[For part 1, go here]
You may think I’m coming at this from a point of condescension. Let me assure you: that could not be farther from the truth. God has left no room in my life for selfish gain or vain conceit, let alone envy of any other message or messenger.
It’s important for the people to know this. Sure, they should already know, but we all need reminders. Should I have to remind people who I am, let alone what the Gospel is? Certainly not. But I, like many leaders, have learned the hard way to put my faith in Jesus and not my brothers.
So, it is right for me to tell my story again. I don’t like telling it, but as much as it humiliates me, it brings even higher exaltation to God. Here goes:
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.
Does this sound like boasting? It probably does, but I have no other way to say it. The same Jesus who called the disciples and led them as their rabbi for three years, called me. He appeared to me, turning me from my former life toward a life as his servant. He revealed himself to me, and he revealed so much more of God’s plan to me. Honestly, I wish everyone could experience what it’s like to be the recipient of a message direct from the risen Lord Jesus Christ, but most all never will. On the other hand, anything short of this, and I would most likely still be living in the squalor of my former life.
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 please to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles…
What good is it to be brilliant if you’re dumb to the gospel? What good is it to be zealous if you’re a horse chomping at the bit to race the wrong direction? What good is it to be an Israelite if you fight against the Lord God? What good is it to have a plan if your plans are to be an agent of wrath?
But of course, the Lord God had a plan. To open the ears and redirect my mouth. To bridle and redirect my race. To train me to fight with purpose the fight God has called me to fight. To live a life worthy of the calling of Jesus to which I have been called as an ambassador of the gospel. I am a case study in the transformational power of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
…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.
Maybe you could have adjusted to this new reality quickly (I doubt it), but it took me a while. Three years to completely deconstruct my most deeply-ingrained notions, to shift every paradigm in my life to that point. That may seem like a long time or wasted time, but it was some of the best time I could have ever spent. Why? Because I needed it! I didn’t get the three years of seeing and hearing Jesus as a disciple, but I did get these three years with him, and Jesus changed me. Jesus worked in me more fully that which I had always wanted, and that for which he truly called me.
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.
I’ll never truly be one of them. Sure, I’m a brother in Christ, and they treat me with love. They rejoice in my story as much as I do, to God be the glory. Still, I persecuted the church. I sought out letters of permission to hunt and kill followers of Jesus as prey. I wouldn’t blame them if they never fully trust me; I’m not sure I would if I were in their place.
People don’t change like that unless God changes them. To be one who now preaches what I once persecuted? That doesn’t happen. By the grace of God I am who I am today. My only certainty comes in Christ, because if it were up to me, I would still be making converts…just the kind who were twice the son of hell I would have been apart from my Lord Jesus Christ.
I’ll fight for this gospel, because this gospel fought for me.
[To read more, go here.]