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Lowell Brueckner

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The Non-conformist Apostle


Chapter 1:11-24

V.11-12 “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.”

Why this tremendous concern by the apostle that the Galatians understand that he was not sent by man, nor was his doctrine, the gospel, taught him by men? He must be aware of a great danger in the instrumentality and manipulation of men, which can invade and influence the church. It is happening in these new churches and the potential is fatal in the lives of those, whom these invaders had deceived.   

Paul knew so well the ways of the Jewish rabbis from past experience. Notice the word now in verse 10… “Am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God?” In his former religion, he sought the approval of men, but now that ambition had ended. Previously he sought to gain the approval of men, because he derived his authority from them and advanced through their approval.

Zac Poonen, who personally fell into the jaws of a sect in Norway, had this observation to make concerning that situation: “The greatest battle in the Christian life is not the battle against anger or against dirty thoughts. It is the battle against the desire to obtain the approval of men. This is where we must determine to live before God’s face alone, if we want to stay free.”

I trust that everyone, who reads Paul’s inspired chapters and can see the consequences, which he assures us, await the Galatians, will apply these trues, where necessary, to similar present-day circumstances, of which he is aware. He must receive a powerful, Holy Spirit-impact upon his soul, in order to feel the seriousness of the deception. Then he will actively begin to remove any ties, which bind his own soul, and help to bring deliverance to others through the scriptural remedies that Paul presents to his people.

Men, who crave leadership, but are weak in their understanding of the full scope of Scripture and have relied on extra-scriptural “revelation”, have taught and are teaching erroneous concepts and doctrines. Many, unschooled in Scripture, have relied heavily upon them for spiritual guidance. The greatest foes of those, who have their own agenda to carry out, are the serious students of Scripture. People, who oppose theology, do not do so because they have no theology, but because true theology contradicts their poor theology.

There is no legitimate personal vision, system or program apart from that which is taught in God’s Word. There is only one gospel to preach and there is only one purpose to carry out and that is the one delivered to us by Christ Jesus. The duties of everyone called of God are to preach the gospel, feed the flock of God and correct and discipline those who sin and stray from truth.

This is why Paul is warning so strongly about men and their “gospel”, and his writing is preserved until now, because the perversions continue.  Paul’s gospel is simply the unfolding of the purpose of God, revealed in Scripture. Paul’s revelation came in the light of that, which is recorded from Genesis to Malachi, followed by the life and teaching of the Messiah, who came in fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies. Jesus said that after His departure, the Holy Spirit would come and teach His disciples. He said that the Spirit of truth would build upon Christ’s word: “He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

Certainly to a lesser degree than in the case of the apostle, true converts have an instinctive grasp of the truth, even before they attend their first Bible class.  It comes along with the new birth. They have an insatiable hunger for the Word of God and respond to the teaching of faith and grace. This illumination will grow and blossom under the faithful exposition of the Word of God, but it also can be darkened by listening to the unanointed concepts of men. A simple Baptist preacher, the late Vance Havner quipped, “When you find a genuine convert, try to keep him away from older Christians.” It was said half-facetiously, but Paul would have known what he meant. The Galatians had been seriously damaged by “older Christians”.

V.13-14. “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.”

Paul gives us his personal account of how he progressed in Judaism, where his goals were to please men and gain their approval. His zeal and his service were aimed toward the traditions of his fathers. The fathers that he speaks about… my fathers… are not the biblical fathers, but the fathers of the Pharisee movement. He was, after all, the son of a Pharisee (Ac.23:6; 26:5). This is what he served with great devotion. He was rising quickly in the system, outdoing others, because of his fanatical commitment. This was the secret to advancement, totally the opposite of the direction he is now taking under the divine calling. His only aim in the preaching of the gospel is to be a servant of Christ and to please Him.

He thought that in serving Judaism that he was serving and pleasing God, but this was a deception, because truthfully, he was blindly opposing the work of God, persecuting the church, and was dedicated to its destruction. It did not end with Saul of Tarsus, but you can count on opposition, wherever and whenever God moves. He will be opposed by those who have their own agenda. Revival history shows clearly that resistance to the moving of God comes from them, because revival fire is a serious threat to their status quo. The more powerfully God’s Spirit moves, the greater the threat to man’s system, and therefore, the greater will be the resistance.

I read it in every revival movement and I personally was a witness to this phenomenon in my youth. Throughout the area where we lived, pastors and Bible teachers, including my own father, who was on the executive committee of his denominational district, were forced to resign from their positions. They were committed to following the direction of the Holy Spirit and this made them useless in the schemes of men. I have seen in my own case, more than once, promising flames quenched by those, who zealously and jealously guarded their system’s perimeters.  

V.15-17 (For this portion, I will turn from the ESV, which I have used this far, because, in my opinion, it departs from a literal translation, unfortunately weakening, if not damaging, the text. I will use here the old KJV).  “But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace, to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood: Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus.”

Ruins from Antioch, Pisidea
To say “God set me apart before I was born” (as my ESV has it) is accurate enough, because, yes, God’s election of Paul occurred before birth, as did Isaiah’s (Is.2:22) and Jeremiah’s (Jer.1:5). However, in the statement “separated me from my mother’s womb”, I get a sense of a spiritual abortion, besides his election. God would cut him off from everything that he was and desired to be, humanly speaking, and his life would be totally given over to Christ. It is a preamble, I think, to his powerful statement in 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”

It was a work of grace, a work achieved outside of Paul’s efforts, on the Damascus road. It took him totally by surprise and turned his life around 180 degrees. Christ granted him salvation and he became a Christian. He was then given power beyond his strength and abilities, being graciously filled with the Holy Spirit.

He said next that the Son of God was revealed, not only to him or through him, but in Him. Paul saw the indwelling Christ, beyond the light on the road to Damascus, which was brighter than the sun. It was more wonderful yet to see that the reality of this magnificent Light was within him.

Paul was cut off from his earthly ambitions, born in the womb of the old nature, driven and brought to realization by egoistic power. He dreamed big dreams and had the human will to see them fulfilled. He got the best teaching available, learned at the feet of Gamaliel, and began a climb to the top of the Jewish ladder. Nothing could stand in his way or keep him from reaching his goals… except the King of kings and Lord of lords. God’s will always stands, not only above, but contrary to the desires of fallen human nature… even as it might relate to godly service. Paul wanted to be involved in God´s business, but he was totally wrong about the part he was to play. The will of God was that he preach to the non-Jewish heathen.

I offer this little story, written by Warren Wiersbe, about Charles Spurgeon: “When Charles Haddon Spurgeon was a young preacher, his father, the Rev. John Spurgeon, suggested that Charles go to college to gain prominence. It was arranged for him to meet Dr. Joseph Angus, the principal of Stepney College, London. They were to meet at Mr. Macmillan’s home in Cambridge, and Spurgeon was there at the appointed hour. He waited for two hours, but the learned doctor never appeared. When Spurgeon finally inquired about the man, he discovered that Dr. Angus had been waiting in another room and, because of another appointment, had already departed. Disappointed, Spurgeon left for a preaching engagement. While he was walking along, he heard a voice clearly say to him, “Seekest thou great things for thyself? Seek them not!” (see Jer_45:5) From that moment, Spurgeon determined to do the will of God for the glory of God.”

Rather than stating that Paul “did not consult with anyone” (from the ESV again), the literal text said, “I conferred not with flesh and blood.” I understand that, essentially, it means the same thing, but there is a power and impact, which can be lost by veering from the original language. There is a contrast here between an encounter with Almighty God, Maker of heaven and earth, and a consultation with a mere creature made of flesh and blood. Paul’s blinding experience in the presence of God, the Son, spoiled him for anything that might be obtained through a vessel, “in whose nostrils is breath” (Is.2:22). After that meeting, to desire an interchange with any human being, regardless of stature, would not only be a disappointment for Paul, but an insult to Christ.

When I hear a testimony, which puts heavy weight on a human instrument and a human institution, I wonder if the witness has really met Christ. The command center in Jerusalem means little to the one who has heard from heaven and to consult with apostles is only to chat with fellow human beings. What does it mean to the one, whose ears still ring with the Great Voice like a trumpet (Rev.1:10)? It seems God is so unreal to the average Christian in the 21st Century. Paul went to Arabia and then back to Damascus, longing only to hear His voice again!

V.18-24. “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.”

After three years of walking with Christ and being taught by the Holy Spirit, Paul spent two weeks in Jerusalem. Apparently, he didn’t need the original apostles to show him how the Christian program functioned. I remember reading about the Jesus People in Communist China that the government could not put their finger on. The one, who the people seemed to credit with leadership, was found carting manure in a wheel barrel. When they asked him, where their headquarters was located, he pointed to the skies. Through the medium of persecution and oppression, these Christians had reverted to the roots of the Carpenter of Galilee and his followers.

Spiritual life was being drained from Galatia. The teachers, who had arrived, had already brought the people into a state, in which they could not fathom the simple reality of being taught by God. Paul had to swear to them that he was not lying about his divine preparation for ministry. The Galatians had become spiritually impoverished by these false prophets, who choked off their personal relationship with the Lord. They had arrived at a point of conformity with man-powered religion, in which, the idea of not having been trained in Jerusalem and not to have had direct contact with the apostles, was unbelievable! Non-conformity was unknown to them. They doubted that anyone could preach and teach without the instrumentality of their fellow-man. What is the extent of the damage caused by interfering with the work of the Holy Spirit, who brings the individual Christian into intimate relationship with God? I don’t think it can be calculated. 

Ruins of Paul's old hometown of Tarsus
Syria and Cilicia were important areas in Paul's life and his ministry began to really develop there. His hometown of Tarsus was in Cilicia and it was there that Barnabas found him and brought him to Antioch, Syria (Ac.11:25-26). The church, which had formed in Antioch, as told in Acts 11:19-22, grew under the ministry of Barnabas. After bringing Paul there, they ministered together for the period of a year and taught a large congregation. By chapter 13, Antioch had replaced Jerusalem, as far as the move of God was concerned, becoming the center for the ongoing missionary work that soon extended to various Roman Provinces, Asia Minor and on to Europe. Barnabas and Paul played a major part in the Antioch church, in cooperation with various other key Christian prophets and teachers, Simeon, Lucius, and Manaen (Ac.13:1).  

Before this, as we have learned, Paul, already well established in the gospel and New Testament doctrine, went to spend two weeks with Peter and James, leading apostles in Jerusalem. He saw no other leaders. Outside of Jerusalem, the oldest churches were in the Judea area and Paul said that he had never visited them and was a stranger to them. Of course, Saul, the persecutor, was infamous there and everyone had heard of his conversion. This was major news in Judea, a great blessing for the believers, and the cause of much rejoicing. They not only glorified God, because a cruel enemy had been converted, but because this radical transformation was a miraculous demonstration of the power of God’s grace.


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