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. 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. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.
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.
Understanding And Applying the Text
This passage is Paul’s chief defense. Here Paul swears he did not receive the gospel from man. He received it directly from Jesus Christ Himself. Paul does not only claim his gospel is the gospel of Christ, even the false teachers did that. Paul is claiming his gospel is from Christ. Luke in Acts 9 supports Paul’s account. Christ did not tell Paul to go see Ananias to learn the gospel. Rather Ananias is to give Paul instruction on what he is to do. Ananias was to baptize Paul, lay hands on him, and recommend him to the church. Paul did not receive instruction in the Gospel from Ananias.
Paul was more zealous for the traditions than the false teachers were for their false gospel. Again scripture supports elsewhere. In his letter to the Philippians Paul writes about how well he kept the law. “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” (Philippians 3:4b-6) Paul was saying, compared to others, he was the best of the best. He was the holiest of holy men. By implication, he said, “Let these false teachers show how they live the law better than I had. The fact they make so much of the law, should warn you about these false teachers. If anyone ever had reason to glory in the righteousness of the law, it was me.”
Paul writes, “but when He … was pleased to reveal His Son” Paul points out we do not deserve God’s grace nor do we earn it. It occurs at a place and time of God’s choosing not of ours. Paul had been an enemy of Christ. He had shed the blood of the Christians because they were Christians. Why was Paul called? Because of his cruelty? No! God, who shows mercy to whomever He pleases, was pleased to show mercy to Paul. God not only pardoned Paul but pardons us of our iniquities. But God is not satisfied with redeeming us. He overwhelms us with blessings and spiritual gifts. And yet we remain ungrateful.
Verse 16 is the doctrine Paul preached. It was the revelation of the Son of God. This is different from the doctrine of the Law. The Law is tyrannical. It constantly threatens with damnation. If you do this or misbehave you will be punished. But the Gospel of Christ is one of forgiveness. Christ came to forgive the sins of the world. This is good news i.e. gospel. Rather than judgment we receive forgiveness.
Paul points out, that he did not immediately go up to Jerusalem. And when he did go to Jerusalem, he met with only two of the apostles. Paul denied he received instruction from the other apostles. And so, Paul is denying, he is less than the other apostles. The false teachers claim their authority comes from being taught by other apostles. But Paul’s authority came from Christ. So Paul’s authority is greater.
The false teachers had so debased Paul that it was necessary for Paul to swear an oath that he was telling the truth.
Paul ends this section by saying the churches in Syria and Cilicia glorified God because of him. That is my unending pray that God would use me to glorify Him.
I am sure the false teachers were sincere. But that does not make them right or even good. They did what we all do. Given the opportunity, we default to the law. We make up rules and regulations to follow. If we play a part, any part, of our salvation we think too highly of ourselves and too little of God. Luther writes, “When I first took over the defense of the Gospel, I remembered what Doctor Staupitz said to me. ‘I like it well,’ he said, ‘that the doctrine which you proclaim gives glory to God alone and none to man. For never can too much glory, goodness, and mercy be ascribed unto God.’ These words of the worthy Doctor comforted and confirmed me. The Gospel is true because it deprives men of all glory, wisdom, and righteousness and turns over all honor to the Creator alone. It is safer to attribute too much glory unto God than unto man.” Even if we claim God offers it and we must accept it for it to be effective in our lives robs God of His glory.
The grace of God is beyond comprehension. We try to understand the mind of God. It seems unfair that he would choose some and not others. The question presupposes righteousness in us. Rather we should recognize we are completely unworthy. God chooses because of His grace and His grace alone.
This is the gospel and when we preach a different Gospel we are accursed.
Paul ended the section by pointing out that God was glorified because of him. What a privilege to be used by God to bring Him glory. That is our chief end. That is why we were created. May God be glorified today because of you.