For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.
Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles 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 in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they glorified God because of me.
~ Galatians 1:11-24
Here Paul is explaining that the gospel that he professes is not good news of a human origin, but from God Himself. This was revealed to him by Jesus Himself as recorded in Acts (Acts 9:1-19; 22:3-21; 26:12-23). He then goes into detail about his previous life, how he sought to destroy the gospel and the new sect (at this point called “the way”) after he observed the stoning death of Stephen in Acts 7:54-60 (remember that he was called “Saul” at that time). Anyone who shares their faith can tell you that there are often three responses to the gospel – you either are saved, ignorant, or angered.
Those who are ignorant, simply don’t get it. Like talking to a 5 yr old about substitutionary atonement – they look intently at you because they realize what you’re saying is important to you, but when you finish they say, “Okay!”, and go running off to look for cars, or flowers, or candy. I’ve seen this happen time after time and it’s still kind of funny to me to think that someone can hear such amazing news and yet not be able to process it. Having witnessed multiple times to Jews I’ve seen the same thing over and over – they often just don’t understand what you are saying. Maybe it’s cultural, maybe it’s the partial hardening of their hearts as pushed by God upon them (Rom 11:25) but whatever it is it’s strange to watch in action.
Those who are saved are a delight to experience. You see a change in their face as they realize what you say is true, and God begins to connect the dots for them in ways they’ve never imagined. Their whole life begins to make sense to them as the weird revelations they’ve experienced in the past which made very little sense before suddenly are seen in sharp focus as God acting on their life for their good and His glory. They humbly repent of their sinful lives and trust that they are not the captains of their own destiny and begin the long and glorious road of sanctification. This is a rare but beautiful sight that some evangelists never get to see as most are “seed planters” who rarely see the harvest and local pastors and friends are waterers. Paul describes that process in 1 Cor 3:5-7:
What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.
~ 1 Corinthians 3:5-7
For the person who gets to see this transformation take place as a soul is soundly converted, there is very little on earth that carries as much joy and satisfaction.
There is, however, one other response: Anger. This is the angry atheist who shouts down your proclamation of the gospel, or the false convert who decries your attempts to preach the word by insisting that you are doing it wrong. They beat their chests and shout that you’re wrong and that they’re right and they’re positive that they can best you at any turn. They religionists and atheists alike who proudly proclaim their own righteousness and, in the case of Paul, will actually seek to kill those who oppose them to protect their own agenda and way of life. This is the Muslim who shoots Christians to death to stop the spread of Christianity. This is the Hindu who beats a Christian pastor to death with a baseball bat because of his fear of the true God who reigns in Heaven above. It was with this same anger that led Paul to seek approval from the ruling council of the Jews in Jerusalem to imprison and attack Christians wherever they could be found. This same anger led him to obtain papers that would allow him to arrest practicing Christians in Damascus.
It was on that road that, “He who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son to me (Gal 1:15-16)”, literally blinding him and stopping him in his path, it was revealed to him in the next few days that he would become the evangelist to the Gentiles. This is something that he would have refused to do, as a matter of principle, even to death before his conversion. As a new creation, however, he was more than willing to do whatever is required of him for the God who saved him. He then recounts his visit with the “core” or “pillar” apostles (as the ESV Study Bible puts it) in Jerusalem who accepted him before beginning his missionary journeys. This was recorded to show that he’s not a lone wolf evangelist, but that he has been accepted and approved by the church in Jerusalem. The same people who followed Paul, seeking to convert the new Christians to the modified form of Judaism (mentioned yesterday), used the fact that he wasn’t a “true” apostle since he wasn’t present with Jesus before His death, burial, and resurrection against him. Paul’s statements here at the end of this chapter show that he was not only approved by those apostles, but that he was originally set apart for his service by Jesus Himself. When it was revealed that it was Paul, who was Saul the “persecutor” who was now seeking to proclaim the gospel of God to the gentiles, all Christians who heard it glorified God as they knew this kind of a conversion could not come from human intervention.