Brief Thoughts; Galatians 1:15-17

15 But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16 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; 17 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.

When a man recognizes his own inability to achieve the work of salvation within his own power, he is brought low. He will see the task before him, the mountain that must be conquered, and he will feel the weight of impossibility. For Paul, this was accomplished in a moment. He was heading to prove his own righteous worth before a holy God and that God knocked Paul of course. In a moment he knelt before an unknown God, whom he had dedicated his life to study, and asked, “who are you, Lord!?” The righteous Pharisee, the persecutor of the church, the fury of the Law’s wrath was reduced to surrender and blinded in his own self-righteousness.

Such a conversion leaves nothing to the self-importance of a man. Such a conversion is a violent reduction of man’s role. Paul’s transfer from the kingdom of this world to the Kingdom of God is a sudden and vicious rejection of Paul’s offering of righteous works according to the law. Only Christ’s work will suffice to bring salvation. Paul’s language about his life in Christ reflects this great truth: that salvation is a work of God alone.

Paul acknowledges that Christ “had set [him] apart before [he] was born” (v.15). Paul’s receipt of Salvation is such that he knows that he has little to do with the victory wrought on his behalf. Before Paul was born, Christ had set the course for Paul’s eventual redemption. This loving and generous God had designated Paul to be His own. As Paul observes of Jacob and Esau in Romans 9:11 the course of election is set before the man has accomplished any deed. Consider the grace present in this picture: God sees that the intention of Paul is entirely wicked, murderous, and determined self-righteous works and still God sets him apart for the greatest glory. God’s redemption was set in motion before Paul ever took a breath.

Least we think this means that Paul was simply a robot with no meaningful choice or part in the Lord’s work of salvation, Paul follows his bold declaration of election with two verbs that describe God’s work. God’s work, though set before Paul’s birth, is calling and revealing. First, Paul is set apart. In this, he acknowledges that salvation is a work of God from the beginning. Then Paul explains that this set apart reality is manifest in a calling by God. The calling of Christ on the heart of a believer is effective. When a believer is called, he must come out. As Lazarus was compelled to defy death and come out of the tomb at the call of Jesus in John 11, so Christians are compelled to rise from our dead state and glory in the presence and glory of Jesus Christ! (For further reflection on the calling of Jesus on the heart of those who believe consider Jesus’ words in John 6:35-59.)

Note also, the calling that Paul speaks of is “in His grace” (v. 15). Paul’s calling is one of grace. He is called by God because God is good and gracious. There is no merit in Paul that derives such a lavish gift. Indeed, Paul’s own works should be met with wrath and eternal death. A holy God who is infinite and just ought to lay waste to Paul. This is mercy in the face of certain death! God bestows mercy on Paul by calling him to surrender. The Holy Lord of all creation is well within His rights to destroy everyone, and yet He offers salvation in Jesus Christ to all who will believe! This is grace. There is no earned worth in Paul’s calling, only grace.

God was “pleased to reveal his Son” to Paul (v.16). The revelation of Jesus to believers delights God! Consider that for a moment: your faith pleases God! When you see Jesus as He is, you delight the heart of the King of all things! You seeing Jesus makes God happy!

To what end was Paul saved? He was not brought to the obedience of faith in a vacuum. Each personal encounter with Christ is set in the larger context of God’s redemptive plan. You matter to God’s work. You are a part of God’s plan and you play a role in the Kingdom. Paul was redeemed for the purpose of sharing the Gospel with the Gentiles. Likewise, you have been redeemed to display the gospel for all to see. So get to work. Share the revelation of Jesus.

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Galatians 1:11-14; Brief Thoughts

11 For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. 12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. 13 For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 14 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. 

Paul’s understanding of the gospel is one of complete dependence. He is completely dependent on Jesus for his salvation. According to Paul, the Gospel is something that has been accomplished by the work of Jesus on the cross and not by any works or movement of any man. Indeed, there is no good thing that a man could do to possibly save.

In the churches of Galatia, some were accusing Paul of preaching a gospel that would establish his own righteousness above their own. This accusation embodied a fundamental misunderstanding of Paul’s own experience and interpretation of that experience. Paul answers the objections by giving a testimony of his own discipleship. He does not focus on his conversion experience or his pre-conversion life. Rather, he briefly mentions those and then spends the bulk of the testimony explaining his own discipleship journey (Paul explains his discipleship from chapter 1:12-2:21, concluding with the famous paragraph that includes, “not I but Christ who lives within me!”).

Paul has spoken the gospel message that Jesus saves by faith and not by works of the law. Certainly, the Jewish leaders would have claimed that Moses had received the law from God and therefore, it was not of man. Yet, Paul went one step further citing that the law was given to man for the purpose of leading men to recognize their need for Jesus. Salvation is not a result of works, nor is it achieved by works of the law. Salvation is a work of grace that is secured solely by God’s hand.

Paul appeals to his readers as “brothers” (v.11). In this simple title, he diminishes the distance that they may have felt from him as a leader. His gospel is not distant nor is it unique to Paul’s experience. His gospel is what connects them as family. It is what empowers their connection as brothers. Through the gospel of Jesus Christ, they have been united as family. Such a connection could only be forged by the creator. Such kinsmen could only be united through super-natural means by a divine designer. We are united in the gospel as family because the creator of all is the designer and sustainer of the gospel itself. This gospel is not “man’s gospel.” If it were man’s gospel, then it could not unite them as brothers.

Paul did not receive the gospel from a man, nor was he taught the truth by a man. He received it from God. A careful reader will note that Paul is not saying that no man had any influence in his own spiritual growth. Rather, Paul is asserting that he did not first learn the gospel from a teacher. He had a miraculous experience (c.f. Acts 9:1-19). Paul’s journey of faith led him to learn from Peter, James, and even Barnabas. However, it was Jesus who met him on the road to Damascus, blinding him and leading him to Ananias. It was Jesus whom Paul first met as Lord. Jesus claimed Paul for Himself and no man could take credit for his conversion. Paul’s conversion was wrought by Jesus.

As evidence of this truth, Paul cites his own history. He explains that he was too busy murdering those who would have taught him the gospel to learn from them. Paul’s life was bound up in self-righteous piety and war on Christianity. He was present at the stoning of Steven, most likely instigating the crowd to murder him (Acts 7:1-8:1). He was ravaging the church and attempting to blot out Christianity altogether. Paul was not merely a Jewish leader, he was the general leading the charge against Christ! So great was his zeal for the law of Moses that he was making a name for himself as outstanding among his peers. Certainly, such a man must have divine intervention in order to bring him salvation.

Such is the nature of salvation for us all. Amidst our attempts at self-righteousness, God intervenes and rescues us from our own wickedness. Like Paul, we all must have a transforming encounter with the Most High. There must be a surrendering of self and submission to Christ. Indeed, the law and moral activity cannot make us clean enough to redeem us from sin. Yet, God has provided a way of salvation to all who believe: Jesus. Trust in Jesus’ goodness to save you. He has come to earth, lived a perfect life, bore the punishment for sin on your behalf, rose from the dead bringing resurrection, and has redeemed those who would believe! Trust Him.

We Rob Ourselves of Rest; Ways we Rob Ourselves of Joy. Pt. 1

We avoid rest. Often we find ourselves tired and in need of rest. We need reprieve from the world. So we seek rest in passivity, or entertainment, or even just sleep. Our work makes us tired, both physically and mentally and we seek to refresh ourselves by “resting.” The trouble is that we have a fundamental misunderstanding of rest. We think “rest” means “doing nothing.” We think “rest” means escaping reality. Rest is so much more.

In my first church position I served as the janitor/youth pastor/set-up team/technical ministries head. It was my first position and I worked hard to learn how to do ministry. A pastor had taken a chance on me as a 22 year-old fresh out of college and I am forever grateful. Well, now I’m grateful. I grew into that.

As part of my job, each Sunday I would set up the church starting around 5:00 am. Church started at 10, the band arrived between 8 and 8:30 to practice. Our building doubled as a dance academy each week, so set up could be rather extensive. I would set up 100 chairs, a full sound system, and anything else that was necessary. During my near 2 year tenure at the church I had several volunteers come and help on occasion. They would help for a season and then might be too busy or too tired to continue and they would drift off. For the last year I was there, one man stood out as more faithful than the rest… Will

Will was a man who was basically homeless. He lived in a trailer/camper that most people would claim condemned. He smoked like a chimney in winter and looked as though he did not know how to shave. What most people would never have guessed is that Will was dying of cancer. He had a hole in his back shoulder blade and you could literally put your hand inside the hole and pull it out clean. At some point in my time as all things “setter-upper,” Will became a believer in Jesus (through conversations with my pastor) and began to show up every Sunday morning.

Each morning I would begrudgingly open the church, complaining about how early it was and how no one ever saw the work that was done before church started. Will would arrive just before or just after I unlocked and would go to the back room, clean and re-dress his cancerous wound, then he’d come out and start to set up the chairs. Often he would begin to cough up blood and have to go to the restroom to clean himself up again. Nothing was ever said. Often it was just Will and myself. Sometimes others would join us. The pastor was kind and would occasionally join us, if he knew I was tired. We set the church up in near silence.

One particular morning Will had a coughing attack and covered his mouth with a white rag that slowly turned red. He went to the restroom to clean up and came back a few minutes later. I wondered why this man, dying of cancer, would arrive at church 5 hours early to set up chairs and be at church. Why would someone who was so tired and who seemed to struggle to stay upright consistently arrive at church early, wear himself out, and subject his body to such pain when he could sleep an additional 4 hours and arrive at church rested.

Setting out the last chair, I turned to see him stumble back into the room with a fresh rag hanging from his pocket. I asked, “Will, why are you here? You could easily show up at 10:00 and enjoy the service and get more rest at home!?” A moment of silence followed. Then his gravelly voice responded, “I’m here because I need the rest.”

“Rest?” What? Didn’t I just ask him why he was depriving himself of rest? Will knew something I had yet to learn – rest is not found in sleeping or doing nothing. Rest is found in Jesus. Will knew that his soul needed the rest of service. He knew that his mind and heart needed the rest of community. He knew what rest was and he knew where to find it. So he arrived early each Sunday to serve, to engage, to rejoice… to rest. He came each week, setting up chairs, running wires, setting up screens, moving speakers, and coughing up blood, all in order to rest.

Cancer would take his life two years later and usher him to true rest with Christ. It took me a long time to understand what Will meant. In fact, I’m not sure I completely grasp the depths of that simple man’s response. But I do understand a little more now. I know that when I am physically and mentally exhausted, I need to put in the effort to go to the Bible Study and find rest in the community’s study. I know I need to push through and do my personal devotions to find rest in study. I know I need to make that food for the sick brother or invite the needy one to talk in order to find rest in service. I know I need to attend church or go to visit that brother or sister and delight in the rest of community. I know that sleep or mindless entertainment will not answer my need for rest. Jesus is where we find rest. We find Jesus in two places, the Word of God and the community of faith (1 John 4:12). Seek out rest.

Some basic things you can do to find rest:

  1. Read your Bible instead of your phone.
  2. Attend church and Bible Study.
  3. Read other good books.
  4. Take time to talk with other believers.

When you are tired, seek rest in these things. Don’t waste the time you are given, seek out true rest.

Galatians 1:10; Brief Thoughts

10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.

Many modern church leaders seek fame and publicity. They persist in ensuring that their names are known and exalted in this life. In effort to secure the praise of men, many compromise the message of the gospel. Some diminish the gospel by omitting difficult parts and others choose to emphasize one aspect at the cost of the whole gospel. Seeking the praise of men, these leaders steal the glory due to God and proudly place crowns on their own heads. These men are to be pitied and mourned over, they will one day answer to the God of glory, whom they have stolen from.

Paul was accused of such a theft. The men who accused Paul of this robbery of God’s glory were guilty of the very crime of which they claimed Paul was complicit. Seeking the praise of men, they postured themselves as holy leaders of the church. Still Paul, honestly presenting his own testimony, insists that he is not seeking the praise of men. Indeed, if Paul were seeking such accolade from mortal men, then the letter to the Galatians would never have been written. Such a testimony of Jesus’ glory and righteousness does not serve to make Paul great. Rather, as Paul will soon testify, his former success as a righteous Jewish Pharisee amounts to no value in light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Any glory he once tried to attain for himself is now counted as nothing and has resulted in scorn and accusation from men, but will result in honor from God.

A man cannot be a servant of Christ if he strives for the praise of men. Further, it is the motive that determines the position. Paul states that he “would not be a servant of Christ, if [he was] still trying to please man.” If Paul’s motive is to please men, then he proves himself to be a servant of men and not of God. Likewise, those who profess Jesus as King and then serve motives to enhance their own glory are not serving Jesus, but their own self-interests. So, Paul calls into question the accusation itself. “Am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man?” The answer is obvious that Paul is not attempting to please men.

Paul will later explain that he has seen what it means to please men. He has stood among the apostles and rebuked them for showing deference to the Jews over the Gentiles believers. He has challenged Peter and defended the truth of Jesus in the face of radical hatred. Paul is acquainted with the reality of preference. He knows what it looks like and he has scorned it. He has surrendered prestige and honor for the sake of Christ.

Grace extends beyond me. If praise lands on me and not Christ, then I have cheapened grace. You see, if I matter more than Christ or if I am concerned about praise that I received, then I have brought the value of grace to my level. Here is a story that may serve as an example of what I mean:

I was once eating with an old friend from high school who was asking me about what I do for a living. My friend was of another religion. As a pastor, I have a few answers to this question, I reached into my bag-o-answers and said, “I spend a lot of time counseling people and helping them to live a full life. I walk alongside people whose marriages and lives are in turmoil and help them to understand a better way to live. I teach people what life is and help them to live it to the fullest.” My friend nodded sympathetically and said, “You are a great man who is really making a difference in this world.” At that moment I realized I had failed to exalt Christ. In my attempt to explain what I did, I soften the message of the gospel. I took the Gospel of salvation and explained it as if I was the message. Sorrow filled my heart the moment I heard him say this. The Gospel is so much greater than me. Though I may do some good things, Christ actually forgives sin and changes the souls of believers to give them life! He is the gospel, not me! Yet I had reduced the ministry of the gospel to my work! Needless to say, I no longer answer that way. Now my answer is, “I teach people about one true God, Jesus Christ!” It’s a much more awkward answer, but it is true.

When we seek the praises of men, we drag the Gospel down to the dirt and cover up the real message. Let the Gospel stand exalted in Heaven! That way it will save people and lift believers up to Heaven!

In evaluating our own understanding of grace and exaltation of the Gospel, there are some questions we can ask ourselves.

  1. When I am called by God to say or do something, am I pausing to consider the reactions of men?
  2. When Scripture is plain, am I softening what it says in order to make it more palatable to those around me?
  3. When I meet someone for the first time, am I honest and transparent about the gospel or am I attempting to please the other person?
  4. When I see injustice, do I answer with the gospel or do I hesitate because of the other people around me?