25 January 2021Galatians 1.11-24
God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace (v. 15)
In the Bible reading today, Paul is establishing his authority and not only telling his story but also defending himself against opponents. The truth of his account is pivotal ("In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!" v. 20).
Paul’s story is dramatic. He went from being an uncommonly devout Jew (a Pharisee) who perceived the earliest congregations devoted to Jesus to be a fundamental threat to everything he believed and lived, to becoming an energetic preacher of the very gospel he had so despised.
Paul’s defence of his new faith and vocation has a number of threads.
- His conversion took place in or near Damascus ( verse 17) – probably while he was violently attacking a congregation there, intending to destroy it ( verse 13).
- The change in Paul was basically internal ("God revealed his Son to me"), initiated by God out of pure love ("God called me through his grace"). Confronted in his heart by the ever-living Jesus, whose death expressed limitless love, Paul embraced the faith of the earliest congregations. This was a gift from God that made sense of his whole life ("God had set me apart before I was born" verse 15).
- Because he was familiar with the gospel – he would have studied it, only to detest it, before his conversion – he had no need of anyone to explain what had happened to him. He chose to go on a personal retreat in Arabia to mull over his next steps. (He did, in fact, later obtain confirmation from Cephas in Jerusalem with whom he stayed for a fortnight, and fleetingly from James.)
- Paul was convinced that he had been entrusted with a role and a set of insights that gave his gospel a particular ‘spin’ ("the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin" verse 11). Independently of the main cluster of Christian congregations in Jerusalem and Judea, Paul initiated his own apostolic ministry, going where no one had gone before. He spoke directly to the Gentiles, with a wording of the gospel that would win their hearts. Moreover, God had disclosed to him that the outcome of his mission was to be a new network of congregations in which converted Gentiles and converted Jews would belong on exactly the same terms. This would have made the Jerusalem leadership (James especially) shudder.
- Each of us has a story to tell about coming to faith or growing in faith. There is no compulsion to model your own story on Paul’s dramatic format. Rather, like Paul, we have to tell the truth. But with which of your church friends or family do you share your story?