June 25, 2019

I’m Not Making This Up!

Galatians 1:11-24 – 11 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.

13 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. 14 I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. 17 I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus.

18 Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days. 19 I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother. 20 I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie.

21 Then I went to Syria and Cilicia. 22 I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they praised God because of me.

Because of the work of false teachers among the Galatian churches, Paul’s credibility was being brought into question – in fact outrightly refuted.  And so, Paul now finds himself in the unfortunate position of having to defend the credibility, authenticity, and authority of the message he initially delivered to them.

He doesn’t even try to defend himself on the basis of his character or reputation.  In fact, if he had, he’d have sunk himself immediately.  Instead, he maintains that his call was delivered to him directly from Christ himself.  Of course, he’s referring to his Damascus Road experience – when Christ directly intercepted Paul while he was on his way to round up Christians to be brought to Jerusalem for trial and execution.

He also refutes the false reports about him that he had somehow gotten his doctrines second hand from the apostles, and that as a Pharisee, he would certainly embrace an adherence to the Law in combination with the Gospel.  Neither of these were true about him.  His doctrine came directly from Christ, and after his baptism, he didn’t go to report to the apostles in Jerusalem, but into Arabia.

Did you catch that phrase who [God] set me apart from my mother’s womb…This is what Luther says:

This is a Hebrew expression, meaning to sanctify, ordain, prepare. Paul is saying, “When I was not yet born God ordained me to be an apostle, and in due time confirmed my apostleship before the world. Every gift, be it small or great, spiritual or temporal, and every good thing I should ever do, God has ordained while I was yet in my mother’s womb where I could neither think nor perform any good thing. After I was born God supported me. Heaping mercy upon mercy, He freely forgave my sins, replenishing me with His grace to enable me to learn what great things are ours in Christ. To crown it all, He called me to preach the Gospel to others.”

Point #1: You’ve Been Called from Eternity

Isn’t it instructive how, in God’s grand scheme of things, he has already identified, called, and commissioned us to be his ambassadors before we are even born?  Contrast this with our culture’s view of the unborn!  Or that your calling has something to do with the diploma hanging on your wall.

Point #2: Use Your Brokenness

On more than a couple occasions, Paul shared his conversion story with those to whom he preached.  He recounted the times in his life when he worked as an enemy of God rather than as a disciple.  He had innocent blood on his hands.  Revealing who he used to be underscored the truth that his new life in Christ was a testament to the unfathomable depths of how far God will go to rescue us.

If you’re like me, you were raised in a good Lutheran home by good Lutheran parents who raised you in the faith.  Are there seasons of your life, choices you have made, where you wish you could go back and undo them – erase them from history?  How can we use those bad examples of our life history to communicate our own Damascus Road experiences?

As disciples of Christ, we would never want others to see us as somehow morally superior to others or that we have somehow found the secret to a life with no problems or pains.  We are in Christ not because of who we are, but because of who Christ is and what he has done for us.  God doesn’t wait for us to make ourselves acceptable, for that is an impossibility.  Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:9: But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

Point # 3: You Don’t Have to be a Professional Church-Worker to Extend the Kingdom

Paul seemed to receive considerable push back from those who took exception to the fact he wasn’t one of the Twelve.  He didn’t spend much time with them, and he preached to a crowd that they didn’t seem to reach – the Gentiles.  He was accused of being a renegade with a false message.  He didn’t let it stop him!  If he had backed down from their accusations, countless numbers of non-Jews would never have heard the Gospel.

You may find yourself in places and situations where pastors and other called church workers would never see.  Your work environment or your neighborhood…your bowling league…your hunting or golfing pals…you can have the conversations, the relationships, and the interactions with those we could never have.  If you adopted the attitude that, because you don’t have the status of a church-worker (like Paul didn’t have the status of being one of the Twelve) – then you’re not qualified to carry the life-changing message of the Gospel.  Like the scenario above of Paul never reaching the Gentiles, folks today would never hear the message of redemption, restoration, and life.

God called you from before you were born – to be the person you are to be.  He even uses the times in your life when you screwed up to mold you and shape you into the person you are today.  It’s those things in your life that make you even more credible to those who may think that, “God could never love a person like me.”  You’re living proof that He can!