25 January 2012

Galatians 1:11-24

"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." (vv. 11-12)


Today our reading is from Galatians, not Isaiah as for the rest of the week. This is because today marks the day the Church has designated to remember the conversion of St Paul - a vital missionary leader in the early Church, who has left some of the most influential Christian writings. An account of his conversion is also given by Luke in Acts 9, and again in chapters 22 and 26. Some of the details are slightly at variance with the personal account given by Paul here in Galatians but central thrust is the same. Paul was a committed, zealous Jew who persecuted the early Christians until he received a revelation from God and a commission to proclaim Jesus to the Gentile (non-Jewish) world. This stopped him in his tracks and sent him in a new direction with a new mission; and he delights in the fact that his publicly known change of heart and life have helped to spread the good news and caused others to glorify God (verses 23-24). 

The main burden of this passage is, however, Paul's insistence that this revelation is not a second-hand one, learned or derived from others. Rather it was personal and given to him direct from God. This revelation provided both his commission and the authority to undertake it. Some of his opponents, it seems, suggested to the Galatian Christians that his views should not be taken seriously on the basis that he was not one of the original disciples and did not really understand the religious practices to be followed by people of faith. They wanted the new Gentile Christians to be circumcised and keep the law but Paul stands by his view that God's grace means that the right response to the good news is faith which leads to living in the Spirit rather than doing the works of the law (Galatians 3:2). He knows through personal experience of God that grace and faith are the keys to God's kingdom.

To Ponder

Has God ever caused you to change direction in life? How?

What does your experience of God make you most convinced about? Has this ever led you into conflict with others? What happened?

What are the strengths and weaknesses of arguing from one's personal experience of God?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Roger Walton

Roger Walton is a Methodist minister and chair of the West Yorkshire Methodist District. From 1999-2010 he was the director of the Wesley Study Centre, Durham and before that was responsible for adult learning and training in the Methodist Church.