“In order to make sure”

Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain. – Galatians 2:1-2 ESV

Paul has a sometimes deserved reputation as a firebrand,  for reasons that this very letter to the Galatians will demonstrate in a bit, but I love the humility in this passage. Paul heads back to Jerusalem with his friends (and encouragers) Barnabas and Titus for the purpose of getting his preaching and theology checked out by the other apostles. You sense a real readiness to change or adjust if he finds he has not been delivering the correct message. A spirit of respect and deference shines through in his desire to meet privately with those who were influential.

Paul knows it isn’t about him. It is about getting the message of Jesus right.

Paul’s preparation

Found this gem tonight on Ligonier:

It has often been remarked that Paul clearly implied that he spent three years being taught by Jesus Himself (Galatians 1:12), either directly or (perhaps more likely) through the study of the Word. Thus, like the other apostles, Paul studied with Christ for three years before beginning his ministry (compare Acts 1:21).

Emphasis mine.

I had never noticed that before!

God’s art

Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 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. – Galatians 1:18-24 ESV

In my college days, shortly after I came to faith, I entered a very strange period of some days – I can’t remember how many – when the heavens went bronze and God’s voice went silent. I didn’t know what was going on and I was bewildered and alarmed, journeying through a dark night of the soul and a faith-crisis that I just hadn’t seen coming. I recall walking to the computer lab one night and stopping in the middle of the parking lot to jump up and down in frustration, pounding out my helplessness into the pavement.

That night I bumped into Karl, a friend who I had not seen for some time. He was a heavy drug user the last time I had seen him but now he was a believer in the Lord and full of joy. I remember talking with him for what seemed like hours; I don’t really remember what we said but I remember walking out of the computer lab and out of my faith-crisis into the light of belief. God glorified himself through my friend Karl that night.

I don’t think we can over-estimate how much the Lord loves the art of redemption, how much he loves turning lives upside down – or better said right side up – and causing both the believing and unbelieving worlds to gape in wonder. Of course, often his redemption of our lives appears, at least on the surface, routine. The person I was before Christ claimed me wasn’t – on the surface – that much different than the person I was afterwards, even though inside everything got turned on its head. Not everyone saw it at first but he re-arranged my hopes and dreams, busted out the walls, and had me dancing on the ceiling. I was a little bit of the bull in a china shop once things got going, but to the outside observer I had just “cleaned up my act” a bit. In reality I had begun to stop “acting” at all, as slowly but surely Christ began to turn me into the person I really was in him, and to manifest himself in me – a progression still underway to this day.

But sometimes God takes the one we would least expect, the sinner of a thousand dark days with blood on his hands and hatred exploding in his heart, and God conquers, conquers, conquers through the absolute might of the blood of Jesus and the power of the resurrection from the dead. He embraces such a one in the almighty love of our suffering savior and not only claims him as his own but also entrusts him with a world-altering mission. This is what God did for and through Paul, and just the rumor of that amazing, artful, ironic, almost hilarious conversion caused God’s glory to be lifted even higher, and it still does.

I love that about our Lord.

God’s wisdom

For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 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. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 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; 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. – Galatians 1:11-17 ESV

Paul’s conversion story is indeed a rare one. He was not “seeking God” or “wondering about who this Jesus is” when he was saved by God, he was doing the opposite. Paul was sure, sure that those who followed the way of Jesus were wrong, and not just wrong, dangerous, and he was doing his very best to eradicate them. And yet in the midst of his sin he was chosen by God specifically for salvation and for persecution, for the spreading of the Kingdom and for suffering.

What amazes me in this is the way Paul was, on paper, perfectly suited and positioned, once saved, to be the missionary to the Jews, not the gentiles. Wouldn’t it have been wise to send him to them? He would be able to bridge the gap between the Jewish people’s expectations and the reality of Jesus. He would have been able to show them in the scriptures that he knew so well how Jesus was the promised Messiah. He was advanced in Judaism beyond many of his own age among his people; what a great fit as the missionary to the Jews he would have been!

It sounds like the wise choice to us, but God in his wisdom chose Paul to go to the gentiles, a people for whom the Hebrew scriptures were largely unknown, who would not have been impressed with Paul’s pedigree or his knowledge of the traditions of the Jewish fathers.

And through this man Paul God planted churches all over the gentile world.

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. – 1 Corinthians 1:20-25 ESV

Who’s approval?

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. – Galatians 1:10 ESV

Oh boy.

Confession: I have been a people-pleaser my whole life. I really have to work hard in keeping my focus straight, because my natural inclination is to work hard to win the approval of those around me.

God has been dealing with me in this for a long time. One reason this battle is so tough is because pleasing others isn’t always wrong, and so it’s sometimes hard to discern my own motives. Paul is not saying here that we are to actively seek to displease people. It really comes down to what we are seeking. If we are seeking God’s approval, God’s kingdom, and God’s glory and that happens to result in our actions blessing others, that’s fantastic.

But seeking the approval of others first and foremost is deadly, for many reasons. For example, it kills courage. People-pleasing is a form of cowardice, because it is based on the fear of rejection. I know that fear very well.

One reason Christ is so admirable, so excellent, is because he didn’t seek to please people. He went to the cross out of obedience to his Father and as a result of really displeasing the wrong people. My Lord, Jesus was brave.

May I become more like him. Lord, make me your servant, not the servant of my fear of what others think. Amen.

Good, good news!

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. – Galatians 1:6-9 ESV

Can you hear Paul’s urgency, his frustration, his sharp edges in this passage? It is rare for Paul to launch mortars this early in one of his letters, but he’s certainly lighting them off here. The reason is because turning to a different gospel is not just bad, it’s deadly.

The word “gospel” means “good news”. I remember when I first understood the good news as good news. This was quite a while after I had first heard it, because it took a while for me to understand how good this news really is, and I didn’t really get that until I understood how bad I am.

Good news! Jesus loves me. Good news! He died for me. Good news! He’s perfect, and obeyed and obeys God perfectly, so his death was a perfect sacrifice for me, paying the penalty that I simply could not pay.

Good news! He rose again from death and lives forevermore, interceding for me.

Good news! He is everything I’m not so I need to receive his gift and lordship, giving my meager everything to him in exchange for his infinite everything so that all he is can fill the howling vacuum of my emptiness apart from him.

Such good, good news this is!

Astonishing, isn’t it, if my eyes stray from this good news toward some other salvation-scheme that’s less Jesus and more me? Why would I do that? But how susceptible I am, as so many of us are, to replacing this good news with something else.

Oh my soul, focus on this good news, learn all of its music by heart, and sing it well for those who don’t know it, so that they can pick up the tune as written by the Lord of all good news.

Turning the tide

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. – Galatians 1:3-5 ESV

“To deliver us from the present evil age.” There’s something there, tangible, that I often miss.

Through his death and resurrection, the Lord Jesus delivered us from death and hell, and has given us eternal life. It’s easy to think of that deliverance only in the future tense. But if you’re paying attention you’ll notice that the New Testament resonates brightly with a sense of the Now.

Salvation in Jesus is forever, of course. But forever started that moment that he took you into himself. These days have enough trouble of their own; deliverance from these days, these evil days, is happening now.

Deliverance from, not teleportation out of.

The Lord is with us – that’s his forever promise – and he is turning us each day into immortal beings like himself who are becoming immune to the evil of our times, and indeed are daily more and more a part of his heavenly host, turning the tide.

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  – Matthew 6:10 ESV

Fit

Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead -Galatians 1:1 ESV

I rather like Paul’s defiant tone here. God calls. He equips. It doesn’t matter if you match the profile, it doesn’t matter if you “aren’t a good fit” according to the experts. If he’s called you to something, he will fit you for it, in spite of and regardless of what anyone else thinks.

The Bible is rife with misfits whom God called to do great, daring, amazing things and who then went on, in his power, to do them. He, who raised Jesus from the dead, chose a church-persecuting religious zealot who opposed Christ to become a world changing missionary for Christ. He can do whatever he wants through you.

Our God is completely wise, expertly accurate, and keenly discerning at all times. He does all things well and therefore he doesn’t choose the way we do**.

Thank God.

**executiveStyleHair