Anointed for Service

Galatians 1:11—17

Understanding this section of Paul’s letter to the Galatians hinges on verse 10, which serves as a kind of transition.   In the first nine verses of this letter, Paul stated his reason for writing it, now he turns his attention to his first main point, the Gospel.  But verse 10 connects this first main point to his reason for writing the letter—

Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.  (1:10)

He had been accused of being a “man pleaser” by his opponents and with verse 11 Paul launches into an explanation of the Gospel and where it really came from.

1.  The Gospel came from God, verses 1, 2

I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.

Many so-called gospels were floating around during Paul’s day.  Each “gospel” claimed to be the “only” gospel.  Some of Paul’s opponents asked, “There may be only one gospel, but how do we know Paul’s is the right one?”  Paul’s answer to this is to stress the supernatural origin of the Gospel he received from Jesus Christ.  The fact is, the Gospel Paul preached was not his own; he was not preaching words designed to please anybody.

Paul denies three obvious sources of his gospel:

  • It was not written or made up by any man;
  • He did not receive it from any man.  In other words, he is not merely parroting what he was taught;
  • He was not taught it like a student would be taught something.  While most of us learn the Gospel this way, Paul says he did not.

Paul’s amazing claim was that he received the Gospel through a special revelation from Jesus Christ Himself.  This is not referring to a “general” revelation, like through preaching, but rather to a special and personal revelation.  In other words, he was taught the Gospel by Jesus just like all the other apostles were.

2.  Before Christ:  zealous opposition, verse 13, 14

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.  I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.

Paul reminds his friends in Galatia that they knew all about him.  Indeed, Paul was well-known in Christian circles as Saul, the persecutor of Christians.  But he was also well-known as a strict adherent to the Jewish faith.  He refers to his Jewish faith his former “way of life.”  His faith was not merely an outward exercise; it was the way in which he lived.

In this very brief autobiographical section, Paul describes two particular points of his past. First, he hated anything to do with Christianity and was committed to persecuting the Christian church.  Second, he was a zealous Jew.  The Greek words translated “extremely”are kath hyperbolen, meaning “to an extraordinary degree” or “beyond measure.”  So Paul is painting a picture of one absolutely sold out and committed to his beliefs; he was what we would refer to as a “fanatic” in every sense of the word.  This fact alone makes the next verse so startling.

3.  Anointed from birth, verse 15a

But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace…

This verse startles us because it is so unexpected.  We may expect Paul to write something like this:  “As I was persecuting the church, God suddenly and miraculously called me.”  But no, he says God “set him apart” before he began to zealously persecute the church.  This statement reflects what the prophet Jeremiah wrote—

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.  (Jeremiah 1:5)

The Greek word Paul used for “set me apart” is aphorizo and actually means two things:  “separated from” and “separated to.”   As Paul used it here, it refers to his special appointment or commission to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  God appointed Paul to do this at his birth.  The KJV makes this verse even more startling—

But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace…

That first phrase, “when it pleased God” means that God wanted Paul; it was God’s will to, according to 16, send this man Paul to the Gentiles.

This verse begs the question:  Would God have chosen Paul as a baby if He knew what kind of man Paul would grow up to become? The answer is a loud YES.  God makes no mistakes.  Of course this verse is referring to God’s sovereign choice, but it also reveals much about the character of God.

First, the words, “who separated me” and “called me by his grace” reveal not only the sovereignty of God, to do what He wants in choosing people we may not to choose, but they also demonstrate God’s incredible love and mercy.  We could easily picture God choosing a man sympathetic to Jesus Christ’s message as the one destined to carry it to the Gentiles, but Paul?  A man confirmed enemy to the Gospel?

Second, the most powerful thought of all:  God did not wait until Paul proved his worth to the kingdom or proved his faithfulness to Christ’s Kingdom before appointing him to a specific task within that kingdom.  From the moment of Paul’s birth, God had a plan for Paul’s life and God was never discouraged from that plan by Paul’s momentary behavior.  What a marvelous and comforting thought!  It adds meaning to what Paul would write to the Ephesians—

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.  (Ephesians 1:11)

Third, we have in this verse not only God’s effectual call of salvation through sanctification, but we also see the assignment of a very specific task and a call to complete surrender to God; what Hendriksen refers to as “plenary apostleship.”  Regardless of anything else Paul may engage in, God had called him to make fulfilling His will the most important thing in Paul’s life.

So we have in Paul’s anointing and appointing an illustration of God’s grace, for if God’s grace could transform a man who lived to wipe out the message of the Cross into man who fearlessly preached the message of the Cross, how much more can grace change us?  Paul’s stainless career as a Jewish student and teacher of the law, in fact, only served to make God’s grace stand out ever more.

4.  The primary purpose of Paul’s calling, verse 16a

To reveal his Son in me.

The KJV brilliantly exposes why God’s grace was demonstrated so graphically in Paul’s life:  to reveal Christ in him.  If God had called Paul to take the Gospel to the Gentiles, the purpose of that calling was also to highlight something about God:  he could be gracious enough to use a man like Paul to graciously save people like the Gentiles.

Everything about our salvation should point to the graciousness of God.  Indirectly, then, Paul’s call—and our calling—was not just to be saved, not just to a specific task to be performed within the Body of Christ, but also to a life of consecration and dedication whereby the image of Christ was to be so totally engraved upon his heart that the world, when it looked at Paul, would see it.  So it should be with us.  When Christ comes into our hearts, we are created anew; we may look the same, we walk the same, we may talk the same, but Somebody new lives inside.  When people look at us, do the see Jesus?

Another question this may prompt is this:  Can we separate God’s calling to salvation from His calling to a specific task? Perhaps Peter answered this question in his first letter—

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  (1 Peter 2:9)

The answer, then, is no.  God calls us to be saved, so that we may be engaged in His work, so that He may be seen and glorified in us.

Conclusion

Paul’s life-changing experience with Christ became the motivating factor in everything he did and it was the focal point of his life.  Today, the Christian needs a comparable point of reference in their lives.  While Paul’s experience with the risen Lord on the road to Damascus was truly unique, it illustrates the need for a personal encounter with the risen Lord in the life of all men.  Christ’s presence in a life is the spiritual reality so many people are looking for today.  We may try many other things:  meditation, good works, church attendance, etc. to create that spiritual reality, but what we need is a confrontation with Christ.  One does not “ooze into” Christianity, as Paul Little observed.

An encounter with the risen Lord is the beginning of a new life in every man—a transformed life begins with that encounter.  When Jesus Christ meets a person where they live, He remakes them and they are able to say, “I was once blind, but now I see.”

(c)  2009 WitzEnd
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