Series on Galatians, I The Apostolic Authority, E The Apprenticeship, Text: 1:15-17, Title: Preparing to Preach

Introduction

This is a text that could be preached at a seminary convocation because we see in it all the ingredients in Paul’s preparation for ministry. It is, of course, applicable to each of us because we are all called to serve the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s interesting however that when a man is coming before Presbytery to enter the ministry the brothers first want to know if he has been set apart  by God.  They hear his personal testimony. Then they want to know of he has a vital calling that makes him believe that this is the only thing that he can do. Before he can be ordained he must be properly trained and his gifts cultivated in the church and ultimately he must have a specific call or commission from a church or agency. most of us don’t have to go through all those steps, but that doesn’t make them any less important in our experience. There are four things we can observe in Paul’s experience in these verses; his consecration, calling, commission, and cultivation.

I Consecration

Paul begins his account of preparation with the words of verse 15, But when God, who set me apart from birth. The Greek word means separated and to be separated or set apart meant you were consecrated to the service of God. The priests of the Old Testament were separated. In fact separation  was a big part of Jewish history and in Paul’s day was prominently displayed in the sect of the Pharisees to which Paul belonged. The name originally means separated ones. They considered themselves separated from the rest of the world by their law and traditions. In Paul’s case it is a kind of pun. He who was a separated pharisee has now been separated by God in a different way. That would be the orthodox or true separation  like Jeremiah the prophet who writes in  Jeremiah 1:4 and 5, Then the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Before I formed you in the belly I knew you; and before you came forth out of the womb I sanctified you, and I ordained you a prophet unto the nations. This setting apart of His servants is an act of God’s free sovereign grace. That grace ultimately showers upon the individual such a change in disposition that they will respond to the call of God when it comes as Jeremiah did, and even more remarkably as Paul the dedicated pharisee and persecutor did. In the Old Testament when offerings were set apart for God they were said to be under the ban. That meant they were prohibited from being used for any other purpose. Jeremiah was under the ban, and Paul was under the ban. He could only be used in service to God and although he spent many years as a pharisee, still he belonged to God from his birth and the first part of his life was just training for ministry. Such is the working of sovereign grace.

II Calling

In verses 15 and 16 Paul says that God who, called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me. There are two vectors in this call, one which we have discussed before is salvation and the other is vocation or mission. Both of these are the product of sovereign grace and both were active in Paul’s life. As we said before the call to salvation is an effectual or efficacious call and carries with it necessity of a response. In other words when Jesus says come, you come! Charles Haddon Spurgeon in preaching on the effectual call says, “The salvation of every blood-bought child of God is a necessary thing for three reasons; it is necessary because it is God's purpose; it is necessary because it is Christ's purchase; it is necessary because it is God's promise. It is necessary that the child of God should be saved.” In so far as Paul was brought out of darkness into the glorious light of truth his experience on the Damascus road is a picture of God’s grace at work. God meets him, God calls him, God changes him. So it is with us all in whatever of a thousand different ways we come to Christ. Sometimes this is called irresistible grace. Now sinners are like drowning people. Many years ago when my wife and I met  at a Christian camp in New York we took the American Red Cross Life-saving course together. The first thing you learn is to approach the victim from behind because they will fight you in panic. Sinners are like that. In their pride they will fight the effort to save them. Efficacious calling is the life guard who knows how to  overwhelm their struggles and drag them to safety. This is God’s good pleasure, but it is also His good pleasure to gift us and enable us to serve in His kingdom. Thus grace brought separation and calling and had as its purpose to engrave Christ upon the very heart of Paul in such a way that Jesus would be revealed through the life and ministry of the Apostle. God was pleased to reveal His Son in Paul and that good pleasure is grace.

III Commission

The commission of Paul is set forth in verse 16 where Paul reminds us that God was pleased to reveal His Son in Paul, so that I might preach him among the Gentiles. This commission came directly from Christ. In Acts 26:13-18 Paul reviews his conversion experience before King Agrippa and he says. On the journey, at noon, Sir, I saw a light from Heaven —brighter than the brightness of the sun — shining around me and around those who were traveling with me. We all fell to the ground; and I heard a voice which said to me in Hebrew, “‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? You are finding it painful to kick against the ox-goad.’ “‘Who art Thou, Lord?’ I asked. “‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied. ‘But rise, and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for the very purpose of appointing you My servant and My witness both as to the things you have already seen and as to those in which I will appear to you. I will save you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I send you to open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light and from the obedience to Satan to God, in order to receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified through faith in Me.’ This mission was envisioned in  the Old Testament. For example The Psalms frequently refer to all the nations, that is the Gentiles, coming to worship Jahweh, the God of Israel. The mission is envisioned in the Lord’s promise to Abraham that in his seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed.  The spotlight was on Israel in the Old Testament, but in the New Testament we see not a spotlight but a floodlight shining on the nations. And that vision is surely fulfilled in the work of Jesus who gave Himself, not only for the Jews, but for all peoples. As the Jewish apostle John writes “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for those of the whole world.” This is, of course, the eternal purpose of God that Jesus fulfills after His resurrection when he says to His disciples in Matthew 28:19 and 20, Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations; baptize them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; and teach them to obey every command which I have given you.

IV Cultivation

And so in preparation for all of this Paul writes in verses 16 and 17, I did not consult any man, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus. The origination of Paul’s mission with God alone is certified by his actions immediately after his conversion. We must remember that Paul was a dedicated Pharisee and before his conversion he considered the Gentiles unclean, and he was living a life of extreme separation from them. It was a big shock and a big change. I believe he needed this so that his mind, violently shaken, would have time and opportunity to ponder the implications of the words which the Lord had spoken to him at the moment of his unforgettable experience. One might also surmise that such a change had to come from God and had to be explained by God, for Paul knew very well that, having seen the Lord and having already received the gospel and the call to proclaim it from him, he was on fully equal terms with the other apostles. So Paul goes into isolation in a place that is very sparsely populated and where not even the most confirmed Judaizer, would dare to claim that in Arabia Paul had received his gospel either from men or through man! That is why the Apostle stresses the importance of not having communicated with men, but only with God. This we should remember is one of the qualifications  of an Apostle as set forth in Acts 1;21 and 22, It is necessary, therefore, that of the men who have been with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us —beginning from His baptism by John down to the day on which He was taken up again from us into Heaven — one should be appointed to become a witness with us as to His resurrection. Though Paul had not been there from the beginning as a disciple, he was certainly a unique witness of the resurrection of Christ and his experience on the Damascus road was commensurate with the experience of the other Apostles. And thus Paul was prepared and so we must be prepared for service with consecration, calling, commission, and cultivation.