Sermon on Galatians 1:11-24
Text: I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.
13 For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. 14 I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. 17 I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus.
18 Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days. 19 I saw none of the other apostles — only James, the Lord’s brother. 20 I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie.
21 Then I went to Syria and Cilicia. 22 I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they praised God because of me.
Generally speaking, people like to be praised for what they have done. Look at the myriad of awards shows that exist for movie and television actors. Parents who have gone to awards ceremonies for their children know how the coaches will go through and call special attention to the stars of the team. Of course, because we don’t want anyone to feel left out, we have started giving awards and trophies to all the members of the team. Be that as it may, there is something special when you are praised for what you have done. This morning, we see someone being praised for what they have done. It wasn’t the apostle who received this praise. Rather, as Paul concludes our text, he says that the Judean congregations praised God. We will use the last verse of our text as our theme: THEY PRAISED GOD BECAUSE OF ME. 1. This Was True For Paul, but also, 2. It Is True For You.
A reminder of the thrust of the letter to the Galatians will help us understand what Paul is talking about. There were some false teachers who had come into these congregations, proclaiming that, in order to be saved you had to believe in Jesus as your Savior and continue to keep the Old Testament ceremonial laws. Throughout this letter, Paul shows that, if you follow this path, you will lose everything. In this particular section, Paul defends against the notion that what he was proclaiming was something that he had been taught by others. Rather, his message had been revealed to him by God. That is why Paul writes in verses 11&12, “I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.”
In verses 13-16, Paul talks about how the gospel message had changed his life. First of all, he talks about his life before his conversion. He writes in verse 14, “I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.” In other places, Paul mentions that he had been a Pharisee. This particular religious group was known for its piety. In addition to the laws that God had given in the Old Testament, their leaders had added many more laws over the years that this group said must be kept. Any Pharisee would have done his level best to keep all of these things. Paul, when he was a Pharisee, had taken this to the next level. He says that he “was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people.” Paul had been very careful to keep all of these laws. He was earning a great reputation for doing this. Paul says of himself, “I . . . was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.” We would call him a fanatic about keeping and preserving the Old Testament laws.
This fanaticism led him to the point where he said, “You have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it.” In his fanaticism to uphold this law, he saw these Christians as a threat to what was the truth. The first time that we are introduced to Paul in the book of Acts, we find him holding the cloaks of those who were stoning Stephen to death because he was a Christian. Then, Paul was no longer content to sit passively on the side as Christianity was spread. First of all, he went from house to house in Jerusalem to get rid of Christians. Then, he set out for Damascus to capture any Christians that he might find there and bring them back to Jerusalem to be put on trial for their faith. If anyone was going to earn his spot in heaven, it was going to be Paul.
This all changed for Paul as he was going to Damascus. There Jesus appeared to him. You would think that God would use this opportunity to swat Paul like an annoying mosquito. However, God had other plans for Paul. He used that meeting to bring Paul to faith. He speaks about why God did this and what he wanted him to do in verses 15&16, “when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles.” I would like to call your attention to several phrases in these verses. First of all, Paul said that God had “set me apart from my mother’s womb.” Before Paul had a chance to do anything to be saved, God had chosen him to be saved. Paul notes that God “called me.” God called him out of the darkness of sin and unbelief into his wonderful light. It was “by his grace.” This was purely on account of God’s undeserved love that Paul was brought to faith. It was by grace that he had been saved. God saw to it that he knew who Jesus was and what he had done for him. He was “pleased to reveal his Son.” Finally, Paul had been given a task to do. He did this so that “I might preach him among the Gentiles.” This was to be Paul’s calling in life. He was to go from place to place telling all of what Jesus had done for them. You can imagine how this would have shocked the Christians, especially those who had been living in Jerusalem during the time that Paul was active in the persecution of the church. It was reported, “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” We note their reaction, “They praised God because of me.” They praised the God who took this man who hated Jesus and was trying to do his best to get rid of his followers to one who loved Jesus and was spending his life telling others what Jesus had done for them. It is no wonder that they praised God for this. He certainly had done a great thing.
The same can be said of us, as well. You might think that there are absolutely no parallels to what God did with Paul and what he has done for us. None of us has ever actively persecuted the church. However, that doesn’t mean that our situation wasn’t as desperate as Paul’s. For example, listen to Paul’s description of how all people come into this world. He says in Ephesians 2:1, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.” The fact that we are born with the complete inability to come to God on our own shows us just how lost we are by nature. Furthermore, though we may not persecute the church, we know that we do not always give the clear witness to the fact that Jesus is our Savior. When our faith is challenged, rather than standing up for what is right, we try to either hide in the corner or join right in with what everyone else is saying. Since we are born sinful and since we continue to commit sins every day, we deserve to be condemned, just like Paul deserved it by his actions.
However, what Paul said of himself is also true for us. “God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me.” We also were “set apart from (our) mother’s womb(s).” You and I were also chosen before we were born to be a part of God’s family. What a great comfort we find in those words! Before you or I had a chance to do anything, God chose us to be his own. As a matter of fact, we read in Ephesians 1:4 “[God] chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” God has always wanted you to be with him for all eternity.
God also “called (us) by his grace.” Grace – It was God’s love that moved him to do this. There was absolutely nothing in us that made us loveable, but God chose to love us. His grace called us to be his own. The Holy Spirit created the faith in our hearts that made us his own. For many of us, it was when we were baptized. Peter describes it this way in his first epistle. He says that God “called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9) We were wandering around, lost in the darkness of sin and death, but God called us into the light of forgiveness and salvation.
God shows us the source of this salvation when he “was pleased to reveal his Son in (us).” It all stems from God’s Son, Jesus Christ. He is the one who did everything necessary for our salvation. It started with his perfect life that he lived. It, then, continued, as Jesus suffered and died on the cross. It was there that every one of our sins was paid for, starting with the sin in which we were born and going on to every sin that we have committed since. God accepted his payment on our behalf as was evidenced by Jesus’ resurrection on Easter morning. We would not have known about what Jesus had done for us, if it were not for the fact that God was pleased to tell us. As a result, we have been converted, as Paul was. We are now part of God’s family.
We note that Paul was given a specific task to do when he was converted. He said it was, “so that I might preach him among the Gentiles.” You and I may not have been called to preach the Word of God to the nations. However, God gives our lives purpose and a direction. Our purpose is now to thank God for all that he has done for us. The ways that we can do this are numerous. One of the ways that we can do this is to carry out the positions in life that he has placed us to the best of our ability. We do this as we carry out our tasks at work. We do this as we fulfill our duties as husbands and wives, parents and children. We serve him in various ways in our congregation. This can, ultimately, be summed up with the verse from Colossians, “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17) We live to give praise to God for all that he has done for us.
As we carry out these responsibilities, we pray that what was said of Paul might be said of us, as well. “They praised God because of me.” We don’t want the praise to be centered on us. We want the praise to go to God. After all, he is the one who made us his children. He is the one who gave us the direction and motivation for our lives. This is similar to what Jesus said in Matthew 5:16, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” We serve our God, not so that we might be praised, but that God may be praised through us.
There are times when a championship is won and the reporter will ask one of the athletes about the game. I think that it is so refreshing in a world that is so wrapped up in itself and the glory that it thinks it deserves to hear them say, “First of all, I want to thank God for the abilities that he has given me.” As wonderful as that it is, we have something to be even thankful for. We have been brought into the family of God. We are given many opportunities to thank God with our lives. How wonderful it is when we can say, “They thanked God because of me,” not because we are so special, but because of what God has made us. To him be all glory. Amen.
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