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This Touching Base is a useful tool for small group discussion, personal reflection or in a one-on-one conversation. We believe that if the Sunday teaching is discussed outside of the morning services, it will be an opportunity to go deeper and build healthy community because God's Word needs to be discussed in community.
Any time you read Scripture you always need to ask the question, “What is the original intent of this text?” In other words, why was this written in the first place? Why did the original audience need to know this? Without asking these kinds of questions, we can often end up in some pretty scary places when it comes to interpretation. Have any scary examples of how people have botched and twisted a text?
Text: Galatians 1:11-14
In our text today the original intent is made pretty clear in the first verse. Paul was combating Judaizers that were undermining his message (Gospel). Let’s start with is a brief reminder of what the issue was.
According to Galatians, legalism was a religious system that combined Christianity with the Mosaic Law in a way that demanded total commitment to Israel’s laws as the climax of one’s conversion to Christ. But according to Paul, this “deeper commitment to the law” was a subversion of the adequacy of Christ’s work and an abandonment of the Holy Spirit as God’s way of guiding Christian ethics. In other words, the legalism of the Judaizers is more than a problem, it has become a new message, a different gospel (see McKnight, NIV Application Commentary, p.23).
Paul is writing this section to show that the Gospel has authority because of where it came from - not man but God. That is an audacious claim, but that was his claim and he was sticking to it. In this section of autobiographical material, Paul outlines the encounter with God that radically changed his life – “turned it upside down” would be an understatement. In telling us his story, which illustrates the authority of the Gospel, Paul encourages all those reading the text who may have someone on their prayer radar that is far from God.
Discuss in your group: who is on your radar these days that you are praying for, who needs to return to God or find God?
Note how Paul’s story unfolds as he tells it to his Gentile and Jewish audience. He is not only endorsing the authority of the Gospel (because it is from Jesus) but he is demonstrating how God can get our attention when we are walking in the opposite direction.
1. Paul had a God encounter v.11, 12
This God encounter “stuff” could cause some problems for anyone tuning in who is a believer in a closed system. A closed universe, which some people adhere to (Deists, for instance), is where everything proceeds by cause and effect within the universe itself, without outside intervention by any God. In a closed universe, the only acceptable explanations are those that deal with matter, energy, space and time. God is an unnecessary hypothesis. It is not necessary for him to directly and continuously intervene in our world. Deism believes that God is like a watchmaker who wound it up and walked away. But Paul is saying God broke through and as we will see, turned his world upside down. “I am who I am today because God broke through”, he says.
Do you have any memorable markers along your journey where you had a God encounter? Maybe that was the moment of your salvation or the still small voice of God speaking into your heart as you journeyed with Jesus. In other words, in what ways has God made Himself known to you? Are you in a quiet time these days with God or is He speaking loudly and clearly?
Paul moves on in the text with some detail of his encounter that he thinks the readers need to know.
2. Paul had an encounter with God that transformed him 13-24
If this was Paul’s infomercial then v.13, 14 would be the “before” shot and v.15-24 would be the “after” shot.
v. 13, 14 - “Before Shot” - His “Klingon” era
What does Paul make clear about who he was?
His brief reference to his former life is somewhat augmented by his lengthier descriptions elsewhere, particularly in Philippians 3:4-6. There Paul shows that he was (1) a Jew by birth—indeed, of the best stock of Israel; (2) by choice, a Pharisee, i.e., of the strictest sect of Judaism; and (3) in conduct, exceedingly zealous, a zeal demonstrated by his persecution of the church and his rigid adherence to the law. Read Acts 8:1-3, Acts 9:1 - oh yeah, and the last part of Acts 7 for some bloody background material. Paul was one mad Klingon!
How would your faith be affected if you knew there was a Klingon sanctioned by the higher authorities - going from house to house dragging off Christians?
“Such was the state of Saul of Tarsus before his conversion. He was a bigot and a fanatic, wholehearted in his devotion to Judaism and in his persecution of Christ and the church. Now a man in that mental and emotional state is in no mood to change his mind, or even to have it changed for him by men. No conditioned reflex or other psychological device could convert a man in that state. Only God could reach him.” (Stott, The Message of Galatians, p.31)What are the chances of this Klingon writing 13 of the 27 New Testament books? What are the chances of this Klingon actually venturing out on three missionary journeys - traveling the eastern part of the Roman Empire over 15 years, logging more than twenty thousand miles promoting what he tried to destroy? In a similar way, you may feel this about whoever is on your radar these days. What are the chances that they could experience such transformation?
v. 15-24 – “After” shot – Smiling Klingon - you had to be there on Sunday to see this.
I love the first three words of v.15, “But when God….”
Note the very unique circumstances surrounding Paul’s “But when God….” story.
- Sudden and dramatic- some people’s conversion is slow, multiple experiences, much prayer etc. - like watching ice thaw – Paul… got microwaved!
- Preach to the Gentiles - most times people don’t know what their calling is at the moment of conversion. Did you know how God wanted you to serve him at your conversion?
- Did not consult any man or go to Jerusalem - this was unique for Paul’s day and how God was using him. It would be dangerous to teach this as the norm. He had a very unique calling on his life v.15.
- Went into Arabia - Did you go “into Arabia” when you came to Christ? Arabia was believed to be south of Damascus - possibly corresponding with modern day Jordan.
What were some of the unique circumstances surrounding your conversion to Christ?
Here are some brief comments on his Arabia trip. This was Paul’s very own Alpha program.
a. He did not go to Arabia without a teacher - The Holy Spirit was his teacher - see texts Acts 9:17 – It’s very important that Luke mentions that Paul was now possessed by the Holy Spirit who, according to Jesus, is a great teacher.
Praying for anybody these days that God would bring them illumination? This is a function of the Holy Spirit. Read 1 Corinthians 2:12-14.
b. He did not go in with a blank slate - Paul was a student of the Old Testament, memorized major portions of the Torah, had the best of teachers regarding the Scriptures (Gamaliel), went to the best of schools. In fact as a Jewish boy growing up education was mostly conducted through memorization and recitation. Its primary content was the history, literature, and laws of Israel, So he has this massive amount of information and a great teacher and guess what and who he discovers?
- He discovers the message of Grace - note what he says about Abraham – Galatians3:6
- He uncovers the message about Gentiles (Gen. 12:1-3 “all nations”- mentioned many other times in the OT.)
- He discovers the Messiah. Jesus did say he starred in the OT (Luke 24:27)
c. He did not come out whacked - This is an incredible testimony - Gal 2:9 - The miracle was that God gave to Paul the same Gospel that He had given to the pillars but his focus was to be different – the Gentiles. Gal 2:1-10 - he gets a full endorsement by the pillars.
This whole Arabia experience is shrouded in mystery but one thing we know for sure – God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, took the Scriptures that Paul knew and showed Paul Jesus, grace and the need for the Gentiles to hear.
Finally note in v.18-24 how his relationship has changed with the church. In Acts 9:26, they are afraid of him but now v.24 they worship because of him. Also note how Peter and James (and Ananias if you read Paul’s conversion story in Acts 9) played a role in helping guide Paul.
You may be praying for someone these days who needs to come to God or return to God. Here are some takeaways on how to pray based on Paul’s story:
- Pray that they would have a genuine encounter with God, v.12. Also note v.15 “ But when God…” You may realize no amount of intellectual challenge will win them.
- Pray that God would deliver them from whatever binds them, v.13, 14. Hate, anger, religiosity and lies were what partly bound Paul.
- Ask the Holy Spirit to bring understanding and truth, v.16,17. Paul had a great teacher- the Holy Spirit.
- Pray that the word of God would be powerful and transformational, v.16,17. Paul knew the Scriptures.
- Finally, pray that God would bring credible people across this person’s path that would speak the truth, v.18-24. We know that Ananias was instrumental in Paul’s initial encounter with God (Acts 9). We see in this text how Peter told Paul the rest of the story and perhaps James was part of the process as well.
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