Galatians 1:18–24: Paul Preaching What He Once Opposed
I accepted Christ in October of 1958 in Lynwood, California. One year later Marlena and I packed our lives, including our baby daughter Rachelle, into a 1953 Oldsmobile, pulling a five-by-eight jeep trailer loaded eleven feet high, with a mattress and box springs on top of the car, we moved to Springfield, Missouri to attend Baptist Bible College. There, as a new believer I spent three years studying theology, hermeneutics, homiletics, Bible history, speech, et al. That was fifty-seven years ago and I am still student of the word of God. It has taken me a lifetime to learn what Paul learned with the Lord in three years!
“Think of Paul after three years in Arabia, where he was altogether broken and then remade by the grace of God, coming to Peter and being with him for fifteen days—can you imagine what happened? How Peter would go over the whole story, beginning with the scenes on the lake right on to the Garden of Gethsemane and the Cross; and Peter would take Paul to the Communion service, and they would see widows there, made so by Paul. Think what a memory like that would mean to a man of acute sensitiveness. It takes great courage for a forgiven man to come in contact with those whom he has wronged.”–Oswald Chambers
Verse 18: “Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and remained with him fifteen days.”
This is recorded for us in Acts 9:26,27 “And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. And he declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus.”
It is interesting to note that this is the first time Paul has returned to Jerusalem since his conversion to Christ. The last time he was, “…uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers.[a] So he went to the high priest. He requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking for their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way he found there. He wanted to bring them—both men and women—back to Jerusalem in chains” (Acts 9:1-3). Then he met Christ on the road to Damascus!
It is very important to confront your past, know that God has forgiven all, then leave it where it belongs…in the past! My old life is gone, my new life has begun! “Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us” (Philippians 3:13,14 NLT). “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NLT). “I’ll forever wipe the slate clean of their sins” (Hebrews 10:17 MSG). My sins are G.O.N.E. GONE!
Another important thing to take away from Paul’s conversion is that God can save anyone. Paul was the least likely candidate to become a believer,no one hated Christ and Christians as much as Paul!
Verse 19: “But I saw none of the other apostles except James, the Lord’s brother.”
James was the recognized leader of the first church of Jerusalem (Acts 12:17, 15:13,19; Acts 21:18, Galatians 2:9), and also the most widely accepted author of the epistle of James (James 1:1). He was not one of the Twelve however, since the brethren of our Lord did not believe on Him at the time of the choosing of the Twelve.
James is one of the human brothers of Jesus. Jesus Father is God as He was conceived of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18). Jesus’ brothers were “James, Joseph, Simon and Judas, and His sisters, are they not all with us?” (Matthew 13:55-56). They did not believe in Him initially (John 7:5), but later joined their mother Mary in fellowship with the other disciples (Acts 1:14). James had been among those who had seen Christ after His resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:7). The same would then apply to Jude (Jude 1) since both James and Jude are named as among Jesus' brothers (Matthew 13:55).
This wonderful servant of God, pastor of the church in Jerusalem, was martyred. Tradition says, he was thrown from the roof of the temple and clubbed to death according to Clement of Alexandria.
Verse 20: “Now concerning the things which I write to you, indeed, before God, I do not lie.”
He takes a solemn oath, “before God” and he assures them that he is not lying. Someone has apparently accused him of being a liar and he says “I do not lie.” They were saying that he had no authority from the Twelve Apostles and that he had stolen their message!
Paul has reinforced the fact that he did not get the Gospel message from any man. He got it from God. “But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. 12 For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Verses11,12).
Paul is saying that he was not taught by any man. He didn’t learn from the apostles. The gospel was given to him three years before he met with Peter and James in Jerusalem. When did this take place? When he spend three years with Jesus in the desert. He was Jesus taught!
Everyone who preaches God’s word must be certain that they have heard from God. “God reached out, touched my mouth, and said, ‘Look! I’ve just put my words in your mouth’” (Jeremiah 1:9 MSG). “My speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Corinthians 2:4).
“Any true definition of preaching must say that that man is there to deliver the message of God, a message from God to those people. If you prefer the language of Paul, he is 'an ambassador for Christ'. That is what he is. He has been sent, he is a commissioned person…” –D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
There is no substitute for anointed Bible preaching! And it is not the preacher's feeble ability to proclaim it. After he has studied it well, thought it through, prayed it in, he then submits it to the power of the Holy Spirit, asking for God to use His Word in reaching people's hearts. "Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord." (Zechariah 4:6). God's Holy Spirit is able to do what we could never do, He can heal from the inside out…pain, anger, bitterness, anguish, and depression. He is able to mend broken hearts, broken homes and even broken churches!
How important is the message of the Gospel of grace to you? How important is it to you to live it, to share it, to understand it; how important is it to you as a pastor that you depend on the anointing of God in your preaching.
“Anointed Preaching.” The following is adapted, with my own interpretation, from the late David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Minister, Westminster Chapel, London:
“To me there is nothing more terrible for a preacher, than to be in the pulpit alone, without the conscious smile of God” Preaching is a demonstration of the power of God. “My speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Corinthians 2:4). I am convinced that many preachers do not know what it is to preach in the power of the Holy Spirit, or what it is not! “Many congregations are doomed to listen to a powerless preacher, a man without unction (anointing), one upon whom the fire of God never seems to rest. What a strange anomaly it is to see an unanointed servant of the Living God, who is an eternal fire. How can such creatures exist?”
1. This anointing is not a permanent possession. Some may experience it more than others, but none can assume it. We need a fresh supply every time we stand to preach. Peter was anointed and filled with power on the day of Pentecost, and it enabled him to preach (Acts 2). Later in Acts, Peter and John are called before the Sanhedrin because of their preaching. When called to give an account, the Scripture says, “The Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit said…” (Acts 4:8). We see the anointing of the Holy Spirit, empowering Christ’s disciples throughout their ministries. There are times when we need “fresh oil” Psalm 92:10, “I have been anointed with fresh oil.” This anointing lifts the preacher out of himself and gives supernatural power when he needs it most. Preachers, can we say with Jesus, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel…” (Luke 4:18). If Jesus Christ needed that anointing, are we so out of touch with spiritual reality as to believe that we can preach without it?
Every time you enter your pulpit, your prayer should be, “Lord, fill we with Your Holy Spirit for the task that is before me.”
2. This anointing is given entirely upon the sovereign will of the Holy Spirit. How many times have we finished in the pulpit with feelings of defeat, looking for a hole to crawl into? Many times I have walked from the pulpit and slipped out the back door during the closing prayer, feeling like a total failure. Just because the Holy Spirit anoints you once, does not guarantee that His mighty power will be there every time you step up to the pulpit. I read of an ancient pastor who sat praying for four hours, just waiting for the Spirit’s anointing. The amazing part of this story is that the people sat in the pews and waited. The modern congregation would have scattered at noon. Our prayer should always be, “Lord, fill me for the task before me.”
Now I know that God will use His word every time it is preached. “So shall My word be that goes forth out of My mouth: it shall not return to Me void [without producing any effect, useless], but it shall accomplish that which I please and purpose, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11 AMP). The difference in the anointed preacher is the boldness and confidence present when the dynamic of the Holy Spirit is in operation. Paul writes. “And for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel” (Ephesians 6:19).
3. This anointing is not contingent upon the strength of the preacher. It is said of Paul, “For his letters,” they say, “are weighty and powerful, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible” (2 Corinthians 10:10). “I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Corinthians 2:3,4). As I understand the setting of one of the greatest sermons ever preached in America, Sinners in the hands of an angry God, Jonathon Edwards was ill, speaking in a very low voice in a church with very little lighting, yet God used that sermon to begin a nation-wide revival. With authority he spoke “in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.”
4. This anointing confirms there is more to preaching than speaking. We may have prepared the greatest sermon that has ever been put together in the history of the church, but it can be as cold as a chilling frost if delivered without the power of God’s Holy Spirit. When will we learn that we don’t just preach sermons, we preach to people? Our focus is never on the sermon, it is on the hearers. Our job is not done by just delivering the sermon. If the message does not plant itself into the hearts of our listeners, it is indeed like a killing frost. “For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance…” (1 Thessalonians 1:5). The man should prepare his…sermons and put all of his abilities and knowledge into them; but he should realize that unless the Spirit comes upon them, they will be of no avail. The Spirit generally uses man’s best preparation…(but) it is preparation plus the anointing. I tried to impress on my Bible College students, Prepare it well, think it through, live it experientially, pray it in, then preach it out!
5. This anointing may flow with the power of God even if the preparation is lacking. This certainly does not advocate poor preparation. We have all faced times in our ministry when we were too busy, too tired, with too little time to prepare as we should and God came down anyway! Remember, it is “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6). And with Paul, we say again, “My speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Corinthians 2:4).
6. This anointing of the Holy Spirit causes us to burn. Listen preacher, If we catch on fire people will come to watch us burn! Preaching is theology coming through a man who is on fire. My definition of preaching is, teaching wit a tear in its eye. There must be emotion involved in the message. Oswald Sanders said of John the Baptist, “Immersed in the oil of the Spirit and touched by the fire of God, his life became incandescent. The secret of his effectiveness lay in the fact that his whole personality was dominated and inner-penetrated by the Holy Spirit.” Do we long for the fire of God to fall? Like Elijah do we await a fire bolt from heaven to ignite our offering, the offering of words? Many years ago I heard Dr. Bob Ketchem give his definition of preaching, “Start low, go slow, then rise higher, catch fire and burn them up.”
7. This anointing involves the congregation. Place a high value on your audience. You can’t preach without a congregation. The very existence of a body of people in itself is a part of preaching. There is an interaction between pulpit and pew. I’ve heard many preachers say they don’t like to preach away from home. Why? There is a familiarity with the people who know us and love us. We draw strength from our congregation. What do they do for us? They pray for us! They respond to God’s Word. They build us up and encourage us. They are the dynamic that causes us to want an infusion of power, an anointing. We want to bless them and they want to be blessed. People are tired of living on the mundane plains called, “Just existence.” They want to be raised to a newness in life. Hopefully, preacher, you do that for them!
(These seven points end Dr. Jones outline. I hope my remarks being included didn’t take away from what he was teaching, Dr. John).
Now back to our text: Where are we? Paul, had a miraculous conversion experience on the road to Damascus, after which his eyesight is restored and he is filled the Holy Spirit at the hands of Ananias in Damascus. Then he disappeared into the desert for three years, during which time the Holy Spirit instructed him in the ways of God. He emerged, ready to communicate divine truth. Then back again to Damascus, and then travels to Jerusalem to spend fifteen days meeting with Peter and his brother James. That brings us to:
Verse 21: “Afterward I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.”
He traveled to Syria which was in the region of Cilicia, north of Israel, far from Jerusalem, where the other disciples were. This is the region where his home town of Tarsus was located. “When the brethren found out, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him out to Tarsus” (Acts 9:30). Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul. (Acts 9:30) “And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch” (11:25-26).
Paul's birthplace was in Tarsus, It was there that he had been brought up. Friends of his youth were there. He chose the hard way. They would no doubt regard him as out of his mind; they would meet him with anger, and, worse, with mockery. But he was quite prepared to be regarded as a fool for the sake of Christ. An acquaintance of ours went to a class reunion after his conversion and call to ministry. Their was a buzz going about his new life, he had been a real delinquent in his youth. He overheard two some classmates talking, “Did you hear about Jim?” “No, what about him?” He’s a preacher now!” to which the other replied, “That’s too bad, he was a nice guy.”
One of the hardest things to do is to go back to your old friends and relatives to witness to them. One of my childhood friends who was visiting our church one Sunday morning asked if he could say something. I consented. He said, with tears in his eyes, “This can’t be the John Sparks I used to know.” And I am not the same John Sparks he used to know. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17),
We cannot ascertain from the Scriptures exactly how long Paul remained in these regions. “Here we have about ten years of Paul’s life passed over in silence, between his flight from Jerusalem to Tarsus and his return to the former city for the Apostolic Council. These years were spent around Tarsus and Antioch, in Cyprus and Asia Minor.” –Wuest
MacArthur feels that Paul “preached there until Barnabas called for him to come to Antioch in Syria.” (Acts 11:25,26).
Verse 22: “And I was unknown by face to the churches of Judea which were in Christ.”
Even if they had seen Paul's face, they would not have known who he was. They had not seen him “in person.” This fact is distinguished from the churches in Jerusalem, many of whom had a knowledge of his person, and could recognize him if they saw him, having spent fifteen days there. “So he was with them at Jerusalem, coming in and going out” (Acts 9:28).
“To me it is a pitiful sight to see Paul defending himself as an apostle; and doing this, not against the gainsaying world, but against cold-hearted members of the church. They said that he was not truly an apostle, for he had not seen the Lord; and they uttered a great many other things derogatory to him.” –Spurgeon
Verse 23a: “But they were hearing only…”
They had not seen Paul but the remarkable fact of his conversion had been reported to them. It was a fact that they could hardly be concealed. His conversion was the talk of the town in Jerusalem!
Albert Barnes, writing about Paul’s defense before King Agrippa: “They had not seen me; but the remarkable fact of my conversion had been reported to them. It was a fact that could hardly be concealed. ‘I speak openly, boldly. I use no disguise; and I speak the more confidently before him, because, from his situation, he must be acquainted with the truth of what I say.’ Truth is always bold and free; and it is an evidence of honesty when a man is willing to declare everything without reserve before those who are qualified to detect him if he is an impostor. Such evidence of truth and honesty was given by Paul.” –Barnes Notes, Acts 26:26
Verse 23b: “He who formerly persecuted us now preaches the faith which he once tried to destroy.”
“And they glorified God in me.”
They ascribed his faith to God, which conveys the sense of what God had done to Paul, and was doing through Paul. Paul's life gave powerful testimony of the power of the Gospel to save from the guttermost to the uttermost. Paul fulfilled his purpose to bring glory to God and so should we.
“Brothers and sisters, may you and I so live that Christian people may glorify God in us! May they often wonder at the mighty grace which has wrought such a change in us; and as they see us zealous and fervent, may they marvel at the amazing grace of God which has brought us to be so consecrated to Christ.” –Spurgeon
Is your life giving testimony to others (both lost and saved) of the power of the Gospel to save? “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek” (Romans 1:16).
Unless otherwise noted, the New King James Version of the Bible was used. Also The New Living Translation (NLT); The New American Standard Bible (NASB); The Message (MSG); The New Century Version (NCV); The Amplified Bible (AMP); The King James Version (KJV), The New Life Version (NLV); English Standard Version (ESV); J.B. Phillips New Testament; Easy to Read Version (ERV); Common English bible (CEB); NET Bible (NET) and The Living Bible (TLB). Contemporary English Version (CEV).