We’re wandering our way through the book of Galatians. Written by the Apostle Paul to the Galatians, he’s writing a powerful letter because the believers are being tempted by some heretics to walk away from the joy and the truth of salvation through Christ alone.
The Apostle Paul is calling them to stand fast and not to move from grace because if you move from grace, you move from God. That’s got to be serious, walk away from grace, you move away from God. But because he’s being attacked himself, he’s going to establish his credibility, his authority, and he’s gonna do this for the sake of the gospel.
I remember reading this as a very new Christian and being very grateful for this section of Galatians because it explained to me how I can have confidence in the apostolic ministry of the Apostle Paul. How I can know that he was not just a self-appointed, opinionated, independent, religious worker.
This section of Galatians greatly helped me. It helped me to take his word seriously, and it helped me to believe the promises confidently. I hope you like checking the foundations of faith. If you’re not a Christian this morning, I hope you know that the foundations of Christianity are excellent.
If you are a Christian, I hope that you are glad every now and again to go back and to check your foundations and define that they are excellent so that you can answer questions like;
- is my faith reasonable? is it true?
- is the Bible to be trusted?
- am I on the right track?
- have I responded?
- have I done what I meant to do in response to Christ?
It’s a wonderful thing to go back. It’s healthy to check your foundations, and every now and again God will unsettle us because he wants us to be more settled. Every now and again, God will show us the false security that we are depending on because he wants to bring us to a true security.
The Apostle Paul is having to set out the solid foundations of his ministry in a defensive way, but also in a helpful way.
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Not only is he going tell us his story, but it’s also going to support his apostolic integrity, and we’re going to see, and this is the most important thing, it’s all traceable to Christ.
Everything good that happens to the Apostle Paul is because of Christ. The fact that Paul was transformed from a persecutor to a preacher is because of Jesus.
The fact that he could be isolated for 14 years and have nothing to do with the Christian headquarters in Jerusalem and receive information from Christ is because of Christ. That really is the message of the gospel, that Christ is sufficient. So the detail that we’re going look at today, which has to do with Paul being changed and commissioned and getting his information, is a subset of the sufficiency of Christ. Jesus can do it. He can save someone. He can provide what’s needed. And he can do it without the help of people.
Transformation and Isolation
Look at with me 1:11, and you’ll see that Paul says, “I want you to know, brothers, the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I didn’t receive it from any man nor was I taught it.” You see what he’s saying? “I didn’t go to Christianity explored for this message. You should go.” But he didn’t have to go. He didn’t go to classes to get informed of his Christian faith.
He says, “I was confronted by Christ,” the famous story, “That he confronted me on the road to Damascus.” I mean, the very process, says Paul, of going to attack Christians, “And he confronts me with grace and saves me.”
He talks three times in that passage about receiving revelation. And revelation is a direct and unique way that God would speak to the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament apostles and give them a message which could be written into the Bible.
The proof that they had had a direct and unique revelation from God is that they inevitably had a global effect, a significant ministry. Now we assume that Paul has to defend himself because the false teachers who’ve got into Galatia are saying something like this, “Well, we don’t know who the Apostle Paul is. I mean, we know that he was a Jewish leader, but it looks as though he’s appointed himself and he’s travelled off on his own, and his message is kind of garbled and half-baked.”
And the false teachers are saying, you know, “He begins well, he says some good things, but he needs us to really finish off the message so that your faith can be properly established.” And the Apostle Paul says, “No. I got my message from Christ, and I got it complete. I got everything you need.”
Of course, it’s easy to say I got my message from Christ. I could stand up in front of you this morning and tell you, “You know what happened to me during the week, Christ confronted me and told me to say…” And it’s difficult for you to know what to say. But I hope you would say, “I don’t believe you.” I hope you’ll be a sceptic about those kinds of things.
So how’s the Apostle Paul going to prove that he really did come face to face with Christ? Well, two things. One, he’s going talk about how Christ changed him, transformed him, and how he was isolated and yet received all that he needed to know.
So the first thing is the transformation. Verse 13, he says, “You heard what happened to me.” Maybe they heard before Paul arrived and started preaching or perhaps they heard from his preaching, but they knew what had happened to the Apostle Paul.
He used to be negative about Christianity and very positive about the Jewish traditions, and now he’s positive about Christianity, and he’s quite cynical about Jewish traditions. What’s happened? Significant change is taking place. I think this is one of the things that people ought to work out when they’re weighing up Christianity. What happened to the Apostle Paul?
You can’t say he got religion, he had religion before. You can’t say he came to his senses, he was a genius before, during and after his conversion. You can’t say that he just changed his mind, the question is, why did he change his mind?
In the late ’70s, I went off to hear a guy called Nicky Cruz, anybody old enough to remember the name, Nicky Cruz, Cross and the Switchblade led to the Lord through David Wilkerson. I went to this rally to hit Nicky Cruz and I thought to myself, “I know it’s going happen, I’m going come to the rally and this guy is going come out who is going be huge, you know, like the Godfather, and he’s going to be sort of meek and subdued like a little lamb.”
I got the exact opposite experience. There was a tiny little man with an absolutely massive and fiery personality preaching gung-ho sermons aimed at the slack Christian people who’d come out to hear him.
So all the fieriness of his unbelief and crime was now transferred against unbelief. But of course, his transformation was on a small scale compared with the Apostle Paul.\
The Apostle Paul’s transformation has been on a global scale. And the Apostle Paul’s explanation for his transformation in verse 15 is that it was God.
Isn’t it lovely in this passage he says, “I did this, and I did this, and I advanced, and I persecuted,” and he did persecute? He persecuted the Christian, some of them to death. And then he says, “And God who had chosen me then called me and communicated to me and commissioned me, God did this.”
He says in verse 16, “He revealed Jesus in me. He didn’t just reveal Jesus to me, he revealed Jesus in me.” Which I think means that he made the Apostle Paul a kind of a lantern, a spectacle, a demonstration of Jesus Christ and the grace of God. So he used to be in Judaism, verse 14, he was in the system and then through grace, Christ was in him.
Well, friends, I just remind you this morning that no religion can do this. It’s just a fact of history and reality that religion cannot change a person. All the religion in all the world cannot change the human heart. Even fanaticism on a religious scale cannot change the human heart. Martin Luther as you know was a religious fanatic in the 16th century.
He says in his commentary on Galatians, “You know, I was outwardly religious and upright but inwardly,” he says, “I was fearful and hateful. My righteousness was really a filthy puddle and a kingdom of the devil.” He goes on to say, “Humanity thinks this I’ve done and this I’ve not done, but faith says what Christ has done.” And acknowledges that in Christ is forgiveness and eternal life. So God transformed this hostile man, Paul, and he did it for no reason except the grace of God. And he did it as a sign that he can save anyone and but nobody is beyond hope.
God commissioned him to preach to the Gentiles, which is an extraordinary thing when you think about it, as the Jews had been raised to look on the Gentiles as a kind of a despised and cut off people. But Paul’s decision in verse 16 is not to go off to the headquarters of Jerusalem, the church.
His decision is to go in the opposite direction. He resolved, he says in verse 16, to talk to nobody. Now friends, why would he do this? Why not go straight over to the church in Jerusalem and say, “Look, friends, I’m sorry to tell you I was completely wrong. This is what happened. I met Christ on the Damascus Road, and he’s commissioned me, and I’m now a convert, and I’m with you, and I want to help you.”
Why didn’t he do that? The small answer is that he’s going to do that eventually when God considers him to be ready. But the big clue is that he’s going to show that Christ is sufficient not only for his salvation but for his ministry. He doesn’t need classes from men. He’s in the hands of someone infinitely more wonderful, and that is Jesus Christ. What can anybody give him that he cannot get from Jesus Christ? And so he begins from 1:17 to give his itinerary.
He describes his 14 years of travel, which may seem a little bit odd to us. You may be sitting here this morning thinking, “Look, I’ve made a big effort to be here, and I’m listening to a guy tell me Paul’s travelogue when he was converted.” But the purpose of this travelogue is to show that he was able to go away from human classes and receive the information from Christ and then turn up as it were at the examination and know everything. And that has to be explained, and it’s only explained by the sufficiency of Christ.
So in verse 17, he went to Arabia. He went there for three years. It’s a strange place to go. It’s possible that he went there for three years of kind of private tuition to balance or compensate for the three years that the other apostles had had with Jesus, but that’s just conjecture. Then he went back to Damascus, the very place where he’d been travelling to do his persecuting.
He began, verse 17, to preach in the synagogues, we presume to tell them that he had now found what they needed to find. And then verse 18, he says, and he’s being completely honest, “I did go to Jerusalem for two weeks. I went to get to know Peter, I also bumped into Jesus’s brother, James.”
We can only guess why he went to meet with Peter, possibly to get to know one who’d actually travelled with Jesus in the incarnation or perhaps to begin the process of fellowship with the apostles.
Verse 21, he went off to Syria and Silesia. Silesia’s capital was Tarsus, which was Paul’s home city. And he spent at least 10 more years of travel and preaching and ministry, no contact with Jerusalem. So in the whole 14 years, just a couple of weeks with Peter. And his aim, I say again, is to show that for all his previous plotting. I was doing this, and I was doing this, God had plans for his ministry and that God is able to do the transforming and to do the revealing and to do the equipping and to do the ministry through the Apostle Paul.
God is sufficient. He doesn’t need people to help him. Although, in the ordinary course life he uses people to help people. But here’s the Apostle Paul as a demonstration of the sufficiency of Christ, which is the theme of the letter.
Now, Jared has mentioned that I’ve got a particular interest in Samuel Marsden, the second chaplain to New South Wales and the man who did take the gospel across the water to New Zealand. And he’s hugely revered in New Zealand for being kind of the apostle to New Zealand.
I thought I’d read you a couple of paragraphs from his journals because I thought you might like to see the way God works to change people.
So Marsden says on his fifth or sixth visit to New Zealand, he says, “I was sitting one Saturday in a particular room, meditating on Psalm 72 and natives not too far away killed a young woman and offered her up as a sacrifice. The young woman was cooked, and the natives were dancing their savage dances around the victim of their superstitions and making the most horrid noise after she had been killed. In the morning I went out, and inquired what was become of the woman, and was informed that she had been eaten.”
And then says, Marsden, “Well, what a wonderful change has the gospel brought on this place. Upon the very place where these hellish songs were sung and rights performed, I now hear the songs of Zion, and the voice of prayer and supplication offered up to the God of heaven on an evening while sitting in my room. And I believe many now look with as great abhorrence as we can do upon their former cruel, superstitious ceremonies. So wonderful is the power of God.”
He goes on to say, “I can only say it is the Lord’s doing and it is marvellous in my eyes.” And in another part of his journal, he says, “God has promised that his glory shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it. The scripture cannot be broken. The time will come when human sacrifices and cannibalism shall be annihilated in New Zealand by the pure mild and heavenly influence of the gospel. The work is great, but divine goodness will find both the means and the instruments to accomplish his own gracious purposes. His word which is the sword of the Spirit is able to subdue these people to the obedience of faith. And it’s the duty of Christian people to use the means to sow the seed and to wait for the Jew to cause it to spring up and to look to God in faith in prayer to send the early and the latter rain.”
And what the missionary, pioneer Samuel Marsden is saying is, can you believe that they’ll come a time where there’ll be no more cannibalism in New Zealand? And we, of course, would look across and say, “It would be horrendous even to think it would be possible.” And yet the influence of the gospel, the sufficiency of Christ changed the place. And that’s really the theme of this section.
Fellowship and Partnership
He goes up to Jerusalem after 14 years, he’s directed by God, see verse 2, and it was vital for him to go eventually to Jerusalem because they’re on the same side. They’re in the same team. And you’ll notice three things about the visit. Verse 2, he sets out the gospel to make sure that he wasn’t running in vain. And many people read that, and they think, “All the Apostle Paul went and checked that he got his gospel right.”
But of course, he would never have gone to check that he got his gospel right, he got his gospel from Jesus. What he was doing was he was going to check that he wasn’t being undermined. And therefore, running in vain, there’s no point in him conducting his ministry all over the world to the Gentiles if the central headquarters are going to attack and disagree, that he discovers they’re completely united in what he’s doing. And then Titus, who he took with him, a Gentile convert, was not pressured to have this ritual of circumcision added to his faith.
The false brethren, verse 4, wanted this, but the fellowship of the apostles and the Apostle Paul said, “No, his belief is everything.” And then verse 6, and this is the climax of the whole argument is that the key leaders in Jerusalem added nothing to his message. They added nothing. And the Apostle Paul wants the false teachers to take note of this, that there was nothing to add. So why are the false teachers wanting to add something? And let the Galatians notice that the apostles in Jerusalem and Paul himself added nothing, so why would they be tempted to add something?
But what they did was to recognise that there is one mission of the gospel and there are two groups, Jew and Gentile, Peter and the apostles going to the Jews, Paul and his companions going to the Gentiles. Fellowship, partnership. The only one thing they asked, verse 10, is that he remember the poor. This is not a ritual to be added to the gospel for salvation. This is a fruit of the gospel to love the needy. And of course, the apostle Paul took this as a huge part of his ministry to raise money for the poor, especially in Jerusalem as a sign of the gospel.
What are we to make of this?
First of all, believe that God is sufficient to transform people and to use people. Verse 4 of chapter 1 tells us that Christ gave himself for our sins to rescue, and here in verse 15 is a classic rescue. Therefore, don’t stop praying for people who are not believers. Even when you think to yourself, it’ll never happen because God is able to save anybody.
The Apostle Paul is one of the great encouragements to us to believe that. I said to a lady this week who was interested in doing ministry to children, I said, “What would you say if young persons came up and said to you, ‘How would I become a Christian?” And she said, “Oh, I don’t know. I suppose I’d say, ‘Read your Bible.'” I thought to myself, “That’d be quite a hard thing to say to a little child, ‘Go home and read your Bible.'” I said to her. “Wouldn’t it be much better if you said to the child, ‘This is what Jesus did, and you can receive it.'”
She said, “Yes, of course. That’s right, isn’t it? I should have known that.” But how easy to fall into the trap of saying to people, “These are the things you need to do, and do, and do, and do.”
The second thing is place yourself under apostolic authority. The apostle Paul gave some wonderful promises in the New Testament, and we love the promises, and I bet you love the promises. You know, no condemnation, nothing will separate us, do not be anxious. All of these came from the pain of the Apostle Paul.
But if he gave promises, he also gave instructions, and you must place yourself under the instructions. Don’t try and bargain with the Apostle Paul. If the Apostle Paul says things about morality, then we must put ourselves under the authority of the Apostle Paul. If the Apostle Paul says that God is clear on roles in church and home, then place yourself under his authority. If the Apostle Paul says clear instructions on possessions and money, then place yourself under his authority.
Don’t try and do a give-and-take with the Apostle Paul, don’t try and say, “Oh, I don’t like Paul on this,” or, “Paul and Jesus were in disagreement.” That’s complete rubbish. When Paul spoke, it was with the words of Christ. If you disagree with the words of Paul, you disagree with Christ. And the last thing is, do keep rejoicing in the gospel because when you get what Jesus did on the cross, and you receive it freely, you get everything.
You can’t get more love than you do when you belong to Christ. You can’t get more esteem than his esteem. You can’t get more riches. You can’t get better news. You can’t get a bigger rescue. You’ve got it and therefore rejoice. If anything steals your joy, then ask God to restore it because the gospel is a gospel of great joy.