Galatians 1:13-24 (KJV)
13 For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it:
14 And profited in the Jews’ religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers.
It is believed Paul – then known as Saul – was born in 5 AD in Tarsus (Acts 22:3. That made him a Roman citizen by birth. He then studied at the school of Gamaliel (Acts 22:3). At this school he says he “learned the perfect law of the fathers.”
Acts 5:34 tells us this about Gamaliel: Then stood there up one in the council, a Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, had in reputation among all the people, and commanded to put the apostles forth a little space;
This tells me that Paul really knew his scripture – Old Testament that is. He knew the law and the prophets. He knew the Psalms and proverbs. He was as well versed as any other student in Gamaliel’s school. Gamaliel held a leading position in the highest court of the land, so he must have been well versed. As such, Paul received excellent teaching.
With the knowledge he gained here, he was commissioned by the Pharisees to bring in these heretics who were preaching Jesus Christ. We get our first picture of Saul as he stood and consented to Stephens stoning in Acts 7:58-8:1. He may have even thrown the first stone!
From here, Paul set out to persecute the churches. He would go into the Jews houses and drag them out, arresting them. At the ripe old age of 27, he became a terror to this new uprising that had the Jewish leaders in a tizzy. They had their hearts set on ending the church with Saul’s help.
What is my zeal like? I must admit that there have been times I have waned from that zeal that gripped me when I first met Jesus. There were very slow times. But in the last two years, the zeal has returned. The desire to spread the word is stronger than ever before. I have been through the hardest battle of my life with cancer. This has brought me closer to God than I have been in many years. God is putting an intense desire within me to take the healing message out to all. Along with that, He gives me poems and songs, and the ability to teach once again. Oh, how I love Him!
15 But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb
, and called me by his grace,
16 To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood:
It’s interesting to me that Paul says “when it pleased God”. Paul recognized that God was in charge, not him. This man Saul, who was tearing down the uprising, was doing whet he believed was serving the God of Israel. With all his heart, Paul thought He was doing the right thing. Little did he know how wrong he was until that fateful day
Jesus met Saul face to face on the road to Damascus. The men that were with Saul saw the light and heard the voice, but they did not see a man. I would not be surprised if Saul got a glimpse of Jesus in the middle of that light before he lost his sight. Jesus told Saul what to do next, and Saul obeyed, his life forever changed. (Acts 9)
Are you in the middle of a battle? Take heart! When it pleases God, He will make Himself known, just as He did with Saul. God knows what is going on with you. He has you right where He wants you, and He will come in and turn it all around when it pleases Him, not on your timetable. Remember that every time the troubles of life overtake you and you’re looking for God to come to your rescue.
Saul was not looking for rescue. He did not even know he was going the wrong way. But God knew. Sometimes we can be going the wrong way and not know it. But God knows and He will correct our path. Saul, who soon became known as Paul, never lost His zeal for God. It just changed direction! Now he knew the truth. He had been fighting against God, and he was going to make up for it.
17 Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus.
18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days.
19 But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother.
Paul went to Arabia and then back to Damascus. It was three years before he headed to Jerusalem to meet with Peter. During those three years, God instructed Paul directly. Paul’s familiarity with the Old Testament turned into his schoolmaster to the things of Christ. He recognized the thread of salvation throughout the Old Testament. He knew the law, and also understood that Jesus paid the penalty for the law.
God gave him his message, not the disciples that were with Jesus. He did not even meet with them for three years, yet he was preaching in Damascus during that time. I am convinced that God can teach us better than man can. Here what David says:
Psalm 119:98-100 (KJV)
98 Thou through thy commandments hast made me wiser than mine enemies: for they are ever with me.
99 I have more understanding than all my teachers: for thy testimonies are my meditation.
100 I understand more than the ancients, because I keep thy precepts.
A college degree is not required to know the things of God. Spending time with Him and being obedient is the best schooling we can have! The Holy Spirit is our teacher (John 14:26). Paul had that Holy Spirit instruction while he was in Arabia and Damascus. By the time he came to Jerusalem, word had preceded him that something drastic had happened. He spent only 15 days with Peter, and met James while he was there. He did not see any of the other apostles at that time.
20 Now the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not.
21 Afterwards I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia;
22 And was unknown by face unto the churches of Judaea which were in Christ:
23 But they had heard only, That he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed.
24 And they glorified God in me.
He headed from Jerusalem to preach in Syria and Cilicia next. The people of Judea did not recognize him at all! They only heard about the change that had taken place in his life. The one who persecuted the church was now building. If God be for us, who can be against us! Why wouldn’t they glorify God for this amazing turn of events. I’m sure the Pharisees were furious! After all the trust and schooling they had given Saul, now he was there enemy.
With Paul on Jesus side, his zeal was even more intense and his message was powerful. But there were a few obstacles he still had to overcome, and we’ll look at those in the next lesson.