Exploring Galatians: Paul’s Autobiography

We all have a history, a path that we traveled, often unknowingly, to arrive at today. At some point, that path connected you with Lambchow. Early in his letter to the Galatians, Paul recounts his journey of faith and ministry. That path will eventually cross paths with the Galatians. Paul isn’t recounting this out of pride but as a defense to those who discard his apostleship and the Gospel. Our exploration today will only cover about half of Paul’s autobiography.

Paul writes, “For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it; and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions. But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, 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. Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas, and stayed with him fifteen days. But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord’s brother. (Now in what I am writing to you, I assure you before God that I am not lying.) Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea which were in Christ; but only, they kept hearing, “He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith which he once tried to destroy.” And they were glorifying God because of me.” (Galatians 1:13–24, NASB95) A recounting of Paul’s (Saul) persecution of the early church and subsequent conversion is found in Acts 8:1-3 and Acts 9:1:31.

I can relate to Paul’s path, and perhaps you can as well. Not that I persecuted the church in my earlier years, far from it. But I did have what I’ll call a legalistic zeal that seemed right at the time but not so much in hindsight. Looking back at those days fills me with regret as I review the harm caused by some of my choices and words. Today, I’m much more trusting of the Holy Spirit as He works in the hearts of others. I don’t need to police others based on my convictions and instead seek to always point to Jesus with a heaping measure of grace and humility.

One point to draw out from Paul’s path is the time it took. For us, time is compressed as we read the various accounts in our Bible. In one chapter, God promises Abraham a son, and just a few pages later, Isaac is born. But there were long years between the promise and the fulfillment. Neither did Paul leap from his encounter with Jesus on the Damascus road to become a missionary apostle planting churches across the Roman Empire. It all took time and lots of it. God may have called Paul from his mother’s womb, but it took many long years until the fulfillment of that call began to take shape and bear fruit.

Faith is not praying one day and receiving a miraculous answer the next. Faith is praying, praying again, and praying some more while trusting God for the answer, be it in 24 hours or 40 years (or even more). The truth, however, is that we don’t know where the Path of God will take us. But, if we trust Jesus, if we seek to follow Him more every day in some small way, we will become instruments of grace. That’s my goal, to follow Christ in all things. I hope it is your goal as well.

Author’s note: It may seem that we departed from the text of Galatians but rest assured that we’ll return to this passage of Galatians in due time. In this portion, Paul is just beginning to build his evidence, and we need to let that evidence pile up a bit more.  

Dale Heinold
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