes dishonorable behavior. Paul was never shy about criticizing factionalism, immorality, pride, and class-consciousness within the church. Still, he would argue that both faithful worship and positive behaviors are marks of Christ-followers, not requirements to be achieved before grace can be received. NFJ
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Adult Teaching Resources
Download the PDF for June 5, 2016 teaching resources. This PDF contains the FIT Teaching Guide, Digging Deeper, and Hardest Question pages.
Read Scripture online: Galatians 1:11-24
The biggest, and most important, question for our students is: “Who am I?” Unfortunately, we often times skip or gloss over this question and ask: “What are you going to do?” There is so much importance put into graduating high school with good grades and getting into a good college with the end game being a good career, that their identity is overlooked. Think about it: we ask the question, “What do you do?” not “Who are you?” We wonder why people are so consumed by their work when that is all we’ve ever asked of them. Allow time and space for your student to discover who they are. Ask them personal questions instead of task related questions. Ask them about their relationships as much as you do about their grades. Your student will discover what they want to do, but it will come out of who they are.
Teaching Resources | Download
Download the PDF for youth teaching resources. This PDF contains the FIT Teaching Guide for this lesson.
Encourage youth to check out this video ahead of the lesson.
“The Interview Scene” from The Incredibles via www.youtube.com
Read Scripture online: Galatians 1:11-24