21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22 And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they glorified God because of me.
One of the most common character traits among great Christian leaders is a startling lack of desire for fame. There is a profound humility that accompanies the self-aware Christian. It is a humility born out of the understanding that man’s works and achievements cannot secure salvation. Paul certainly grasped the weighty truth that God alone must save. It is this truth that drives the bulk of his letter to the Galatians. Paul is not redeemed because he deserves redemption or has earned righteous covering. Rather, Paul is acutely aware that his own salvation is the result of grace extended from God’s hands to him. Likewise, any exaltation or honor for the work of the gospel after Paul’s conversion is due to Christ alone.
Reflecting on his journey in Christ, Paul explains that he was obscure and unknown in person to the Christian leaders for several years. He did not travel to Jerusalem and was not trying to advance politically. Indeed, in his former life of Judaism, Paul had attempted to make a name for himself, climbing the ranks of religious leadership. His Christian journey is marked by an attitude contrary to his former life. He seeks no fame nor accolade for himself. His testimony bears witness that he is concerned with the glory of God, not his own fame or fortune.
Beware of those who seek to make their own name great. Those supposed men of God who must have their names printed on everything are truly men who are seeking their own glory. A leader who seeks his own glory is not a leader worth following. Instead, seek to follow leaders who are obsessed with the glory of God and His kingdom. A Godly leader is one who will place the exaltation of Christ above his own prestige.
Paul seeks the glory of the Lord and early on in his ministry was privileged to be used by God to acclaim Jesus’ name and glory. Indeed, Paul recognizes that true joy is found not in fame or self-exaltation, but in lifting high the name of Jesus.
In Western Christianity, there is a pressure among teachers and preachers of the gospel to make their own names great. Marketing strategies, blogs, video curriculums, and the like are sold with particular teacher’s names attached and there is a particular glory that is often ascribed to these teachers. Consider Paul’s testimony in light of such a reality. He was not known to any of them personally, nor was he a famous teacher. Yet, the Lord used his testimony to further the Gospel and in this Paul found his value. “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” (v. 23-24).
If we desire to glorify God above ourselves there are a few things we can learn from Paul.
- Seek to grow in your knowledge of God in fervent, God-obsessed, self-obscurity. Paul begins his discipleship process among unknown saints. He joins the disciples in Arabia (1:17) and does not pursue any of the big names until three years into his growth as a Christian (1:18). Learn to cultivate a love for obscurity. In this modern age, obscurity can be a blessing. When everything is put online for the world to see, there is little room for error or mistake and there is less forgiveness than there is room.
- Train yourself to find value in God’s glory. As Paul reflects on his life, he finds his value in knowing that his past wickedness is used to glorify God. There is certainly shame over his past life, yet God has redeemed him and is using his former self-righteousness to exalt the Gospel.
- Think heavily about grace and strive to extend it to everyone. A cursory read of Paul’s life in the book of Acts will show that he became obsessed with grace. Recognizing that the law could not save and that his previous successes as a Pharisee meant very little in the Kingdom, Paul demonstrates that God saves whoever will come (John 6:37). There is no preference given to one group over another, only grace extended to every weary and repentant sinner. Even the apostle Paul had to learn to cultivate grace. Paul’s relationship with Barnabas certainly helped him learn to extend grace to his brothers and sisters in Christ as is exemplified in his reaction to John Mark and his apparent shift from early in his ministry to the place of 2 Timothy 4:11.
Learning to practice these three things will help to cultivate a vision for God’s glory over self-exaltation. In the long run, these will bring you much more joy in your Christian walk.