AN APPROVED MINISTRY
Paul continues reporting events that occurred after his life altering Damascus road encounter with the Living Lord. He tells of his conversion and the years following to show that his message came from God alone. His gospel and his apostleship were received completely independent of man. It was God who commissioned him to preach the Good News to the Gentiles, and it was God who discipled him during those years. His Gospel did not come from association with others, it came from God.
Paul records a chronological sequencing of the places he lived and visited to substantiate hie claim. The five places Paul visited after his conversion are:
I. ARABIA & DAMASCUS; 17.
II. JERUSALEM; 18-20.
III. SYRIA & CILICIA, 21-24.
After Paul’s salvation and call to ministry he went to the desert to sort things out as verse 17 indicates. Nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus.
After Paul’s conversion the first place he went was to Arabia. He went away to be alone with God. He probably did so for two reasons. First, he had to think out this life shattering, life altering experience that has happened to him. Second, he had to speak with God before he spoke to man. He had to be sure of himself and sure of God and sure of his message.
There are too few who will take the time to face themselves and to face God. How can a man face the temptations, the stresses, and the strains of life unless he has thought things out and thought things through, till he becomes sure of who he is and where he must stand. Have you?
The second place Paul went was back to Damascus. That was a courageous thing to do. Remember he was on the way to Damascus to wipe out the Church when God confronted him with the truth. All Damascus knew that. Paul went back to bear his testimony to the people who knew what he had been and what he had been sent to do. Neither the Jews nor the Christians would be receptive to him. But there he returned.
After I ACCEPTED THE CALL to preach, Morris Chapman, who was pastor of the First Baptist Church of Albuquerque at that time, asked me to preach on Sunday evening. I had never preached a sermon. This was my first. I invited every friend I had or had known to that service. They waited for each other outside. Then they came in and sat down on the very front row. Obviously most had never been in a Baptist church. I had talked to most of them about the Lord before, but after that mini-sermon they understood my commitment to Jesus and His way. The Holy Spirit moved in the service and brought conviction upon us. Nearly all of my “friends” stayed away from me from that point on. Their rejection was difficult, but God honored my testimony. Many of them and their immediate family members who knew me would later believe the gospel and be saved. God made certain that I didn’t lose anything that He would not return with something better. Over time God replace my former friends with true friends and friendships that have enriched my life.
Kipling has a famous poem called Mulholland’s Vow. Mulholland was a cattle-man on a ship. A storm broke out and in the storm the steers broke loose. Mulholland made a bargain with God. If God saved him from these plunging horns and hooves he would serve Him from that time on. He was saved and when he got to land he proposed to keep his part of the bargain. His idea was to preach religion where no one knew him, in comfortable circumstances, handsome and out of the wet. Then God’s demand came to him, “Back you go to the cattle-boats and preach my gospel there.” God sent him back to the place that he knew and that knew him. Our Christian witness, like Our Christian love, must begin at home.
The line of thinking is that neither Arabia or Damascus were places where Paul would have had contact with the Jerusalem Apostles. By Jerusalem Apostles he is referring to Peter and the “twelve” (1 Cor 15:5). The clear indication of the language is that Paul considered his calling and gifting for ministry of the same essence as their calling and apostleship.
II. JERUSALEM, 18-20.
Paul continues his chronological sequencing of events in his life with verse 18. Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas, and stayed with him fifteen days.
The third place Paul went after his conversion was finally to Jerusalem. This visit was three years after he left to persecute the Christians in Damascus. He went there at the risk of his life. His preaching of Jesus had caused riots and attempts on his life by the jews in Damascus (Acts 9:21-26). His former Jewish allies in Jerusalem would be out for his blood, because to them, he was a renegade traitor. As for his victims, the Jerusalem Christians, they might ostracize him, unable to trust the reality or depth of his conversion.
Paul had a difficult time getting accepted into the Jerusalem fellowship (Acts 9:26-28), but he had the courage to face his past. We never really get away from our past by running from it. We must own up to it and realize that God can work all things for His eternal good. We can only deal with it by facing it, Admitting it and defeating it by the courage of living out our new life in what ever circumstances we face.
Paul’s trip to Jerusalem allow him to spent 15 days with Cephas the rock (the Aramaic form of Peter- 2:9,11,14). During this informal visit Paul and Peter became personally acquainted. [We wonder how they spent their time together. It was probably filled with Peter reminiscing about Jesus’ earthly life and Paul asking him questions about Jesus.] There was not time for Peter to help Paul form his theology or get training, and there was no pressing need, as Paul had already receive his gospel and theology from Christ. He might have stayed longer, but I’m sure it was not safe for Paul in this most Jewish of cities.
Verse 19 indicates that he saw another apostle also. But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord’s brother.
James was Jesus’ half-brother (the first one named in Mk. 6:3). James like Paul was not one of the original twelve apostles (Mk. 3:17-18; Acts 1:13; 12:2). He had not been a believer during Jesus’ earthly ministry but he had seen Jesus following His resurrection (Acts 1:22; 1 Cor. 15:7). He rose to prominence and became the leader of the Jerusalem Church (Acts 12:17; 15:13; 21:18-19; Gal. 2:1-10). [His physical relation to Jesus, His Davidic descent, his giftedness and personal qualities fitted him for this important task.] Paul did not see any or the other apostles at this time probably because they were not in Jerusalem.
Against the accusation that his was a secondhand gospel Paul in verse 20 makes a vow. Now in what I am writing to you, I assure you before God that I am not lying.
So important does Paul regard his testimony that his message and authority stem from an encounter with Jesus and a revelation from Jesus that he makes a solemn oath before God. He swears that he is not falsifying his report. Not lying is emphatic in the Greek text.
III. SYRIA & CILICIA, 21-24.
Verse 21 introduces a further set of events concerning His visit to Jerusalem. Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.
Because of dangerous opposition in Jerusalem (Acts 9: 29-30), Paul went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. In these areas far out of the way of the fledglings Christian movement he had no opportunities to receive instruction from the other Apostles.
Cilicia was Paul’s home providence whose capital Tarsus was his hometown. Paul had been brought up and initiated his schooling in the university city of Tarsus. His family and friends were there. Again the Spirit guided Paul in the difficult path of bearing witness to those who knew his former life best. They would chasten him for taking this mad path. They would mock him and angrily rebuke him. Paul would continue to suffer the lost of all things, even his friends, reputation, and dignity for Christ.
Paul choose not to point out the connection with his former identity but presses on with his distinctiveness in verse 22. I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea which were in Christ;
On his journey to or from Jerusalem Paul did not enter into any of the churches in the surrounding territory. Thus he was unknown by sight in this region’s churches. But He was not unknown by reputation as verse 23 states. but only, they kept hearing, “He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith which he once tried to destroy.”
These men and women of simple faith continuously kept hearing of all that God was doing through Paul in Syria and Cilicia. He was only known by the spreading of what God was doing through his life and ministry. Christians circulated such reports because they approved of his transformation and the gospel preached by him. The evidences of His changed life brought praise from those who heard about him. His new life affirmed their new life, as his change affirmed their change. They praise God that He had transformed even a fierce persecutor of the Church into a fervent professor of the faith.
We may not have experienced as dramatic a change as Paul, but our new lives should honor God. When people look at you, do they see the difference that God has made in you? If not, perhaps you are not living as you should.
In 1770, French INFIDEL VOLTAIRE said that in one hundred years Christianity would be swept from existence and pass into history. In reality, it was Voltaire who has passed into history while Christianity and the Bible continue to the present. Just 50 years after his death, the Geneva Bible Society reportedly used Voltaire’s printing press in his residence to produce stacks of Bibles!
God is in the business of transformation, of changing things; and His favorite works are the lives of those who chose to follow Him! Imagine the shock of those early
followers who ran from Paul before his encounter with Christ on the Damascus Road. Later, they looked to him for leadership as new churches struggled to be obedient to Christ’s commands. God’s grace is a powerful change agent.
Pray that God will continue to change you into the person He wants you to be.
Verse 24 brings out the thought that though the legalist were angry with Paul, others were praising God for Paul. And they were glorifying God because of me.
These devote believers were not suspicious or unforgiving or merely happy. No they broke out in praise because of Paul’s transformed life. Paul’s opponents belittled Paul’s authority and found fault with his message. Others glorified God for Paul’s calling and preaching.
The 19th century Danish theologian Soren Kierkegaard identified TWO KINDS OF RELIGIONS -Religion A and Religion B [RELIGION OR RELATIONSHIP]. The first is "faith" in name only (2 Tim. 3:5). It’s the practice of attending church without a life altering faith in the Living Lord.
Religion B, on the other hand, is a life-transforming, destiny-changing experience. It’s a definite commitment to the crucified and risen Savior, which establishes an ongoing personal relationship between a forgiven sinner and a gracious God.
This difference explains why for many years British author C. S. Lewis had such great difficulty in becoming a Christian. Religion A had blinded him to Religion B. According to his brother Warren, his conversion was "no sudden plunge into a new life, but rather a slow, steady convalescence from a deep-seated spiritual illness-an illness that had its origins in our childhood in the dry husks of religion offered by the semi-political church going of Ulster, and the similar dull emptiness of compulsory church during our school days."
We all face two pivotal questions; First, are we bogged down in the empty ceremonialism of Religion A? If so, we must receive Jesus as our Savior. Second, is our relationship with Christ growing more deep and vital? You can have tons of religion without one ounce of salvation. Do you have RELIGION OR RELATIONSHIP?
In these verses Paul is seeking to defend and prove the independence of his Gospel. He got it from no man but received it directly from God. He consulted with no man but consulted with God. Yet as he wrote he unconsciously described himself as the man who had the courage to witness to his transformation and preach the Gospel in the most difficult of places. Is God asking you to share His Gospel in a difficult place?