This week we take a look at Galatians 1:11-24 and the history of Paul’s call to his ministry. The question for you is:
What is your call?
Everyone has a calling on their life. What is yours?
Chapter 1: Verse 1:11
Because I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the Gospel I preached was not man’s gospel. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it. I received it directly from Jesus our Messiah as a revelation.
Here we see the uniqueness of Paul’s teaching. It is not the result of study. He didn’t learn it in seminary or at the feet of an amazingly wise Rabbi. It did not come from the intellectual effort or knowledge of man at all. It was inspired, breathed into him by the Holy Spirit directly from the Messiah.
Something revealed or disclosed, a striking disclosure, as of something not before realized.
Define it. Hint: it comes from the Latin in spiritu or from the spirit
No wonder the epistles speak so powerfully to us. This is why we made them part of scripture. This is God speaking to us through a specific man chosen by Himself. What a wonderful thing that is. What a wise God we serve. Alleluia!
You know what I was like when I was a Pharisee—how I violently persecuted God’s church. I did my best to destroy it—going far beyond my fellow Jews in my zealousness for the traditions.
But even before I was born, God had chosen me and called me by his marvelous grace. Then it pleased him to reveal his Son to me so that I would proclaim the Gospel about Jesus to the heathen.
When this happened, I didn’t rush out to consult with any person. Nor did I go up to Jerusalem to consult with the apostles called before me. Instead, I went away into the Arabian desert. Later I returned to Damascus.
Three years later I went to Jerusalem to meet and know Peter, staying with him for fifteen days. The only other apostle I met then was James, Jesus’ brother. I declare before God that this short history is not a lie.
After that visit I went north through Syria and home to Cilicia. And still the believers in the churches of Judea didn’t know me personally. All they knew was that they heard, “The one who used to persecute us is now preaching the very faith he tried to destroy!” And they praised God because of my conversion.
Here’s a short, very revealing, marvelously interesting history lesson and biographical insight. It has wonderful insights like “before I was born, God had chosen me”. Obviously the clarity and truth of the revelation was enough for Paul. I find it interesting that after the powerful revelation and several years preaching and teaching in Damascus, Paul finally goes to headquarters to meet Peter and James. After that he goes home.
Saul stays in Damascus… Jews in the city… conspire to kill him (Acts 9:20-23). After learning of the plot against his life, Paul flees the city at night…he travels to Arabia, where for three years he is personally taught by Jesus (Galatians 1:11-18). After three years in Arabia, Paul journeys back to Damascus in the Spring of the year (Galatians 1:17). He then travels to Jerusalem and stays fifteen days (Acts 9:26, Galatians 1:18-19). Barnabas… takes Paul to the apostles and personally vouches for his converted character (Acts 9:27). Paul’s preaching …infuriates some Jews …seek to kill him (Acts 9:29). the brethren learn about the threat (&) escort him to Caesarea and send him to his hometown of Tarsus (Acts 9:30).
At this point, it is not clear how much he knew about his upcoming apostleship. Barnabus was the one who went to his home in Tarsus, in the Roman province of Cilicia to bring him to Antioch, the major city of Syria at the time. You can read about this in Acts 11:22–26
The church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to Antioch. When Barnabas got there, he was very glad to see what God was doing among them by grace. He begged them to remain faithful to the Lord with all their hearts. Barnabas was a good man of great faith and filled with the Holy Spirit. Many more people turned to the Lord.
Eventually, Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul. Finding Saul, he brought him to Antioch, where they met with the church there for an entire year—teaching many.
It seems that Paul didn’t know the timing of his calling until he and Barnabus were sent out on the first missionary journey that brought him to Galatia. In Acts 13:2 all it says is that the Holy Spirit told them to set Paul and Barnabus apart to do the work He had called them to. This is the actual event of apostleship—the sending out.
The word means one who is sent: This can be for a work as large as Paul’s call to the Gentiles or as small as a Bible study. It can be for a small on-demand publisher or a hospital or a building contractor or whatever the Lord has need of. The apostle is responsible for the spiritual leadership of the work.
As is usual, Paul had to wait for the fulfillment of the prophecy Ananias received when he was sent by God to pray for Saul immediately after his conversion. We see in Acts 9:15–16 what Ananias heard:
But the Lord said, “Go, for Saul is the one I have chosen to take my message to the heathen and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake.”
So Paul had heard about the calling, but the sending happened much later. The history in Acts 9 is much more compressed than what Paul shares here to the Galatians. Here it seems as if he spent several years waiting for the fulfillment of the prophecy given to Ananias.
Waiting for your calling
It is normal and common to wait for a long time as the Lord prepares you to work out the calling on your life. Joyce Meyer talks about a couple of decades before she was ready for the explosion of ministry that occurred for her in the mid-1990s. Charisma magazines’ 35-year anniversary timeline of the church says that Joyce’s ministry exploded to a worldwide ministry in 1998, the call, 1975?.
If that was the realization of her original calling (and that seems likely) she waited over 20 years. One of my favorite stories of Watchman Nee was something he told a follower after a sermon he preached. The person was gushing over how good the sermon was and asked Watchman how long it took him to write the sermon. His response was “about twenty years”.
He went on to write that he didn’t think it was possible for a man or woman to become mature enough to be trusted with a calling without spending a long time under the Lord’s tutelage. This all goes back to what I have written about the need for elders instead of the plague of youngers we have ministering in many of our churches.
God may indeed call you today—but take years to prepare you to minister and walk in the area of your calling in ministry. Success in doing what God desires for you will not come if you run ahead of God’s time and schedule. It is possible to achieve popularity without producing the fruit of the spirit in your life or in the lives of those you are ministering to.
It actually seems like God was in a bit of a hurry (for Him) to get Paul out and working. But He still spent the time necessary preparing Paul for the work. As I mentioned, that time seems to be somewhere between four and seven years from the time he was knocked off his horse until the elders at Antioch sent him and Barnabus out.
- Learning to Walk in Freedom: Galatians Intro (bergsland.org)
- Learning to Walk in Freedom: Part 1 Galatians 1:1-10 (bergsland.org)